Monday 31 January 2011

Thoughts coming out of Virago Reading Week...

I hope you don't mind a slightly musing-meandering post today, on a topic I've thought about quite a lot, but seems to fit with a week of thinking about Virago. I hope I've expressed myself properly, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

One of the things that annoys me a little (other than not being certain whether I should have used 'that' or 'which' in this sentence) is when, at book group, someone says "Hmm, do you think this is just a book for women?" or "--just a book for men?" and then turns to me, quizzically. I am of the opinion that the ideas of 'men's books' and 'women's books' are mostly marketing tools, and pretty insulting to any individual reader whose subjective reading experience shouldn't be boxed up like that. And, speaking personally, when I think of the categories 'men' and 'women', I don't particularly identify myself with either of them. I'm simply me. Of course I am a man, but I don't recognise myself in the portrait of men that is held up by those shoving war novels and football sticker books etc. in the corner marked 'male reading'.

That's one of the things that comes to light, reading Viragos and Persephones - which, of course, I love. Both describe themselves, to different degrees, as publishing books for women (although I do remember, in an early Persephone Quarterly, a little article about Persephone Men - we apparently made up, at that point, 10% of subscribers). The Women's Press is even more open about it! Naturally I'm not complaining about this. Virago, especially, have done an astonishing and necessary job of bringing neglected writers and neglected novelistic topics to the fore. Rachel wrote brilliantly and movingly about this last week. I hope she won't mind if I quote a couple of excerpts from it:

I have always been interested in women’s writing and history, but never to the extent I became interested in it at university. There I learned for the first time how women had been sidelined from literature and history; how they had been allowed to become an unspoken, unmentioned background figure, sewing in the parlour while the men were at war; scribbling away at trivial, unworthy of note novels about their limited domestic sphere; living unrecorded, undervalued, hidden lives, prevented from having a voice.


So thank goodness for Virago. Thank goodness that I can read something intelligent and witty and thought provoking by a woman, that isn’t a shallow, cliche ridden pastel coloured novel about sparkly rings and mini breaks. The women who invented Virago, and the authors that originated their list, believed that women deserved better than this, and I heartily agree. We are complex, conflicting, passionate, intelligent, political, ambitious individuals who cannot be distilled into one concrete definition or given one path to happiness.

My question is... where does this leave me? Please don't read anything cross into that; those of you who know my blog probably won't, I hope. I just always wonder, when I read about the incredible job that feminist presses have done, what sort of literary and social antecedents I can claim as my own. Of course, as a feminist myself I can get on board with the rediscoveries and re-evaluations being performed, and perhaps I can even put myself in a line of those who value the domestic and the topics which had long been erroneously considered inferior to tales of war and politics etc. (really, who could possibly want to read a novel about war over a novel about, say, a family preparing for a wedding? Each to their own, I suppose.) But, as a man, I seem to have only a legacy of the type of people who sidelined these novelists, and caused the problems which Virago and others helped in the direction of resolution. I have little empathy for monarchs and prime ministers (neither, however, exclusively male professions), and none for soldiers or leaders in war - I have sympathy, but not empathy. Where are the histories of quieter, homelier men? Where are narratives of male lives lived unassumingly and with great beauty? This, naturally, is not the fault of the publishing houses which unveiled the issue - nor is it their responsibility. But I do always muse, when wonderful posts like Rachel's appear, quite what it is that I see when I look over my shoulder.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Song for a Sunday

Kate Walsh is one of my favourite singers, and one I discovered through the free-song-of-the-week on iTunes, but I only just got around to downloading her first album Clocktower Park. This is a lovely song from that album - 'It's Never Over'.

For previous Sunday Songs, click here.

Saturday 29 January 2011

Favourite Viragos

Thanks for your lovely comments on yesterday's post! Let's keep the Virago Modern Classic mood going (thanks again Rachel and Carolyn!) Here's a little bit of serendipity for you - I had no idea that suc
h a thing as Google Docs existed until today at work, when my boss asked me to open it. Lo and behold, not only did my Yahoo address automatically set me up with a Google Docs account, but I had three messages (or files or, I suppose, documents) - the third, sent earlier this month, being a complete list of Virago Modern Classics! Thank you, LALindsay, whoever you are - presumably something to do with the VMC group on LibraryThing?

(some of my favourite covers)

It has enabled me to count up all the VMCs I've read - not the ones I own; that's probably about twice this number, but out of 553 VMCs published, I have read a respectable 59. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the list of those I've read, if you're interested - feel free to ask me about any of them, or tell me which ones I *should* have read that aren't listed. To be honest, quite a few I read in non-VMC editions. I didn't even know the Brontes and Austen had had the Virago treatment. But there are still a fair few on the list that have found their way to me courtesy of Virago - and it is those I'll be choosing from for my favourite VMCs. So, Provincial Lady and myriad Jane Austen novels, even though I love you I'm afraid you shan't be appearing on this list - because I didn't m
eet you between those distinctive green borders. Fair's fair.

Ok, here are five Virago Modern Classics I love, cherish, and adore. I'm afraid the pictures are of varying sizes; if someone can tell me how to get bigger images of the covers on LibraryThing, that would be much appreciated for future use...

The Love Child - Edith Olivier
(VMC #46)

This one will surprise none of you, I suspect... Olivier's novel, about a lonely spinster who conjures her childhood imaginary friend into life, is short but powerful. Don't be put off by a slightly fey cover - The Love Child is clever, moving, and one I'll be re-reading many times. Well do I remember picking it up on a whim, for mere pence, in the charity shop on Little Clarendon Street (Oxford). For some reason I had no other book with me, or had just finished one, for I immediately went round the corner to a public garden (the one, in fact, pictured) and started it. And was blown away by how good it was.

Mother and Son - Ivy Compton-Burnett
(VMC #394)

I was trying to remember which Virago title was the first I read between those distinctive green spines... without my reading diary to hand, I'm not sure, but it might well have been Mother and Son. My mum loathes Ivy Compton-Burnett, but a lady in our village lent me this, telling me to give Ivy a go. I'm ever grateful to Jay for introducing me to this most divisive of authors - you definitely either love or hate - and her dialogue-packed novels of family intrigue and enjoyably futile, highbrow exchanges.

