The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman on Shiny New Books Today!

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Today over on Shiny New Books, my review of Tracy Borman’s debut novel – the excellent “The King’s Witch”. This is so good, written with the eye for detail that you would expect from the author of “The Private Lives of the Tudors”. Why not have a look at  This is truly a super book!

Love among the Ruins by Angela Thirkell; Barsetshire with all its characters in full detail.

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This 1948 novel is a late, and relatively difficult to get hold of, entry into the Barsetshire series. Covering a reasonably large number of characters introduced in previous novels, it is perhaps not the place to start with Thirkell’s books, but would work out of sequence, which is the way I have read it first time round. Having read the vast majority of Thirkell’s books at least once, I recognised most of the characters, even if they did cause me some confusion at times. Fortunately, even if the names are sometimes a little too similar, (Lucy and Lydia, Brandons and Beltons) Thirkell was such an able and experienced writer that she makes her characters real individuals, with quirks both attractive and difficult. That is one of the most fascinating skills that Thirkell had, and she exploited to the full even in her less popular books; her characters are annoying, exasperating, and sometimes tiresome. They are not always young, beautiful and attractive; they are perhaps older, negative about many things, and tough to like. They are always memorable, different from each other, though some may share some characteristics (Mr. Middleton’s monologues compared with George Knox’s, anyone?).

This book shows those who have survived the problems of the Second World War, mainly on the Home Front, in various situations. Some lives have changed forever, whereas others have largely continued in a similar way, though perhaps with sad losses. A school has been established in one of the big houses, and the usual complicated links between the staff, parents and the general naughtiness of the children is fully described. The great sadness of Freddy Belton seems to be hampering his relationships with other women; his mother watches on with sadness as more than one women, or girl, is showing an interest. Lady Graham is an older woman still gathering attention from impressionable young men, even if Richard Tebben is more interested in a new love. Jessica Dean is still artistically ensnaring one and all, but her sister Susan is discovering that a new love is disturbingly powerful.  A less important character, Mrs Updike, is still having minor accidents, while the servants and gardeners often know exactly what is going on and wield the real power. The distinction between children and adolescents is a grey one; while Clarissa tries to be mature, the Leslie boys are still climbing buildings. At least two aristocratic men are being saved from undue pressure by their noble and able wives, while Miss Merriman hides her secret feelings under the pressures of looking after lovely Lady Emily and her portable property, especially at her birthday celebrations. Will this book, as so many of the Barsetshire novels, end with an engagement, or will there merely be stirrings of affection between those who have given upon marriage?

There is therefore much for Thirkell fans to enjoy in this novel, as people carry on being themselves under a warm sun, friendships changed by war remerge, and even the lively David Leslie seems tamed by marriage and fatherhood. Many of the favourite characters are present; while there is no great drama this is still a comforting slice of mainly rural life of immediate postwar Britain. Class and politics are still discussed, but only as it affects life and supplies. There are passing references to the standard foreign characters, and there is still a servant class, perhaps including the huge family of Ed the mechanic. This may be upsetting to some, but it is probably an authentic view of how certain people reacted to the daily difficulties of life. As always, I greatly enjoyed this somewhat longer book, and recommend it if you can get sight of a copy.

I am actually fortunate enough to have two copies of this book, one a first edition found at the Astley Book Barn. I have discovered that the most unlikely places sometimes hide wonderful books, but they need some tracking down (and to be resistant to dust and cobwebs). I’m still fighting with that big university essay, but I have some wonderful books to read so it is a tough life. Meanwhile, the tortoises are home but the kittens are coming….Here is hoping that Selwyn the Vicarage cat will not attempt to lead an escape attempt again!

Four Strange Women by E.R. Punshon – A complicated mystery from 1940

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This rather strange but undoubtedly powerful book is no elegant murder mystery with a single tidy corpse and a neat list of suspects. This is a novel of mystery, suspense and a high body count, with subtle deaths that are difficult to sort out, even when it becomes clear that accident, straightforward suicide and singular cause are most unlikely. Red herrings, mysterious women and night time hunting for clues all make up a serious pursuit across much of the British Isles. Not an easy read, but a complex mix of fearsome situations tackled by the sometimes hesitant but always realistic Booby Owen, this book is summed up by one of the characters as “there’s nothing sends a man to the devil so quick as when the wrong woman gets hold of him”. The question of the wrong woman, or even man, becomes the central question of this atmospheric novel as dark deeds must be thoroughly investigated by the dogged and sometimes inspired detective.

