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Get your own card here and join in the fun!
I had such good intentions back here joining in with the Little Big readalong, but already I’ve got seriously waylaid by Shiny New Books and other things, not the least of which is that I’m now behind on Anthony Powell because I started my Annabel’s Shelves project. I once did one of those personality tests and came out as a Creator-Innovator – which means that I’m bad on following through… Yup! That’s me.
This is my excuse for saying that I’m putting re-reading Little Big on hold having made it only to page 75. The key reason for this is that I’m struggling to get into it. There is just so much description – it’s like Donna Tartt with added parentheses. It’s not that the language or style is difficult, it isn’t, but it is leisurely and I’m less time-tolerant of this quality in a text these days. Mea culpa.
However, there were bits I loved – in particular Edgewood having a multiplicity of fronts to it:
“This used to be the front,” Daily Alice said. “Then they built the garden and the wall; so the back became the front. It was a font anyway. And now this is the back front.” She straddled the bench, and picked up a twig, at the same time drawing out with her pinkie a glittering hair that had blown between her lips. She scratched a quick five-pointed star in the dirt. Smoky looked at it, and at the tautness of her jeans. “That’s not really it,” she said, looking birdwise at her star, “but sort of. See, it’s a house all fronts. It was built to be a sample. My great=grandfather? Who I wrote you about? He built this house to be a sample, so people could come and look at it, from any side, and choose which kind of house they wanted; that’s why the inside is so crazy. It’s so many houses, sort of put inside each other or across each other, with their fronts sticking out.”
That image is amazing, but rather than the sides of a star or polygon, it made me think of pop-up books… turn the page and a new structure pops up from the folds of the book.
I hope to find another time when I’ll have the patience to savour Little Big…
Just to say I’m joining in the readalong of the modern classic fantasy novel Little Big by John Crowley this May, hosted by Dolce Belezza, together with Helen of A Gallimaufry and Tom of Wuthering Expectations.
I read this book back in the early 1980s when it first came out in paperback – I remember I was drawn to the cover (left) with those blues and violets like a magnet. It’s 25 years old this year, and it’s fair to say I’ve forgotten almost everything about the actual novel. I almost exclusively read fantasy and science fiction back in those days, devouring without remembering much of it.
The edition I currently own (rescued from a charity shop) has more of a Gothic feel to the cover with the sepia photograph and gives me the impression somehow of being an American version of Gormenghast (which wouldn’t be a bad thing?). We’ll see, but it begins thus:
On a certain day in June, 19–, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.
Given Little, Big‘s reputation as one of the best fantasy novels of the later 20th century, I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into the world of Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater once more.
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Little, Big (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) by John Crowley, 1981. Gollancz paperback, 560 pages.
Dear Readers – I’ve been inspired!
Simon recently wrote a review of a book previously unknown to me called The Shelf by Phyllis Rose on the lovely new incarnation of his blog Stuck in a Book. In this book, the author reads a shelf of books in her local library – the good, the bad and the ugly, and uses them to discuss the joys of reading. I can’t resist books like this – especially as it’s subtitled An Adventure in Extreme Reading – I’ve ordered a copy!
Given my failure in sticking to the TBR dare this year and the never-decreasing size of my TBR piles, I thought I could adapt The Shelf‘s principles to my bookcases.
So my project – Annabel’s Shelves is born with its own page up top.
It’s very simple –
Those are the only rules, but I plan to concentrate on new to me authors and modern classics rather than some of the comfort reads that I know are up there.
I’m not asking anyone else to join in – I have no cast-iron schedule for this. But, as I borrowed the basic premise from elsewhere, do feel free to whatever you like with the idea!
I’ll choose my first book from the shelves later – so here’s your chance to suggest some authors/titles to me beginning with
(Letter from Daily Drop Cap)
If you consider only the books I’ve reviewed for this blog, I only cheated fully once and partially twice!
The full cheat was the pair of Quick Reads titles I squeezed in on convenient train journeys.