A Very Great Profession - Nicola Beauman
(VMC #406)

The place where Persephone started, Beauman's very accessible look at many and various middlebrow female authors is bound to have you filling a notebook with ideas for future reads. Chapters are cleverly divided up into topics like 'Surplus Women'; 'Sex'; 'Psychoanalysis' etc. An invaluable resource for anyone even vaguely interested in the sort of books in the VMC line - and now available from Persephone.

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead - Barbara Comyns
(VMC #238)

A title I don't shut up about, this Comyns novel is surreal and domestic at the same time, and takes pride of place amongst my slightly quirker taste in novels. But nobody is quite like Comyns - and while I want to thank Virago for bringing her novels to a wider audience, I also want to ask why they've let almost all of them drop off the VMC list? (Ditto The Love Child!)

The Return of the Soldier - Rebecca West
(VMC #32)

Probably the best novel I have read associated with war - in this case, as the title suggests, the return of a soldier, and the messy familial and romantic tangles which ensue. Also incredibly sensitive about shell shock and bereavement - all packed into one slim volume.

Hope that has given you some tips for further VMC reading! Do ask about any of those below, should you want to know my opinions.

Viragos I have read:
(in order of VMC-publication)

1. Mr Fortune’s Maggot : Sylvia Townsend Warner
2. The Life and Death of Harriett Frean : May Sinclair
3. The Return of the Soldier : Rebecca West
4. The Third Miss Symons : F.M. Mayor
5. The Vet’s Daughter : Barbara Comyns
6. The Love Child : Edith Olivier
7. The Yellow Wallpaper : Charlotte Perkins Gilman
8. The Professor’s House : Willa Cather
9. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont : Elizabeth Taylor
10. The Little Ottleys : Ada Leverson
11. The Tortoise and the Hare : Elizabeth Jenkins
12. Keynotes and Discords : George Egerton
13. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths : Barbara Comyns
14. All Passion Spent : Vita Sackville-West
15. Angel : Elizabeth Taylor
16. Miss Mole : E.H. Young
17. Diary of a Provincial Lady : E.M. Delafield
18. Sisters by a River : Barbara Comyns
19. No Signposts in the Sea : Vita Sackville-West
20. The Lifted Veil : George Eliot
21. Two Days in Aragon : Molly Keane
22. One Fine Day : Mollie Panter-Downes
23. A Game of Hide and Seek : Elizabeth Taylor
24. The Enchanted April : Elizabeth von Arnim
25. The Skin Chairs : Barbara Comyns
26. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead : Barbara Comyns
27. The Stone Angel : Margaret Laurence
28. The New House : Lettice Cooper
29. Olivia : Dorothy Strachey
30. Seducers in Ecuador and the Heir : Vita Sackville-West
31. The Brontës Went to Woolworths : Rachel Ferguson
32. The Way Things Are : E.M. Delafield
33. Thank Heaven Fasting : E.M. Delafield
34. The Story of an African Farm : Olive Schreiner
35. Mrs Miniver : Jan Struther
36. Emma : Jane Austen
37. Pride and Prejudice : Jane Austen
38. Sense and Sensibility : Jane Austen
39. Persuasion : Jane Austen
40. Mansfield Park : Jane Austen
41. Northanger Abbey : Jane Austen
42. Villette : Charlotte Bronte
43. Wuthering Heights : Emily Bronte
44. Agnes Grey : Anne Bronte
45. Try Anything Twice : Jan Struther
46. Jane Eyre : Charlotte Bronte
47. Ethan Frome : Edith Wharton
48. Crewe Train : Rose Macaulay
49. Lolly Willowes or the Loving Huntsman : Sylvia Townsend Warner
50. Mother and Son : Ivy Compton-Burnett
51. A Very Great Profession : Nicola Beauman
52. I Capture the Castle : Dodie Smith
53. Provincial Daughter : R.M. Dashwood
54. 84 Charing Cross Road : Helene Hanff
55. Rebecca : Daphne du Maurier
56. My Cousin Rachel : Daphne du Maurier
57. The Flight of the Falcon : Daphne du Maurier
58. Loitering with Intent : Muriel Spark
59. Excellent Women : Barbara Pym

Friday 28 January 2011

Virago Reading Week

I think, sadly, I've read all the VMCs I'll manage this week (total: one) so I'll talk about Virago in general instead! A few bloggers have written about how they discovered the world of Virago, and I thought I'd join in. And tomorrow I'll muse on some of my favourites, time permitting...

I had quite an odd journey to Virago, which started with a little Everyman book called Modern Humour. Putting 'modern' in the title of anything is a risky business, and this volume was published in 1940. I bought it because it featured something by AA Milne that wasn't collected elsewhere, and AAM was my first grown-up literary love (that sounds odd, given his status as a children's writer, but he was also the first writer-for-adults whom I really loved.)

Anyway - included in this volume were two pieces by E.M. Delafield (which, incidentally, you can read here). I'd never heard of Delafield - I didn't even know if 'E.M' was a woman or a man, although the tone of the piece led me correctly to suspect the former - but I loved these pieces. They're actually from As Others Hear Us, which is one of my
very favourite books, but at the time I only had Delafield's name - and took myself to Worcestershire's library catalogue. All they had in Pershore Library was a large print edition of The Provincial Lady Goes Further - so that was my induction to the world of Delafield.

Ok, that - and the 4-in-1 Provincial Lady book I subsequently bought - wasn't actually in a Virago edition. The first Virago Modern Classic I read was about six months later: Provincial Daughter by EMD's own daughter, R.M. Dashwood. But it was the Provincial Lady books which gave me a taste for Virago Modern Classics, even before I knew what they were...

Fast-forward about 18 months, and I was a member of an online reading group that, seve
n years later, I am still a proud member of. They love all things Persephone, but they also enthuse about Virago like nobody's business - which led to me buying those green spines wherever I spotted them at a reasonable price. Elizabeth Taylors flocked to my house. Elizabeth von Arnims gathered on my shelves (and I've still only read one of them.) Many more than I have read have arrived. And aren't the matching green spines something to behold? I will always choose one of those over the latest VMC - whoever chose to get rid of the green spines made one of the worst marketing decisions in the world. (By the by, for the background workings of Virago and their takeover by Little Brown, from being an independent press, is detailed fascinatingly in Simone Murray's Mixed Media: Feminist Presses and Publishing Politics).

