Month: October 2009

Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Now I know everyone in the blogosphere has been talking about this ad yawneam so I’ll start by saying I hope I have written a take on Howard’s End is on the Landing that is different enough to other reviews to hold your interest. If I haven’t, I apologise in advance.

What attracted me to this book? Why was I so keen to get my hands on it that I went as far as preordering it, paying full price for a new hardback – something I never do? I think it was partly because the subtitle was so intriguing – ‘a year of reading from home’. I have longed to do this for a while; to curb my habit of accumulating more and more and more books, of guiltily watching the piles of books I know I won’t have time to read this year, let alone this month, grow and grow and grow into unwieldy, dangerous, tottering piles that are slowly covering the floor of my bedroom. I was excited to read of how this process might be worked through…how the cravings for book buying, for browsing in book shops, for just seeing if they have that one book I’ve been looking for, no others, just that one, I’ll just pop in, honestly…might be tackled and overcome. I was hoping to find an inspirational and encouraging set of musings on the joys of being able to read, guilt free, not constantly watching the growing TBR pile and feeling paralysed with shame at the lack of willpower possessed to reduce it; of the pleasure of meandering one’s way through the accumulated volumes amassed throughout a lifetime, of the pressures one feels to read new books, and what it is like to immerse yourself in a library that is completely disconnected from the current literary scene.

In short, I wanted this book to be the proverbial kick up the backside I need to freeze my library for a year and actually read what I own. I have enough unread books to last me at least a year; probably even two or three. I work full time, have lots of commitments outside of work, and a diary that manages to fill up every day of a week before Monday has even started. In short, I have a busy life. I rarely have an hour ‘spare’ to sit and read these days, which means I simply can’t get through all the books I buy in any given month, let alone the ones I bought the previous month. Unless I stop accumulating, I will just never get around to reading them all. And that would be a great shame. So, a book that truly is about ‘a year of reading from home’ is what I need. Sadly, Howard’s End is on the Landing is not that book. I wouldn’t say the subtitle was deliberately misleading, as I obviously chose to read into it what I wanted it to be, but at the same time, I did feel that this was much more ‘Susan Hill Gives Her Opinions on Book Related Topics’ rather than an exploration of what it means to spend a year reading from home; the timescale is never mentioned, and neither is the process of avoiding books from outside the home.

Where to begin. This book is kind of like those essays you used to have to write at school or university, with impossible questions that don’t make a lot of sense, so instead of actually answering the question, you just write down everything you know about, say, Jane Austen, and hope for the best. I feel that rather than discussing a year of reading from home, as the title of the book would surely command, Susan Hill has just written down everything she thinks about books and book publishing and famous people who wrote books that she may have met, or bumped into, or had things dropped on by, and bound it in hardcover and a pretty jacket with a catchy title and demanded £12.99 of people’s hard earned money for it. I laughed when she said she was avoiding the internet for a year to get away from ‘book-related gossip and chatter’, for essentially, in Howard’s End is on the Landing, she has written an entire book of book related gossip and chatter. Glamourising this book by calling it a ‘memoir’ is simply unfair on potential readers, as this is really just a physical version of Susan Hill’s blog, and  is therefore one of the here today, gone tomorrow ‘non books’ she so derides.

Unlike other bloggers, I don’t mind that Susan Hill has strong opinions; I actually quite liked her musings and admire her for her ability to make public sweeping, generalised, and totally biased statements without caring a jot for what other people will think. Canadian and Australian literature are dismissed as unreadable, Jane Austen she doesn’t ‘get’, forgotten Renaissance drama must be rubbish in order to have become forgotten, and many other atrocious, non politically correct, opinionated comments that are just the sort I love reading. We’re all entitled to our opinions, after all. If Susan Hill wants to ignore the richness of an entire nation’s writing, that’s her prerogative. If she can’t see the genius in Jane Austen, that’s alright with me. It won’t lessen my enjoyment of either. And I think that was really what I had the most problem with about this book; at the end of the day; I don’t care what Susan Hill thinks. Her ‘top 40′ books at the end of this scattered volume of bookish thoughts is just a list of what one woman deems worthy of reading. Susan Hill has suggested elsewhere that authority comes from being published – that bloggers don’t have the authority to write negative reviews because no one has given them the right to do so. Their opinions are not worthy of note. As much as I disagree with this, the point of who gives people the authority to have an opinion is worth drawing out.

