callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,

August Books

Here's what I read in August...

Still working my way through the ‘Bs’ on the school story shelves.
Hilda’s Experiences by May Baldwin (1913). Culture clash when ‘stiff English schoolgirl’ Hilda de Strafford is sent to stay with relations in Australia.
Angel Pig by Marjorie Barnard (1925). Rather unpleasant. Set in Thorncliff, a small boarding school where the snobbish girls are horrified to learn that day girls are to be introduced, who may tattle about school matters in the town. This potential conflict is ignored after the first couple of chapters in favour of bullying of Angela Piggott, aka the eponymous Angel Pig. She is a horror but as one girl, Joan, realises, is badly treated.
Margot’s Secret or the Fourth Form at Victoria College by Florence Bone (1910). This is written in the first person and I loved it. The style is compelling and the girls fun. The Secret is a mystery very similar to the one in The Railway Children (1906) or, much later on, Grace James’s Sweetings, so the modern reader guesses almost at once what was going on. Once Margot gets to school the mystery is briefly shelved for some amusing schoolgirl fun.
Just Like Fay by Florence Bone (1928). Eighteen years between the books and schools and girls have changed. Unfortunately Fay is one of those wild Scottish girls who, with their Irish counterparts, I find so tiresome. Altogether the school and plot (gypsies) are more conventional than in the earlier book, so I enjoyed it far less.
The Ruses of Ruby-Anne by Douglas V Duff (1955). This book is unknown to the British Library & Scottish National Library and I got the date from the Collecting Books & Magazines site, where there is a biography by the author's daughter. Set in Transjordania, where Ruby-Anne’s father is in charge of the military. Kidnapping, slavery, riots but R-A is equal to them all. Middle East crisis? Send for Ruby-Anne!
The School on North Barrule by Mabel Esther Allan (1952). Latest offering from Fidra Books. Set on the Isle of Man and the descriptions do make you want to visit it. Brother & sister are told out of the blue by widowed mother that aunt is to send them to co-ed school on IOM. Voirrey has romantic feelings for the Island but brother Andreas doesn’t want to leave London, the Grammar School and his friends to go to a school where they don’t play cricket or football. Who could blame him? He behaves like an idiot at school but is converted to his new life in a remarkably short time. Why can’t people be allowed to rebel? One of the schoolgirls, Isobel, is from a seafaring family and sometimes known as ‘Billy Bones’. From which I deduce that MEA had read The Fortunes of Billy. This is pretty much all we learn of her: none of the characters is developed.
Instant Sisters by Rose Impey. Jacqueline Wilson territory but without the humour. Tina’s father moves in with Joanne’s mother and the girls have to share a room. Not surprisingly, they hate it. Dad deserted Mum when she was depressed: why would he stay with Helen? Sister Sharon stays with Mum but intends to get away as soon as possible. Mum has a horrible boyfriend called Kev. I found this depressing.
Priorsford by O Douglas. More about Jean, who returns to The Rigs for winter while noble husband Biddy takes a friend abroad. Help, I only have one more to read! So far my favourites are Penny Plain, Priorsford and The Day of Small Things. I could read about the people of Priorsford and Kirkmeikle for ever. I’m not sure how flattered Alexander McCall Smith would be to find himself compared with O Dougas, but his 44 Scotland Street has something of the same quality: a sort of permanent narrative. Rather like blogging, really. I also read my last O Douglas until I find some more: Olivia. This is a series of letters written by a young woman while she is spending ‘a cold weather’ in India with her brother. Agreeable enough but the least enjoyable I’ve read so far.
Metroland by Julian Barnes (1980). Had to reread after watching the Metroland DVD.
I know what you’re thinking…only I don’t.
Thinks… by David Lodge. Oh dear, the first chapter is so awful I nearly gave up. The thought that I’d just failed to get on with Jpod and the fear that my brain might be getting softened by too much O Douglas forced me to persevere. I’ve always liked David Lodge’s books, especially the ones with Simon Sparrow in. Predictably, my favourite is Nice Work which is very clever, amusing and quite short. (He manages to sneak Robyn Penrose into this book). Thinks… on the other hand is very long indeed. (Funny, I never complain that Middlemarch is too long; I don’t want it to end.) The narrative quirk is that the main male character, cognitive scientist Ralph Messenger, is dictating his thoughts to a machine, while novelist and writer in residence Helen Reed writes a diary. Reading Ralph’s thoughts one finds him a chauvinistic bastard. Described factually in Helen’s diary, he is clever, amusing, good company. Here’s the trick: the Helen of the diary and the Helen of Ralph’s thoughts seem the same.
What does he mean by it, eh? That women are more transparent and honest than men? Most men would disagree, I’m sure. That Lodge knows more about male thoughts than female ones? Self evident and he’s cleverer than that. I did finish it but liked it much less than others of his.
The Chalet School Companion by Helen McClelland. Found I knew all this stuff, from other sources but of course she was first with it.
Aunt Diana by Rosa Nouchette Carey (1888). Alison has spent two happy years with Aunt Di but feels it is her duty to go home and keep house for her father. Pa is very unsatisfactory. He puts down nice Roger and favours pert, shrewish Missie. The younger boy Rudel is rough and rude while little Poppie is bossed by Missie. Poor Alison. She tries to be the sunshine of the home, Missie is put through a Trial which shows her how selfish she has been and in the end good is rewarded. Just the sort of book I like!
Mrs Fytton’s Country Life by Mavis Cheek. Having had it all, Angela (again, but how different) is dumped by her husband for a younger woman. She decides to take her revenge by moving to the country, leaving her ex to cope with their teenage children as well as new wife and baby. So far, so Fay Weldon. Mavis Cheek has done a lot of research and the book is liberally scattered with excerpts from old housekeeping books. Anyone who enjoys reading about houses and housewifery would find something to enjoy in this, I would think.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (1938). Kindly lent to me (waves). I’ve been looking forward to reading this as everyone raves about it but was sadly disappointed.
Six in a Family by Eleanor Graham (1935). ‘Nice’ but rather plotless, so not as good as The Children who Lived in a Barn.
Snobs by Julian Fellowes. JF found himself a celebrity after the success of Gosford Park, a film I found so boring I couldn’t sit through it. After that it was easy to get his novel published and he has been popping up all over the place, pontificating on this and that. He’s an affable chap and this is an agreeable book. Rather slow but with some nice observations. If the English class system doesn’t interest you, don’t bother.
Tags: books, reading

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