Henry Green Week – Party Going

Party Going by Henry Green

It’s Henry Green Week hosted by Winston’s Dad.  Before Stu decided to champion this underappreciated British author, who mostly wrote in the second quarter of the 20th C, I’d never heard of him – but he’s quite a discovery…

I bought an edition which collected three of his novels together – Living, Loving and Party Going.  Loving is perhaps his best known but, time being short, I opted for Party Going, the shortest of the three; his third novel which was published in 1939.

If you take the title literally, Party Going tells you all about itself in just two words.  A group of bright young things are getting ready to go to a house party in the south of France. They’re meeting at the station to catch the boat train from London.  However a pea-souper fog has descended and the trains aren’t going anywhere.  So the entire novel takes place around the station and the adjacent hotel where the group retire to.

The group gradually gather, together with their piles of luggage. There’s Robert and Claire, whose Aunt, Miss Fellowes has come to see them off, only to have a funny turn. There’s Miss Crevy – Angela, whose young man Robin has come to see her off, but is jealous that he’s not going.  Evelyn Henderson is guardian of the tickets; Julia, whose uncle is a director of the train line; and Alex a friend of the host who, at the start of the novel is noted by his absence, for Max is busy trying to get rid of his girlfriend Amabel, whom he hasn’t invited.  He’s thinking of throwing her over for Julia.

Soon it becomes clear that no trains will be going anywhere in a hurry, and the station is filling up with people who can’t get home.  In sweeps Max, leaves his man to guard all the luggage and whisks his party off to the hotel where he books three rooms – one for him – and Julia if he’s lucky, one for the ill aunt, and one for the others to see out the wait.

So the scene is set – a nice and claustrophobic situation has been quite naturally  engineered, and the young things sit around, drink, bicker and gossip.  Max can’t stand all this, and manages to take Julia upstairs;  where she’s looking out of the window into the station concourse …

And as she watched she saw this crowd was in some way different. It could not be larger as there was no room, but in one section under her window it seemed to be swaying like branches rock in a light wind and, paying greater attention, she seemed to hear a continuous murmur coming from it. When she noticed heads everywhere turned towards that section just below she flung her window up. Max said: ‘Don’t go and let all that in,’ and she heard them chanting beneath: ‘WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS.’ Also that raw air came in, harsh with fog and from somewhere a smell of cooking, there was a shriek from somewhere in the crowd, it was on a vast scale and not far above her was that vault of glass which was blue now instead of green, now that she was closer to it. She had forgotten what it was like to be outside, what it smelled and felt like, and she had not realised what this crowd was, just seeing it through glass. It went on chanting WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS from that one section which surged to and fro…

Life is about to get more complicated too,  for Max hasn’t counted on the detective-like abilities of Amabel to seek them out.

They are, for the most part, a horrid bunch. Amabel is conniving cow, who batters men into compliance, ordering Alex about like a personal slave. Robert has cleared off to the bar for most of the story.   Claire is concerned about her aunt, but naturally finds her illness detracts from her limelight. Angela – Miss Crevy – Green chops and changes between formal and informal throughout with her name, is the newbie in the group and rather out of her depth.  They are all self-obsessed, bad at listening, and have personal axes to grind.  Max is a typical rich playboy, but doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, and who with, but is less judgemental than the others, which is a relief, for the rest are a selfish lot. There’s nothing like a comedy of manners set in a closed situation to stir things up.

There are no formal chapters in this novel, and few breaks in the text – Green also frequently cuts mid-paragraph to different voices all the time, requiring you to be on your toes to know whose PoV you’re in. Green also has a habit of leaving out words like ‘the’, so it can make for a demanding read. He was clearly ahead of his time! In between however, the descriptive passages such as the above excerpt are rather fine.

So thanks Stu, for introducing a fascinating author new to me. One I’ll look forward to reading a lot more of.  (8.5/10)

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I bought my book. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Loving, Living, Party Going


Sex & Show-jumping – only in Rutshire!

