Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Seven in October

I read seven books in October. A short holiday, a long journey and a day in bed feeling a bit peaky gave me the opportunity to hoover up words. Not always from my to-be-read pile though – I do love re-reading favourites.

 The Dark Ship by Anne MacLeod
Read for book group. The ‘dark ship’ in question is the Iolaire, returning to the Western Isles with troops after the First World War. It foundered on rocks and sank within yards of the shore. Most on board perished. The novel, built around that true story, was first published in 2004 and re-issued for the FWW anniversary. It vividly evokes the effect the tragedy had on the community.

Stranger in the House by Julie Summers
(Author of Fashion on the Ration which I read last month). I love social history based on first-hand accounts and this is fascinating. It’s about what happened after the Second World War when four million British servicemen – many physically or emotionally damaged – were demobbed. What should have been joyous reunions were not always … Julie Summers interviewed ‘over a hundred mothers/wives/sisters/fiancées/children who were caught up in the maelstrom of history’.

When the Children came Home by Julie Summers
Bit of a theme going on here … this one has the stories of wartime evacuees. The blurb says ‘while for some evacuation was a wonderful experience that enriched their whole lives, for others it cast a lifelong shadow’.

The Lark Shall Sing by Elizabeth Cadell
Read on Kindle. Elizabeth Cadell’s first of fifty books was published in 1946; some have recently been digitised. When I saw that The Lark Shall Sing was now on Kindle I downloaded it – the title was familiar. I’m pretty sure my mother had it and I read it as a teenager. It’s the first in a trilogy about the Wayne family. It didn’t stand the test of time for me – too many viewpoints, even from characters who are only in the story for two minutes – but it was a pleasant, nostalgic read.

Island Wife by Judy Fairbairn
There are many books about people relocating to islands off the west coast of Scotland but this is the best I’ve read.

Forty years ago (the book was published in 2013 ) Judy and her husband Alex (her’ Wild Pioneer’) and their two small children moved from Norfolk to an unnamed island, with enough money to buy a large house but none leftover to improve it. A few years, and three more babies later, they run a guest-house. She cooks dinner for up to sixteen people in the most basic of kitchens with children and dogs and lambs always underfoot, and does myriad chores on the croft. Meanwhile, her husband takes visitors out in a boat and finds himself becoming a world expert on whales.

Judy Fairbairn’s writing is fab – poetic, funny, unflinching. This is, it seems to me, to be the truth about a way of life that can seem from the outside to be idyllic.

 An Open Book by Monica Dickens
Feeling the beginnings of a cold, I huddled up on a chair with an old favourite, Monica Dickens’ autobiography. Like her illustrious ancestor, MD wrote novels around social issues. But before that she had varied experiences as a (not very efficient) cook, a wartime nurse and a reporter on a local newspaper. For twenty years she wrote articles for Woman's Own; as a magazine short-story writer now I was depressed to see that in her day the magazine had NINE MILLION readers.

I actually met her once … twenty-eight years ago I was in a museum in London and recognised her from her author photograph. I’m so glad I plucked up the courage to speak to her because she seemed genuinely touched when I said I loved her books. And she admired my seven-month-old baby – pity he doesn’t remember being smiled upon by Charles Dickens’ great-granddaughter.

The Plague and I by Betty Macdonald
I retreated to bed  <cough cough, sniff sniff> so I cheered myself up by re-reading Betty Macdonald’s account of the months she spent in a tuberculosis sanatorium. 

Betty Macdonald (1908-1958) is best known for her book The Egg and I which was made into a film. I love her writing and the way that she can find the funny side of any situation.

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