April 9th, 2011


Recent Reads

Boy, was I glad to finish The Far Cry by Emma Smith. I felt really grouchy for a couple of days at the start of the week and realised it was partly due to reading this depressing book. I saw the old Penguin copy at the market, thought it looked my kind of thing and snapped it up. I didn’t realise until I got the book home that the author is the same Emma Smith who wrote Maiden’s Trip, an account of women working the canals during the war.

Teresa, fourteen, dislikes everything she knows and fears everything she doesn’t, yet it’s hard to sympathise with a girl who has such a negative attitude to everything. She’s the late child of her father’s second marriage, has been deserted by her mother and lives with an aunt. When her father learns that his ex-wife is returning to England, he determines that she ‘shan’t have Teresa’ and in a whirl of activity he takes her to India to stay on a tea farm in Assam with her much older half-sister and her husband.

Almost every character is unhappy and the sister, Ruth, is not at all the woman her fond father imagines her to be. Teresa knows a few moments of freedom on the boat to India and later on a trip to the Naga hills but the return to normality is always painful for her. There is hope of a kind at the very end of the book but only because of two deaths. The one happy person in the book, Miss Spooner, is also the one we know least about as we never see inside her head as we do with the other characters. Oh, how it went on and on!
I’m so glad I didn’t fork out for the Persephone edition.

No such problem with High Wages by Dorothy Whipple, which I read quickly and was always glad to get back to. Although set in Lancashire it reminded me of Arnold Bennett with its small town setting and descriptions of shop keeping before and after the First World War. The heroine, Jane, starts as a shop girl but through intelligence, hard work and ambition, is able to start her own business, a little dress shop. It’s the trade details and the Lancashire voices which make this such an interesting read. Jane has social prejudice to overcome and sadly is undone by love. It’s an early book and not as good as Someone at a Distance or They were Sisters but I enjoyed it.

I’ve already mentioned that Linda Gillard has self-published her latest book, House of Silence as a Kindle-only offering. You can read what Linda has to say about it here. I bought the book and read it with glee. It’s very different from Star Gazing; at first you might think you’d got into a novel by Victoria Clayton. Gwen, independent but damaged by tragedy, meets and falls for Archie, a charming actor. She has no family, he seems not to like his, but she persuades him to take her to spend Christmas at what she believes to be his ancestral home, a large Elizabethan house in Norfolk. There she finds a household of eccentric women, an enigmatic gardener and a mystery. At first she is delighted by everything, then begins to feel that everyone, including Archie, is lying to her. The uncovering of the family conspiracy is slightly melodramatic but makes gripping reading.