I’ve just read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and will now add my voice to the chorus of praise for it. I wouldn’t expect to describe a book which begins with 'orrible murder as charming, yet it is. Nobody Owens, known as Bod, escapes as a baby from the man out to kill him and finds refuge in the graveyard, where he is brought up and kept safe. It’s the graveyard folk who make the story so delightful. They’ve lived in different centuries and preserve their habits and speech patterns and they are always introduced by the inscriptions on their graves; just one of many touches of humour in the book. It’s cleverly written to be exciting for children without being too frightening. 'The man Jack' is sinister, the threat to Bod is real, but the reader never doubts that Silas, Bod’s guardian, will rescue him from any pickle he gets himself into. This reader lost it when it’s revealed that the child has been predestined from blah, blah, blah. It’s just me; I don’t like that sort of story and I never will. Ignoring that (sorry, fantasy lovers) it’s a wonderful book.
The Other Elizabeth Taylor, Nicola Beauman
A Game of Hide and Seek, Elizabeth Taylor, re-read
Daphne, Justine Picardie
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death, M C Beaton
The first book in the series. If I’d started with this one, I probably wouldn’t have read any more.
Doctored Evidence, Donna Leon
Blood from a Stone, Donna Leon
The Shape of Water, Andrea Camilleri
More on Inspectors Brunetti and Montalbano later.
New Forest Vagabond, Stephen Mogridge
The New Foresters are landed with a runaway girl calling herself Felicity, a tiresome little wretch.
The Herb of Grace, Elizabeth Goudge, re-read
The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett. At last! A very clever little essay about reading. Sue Townsend’s The Queen and I is just as good about the Queen, though.
Daphne du Maurier, Margaret Forster.
Although I’ve read all Angela Thirkell’s novels, I’d never come across Three Houses before and was very pleased to pick it up at a book fair. It was her first published book and is an episodic memoir of childhood. The three houses of the title are her parents’ house in Kensington, her grandparents’ nearby home The Grange and North End House, the grandparents’ Rottingdean house where so many holidays were spent. The book is a mixture of scenes remembered from a childhood of the 1890s and memories of various family members.
Angela Thirkell was very proud of her family and readers of Judith Flanders’ A Circle of Sisters will be familiar with the ramifications of the vast clan of Burne-Jones/Kipling/Baldwin connections. Her grandfather Burne-Jones doted on little Angela and spoiled her rotten. ‘Cousin Ruddy’ tried out The Just So Stories on the children and engaged in a long-running game with them in which he was ‘the roundhead’ and they were all cavaliers; needless to say, he won. The house at Rottingdean was full of furniture, hangings and carpets designed by William Morris and Thirkell is amusing on how uncomfortable all this pre-Raphaelite décor was to live with: extremely hard sofas, for instance
It’s interesting to see the best and worst of her writing coming out so early. Who could resist this sentence: ‘It is not everyone who has the luck to be brought up next door to a public house’? In the same chapter though, she is showing that extreme dislike of change and of what she called ‘democracy’ which can irritate in her novels. Reading this, I was reminded of Gwen Raverat’s Period Piece and found it just as fascinating. Time for a reprint, I think.
PS: I forgot to mention a curious connection in my reading this month. Elizabeth Taylor’s publisher was Peter (Llewellyn) Davies, who was Daphne du Maurier’s cousin and features as a character in Justine Picardie’s book.