In books such as this, which are a collection of someone’s opinions, those opinions have no authority unless someone chooses to give them authority. I give my mum’s opinions authority because she’s my mum and she knows me and I know her and I know she’s always, annoyingly, right. I don’t know Susan Hill as a person, she doesn’t know me, I don’t particularly rate her as a novelist, and just because she says W G Sebald is amazing, it doesn’t necessarily make him so. Therefore, a book composed of what Susan Hill has told me I should and shouldn’t read is actually rather useless to me, as I don’t give her opinion any authority when it comes to influencing my reading choices. I’m not going to beat myself up and call myself ignorant for not having read most of Susan Hill’s top 40; frankly, anyone who chooses Wuthering Heights over Jane Eyre or who doesn’t ‘get’ Persuasion won’t share the same tastes as me and their reading preferences are therefore of no interest or relevance to me whatsoever.

Books such as this, that attempt to tell people what they should read, and give lists of best most amazing life changing top 10 books ever, and what you need to read in order to be an interesting and intelligent human being, are always a pointless exercise, as what gives the author the right to impose these ‘standards’ of reading on anyone? What makes one person’s ‘top 10′ more authoratitive than another’s? I don’t buy Susan Hill’s belief that someone choosing to publish your list gives it authority – authority is subjective and is earned by respect, and as I don’t have the knowledge of Susan Hill to give her the respect I would need to actually be bothered by the fact she says I should read books I haven’t, Howard’s End is on the Landing was a bit of a waste of my time.

I’m not saying it wasn’t enjoyable or that it was badly written; for what it was, a subjective collection of thoughts from a woman who has had an interesting, and literary life, it was fine. I like to be exposed to other people’s opinions, and to be introduced to new authors. Happily I don’t normally have to pay for the privilege, because there are blogs that serve this purpose that I can read freely every day. The thing is, Howard’s End is on the Landing isn’t profound, it isn’t lyrical, it isn’t a wonderful, timeless and evocative exploration of what literature means to us. I wasn’t nodding in agreement or thinking ‘yes! that’s so what I do!’ in lots of places. It was a very personal, and exclusive, sort of book, not really inviting reader involvement. This is no Ex Libris. It isn’t really a memoir, either, and even if it was, Susan Hill hasn’t done anything particularly of note to make me want to read a memoir of hers anyway. So I was disappointed, overall, and am inclined to say that Susan Hill only got this published because she is Susan Hill. Reading this has been akin to having a conversation about books with a total stranger; it’s been interesting, at times infuriating, at times illuminating, but mostly, forgettable, and will have no influence on my reading life. But, if you love Susan Hill, and rate her opinions, it just might be your cup of tea and open up new reading worlds for you. I hope, for some, that it does, but it certainly didn’t for me.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

I have been reading a good amount of sensation novels lately; it is these ever darkening October nights that are attracting me to good old fashioned tales of melodrama and suspense, I think. I am thoroughly enjoying exploring this genre; from its very beginnings in the Victorian times to the present day, there are no end of wonderful books out there to keep you up into the wee small hours, hooked, desperate to unravel the mystery that is unfolding, and endlessly promising yourself  ‘just one more chapter’…or perhaps five…

So what better way to complement my recent love of all things sensation than by reading a real life version? The Suspicions of Mr Whicher has been on my wish list for a while; a lot of people have been talking about it, reading it on the train, and generally shoving it in my face, and it has intrigued me ever since it came out. However, I don’t like to read what everyone else is reading, so I like to leave a decent interval between a book’s initial hype before I deign to read it myself. I’m not called Book Snob for nothing! So, this weekend, while in Highgate with Bloomsbury Bell (more on this later in the week), when I spotted this book for just £1 in an amazing tat filled charity shop opposite Archway tube station, I couldn’t resist picking it up and taking it home with me. I started it immediately and was absolutely riveted from page one; the murder this book depicts had Victorian England mesmerised in the 1860s, and happened just when sensation fiction was really taking off. Dickens and Wilkie Collins were two famous faces obsessed with it; plots in their novels can be traced back to this case.

The book is about the murder of three year old Francis Saville Kent, taken from his cot in the middle of the night and found the following morning, his little body shoved down the servant’s privy, his throat savagely slit from ear to ear. It was a cruel and seemingly motiveless crime, and yet it soon emerges that it must have been committed by someone in the house. The inhabitants of the large Georgian villa, Road Hill House, deep in the Somerset countryside, in which the crime was committed, contained his parents, his three half sisters and half brother, the children of his father’s previous marriage, his two sisters, his nursemaid, in whose room he slept, and two servant girls. Who, out of this group, could have wanted to kill Saville? And how could they have removed him from his cot without waking his nurse, or his baby sister, who was also in the room?

