During the past two or three weeks I have done very little but cough and read. I am ashamed to say I have enjoyed myself immensely...it would've been an even better holiday if I could have dispensed with the coughing, but you can't have it all! I've got through a fair few books too, many of them extremely spiffy, so I therefore see it as my duty to recommend these not so weighty tomes to you, in the hope that you too can find a happy hour to indulge in tea and literature.
My first recommendation is Marjory Allingham's The Tiger in the Smoke. Although it is a detective novel, featuring Allingham's Albert Campion, don't let the genre put you off. It's incredibly well written, characters are properly drawn and she creates an atmosphere of post-war London which is both strangely macabre and slightly disconcerting. The plot centres around the murderer, Jack Havoc, and the strange fixation he has for a newly married vicar's daughter. Both Campion and his friend Chief Inspector Luke go on Havoc's trail, but it is the gentle and forgiving man of God who steals the show when it comes to bravery!
Next up we have Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L Sayers. Sayers is, of course, a contemporary of Allingham and I think there is a lot to be said for the theory that the plethora of excellent detective writing, which came out of the aftermath of world war one, was a direct result of the remarkable social changes that were born of that war. And, in Gaudy Night we can see an understanding of personal of loss and death as well as an exploration of the effects of the revolutionary changes in women's lives which were both a direct result of the war, and the subsequent franchise given to women and working class men. Of course, this interesting and weighty exploration is disguised as a rip-roaring psychological thriller! In it, Harriet Vane goes back to her old Oxford college to find that a poison-pen is at work, the letters have a spiteful misogynistic theme and Harriet worries that the all female, academic community may have unhinged one of its members (I detected a slight sniff of Radcliffe Hall/early Freud in her influences here)! She calls in Lord Peter Whimsey when the actions of the writer become increasingly violent. Whimsey is in love with Harriet and the (kind of) romance between the two characters is wonderfully written. In fact it was so well done that I have now developed literary crush on Lord Peter Whimsey...and I NEVER thought I would admit THAT on my blog!lol!
Now, all this talk of crushes and spinsters brings me to my next recommendation, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Oh, how I love this book. Set just after the second world war, in an ever-so-slightly-not-quite-genteel suburb of London, Excellent Women follows the exploits of one Mildred Lathbury, a thirty year old spinster and committed "church lady". I suppose the book is based upon the notion that you wait your whole life for a man to come along and then three turn up all together. However, it is much more complex than that and Mildred's relationships with her (kind of) suitors is hardly romantic at all. The strength of the book lies in the depiction of Mildred's inner life, she thinks and feels in a completely believable way and you can follow her journey to a more complete womanhood and not feel you've been on a journey at all because Pym is such a subtle and intelligent writer. I'm going to quote one or two of my favourite moments, simply because I cannot help but repeat them, they're so wonderful!
It must not be a poetry book that I read that night, but a devotional or even a cookery book. Perhaps the last was best for my mood, and I chose an old one of recipes and miscellaneous household hints. I read about the care of aspidistras and how to wash lace and black woollen stockings, and I learned that a package or envelope sealed with white of egg cannot be steamed open. Though what use that knowledge would ever be to me I could not imagine.
Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thought as I watched Miss Statham filling the heavy teapot. We had all had our supper, or supposed to have had it, and were met together to discuss the arrangements of the Christmas bazaar. Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, "Do we need tea?" she echoed. "But Miss Lathbury..." She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realize that my question had struck something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind.
The first of my quotes resonated with me personally and the second reminded me of all of the cups of tea I have had at church functions...it seems my life is full of Barbara Pym moments.
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed reading about my reading! Decent books are such a good investment of the housekeeping money don't ya know (she says wildly backtracking on her public promise NOT to buy books)!