Sunday, 18 May 2008

50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About

It's been a while since I added to the ongoing, no-particular-order list of 50 Books I think you'd love, but would be unlikely to see on 3 for 2 tables or even in bookshops at all. It's a list of potential gems, but also gives you a good idea of the sort of books most at home here at Stuck-in-a-Book.

Today's entrant was part of a Postal Book Group I'm in, where we pick a book and send it to the next person in the list. Every two months we post a book along, and at the end of the year get back our book with a notebook of comments. Fun, and provides such wonderful books as (drumroll, please) The Long Afternoon by Giles Waterfield. So, thank you Angela for bringing it to my attention.

The Long Afternoon (published in 2000) isn't a riveting title, is it, but does work on two levels - it is the long afternoon of Henry and Helen Williamson's marriage, in the long afternoon approaching the First World War, and between the wars, for the Brits too old to fight who took up residence on the Riviera. That is where this novel takes place - the first chapter opens in November 1912, in Lou Paradou, with Helen Williamson enthusiastically looking over a house with an estate agent.

Henry smiled so sweetly, and with such affection, and waved at her and left the carriage and called to her, "Jolly nice place, darling!" It was easy from this distance to communicate with someone below, however far they might seem. She called back, "Darling, I think it's lovely," and then, remembering the agent who though he said he did not speak English certainly must understand it, added, "I mean there are problems but it is very pleasant," and felt absurd for having used such a limiting English word. Not just pleasant but exquisite, sheltered, pure...

It is from this beautiful home, with a third person narration still suffused by Helen's uncertain personality, that we see the onset of the First World War and, later, the Second. The cracks show in the faux-English community on the Riviera, and the lives of soldiers overlap and challenge the Williamsons' luxury.

More subtly, The Long Afternoon is a psychological portrait of Helen Williamson - who spends one day a week in bed, for the sake of her nerves - and as the novel progresses we hear more and more from her children and their Scottish governess, throwing complicating light upon her presentation of herself.

Giles Waterfield's first novel is a gentle examination of large-scale tragedies and small-scale frailties - this is no simple dismissal of the indolent of the wars, but a beautiful and elegant portrayal of a very real couple in destructively surreal surroundings. The Long Afternoon is impossible not to admire, and difficult not to love.

14 comments:

  1. I very much enjoyed his novel, 'The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner' about a special exhibition in a museum. Interesting to know that this one is also good - I'll look out for it.

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  2. Sounds lovely -- I must get hold of it. Thanks.

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  3. I enjoyed this one very much.

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  4. First, I love the idea of a postal book group. I've never heard of this before, but I especially like the fact that you get your book back with comments from everyone that read it. This book sounds really interesting. I just read a review (can't remember where) of Our Longest Days: A People's History of the Second World War, which are diary entries from those who lived through the war on the homefront. This reminded me of that even though it's fiction. I really like reading about the ordinary lives of people living through extraordinary times.

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  5. "as the novel progresses we here more and more from her children"

    Oh, Simon.

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  6. The Long Afternoon does sound admirable! But I like even more the idea of your postal book group. Very inspiring. What a great gift it would be to get one's book back with everyone's comments included. I may have to get a group going! Thanks!

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  7. Oops! Thanks Col - consider it changed.

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  8. It may not be 'riveting' but it certainly is evocative. Afternoons mean green grass, croquet, lovely food on little outdoor tables. When you praise a new book, I know I can trust that I will like it. I think a day a week in bed sounds perfect, and might just change the world for the better if everyone did it.:<)
    I love the name 'Postal Book Group.'

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  9. I'm a bit taken with the idea of a postal book group too. What a lovely idea!

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  10. Angela (of the postal book group)20 May 2008 04:58

    I`m so glad you share my love for this book. It`s still one of my all-time favourite reads and one of the very few books that I re-read (and it`s sitting safely on my book shelves at home!!)

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  11. Oh, I loved this book, and The Hound in the Left-Hand Corner. I still have langorous images of hot afternoons in Menton, and afternoon tea being served.

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  12. I have this book somewhere--It's time to dig it out I think! I love the idea of the postal reading group by the way!

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  13. I love the idea of a postal book group! This sounds so appealing to me, I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

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  14. The novel slowly shows how Henry is influenced increasingly by Helen.Finally it has devastaing effect on both of them.

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