With the inevitability of rain on a Bank Holiday, I went to Blackwells. I suppose I could have held off for a week, but that would have been deferring a pleasure and who knows what might happen in the interim? No, I can’t condone that sort of risky behaviour.
So I drifted up to the classic literature section (2nd floor, on the right), which used only to house the standard Oxfords and Penguins. It has gradually expanded to include Persephones, university press editions, NYRB and other imprints suggestive of the good stuff. Perhaps it’s worth waiting until an author’s works graduate from contemporary fiction on the first floor up to the second? It would be one way of cutting out a lot of the dross, although possibly rather a slow one. On the other hand, still no Simon Raven to be seen, which leads me to say again to Random House/Vintage: ‘Guys. WTF?’
Anyway, these are the results of my very restrained book snaffling activities:
Swan Song – Edmund Crispin – which I’ve not seen in print before, and which wasn’t one of his best. I am sad to say that once you get past Holy Disorders, The Moving Toyshop and Love Lies Bleeding, the rest always fall a little short. That fact will in no way prevent me from continuing to buy them as I come across them, though.
Nightingale Wood – Stella Gibbons – Cold Comfort Farm is another one of those books that one should buy in multiple editions and keep on hand in various locations in case of emergencies (bad day, being sick, rain, snow, unspecified feeling out of sortsness…) I’ve been looking for more Gibbons on and off for years, and I’d heard rumours that Nightingale Wood was available. See how sneakily Virago have made it look like chick lit so that it will actually sell? Anyway, written in 1938 and a most satisfactory romantic tale against all class-based odds, with some sharp social perception and spot on writing to boot. I think Persephone missed a trick, it would sit well in their list alongside Marghanita Laski’s The Village. Gibbons is funny too. As one chapter ends with some rather dramatic news, the next opens ‘It would take Shakespeare and Proust, working in shifts, to cope with the reaction when this piece of news burst upon The Eagles.’ I love that.
The Crowded Street – Winifred Holtby. Which I have not yet read, but that distinctive grey and cream jacket is by now a hallmark for reliability.
In Praise of Older Women – Stephen Vicinczey (which in fact, came off one of the contemporary fiction tables; hoist on the petard of my own book snobbery) – So, the photo above was taken in the Grand Cafe, where I went in order to drink tea and gloat over my new purchases. Vicinczey was up first so of course I just dipped in. And then it was an hour and a half later, and the tea was long gone. I was utterly beguiled. And now I direct you to what John Self at The Asylum had to say about it, because he’s a much better reviewer than I am and his comments are what made me grab it as soon as I saw it.
Of Love and Hunger – Julian Maclaren-Ross – Ripped from the shelf before I’d had time even to finish reading the author’s name in full. I’ve been looking for something by him for ages. I was slightly afeared he would be a bit too Hamilton-esque (good but gruelling), which he was not. Much more heart to this doomed love story. Plus, evil Sukie quotes from Letters from Iceland, so Maclaren-Ross was probably a fan. It might just be me but I think it’s rare to see a contemporary reaction to Auden/MacNeice?
To Bed with Grand Music – Marghanita Laski. That Persephone stamp again, plus I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her other books. This was also very good in a different way, and it’s not surprising it got pounded at the time of publication because it doesn’t at all fit in with the prevailing stiff-upper-lip-everyone-did-their-bit-brave-wives-and-mothers- keeping-the-home-fires-burning line that one expects of WWII era writing. Deborah Robertson is young, stupid and self-interested, capable of viewing her own motives in the rosiest of lights in order to get what she wants. And pretty quickly after her husband leaves for the East, she wants to get away from her young son and have what fun there is to be had in London. Life doesn’t have to be all rationing and austerity if you’re a manipulative slut who is prepared to accommodate a string of foreign men who are all in London for the short term.
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn – which I snagged on a return trip when I needed something to read on the flight. Flynn’s debut, Sharp Objects, was a nastily compelling tale of small town Southern fucked-upness, with murder, family secrets and an amateur detective heroine who could barely stay sober enough to see what was going on in front of her. Dark Places? Not so good, trying for the same effect and just not quite getting there. If she does a third I’ll give it a go, but I’m not waiting for it in the same way as I am for Tana French.
I have just realised that there’s a lot of linking going on in this post, not to mention something of an insight into my mental literary map. Secondly, I mention gloating, and it strikes me that the lack of such possibilities with ebooks is another strike against them. Because for me, the book gloating is much to do with the cover, the paper, the design, the font, the tactility of the physical object itself, and it is one of the joys of purchasing. I throw this out as a genuine question: Can one gloat over an ebook?