The partial cheats were: The Helios Disaster by Linda Bostrum Knausgard – which I had originally planned to review for Shiny New Books, but found too weird and my thoughts too bitty to write a coherent full-length piece for Shiny, and Lurid & Cute by Adam Thirlwell – another Shiny read which I disliked so much I couldn’t finish it!
Including those above, I have read 34 books so far this year, of which 16 were on my TBR before Jan 1st and 14 are Shiny Reviews for issues 4 in January and issue 5 coming next week and were excluded from the TBR Dare accordingly. I hope that James, TBR Dare host, will forgive me for my partial participation this year. As ever, my intentions were good – but I am fooling myself if I didn’t realise I had so many reviews to read/write for Shiny!
Needless to say, I have read some cracking books for Issue 5 of Shiny including several wonderful debuts, a couple of non-fiction titles, a much-loved re-read and that new novel by ‘Ish’…
Back to normal soon.
The Acceptance World begins with Nick Jenkins meeting his Uncle Giles at a hotel for tea. There he is introduced to Mrs Erdleigh who tells their fortunes, saying to Nick that she’ll meet him again in a year – strange company for his Uncle Giles!
At work, Jenkins is publishing a book on a noted painter of political portraits and businessmen and has approached St.John Clarke (apparently based upon John Galsworthy) to write the introduction. One of his old college contemporaries had been Clarke’s secretary, but Jenkins finds he has been replaced by on Quiggin – who has, it appears, steered Clarke in a different political direction. Jenkins discusses Clarke’s situation being under the thumb of his new secretary with his friend Barnby:
‘I don’t think St.John Clark is interested in either sex,’ said Barnby. ‘He fell in love with himself at first sight and it is a passion to which he has always remained faithful.’
Some time later, Jenkins meets his old school-friend Peter Templer again and is invited to join them for a weekend.
That we had ceased to meet fairly regularly was due no doubt to some extent to Templer’s chronic inability – as our housemaster Le Bas would have said – to ‘keep up’ a friendship. He moved entirely within the orbit of events of the moment, looking neither forward nor backward. If we happened to run across each other, we arranged to do something together; not otherwise.
The particular excitement of this reuniting for Jenkins is that he finds out that Jean, Peter’s sister, appears to be separated from her husband DuPort. Jenkins had had a youthful passion for Jean, and this is reignited and they rekindle their affair. In between all this there is a lot of complicated discussion about who’s seeing whom, who’s divorced whom and such shenanigans!
Jenkins is reunited with his old schoolfriends at his old housemaster’s dinner for old boys at the Ritz. Stringham is drunk and Widmerpool makes a very long and involved and very boring speech – during which Le Bas has a stroke! I shouldn’t cheer at other people’s misfortunes, but it was a great penultimate scene to bring Widmerpool back into play. He had been mentioned earlier, but hadn’t appeared until then. It is Widmerpool who is moving from industry into the city and joining the ‘Acceptance World’. I can hear you asking what that is – here is how Templer describes it to Nick:
‘If you have goods you want to sell to a firm in Bolivia, you probably do not touch your money in the ordinary way until the stuff arrives there. Certain houses, therefore, are prepared to ‘accept’ the debt. They will advance you the money on the strength of your reputation. It is all right when the going is good, but sooner or later you are tempted to plunge. Then there is an alteration in the value of the Bolivian exchange, or a revolution, or perhaps the firm just goes bust – and you find yourself stung. That is, if you guess wrong.’
Any clearer? I assume they refer to the futures and/or bond markets…
There are other forms of acceptance at work in this novel too. Nick, who does have to work for a living, is becoming accepted in all the walks of society in which he moves. He seems more mature than most of his friends, and while not immune to love affairs, is not the type to swap partners that way most of the others seem to do with monotonous regularity. For his capricious upper class friends, marriage and divorce don’t seem to mean a lot. Nick, as Widmerpool has too, has resisted marriage – how long can they last as bachelors? What will happen to Peter and Jean?
