Persephone Books. A Slice of Heaven.

I first discovered Persephone Books when my aunt sent me ‘Someone at a Distance’ by Dorothy Whipple for my birthday one year.  This beautiful package arrived with a book with an elegant grey cover and cream pages, and a lovely book mark.  I was intrigued.  Who on earth was Dorothy Whipple and what was this book all about?  I discovered it had been bought and sent from Persephone Books, a very unique book shop in London I had never heard of.

The founder Nicola Beauman had a vision of printing books by women written during the 1930s and 40s that were now out of print.  Boy did she do it in style!

The website tell us the following about the founder of this treasure trove for book lovers: “The founder of Persephone Books, Nicola Beauman (née Mann), was born in 1944, brought up in London, and read English at Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the author of A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-39 (1983), Cynthia Asquith (1987), Morgan: a biography of E.M. Forster (1993) and The Other Elizabeth Taylor (2009). She is married with five children and lives in London. She likes brogues, daffodils, mattress ticking and madeira.”

As for the books themselves – quality is the order of the day.  Beautifully written stories by women about relationships, domesticity, the appalling tragedies of war and much much more.   I remember my cousin recommending Monica Dickens to me, the great granddaughter of Charles.  Her book ‘Mariana’ is available and by all accounts is hilarious. There are also books by men now available and the whole collection is sublime.  For a taster I would read their blog recommendations at http://www.persephonebooks.co.uk/books-info/blogs/

They also stop for tea every day at 4 pm which I think is most civilized!   These books make great presents.  If you have read any of them, or have visited the shop, please let me know as I would love to know your thoughts.  I hope to visit the shop next time I am in London.

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Review of Elizabeth is Missing. Book Club Choice for April.

Over-hyped. For me that was what this book was in a nutshell. It couldn’t possibly have lived up to my high expectations. From all the quotes extolling it’s magnificence on the cover I was expecting a superb read.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed it. If you love unreliable narrators, then you will enjoy this book just fine, but for me sadly I just found it frustrating.

The book begins with the main character Maud having just found the remains of a compact mirror in the garden, which she recognizes, and this sets up the twin mysteries of the disappearance of her friend Elizabeth, and a previous mystery – the disappearance of her older sister Sukey just after the Second World War.
The main character Maud is beautifully portrayed in the first person narrative and I grew in affection and sympathy for her as the book went on. The descriptions of her descent into dementia were both terrifying and unbearably poignant at times. Healey’s gift for language is impressive.
Where my frustration set in was with the rambling double storyline that seemed to have no end in sight and I found it a bit haphazard at times. Where the bloody hell was Elizabeth?!! I was getting as frustrated as her daughter Helen, and undoubtedly this was the effect the author intended. I was also disappointed in the ending. I won’t actually give it away here, in case someone hasn’t finished reading it yet, but my feeling was ‘I have ploughed through this book for that?’
A beautifully written novel, I loved the character of Maud and her emotional journey. My main issue was with how the plot was structured.
I look forward to hearing what you thought.

Friday Fun — Memorable Scene

Good fun for a Friday. Check out my comment re Jane Eyre!

Live to Write - Write to Live

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Name one scene from a book that has stuck with you long after you first read it. Bonus points if you have any idea why it’s been thumbtacked to the inside of your brain all this time. 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Chapter 11 in Douglas Adams’ novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Gordon Way has just been shot to death. Someone popped out of the trunk (or, “boot,” as Adams says) of Way’s rather expensive motorcar and fired his own shotgun at him. It’s nighttime and the road is covered in mist as Way, in his new and unwelcome non corporeal form, begins to make his way slowly up the highway.

He trudged despondently…

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Have You Read…? A few more recommendations.

I was listening to an Arts Show on the radio last night and they were talking about the short list for the International IMPAC Dublin literary award.  (More details here http://www.impacdublinaward.ie )  They mentioned an author who I hadn’t thought of in awhile –  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  She is shorlisted for her book ‘Americanah.’   I remembered reading ‘Half of a Yellow Sun.’  Have  you read it?  It is an excellent read.  It is about the struggle in Biafra to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this through five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress and Richard, a shy young Englishman who is in love with Olanna’s feisty twin sister Kainene.

