The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

18

which for me is Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 September, 2020.

My last Spin result was The Return of the Native, which I loved. So I am delighted this time to get another of Hardy’s books to read.

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in the fictional county of Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.  (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Classics Club Spin

What is the spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 9th August 2020, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period. On Sunday 9th August, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th September, 2020.

I have just 7 books left on my list, so I’ve repeated the list twice (minus the 7th book for second repeat).

  1. 8, 15 The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. 9, 16 Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. 10, 17 Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  4. 11, 18 Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  5. 12, 19 Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  6. 13, 20 Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  7. 14 Orlando by Virginia Woolf

I really don’t mind which book is chosen!

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, first published in 1950, was his fourth Inspector Hazelrigg novel. It’s the first one I’ve read, although I have read two of his other books. There is an excellent introduction by Martin Edwards, which gives details of Gilbert’s career as a a solicitor and as a mystery writer. He wrote 30 novels and 185 short stories, as well as work for radio, television and stage.

As the title tells you Smallbone is dead. He was one of the trustees of the Ichabod Stokes Trust together with Abel Horniman, the senior partner of a London law firm, Horniman, Birley and Craine. After the recent death of Abel, whilst looking for the deeds relating to the Trust, Marcus Smallbone’s body was discovered in the Trust’s deed box, a large, hermetically sealed box.

Inspector Hazelrigg runs the police investigation. It’s obviously an inside job and with the help of Henry Bohun, a newcomer to the firm, the police investigate each of the suspects until by process of elimination the culprit is identified. Of course it’s not that straight forward, as each person’s motive, opportunity and alibi is considered and there are a number of red herrings that did baffle me a little. There is rather too much detail about the finances of the firm for my liking, but apart from that the book moves along swiftly.

The setting in the solicitors’ office after the end of the Second World War is well done and reflects the differences between the male professionals and the female admin staff with their intrigues, rivalries and flirtations. I think Bohun is the most interesting character, although they are all individually distinguishable. Bohun is not just new to the firm, but also a newly qualified solicitor. He has para-insomnia and never gets a full night’s sleep, averaging about ninety minutes a night. It doesn’t make him feel tired, but means he has lots of time to help Inspector Hazelrigg and still carry out his job, as well as doing a good deal of reading, walking the streets and even working as a night watchman. It’s written with a light touch and a sense of humour and I enjoyed it very much.

Now, I’d like to read more of Gilbert’s work, maybe starting with some of his short stories as Bohun appeared in nine short stories and also in a six-part radio thriller and Hazelrigg featured in nineteen short stories as well as in six novels.

Michael Gilbert

Michael Gilbert (1912-2006) wrote thrillers, police procedurals and espionage novels that rank among the highest and most varied achievements of British crime writing in the second half of the twentieth century. A founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Gilbert was for many years partner in a London law firm and drew on his knowledge of the law in writing his most acclaimed novel. For more information about Michael Gilbert see this article by Martin Edwards.

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 5145 KB
Print Length: 236 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0755119193
Publisher: British Library Publishing (22 Jan. 2019)
Source: I bought it

My Friday Post: Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My choice this week is Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, one of the British Library Crime Classics.

It begins:

‘The thoughts of all present tonight,’ said Mr Birley, ‘will naturally turn first to the great personal loss – the very great personal loss – so recently suffered by the firm, by the legal profession and, if I may venture to say so without contradiction, by the British public.’

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

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These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 55 (page 56 is missing)

‘And why does that mean he couldn’t have killed Smallbone?’ said Bohun quietly.

‘I quite forgot, ‘ said Hazelrigg, ‘You don’t know how he was killed.’

‘I don’t said Bohun steadily, ‘and I suggest,’ he added, ‘that if you you’re going to trust me you don’t set traps for me.’

The book blurb:

Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation – especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr Smallbone was – and why he had to die.

