Jane and Prudence

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The more I blog and the more I read other people’s blogs the more I discover new authors I probably would never have come across if left to my own devices; for me this is the beauty of blogging. And I am confident that I can add Barbara Pym to that list, although maybe the beautiful covers would have drawn me in eventually.

Jane and Prudence follows the different and intertwining lives of the two eponymous characters. Jane is a forty-something vicar’s wife whose plans to write a book about seventeenth century poets got swept away under the carpet of life. Prudence, a single 29 year old, is Jane’s friend and ex student from Oxford, who is currently living in London lusting after her older employer. Jane is worried that her friend, who only has love affairs, will end up a spinster (at 29! That only gives me FOUR years until I’m one *sob*). To ensure this doesn’t happen Jane attempts to set Prudence up with an eligible man in her new parish and so the story begins.

When I think about it now, not a great deal actually happens in this novel; Pym describes the ups and downs of both characters lives and that’s about it. However what makes this an enjoyable read is Pym’s style and wit. She manages to capture the everyday mundane activity in such a thrilling and exciting way that you quickly become involved and wrapped up in the lives of her characters. Will Prudence stop pining for her older, married employer? Will she stop having ‘love afffairs’ and settle down with a suitable man? Will Jane ever fit the ideal of a vicar’s wife? Somehow between the madly bottling plums, soap animals and drying tobacco leaves in the kitchen, I think not. But this is what makes the novel and the characters so endearing.

As I was reading Jane and Prudence on my kindle I highlighted a few passages that really struck a chord. I find this much easier to do on the kindle as I don’t have to search for a pencil and I don’t feel as though I am desecrating my books; I’m very precious with books. The first passage I highlighted is a lovely example of Pym’s writing style and reminded me of something I do when traveling on buses or trains.

‘She enjoyed riding on the top of the bus…looking into the lighted windows of the houses they passed, hoping she might see something interesting. Mostly, however, the curtains were discreetly drawn, except occasionally in a kitchen where a man was seen filling a hot water bottle (for his invalid wife or for himself? Jane wondered) or a woman lying the breakfast ready for the morning.’

I am sure this is something we all do. You catch a glimpse of someone else’s life and your imagination runs away with you, creating a possible life for them full of mystery, joy and heartache. Or maybe it is just me? And fictional characters in books?

And the second passage just made me smile and think how different life is for women in the twenty-first century.

‘One couldn’t go on having romantic love affairs indefinitely. One had to settle down sooner or later into the comfortable spinster or the contented or bored wife.’

I shall keep this in mind as I SLOWLY move towards 29, although unlike Prudence I don’t think I will have friends attempting to fix me up for fear I’ll be a spinster at 30…maybe at 40 ha!

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The Classics Club Spin #3

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The Classics Club Spin Number Three landed on number four, which means I have to read….

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. This is the second Dickens’ novel the spin has landed on for me; my last read was The Old Curiosity Shop. Again this is a Dickens’ I haven’t read and the only real thing I know about it is that it is his last novel and was unfinished.

I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading for the spin.

Classics Club Spin Three

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The rules are as follows:

1. List 20 books from your Classics Club list.
2. Number them 1-20.
3. Wait until Monday when a random number is selected.
4. You have until October 1st to read the boom and post your review.

I have taken part in the previous two Classics Club Spins and I love the fact that by next read is the hands of someone else and it means I definitely read something from my list.

So far I have read Villette by Charlotte Bronte and The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens. Hopefully I might get a book from the twentieth century this spin.

Austen and Dickens Mix

1. Emma by Jane Austen

2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

3. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

4. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

5. Persuasion by Jane Austen

Books I have on the Shelf

6. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

7. Howards End by E. M. Forester

8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

9. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H.Lawrence

10. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Books I have Studied

11. East Lynne by Ellen Wood

12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

13. Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy

14. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

15. Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Books from the Library

16. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R.Tolkien

17. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

18. Women in Love by D.H.Lawrence

19. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

20. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Happy spinning!

Agatha Christie and Greenway House

Back in the Spring I booked a holiday down in Devon for myself, Mum and the two dogs, Coco the Labrador and Pixie the Pug. Mum had her eye on a certain place and she continued to talk about the fact it was incredibly close to Agatha Christie’s holiday home, which certainly grabbed my attention. And so I have just returned from my week away with six new books, a revived interest in Agatha Christie and a need to return as soon as I can.