Widmerpool’s appearance aside, volume three was a lot more serious than the first two, and I missed the comedy he brings with him. I know I have a Widmerpool-fest to come in the next novel – the first of the ‘Summer’ books. I’m looking forward to April’s Powell episode. (7.5/10)
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Source: Own Copy.
To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate link), please click below:
The Acceptance World: Vol 3 (Dance to the Music of Time 03) by Anthony Powell (1955), approx 224 pages.
So we come to the second volume of Anthony Powell’s sequence of twelve novels. If you’d like to catch up with my summary of the first part follow the link to A Question of Upbringing.
It’s now the late 1920s and Jenkins is living and working in London for a publisher of art books. As the novel begins he reminisces in his narration about Mr Deacon, an ageing artist of middling reputation he had met in Paris:
Mr Deacon was grown-up still: I myself, on the other hand, had changed. There was still distance to travel, but I was on the way to drawing level with Mr Deacon, as a fellow grown-up, himself no longer a figment of memory from childhood, but visible proof that life had existed in much the same way before I had begun to any extent to take part; and would, without doubt, continue to prevail long after he and I had ceased to participate.
The ensuing story is inspired by Jenkins’ memory of seeing a painting (just as Vol 1 began), this time an indifferent picture by Deacon, hung inconspicuously in the house of the Walpole-Wilsons, Jenkins’ hosts for a house-party. Jenkins is always a little in love with someone – this time, it’s Barbara Walpole-Wilson – but hidebound as he is by the rules of society, she is probably unattainable whereas her sister Eleanor would be. Powell, however, in a rare example of only using a few words instead of a hundred, has Barbara mordently describe her thus :
Barbara used to say: ‘Eleanor should never have been removed from the country. It is cruelty to animals.’
I’m sure that in time Nick will find the right girl for him. Having concentrated upon the old boys’ network in the first novel and making useful contacts to get one’s career kick-started, volume two is largely concerned with establishing oneself in society and finding a mate. Nick sounds out one of his dinner companions, Lady Anne Stepney, about her sister Peggy, whom his old school-friend Stringham had had a thing for:
‘As a matter of fact, Peggy hasn’t spoken of Charles Stringham for ages,’ she said.
She did not actually toss her head – as girls are sometimes said to do in books – but that would have been the gesture appropriate to the tone in which she made this comment.
Jenkins is so easily distracted by the fairer sex!
One seeming obstacle to his progress is his continued association with Widmerpool, who crops up all over the place like an eternal gooseberry, often getting in the way and making Jenkins wonder how he comes to be invited to these dos, and:
It suddenly struck me that after all these years of knowing him I still had no idea of Widmerpool’s Christian name.
Widmerpool will be subjected to several humiliations throughout the novel and laughed at by his companions; Nick to his credit, although ever the observer, doesn’t join in. Widmerpool seems (at this stage anyway) doomed to fail in the romance stakes but we will find out that he is not without desires. He is, however, obviously useful in the business and government circles in which he works and is acquiring a solid reputation therein. Again, Widmerpool is the most intriguing character in the novel.
Many of the others from A Question of Upbringing pop in and out of the narrative from time to time. Sillery turns up at a decadent party; Uncle Giles gets a mention or two – including his abhorence of ‘champagne, beards and tiaras’, and Nick’s first love Jean will make an eventful reappearance – sparking in Nick a ‘sudden burst of sexual jealousy’.
In their twenties, life is one long social whirl for these Bright Young Things moving in the higher echelons of society – it really is a buyer’s market. Just imagine if the Tinder app had been around for this lot!
Again written in four long chapters echoing the seasons, A Buyer’s Market ends back with Mr Deacon bringing the year full circle, and finally – Jenkins finds out Widmerpool’s forename.