Thankfully, however, old VMCs turn up in a lot of charity shops, and my collection has grown steadily over the years. Some seem impossible to find; some proliferate. They have provided me with some of my favourite reads - they have also included some I thought dreadful, but the good outweight the bad. Virago don't seem to embody a reading taste in quite the way they used to - perhaps because, when they were an independent press, all VMCs had to pass the taste level of a small group of people - but, looking at those 1980s reprints, all of which were originally published before I was born, and many of which were reprinted before I was born too - I can be confident that I'll find something that will at least intrigue me. Check back tomorrow to see which titles I've loved most over the years... although I suspect you can already guess some of them.

If you've blogged about your introduction to Virago, do let me know - and if you haven't, then tell me about it in the comments here!

Thursday 27 January 2011

The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns

It's about time I paid heed to Virago Reading Week, which has been popping up all over the blogosphere this, er, week. Thanks Rachel and Carolyn! I love it when publishers are hailed in this manner - long-term SiaB readers may recall I ran an I Love Hesperus week many moons ago, and of course have enjoyed Persephone readalongs, and cheered from the sidelines for NYRB Classics. As luck would have it - it certainly wasn't my organisational ability - I happened to be halfway through a Virago when the week began, and even my current sluggish reading pace has allowed me to finish off The Skin Chairs by Barbara Comyns.

Props to Thomas (that's a good American expression, right? As is that 'right?' there.) for his Virago banner, by the way. If you think you recognise those pics, head over here for Thomas' competition.

It's no secret that I love Barbara Comyns - she's probably in my top five favourite authors, certainly top ten - and I'm fast reaching the end of her books. Just two novels to go... so I'm treasuring them as I go, and The Skin Chairs is no exception.

When I first started reading Comyns, I thought her novels were bizarrely different from one another, in terms of style. It's only now, looking back, that I realise I started off with the three most disparate I could have chosen - Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, and The Juniper Tree. Having read more of her books, I realise that she does have an identifiable tone - surreal but matter-of-fact; an unnerving but captivating mixture, and one which leads to a very unusual angle on events. As shown most effectively in The Vet's Daughter, but also on occasion in The Skin Chairs, even cruelties are dealt with in this unshockable, even tone. Here's an example:

When she had gone we let Esme's mice loose in the sitting-room, although they didn't seem to enjoy it much, keeping close to the skirting board most of the time. There used to be a girl in our village who was continually beaten by her parents and I remembered she used to walk like that, close to the walls.

Lest you think this is a miserable book, I must add the scolding given to children when they sit on some graves: 'Nanny found us and said that we had no respect for our bottoms or the dead.' There are plenty of laugh-aloud moments.

The Skin Chairs is told in the voice of ten-year-old Frances, one of six children, who must go and stay with her Great-Aunt's family: 'My mother[...] sometimes became tired of us and would dispatch us to any relation who would agree to have one or two of the family to stay.' Shortly after this, and having endured Aunt Lawrence's unwelcoming home, Frances' father dies and the rest of her family move to an unlikeable, small modern house. Relative poverty is a theme throughout Comyns' writing, and she relishes writing of their privations - nightdresses made out of old sheets; 'not being able to play with paint', and so forth.

As with other Comyns novels, not much happens. This one has a little more of a central thread through it than some, in terms of the family's destiny, but Comyns is best at her bizarre hangers-on. Chief amongst these is Mrs. Alexander, with her red-purple hair, turbans, mustard-coloured car, and golden shoes (repainted each evening by her chauffeur.) She keeps monkeys, and cleverly builds a wall after buying a piano, so that the bailiffs can't remove it when she goes into debt. Then there is young widow Vanda, who neglects her baby, but thinks she's doing a good job as the infant never goes short of orange juice. How Comyns thinks of all the tiny details, I can't imagine. So many are bizarre and wonderful - unexpected, but not dwelt upon - and always mentioned so calmly.
The first day at school was not so bad as I expected. The worst part was when most of the girls trooped off into the dining-room and we had to eat our sandwiches in one of the classrooms. The only other occupant was a particularly plain girl wearing a patch plaid blouse and eating a pork pie. She said she adored eating pork pies and ate them in her bath.

And those skin chairs of the title? Yes, they're human skin, and belong to a Major who lives in a large house in the village. They pop up near the beginning of the novel, and reappear every now and then - with some significance, but the true justification for the novel being called The Skin Chairs doesn't rest with that. I think they're the perfect symbol for what Comyns does best: the domestication of the surreal; the macabre passed over with matter-of-fact interest, and no more - there is probably a girl eating a pork pie close by, which will be equally involving.

If you haven't read any Comyns yet, I urge you to do so (The Skin Chairs is going for a penny on Amazon.) The more I read of her, the more I feel sure that she has been unjustly neglected - and is one of the most intriguing novelists of the twentieth-century.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Age Shall Not Wither Her...

I know I've used this post title recently, but it seems so appropriate for tonight's post that I'm using it again. And you know what it's like - you wait months for a sketch, and you get two at once. I know my little cartoons aren't the best in the world, but I've missed doing them and I think it adds something a little different to my blog - so I'll try and remember to do more!

Anyway - this post was inspired by something a friend asked me the other day about the book I was reading: how old was the author when he wrote it? And I realised that I almost never know the answer to that question - unless it's someone like Daisy Ashford. So, my question to you (let's put it in bold, eh?): when reading, do you think about where the book falls in the timeline of an author's work, and do you think about the author's age when writing?

I'd love to know your answers. The only author I can think I do this with is Barbara Comyns - because her novels fall into two very different periods, separated by twenty years. Other than that, I rarely know whether I'm reading an author's first, middle, or last novel - or whether they were 26 or 86 when they wrote it.

Over to you...

Tuesday 25 January 2011

There is nothing like a...

I mentioned yesterday that I'd only finished one book in 2011, and that I'd be writing about it soon. Well, I've now finished two, and I'm going to write about the one I finished last night - because it's rather easier to write about than Howards End, which I feel I should Think About Properly.