After the local police force have failed to come up with any leads, they send for the celebrated London Detective, Inspector Whicher, one of the eight founding detectives of Scotland Yard, and who hasn’t failed to solve a case yet. He soon thinks he’s solved the case, but because of who he suspects the criminal to be, his findings are ridiculed, his reputation is ruined, and it is beginning to look like this is a mystery that will never be solved…

Obviously I can’t go into too much detail because it will give it all away, but this really was such a fascinating and engrossing read, as much for the social history the book contains as the central mystery itself. This isn’t really a ‘whodunnit’, because it’s based on real life and Summerscale can’t hide the obvious clues as to the identity of the criminal; I had figured it out after the first few pages. However, it is a wonderful exploration of the rise of the detective in the 19th century; of the vogue for sensation and mystery novels, of the sanctity of the Victorian home, of the reverence of femininity, of the strange irony of the Victorian cult of privacy and domesticity, undermined by the presence of a silent army of ever watchful servants living within most homes; of the fear of surveillance, of the secrets hidden within ordinary looking homes, and of the obsession with madness that meant those who couldn’t live within the ‘normal’ bounds of society were locked up, shunned by a world that couldn’t handle any deviance from their perceived notion of normality. These undercurrents emerging in Victorian society made murders like the one at Road Hill House both shocking and mesmerising to the public. To think that the idealised, private, secure sphere of the home, an Englishman’s Castle, could be penetrated by evil; to think that, of all people, a woman, that gentle, docile, saintly, domesticated figure of Victorian literature, could be the perpetrator…well, it shook the foundations of society. It also provided a terrific basis for a sensation novel plot; the country house mystery started at Road Hill House.

When I looked this up on Amazon, I was surprised to see so many negative reviews. It seems that many people were misled into thinking The Suspicions of Mr Whicher was an Agatha Christie style thriller; it isn’t. If that is what you want, don’t read this. It’s far more a social history of the detective story, of Victorian values, and of the popularity of sensation novels than it is a whodunnit, and personally, the blend of mystery story and history really worked for me. It does get bogged down with a fair bit of unnecessary detail in places, but all in all, this is a must read for anyone interested in the Victorian period and the origins of the detective story. I have found it a fascinating piece of background reading to complement my season of sensational reading. Highly recommended!

Susan Hill: An Exploration

So even though I jumped on the bandwagon and preordered (paying *gasp* full price) Howard’s End is on the Landing by Susan Hill several weeks ago, after hearing how good it was, I must confess that my previous experience of Susan Hill amounted to reading The Woman in Black and watching the stage version in the West End, nearly wetting myself in the process. (Yes, it is that scary, and yes, you should definitely go.)

So, before reading and passing judgement on Howard’s End is on the Landing, as it is apparently more of a memoir than the misleading subtitle ‘A Year of Reading From Home’ may suggest, I thought I should find out a bit more about Susan Hill. That included a cursory google search, as well as pulling the two books I own of hers off my shelves and actually reading them. So over the past few days I have been throughly Susan Hill-ed, reading In the Springtime of the Year and Mrs De Winter in quick succession. These are two incredibly different novels and have nothing to connect them bar the fact that Susan Hill wrote them. This has made for very interesting reading.

First up was In the Springtime of the Year, which I bought during my trip to Bronte land. During my research on Susan Hill I discovered that many people say this is her best novel, so I was quite pleased that I had found this one, and was looking forward to being surprised by its brilliance. In short, I wasn’t.

This novel is about a young woman named Ruth, who is 20, has been married for a couple of years, and lives quite contentedly in a cottage in the countryside with her much older husband Ben and their donkey, chickens, and so on and so forth. The story is set in an indeterminate period; I suspect anywhere between the 20s and 50s, as no cars, television, etc were mentioned as far as I can remember. It opens with a brief section describing Ruth in the throes of grief after the sudden, as yet unexplained, death of her husband Ben, and her chosen isolation from the well meaning neighbours and friends who have tried to offer help in the aftermath of her loss. It then goes into a second section, which describes the day it happened, and Ruth’s experiences of grief, and then the third part explores the process of Ruth learning to ‘move on’.

