Wednesday 19 September 2012

Five From the Archive (no.9)

I'm still enjoying these jaunts down memory lane - I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to think of themes which encompass five great books each time, but even with 45 titles down, I have about 300 other reviews to consider... fun!  Do use the Five From the Archive idea and badge, if you so wish.

Five... Books About Holidays

This may be cruel, as the summer quietly dies, but (if it helps) some of these holidays are far from desirable...

1.) The Enchanted April (1922) by Elizabeth von Arnim

In brief: Four seemingly incompatible women join each other for a month in beautiful Italy - which has a powerful effect on them all.

From my review: "The castle is described beautifully, and especially the garden - attention drawn often to the wistaria, which happens to be my favourite plant. Everywhere is brightly sunny, airy, thick with the scent of flowers and bursting with nature. It could have been horribly overdone, but E von A strikes just the right note."

2.) Illyrian Spring (1935) by Ann Bridge

In brief: Another idyllic trip to Italy sets off an intriguing friendship between (Lady) Grace Kilmichael and young artist Nicholas.  Heavy on snobbery, but made up for by being simply beautiful.

From my review: "There are a few, a very few, authors who manage to write about the visual in ways which focus upon characters' emotions and their responses, even if this isn't stated explicitly, and that works for me. I'm thinking the moment when Jude looks out over Christminster in Jude the Obscure, and more or less every moment of Elizabeth von Arnim's The Enchanted April. Ann Bridge joins that select few, for me."

3.) The Great Western Beach (2008) by Emma Smith

In brief: A lovely childhood memoir of visits to Cornwall, which manages to be joyful despite some tough subject matter.

From my review: "I think the most useful way I can write about this book is to describe the style. First person, but neither from the author's current perspective, nor from the child's. It is all written as though she were looking back at the events from a distance of only a couple years - some hindsight and analysis is permitted, but alongside childhood ignorance of certain things, and a child's language."

4.) Straw Without Bricks (1937) by E.M. Delafield

In brief: Not a traditional holiday, perhaps, but here Delafield casts her witty and sensible eye over Soviet Russia, even living in a commune.

From my review: "This is certainly not the 'funny book' that her publisher was hoping for. Delafield's own political leanings were to the left, though not as far as Communism, and she treats the country and its inhabitants seriously. Much of this is with a subdued horror - at the indoctrination, the lack of freedom, the systematic removal of beauty and individualism - but she never makes Communism's adherents appear ridiculous. The humour is often directed towards her fellow tourists, or such quintessentially British anxieties as having to wait around for something to happen, or wondering how to pass someone one is keen not to engage in trivial conversation."

5.) Beside the Sea (2001) by Veronique Olmi

In brief: Easily the darkest of these books, a mother struggles with two young sons while staying in a dingy hotel beside the sea.

From my review: "I was initially thrown by the tone of the novel, being so different from what I expected - and I did worry that it would be like so many other novels, in a 'real' voice which is so jarring and unsatisfying. But Olmi is much cleverer than that - though the reader might think at the start that this is an average mother, it is soon obvious that she is not. Unreliable narrators always make for interesting reading, and this one gives away only so much - and how much of that is true or reasonable is difficult to gauge..."

a gold star if you can spot the pun... ahem.

As always - over to you!  These themes are just to make us think a bit out of the box, or make unusual connections between books we've read, so... holidays in fact or fiction, folk?


  1. I've only read Delafield and von Arnim but different books and liked both of them very much. This lot goes into my TBR.

    1. Lovely! The EMD and von A are quite different from their other work - the EMD isn't a comic novel, and the von A is much more pleasant and less cynical than some of her others - both great, though!

  2. Mmm not sure about the pun - beside the sea, maybe. Anyway I like the Five from the Archive badge and I'll use it on my next From the Archives post - it just missed my last one on Biographies.

    I haven't read any of your 'holiday' books. The only 'holiday' book that comes to my mind is Agatha Christie's Evil Under the Sun in which Poirot goes on holiday to a seaside hotel in Devon and finds himself having to solve a murder. That's not my idea of a holiday!

    1. You got the pun right ;) It wasn't a clever one! I enjoyed reading your Biographies archive post the other day - and I look forward to whatever you do from the archives next!

  3. I do enjoy your 'Five from the Archive'. No pressure, but I hope you never run out of books!

    Holidays are rich pickings for writers, I think. New places, new faces or the same old people forced to spend too much time together.

    I have a couple of very recent books to suggest. Mark Haddon's 'The Red House' falls into the final category. I like the way Haddon presents all the conflicting viewpoints in this one.

    I'm currently reading Booker-shortlisted 'Swimming Home' by Deborah Levy. I'm only half way through, but I can't help thinking it will end very badly.

    1. Haha! Well, not pressure, then ;)

      Thanks for your recommendation of The Red House - particularly because I actually have it already.

  4. I loved The Enchanted April and have been prompted by yourself and Rachel at Book Snob to buy Ilyrian Spring by Ann Bridge (in a nice new Daunt edition) which I'm keeping to read on my holidays next month.

    Two that I would reccomend are The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman and Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. The former is about a family in the 60s who go on holiday to a lake in Vermont, the latter is set in the 30s and is about a girl working in a holiday camp in New York State. They both feature the holiday camps that were known as the Borscht Belt - luxurious holiday camps in upstate New York frequented by rich Jewish Families (think the holiday camp in Dirty Dancing - inspired by similar places).
    Both invoke a strong sense of place and time, both comment on the differences in cultures in America in that period, and both are rollicking good reads also. Which if you are on holiday yourself is usually what is required, reading wise!

    1. Isn't the Daunt edition a beauty?
      Thanks for those recommendations - I know nothing about them, and I'm intrigued!

  5. I'm intrigued by the Delafield book, I've not heard of it before but the subject sounds delightfully quirky.

    As for suggestions, I always think of Austen's Persuasion as a seaside-ish book but I'm not sure if you venture that far back for your reads. I bought a copy of Fabled Shore by Rose Macauley at the weekend, that might be more appealing?

    1. The Delafield is also published as The Provincial Lady in Russia, even though it isn't actually a Provincial Lady book (tsk, publishers!) Definitely worth reading, if a little disjointed. Well, I guess my review says more!

      I mean to re-read Persuasion in 2013, when I'm the same age as Anne, since it was my least favourite Austen when I read them all in 2003. And I think I have Fabled Shore too... Macaulay is a bit variable, but at her best she's really great.

    2. How could you not love Anne? ;)


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