Monthly Archives: August 2009

Mariana – Monica Dickens


I loved this book. It was definitely of its time and is probably a bit dated now.

Here is what has to say about it …

Monica Dickens’s first book, published in 1940, could easily have been called Mariana – an Englishwoman. For that is what it is: the story of a young English girl’s growth towards maturity in the 1930s. We see Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday in Somerset; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion; and her romance with Sam. We chose this book because we wanted to publish a novel like Dusty Answer, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, about a girl encountering life and love, which is also funny, readable and perceptive; it is a ‘hot-water bottle’ novel, one to curl up with on the sofa on a wet Sunday afternoon. But it is more than this. As Harriet Lane remarks in her Preface: ‘It is Mariana’s artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers.’ And John Sandoe Books in Sloane Square (an early champion of Persephone Books) commented: ‘The contemporary detail is superb – Monica Dickens’s descriptions of food and clothes are particularly good – and the characters are observed with vitality and humour. Mariana is written with such verve and exuberance that we would defy any but academics and professional cynics not to enjoy it.’

And I think that pretty much sums it up – definitely worth reading if you liked I Capture the Castle. I haven’t read the two others they mention in the review, but I shall be looking out for them.

Here are some other reviews …

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The Making of a Marchioness – Frances Hodgson Burnett


I haven’t read any of Hodgson Burnett’s work before – not even The Secret Garden. I was quite keen to read this one, but found it quite difficult to find. In the end I bought it from Persephone – it’s a beautiful edition (not the one shown above, but one of their standard grey covers) with lovely thick pages.

I loved it – it’s a light romantic period piece. I enjoyed all of the references to fashion and the social mores of the day.

I can’t imagine any modern woman acting at all like Emily Fox-Seton – I’m sure we are all aware of our worth today and wouldn’t be so innocently accomodating (we would know when someone is taking advantage of us), but that just added to the pure escapist joy.

Here’s the blurb from one book seller …

Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Secret Garden are bestsellers, but the lesser-known adult novel The Making of a Marchioness remains a much-loved favorite among many. Unjustly out of print for years, this neglected classic deserves its place alongside Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.

Part one, the original Marchioness, is in the Cinderella tradition, while part two, called The Methods of Lady Walderhurst, is an absorbing melodrama–a realistic commentary on late-Victorian marriage.

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) grew up in Manchester. In 1886, Little Lord Fauntleroy was a huge popular success; from then on Burnett wrote for both children and adults.

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Breath – Tim Winton


I’ve only read one Tim Winton novel The Ridersand I hated it. However, my mum passed this one onto me and my book club were keen to read it, so I took a deep breath (no pun intended – or maybe just a little) and read it.

Here’s the blurb …

When paramedic Bruce Pike is called out to deal with another teen aged adventure gone wrong, he knows better than his partner – better than the parents – what happened and how. Thirty years before, that dead boy could have been him.

Living in Perth, I loved the Australian references – meeting at the servo and the cold sausages in the fridge, Bill Sanderson being called Sando. I also kept thinking about what town Sawyer was based on – was it Walpole or Margaret River or somewhere else entirely.

This was a quick and easy read and for me it was all about plot. I raced to the end because I wanted to find out Pikelet’s fate. I’ve never really understood the surfing obsession and this novel highlighted that for me. If you’re at all interested in surfing it’s worth reading for all of the surfing stories.

I found the final third of the novel  – the aftermath of the amazing summer of surfing (amongst other things) slow going. Pikelet’s life had been derailed – he couldn’t maintain relationships, he drank too much and was addicted to risk taking (looking for the next adrenalin rush).

I would recommend this novel, but I won’t be reading it again.

Here are a few reviews …,25197,23620233-25132,00.html

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The Children’s Book – A S Byatt


A S Byatt is one of my favourite authors. I loved Possession and the quartet starting with The Virgin in the Garden. They’re so rich and finely detailed. Full of interesting people whose fate I care about.

I read The Children’s Booktwice because it was dense. Packed full of information about all sorts of interesting things; information about poetry, jewellery making, Fabianism, popular culture in the late Victorian and Edwardian era.

Here is what the Publisher writes about it …

From the renowned author of Possession, The Children’s Book is the absorbing story of the close of what has been called the Edwardian summer: the deceptively languid, blissful period that ended with the cataclysmic destruction of World War I. In this compelling novel, A.S. Byatt summons up a whole era, revealing that beneath its golden surface lay tensions that would explode into war, revolution and unbelievable change — for the generation that came of age before 1914 and, most of all, for their children.

The novel centres around Olive Wellwood, a fairy tale writer, and her circle, which includes the brilliant, erratic craftsman Benedict Fludd and his apprentice Phillip Warren, a runaway from the poverty of the Potteries; Prosper Cain, the soldier who directs what will become the Victoria and Albert Museum; Olive’s brother-in-law Basil Wellwood, an officer of the Bank of England; and many others from every layer of society. A.S. Byatt traces their lives in intimate detail and moves between generations, following the children who must choose whether to follow the roles expected of them or stand up to their parents’ “porcelain socialism.”

Olive’s daughter Dorothy wishes to become a doctor, while her other daughter, Hedda, wants to fight for votes for women. Her son Tom, sent to an upper-class school, wants nothing more than to spend time in the woods, tracking birds and foxes. Her nephew Charles becomes embroiled with German-influenced revolutionaries. Their portraits connect the political issues at the heart of nascent feminism and socialism with grave personal dilemmas, interlacing until The Children’s Book becomes a perfect depiction of an entire world.

Olive is a fairy tale writer in the era of Peter Pan and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In the Willows, not long after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. At a time when children in England suffered deprivation by the millions, the concept of childhood was being refined and elaborated in ways that still influence us today. For each of her children, Olive writes a special, private book, bound in a different colour and placed on a shelf; when these same children are ferried off into the unremitting destruction of the Great War, the reader is left to wonder who the real children in this novel are.

The Children’s Book is an astonishing novel. It is an historical feat that brings to life an era that helped shape our own as well as a gripping, personal novel about parents and children, life’s most painful struggles and its richest pleasures. No other writer could have imagined it or created it.

They do a much better job at summarising the plot than I do.

This novel had an interesting pace. It started of slow and speed up to a rapid speed by the end – bit like life really. As a child summer holidays seem to last for ever and as an adult they seem to be over in a blink of an eye.

I know I’m not going to do this novel justice in trying to write a review, so I shall keep it brief.

I love how she gets inside people’s heads and writes their inner most thoughts and feelings. For example,

She sensed that Methley did not know how to deal with the owners of the cafe to which he had so confidently brought her. He looked a fool, and she would never forgive him for that. She noted that he looked as though he had had to pay more than was comfortable for him.

I loved all of the social history; reading about the first performance of  Peter Pan,  just how difficult it was for women to study (and to become doctors), different glazes and how an air bubble in a pot can destroy not only that firing but the kiln as well.

However, I did not like this novel as much as her previous works.

Here are some other reviews (much better than mine) …

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