Catching Up

I’ve found that this lockdown period has affected my blogging as I haven’t been writing about the books I’ve read recently. I’ve been doing posts that don’t really need much concentration – lists of books, book beginnings and so on. So now I have a few books that I’ve read but not reviewed. Here’s what I thought about two of them. These are just brief reviews – more like notes really.

Queen Lucia

Queen Lucia has been on my radar for years ever since I began blogging and I bought a copy several years ago. When I saw that Simon and Karen were hosting the 1920 Club I realised it would be ideal as it was first published in 1920. However, time got the better of me and I finished reading it too late to add it the 1920 Book Club – but better late than never. 

I know other bloggers love E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, but they have never really appealed to me. I don’t read many comic novels. But I did enjoy it more than I thought I would, although I think his style of writing is an acquired taste, using satire, irony, exaggerations and ridicule to expose people’s stupidities or vices – not my usual genre of books.  However, it is easy reading and it took my mind off the horrors of the coronavirus whilst I was reading. It is a book of its time and definitely not PC by today’s standards.

Queen Lucia is actually Mrs Emmeline Lucas, who presides over the residents of the village of Riseholme as its self-appointed queen. She is a most unlikeable character, totally self-centred and manipulative, aided by her friend, George Pillson who worships her. But as the events described in the novel unfold he rebels and works to undermine her. I disliked her pretentious tastes and her lust for power. She irritated me immensely with her baby talk, her pretence that she can speak Italian and her methods of riding roughshod over everyone. A rather more sympathetic character is Daisy Quantock, who introduces a mysterious Indian guru to the village before Lucia managed to present him as her protege.

The whole book has an artificial and silly feel about it but about half way through I found I was just going with the flow as I really  wanted to know what happened next. There are five more Mapp and Lucia novels, and as I’ve found an e-book containing all six for just 49p – Make Way for Lucia, I shall probably read more of them sometime.

The Dutch House

I decided to read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett as so many other bloggers have written glowing reviews, but I wasn’t as keen on it as others. Its about a dysfunctional family.  The Conroys, Danny, Maeve and their mother, Elna and father, Cyril  who lived in the Dutch House, but when Danny was just three his mother left home.  Cyril remarried, and his second wife, Andrea, the mother of two young girls, was the epitome of the  wicked stepmother. When their father dies he leaves the Dutch House, to Andrea.  She shows her true  colours and insists Danny and Maeve have to move out of their home. The house itself is described in detail. It was built by a Dutch couple called VanHoebeek in 1922 when it was in the open country just outside Philadelphia and their presence is still a strong influence on  the Conroy family.

The novel moves backwards and forwards in time, from 1946 to the present, and at times I was not sure what happened when (probably my lack of concentration caused my confusion). Danny and Maeve are both obsessed with the house, to the detriment of their own lives. Their mother, Elna meanwhile had a totally different reaction to the house, never liking it and I was intrigued about her – what made her leave her children – and I was suspicious about that had happened to her and even if she was she still alive. The pain her children felt when she left to be replaced by a wicked stepmother is immense. But it is the loss of their inheritance rather than the loss of their mother, that has left them with bitterness, and anger.

I thought the book began well, but somewhere in the middle and definitely towards the end I did get rather bored with the story, so much so that I was relieved to finish it. It was not just such a good choice of book for me – or maybe it was the wrong time for me to read it.

Favourite Places – Rye & Winchelsea

Rye in Sussex is one of my favourite places. We’ve been there a few times and explored its streets and coastline.

It’s got lots of history and some literary connections too. By the end of the 12th century it was described as an ‘Antient Town, worthy of veneration’  and it became one of the Cinque Ports in the 14th century. This meant that it had to supply ships and seamen for the defence of the Realm. Parts of the town still have a medieval look, with cobbled streets and narrow passages.

Here are some of our photos (click on them for a bigger picture) from our last visit in 2006. First the Parish Church of St Mary’s which is almost 900 years old, damaged by fire in 1377 by French invaders. It has the oldest working church turret clock in the country dating from 1561-2.

St Mary’s Church, Rye

We climbed the tower – the view is spectacular (but I can’t find our photos!)

One of the highlights of our visit was Lamb House, a brick-fronted Georgian house in West Street once the home of Henry James, later E F Benson, and then Rumer Godden, now owned by the National Trust.

West Street – Lamb House at the far end

Lamb House as it is today dates from 1722 or 1723 with some minor alterations made by Henry James and the addition of bathrooms by the National Trust. James lived there from 1898 until the autumn of 1914. There is a beautiful walled garden – I’m particularly fond of walled gardens – where in the summer James used to dictate his novels in the little Georgian pavilion that was later bombed in 1940. There is not a lot to see in the house with just three rooms open to the public but some of his furniture and books are on display.

E F Benson lived there until his death in 1940 and wrote many of his Mapp and Lucia novels there. Rumer Godden also lived there from 1968 to 1973. But nothing of their time here remains, as far as I could see.

We also walked round the harbour

Rye Harbour

 and then along the shore line, which is a Nature Reserve with bird-watching hides.

Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

The Nature Reserve extends as far as Winchelsea Beach, a huge shingle bank, 2 miles down the coast.

Winchelsea

For more Favourite Places visit Margot’s blog Joyfully Retired where she  regularly features her favourite places.