callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

April Books

Damsel in Distress, a Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Carola Dunn
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
, Mary Ann Shaffer
Pink Sugar, O Douglas
A Swarm in May, William Mayne
Choristers’ Cake
Cathedral Wednesday
One Day, David Nicholls
Dead in the Water, Carola Dunn
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand , Helen Simonson
The Sweetness and the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag , Alan Bradley
Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came, M C Beaton
Overture to Death , Ngaio Marsh
Charlotte Fairlie, D E Stevenson
Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, Kate Fox

Quite a lot of re-reading this month. Still new to me is the Daisy Dalrymple series. I read two more of these and enjoyed them very much. The Hon. Daisy is a delight, as is her policeman, Alec. In Dead in the Water, Daisy is at Henley regatta to write it up for an American magazine. She and Alec hope for a quiet weekend together but … I’m looking forward to them getting married to see how it all works out. Another female detective: Agatha Raisin. I do find these short books an easy read when you don’t feel like anything else. Best of the lot though was Flavia de Luce.
I enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society all over again and picked O Douglas for bedtime reading. I’ve re-read Pink Sugar and am on Jane’s Parlour. This is very slow reading as I keep falling asleep over them. I thought Charlotte Fairlie was new to me but soon realized that I had read it before. Unusually, the romantic heroine is a headmistress, making it interesting for people who like school stories.

The only non-fiction read of the month was Watching the English. Kate Fox is a genuine social anthropologist rather than a journalist or social commentator but to be honest, it would be hard to tell the difference if her opinions weren’t based on genuine research. It’s an amusing book, self-deprecatory and blessedly jargon-free. Why, asks the author, should she get dysentery studying remote tribes in uncomfortable places when the one she belongs to is so fascinating? So what are the English like? They suffer from what Kate Fox terms ‘social dis-ease’; their favourite word, ‘Typical!’ sums up their long-suffering and pessimistic view of things; ‘Eeyoreish’ is the word most often used to describe their behaviour. They’re quite nice, really, and are for moderation in all things: ‘What do we want?’ ‘GRADUAL CHANGE!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘IN DUE COURSE!’

Top reads of the month were definitely the Wiliam Mayne Choir School books, especially A Swarm in May. ASIM is a book about a wonderful discovery, another of Mayne’s famous treasure hunts. The young hero merges into the background as just another of the ‘small boys’ in the later books. Choristers' Cake is far less grabbing as it’s really a study in schoolboy psychology. Sandwell, known as Sandy, is a singing boy who by talent and seniority ought really to be a chorister. He is determined not to be, for self destructive reasons to do with his desire to ‘chiz’ the superior Trevithic. Unless, of course, Trevithic were to beg him (fat chance). Sandy wants to be liked (by Stanhope, whom he longs to call ‘Michael’) and to be noticed. After an incident which he engineers ends in a fight he is sent to Coventry. It’s a tribute to Mayne’s writing that this seems to go on forever and the loneliness of it is felt by the reader. While most schoolboys go around in pairs and gangs, Sandy remains an outsider, a loner in an environment where what matters most is working together; in Decani or Cantori (their equivalent of teams) and in the life of the cathedral. The boys are there to sing and they have to sing the same tune for everything to work, seems to be the message.

There’s only five years between the publication of ASIM and Cathedral Wednesday but times have changed: skiffle and Sputniks appear. My edition is the Brockhampton reprint and I wonder if it’s been revised at all? There seem to be a lot of explanations in it (the word ‘antiphonally’, for instance) which I can’t imagine Mayne bothering with in the previous two books. If anyone knows the answer, please let me know. There’s no magical discovery in this book, nor any schoolboy wars; it’s basically about the disruption of the usual school and cathedral routine by the ‘plague’, a virus which takes boy after boy out of school. Andrew Young is a day boy whose older brother was once head boy. The father they never knew also attended the school and the home life of the boys with their widowed mother is vividly and economically sketched in. Andrew finds himself acting head boy and head chorister and has trouble learning how to assert his authority. We see even more of the close relationship between the boys and masters and the jokes they share. In one scene, shock, horror! Mr Lewis and Trevithic are improvising together at the piano while Trevithic tries to steal Lewis’s cigarette. It seems extraordinary what Trevithic gets away with in these books yet there’s no lack of respect and while Mr Ardent, the headmaster, is a kindly, avuncular figure, his disapproval is shrivelling. MrArdent is the only character Mayne said was based on a real person, presumably his own old headmaster.
Tags: carola dunn, d e stevenson, kate fox, mary ann shaffer, ngaio marsh, o douglas, william mayne

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