Sunday, February 27, 2011

More from The Closed Door and Other Stories...

Try as I might, there is absolutely no choosing a clear favourite amongst this collection of short stories.  The Closed Door and Other Stories by the sublime Dorothy Whipple exceeded all my expectations and I highly recommend it! 

Picking up where I left off...

Family Crisis - Mr Parker prides himself on being respected and over the course of time becomes an unbearable snob.  No expense is spared in elevating his son, Alec, to a position in a law firm.  His daughter, Margaret, is frustratingly kept at home to hone her domestic skills and cater to her lazy mother.  When an event shocks this family to their very core, Mr Parker comes to realize that those he has held in the highest esteem were not perhaps the ones who deserved his attention most.

After Tea - This story had me cheering at the end!  In an all too familiar scene, Christine, shares the bulk of the domestic duties with the maid.  In fact, the maid is better off as she is paid and allowed time off.  Christine is desperate to attend free lectures at the university but her parents put her off.  When some information comes to light, Christine finds the strength to make a stand and it is sheer triumph!

Wednesday - This was the most heartbreaking story in the collection.  Mrs Bulford, caught in a messy divorce, is now reduced to waiting at the gate to see her children.  Her former husband has a new wife and in anguish but understanding she hears her younger children refer to this woman as 'Mumsie'.  Catherine, at thirteen, quietly turns away from her mother's attempts at affection, old enough to know what has gone on.  I just may need a tissue if I go on any longer!

Summer Holiday - Rose was the nicest nurse-maid the family had ever had.  In fact, she was treated almost as one of the family.  There are twins, Roger and Charles, but it is Ellie and her big sister who never seem to leave Rose alone for a moment.  They adore her beau, Frank, and love to sit near him when he comes for visits.  The family takes a vacation at the seaside where they stay at Mrs Simpson's rooming house.  Another resident, a flashy Mr Salter, quickly takes a shine to Rose but the young sisters are ill at ease around him.  This holiday won't soon be forgotten but not because of the sun, surf and ice cream!

Saturday Afternoon - Mrs Thorpe and daughter, Muriel, love Saturday afternoons when Mr Thorpe leaves the house to attend his club or do goodness knows what else.  They settle in the garden, eat chocolates and knit or read.  But one afternoon there is a knock on the door and it is a policeman asking for Mr Thorpe.  Saturday afternoons may never be the same again!

Cover - Harry Smith married his sweetheart, Meg Saunders.  Nothing unusual in that but considering what Meg got up to while Harry was away fighting in the war...well, that takes a certain fellow.  A chance to leave the village and escape gossip is a most welcome opportunity but despite new beginnings and a new friendship the ending is a poignant one.

This collection was the perfect companion for Persephone Reading Weekend.  Each story was fascinating and will no doubt be pulled off of my shelf again and again.  I was swept back to another era and marvelled at how I could so enjoy stories where young women are kept at home to cook and clean while their spirits long to soar.  Such is the skill with which Dorothy Whipple tells a story I suppose. 

I had to work on Saturday and today I am losing the fight against a head cold but Persephone Reading Weekend has definitely made this weekend sparkle for me.  Thanks to everyone who participated for your entertaining and thought-provoking posts and most of all to Verity and Claire for their efforts in hosting this event yet again! 

Hosted by Verity and Claire

Friday, February 25, 2011

Four from The Closed Door...

Oh, this is a delightful collection for any admirer of Dorothy Whipple!

The Closed Door - You would think that after ten years of marriage, Ernest and Alice would be over the moon to finally become parents.  But poor Stella is merely a hindrance to the family routine and a drain on their more than adequate budget.  Any small rays of happiness are dashed by her mean parents and Stella comes to the brink of a physical and mental breakdown.  Will she ever recover enough spirit to become a vital woman with confidence and self-esteem?

The Rose - Elsie Smith is Joe's second wife and finding fault with almost everything he does is a pastime of hers.  She even gestures from the front window for him to correct his posture as he goes off to work.  One day, Elsie is convinced Joe is up to something behind her back and she's going to catch him at it!  Which one is in for a surprise?