This time, knowing Powell’s style with it’s long convoluted sentences full of sub-clauses, I was able to jump into the text and enjoy it fully finding much more humour in particular. Having introduced us to the main characters at length in volume one, the narrative takes off launching us fully into their lives. I really enjoyed it – although the title of volume three, The Acceptance World, infers a seriousness to come – or is it just an initial settling down? Back next month! (9/10)
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link – thank you):
A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01)
A Buyer’s Market: Vol 2 (Dance to the Music of Time 02)
Looking out of his window at some workmen around a brazier, Nicholas Jenkins is reminded of the four seasons on Poussin’s celebrated painting (detail above), and the passing of time in his life.
The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving had in hand in intricate measure: stepping slowly, methodically, sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognisable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the stesp of the dance. Classical associations made me think, too, or days at school, where so many forces, hiterto unfamiliar, had become in due course uncompromisingly clear.
Immediately we are introduced to one of the key characters in the series – Kenneth Widmerpool, going for a run on a foggy winter’s day. Widmerpool is a bit of an enigma, he ‘himself had proved indigestible to the community.’ Outsider he may be, but even later in this first volume, we will come to see his strength of character, and sense that he will endure.
Our narrator Jenkins, now enters the school boarding house and we meet his slightly older roommates – Stringham and Templer. On first glance, Stringham seems a good sort and Templer more mischievous, but after Jenkins’s Uncle Giles comes to visit and nearly gets them expelled by lighting a cigarette, it is Stringham that plays a particularly evil practical joke on housemaster Le Bas after noticing his resemblance to a wanted criminal. Stringham gets away with it too.
It is the boys’ last year at school; Stringham leaves early to stay in Kenya for a while. Jenkins spends some time with Templer’s family in London, falling madly in love with his sister Jean and experiencing the Templer brand of practical joke on a poor chap residing with them called Sunny Farebrother. Then in the summer he goes off to an educational establishment in France where he falls in love with someone else – and encounters Widmerpool again before going up to university where he begins to see how the old boys network really works when he is adopted by one of the professors, (think Slughorn ‘collecting’ Harry Potter for an analogy).
These four sections of school, London, France and university form the four long chapters of the novel – its own seasons if you will.
We find out very little about Jenkins himself – he doesn’t give much away, just observes and absorbs rather than doing much himself. Is he just a hanger on? I guess we’ll see, but he certainly seemed like that in this first volume. In a way he reminded me of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, another accepted outsider narrator.
Stringham and Templer and their well-heeled families were straight out of the bright young things of the 1920s. Uncle Giles however, who crops up several times, is a sort of failed Army officer who’s slightly on his uppers and needing a new opportunity in life – I hope we’ll hear more of him. The one character I long for more of though is Widmerpool – he is so intriguing, and seems bound to make something of himself despite what others may think.
Powell’s language is rich and dense and took some getting used to. I’m glad he started us off with Jenkins’s schooldays, as the scenario is familiar enough to give one time to get into the habit of reading his typically long sentences, which meant I was able to cope with this 70 word one by page 149!
The curious thing was that, although quite aware that a sentiment of attraction towards Suzette was merely part of an instinct that had occasioned Peter’s ‘unfortunate incident’ – towards which I was conscious of no sense of disapproval – my absorption in the emotional disturbance caused by Jean and Suzette seemed hardly at all connected with the taking of what had been, even in Templer’s case, a fairly violent decision.
So to summarise, volume one is really a scene-setting introduction – enjoyable in its way, but promising many more riches to come. I shall definitely proceed onto number two – A Buyer’s Market. (8/10)
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
A Question Of Upbringing (Dance to the Music of Time 01) by Anthony Powell, Arrow paperback 240 pages. Other editions available.
I did this meme the previous two years too. A bit of fun for pre-Christmas. It originated at The Indextrious Reader.
The “rules” are simple: Take the first line of each month’s first post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year. Links go back to the original posts. Here goes:
January: ‘I was amazed to find that this thriller from 1975 was Gerald Seymour’s début novel.’ (from my review of Harry’s Game.)
February: ‘You know how it is, you’re reading a book when something – often just a single word or phrase – spooks you.’ (from my opinion piece Anachronism or not? And a potted history of plastics.
March: ‘It’s the start of March. Last year, when James launched this year’s TBR Dare, I gaily signed up again.’ from my report on my progress in The TBR Triple Dog Dare.
