Monday, 27 June 2011
Journey through a book
I've just finished reading Edith Olivier's The Triumphant Footman and was pondering whether or not to write a review of it here. I love Edith Olivier's novel The Love-Child, as you might know, and thanks to various reprints (including one by Virago in the 1980s) it's quite easy to find at an affordable price. So I don't feel bad telling everyone that they really should read it, cos it's brilliant. The Triumphant Footman, on the other hand, isn't as good - but it is worth reading - more importantly, it is impossible to find in England. In the US there are a handful of copies available surprisingly cheaply (my edition was printed in the US, actually) but it's still fairly scarce.
So, instead of telling you much about The Triumphant Footman (although do ask if you'd like to know!) I shall merely tell you that it includes the wonderful character description of someone being "invincibly vague". And instead this will be a meandery post on obscure books, and such-like. I love these sorts of posts on other people's blogs (Rachel and Simon are especially good at them), so I hope you'll indulge me. Whenever I go off the book-review beaten-track, you lovely folk never fail to provide with great comments, so... now you're under some pressure!
Having a look through the books I've read in the past couple of years, there are quite a few which I deliberately decided not to write about on S-i-a-B because of their scarcity. There are also quite a few I simply forgot to write about, but that's a different matter. I'm never one to shy away from a list, so here they are:
Nothing is Safe by E.M. Delafield
Flower Phantoms by Ronald Fraser
A Harp in Lowndes Square by Rachel Ferguson
The Seraphim Room by Edith Olivier
Dwarf's Blood by Edith Olivier
Economy Must Be Our Watchword by Joyce Dennys
Birds in Tiny Cages by Barbara Comyns
The House in the Country by Bernadette Murphy
An Unexpected Guest by Bernadette Murphy
Which Way? by Theodora Benson.
Some were brilliant (Dennys); some were pretty poor (Fraser); some were disappointing (Comyns) and some were so-so (most of the rest) but nearly all of them are more interesting to me than the latest hardback or shortlisted issue-novel. But I don't see the point in telling you about a book that you then won't be able to find for less than £50... hmm. (If you do want to know about any of them, just let me know in the comments!)
Every now and then I get the urge to sideline all the esoteric, slightly eccentric reading choices I make, and settle down with the classics. While I find I have read a surprisingly high number of classic authors, I certainly read more non-classic authors. Of course, we could get tied in knots trying to work out the difference between 'classic' and 'non-classic', but even by the most generous criteria, only about twenty of the 115 books I read last year could be considered classics. Nobody is ever going to come up to me and say "Oh, just wondering, have you read An Unexpected Guest?" nor would I really have felt the lack from my reading life had I never done so. The opposite is true of, say, Middlemarch.
And yet... how unpersonal it would be to read only Austen, Eliot, Joyce, Lawrence... how uninteresting it would be to have a conversation with (or read a blog by) someone who never veered from the paths of canonical literature! I think most blog-readers agree that it's far more enticing to find a little-known gem uncovered, or even less popular Virago Modern Classics etc. Which can work alongside reviews of classics too, of course - as bloggers we tend not to discriminate that much in how a review is written, do we? My review of Howards End by E.M. Forster, for instance, appeared in between posts on Gay Life by E.M. Delafield and Saplings by Noel Streatfeild. As with most things, a mixture is the most interesting - but I'd always rather a blog leaned to the eccentric...
When I asked people on Twitter (I know, I know...) whether they'd ever chosen not to post about a book because it was scarce, all the respondents said no - because they might be able to revive interest, which in turn might help encourage publishers to reprint. I can see the logic of that for fantastic scarce novels - which is why, in retrospect, I really should have written about Joyce Dennys' Economy Must Be Our Watchword - but I probably wouldn't think it worthwhile to write about a book which nobody would be able to find if it was only mediocre, or even just 'quite good'.
This post has got even more meandering than I intended, since I've written it in instalments on different days. And the heat has addled my brain, so I'm not entirely sure what it was I wanted to say when I started this post. But do enjoy pictures of the lovely edition I have of The Triumphant Footman - and I thought it might be fun to include a sample of what happens when I read books. I tend to just write page numbers, in miniscule pencil writing, on the reverse of the title page - and then indicate the bit I'm interesting in on the page in question. If the book is too lovely to desecrate too many pages, I'll just make notes on that one page. Usually it's for review purposes, but these are actually in case the novel can be useful for my thesis. Make of them what you will....
Right. I'm off to write some of that thesis... or collapse in a melting heap on the floor. Undecided.