No insult to Dame Judi Dench, but I don't feel I need to think so vigilantly about her book And Furthermore. (And, before I forget, thank you Becca for giving it to me for my birthday!) Well, we should be clear from the start - this is John Miller's book, written after (presumably lengthy) conversation with Dench. He wrote her biography, and has turned Dame J's anecdotes into book-form here. The brief diary she includes from her own pen, about attending the Oscars, reveals that she is no natural writer - but, then, she doesn't pretend to be. But she couldn't have picked a better man to write things down for her. One of the most amusing things about watching Miller and Dench in conversation back in 2004 was that he knew her life so much better than she did. Judi would refer vaguely to doing a play somewhere in the mid 'sixties, for example, and Miller would know the venue, year, date, cast... bizarre!

And Furthermore is, essentially, a collection of anecdotes. For those of us who have read Judi Dench: with a crack in her voice by John Miller, they aren't all new - but no matter. It covers Dench's acting career - primarily in the theatre - and only occasional mention is made of her private life, and her childhood is covered in a handful of pages. As a rule, a biography focuses on the career and an autobiography on the childhood - or so I have found - so it's nice to have an autobiography which looks mostly at the area which interests me most. Because it is Dench's decades of theatrical experience which captivate me - each play seems to come with its own amusing or intriguing incidents, and I love the atmosphere conveyed of being part of the company. It's a little secret of mine, but - were my talents different, and my life headed in a different direction - I'd love to be an actor. I can't act, and I'm not confident or energised enough, so this is no genuine ambition - but I love reading about repertory companies and imagining being in one. TV and film acting doesn't have the same appeal, in my eyes - it is the theatre that I love reading about.

And Dench doesn't hesitate to call theatre her first love. It is through other media that I have mostly seen her - I love or admire As Time Goes By, Cranford, Iris, Mrs. Henderson Presents, Notes on a Scandal, and so on and so forth - but I have had the privilege to see Judi once on stage, in All's Well That Ends Well. I think being alive while she is performing, and not seeing her, would be an absurd abuse of the possibility that future generations will envy. That's how I feel about Mrs. Patrick Campell, Margaret Rutherford, Peggy Ashcroft - none of whom, of course, I had the opportunity to see. And I am determined to see Maggie Smith on the stage, if she ever returns to it. Sorry, I'm getting distracted... What I intended to do was segue into this quotation:
I am so often asked, 'Does the audience make any difference?' Of course! It is the only reason you bother to be in the theatre, in order that tonight it can be better than last night, that you can crack something that you haven't yet, that this audience will be quieter, that this audience really will at the end think they have had a marvellous experience, and you have told the author's story. I always get that very depressed feeling at the end, and then miraculously a night's sleep somehow prepares you for doing it a step up the next day.
With any autobiography, it is the author's personality that comes across. This is mediated here, of course, by Miller - but I still think the reader can get a little closer to Judi Dench than in a biography. She is perhaps a little sharper than might be expected, a little keener to have control over performances - but what struck me most was her deep sensibilities for writing. The great actors are also, in a way, the great literary critics. True, they work only on the level of character - but what a deep understanding of character they must have. When Dench says that Hermione would think this, or Beatrice speak thus, or Portia behave in this way, I am impressed by the full and thorough life she can breathe into words on a page.

So - sometimes the anecdotes don't quite work; there are often punchline-statements which seem a little flat, but these are miniscule quibbles in a wonderful collection of stories and a unique set of experiences. Well, perhaps Dench's is not a unique perspective (except in the way that any would be) but hers is a highly unusual and significant vantage over more than six decades of the theatre. Even if I did not love Judi Dench - and of course I do - this would be an incredible record of the theatre by one who knows it about as intimately and broadly as anybody possibly could.

But - I shall let Dame Judi have the last word:
Actors are really remarkable people to be with. I love the company of other people, but I love the company of actors, and to be in a company. My idea of hell would be a one-woman show, I wouldn't be able to do that, I wouldn't know who to get ready for. The whole idea of a group of people coming together and working to one end somehow is very appealing to me. It is the thing I have always wanted to do, and I am lucky enough to be doing it. You don't need to retire as an actor, there are all those parts you can play lying in a bed, or in a wheelchair.

Monday 24 January 2011

More books...

As usual, I have a small stack of books waiting to be reviewied, including the only book I've actually managed to finish so far this year. It has been a rather lean January, for some reason - something of a reading slump. But not a buying slump, as this post will attest - I've been buying with abandon again.

The books fall broadly into old-and-characterful, and newish-and-colourful. Here goes:

Not very revealing, are they? I'll illuminate you - we have:

- Going Abroad by Rose Macaulay : which I found in a charity shop. I'm building up a nice stock of Macaulay novels to enjoy.

- Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse : a cheap Wodehouse never hurts, does it?

- The Houses In Between by Howard Spring : an e-friend, Carol, is a big Spring fan, so I thought I'd give him a go. Any Spring readers out there?

- To Tell My Story by Irene Vanbrugh : I mentioned the other day that this theatrical autobiography was in the post to me. In my reading slump I find myself hankering after non-fiction rather more than fiction, so this might leap-frog all the novels waiting patiently by my bed.

And the more colourful books.

- Romantic Moderns by Alexandra Harris : was a 2010 title I wanted and waited for - I anticipate dipping in and out quite a bit.

- Tarr by Wyndham Lewis : is the next read for my book group, and kindly provided by the good people at Oxford University Press. Fantastic cover image.

- The Gingerbread Woman by Jennifer Johnston : is probably coming up soon for my other book group, depending on how the online vote goes, but this archive review of Kim's has made me want to read it.

- Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson : I still haven't read Gilead, but I thought I'd get this one in readiness, in case it launches me on an immediate Robinson rampage.

- The World I Live In by Helen Keller : a reader had requested this at the Bodleian, and it so intrigued me that I went and got a copy myself.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Happy weekend, one and all. Col and Mum were here today, so we were a vicar and a cat away from being a whole family reunion. But I'll whip out a quick weekend miscellany, and wish you well for Saturday and Sunday.

1.) The link - is to the South Bank Sky Arts Awards website. Leanne has sent me a nice email and asked me to ponder (and I in turn shall ask you to ponder) who I think should be awarded a South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature.

Well... as you probably know, most of my favourite authors are dead, so this is tricky. The nominated authors are Edmund De Waal, Barbara Trapido, and Candia McWilliam. From that list, I'd give Trapido the award - not least (perhaps solely) because she's the only one I've read.