Bobby Owen’s most recent adventures in detection have earned him the notice of Colonel Glynne, chief constable of Wychshire, and the older man proposes that Owen sees him with a view to an Inspector’s post, with duties as private secretary. A late night visitor, Lord Henry Darmoor, with his fiancée Gwen Barton, tell him of the strange deaths of two other young men, and their fears for Billy Baird. The two dead men had shared certain unusual spending habits towards the end of their lives, spending freely and buying expensive jewellery. There were also three women in the cases, Hazel Hannay, Lady May Grayson and Becky Glynne, daughter of the Colonel. Added to the mix are a singer of Welsh songs, a notorious nightclub and strange meetings. When an odd journalist adds his views to the unofficial investigation that Bobby undertakes, he has to chase leads and half ideas around, with minimal support from his police colleagues. The solution is far from obvious, and Bobby’s powers of deductions and suspicions are sorely tried as he faces the darkness and danger of a far from straightforward investigation.This novel, originally published in 1940, has been more recently republished by Dean Street Press, and I am grateful for a copy to read and enjoy. A strange darkness envelopes this atmospheric novel, as the fate of certain young men seems to hang in the balance. I found it quite challenging to read, as the possible suspects slide in and out of focus. It is certainly a masterly novel, skillfully rendered against a background of suspicion and some fear. The explanation for the events described, the somewhat robust view of the rules that Bobby takes, and the disturbing ending make this an unusual novel for its time, yet certainly worth reading as it is very skillfully realised and controlled by this experienced writer.

We are just back from a few days “Up North” or Newcastle as it is also known. Today we went to Beamish, which as you may know, is a huge site where various settlements have been recreated, each from a different time period. The Town is especially interesting, if crowded today, with various shops and a small and very dark pub. Definitely a place to visit!

The Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid – a romantic comedy with wide appeal

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This is a fairly unusual book, with a time slip at its heart as well as some entertaining characters. Part comedy, part romance, this is book where characters have obsessions and act upon them. It is also full of cultural references in the two periods dealt with; the summer of 1969 and two connected periods in 2013 and 2014. The narrative is neatly interleaved and the reader will find it obvious which time is being depicted, as there is an elegance about the way the characters dovetail together. The setting for most of the action is a well known Scottish place, changed by some of the circumstances in the book, but big enough to hold some very diverse people and activities. Funny and charming, this is an attractive and entertaining read, which will appeal to those for whom the earlier events are fairly recent history, as well as those who were not born at the time. While fictional, this novel confidently handles the points of reality to which it refers to create a convincing world with a very real set of characters.

The book opens with a scene between Gemma and David, as she wallows in her favourite film, Billy Wilder’s “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”. She is no casual fan; her academic career is built on this and certain other films. Now it seems as though some more footage has come to light, and she is excited that this will alter everyone’s view of the film. She is also silently confused by a possible job offer in the University of Aberdeen, which will be a potential source of conflict with her American partner. The narrative then switches to Loch Ness, forty five years earlier. Jim is a Marine Biologist, part of the Loch Ness Research Group which is studying the Loch, aware of the legend of a Monster but determined to take a strictly scientific approach. He takes his observations, including filming, very seriously, while another team member Alan is more interested in alcohol. Douglas owns the big house in which the Group live, while Sandra and Tessa’s roles are less obvious. Their peaceful existence is shattered by the arrival of a film unit, intent on their project of filming “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” to Billy Wilder’s specific demands.  Jim spots a girl swimming in the Loch, and eventually meets April Bloom, script editor and continuity girl for the film. The become as close as Jim’s shyness allows, a process which includes an hilarious party at a socialite’s house to watch the moon landings. Various incidents and accidents occur, as 1960s fashions are noted and the action spins along well.

There are many interesting and entertaining points in this book, and much of it is a joy to read. Obsessions are discussed, the passage of time examined, and differences between the past and present revealed. I enjoyed its light hearted approach to the characters’ lives, as well as serious points about how the legend of the monster evolved. The real film is notable for many things for which Kincaid eagerly supplies information, and there are many perfect details about a sort of family life. I would recommend this light hearted gem of a book for its entertainment value and its many interesting intersections with real events and ideas, its fascinating characters and many references to an amazing place in Britain.

I’m very glad that I spotted this book on facebook. Published by Unbound subscription, it is an impressive debut.

Meanwhile, I am still fighting with my large essay for University. I have made some progress, but life in the Vicarage is never completely peaceful. At the moment we are tortoise – sitting for two year olds, Stanhope and Livingstone, called after the explorers.  Between feeding Selwyn the Vicarage cat and putting leaves in the tortoise box, it is all go (especially as they insist on hiding whenever possible).  Thank goodness for a gap before the kittens arrive!