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Coco and Pixie reluctantly sat on a boat to Dartmouth

As far back as I can remember I have been aware of Agatha Christie and her most famous detective, Poirot. I’m not sure if it is because my Mum is a great lover of murder mysteries or the fact that there are always different adaptations on telly, but Christie has always been a subtle literary presence, despite the fact that I have probably watched more of the stories than I have read at this present point in time.

Greenway House is situated deep in the Devon countryside by the River Dart, just outside a village called Galmpton and within driving distance of Paigton and Torquay. It is a National Trust property and is open to the public and looked after by the Trust for future generations to enjoy. As we had brought Coco and Pixie with us there was only a certain distance/amount of activities we could do as we didn’t want to keep them out too long or go anywhere too hot or over crowded, therefore we spent a lot of time at Greenway, which was very doggie friendly and had lovely, shady walks for us to amble/race along depending on the dogs’ moods.

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Greenway House

I worked for the Trust for many summers throughout sixth form and university so I have a keen interest in visiting different properties and I can honestly say Greenway is one of the best I have visited. The staff in all areas of the property were friendly and knowledgable, especially the volunteers in the house, who were full of fantastic and interesting information about Agatha Christie and her daughter who owned the house after her. The gardens are beautiful and a tad complicated; there are many routes you can take, up and down many steep, winding paths, past the boathouse, the battery, a few little ponds and a tennis court; there is always something interesting hidden behind each corner.

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A view of Greenway House from the river

Of course I couldn’t visit Agatha Christie’s home without purchasing a few books and I have returned with five new novels and her autobiography and Mum bought two books herself, so we can definitely swap. Christie grew up in Devon and was inspired not only by Greenway but Torquay and the surrounding area; there is even a special Greenway boxset of the three novels based in the grounds which I just had to buy, which leads me to the book element of this post.

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In Dead Man’s Folly Poirot is summoned by an old friend down to Nasse House; the Summer fete is about to be held and Ariadne Oliver, hired to create a murder hunt, is suspicious that something sinister is going on, she just doesn’t know what. And so begins a typical, cosy crime novel with a few murders, red herrings and several clues for Poirot, and the reader, to try and solve the infamous ‘who dunnit!’ Greenway House and its grounds are clearly the inspiration for Nasse House, which made Dead Man’s Folly the perfect holiday read. It was great to read a few chapters before bed and then go for a stroll around Greenway Gardens the next day, visualising exactly where Poirot and Ariadne discussed the crime and where the body was discovered. If only I could do this with all novels. It certainly brought the story and the characters to life and I can imagine this would be a great way to inspire others to develop a love of reading.

And the all important question; did I solve the ‘who dunnit’ before Poirot and the end of the novel? Well I am pleased to say I guessed the murderer, but I had completely different ideas as to why they might have committed the dreadful crimes. I certainly feel a revival of Chrsitie’s writing in my own reading habits; crime stories were certainly my first love when it came to reading and I think I might be embarking on a whole new journey into the world of murder and mystery, starting with another Poirot adventure in The Clocks.

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The Agatha Christie Bus Tour! Unfortunately I didn’t get to go on it this visit.

Mansfield Park

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Last August I took part in RoofBeamReader’s Austen in August event and i was keen to participate again this summer; having read all six of Austen’s novels I was always going to be going for a reread, but the big question was which one? I’m not sure why I chose Mansfield Park, for a while I was trying to convince myself it was the novel I read the furtherest ago (if that makes sense?) but it isn’t, that honour goes to Sense and Sensibility. But whatever my reasons this was the book I took with me to Devon to enjoy on my week away.

At the age of nine, Fanny Price is sent away from her ever growing family in Portsmouth to live with her wealthy Aunt Bertram and her four cousins at Mansfield Park. At first she is scared, timid and unbelievably shy, believing that she is a burden to the family and that they few her as inferior. Whilst this is true for the majority of the family, her cousin Edmund encourages and welcomes her and she starts to feel more at home as the years go by. When Fanny is eighteen the society she lives in welcomes brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford and so the troubles begin, with illicit love affairs, unrequited proposals and family shame thrown in to the mix.

