A Certain Idea of France: The Life of Charles de Gaulle, Julian Jackson
Reasons to be Cheerful, Nina Stibbe
Death of a Doll, Hilda Lawrence
Double Cross: the true story of the D-Day Spies, Ben Macintyre
Adventure in Prague, Winifred Findley
Achachlacher, Emma Menzies
The Liar in the Library, Simon Brett
Speak to me of Love, Dorothy Eden
Young Farmers in Denmark, Nancy Martin
It took me nearly two weeks to get through the 800 pages of A Certain Idea of France but it was worth it for the insights into that infuriating yet fascinating man. When I told huskyteer about it, she said I needn’t bother, just listen to Flanders and Swann. There certainly is a lot of truth in their song All Gall, which you can find on YouTube.
Reasons to be Cheerful continues the story of Lizzie Vogel, who we met in Paradise Lodge . Then, aged only fifteen, much too young and with no qualifications, she landed a job in a care home. Older now but still without qualifications, she blags her way into a job as a dental nurse to a truly horrible dentist. She turns out to be rather good at it and even, quite illegally, undertakes some dental work herself. This is less horrifying than you might expect. Doing this job, she meets patients nice and nasty and a dental technician she falls for. Although she’s moved away from home to Leicester, she remains tied to her slightly weird family. Both funny and very sad events are recorded in the same flat, reportage-style writing, which makes for very successful story telling. This is enjoyable, if you can get over your horror of dentistry. The book will be out at the end of this month (March) and I read it thanks to NetGalley.
Death of a Doll, was my Crime Classics Review Club book for February. It’s by an American author and set in a girls’ rooming house. The young women work in shops and offices, are poorly paid and consider themselves well off in Hope House. Everything changes when Ruth Miller arrives, thrilled to find herself in a safe and comfortable place. Yet no sooner has she checked in than she suddenly looks frightened and is constantly wary, looking over her shoulder – for whom? When she’s found dead, the people who run Hope House and the police pass off her death as suicide, a one-off event. The attempt to carry on as if nothing has happened is doomed and soon there is an atmosphere of fear and suspicion; everyone is frightened, no one wants to talk. Tension mounts and the denouement is surprising and shocking. I’d never heard of Hilda Lawrence but on the strength of this novel, Agora Books have done well to rescue her from obscurity.
Now for some spying. Double Cross was a Kindle daily deal which I bought because I’d enjoyed Ben Macintyre’s book about Philby. It’s excellent and as for the tricks involved in fooling the Germans about the site of the D-Day landings, you couldn’t make it up. Adventure in Prague is quite different, a book for children or young people, as they were called before YA books had been invented. It’s the story of what happens when a schoolgirl, very innocent and inexperienced, joins a tour party to Prague in the days when it was behind the iron curtain. It was published in 1967, the year before the Prague Spring, when the Russian tanks rolled in. The book was a lucky find for huskyteer, who brought it with her when she was down for the weekend and was able to take it back because I’d read it in no time. Recommended for lovers of children’s fiction.
I can now suggest some totally calming and comforting reading, in Achachlacher. This was reviewed by Kate Macdonald . I thought it sounded just up my street and got a cheap copy on Amazon. It’s written in the form of letters from a minister’s wife to her old friend, supposedly in India. She lives on a remote Scottish island and is one of those people who make the best of everything. Life must have been hard at times (those dark winters!) but often the sun shines and children run happily wild. As for the winters, what’s a cosy fire for but to shut them out? Emma Menzies had a knack for reporting the speech and characteristics of her fellow islanders and making them interesting and amusing. Less amusing is the tale of how in another part of the island she saw the wives carrying their husbands to church! The events take place between the wars and it was another world. I certainly hope so, for the sake of those husband-carrying women. If, like me, you love the films I Know Where I’m Going and Whisky Galore! and the way people speak, this is for you. A book where nothing happens out of the ordinary and yet life is never boring. It now sits by my bed.
I’ve read nearly all Simon Brett’s Fethering novels and the latest one gave me just what I wanted: more of the same. An author dies in his car after giving a talk in the local library. Jude was the last person to see him alive and becomes prime suspect, especially when his ex-wife lies about her relationship with the dead man. It’s up to Carole and Jude to solve the mystery themselves, which they do with their usual mix of nosiness and knowledge of local people. Excellent light reading, as always. The book isn’t out until June so you’ll have to wait for it. I read it thanks to NetGalley.
The book club edition, which is the one I read
Our local Co-op has a charity bookshelf and I picked up two books from the 1970s by authors who were then very popular. Speak to me of Love is about three generations running a department store. Mr Bonnington started the shop in a small way and Beatrice, as the only child, takes over, although she’s a woman. This would have been quite uncommon in the late nineteenth century. She has extraordinary energy and the ambition to push the store to great success. Bea marries a handsome man she falls for; socially superior but invalid-ish and idle. As her father foresaw, he’s a waste of space and later has an affair with a governess which results in a child. It’s lucky that Bea is so indomitable as she has problems with her children, too. It’s her daughter, Florence, who will oust her mother and take over the store. With both this book and the other (by Catherine Gavin) I was struck by how modern the themes are. An awful lot of books are published now about shops and, as in the case of the Gaskin, old houses with mysteries attached.
Another 50p wonder, bought at a local book sale, was Young Farmers in Denmark., I’d never heard of the author but was attracted by the Stuart Tresilian illustrations. It turned out quite a good buy as the book is part of a series about these young farmers. They are part of a club, but younger than Young Farmers would be today. As the title suggests, they visit Denmark to learn about farming there. It’s all quite interesting and if you believe the author, idyllic, with the friendly folk, their small farms and enormous meals.
I'll try not to leave it so long before posting again.