Now I don’t want to be too harsh about this, as Susan Hill says in the afterword that it is based on her own grief after losing a man she loved, presumably before she married her now husband. Therefore it must be a very personal book to her, tied up with the memories of that time and a cathartic way of expressing her grief. However, you would never know Susan Hill has experienced what Ruth experienced by reading this book. It wasn’t particularly emotional, or heartrending; in fact, I found it quite dull and flat. Ruth never came alive to me; I found her unsympathetic, undeveloped and I didn’t really care about her at all. Her character was never really explained, neither was her history, and the descriptions of Ben through her eyes, clearly designed to make the reader feel a depth of emotion towards him, were of a silent, untalkative man who never seemed to display much affection towards her. I had no idea why she had loved him at all, actually. Or why he had loved her, for that matter. There was also the rather strange character of Jo, Ben’s much younger brother, who came to help Ruth after Ben’s death; I found it very odd that this 14 year old child would be running a 20 year old girl bride’s home for her, and I just didn’t get the relationship or bond between them at all; it just wasn’t authentic.

All in all, I thought this was an unconvincing, badly characterised and not particularly well written novel. The subject matter should have been compelling, involving, emotional; and it was none of these at all. As this was based on Susan Hill’s real life experiences, I would have expected an injection of real, raw emotion in the story of Ruth’s grief, but it just wasn’t there. I didn’t enjoy it at all, and I had to force myself to finish.

So, my first dabble in Susan Hill since The Woman in Black was largely unsuccessful, but undeterred, I progressed on to Mrs De Winter, in which Susan Hill takes up the story of what happened to the De Winters and the inhabitants of their beloved Manderley from where Daphne Du Maurier left them on the final page of her legendary Rebecca. I love Rebecca, and I was dubious about this premise; I don’t normally like sequels of books that aren’t written by the original author. All of these ‘Pemberley’ and ‘Darcy and Elizabeth’ esque novels that attempt to extend what was already a perfectly fine and complete story don’t get very far with me. For me, they can never truly capture the style of the original, and the story they tell doesn’t carry much weight, as we can have no idea that the future they imagine for the characters was what their creator had in mind for them. But, nevertheless, I left my prejudices at the door and got stuck in to Mrs De Winter as if it were any other novel. And it was good. Full of suspense, full of menace, a real page turner. I can’t really describe the plot because it will give things away, but I will give a brief idea of how it starts; it opens with a funeral, for which Maxim and the still nameless Mrs De Winter return to England after a decade in exile. Mrs De Winter longs to stay, and is tired of traipsing around Europe with no home of her own; Maxim is less sure. They are reassured by their old friends that they have nothing to fear in returning to England now; it is all water under the bridge, Maxim was cleared, and what use would anyone have in dredging up those old stories again? The past is over, done with, finished. What need they be afraid of? Mrs De Winter manages to persuade herself of this, but when it comes to Rebecca, as it soon becomes very clear, the past can never stay buried for long…

I wouldn’t say this book was brilliantly written; Susan Hill has a penchant for over description, which does annoy me a fair bit, and there was many an unlikely coincidence, but it was a good read that I couldn’t put down, and for that, I give her praise. It wasn’t a faithful sequel of Rebecca; I didn’t feel the characters had the same three dimensionality that Du Maurier gave them, and Mrs De Winter came across as incredibly sappy, but as a sensation novel using the plot of Rebecca to tell its tale it worked well, though it wouldn’t stand alone at all.

I have come to the conclusion, judging from the three books of hers I have now read, that she is far better at writing suspenseful, sensation based novels than more mainstream ones; of course, my only example of a mainstream one is In the Springtime of the Year, so I may be wrong, but personally, I have not been induced by my experience of that to try another, so I suppose I shall just never know.

I am currently reading The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, as Mrs De Winter has made me want to launch straight back into my Autumn Sensation reading, and what better than to read a real life version? But after that, I will be sure to read Howard’s End is on the Landing, as now I feel a little more better prepared to appreciate a book of Susan Hill’s that is more memoir than anything else. I look forward to seeing what side of the camp I fall on; will I love or hate it? Stay tuned to find out!