Hmm.. do you know, I can't think of any novel published last year that I actually thought was really great? I know I only read a handful... Well, I'm going to be controversial and award the prize to Debo Devonshire. Over to you...

2.) The blog post - is Lifetime Reader's great review of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, one of my favourite books read last year. Do pop over and have a gander.

(And if you're in the mood to read a review of an Elizabeth Taylor novel, you're rather spoilt for choice this week - see what Harriet has to say about
At Mrs. Lippincote's and Simon S's thoughts on Blaming.)

3.) The little bit of info. - comes courtesy of David Nolan, a blog-reader who has his eye on the pulse and often spots little gems. He emailed me to let me know that Radio 4 will be playing three of Tove Jansson's short stories. They're on at 3.30pm Tues-Thurs (and afterwards, of course, on iPlayer). More info here. Thanks, David!

4.) The book - is a kind gift from Deanna, who got in touch to say she had a Muriel Spark going spare. It's flown across the Atlantic, and is now sitting in my tbr pile, waiting for my next novella reading weekend. 'Curiously disturbing' (as the cover proclaims) doesn't sound like something I'd leap at, but in the hands of Spark, I know I'd find it enthralling. Thanks so much, Deanna!

Thursday 20 January 2011


Colin is staying, so I'm not going to be anti-social and blog at LENGTH, but I will ask this - I'm currently loving Judi Dench's And Furthermore, and wondered if you could recommend any other theatrical memoirs? I've ordered Irene Vanbrugh's To Tell My Story (anyone read this?) and would love any other ideas...

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Ladies and Kittens of the Jury...

This is a great, not-remotely-literary story I saw here on Yahoo! news...

A tabby cat has been selected for jury duty in the US after his owners registered him on a state census form.

The bizarre letter was sent to the cat, which was listed in the pets section of the census, by a court in Boston, Massachusetts calling on him for duty.

Cat owners Anna and Guy Esposito wrote to the court asking the family pet, named Sal, to be excused from service because he doesn't speak or understand English.

Mrs Esposito reportedly included a letter from her vet confirming that the cat was a 'domestic short-haired neutered feline' and not human.

However, the request for the cat's exemption was refused by a jury commissioner and Mrs Esposito was told that Sal 'must attend' Suffolk Superior Crown Court.

She said: "When they ask him guilty or not guilty, what's he supposed to say - meow?"

"Sal is a member of the family so I listed him on the last census form under pets but there has clearly been a mix-up."

The Daily Mail reported that Sal could have accidentally ended up on the juror list when paperwork was misread at the last census.

According to the Massachusetts judicial branch website, US citizens who 'do not speak and understand English sufficiently well may be disqualified.'

If Sal's application for disqualification is denied, the cat is expected in court on 23 March.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

In the presence of...

I do like it when bloggers share little snippets from books they've read, or are reading, especially when these excerpts are anecdotal in nature. And so I thought I'd share something I read years ago in A.A. Milne's (brilliant) autobgioraphy, and which has stayed with me:
[J.M.] Barrie told me of an occasion when he was present at a gathering of young authors all very busy talking about style. An older man sitting aloof in a corner, but listening intently, was asked to contribute to the discussion. He confessed uncomfortably that he had never thought about the subject: he would rather listen and learn what he could: he really would have nothing to say of any value: they all knew much more than he did. Fearing to be drawn more deeply into the argument, he added that he had to go now, and slipped out. "Who was that?" Barrie was asked. Barrie, who had brought him there, explained that it was Thomas Hardy.

Monday 17 January 2011

Strange Glory

One of the books I bought during Project 24 was Strange Glory (1936) by L.H. Myers. For some reason I had jotted down this name during my doctoral research, and so I bought it when I spotted it in my favourite shop in Oxford, Arcadia. Having read it (quite a while ago, actually) I have no idea why I decided to write it down. It wasn't remotely helpful for my research... but it was interesting enough.

It starts with Paulina stopping her chauffeur next to a mysterious wood in Louisiana. She is off to meet her fiancee, but is captivated by the wood instead - and the equally mysterious man she spots amongst the trees. Strange Glory returns to Paulina's life once every year, as she returns to the wood and to that man - whom she thinks a hermit - as gradually she detaches herself from her life of privilege and gravitates towards a new life.

To be honest, Myers lost me a bit sometimes. I read most of the novel on a long train journey, and when I returned to it I had great trouble working out what was going on. (That's the sort of confession you won't find in a newspaper review.) The second half of the novel becomes a sort of love triangle, with left-wing politics thrown into the mix, and for me it lost a bit of its mystique. Reminded me a little of David Garnett's Aspects of Love, which I didn't particularly love.

But why did I still enjoy Strange Glory? The aura of mystery does pervade it, and Myers' description of the woods helped deepen a narrative which could have remained quite dull. Here's an example - if you like this, then you might well enjoy the novel as a whole:
She woke from her musings to find herself passing through country that she had never seen before. The sun, now high overhead, was shining fiercely through a white haze. Fields of short, greyish grass bordered the road, and behind there rose clumps of huge, moss-hooded trees, the outposts of a line of forest. In the chalky, violet sunlight these mountainous forms loomed up hollow and spectral; they looked like lumps of foam left by a withdrawing tide. And the forest behind seemed to be more unsubstantial still - hoary and unsubstantial with an ancientness independent of time. A frontier of mystery, it stretched on for mile after mile; always the same distance away, it tantalised Paulina until suddenly the road made a turn, and the car rushed into it and was engulfed. At once a cool, swampy smell filled the air; pools of water glittered in the half-dark, the car plunged through clouds of noise that came from the throats of countless frogs.
Even though Strange Glory proved fairly useless for my research, it was yet an entertaining diversion and a glimpse into unusual territory for my reading. The blurb describes it as 'transcendental'. Perhaps it is no coincidence that L.H. Myers is the son of F.W.H. Myers, who wrote a rather bizarre (and very long) two volume work on the unconscious mind, called Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death which enjoyed a vogue in the early 20th century. Not the sort of work I'd particularly enjoy in purported 'non-fiction' (although it does currently sit on my desk, for research purposes) but when this sort of thing influences fiction, it can lend a haunting quality.