As I was reading Mansfield Park I glanced over the suggested book group questions at the back of my edition and became intrigued by one question in particular; how different is Fanny Price to other Austen heroines? The more I read the more I began to ponder this question, especially as my interest in the narrative wavered from time to time, something which rarely happens during an Austen novel. Usually I am swept away in the trials and tribulations of the feisty and animated heroine, but this was not the case and so I returned to the book club question. Yes, Fanny is incredibly different to the likes of Elizabeth Bennett, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse. It is true that she is virtuous, loyal and moral, everything a woman in the early nineteenth century was supposed to be, but she has no fight. When she believes Henry Crawford’s behaviour towards her engaged cousin is immoral, she says nothing. When she is scared her much loved cousin may marry the wrong woman, she says nothing. When she is abandoned for too long visiting relatives in Portsmouth, she says nothing. Admittedly she gets the life she hopes and dreams for at the end of the novel and she does deserve this, but she is a tad insipid for an Austen heroine in my humble opinion.

I was going to read Sense and Sensibility next and follow that up with Joh Mullan’s What Matters in Jane Austen? But I think I might make Northanger Abbey my next Austen read as it is a story I don’t really remember. Hopefully I’ll get round to it before the end of August, but I have started on an Agatha Christie marathon (more of which next week) so who knows.

Game of Thrones

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Game of Thrones is set in the fictional world of the Seven Kingdoms, a fantastical world where summer can last a lifetime and winter twice as long and ten times as harsh. Eddard Stark is Lord of Winterfell and is expecting an imminent visit from his old friend Robert Baratheon, King and Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and the one who sits on the Iron Throne. The King’s visit sparks of a chain of events spanning the whole of the Seven Kingdoms and the lands to the East, affecting all families and dynasties throughout the world and an epic fight for the Iron Throne. Whilst this battle rages in the South in an age of never ending summer, there are signs in the North that winter is gradually creeping closer to the 400ft Wall that separates the two areas and bringing with it an evil not seen before in the Seven Kingdoms.

I have a confession to make; I watched the first series of Game of Thrones before I read the book! Tut tut! Everyone I knew seemed to be talking about it and I was beginning to feel as though I was missing something so I borrowed the boxset from a friend of mine. I was hooked! I whizzed through seven episodes over the course of one weekend I was so addicted. Even when I said ‘oh I’ll just watch this one episode’ I couldn’t help moving on to the next. If a TV show can grab my attention that quickly I think it is only fair that I give the books a try.

I always say that fantasy really isn’t my genre but I feel myself becoming more and more engaged with it as I get older and I am pleased to say that I still feel this way and that I loved reading Game of Thrones. It is an epic read of nearly 800 pages and yet from the moment I picked it up I did not feel intimidated by its size or worried that I would lose interest. I was hooked from the beginning and even though I had watched the first series recently I did not feel disengaged or that there was no point reading the book because I already knew what happened. In fact I felt the complete opposite and I loved the fact that I knew what was going to happen next as I liked discovering how different events were captured in the book as opposed to the TV show.

Perhaps one of the main reasons that made this such an enjoyable and easy going read is that each chapter is from the perspective of a different character and this is how the story develops and how key events unfold. Most chapters then end on a mini cliffhanger so you are keen to return to different characters’ journeys. It is hard to choose a favourite character from the array Martin creates, but Tyrion Lannister is certainly one of the most memorable. Tyrion is the second son of Lord Tywin and brother of the Queen. However he is a dwarf and therefore has always been marginalised and treated with contempt and suspicion by all he meets, including his own family. Despite this Tyrion displays a keen sense of loyalty and honour to his family throughout and also brings humour to the story.

Martin has created a hugely fascinating and complicated world with a history spanning hundreds of years and a map of characters as intriguing as it is complicated. This sounds like a recipe for a heavy going read, yet it is delightfully easy to engage with and become engrossed in right from the first chapter. I am incredibly keen to read the second instalment and I am determined to do so before I watch the second series; this would be much easier if my brother didn’t keep messaging me to tell me how amazing the second series is. I take credit for introducing Game of Thrones to him as I bought it as a birthday present. I am off to Devon for a week tomorrow and I am so tempted to buy book two to take with me, however I have already packed five books and I should probably get started on my Jane Austen reading for Austen in August. Either way I am eager to return to Martin’s writing and see what happens next in the battle for the Iron Throne.