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

This has been my first foray into ‘sensation’ fiction since reading Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White several years ago so I was very excited to get back into the genre, which I thoroughly enjoy, as well as discover a new author in Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

As with a lot of the blockbuster novels of the Victorian era, this was produced originally for magazine publication, printed serially to keep addicted readers buying the magazine week after week (or month after month, as the case might be). This means that each chapter ends with a tantalising cliffhanger to keep the reader in suspense, and leave them desperate for the next keenly awaited installment. I enjoy this style of writing immensely, as there is nothing better than a book you can’t put down. I discovered after reading The Children’s Book that a good plot is something I can’t do without in a novel, and sensation fiction puts the plot above all other considerations. This does mean that the writing is decidedly ropey in places, and the characterisation could certainly be a lot better, but I am not complaining; Braddon wasn’t attempting to win any prizes with her writing; she wrote furiously, often with more than one serial on the go at the time, in order to put food on the table for her ten children (she was quite the woman!), and so she focused on writing a jolly good story more than anything else, and she certainly succeeded in doing so with Lady Audley’s Secret. I don’t know how the original readers coped with having to wait for their next installments; I was hooked from page one!

Now the plot itself is interesting in that, by about half way through, the solution to the central mystery is pretty obvious; it’s no mindbending Jonathan Creek episode, that’s for sure. This surprised me as I thought there would be a lot more build up and confusion and subterfuge than there was. However, there are several more secrets tied up in the mystery that keep the reader guessing until the very end, and there is a very nice, and very unexpected, final twist that I really didn’t see coming. So, there is plenty in this for the amateur detective to unpick, even though the clues are not the most well hidden.

The basic premise is this; a young man named George Talboys returns from Australia to England with a small fortune he has earned over the past three years. He abandoned his wife and child in England to go to Australia and swore he wouldn’t come back to them until he has earned enough to keep them in comfort. In high spirits he comes back to London, anxious to meet his much beloved wife again and share their newly found wealth. He bumps into his old schoolfriend, a young, goodnatured and idle barrister named Robert Audley, to whom he relates his good fortune. They go off to the pub to celebrate, and in this pub George has asked his wife to leave a letter for him to tell him where she is, so that he can go to her upon his return. George is surprised to find no letter waiting for him; then, deathly pale, he shows Robert the page of The Times with the death notices in; his wife’s name, Helen Talboys, is listed as a recent death, on the Isle of Wight. Shocked and disbelieving, George and Robert go to the Isle of Wight to see Helen’s grave; her father is there, and confirms her death. George is broken and devastated, and Robert takes him back to London to care for him in his grief.

Robert has a wealthy uncle, Sir Michael Audley, who owns a stunningly perfect house, Audley Court, in Essex. Sir Michael has recently married a beautiful woman, Lady Lucy, who was of humble origin; a governess in the local doctor’s house. Everyone who meets her falls in love with her; she is sweet and good and gentle and docile; everything the perfect Victorian ‘Angel in the House’ should be. Robert decides a visit to Audley would be the perfect rest for George, and so they set off for a trip to the country. However, one afternoon George disappears, never to be seen again, and the last person he was seen with was Lady Audley. Robert, devastated at the disappearance of his friend, sets out to discover what may have been his fate.

Dum dum dum. And so the mystery begins, and while, as I say, it becomes perfectly obvious what has gone on fairly quickly, there are also several other characters who have things to hide, and there is also the mystery of Lady Audley’s ‘secret’, which may, or may not, hold the key to it all…

It’s hard to properly review a book that depends so much on its plot, as I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice to say it is a wonderful slice of Victorian reading history, a terrifically good mystery story, and very difficult to put down; I highly recommend it. Also, it is very interesting from the point of view of portrayals of womanhood in Victorian Britain; Lady Lucy is on the surface a ‘wax doll’ – all innocently wide eyed and helpless, but underneath the surface she is something else entirely. Braddon makes frequent comments about the artifice of female beauty, and the daringness of making a woman who appears to so embody the Victorian feminine ideal into a villainess, hiding much darker depths under that tranquil surface, is perhaps not as obvious or shocking to us now as it would have been at the time. Also, the idea of madness as a female disease, as something that explained away ‘deviant’ behaviour in a woman, is raised, and I found it fascinating how anxious male characters were to find a medical excuse for villainy in a woman, rather than accepting that women, just like men, can have base and evil characters.

I really did thoroughly enjoy this; thanks so much to Simon for launching his Sensation Season; I know I’d never have picked this up if I hadn’t have been nudged to by his challenge. Next up on my Sensation pile is Collins’ The Moonstone…I can’t wait!

