The Care and Management of Lies, Jacqueline Winspear
Love, Nina, Nina Stibbe
Ann Veronica, H G Wells
Murder in Piccadilly , Charles Kingston
Cat out of Hell , Lynne Truss
Footsteps in the Snow and other Teatime Treats, Trisha Ashley
The Beginner’s Goodbye, Anne Tyler
Resorting to Murder , ed. Martin Edwards
Romantic Moderns Alexandra Harris
The Sussex Downs Murder , John Bude
A Place Called Winter , Patrick Gale
The Butterfly Club, Jacqueline Wilson
The Children Act, Ian McEwan
Skios, Michael Frayn
Crime on my Hands , George Sanders
The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear is not one of her Maisie Dobbs novels but a stand-alone about the First World War. Kezia and Thea are teachers and best friends, although very different. Thea is ambitious for experience and is into suffrage and pacifism. Kezia is content to marry Thea’s brother Tom and become a farmer’s wife. It’s a case of true love. When war breaks out, Tom has no need to enlist but eventually does so, as many young men from the village disappear, including the local landowner Captain the Hon. Edmund Hawke, whom Tom finds himself serving under. Tom and Thea write to each other, and this is where the lies come in. Tom’s letters are cheerful, not mentioning how he suffers under persecution from his sergeant. Thea writes to him of wonderful meals she is cooking for him; so mouthwatering that the other men clamour to have the letters read out. In reality, food is very short at home. Kezia overcomes her pacifism to become an ambulance driver. The ending is very sad, as you might expect, but I thought the cooking letters were an original touch.
I read Love, Nina for the second time. I can see this book joining the list of letters and diaries I read over and over again, a list including The Diary of a Nobody, Henrietta’s War and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Quite an achievement!
It’s years since I’ve read anything by H G Wells. I’d been wanting to read Ann Veronica because it linked with some other reading I was doing, so when I saw it at the library I seized my chance. To my surprise, I was bored by it (and the print was too small). Ann Veronica is a middle class, suburban young woman who happens to be clever and wants more out of life than her father and aunt will permit. She is determined to study science seriously, which father disapproves of. When he forbids her to go to a pretty harmless sounding dance, she rather rashly leaves home and throws herself upon the world. The trouble with the book is that Wells was trying to make social and political points and he put the whole lot on Ann Veronica’s slight shoulders; there isn’t a popular ‘ism’ of the time that the poor girl doesn’t get involved with. She’s lucky to get a happy ending.
Trisha Ashley’s Footsteps in the Snow and other Teatime Treats sounds Christmassy, but not all the stories are about Christmas. Most of these short romantic stories were first published in My Weekly, a hint for budding authors to check out those magazines which still print fiction. Not vintage Ashley, but a pleasant enough read. Anne Tyler is of course far more than a ‘pleasant’ writer, although her books are quiet ones. The Beginner’s Goodbye is about coping with loss. Aaron’s wife Dorothy has died in a freak accident. She seems to reappear to him and the narrative moves backwards and forwards over their marriage. There is a resolution, so the book is slightly sad but not at all depressing. That’s Tyler’s great skill: the humanity of her writing.
I was pleased to find Jacqueline Wilson doing what she does best (IMO) in The Butterfly Club: writing realistically about modern families. I love her books but have been turned off by the Hetty Feather series, with its Sapphires, Emeralds and Diamonds, because I had historical issues with them. I know she loves the Victorian period but for me, she doesn’t get it right. The Butterfly Club is right back on form with the problems of a delicate (heart murmur) child learning to stand on her own two feet at school and to cope (and more) with the class bully. Nick Sharratt’s illustrations are superb; I loved the picture of the whole bully family, with even the baby looking fierce.
The opening line of The Children Act is a twist on the first sentence of Bleak House. Nothing like great expectations, eh? It doesn’t live up to them. Fiona is a High Court Judge in the Family Division. Every day she deals with cases of divorce, custody and so on. Here she gets a really tough case, where a teenage boy with leukaemia is refusing a blood transfusion which could save his life because he and his parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Fiona oversteps the boundaries of professional conduct in dealing with the boy. That, together with problems in her marriage is the story. McEwan obviously did a lot of research into the legal system in order to cover all the moral and legal issues involved but I wasn’t very interested in Fiona or her marriage and found the book very slight.
Skios was another disappointment, although it’s impossible for Michael Frayn to write a bad book. The story is based on a joke which for me went on too long. Two men arrive at the airport on a Greek island. One is famous and about to give a lecture at an established foundation. The other is a good looking chancer. When their luggage is swapped at the airport, each takes on the other’s life. Towards the end of the book I found myself speed reading, thinking, ‘Oh for goodness sake sort out this silly muddle.’ What I really hoped for, as the fatal (literally, as it turns out) lecture approached, was a farcical climax referencing the lecture in Lucky Jim. Sadly, nothing so funny happened.