First Chapter First Paragraph: the Battle for Christabel

eca8f-fistchapEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros to share the first paragraph sometimes two, of a book that she’s reading or is planning to read soon.

This week’s opening is from The Battle for Christabel by Margaret Forster.

book cover of The Battle for Christabel

It begins:

Today I lost the battle for Christabel. I lost the whole war (this is a war story, make no mistake). There is nothing to salvage from it, no medals, no trophies, but my God the scars, the wounds, the shell shock … If I were a man, and had this  been a man’s war, I would have been invalided out, flown from the war zone, heavily sedated, and when the plane had landed and I was put into the ambulance waiting on the tarmac, people would have wept at the pity of it and the waste of a fine young man’s life.

From the Guardian:

Forster has the essential capacity to see everyone’s point of view, whether it is the social workers who resent the upper-middle class assumptions of Christobel’s grandmother, Isobel’s lover who believes she should adopt the child, or Christabel’s foster-mother Betty … in that territory of dread and reconciliation which is the family, Forster reigns supreme.

Margaret Forster wrote 25 novels and 14 biographies, about social history, memoir, and journalism. I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of them – they’re often about family life and  women and their role in society. This one looks quite challenging, I think.

What do you think – would you read on?

First Chapter, First Paragraph

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

My choice this week is:

Isa and May by Margaret Forster. It begins:

The hardest thing to tell Isa and May was where, and how, I met Ian. I thought seriously about lying. I could claim I’d met him at a party, which would have satisfied May but maybe not Isa. Isa is the sort of morally upright person who can sense a lie at once. She would have wanted to know who had given this party, where it had been held, and a load of other questions hinting at her suspicions. So I told the truth, but not the whole truth. I said I’d met him at the airport. I didn’t say I’d tried to pick him up. The meeting place was scandalous enough for them.

My copy is a library book and I borrowed it because I’ve read a few of Margaret Forster’s books and enjoyed them. Isa and May are the narrator’s grandmothers.

ABC Wednesday – B is for Robert Browning

I first read some of Robert Browning’s poems in a little book that belonged to my father. It’s a very little book, but it was enough to interest me. Later at school I studied some of his poems and was given The Poems of Robert Browning as a prize:

Browning was born in Camberwell in 1812, the son of a Bank of England clerk. His poems were influenced by Shelley and his first published poem Pauline eventually attracted Wordsworth’s attention. In 1846 he married Elizabeth Barrett and they spent most of their lives together in Italy, until Eabeth’s death in 1861. He died in Venice in 1889 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

I suppose his most famous poem is Home Thoughts from Abroad:

Oh, to be in England
Now that April ‘s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England’”now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops’”at the bent spray’s edge’”
That ‘s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
‘”Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

But the poem that I first aroused my interest in my father’s little book is Porphyria’s Lover, which begins:

The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listen’d with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneel’d and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soil’d gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And call’d me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me’”she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.

Her lover, however, though happy and proud knowing she loved him, took her hair and wound it round her throat and strangled her. He then sat with her, her head upon his shoulder all night long:

‘And yet God has not said a word.’

This may have been the first dramatic murder scene I read.  This article in Wikipedia analyses the poem.

It contrasts with this poem, which is another favourite of mine, Pippa’s Song (from the poem Pippa Passes: A Drama):

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven’”
All’s right with the world!

I haven’t read a biography of Robert Browning, but Margaret Forster has written an excellent one about Elizabeth Barrett Browning which tells of how the two met and eloped and their subsequent lives together. She has also written a novel, Lady’s Maid a fictionalised account of Elizabeth’s maid and her involvement in the couple’s lives. Another novel of interest is Flush, by Virginia Woolf, the story of Elizabeth’s spaniel.

See more B’s at ABC Wednesday.

April Fool – Booking Through Thursday

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Deb has asked a variety of questions for today.

  • Who’s your favorite ‘fool’ of a character, and why?
  • What authors have fooled you? By a trick plot twist? By making you think their book was any good when it wasn’t?
  • What covers have fooled you into reading books you hated €¦ even though the covers were wonderful?
  • What’s the best April Fool’s Day trick you’ve ever seen/heard about/done?

Choose the one you like best. Or answer all of them! Or make up your own.

I was fooled by Margaret Forster’s book, Diary of an Ordinary Woman, or rather I fooled my self.