Youth - Cue some Big Band music for this evocative story about eighteen year-old Anne, and her aunt, Miss Morley.  Not one to engage in much frivolity, the spinster takes her niece on an outing to London.  Her displeasure at Anne's insistence on visiting a dance hall is clearly evident but what can happen during a bit of music in the afternoon?  The repressed Anne meets the gaze of Pilot-Officer, Geoffrey Lawton and she flushes with excitement.  Hmmm...spinter aunt versus handsome officer.  Anne has a dilemma on her hands, or does she?

The Handbag - Mrs West is married to an extremely busy Councillor.  William used to take his wife along on his trips away and to various functions but lately she has been left behind.  She feels every bit of her forty-eight years, in fact, she's looking even older than her husband these days.  Not at all glamorous like the widowed Mrs Wintersley who works closely with her husband.  One day a package arrives at the house.  Inside is a handbag accompanied by a letter which Mrs West reads while sinking onto her bed. 

I bet you are dying to know what it says aren't you!  If you have a copy of The Closed Door and Other Stories languishing on your shelf you are probably already halfway to the bookcase to find out! 

There are six more stories for me to read but I'm on the desk Saturday morning at the library.  So watch this space for more snippets and enjoy the rest of Persephone Reading Weekend!

Hosted by Claire and Verity

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Persephone Reading Weekend

Unless you've been climbing Everest or trekking through Outer Mongolia you know that tomorrow is the start of Persephone Reading Weekend.

I confess to getting a head start yesterday and dove into the title story of Dorothy Whipple's, The Closed Door and Other Stories.  Am I the only one who has begun to hear choral music when I say 'Dorothy Whipple'?  I digress.

No. 74 in Persephone's catalogue, this slim volume of short stories is my choice for the weekend and I've been looking forward to it since it arrived several months ago.  At just page 32, Whipple already has me wanting to weep for one character and whip another! 

Which title have you chosen?

  Hosted by Claire and Verity

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Let's Talk About William...

This post will appear sooner than I had planned but out of consideration for those of you joining me and Simon from Australia and many time zones we go!

When I first pulled a copy of this book from behind a stack of used books in a shop my first thought was 'It's about a man'.  And to be honest I wasn't that happy about it.  But flipping the book over I read the sentence that convinced me EH Young was an author I needed to discover.  It was 'She published eleven novels of provincial life in which her precise and truthful portrayals of relationships and social conventions are enhanced by a subtle humour.' 

Simon has written a beautiful review of this book and posted links to other fabulous reviews of William so please have a look.  And what did I think?  My overwhelming thought throughout the book was how did, E.H. Young, who never had children understand so well what it is to be a parent?  Before becoming a parent myself I had no idea that when your child is sad, you are sad.  When they are happy, so are you and if you think they are headed for disaster and ruin you will try your best to head them off.  Young understood this and expresses it so well.

Kate Nesbitt well and truly plays the role of matriarch.  It is a command performance every year for her birthday and a great to-do is made.  Her fan-waving, arm flapping, over-bearing style of mothering is positively Mrs Bennet-esque.  I laughed  and rolled my eyes when Mrs Nesbitt places lozenges on Lydia's bedside table 'in anticipation of a cold'.  Her persistance in a matter is admirable and irritating at the same time.

There are differing opinions as to whether or not William Nesbitt is a good father.  He certainly shared more dialogue with his children than I would have stereotypically expected from a father during the 1920s.  And yes, he could be a bit manipulative at times but when you're a parent you call it 'guidance'.  He was a kind and generous man, sharing flowers from his buttonhole with children on the street.  For a man who was financially well off it was his time that he gave most to his children and I admired that.  The way he admired Lydia was more than a tad icky at times, I'll give you that.

There are five adult children and it took a chart in the beginning to keep everyone straight.  Add in spouses and grandchildren and it was a very busy book until I knew who belonged with whom.  Each is an interesting character but we really don't get to know their only son, Walter, all that well.

There were some rather funny lines in the beginning and the feeling was charming and cosy.  Family dynamics and conflict created a poignancy that I wasn't quite expecting which gave the story depth and I could have happily read a version twice as long.  In the introduction, John Bayley, wrote 'Every true addict of the novel will want to make, or remake, her acquaintance; and for those meeting her books for the first time William is certainly the one to start with.'  It worked for me.