Written with style, pace and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

~~~

This will be the third book by Michael Gilbert that I’ve read. I thoroughly enjoyed Death Has Deep Roots when I read it last year, and so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this one too.

If you have read it please let me know what you thought of it.

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Blurb from Amazon:

First published serially between January and December of 1878 in the sensationalistic monthly London magazine “Belgravia”, Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” is the author’s sixth published novel. Set in Egdon Heath, an area of Thomas Hardy’s fictionalized Wessex known for the thorny evergreen shrubs, called furze or gorse, which are cut there by its residents for fuel.

When the story begins, on Guy Fawkes Night, we find Diggory Venn, a merchant of the red mineral called reddle which farmers use to mark their sheep, giving aid to Thomasin Yeobright, whom he is in love with but has unsuccessfully wooed over the preceding two years. Diggory is helping Thomasin, who is in distress having left town with Damon Wildeve under the false promise of matrimony, return home to her aunt, Mrs. Yeobright. Damon has rebuffed Thomasin in favor of the beautiful young Eustacia Vye.

However when Mrs. Yeobright’s son Clym, a successful diamond merchant, returns from Paris, Eustacia loses interest in Damon, seeing a relationship with Clym as an opportunity to escape the Heath in favor of a more glamorous and exciting locale. A classically modern novel, “The Return of the Native” presents a world of people struggling between their unfulfilled desires and the expectations of society. 

My thoughts:

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors and I throughly enjoyed The Return of the Nativewhich I think is one of his best books. I loved the setting on Eldon Heath, which is based on the small heath by Hardy’s childhood home, but is much larger. The ancient round barrows named Rainbarrows, and Rushy Pond, which lie immediately behind Hardy’s childhood home, form the centre of the fictional heath. Hardy’s description of it is detailed, poetically lyrical and beautiful. 

It’s a dramatic and tragic love story. It has a large cast of characters, with lovers who change their affections throughout the novel and it’s full of intrigue with striking moonlit scenes, disputes, heated quarrels and misunderstandings, along with rustic characters and traditional celebrations, for example Guy Fawkes night, May Day and a Mummers’ play at Christmas.

It was first published in 1878 in three volumes with revisions at later dates. The revision I read was published in 1912. Hardy’s Preface establishes that the events described took place between 1840 and 1850. ‘Egdon Heath’ is a combination of various heaths that were later ploughed or planted to woodland. He liked to think of it as the ‘heath of that traditionary King of Wessex – Lear’. The Return of the Native is a complex novel, shocking to its contemporary public because of its depiction of passionate and illicit sexual relationships (tame by today’s standards).

It begins with a description of Egdon Heath, a sombre isolated place, loved by some and hated by others, some regarding it as a prison. Along the ancient highway that crossed the heath the solitary figure of an old man sees a cart ahead of him in the long dry road. Both the driver, who walked beside it, and the cart, were completely red – he was a reddleman, who supplied  farmers with redding for their sheep. He plays an important part in the novel, appearing at significant times and places to great effect on the course of events. 

It’s not a book to read quickly and it transported me back to a time that ceased to exist before I was born, where time moved more slowly, ruled by the seasons and the weather, and with a clearly defined social hierarchy. And yet, I was surprised to find that youngsters were scribbling graffiti on ‘every gatepost and barn’s doors’, writing ‘some bad word or other’ so that a woman can hardly pass for shame some time.’ Learning to write and sending children to school was blamed:

’Ah, there’s too much of that sending to school these days! It only does harm. … If they’d never been taught how to write they wouldn’t have been able to scribble such villainy. Their fathers couldn’t do it, and the country was all the better for it.’ (Page 108)8

Quite simply – I loved it. It’s a love story full of depth, atmosphere and passion, but also of tragedy  and a mix of darkness and light.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club
The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number … 6

which for me is The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 1 June, 2020.

The Return of the Native

I’m delighted with this as I’ve been meaning to read it for years and never got round to it.

‘To be loved to madness – such was her great desire’

Eustacia Vye criss-crosses the wild Egdon Heath, eager to experience life to the full in her quest for ‘music, poetry, passion, war’. She marries Clym Yeobright, native of the heath, but his idealism frustrates her romantic ambitions and her discontent draws others into a tangled web of deceit and unhappiness.

Early readers responded to Hardy’s ‘insatiably observant’ descriptions of the heath, a setting that for D. H. Lawrence provided the ‘real stuff of tragedy’. For modern readers, the tension between the mythic setting of the heath and the modernity of the characters challenges our freedom to shape the world as we wish; like Eustacia, we may not always be able to live our dreams. (Amazon)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Bought/Borrowed Because…

top-ten-tuesday-new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Books I Bought/Borrowed Because… (Fill in the blank. You can do 10 books you bought for the same reason, i.e., pretty cover, recommended by a friend, blurbed by a favorite authors, etc. OR you could do a different reason for each pick.) 

These are some books I’ve bought:

  • All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard – because this is the last book in her Cazalet series and I’d read all the others. I’d love to re-read the whole series sometime.
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens after watching the TV series. I much prefer to watch a dramatised version before reading a book – the other way round can be so disappointing.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett  after watching the film. Both were good – in different ways.

  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie because I was reading all her books for The Agatha Christie Reading Challenge run by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce because I was browsing in a bookshop and saw that it’s about Harold’s journey on foot from one end of the country to the other – from South Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed and I was intrigued. I wondered which places he went through.
  • L S Lowry: A Life by Shelley Rhode because I love his paintings, so when I saw this book at an exhibition of his work I bought it.

And some books I’ve borrowed:

  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters – this is just one of the many books I’ve bought/borrowed because so many other bloggers had praised it, so when I saw at at the library I borrowed it.
  • Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre – because I went to his author event and then borrowed this book from my son.
  • The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell because I read her book, Instructions for a Heatwave for book group and as I loved that book one of the other members lent it to me.
  • The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley, subtitled Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter. I’ve borrowed it from the library as a friend had borrowed it before me and said it’s very good – and it is.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens oliver twist etc

5*

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was my latest Classics Club Spin book. I finished reading it on 16th January well before the finish date for the Spin, 31st January. It’s a well known story, although I realised that I only knew the beginning – Oliver’s birth in the workhouse and his early years, that famous scene where he has the audacity to ask for more, and then his escape from the workhouse only to end up in Fagin’s clutches – a den of thieves and pickpockets.

Oliver Twist
‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

I don’t intended to go into any more detail about the story, other than to say that whilst out with the Artful Dodger, attempting to steal handkerchiefs Oliver is caught by the police and rescued by Mr Brownlow. After that the story was new to me, although I knew the names of the other main characters, Nancy and the villain Bill Sykes, with his vicious dog, Bull’s Eye. But other characters in the later parts of the book, such as the Maylie family, Rose, adopted by Mrs Maylie, and her son, Harry and the mysterious man, Monks were new to me. 

Oliver Twist was first published as a serial from 1837-1839, under Charles Dickens’ pseudonym, ‘Boz’. It was his second novel, published in three volumes in November 1839. It’s full of terrific descriptions of the state of society at the time – the grim conditions that the poor suffered, the shocking revelations of what went on in the workhouse, and the depiction of the criminal underworld – the contrast of good and evil. Despite everything that happens to Oliver he remains a good boy, pure and innocent, whereas the villains are evil personified; whilst living with Fagin and his gang he existed in a state of both fascination and terror. Dickens was merciless in the satire he used in this book.

And yet in the middle of the book there is a romantic interlude full of sentimentality and melodrama. Rose Maylie is really a very pale character, being both virtuous and self-sacrificing but she contrasts well with the prostitute Nancy, who pities Oliver and tries to protect him from Fagin and Sykes. As the mystery surrounding Monks’ identity is revealed, Oliver is in more danger than anything he has faced before in his life.

My copy also contains Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities (both of which I read as a teenager) and was a birthday present as long ago as 1981, so this is one of my TBRs as well as a Classics Club Spin book. In the introduction to this volume Oliver Twist is described as follows:

The story of Oliver … has become an immortal one. Hitherto Dickens had been content to entertain … with Oliver he tried to reach the deeper passions of his audience, rouse their indignation at the harsh injustice of the Poor Law and open their eyes to the horror of the London slums, while at the same time show that there is  a certain innocence in humanity (personified by Oliver) that can never be sullied. There have been some critics who have found that the two themes make uneasy bedfellows and certain contemporaries of Dickens complained that he was being purely sensational in his horrific descriptions of life in the criminal underworld. Most of his readership, however, have been both fascinated and moved.

And I can say that I too found it shocking, fascinating and moving.

WWW Wednesday: 15 January 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently I’m reading three books:

Charles Dickens oliver twist etcOliver Twist by Charles Dickens, my Classics Club Spin book. It’s one of those books that I think I know the story from watching TV adaptations, but I have never read it. I’ve discovered that I only ‘know’ the beginning of the book up to the part where Oliver is rescued by Mr Brownlow from Fagin’s clutches, only to be snatched back by Nancy. After that the story is totally new to me.

John Lennon LettersI’m also reading The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies. It includes a brief biography and using almost three hundred of Lennon’s letters and postcards, to relations, friends, fans, strangers, and lovers follows his life more or less chronologically. It’s a large, heavy hardback book, illustrated with photos and reproductions of the letters etc. This is going to be a long-term read for me.

The Windsor StoryThe third book is one I’ve only just started – I’ve been struck by some of the parallels between Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 in order to marry Wallis Simpson and the current situation of Prince Harry and Meghan in wanting to step back as senior royals, and I remembered I have The Windsor Story by J Bryan III and Charles V Murphy. It looks remarkably comprehensive and is another book that I think will take me a long time to read.

Lady of the ravensThe last book I finished reading is  The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson, historical fiction about about the early years of Henry’s reign as seen through the eyes of Joan Vaux, a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York, whose marriage in 1486 to Henry united the Houses of Lancaster and York after the end of the Wars of the Roses.  I found this a fascinating book and posted my review a few days ago.

Tinker tailorI have several books lined up to read next including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré because over the Christmas period I watched the film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin FirthTom HardyJohn Hurt and others. I began reading the book years ago and have a bookmark at page 88, but I’ll have to go back to the beginning now.

A killing kindnessBut I’d also like to start A Killing Kindness, the next Dalziel and Pascoe novel, the 6th one in Reginald Hill’s series. It looks good – about Mary Dinwoodie whose body is found choked in a ditch following a night out with her boyfriend, and a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet.

But knowing how long it could be until I start the next book, it could be something completely different!

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club
The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number … 13

which for me is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by January 31, 2020.

Charles Dickens oliver twist etc

I’m delighted with this as I’ve been meaning to read it for years and never got round to it.

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers with its depiction of a dark criminal underworld peopled by vivid and memorable characters – the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic romance, the Newgate novel and popular melodrama, Oliver Twist created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society and pervaded by an unforgettable sense of threat and mystery.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

This is my last post until after Christmas, so I’m wishing you all a very …

Christmas bells