The Sidmouth Letters by Jane Gardam

The Sidmouth Letters is a collection of eleven short stories. It’™s a short book of just under 150 pages, so it doesn’™t take long to read the whole book. With a collection of short stories I tend not to read from the start to the end, picking and choosing which ones to read, but with this one I read the stories in the order they are in the book. I was glad I did as I think the last one is the best. The stories are nicely varied in style and content with convincing and authentic characters. I liked some more than others.

The first story is ‘œThe Tribute’, a perceptive and amusing study of a trio of Kensington widows exposing their small-minded attitude to a former nanny, when they receive news of her death.

I wasn’™t too keen on ‘œLychees for Tone’. It is written in the present tense, which I find irritating. A lonely mother lives with her son. As she waits for him to bring home a new girlfriend she ponders what she will be like and her isolation and prejudices become apparent. I thought the ending was disappointing with a predictable play on words.

‘œThe Great, Grand, Soap-Water Kick’ is a story about a tramp, Horsa looking for a house in which he can have a bath, which only happens every second year or so. You can imagine the state he is in and the state of the house by the time he has finished. I liked the idea and the structure of the story. Although I liked the imagery and the style of writing does reflect the character, I found it jarring and disjointed. But then I don’™t think you’™re actually meant to like Horsa.

‘œUp steps smelly Horsa.
Rings bell no answer.
Ringsgain no answer.
Ringsgainturns look updown. Not living soul. Not motor car. Not bike. Only cat gatepost watch through yellow slits. Cat stands, stretches on four fat sixpences, turns round, curls upgain, goes sleep.’

In ‘œHetty Sleeping’ a married woman on holiday with her two children meets a former lover, and wonders what her life could have been like.

In ‘œTransit Passengers’ two young students are leaving Greece and go their separate ways. Will their love survive, or is it as transitory as their journey?

‘œThe Dickies’ are a married couple. Mrs Dickie is neurotic and has to suffer her husband’™s infidelities. All is not as it seems, however.

I particularly liked ‘œA Spot of Gothic’. A young army wife living in the remote countryside is driving home alone late one night when she encounters a woman standing in her garden waving to her. It’™s the loneliest part of the road and she is shaken and frightened at the sight. She wonders if she saw a ghost. When she returns to the road the next day she feels she is being watched and sees a woman who asks her the time and walks away, leaving the young wife feeling terrified: ‘œThe dreadful sense of loss, the melancholy, were so thick in the air that there was almost a smell, a sick smell of them.’ Who has she seen?

The last story ‘œThe Sidmouth Letters’ deals imaginatively with Jane Austen’™s love life. Annie meets a former professor who had claimed credit for her work when she was a student. He has discovered that love letters, supposedly written by Jane Austen have been found and he sends Annie off to Sidmouth with instructions to buy the letters. The story reveals how Annie gets her own back on the professor. The question is ‘“ did Jane Austen write the Sidmouth letters? This story was the reason that I read the book and it didn’™t disappoint.

The Second World War

Sometimes I’™m amazed at the links between the books I’™m reading. I read the following books by choosing them individually without realising that they all had similar themes. Recently I read One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, set in England in 1946 just after the Second World War had ended. Then I read Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham set in 1943/4 up to the present day and now I’™ve just started The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning, set in Bucharest at the start of the War (currently I’™m in the ‘œPhoney War’ period. I’™m also joining a local book group my friend goes to and the book for discussion is Surveillance by Jonathan Raban. I picked up that book yesterday and started to read it. To my surprise, although it’™s set in Seattle post 9/11 one of the characters, a journalist has been assigned to interview a historian, who had been ‘œan orphaned child caught up in the worst barbarities of World War Two’, spending his boyhood ‘œamong the displaced and terrorized people of central Europe, overrun now by Hitler’™s, now by Stalin’™s armies’.

I didn’™t plan on reading books about the War at all and it was quite by chance that it was near to Remembrance Sunday, but it all seems so appropriate. I decided I should know more about the War and so went to the library. There were so many books that I decided to get a couple of books specifically about D-Day as my father took part in the Normandy landings and also a huge book called Chronicle of the Second World War. I then went to a bookshop and was spoilt for choice with an enormous range of books to choose from. In the end I bought Wartime Britain 1939 ‘“ 1949 by Juliet Gardiner. Juliet was the editor of History Today for five years, a research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, author of several wartime books, and historical consultant for Channel 4’™s The 1940s House and The Edwardian Country House. Thank you to Litlove who recommended this book. I thought it looked a good place to start.

So, I’™ve now got lots to get me started on my search to know more about the War.

Page 161 Meme

Tara and Nan have posted a little meme, which I thought I’™d do as well.

Open up the book you’™re currently reading to page 161 and read the sixth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.