Even though it is clear from the front cover that this is a novel I started reading it thinking it really was the diary of Millicent King, a woman born in 1901 who had kept a diary from the age of 13 until she was 94. I think the fact that it has an ‘Introduction’ was partly to blame where the narrator explained how she had come across the diaries and was intrigued enough by them to ‘make something of them’ and how she had met Millicent just before her death. The ‘diary’ records the events of the Great War as it touched her family, on through the 20s and 30s in London and then to the Second World War where Millicent drove an ambulance through the bombed streets of London.

It’s written in diary format with added information from the ‘editor’. It was only when I came to read the later part of Millicent’s ‘life’ that I began to wonder if this woman could possibly be real and have been involved in so many of the great social upheavals and dramas of the times and I began to suspect that this was fiction.  That should teach me to read book titles more closely and look at the front covers properly!

Nevertheless this is very good book and I enjoyed it enormously, although I did feel a little sad that Millicent wasn’t a real person.

As for covers I don’t think I’ve ever been fooled by one – as I don’t really look at them very carefully.

May – Books of the Month

I’ve slowed down in my reading this month, partly because I’ve been blogging more, but also because some of the books have been long and detailed. So, I’ve read 6 books. The first one to be finished was The Giant’s House, which I’ve already written about. I read two non-fiction books – a biography Daphne by Margaret Forster and Alistair McGrath’s The Dawkin’s Delusion? which is a critique of Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion.

Daphne is an extremely well researched and informative account of Daphne Du Maurier’s life, taken from her letters and private papers, with personal memories of her from her children, grandchildren and friends. I didn’t realise until I started this that this year is the 100th anniversary of Daphne Du Maurier’s birth and my reading was enhanced by several broadcasts on the radio and television of dramatisations of her books, plus the excellent programme made by Rick Stein “In Du Maurier Country”, filming the locations of her books and interviews with her family. I’m also enthusiastic about Rick Stein’s books and programmes, (cookery for those who don’t know) – but I digress.

There is too much I could say about Daphne, not least that it is a candid account of her relationships, eg her troubled married life; wartime love affair; and friendships with Gertrude Lawrence and Ellen Doubleday, as well as an excellent source of information on Du Maurier’s method of writing and views on life. She doesn’t sound an easy person to live with or be related to, but that doesn’t detract from her passion for writing and Cornwall. Of course there is Menabilly and the biography gives so much detail of her love for the house and how she renovated and restored it that made me realise all the more how poignant it was when she had to give it up. What makes this book unforgettable for me is Forster’s eloquent way of writing, including so much detail, but never being boring or stilted, leaving me wanting to read on and on. And the book is illustrated with lots of photos.

In complete contrast to this is the Dawkin’s Delusion, which I borrowed from the library. I read Dawkin’s book earlier this year and didn’t have it to hand when I read this one (I’ve lent it to my son), so I had to rely on my memory of The God Delusion. I was interested to read what an Evangelical Christian had made of Dawkin’s book and wasn’t surprised – he didn’t agree with Dawkins! For an excellent review of Dawkin’s book have a look at Bill Hanage’s article “Them’s fightin’ words” on LabLit’s blog . I think I got more out of this article than from McGrath’s book.

Turning to the fiction, I read Blessings, by Anna Quindlen, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Body Surfing by Anita Shreve and finally Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders.

Anna Quindlen is a new author to me. I came across her whilst reading Danielle’s blog. Blessings is a satisfying read about a baby abandoned outside “Blessings”, a large house owned by Lydia Blessing. The baby is taken in by Skip, the caretaker cum handyman-gardener, who looks after her at first in secret. The past of all the characters is slowly revealed and the effect that the baby has on them all. It’s a sad book over all, with regrets for what has happened in the past. I shall look out for more books by her.

As for The Thirteenth Tale, I have resisted buying this book, after reading either how fantastic people have found it, or how disappointing it is. The copy I read is a BookCrossing book I found in our local coffee shop. It took me some time to get into this book and I found myself being both reluctant to read it and yet unable to stop. It was only with the appearance of the governess that I found myself actually enjoying the book – and that is the second section. I usually give up on a book before then. Part of the problem I have with this book is that I couldn’t really like the characters, even Margaret, the narrator irritated me somewhat, even though she loves books. Another problem is the ending, which I found to be contrived. All in all, it is not a book I’ll read again and I’m going to release it back to its travels.

Which brings me to The Woodlanders. I borrowed this book from the library to read before continuing with Tomalin’s The Time-Torn Man. I enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought a copy for myself. I’ll post my thoughts in another post. This one has gone on long enough and the sun is shining!