Yesterday morning I had an email from the library telling me my requested book was waiting. I rushed down to get it and finished it the same day. This was The Spy Game by Georgina Harding. At last, something to read! Tell me a story! I was fascinated from the start, as I’d expected to be. Anna's and Peter’s mother drives away on a foggy day in 1961. They never see her again. Two days earlier the Portland Spy Ring has been rounded up. As was common then, the children are told nothing about their mother’s death, leaving an opening for fantasy: 'Peter, who was so clever but did not know where you divided stories from reality.'
Peter’s fantasy is that their German mother is not dead but a spy and his theories lead to unhappiness for all. In the end it is not Peter but Anna, after their father’s death, who tries to find out more about their mother’s early life. The book is beautifully written, the sixties period feel exactly right. (Odd that this era of fog, Cold War, black and white, should now have a strange glamour about it.) It also touches on the problems of displacement in post-war Europe with great economy. By the end of the story doubts remain, in Anna’s mind and the reader’s. Is the truth better known, or not? What is identity? Can people reinvent themselves and if so, who are they then? I absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly. Just as well, because I’d had three reading failures on the trot.
My library pile has been sadly disappointing. I gave up after two chapters of Poppyland*L by Raffaella Barker, bored silly waiting for something to happen. I don’t like the style she’s adopted for this book and sadly, nothing of hers that I’ve read has been so utterly charming as Summertime. I turned instead to Daddy's Gone A'Hunting by Penelope Mortimer. Years ago, I read The Pumpkin Eater. I thought it was good but was far too young to empathise at all with the heroine, overburdened with children. DGAH, a Persephone publication, is about yet another miserable woman and I soon found it so depressing I gave up on that, too. I’m wondering if Persephone is the bookish equivalent of BBC Radio4: having a mission to depress. My third attempt was at The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble. When I was younger I read all her books as they came out, then somehow stopped; I can’t remember where the turn-off came. I still love and would recommend Jerusalem the Golden, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1967. Sadly, this recent novel had absolutely no charms for me; dull people, turgid prose and like so much modern fiction, obviously full of specially mugged up research into an arcane subject. You won’t make much sense of it if you haven’t read L P Hartley, either. So, three unfinished books in a row.
I wish someone would reissue this. The pages of my copy are almost too brown to read.