Riders by Jilly Cooper.

I have never had a personal desire to get on a horse, but watching show-jumping on telly was a fixture that I looked forward to while growing up.

The Horse of the Year Show with the Puissance always ending with that gigantic wall getting higher and higher, the relay races, and the incredibly tight courses riden against the clock was a week of great viewing. The Hickstead Derby with the iconic Derby bank and swimming pool of a water jump was a must as a relief from tennis which tends to dominate June.  There were also Nations Cup events, where the teams had to ride each other’s horses.

Show-jumping back in the 1970s was full of real characters. Who could forget Harvey Smith, who on having won two Derbys on the trot made a ‘V’ sign to the judges. I always enjoyed watching the Irishman Eddie Macken who cut a dash with his wavy blond locks and green jacket on his horse Boomerang.  It is a shame that show-jumping has all but fallen off the TV schedules.

So, on to Riders by Jilly Cooper.  We’ll be discussing this 919 page chunkster at Book group next week, but as I have to pass the book on promptly to give one of our other members a chance to read it, I decided to write it up now, and will come back with the group’s reactions later to this unconventional choice of reading (for a book group in general that is).

Set in the Cotswolds, Riders is the first in Cooper’s ‘Rutshire Chronicles’ and was published in 1985.  It concerns just two things in its 340,000 words:  Show-jumping and Sex.  It’s a true bonk-buster – one of the originals, complete with an utter cad, toffs and comedy accents, a poor boy made good, with the added thrill of the show-jumping ring, however at its heart it really is a romance and you’re always hoping for a happy ending.

The main story concerns Jake Lovell, an orphan born of gypsy stock who ran away from school to learn about horses.  He wants to set up his own yard and jump horses, but he’s just a groom as the book opens and penniless with it.  Contrasting  with him is Rupert Campbell-Black, rich and charismatic, who beds every woman who crosses his path, unless they’re fat and ugly that is.  A champion show-jumper already, he’s not known for treating his horses with respect.  As it happens, Jake’s mother was the cook at Rupert’s prep-school, and Rupe was always nasty to Jake, so a rivalry is born.

Jake luckily manages to marry a rich, but plain, girl – Tory, who bankrolls his ambitions.  However their relationship is a loving one, well at first! Rupert goes after a rich American socialite, the ravishingly beautiful but brittle Helen.  He eventually gets her, but theirs is not to be a happy relationship, Rupe can’t cope with monogamy, and Helen finds it very difficult to lose her inhibitions.

After Rupert had come, with that splendid driving flourish of staccato thrusts which reminded Helen of the end of a Beethoven symphony, he fell into a deep sleep. Helen, lying in his arms, had been far too tense and nervous of interruption to gain any satisfaction.

It’s not all sex though, there are horses too. Tory’s younger sister Fenella is a promising show-jumper and could, if she tried harder, be picked for the British team with her horses Laurel and Hardy. Being still a teenager, she’s too interested in partying and Jake takes her to task…

‘You’re not going to make a fool of yourself at Olympia,’ he said.
‘I suppose Tory and Dino have been sneaking.’
‘They didn’t need to. One of the Olympic scouts was in Amsterdam. He said if Jesus Christ had ridden that donkey into Jerusalem the way you were riding Laurel and Hardy all week, he deserved to be crucified.’

Cooper engineers many crises and cliff-hangers to keep the gargantuan story moving.  There is a huge cast of other characters, most of whom are simply portrayed, and conform to  type, but fit well into the story. I particularly liked Billy, Rupe’s best friend who rises from being co-tormentor of Jake to being a decent chap and ace show-jumper too, and the only person who can keep Rupe in check, occasionally.  These show-jumpers are the equivalent of stadium rock stars in their world, on tour for ten months of the year, just touching base occasionally – unless they or the horses get injured that is.   Everything moves from Jake’s humble beginnings in the horsey world towards the major climax of him and Rupe starring at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

The writing is breezy, earthy and robust, with some swearing and obviously lots of raciness – I remember it being considered very naughty when it came out; of course many novels go far further these days. I do wish we could have reached the end around 300 pages sooner as 919 pages, even if easy to read does take time; but I have to confess that I really enjoyed this racy doorstop of a book!  I will no longer turn my nose up at Jilly Cooper books when I encounter them in bookcases on holiday, I’ll search them out instead, and she could become my guilty secret read.  (8/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Ridersby Jilly Cooper, Corgi paperback.