I’™m currently reading My Cleaner by Maggie Gee and the sixth sentence on page 161 is:

‘˜Vanessa – I think I will not cook on Sunday.’™

Vanessa an English creative writing tutor, has asked Mary, a Ugandan, who was previously employed as Vanessa’™s cleaner, to live with her to help her son Justin through a ‘depression’. The balance of power in the house is changing and here Mary tells Vanessa what she will and will not do. I’™m enjoying this book, which reflects the prejudices and snobbery in our society.

I won’™t tag anyone else to do this as maybe you’™ve already done it. If not and you would like to do this please do, and let me know. I love knowing what people are reading.

Preservatives Booking Through Thursday

Today’™s question comes from Conspiracy-Girl:

I’™m still relatively new to this meme so I’™m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’™m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

I’m a Preservationist who occasionally leaves Footprints. At one time I would never, ever write notes in a book. It was considered a desecration. I’m a bit less strict these days and occasionally bring myself to underline in pencil or add a little asterisk next to a passage I like.

Having said that when I looked at my copy of Reformation Europe 1517 -1559, which which I was given as a prize at school one year I see that I have underlined sentences in red biro. I can’t believe I did that!

Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham

Playing with the Moon is Eliza Graham’™s first novel and it’™s very good.

It begins when Minna and Tom, who are staying at a cottage in an isolated village on the Dorset coast east of Lulworth, discover a human skeleton on the beach and dog tags inscribed LEWIS J CAMPBELL and a number. American military officials confirmed his identity as Private Lew Campbell, believed to have died in 1944 during training exercises for the Normandy landings.

Minna and Tom are trying to come to terms with the death of their baby. Tom is struggling to carry on with his business, which is in financial difficulty, and Minna, who is recovering from a breakdown, is unable to talk to him about her grief. She becomes absorbed in finding out what had lead to Campbell’™s death, when she meets Felix an elderly woman who had lived in the village during the war. A fascinating story slowly emerges. Moving from 1943 to the present, the story of Felix and the American GI is interwoven with the story of Minna and Tom and the events that lead to the death of their son. Each story is mysterious and tragic. Both Minna and Felix are overcome by their grief and as they tentatively get to know each other they pour out their stories and draw comfort from each other.

The book deals with memory, the power of memory, with loss, grief and bereavement. It’™s also about war, the legacy of war, and of how to make sense of our lives. I found it a compelling book to read. Although it deals with tragic events it does so gently and with compassion.

It seems to me that Playing With the Moon captures what life was like during the 1940s. It was quite by coincidence that I read this book just before Remembrance Sunday and not long after I’™d read One Fine Day. There is a recurring theme here and it has set me off on a trail to find out more about the Second World War.

Shoes or the Difference between Left and Right

I have a little difficulty when talking about “left” and “right”. I know the difference but somehow I say turn “left”, when really I’m thinking turn “right” – it just comes out wrong. I have the same difficulty with “east” and “west”. Both can cause problems – we end up going the wrong way if D believes me, but he’s known me long enough to ask me do I mean my “left” or his “left”? It was more serious at work, when I described in a newspaper advert the direction of footpath “running in a south-easterly direction” when it should have been “south-westerly” and we had to re-advertise it.

Our youngest granddaughter who is nearly 2 years old and a determined little person knows about right and left but thinks they’re the other way round. Just now, she insists on having her shoes on the wrong feet and if you try to suggest that the right shoe goes on her right foot she cries and won’™t have it ‘“ no, no, no. If you manage to get them on the right feet off they come and she puts them on how she likes them. We were taking her brother and sister to school recently and she decided she wanted to wear her Dora wellies even though it wasn’t raining. She was adamant about which wellie went on which foot even though we showed her how everyone wore their shoes.

D showed what his shoes looked like on the wrong way round – well nearly – he didn’t take them off.

From the Stacks Challenge

This Overdue Books Challenge is just what I need. The idea is that during the next three months you read 5 books from those you have already purchased, have been meaning to get to and haven’t read before. No going out and buying new books. No getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays.

This should help me keep to my resolve not to buy any more books for a while – until at least after Christmas. After all, I’ve got lots of books that I haven’t read yet. My bookshelves are full too overflowingand the books are double stacked. There’s just no more room for another bookcase and there are piles of books on the computer desk and next to the chairs in the lounge, in fact there are books everywhere. When I bought them it was because I wanted to read them, not just to sit on the bookshelves and on the floor. So here’s my provisional list. It’s provisional because I could easily choose others and I want to give myself the option of not reading the ones I’ve listed. That may sound strange, but the odd thing is that previously when I’ve decided I’ll read this book and then that book I then find I resist reading the book. Contrary or what? I don’t know. Anyway here’s my list (in no particular order):

  1. Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
  2. Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bowers
  3. The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
  4. Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom
  5. The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers

I’m currently reading Cranford by Mrs Gaskell and thought of including it for this challenge, but as I have read it before when I was at school it doesn’t really qualify. I heard last night that the 5 part serial Cranford is starting next Sunday evening on BBC One. Although I did read it many years ago and remember the characters it’s like reading a new book so maybe it does qualify for the Challenge after all.