Sunday, April 12, 2020

The 1920 Club - In Chancery by John Galsworthy

“He had long forgotten how he had hovered, lanky and pale, in side whiskers of chestnut hue, round Emily, in the days of his own courtship. He had long forgotten the small house in the purlieus of Mayfair, where he had spent the early days of his married life, or rather, he had long forgotten the early days, not the small house,-a Forsyte never forgot a house - he had afterwards sold it at a clear profit of four hundred pounds.”

Having read A Man of Property a couple of years ago, I was really pleased to find I could read its sequel In Chancery by John Galsworthy for the 1920 Club.  These books are volumes one and two respectively of The Forsyth Chronicles which compromises a total of nine novels. Pictured are my paperback copies of the first six that my mom bought at a church rummage sale many, many years ago which I inherited, so to speak. The Scribner box set has the price of $11.70 on it and I am sure my mother would have paid less than a dollar for them in circa 1975 at the rummage. This set was issued by the publisher to take advantage of the T.V. series broadcast on National Educational Television (the precursor of PBS) in 1967(?)which actually kicked off/created that venerable institution in American Television "Masterpiece Theater". Pictures from the T.V. show are on the box. 

I don’t want to say too much about the plot of In Chancery since it is a sequel, but in terms of its main characters, both books are set at the end of the 19th century and focus mainly on Soames Forsyte and his beautiful but aloof wife Irene and Soames’ first cousin “Young” Jolyon Forsyte. 

The Forsytes as a clan have humble beginnings. Two generations earlier in the late 18th century their forefather was a modestly well-off farmer. But his son, through the acquisition of property and subsequent investment, prospered so much so that his progeny, the third generation, became very comfortably middle class and by the mid-1800s their children, the fourth generation, go to all the right schools, dress in all the right fashions and dine at all the right places.  As they say, money begets money. 

Soames is the titular "Man of Property". All Forsytes appreciate money and possessions and one of Soames’ most prized possessions is Irene, who does not love him. Soames can and does meet, if not exceed, all of Irene’s material needs but she cannot love a man who does not see her as a person but rather covets her as an object to be admired and envied by others. Soames contrasts with his cousin, Young Jolyon who is estranged from the family because he left his first wife after he fell in love with another woman. To make matters worse, he has designs on becoming a painter. Young Jolyon’s father and the patriarch of the Forsyte clan, Old Jolyon, longs to reconcile with his disgraced son, but doesn’t quite know how to go about it.  In Chancery takes place 12 years after the first book, still with its spotlight on the doomed relationship between Soames and Irene, but it also ushers out the old generation of the family and brings in the new, fifth generation who will come of age in the new 20th century. 

All in all, this is a very soapy series, full of affairs and intrigue. But I think it is intelligently written and I find it often quite moving emotionally and also not without plenty of sharp satirical commentary. In particular, Galsworthy reminds me of Trollope in his depiction of the plight of married women in the Victorian and Edwardian era when such women were legally the property of their husbands. Galsworthy doesn’t quite have the charm of Trollope, but I imagine a reader who likes the one will probably like the other. I’m not sure when I’ll get to the rest of the books but I am looking forward to finishing out the series, or at the very least, these six books I own. 

Many thanks to Simon and Karen for hosting The 1920 Club. I can't wait to hear what year will be chosen for November 2020. 😄

Wednesday, April 1, 2020


Oliver models my 2020 TOB t-shirt.
I hope all my blogger friends are staying safe and healthy during these strange days.  I am currently (a) still employed and (b) able to work from home, so I consider myself lucky in that respect. I know that some of you, like Kathy at Reading Matters, are still interfacing with the public the service sector, which must be unnerving. I also have friends and family who work in hospitals, which is also a cause for worry, as well as friends who are laid off or furloughed without pay. It's hard not to let our panicky lizard brains take over too much. 

But we still have each other via the internet and we have books to read and discuss and for that I consider myself especially lucky. And I have The Tournament of Books which absolutely can be enjoyed while maintaining a six foot distance from other humans.

I did end up reading all 18 of the shortlisted 2020 Tournament of Books.  And the winner was Normal People by Sally Rooney. It wasn't my favorite from the list. My top favorites were:

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo: This was this year's Booker Prize winner and it features 12 characters, almost all exclusively female, black and British. It was a real joy to read and suss out the links between the characters. I think it is a real credit to the author that I was both irritated and empowered by every character’s opinion or actions at times. Evaristo compellingly presented each person in all their contradictory glory, warts and all.  No one person is representative of anything other than themselves and their own unique trajectory. The only thing that spoiled it for me what the epilogue. I thought the book didn't need it.  

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha: This was a taut novel that rolled out like a Greek tragedy. It is based on a real life shooting of a young African-American woman by a Korean-American convenience store employee in Los Angeles in the 1990s. The book starts with a similar incident and then fast forwards 25 years focusing on the families of both the victim and the perpetrator and showing how this crime has affected them. As the story progresses, the events conspire to bring the incident back to life and the reader is asked if one can ever reconcile one's pasts with the present. It wasn't always easy reading but I thought it was a thoughtful portrayal of a tragic situation.    

Normal People was a fine book. I would encourage any reader to give it a try if it sounds interesting to them or if they are curious about Sally Rooney, who isn't even thirty yet and has two best sellers under her belt along with much critical acclaim. I read Normal People last summer before the TOB shortlist was published. It is about two young people in Ireland who meet in high school and maintain a strong bond, though not necessarily a relationship (friendship or otherwise) up through university. What brings them together and what pulls them away from each other is the novel's focus. Their communication is so deep on many levels and yet completely inadequate on others. If it weren’t for the fairly explicit sex scenes, I would consider this YA. It often read like that to me, in any case.