Strictly – The Tour!

My daughter and I sped off to Birmingham this morning to catch the Sunday matinee of this year’s Strictly Come Dancing Tour.  What a show it was! The emphasis with the live tour is on providing sheer entertainment value, as the larger arena venues do lose the intimacy of the TV studio. Many of the exchanges between judges, host and dancers are semi-scripted – but it works, because they all stray all over the place and Bruno, Len and Craig are in fits of laughter half the time, leaving it to competent and glam hostess Kate Thornton to keep it all together (can’t see Tess being as successful!).

First up after the initial pro dance was footballer Robbie Savage, dancing with Katya (as Ola and James are not on the tour this year) to ‘entertain us’ with his salsa.  Not a great dance, but a good opening number.  Following him was Anita Dobson with Robin doing their Charleston which was fun. Next came tall swimmer Mark Foster, brought back from 2008 to dance with Natalie, and a rather nice but slightly wooden waltz.

Then it was Nancy’s turn. Thankfully, she was now dancing with Artem, and his tweaking of Anton’s ‘Be Italian’ tango routine played down the slapstick, but upped the comedy with a great fun pass the rose from mouth to mouth sequence.  She commanded a real presence where the judges were concerned and declared that she was after Craig!

Then we had the three finalists – Jason’s ‘Wham’ jive with Kristina – great fun and no wrong steps; Chelsee’s airline stewardess quickstep with Pasha, and Harry and Aliona’s steamy argentine tango.  Then half-time ice-creams beckoned and we texted in our votes so far.

All seven couples danced again in the same order inthe second half.  Robbie did his groin-clutching ‘Bad’ Paso – and yes he did jump up on the judges desk again! Robin and Anita did their samba (or was it a salsa?) to a Harry Belafonte number.  Mark did his wooden cha cha cha in the seethrough black shirt that got ripped off to reveal his pecs (‘They didn’t invite me back for my dancing’, he quipped).  Then came Nancy…

Artem and Robin dressed as slaves carried her in as Cleopatra recumbent on a bier cum stretcher and she Walked Like an Egyptian for a bit and brought the house down.  She is comedy gold!  Then we had the big three again.  Jason and Kristina danced a perfect Argentine tango (loved K’s red dress), then Pasha and Chelsee did their show dance, and one of the lifts went wrong which put her off a bit, poor love. This left Harry and Aliona to clean-up with their lovely quickstep.

Predictably, Harry won, but this is only the beginning of the tour.  Some of the dances are a little rusty yet, and who knows – I wonder if they do the same ones every show?   I was willing Jason to win today – Harry has had his turn.  Better luck next time Jason.

The tour goes on through February around the UK, and goes over to Dublin too.   We went last year too.  My daughter like this year’s more, I’d be hard picked to choose,  but if there is one next year, we’ll definitely be going again.

Adrian Mole is 30 or is that 43 3/4? …

Can you believe it? The first Adrian Mole book by Sue Townsend is thirty years old! Was it really back in 1982 that we first met the spotty and pubescent Leicester teenager?

I can well remember the publishing phenomenon that was the first Adrian Mole book.  I was a few months into my first job for an electronics company in Great Yarmouth and finding it hard to get along in off-season Norfolk after the hustle and bustle of London.  A good funny book was just the thing to banish the blues and I loved it.