One of my more unusual and eccentric choices for Project 24, perhaps, but I'm glad I've read it - and there a few cheap secondhand copies over the internet, should you wish to sample it yourself.

Books to get Stuck into:

The Haunted Woman - David Lindsay: Lindsay was a friend of Myers, and weaves odd metaphysical elements into this unusual novel.

The Man Who Planted Trees - Jean Giono: not the most obvious of connections, but equally captivating in its depiction of woodland as the central force of a narrative.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Happy weekend, one and all. Hope the weather where you are is a little less gloomy than Oxford... roll on spring. But, before that, roll on a book, a blog post, and a link. Today's Miscellany is a little more verbose than most...

1.) The link - (which is actually a blog post, I suppose.) The other day I reviewed Remember Remember by Hazel McHaffie, a novel with the theme of dementia. I intended (were I to summarise in a single line) to write something along the lines of 'This is a good novel; the second half is rather better than the first half.' That would save me an evening! And it is - a very interesting idea, executed skillfully and with feeling. Re-reading the review, from the author's p-o-v, I realise that my quibbles seemed to dominate, and my praise perhaps get a bit lost. But I didn't really have to try and work out the author's p-o-v, because Hazel got in touch - and has written this response to my blog post.

I've got to say, I felt flattered that Hazel thought my blog post worth responding to, and read her thoughts with much interest. I was rather mortified to realise that my review had come across worse than I meant it to (Hazel and I have since exchanged friendly emails!), but it also made me want to say something which is perhaps controversial. I do believe that the very worst writer (which, of course, Hazel is not anywhere close to being) is somehow on a higher plane than the best reviewer/blogger. To be creative is so much more valuable than to analyse creation. So my view, really, isn't that important, in comparison...

That sounds negative about blogging, doesn't it? It wasn't meant to - rather I wanted to celebrate writers. Of course, blogging can cross over into 'creative writing' territory, but generally I admire those wonderful people who create novels - and must remember to be humble as one who merely writes about them.

Oh, and my failure to get on board with Aaron in Remember Remember does (as I have told Hazel now) put him in the same category as Mr. Rochester, Mr. Knightley, and Heathcliff!

2.) The blog post - is Pamela's beautiful list of 'Simple Pleasures'... which just happens to include Miss Hargreaves...

3.) The book - is Vanessa Gebbie's new short story collection, Storm Warning, which sounds intriguing. I reviewed an earlier collection by Gebbie forever ago, here. And here's what her publisher (Salt) have to say about Storm Warning:
Storm Warning explores the echoes of human conflict in a series of powerful stories and flashes inspired by life with the author’s own father, an ordinary and gentle man who fought and was decorated in WWII, but who suffered the after-effects for the rest of his life.

The conflicts range from conventional warfare through violent tribal clashes to historical religious persecution. Gebbie’s viewpoints are never predictable. War veterans are haunted by events that echo louder and louder. A prisoner sees the violent execution of a friend and mentor, a boy hides from a necklacing, a young student escapes the fighting in Iraq in the hope of continuing his education in the West and a woman tells what she knows of her parents’ torture.

Echoes of conflict are often explored from the child’s perspective. A young girl witnesses an attempted escape over the Berlin Wall. Another is present when her grandfather, a writer, is targeted in the Russian Cultural Revolution, and two small boys are unwilling bystanders to atrocities in African inter-tribal conflict.

The people in these stories are not those who go down in history. They are the ordinary troops. They are the powerless, caught up involuntarily. All are tested, sometimes to breaking point, in this extraordinary collection as Gebbie pulls no punches, exploring the surreality of conflict, the after-effects of atrocity and sometimes, the seeds of atrocity itself.

Friday 14 January 2011

Old Habits...

Those who thought I have learnt good habits, or become a better person, under the strictures of Project 24 probably had those beliefs dispelled on January 1st, when I bought twenty-four books. Just in case there are any lingering doubts, I thought I'd better share with you my purchases since the beginning of the year (Jan. 1st purchases not included - posted about them already!) Oh, how I missed going into a bookshop, gleam in my eye, wallet in hand, knowing the only things holding me back were time and the limited number of bags one man can carry at any one time!

One of my favourite bookshops for potential bargains is Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange. A cramped ground floor, with the choice pickings - and three sprawling, untidy basement rooms, where books are all only £1 each. Last time I went they were 50p each, but I suspect they made nary a jot of profit that way. Last Saturday I met up with Sakura (aka Chasing Bawa) and we went book-hunting. Sakura wisely took books to exchange, thus getting vouchers to spend in the shop. I can never find more than one or two books I am willing to part with, and they're always in Somerset rather than Oxford, so it was cold cash I parted with.

I bought nine books... and they came to £9. Not all were downstairs, but they actually only charged me 50p for some, so it balanced out. Nine pounds! When you think that the uncomfortable bus journey to and from London cost £13... Anyway, enough prevarication - here's what I got.

- Foreigners by Leo Walmsley
Jane (Fleur Fisher) wrote this very compelling review of Love in the Sun by Walmsley - I've not been able to track that down, but thought it might be worth picking this one up.

- The Gipsy in the Parlour by Margery Sharp
Another author Jane likes, but one I actually first read in 2003 or thereabouts - I read The Foolish Gentlewoman after reading in letters by P.G. Wodehouse that he liked it a lot. And last read in 2003, so far, but I've got a fair few waiting on my shelves.

- Loving by Henry Green
All manner of people have told me to read this, and a nice Penguin never goes amiss.

- The Mist in the Mirror by Susan Hill
I've not read any of Hill's ghost stories... I'm not entirely sure I want to, as I'll most likely be terrified, but... maybe in the summer.

- The Empty Room by Charles Morgan
Like Margery Sharp, Morgan is an author I read once, enjoyed, and never quite returned to. Still, at least this will give me another option.

- Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark
You all know that I've become besotted by all things Spark - and this is simply another (short! hurrah!) novel of hers to add to the shelves.

- The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw
I read this a year or so ago, but it was a library copy, and I thought I'd quite like one for myself. You know how it is.

- The Child That Books Built by Francis Spufford
I've been considering getting this one for a while, since it sounds exactly the sort of thing a bibliophile would enjoy, and at £1 I felt I could take a gamble.