Thanks to everyone who found a way to get their hands on a copy of this book and joined in.  And to anyone feeling as though they've missed out, Simon will be offering up a copy so watch his blog!  Now it's your turn to comment and feel free to engage did you get on with the Nesbitt family and this book?

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Note About William

It was so appropriate to reach the end of William on Family Day as it was filled with the trials and tribulations of a bustling family.  It's a recently implemented holiday here to spend time with your family, to engage in outdoor activities or to dust off your board games.  Most of us are just thankful for the extra day to sleep in a bit later and catch up on things that need doing around the house.

Hopefully everyone joining Simon and me in reading this wonderful story by E.H. Young has finished or is just about to.  I will start things off this Thursday morning and you can jump in with your thoughts and comments.  If you have read William in the past, we would love for you to join in as well!  Simon is willing to round up any reviews so please let him know if you have one to share.

Have a lovely day wherever you are!

Painting by Harrington Mann:  A Family Portrait of Four Children

Saturday, February 19, 2011

An Aga, Some Tarts & Me

Today will be a day to remember forever and always.  I drank in the beauty that is an Aga cooker in all its cast iron glory.  R didn't quite understand the attraction at first but by the time we left The Aga Shop he was planning a new kitchen with a refrigerator to match.  Realistically though, until we finish paying for The Heiress' education the best we can hope to attain is one of these...

...adorable teapots!

 We were just up the road from the St Lawrence Market so we stopped in for something sweet.  The Key Lime tarts (bottom shelf) came highly recommended by the waiter at the pub were we had lunch.  R wanted to buy some fruit as well and while he made his choices I tried my first fresh fig from Argentina....delicious!
And thanks to Renata's suggestion in response to my post about visiting second-hand bookshops in Toronto last weekend, we stopped at Eliot's on Yonge Street.  To my sheer delight there were creaky floors, creaky steps and a sliding ladder!  It did make a very unfeminine 'thunk' whenever I stepped on it causing R to shout out a couple of times from the row over 'Is that you going up again?'  With copies of On the Side of the Angels by Betty Miller (VMC) and The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen under my arm it was time to head back home for some playtime with Deacon.  Perhaps we could skip dinner and go straight to dessert!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Which Classic Villain Are You?

If you woke up with no other thought this morning than to find out which classic villain you are then head over here.

With just seven quick clicks I found out I am Dorian Gray and apparently have hedonistic ways!  Which sounds rather hilarious in my current jim-jam wearing state munching a bowl of high-fibre cereal. 

This hedonist is now off for a cup of tea...enjoy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Books and Buns

Several weeks ago, I received an email from someone who reads my blog.  She was wondering which second-hand bookshops I could recommend in Toronto.  It then came to my attention that bookshops carrying new were my usual haunts when in the city.  It was my responsibility to do some research and the sooner the better!  Saturday was to be the nicest day of the weekend so R and I grabbed a bagel and a tea/coffee and off we went.  Our first stop was BMV Books, I had read that there was a large supply of remainders and second-hand titles but that some of the staff were a bit on the rude side...hmmm.  Finding a copy of Angel by Elizabeth Taylor made my day, further finds by Rebecca West, Rose Macaulay and Elizabeth von Arnim had me beaming.  Then I asked a clerk where the Art Deco books were.  'In the Arts section' came her dry, unenthusiastic reply.  'No shit, Sherlock' was what I wanted to say but instead I replied 'That's lovely!'

Driving to another area of Toronto we stopped at The Book Exchange, where I found a copy of I'm Not Complaining by Ruth Adams.  I know nothing about her but the characters in this book consist of a promiscuous Jenny, a communist Freda and a spinsterish Miss Jones.  Yes, please!  Right next door was Dencan Books...oh my goodness.  R wondered if the collapsing shelves with books spilled all over the window display was some sort of artsy statement.  Cautiously opening the door, we were greeted with the overwhelming smell of mold.  It was total chaos with piles of books littering the floor, there was barely a path to allow any meandering at all.  Bravely we began to browse the ridiculously stuffed shelves and after a few minutes, R called me over.  He was checking for some authors and found...Dickens, Dickens, Dickens, Beginner Accounting, Dickens, Dickens...and so on.  It was definitely time for a change of scenery so we drove off to find a bakery but I swear I coughed mold spores for several minutes afterwards.