Recent Aquisitions

Perhaps the reason I am eating an awful lot of baked beans on toast and frowning every time I withdraw money from the cash machine of late is because I may have slightly overdone it on book acquisitions recently. I am reminded of the famous quote by Erasmus -
“When I have a little money, I buy books. If any is left over, I buy food and clothes.”
So very true. Except for there is none left over, and yet I must eat anyway or I would actually starve. Thank goodness for overdrafts.

So, in my hungry and poor state, what better consolation than a pile of lovely new books to cheer my desolate mealtimes and lonely evenings while my friends are out having fun and I am left indoors with my empty purse?

I have got a cracking pile here to get stuck into and as the nights draw in I love nothing better than curling up on the sofa and getting lost in a good book.

The top one on the pile is Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, something I have been meaning to read for ages and which I will read for Simon’s Sensation Season. I am currently reading Lady Audley’s Secret and am nearly wetting myself with the suspense so I can’t wait for another book in the same vein. What I love about sensation novels from this period is that they were mostly written for publication in periodicals, which means there is a cliffhanger at the end of every paragraph – I don’t know how the original readers coped with the wait for the next instalment! Also, OUP have done themselves proud with their new cover designs and though paperbacks don’t normally appeal to me massively I am greatly enjoying the look of these new imprints on my shelves.

Next up is a gift from my American friend Emily (hi Emily!) – it’s a fascimile of Jane Austen’s A History of England, edited by A S Byatt, of all people. It’s also signed by A S Byatt which I would have been far more excited about had I received this before reading The Children’s Book! It is a lovely edition and is in full colour. I never knew it existed before so I am excited to read some more of her juvenilia.

Underneath this is Molly Keane’s Loving Without Tears, which I bought from the Brompton Road charity shop that receives a hefty proportion of my monthly salary by virtue of being dangerously convenient to visit on a lunchbreak stroll. I adore Molly Keane and have been wanting to read this for a while, so I couldn’t resist picking it up. I look forward to getting lost in her catty world of Anglo Irish aristocracy again – Desperate Reader’s review has whet my appetite immensely!

The gorgeous Bloomsbury reprint of Ada Leverson’s Love’s Shadow was given to me by the lovely Mary, to whom I lent Dorothy Whipple’s Young Anne, and she gave me this as a thank you in return. I am so excited to read this as I have heard such good things!

I snagged The Blue Castle from ebay a couple of weeks ago, a purchase prompted by reading Nicola’s great review and Elaine’s recent slew of posts on L M Montgomery, who I have become increasingly desperate to read. I never read Anne of Green Gables as a child so I thought I’d start with one of her adult novels, of which this is one, before moving on to the Anne series. The Blue Castle is apparently a great favourite of many and sadly out of print so I am very excited to discover the joy I have been promised lies within its pages!

Underneath is another recent ebay purchase – Every Good Deed, an out of print Dorothy Whipple which I have been desperate to get my hands on. It is a much slimmer volume than I had expected, though I think this is something to do with the teeny tiny print and thin war economy standard paper. I can’t wait to read this and it should give me my Dorothy fix until I *hopefully* get the new Persephone reprint of High Wages for Christmas!

Beneath this are two lovely American paperbacks; The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and The Known World, which the lovely Claire sent me and which I have also heard many fantastic things about – can’t wait to get stuck into these.

Then there is the controversial Howard’s End is on the Landing…the consensus of it being marvellous has just been broken by some interesting reviews from Claire and Verity so I am looking forward to seeing where I will stand on the debate.

And finally there are six books I bought in charity shops while up North…a first edition of Margaret Atwood’s Lady Oracle, which I have wanted for a while and has a great cover of a Russian doll – one of my most favourite objects ever – and which I bought for the sum of 75p…Susan Hill’s In the Springtime of the Year, bought because I wanted to read more of her work after all the Howard’s End is on the Landing hype…Daphne Du Maurier’s The Rendezvous and Other Stories, because Danielle has been posting such tantalising reviews of her stories lately, Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates, because I loved Revolutionary Road, have got some lovely copies of his other books from Vintage, and will be doing a reading challenge on him soon (keep your eyes peeled – with giveaways too!), Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford, which I later discovered is not Highland Fling at all, but Christmas Pudding (also by her) in the wrong dustjacket…slightly annoying but at least it’s still a Nancy Mitford! and finally, The Angel’s Game, which I desperately wanted after loving The Shadow of the Wind but refused to buy new – my stubborness paid off as it was mine for just £2.50.

So, lots to get on with! Has anyone read any of these? What do you think I should tackle first?