Adrian is somehow, for someone so pompous and superior, surprisingly easy to love.  Underlying his unerring seriousness about life and his secure knowledge that he is a great intellectual. tortured poet and novelist manqué, is an insecure young man who just wants to be loved.  This is Townsend’s triumph; if Adrian hadn’t been so, it couldn’t work as brilliantly as it does. I do love his pretensions…

Sunday January 11th
First after Epiphany
Now I know I am an intellectual. I saw Malcolm Muggeridge on the television last night. and I understood nearly every word. It all adds up. A bad home, a poor diet, not liking punk. I think I will join the library and see what happens.

In years to follow, seven more volumes and occasional extra episodes will appear in Adrian’s story taking him up to his fortieth birthday.  Of course it’s not all about Adrian, but also his family, friends, colleagues, enemies and Pandora Braithwaite, the undying object of his affection and love object through the years.

Sunday May 9th
4th after Easter, Mother’s Day (USA and Canada)
I have just realized that I have never seen a dead body or a real female nipple. This is what comes of living in a cul-de-sac.

Monday May 10th
I asked Pandora to show me one of her nipples but she refused. I tried to explain that it was in the interest of widening my life experience, but she buttoned her cardigan up to the neck and went home.

(The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, 1984)

Poor Adrian! Of course by the time he’s in the sixth form, he looks back on his earlier diaries with the benefit of hindsight…

Mole on Lifestyle
October 1985
I often look back on my callow youth, and when I do a smile flits across my now mature but pitted face. I hardly recognize the naïve boy I once was. To think that I once believed that Evelyn Waugh was a woman! Of course now, with a couple of ‘O’ levels under my belt, I am far more sophisticated and I know that Evelyn Waugh, should he be alive today, would be very, indeed, dead proud of his daughter, Auberon; because of course Evelyn is the father of Auberon and not, as I once thought, the mother.

(True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, 1989)

The new 30th Anniversary editions from Penguin

I’ve loved getting to know Adrian and his extended family again. I don’t really like Pandora, but then we’re not meant to.  I have though loved the episodes with Adrian’s arch enemy Barry Kent, who starts off as school bully, only to eclipse our ‘hero’ in the literary stakes much to Adrian’s disgust and envy.

So far I’ve re-read the first four in the series, and am about to embark on new territory with the remaining volumes which I haven’t read before.  What I’ve loved is the whole nostalgia trip so far, reliving the 1980s through Adrian’s warped lens.  I’ve guffawed and chuckled, and gone ‘Aww’ when not so good things have happened – but such is Townsend’s skill that it only takes a sentence to turn it around into pure comedy once more.

It’s no wonder that Open Book listeners on BBC Radio 4 have voted the first book in the series as the funniest novel ever.  In his naïvety, the young Adrian is funnier than the older more knowing one, who can be a bit of a jobsworth and pedant. A couple of books on and the comedy is beginning to become slightly farcical and more mannered rather than that of the innocent abroad. Adrian is also beginning to  realize that he’s wasting his life, but short of finding a publisher for his life’s work doesn’t really know what to do about it. It’ll be fun to find out what does happen.

Secret Diary (Mole 1) was a huge crossover hit, popular with both teens and adults of the time. Reading these books now was/is a joy for me, but I get all the jokes – I was there. Today’s teens and YA audience may struggle to find the humour in parts if lacking the cultural references of those days; however the character types are all recognisable and basically funny anyway with traits we can all identify with or know examples of.  I wouldn’t want to discourage them from enjoying this brilliant saga. As the press release from Penguin says …

“1982 – While British soldiers fight a war far away and the Conservative government grapples with mass unemployment, the country celebrates a Royal wedding.
2012 – Not a lot has changed.”

Book #1 – (10/10), #2 – (10/10), #3 – (7.5/10), #4 – (8/10)

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My books were kindly supplied by Penguin Books – Thank you! The new editions to be published on Jan 19th come with a host of extras in the back – Adrian’s family tree and potted biogs of all the main characters, Adrian’s CV, Q&A with Sue Townsend and much more.

To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 (Adrian Mole 1) by Sue Townsend.