When the War is Over by Barbara Fox – a childhood account of home life in a village

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This is rather a special book, recording as it does the experience of one girl, one family, as they cope with unique circumstances. The fact that it is also a magical account of a childhood in a fairly idyllic setting is ironic, given the fact that it is wartime. With the benefit of hindsight we know that there was an end to the Second World War in which Britain itself was not invaded, and that though there were losses and tragedies both at home and abroad, most people survived. The evacuation of children for many must have seemed a great adventure; but for families spilt by such necessity there was confusion and pain. Not every child was greeted by those who were happy to give home to evacuees, and some hosts would choose children to set them to work. This book, written by the daughter of an evacuee, captures a time of mainly happiness, though shot through with the tragedies of several kinds.

Gwenda and Douglas are enjoying a happy and secure childhood in Newcastle with loving parents, family and friends. They know the neighbours, enjoy the company of a young maid, and special family times. The local area, including the parklands of Jesmond Dene, seem set up for the pleasure of a small girl as she recalls the Birdman, who feeds and knows the wild birds. All too soon war is declared, and although Gwenda is unsure what it will mean, she soon understands that food and other things will be in short supply. Moreover, she overhears that she and her elder brother are to be sent away, possibly even as far as Australia. Newcastle is not a safe place when German bombers seem to be expected, especially as there are docks and armament manufacturers close by to the house. So the children are sent away to the countryside, but it is not a happy placement. Illness and lack of care means that they are soon home once more. It is therefore with some trepidation that they are dispatched again, with firm instructions not to be parted. Eventually they are accepted by a kind couple who happen to be the local schoolmaster and wife, who are initially unsure if they can cope with a six year old girl, as they have older sons. Instead it turns out to be an entirely happy arrangement, with affection and friendship on both sides while Gwenda learns the harder realities of country life. There is sadness as not everyone returns to the village when illness strikes. Gwenda’s father joins the army, and the difficulties of war time travel means that the children rarely see their parents. There is a number of very funny incidents, such as when Gwenda travels on the bus with a necessary bucket, and she decides to bring a lamb home.

This is a book of vivid memories and well arranged stories. The narrative is linear and so well controlled. While there are many accounts of life on the Homefront available, both factual and fictional, this is exceptional simply because it represents the accurate memories of a curious and bright child. The writing is so good because it represents tales told to a daughter who has taken them and made them into a very readable account. It is perhaps too positive, as the bombs that fell on Newcastle seem to have avoided anyone known to the family, and the deaths that do occur are tragedies for others. Despite this, this is a very readable book which I really enjoyed, and recommend as a fascinating account for everyone interested in the wartime experience from a child’s point of view.

This is a charming book, written with real love and insight into a child’s mind. while I have been struggling to finish many books recently compared with last month, this was not difficult to read. I have a large essay to write for University soon, so there may be fewer posts, but I will be reviewing another super book soon; “The King’s Witch”by Tracy Borman.

The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman; Kings, Queens and their daily lives

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This immense non fiction book on a subject many people feel they know something about has one great advantage over many History books; it reads like a novel. Anyone with the sketchiest knowledge of British history has some insight into the remarkably short- lived ruling dynasty of the Tudors. Featuring only five actual monarchs, their diverse personalities and ruling styles meant changes to virtually everyone in the country, as religious practices changed, religious houses dissolved, and for the first time a woman ruled in her own name. This book goes beyond the big events and politics to reveal the tiny, intimate details of the lives of the rulers as they variously fought the forces of time, disappointment in male heirs, servants and attendants who knew so much of their often fragile bodies. This is an ideal book for everyone who has ever been curious as to how long it took to dress a queen with the “Mask of Youth” as well as those vaguely amused by such titles as “The Master of the Stool”. The clothes, the cures, the paintings and the pets are all forensically examined, but in such a flowing and natural way that a vast amount of information is absorbed without apparent effort on the part of the reader.