Most excitingly, I spotted Potterism by Rose Macaulay. To be honest, I still can't remember whether or not I have a copy (LibraryThing says no) BUT when I flicked it open...

Eeek! And for only £1! Having checked it against examples of her autograph online, I am confident that it is bona fide Macaulay - and am utterly delighted.

After all this excitement, we then popped to a nice little cafe, where Sakura kindly bought me a cup of tea, and we ooohed and aaaahed over each other's purchases.

But this is not all! I have been hungrily around Oxford's bookshops; I have bought one or two things online - here are my other finds.

- Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
Yes, of course I already have this - but my 4-in-1 copy is falling apart, and I've been looking to replace it.

- Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
This novel has been on the edge of my book-consciousness for a while, but I can't remember why. Did one of you mention it? A beautiful Folio edition (sans boxy-thing - it's the yellow patterned book) swung the deal. But illustrations by Beryl Cook... can't say I'm excited about those.

- Leonard Woolf by Victoria Glendinning
Oh, the times I walked past this in the £2 bookshop last year! Praise be that it was still there in 2011...

- Letter from New York by Helene Hanff
I didn't realise the author of 84, Charing Cross Road had done much more, so was pleased to spot this collection of articles.

- The Demon Lover and other stories by Elizabeth Bowen
I bought this in Langport, Somerset in the sweetest, and most bizarre, bookshop I've seen in ages. Dozens of pieces of furniture placed at random... not many books, but this collection of stories might help me find my way back to Bowen, after not enjoying The Last September. 2010 was the year of giving authors another go; something I should continue this year - since it was so rewarding.

- The Bondmaid by Pearl S. Buck
Since I loved The Good Earth last year, this leapt into my hands. I daresay Buck will follow the Sharp-Morgan path, of arriving on my bookshelf and never making it to being read, but... maybe one of you can give it a shove in the right direction?

- Daphne by Justine Picardie
Everyone else was reading this a few years ago... now I might join 'em.

- England, Their England by A.G. MacDonell
This was recommended to me by Tim, my colleague, and the first page was very funny. I'm not sure what led Tim to recommend it, since I don't think we've talked much about books we like, but... I'm quietly hopeful.

Not pictured is The Public Image by Muriel Spark, which I bought in Somerset and left there. And lovely Deanna, who reads this blog, says another Spark is winging its way from her... I will thank her suitably profusely when it arrives!

Phew! There you go. For those who didn't read my blog before 2010, this is more or less standard Stuck-in-a-Book behaviour...

And as always, I'd love to know your thoughts on them: have you read any? Which should fight its way to the top of the tbr pile first? Just how exciting is that Rose Macaulay signature?!

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

My housemate Mel (who also edits fab flash fiction blog
The Pygmy Giant) was telling me about the book she'd just finished, and was so enthusiastic about it that I told her to put her money where her mouth was. Well, I expect I said something more sensible and less slangy. Either way, she speedily wrote this brilliant review... enjoy and, if you're like me, be severely tempted...

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Yesterday I finished what I think might possibly be the best book I've ever read. It's probably not, but the fact that I am sitting here trying to get over it makes me think it's a real contender.

I was introduced to Jonathan Safran Foer perhaps a year ago when my old housemate Liz leant me his first novel,
Everything is Illuminated. I'd heard about that book a lot, but always thought it sounded like some pretentious intellectual tome that I'd never want to wade through. It was not. The strange-sounding title comes from the narrator's technique of trying to write well in English by using a thesaurus far too liberally. It was funny, weird, tragic, original and totally brilliant. I recommend that one too...

So I bought Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on the back of that good experience. The title is again inspired by the narrator's distinctive way of describing things. It again features the stories of multiple generations of a family, and again much of the narration is done through letters.

If I had to tell you what it's about, I'd say it's about missing people. It's about loss, and how loss can disrupt your entire life. It's about the personal consequences of war. It's about regret, and the things you just can't talk about. It's about things being simple, yes and no, and things being complicated.

In summary, Oskar is a smart, nine year-old nerd. He loved his dad above all else. His dad was killed in the twin towers on September 11. A year later, going through his dad's things, he discovers a mysterious key in an envelope, and makes it his mission (his 'raison d'etre' – he's learning French) to find out what it unlocks. He travels all across New York meeting everybody in the phone book with the surname Black. They can't help but love him – he's unintentionally funny, curious, and straightforward. The humour comes from Oskar's telling of the story, but it's also crushingly sad.

At the same time, we gradually learn the story of Oskar's grandfather, who left his grandmother before his dad was born, through a series of letters written to the son he never met. What is completely brilliant about this is that Grandpa can't talk, so communicates by writing in notebooks. His letters are interspersed with photos of doorknobs (you'll find out why) and pages that he has written messages on to other people. This is so cleverly done, it means that everything is gradually (as the author would say) illuminated. The fact that he has YES and NO tattooed on his hands becomes symbolically significant too. I love the way all his words, all his days are recorded in books, on the backs of envelopes, on napkins or on his own arms – what these pieces of paper are used for, where his words get stuffed, what washes off, is fabulous. e.g.:

Later that year, when snow started to cover the front steps, when morning became evening as I sat on the sofa, buried under everything I'd lost, I made a fire and used my laughter for kindling: “Ha ha ha!” “Ha ha ha!” “Ha ha ha!” “Ha ha ha!”

In fact, all the parts written by Oskar's grandfather are a wonderful stream of poetry.

Thirdly, we find Oskar's beloved grandma writing him a letter/typing out her life story, explaining things that were never said, and perhaps giving us a more reliable version of events than her husband's. Oskar's grandparents witnessed the bombing of Dresden, and basically lost their lives there. They meet again in New York, Grandpa tells us, like this:
… the place was half empty but she slid right up to me, “You've lost everything,” she said, as if we were sharing a secret, “I can see.”

The three narrators are excellently drawn, each with their own writing style and their own way of expressing their story. And the writing is just beautiful. I cried at a letter from Stephen Hawking; I did not predict that. If you've never lost somebody vital, I don't know how you will react to this story, but I think it will probably still break your heart.

I don't want to put in too many spoilers, but to tell you what I love about this book, I think I just need to quote some astonishing lines that express so well some of the experiences of grief.