I found this book gripping from the start.  The characters are so vivid and the depictions of war so brutal.  It is also a love story and all the characters lives are expertly told, so that within a very short time you are completely invested in their stories.  I remember seeing the author on television speaking at the Hay Festival.  She was so beautiful and eloquent.   Nigeria has produced some incredible writers and she is definitely one of them.   I can’t wait to read ‘Americanah.’

I was thinking about other books last night that I had completely forgotten about.  Two being ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier and ‘Stoner.’ by John Williams.  If you haven’t read ‘Stoner,’ I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is one of those books that once you have finished it, you sigh and look forward to a time when you can re-read it.  It is a masterpiece of understated brilliance in my opinion.  Happy Reading!

Thoughts on ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and ‘Mrs Dalloway,’ by Virginia Woolf.

Having finally read two Virginia Woolf classics, I thought I would share my views. Firstly, I am exhausted!  Ms Woolf is most definitely not easy reading (well not for me anyway.) I will start with ‘A Room of One’s Own.’  This book grew out of a lecture that Virginia Woolf had been invited to give at Girton College Cambridge in 1928.

In the book she begins to contemplate women and fiction and on page two we have one of the best quotes I have ever read: ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.’   What a brilliant piece of observation and how true! Woolf then goes on to discuss women in literature, women in history and the differences between how women are portrayed in fiction and how they actually lived in reality.

I found this book fascinating, beautifully written and a real revelation, in so far as it raised questions about both women and women as writers, that I had never even thought to contemplate before.  Woolf is a master of description and expressing deep personal reflections in exquisite literary form.  Honestly I can’t do justice to the book.  There are so many good quotes, you just want to read it all again once you have finished.   As a wannabe writer, I found her advice useful, such as “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. ”

I did think she was very hard on women at times.  Near the end of the book she says of women ‘you are in my opinion disgracefully ignorant,’ but in the context it is a call to arms for all women to shine and step out of the shadows of men. She imagines Shakespeare’s sister coming forth as a poet and how we all need to be that poet.   This book is one I feel deserves to be read by women and men alike and re-read several times.  A classic.

Now, moving on to ‘Mrs Dalloway’.  How I wish I could have loved this book, but I didn’t.  I felt I should have, as there is no doubting it is a work of literary genius. But for me, it was just too hard work.   The book tells the story of Clarissa Dalloway, who is preparing for a party she is to give at her home in London.  We experience her thoughts and feelings as he goes out into London to do her shopping and then returns home to prepare for her party.  We then experience the views and feelings of others about her as they weave in and out of the story.  A former lover Peter Walsh who has returned from India.  Her friend Sally Seton and a few others.   There is a parallel story running alongside that of Clarissa Dalloway – that of Septimus Smith, a war veteran who is descending into madness.  The action takes place over the course of one day and although they never meet, their stories run parallel and intertwine somewhat at the end.

Honestly I just felt the descriptions were too crowded and too many and the interior monologues were too intense at every moment.   I can appreciate the lyricism of her writing and the beauty of her descriptions, but I couldn’t care enough about any of the characters and I became worn down with the lack of anything actually happening.   I would love to know your thoughts.  I am not sure I will be picking up any more Virginia Woolf, but if you can persuade me I would love to hear which of her novels you loved, if any.  I am however delighted to have read  ‘A Room of One’s Own.’

Jeanette Winterson at the Dublin Writer’s Festival 2012

Following on from my previous post where I mentioned one of the books I have recently read is ‘Why be Happy when you could be Normal?’ by Jeanette Winterson, I decided to post this video.

It is taken from the website of the International Literature Festival, as it is now called.   You will have to set aside an hour to watch it, but if you just want a flavour of  her book, she reads from two of the chapters, so it would give you an idea.

I find her funny, intelligent and a fantastic writer.  You can see how much the Dublin audience love her too, although she does get very frustrated with some of the long winded questions (and who can blame her?!).

Anyway, hope you enjoy it.   Click below to watch the video:

http://ilfdublin.com/video/jeanette-winterson-dwf-2012/