April: ‘I haven’t read Donoghue’s famous, or even infamous novel Room. I own a copy, but its dark subject matter requires a certain frame of mind to read and we haven’t coincided yet.’ from my blog post on her novel Frog Music.
May: ‘Last night I went to see the live screening of Sam Mendes’ production of King Lear beamed live from the National Theatre to a cinema near you – Didcot in my case.’ (from my write-up of said film.
June: ‘I blame Simon for this! :D’ from my post shamelessly copying his ask me anything idea.
July: ‘Some readers may already be familiar with David Downing; the six books of his ‘Station’ series of spy thrillers set in WWII Berlin are highly regarded.’ from my review of Jack of Spies by David Downing.
August: ‘Although I only studied it up to O-level, possibly my favourite subject at school was Latin. I continue to surprise myself by the amount of Latin I’ve retained over the years, but I do try to use it whenever I can.’ from my post on the Latin translations available of children’s novels.
September: ‘This remarkable novel about young German soldiers in WWI was our book group’s read for August; I had pushed strongly for a WWI-related choice for the month of the 100th anniversary of the war’s start.’ from my review of All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
October: ‘Last week you may have seen my post about ephemera reporting my finding of some marginalia in an old book – well it made me want to read said book instantly – so I did!’ from my review of The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.
November: ‘I wanted to write a post about my reactions to a film I saw on TV the other night. It’s not one I would have chosen to see in the cinema, or buy the DVD of – it was just ‘on’…’ from my reactions on seeing the film Drive.
December: ‘A while ago, I was approached by a publicist from the USA who was trying to get some exposure for her client’s book in the UK/Europe – it’s a debut novel, but by an author with an awesome pedigree in the TV world.’ from my review of These Things Happen by Richard Kramer.
As always, it does sort of represent what I’ve written about – 6 book reviews, 2 memes, 2 film/theatre reviews and 2 opinion/misc book pieces. Feel free to do it yourself.
For the past few years I’ve signed up to take part in James’s TBR Dare.
Hosted by James of James Reads Books and featuring his beloved pooch Dakota in the graphic, the TBR Dare is very simple –
Read only from your TBR from Jan 1 until April 1.
You can make your own exceptions for book groups, scheduled reviews etc. reserved books at the library etc.
You don’t even have to stop acquiring books – you’re just not allowed to read books that come into your house from Jan 1st until the dare is up. You could go out on December 31st and have a splurge on new books which would be valid to read during the dare.
You don’t even have to do the full three months – just set a target and enjoy revisiting your TBR piles, or in my case, mountains. James doesn’t like calling it a challenge – and I’m all for that – I nearly always fail in those – so it’s a dare.
This year I’m having to make a different exception because of my involvement with Shiny New Books which, by its nature, will require me to read some new books. However, as they will appear on a different website, I feel justified in saying that here at Annabel’s House of Books I am aiming to go the full three months reading only from my TBR (except for Book Group choices).
If you want to join in, head over to James’s TBR Dare page and sign up. Your TBR piles will love you for it.
Reading Secondhand, Library and Bargain Basement Books
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Writing about reading
Wandering and Wondering
book reviews, essays, and thoughts from the tour bus
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Rambling Book Reviews and Literary Chatter
words, images and musings on life, literature and creative self expression
Mostly books, with a little wine writing on the side
The search for the book that will keep me awake at night
My thoughts on books - with an emphasis on crime fiction
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“Words bounce. Words, if you let them, will do what they want to do and what they have to do.” - Anne Carson
Book reviews of mainly modern & contemporary fiction
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"She had read novels while other people perused the Sunday papers" - Mary Elizabeth Braddon
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editor at large of my own life
“Each others' lives are our best textbooks.” --Gloria Steinem
Fiction, Young Adult and Children's Books & Reviews
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David Hebblethwaite's blog about books (formerly Follow the Thread)
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Just another WordPress.com weblog
Just another WordPress.com weblog