“You never write to me.” “But I'm with you.” “So?” … It's the tragedy of loving, you can't love anything more than something you miss.

When I no longer had to be strong in front of you, I became very weak. I brought myself to the ground, which was where I belonged. I hit the floor with my fists. I wanted to break my hands, but when it hurt too much, I stopped. I was too selfish to break my hands for my only child.

“I lost a son.” “You did? How did he die?” “I lost him before he died.” “How?” “I went away.” “Why?” He wrote, “I was afraid.” “Afraid of what?” “Afraid of losing him.” “Were you afraid of him dying?” “I was afraid of him living.” “Why?” He wrote, “Life is scarier than death.”

Warning - this is from near the end:
“I wish I hadn't found it.” “It wasn't what you were looking for?” “That's not it.” “Then what?” “I found it and now I can't look for it.” I could tell he didn't understand me. “Looking for it let me stay close to him for a little while longer.” “But won't you always be close to him?” I knew the truth. “No.”

So this all sounds depressing, but there is so much humour and humanity in here that it's a million miles from being a dirge. There are also nice little mysteries and clues and unexplained things that all come together later on in the book.

In summary: Oh My Goodness. In my boundless enthusiasm about this book, I feel like I've turned into Oskar. It's extremely original and incredibly sad. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be astonished.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Personal Pleasures

I'm currently, and slowly, reading Personal Pleasures by Rose Macaulay, one of the books I bought under Project 24. It's a collection of paeans to the m
any and various delights Macaulay encounters in life - from believing to disbelieving, from doves in the chimney to improving the dictionary. It's a hodge-podge, or perhaps a hotch-potch, and certainly good fun. It does feel a little over-written compared to Macaulay's novels, with elaborate expressions and fanciful imagery. You can imagine Philip Sidney penning it, whilst not musing on Astrophel and Stella. Having said that, Macaulay delights in pulling the rug from under your feet, and each section has a little turning-point where she considers the flip-side.

This isn't really a review of the book - that would be foolish, since I'm not even halfway yet - but I thought I'd treat you to one of the sections which tickled me. AND this prepares you for some Macaulay news coming later in the week...

'Departure of Visitors'
An exquisite peace obtains: a drowsy, golden peace, flowing honey-sweet over my dwelling, soaking it, dripping like music from the walls, strowing the floors, like trodden herbs. A peace for gods, a divine emptiness.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy Sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy Companies of Men. . . .
Society is all but rude
To this delicious Solitude.

The easy chair spreads wide arms of welcome; the sofa stretches, guest-free; the books of gleam, brown and golden, buff and blue and maroon, from their shelves; they may strew the floor, the hairs, the couch, once more, lying ready to the hand. "I am afraid the room is rather littered...." The echo of the foolish words lingers on the air, is brushed away, dies forgotten, the air closes behind it. A heavy volume is heaved from its shelf on to the sofa. Silence drops like falling blossoms over the recovered kingdom from which pretenders have taken their leave.

What to do with all this luscious peace? It is a gift, a miracle, a golden jewel, a fragment of some gracious heavenly order, dropped to earth like some incredible strayed star. One's life to oneself again. Dear visitors, what largesse have you given, not only in departing, but in coming, that we might learn to prize your absence, wallow the more exquisitely in the leisure of your not-being.

To-night we shall sleep deep. We need no more hope that you "have everything you want"; we know that you have, for you are safely home, and can get it from your kitchen if you haven't. We send you blessing and God speed, and sink into our idle peace as into floods of down.

But you have unfortunately left behind you, besides peace, a fountain pen, a toothbrush, and a bottle of eye lotion with eye bath.

Monday 10 January 2011

At Laski

If you're familiar with Stuck-in-a-Book and my reading habits, you'll know that it usually takes a while for books to work their way up the tbr pile. Understanding friends are very kind, and don't complain, but Hayley (also known as Desperate Reader) will be pleased to finally read my thoughts on the book she very generously bestowed upon me: Love on the Supertax by Marghanita Laski. Truth be told, it might have been a loan originally, but Hayley sweetly said I could keep it. Crime does pay, it turns out.

Marghanita Laski is a name a lot of us know, and a lot more people encountered her through Persephone Books, who publish her novels The Village, Little Boy Lost, To Bed With Grand Music, and The Victorian Chaise-Longue. I've read the second and fourth of those, and haven't quite been able to put my finger on what it is that defines Laski - those novels had little in common, and Love on the Supertax throws another tone into the mix, leaving me very satisfied, but rather confused.

Love on the Supertax (1944) is Laski's first novel, and is a very amusing romp through the battle of the classes, and the eternal question of whether romance can flourish between people of different classes. This has been a theme in the English novel from Richardson's Pamela onwards. But I don't recall it being done in the way Laski does... in that Clarissa is desperate to leave her privileged background and become part of the socialist working-class. Yes, you're thinking, we've been here before with Lady Chatterley, and still aren't sure we want our wives and servants reading it. Well, fear not; there is no sense of Clarissa getting a thrill from dabbling below her class - instead, Sid feels he is wandering below his. For it is accepted by all that he would be marrying below himself, if uniting himself with posh Clarissa - not the other way around.

A fairly simple start for a satire, perhaps, but it works so well. The scene where Sid introduces Clarissa to his parents is hilarious - her wafer-thin slices of bread don't go down well. Here's another taster, to give you the idea:
"No," said Sid Baker. "I think you're a good deal too much influenced by superficial differences, and that you attach too much importance to heredity. Personally, I think environment is far too influential. I'd guarantee that if you took an aristocrat's child at birth and placed it in a working-class home with all the environmental advantages that would entail, that child at twenty-one would be indistinguishable from me."
I loved Love on the Supertax, and it adds another string to Laski's complex bow, for it is again so unlike the other Laski novels I've read. A quick read, it has charm and wit - and although I daresay it was motivated by a serious point, Laski has the writerly wisdom not to over-emphasise any social critique. Instead, this is a tongue-in-cheek and very amusing novella casting an unusual view on 1940s England. Thanks, Hayley!

Things to get Stuck into

Economy Must Be Our Watchword - Joyce Dennys: I feel a bit guilty suggesting this, since it is more or less impossible to find, but Dennys' tale of a selfish and unself-aware (or self-unaware??) woman trying to economise is so, so very hilarious.