Saturday, 28 July 2018

Five in June

I read five books in June.

A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin
Read for book group. Before she found her metier as a biographer (of eg Charles Dickens and, one of my heroes, Samuel Pepys) Claire Tomalin was a successful literary editor. That career would be enough for me to find her autobiography of interest as I worked in publishing in London around the same time (albeit not moving in the same circles … ) But her personal life is so interesting too, from a rather extraordinary childhood, to the death in Israel of her journalist husband Nick Tomalin, tragedies involving her children, and her second marriage to the playwright and novelist Michael Frayn.

Read on Kindle – but in retrospect it would have been better to have a print copy as it’s the sort of book which would be handy to have on a shelf to dip into. I am a little obsessed by names so any book on the subject is grist to my mill. This one covers first names – from Anglo-Saxon kings to today’s celebrity baby names – surnames and their origins, professional names, and the history of titles (Mr, Mrs etc). A good addition to my collection – even if I can’t put it on a shelf.

Looking for Charlotte by Jennifer Young
Read on Kindle. An excellent, gripping read (and I’m not just saying that because Jennifer is a fellow Capital Writer … )

Divorced and lonely, Flora Wilson is distraught when she hears news of the death of little Charlotte Anderson. Charlotte’s father killed her and then himself, and although he left a letter with clues to the whereabouts of her grave, his two-year-old daughter still hasn’t been found.

Flora embarks on a quest to find Charlotte’s body to give the child’s mother closure, believing that by doing so she can somehow atone for her own failings as a mother. As she hunts in winter through the remote moors of the Scottish Highlands, her obsession comes to threaten everything that’s important to her — her job, her friendship with her colleague Philip Metcalfe and her relationships with her three grown up children.

The English Girl by Katherine Webb
‘Secrets, feuds, passion and turmoil in 1950s Arabia.’ KW never writes the same book twice and her backgrounds are always fascinating. My favourite is The Legacy but I enjoyed this dual-narrative, inspired by the true story of an English woman who crossed the Empty Quarter, the world’s largest sand desert.

My Life by Annie S. Swan
Bought in Christian Aid book sale. Although virtually unknown today, in the first half of the twentieth century Annie S was a household name, finding fame as a writer of serials for The People’s Friend whose circulation at the time ran into many (many) hundreds of thousands. From fairly humble beginnings in the Scottish Borders she married a doctor and lived in London where she moved in some of the upper echelons of society – and doesn’t she like to tell us about it …

As a writer of PF serials myself (now on Kindle and in large-print in libraries ... ) I would have preferred less name-dropping and more on her writing process (as we would say now) and on her relationship with the publisher D C Thomson. But she does relate an incident where she was passing a shop and witnessed women coming out and turning pages of the magazine, desperate to find out what happened in the next instalment of her current serial. Ah well, one can only aspire.