As with all the most comprehensive books on the Tudor dynasty, this book opens in 1485 with the confirmation of Henry VI as undeniable ruler following thirty years of instability and worse in the wars of the Houses of York and Lancaster. While there was relief at this advent of a king who quickly married the surviving heir of the House of York to confirm the end of dispute, there were still unanswered questions about pretenders to the throne which threatened the very life of Henry and his wife Elizabeth. Borman gives us details of not only royal beds, pregnancies and clothes as status symbols, but also expands into contrasting with that of the other people in the country, who remade clothes and left them in wills. The section on Henry VIII reveals his obsession with his clothes and how few survive as he handed them on as generous and sometimes political gifts. His obsession with his health and the concoctions he depended on showed his real fear that he would die without a solid succession; his sole male heir was highly prized and guarded from the moment of his birth. Edward’s own reign was dominated by the politics of those around him, as his minority rule meant that his contact with even his half sisters was closely monitored. The many theories as to his health and early death are dealt with here, as even the best medical advice of the time was unsuccessfully applied. Mary’s brief reign was dominated by her marriage and her unsuccessful attempts to bear a child, her likely long term health problems are also aired. It is when she writes of Elizabeth that Borman really expresses her knowledge to the extent of how long it would take her to dress, her taste for gorgeous and expensive fabrics, how the make up she favoured all contributed to her image as the goddess queen, above mere human aging. The long section on her death is fascinating, as her will to live and her refusal to accept her frailty persisted. Her successor, the Stuart James, is quickly dealt with as the contrast with the glory of her person and her carefully constructed reign.

This well illustrated book is surprisingly easy to read, yet with over seventy pages of notes and index this is a thoroughly researched academic book in its own right. For general readers, for those with an academic interest, for all those fascinated with the Tudor monarchs and those around them, this is a fascinating book and an undoubted treat.

I have actually got a signed copy of this book as Northernvicar and I travelled to Hampton Court and heard Tracy Borman speak on this book with excellent illustrations. She is an excellent speaker and generous with her vast knowledge of the Tudors. I have been lucky enough to get a copy of her first novel “The King’s Witch” to read and review, and already I have enjoyed several hours of this brilliantly written book. Highly recommended thus far!

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson – A British Library Crime Classic with extra information

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This is a British Library Crime Classic with rare distinction; its author, Ellen Wilkinson, was one of the earliest women MPs in the House of Commons, and its original publication in 1932 was a contribution to the rise of the Golden Age of Detection. Sadly, it was the only mystery novel which Wilkinson wrote, in which she demonstrated a sure grasp of characters, plot and most impressively, setting. More than a seemingly impossible murder, this book has resonances of a political nature as despite her assurance that all characters are “entirely fictitious”, it is possible to see portraits of contemporary politicians. Solidly placed in an environment that could be verified, this is an ambitious yet controlled book in which many points are made about the status of politicians away from the public eye, and the few women MPs who appear in the novel. I was happy to receive a review copy of this novel, which includes a Preface concerning Wilkinson’s life and times by Rachel Reeves MP as well as Martin Edwards’ valuable Introduction which puts this book in its literary context.

Robert West is a young, solid and ambitious parliamentary private secretary who has invited an old friend to visit him in the Houses of Parliament. He has also facilitated a meeting between his boss, the Home Secretary and an international financier, Georges Oissel, in a private dining room, to discuss a loan that the Government needs. All seems to be going well until the Division Bell rings to summon all the MPs to vote, and just then a shot rings out. As West and his friend Shaw burst into the room, the body of Oissel is discovered alone with a gun. West decides to discover whether this apparent suicide was in fact murder, especially when a burglary of the financier’s home results in the death of a popular bodyguard. In addition, Annette, Oissel’s granddaughter and heir, insists that he did not commit suicide. Mixed motives and a political scandal all propel a lacklustre police investigation as many people try to find out what really happened. Two women MPs aid and abet the search for truth, as Labour MP Grace Richards uses her wit and intelligence to deflect attention from West and the rather overbearing society hostess Lady Bell – Clinton gets involved.

This is an impressive debut as Wilkinson keeps the action moving despite imparting a lot of political themes, of old established politicians and bright younger people emerge. Deep financial problems mirror the truths of a Depression which would motivate Wilkinson’s own political actions. While the reader needs no special knowledge of Parliamentary procedure to enjoy this book greatly, all those with an interest in the actual roles and lives of MPs will find it fascinating. The geography of the House is important, as is the procedures, customs and politics of an MP’s daily life in the early 1930s. Wilkinson was a more than competent writer of what she knew, politics and people, and although her characters are rather straightforward and simple she develops an interesting plot well, using her amateur and easily influenced leading character. I was a little disappointed that she did not examine the impact of women in Parliament in more detail, but the mystery element is reasonably well worked out. Read this book for the mystery, and pick up a lot of knowledge about Parliament and politics of the interwar period.

This is an excellent volume in the British Library series, which has done so much to increase appreciation of the popular detection novel of the mid twentieth century. I find the character of “Red Ellen”” fascinating, and I will enjoy looking out her only other novel, “Clash” which I picked up a while ago.

