Monday, May 22, 2017
For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 (hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate) for the category “Classic by a Woman Author” I decided to go with Barbara Pym’s Less than Angels, which was first published in 1955.
Less Than Angels more or less revolves around the lives and loves of a handful of anthropology students and their lecturers in 1950’s London. I write “more or less” but really it is so much more. One could consider Tom Mallow, the anthropology grad student who comes back to London after two years of field work in Africa to write his PhD dissertation to be the main character and the plot to be how he handles the three women who love him. However, in my experience with Barbara Pym novels, plot is really secondary to the characters and the small world they inhabit within the wider macrocosm of London. Pym worked for an anthropological society in the 1950’s and 60’s, so not only does she understand her subject matter, but she also very purposefully observes academics and the middle class as if they were anthropological subjects in their “native habitats”.
Less Than Angels is the third Pym title I have read and I particularly enjoy her understated style and subtle humor. One of Tom’s love interests is Deirdre Swann, anthropology undergraduate who is uncertain of her choice of study. Deirde lives at home in the London suburbs with her mother, older brother and Aunt Rhoda. I loved Rhoda, who sneaks around at night correcting her sister’s housework like refolding towels or setting out the juice glasses for the next morning’s breakfast. Another favorite minor character is the Swanns’ neighbor, Mr. Lydgate, semi-retired from the colonial service, who sometimes sits at home in his study with an African mask over his head, wishing he were back there. “He often thought what a good thing it would be if the wearing of masks or animals' heads could become customary for persons over a certain age. How restful social intercourse would be if the face did not have to assume any expression--the strained look of interest, the simulated delight or surprise, the anxious concern one didn't really feel.”
Were it not for the internet, I doubt I would have ever encountered Pym’s work. I first heard about her from Thomas at the blog Hogglestock in 2011. She is definitely one of those lesser known writers who inspire profound love and devotion when she connects with the right reader.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Monday, April 24, 2017
Today, April 24, is the birth date of the author Elizabeth Goudge and in honor of this, Lory at The EmeraldCity Book Review is celebrating the life and works of one of her favorite authors by inviting other bloggers to read and review Goudge’s works along with her own reviews. I had never read any books by Goudge previously, so I was curious and decided to join in.
I was tempted to read Green Dolphin Street (two sisters both in love with the same man in a historical setting) because it seemed to be a saga on par with say Gone with the Wind or Forever Amber but ultimately I opted for The Rosemary Tree because it was shorter and since I got a late start, time was of the essence.
The Rosemary Tree centers on the Wentworth family living in the mid-1950s in Devonshire, England. John Wentworth is the awkward and forgetful, yet devout vicar of the village of Bellemaray, but should by rights be the squire, as he is the last male issue in the Wentworth family, which goes back as far as Elizabeth I as the local landowning gentry. Instead, his great aunt Maria lives alone in the manor house. This situation is resented by John’s wife Daphne, who married him very much on the rebound of a failed love affair. John’s former nanny, Harriet, lives with John and Daphne and their three children. Initially she came to stay as a housekeeper but it now so plagued by arthritis that she is wheelchair bound and only able to view the world from her bedroom window at the vicarage.
The story goes on to incorporate two teachers from the private school attended by the Wentworth children and a mysterious man who seemingly ends up in the village by accident but is soon befriended by both John and his Aunt Maria. As for plot, there really isn’t one: the Wentworths’ marriage is troubled, the girls’ school is a misery for the teachers and the students and the mysterious stranger has a secret past and a secret connection to one of the other characters. The book is far more concerned with the psychological make-up of the characters and what makes them tick and in particular how we humans can help our fellow humans heal and grow with compassion and communication.
The book heavily references The Secret Garden and Don Quixote and is infused with Christian mysticism and the concepts of redemption and second chances. What I think I liked most about it was that it showed how our actions can positively touch others and just how interconnected we are despite our best efforts to think we can live in isolation. And while the book does have clear religious overtones, I think I can be read by anyone. Its message of connection and forgiveness can be appreciated by a reader of any creed or belief system.
Friday, April 14, 2017
“But as the middle of the country filled in on the map, it filled in red. The infected areas stood out in ruby lights now, for the wall map studded with pins had been replaced by a huge electronic military map...” No, this is not a quote from the recent U.S. Presidential elections, but rather from Heinlein’s 1951 novella The Puppet Masters , a story about the U.S. being invaded by parasite slugs from outer space.
Since I had already read many of the more popular titles that I found listed on the internet for 1951 AND I am really trying this year to get to more of the books I already own, I chose to read this Heinlein classic work of science fiction.