The Hot Oven Bakery was just the place for rest and refreshment and oh, the gorgeous aromas floating in the air, way better than mold!  R ordered some cookies to go, I chose the Empire cookies (the large ones) and he decided on chocolate chip.  Then we munched on cinnamon buns and sipped our hot drinks while we chatted and thought about what we might like to try the next time we stop by. 

All too soon it was time for the drive back to Burlington.  My research mission was pretty successful but I am quite sure that there is more work still to be done.  And if you've read any of the Viragos I found please let me know what you thought! 

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Date with William

I couldn't help but think of Ms Middleton and April 29 just now...but no, not THAT William!

Simon is off to Edinburgh and it's fine with him if I take the reins for our book chat so circle February 24, on your calendar and stop by my place to share your thoughts on William.  It's a Thursday but we'll squeak it in before Persephone Reading Weekend kicks off the next day.  And very much looking forward to it I am!

There is a resemblance to Pride and Prejudice, in the first few pages of William, with Mrs Nesbitt in a tizzy over her grown children and Mr Nesbitt's efforts to ease her.  I can't wait to see where all this leads!

Whether you are reading along over the next couple of weeks or have read William in the past, we would love to have you drop by and share your thoughts.  See you on the 24th!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

To the North by Elizabeth Bowen

'Cecelia Summers, a young widow returning to London, was among the first to board the express.  She had neglected to book a place and must be certain of comfort.  She dropped her fur coat into a corner seat, watched the porter heave her dressing case into the rack, sighed, got out again and for a few minutes more paced the platform.'

This stunning piece of work by Bowen had me utterly and completely enthralled.  So much so that I swore when I had read the last line, how very unladylike!  It is brilliant and beyond me as to why it seems to be flying under a literary radar these days. 

Cecelia makes the acquaintance of Mark Linkwater on her train back to London.  He is of dubious character but the young widow has a way of attracting men during her travels.  Her sister-in-law, Emmeline, runs a travel office and is quite the entrepreneur despite being pressured to take things easy and look towards settling down. 

The two ladies share a flat together, supporting one another through the loss of their brother and husband.  Things get complicated when the very tall and immaculate, Julian Tower, becomes involved with Cecelia.  Emmeline forms an attachment of her own and in her modern way, steps over the bounds of propriety.  At what cost the heart doesn't even begin to describe where this story takes the reader. 

Having read only one of Bowen's short stories before I didn't quite know what to expect.  To say the least, I was blown away by her writing and examination of the human psyche.  I found myself reading certain passages twice, sometimes due to complexity and sometimes for their sheer beauty.  Oh, and the ending was beyond compelling, the best I've read since Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski.  Are you sold yet?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

An Invitation

Do you have a copy of William by E.H. Young, languishing on your shelves?  Well if you do and you're nearing the end of your current read you are more than welcome to join Simon from StuckInABook and me in a read-along. 

I found my copy at Nostalgia Books last weekend and know absolutely nothing about E.H. Young so this will be my initiation into her work.  Reading along with someone always doubles the fun when you wonder what they thought of a particular scene or witty remark.  And with a description such as this from the back cover there is bound to be some...

'Dora ridicules Herbert's devotion; the unmarried Janet seeks her liberty; Mary has made a virtue out of scrimping and saving, and Lydia gads in London with no thought for Oliver.'

Simon and I are aiming to begin around the 12th of this month, please join us if can!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

This is going to be the year that I read as many books as I can by authors new to me.  Elizabeth Bowen is really impressing me at the moment...

'The No 11 is an entirely moral bus.  Springing from Shepherd's Bush, against which one has seldom heard anything, it enjoys some innocent bohemianism in Chelsea, picks up the shoppers at Peter Jones, swerves down the Pimlico Road-too busy to be lascivious-passes not too far from the royal stables, nods to Victoria Station, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, whirrs reverently up Whitehall, and from its only brush with vice, in the Strand, plunges to Liverpool Street through the noble and serious architecture of the City.'

Bowen took me to London for thirty seconds and it was wonderful.  To the North centres on two young women in 1920s London, hence the bus from that era.