The Bomb Girls by Daisy Styles – Women together fighting on the Home Front

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In a way, this is an easy to read romantic saga. It has it all; a group of young women up against a new and frightening situation, a wartime setting, challenges that will have an impact on their lives and not always in a positive way. Looked at in another way of course this is a book which poses the view that women, when acting together, are so much stronger than any other force. They can give each other the respect, self – belief and strength that they need to succeed, or at least survive. In some ways this book, though written recently, attempts to capture something of the spirit of life on the Home Front in the Second World War, when the absence of many men put women into a new sort of battle front.

It is perhaps easy not to know, or appreciate, that young women were not only called up to do war work, but that it often meant relocating to new and perhaps very different places. While Emily and Alice are to stay local to the village they grew up in, they have to give their dreams and ambitions. Emily is a talented and innovative cook who dreams of becoming a chef, and she has already discovered love with Bill Redmond, a local man. Alice has a great talent for study and especially languages. Despite these skills, they are both called up to work on the munitions line in a factory. Lillian must relocate from Bradford, losing her hairdressing business, and she tries to take any measures to avoid conscription. Agnes has her tragic reasons to want to move into the area, making the best of her problems. Little Elsie sees a new hope when she sees the order to move as freeing her from the abuses of her family. The young women are put into a converted accommodation block, and together work to make life more bearable on the assembly line where one mistake could have disastrous consequences.  Together they fall in love, discover new skills, and sometimes make mistakes. Situations arise which test each one to the limits, and yet they have to forge new friendships and relationships as people come and go with the fortunes of war. No day seems to pass without dramatic incident, and this book is anything but boring. Hope overcomes in so many cases, but there are still tragedies and concerns for each woman. Sometimes the melodrama seems overwhelming, but there still seems to be love and hope in so many circumstances.

So much of human life is represented by this book, and it is an entertaining read. There is satisfaction in many of the developments and some shocks in this book; in the manner of a good drama many characters and situations are kept going as each is given its full weight. Some of the events strain credibility in some respects, but this is fiction and needs to keep moving and achieve satisfactory consequences. Each girl comes to show extraordinary gifts or courage in their way. It is a book which keeps moving, keeps changing, and is always interesting. Perhaps not to every taste, this is a largely affirming book of women making a contribution to the war effort and living their lives in the best way they can together.

I think you will agree that this was  another different type of book for review. Coming up in the next week or so I hope to post on a non fiction Tudor book, the latest British Library Crime Classic and some other books that have appeared on my radar. Meanwhile, a book group on Middlemarch – but who will have finished Eliot’s wonderful book?

Writers as Readers – A Celebration of Virago Modern Classics

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This unique book, beautifully produced by Virago Modern Classics in celebration of forty years of Virago Classics publishing, is a real treat. It may also involve you in further expense, book collecting and generally reading more. It is at once a super idea, having well known authors write introductions to the books that have been rediscovered and republished, as well as a collection of writing by those authors who reflection on the significance of another author’s work on their own lives, reading and or writing. These are women authors, some of whom have never slipped out of print, others relatively unknown, and as the introduction states “If women’s stories aren’t published in all their variety, their voices are silenced, and only part of human experience – in both historical and the imaginative landscapes  – is represented.” Thus mainly women, and a few men, reflect on an author’s writing generally in forty short, pithy pieces, sometimes introducing, sometimes producing an essay on a series of books.

The greatest strength of this book probably lies in the fact that it covers well known authors which most people would recognise, as well as those yet to be discovered. Thus we have Austen, two Brontes, and du Maurier. These are covered by such as Margaret Drabble, Angela Carter and a favourite of mine, Sarah Dunant. This is the joy of this book; if you do not read it for the authors introduced, though the range is huge, you can read it for those writing the introduction. Thus Hilary Mantel writes about Elizabeth Taylor, Penelope Fitzgerald introduces Rose Macaulay, and Alexander McCall Smith writes a lively piece on my favourite, Angela Thirkell. Thus there are pieces you will have already discovered in actual books, whereas there are new treats of brilliant pairing such as Sarah Waters on Sylvia Townshend Warner, and Sophie Dahl on Stella Gibbons. Thus the racy comic writer Jilly Cooper gives her thoughts on the extremely funny E.M. Delafield’s “Diary of a Provincial Lady”, an insightful piece on the life and works of an accomplished writer. These pieces also vary in terms of length and content; some are brief introductions with one book in mind, others are longer pieces of writing which bring in the whole context of the author’s life and times, highlighting particular works. Most memorable for me was the essay by Mark Bostridge on Vera Brittain, as he has written much on the life of the writer and speaker. Thus he quotes her own diary entry after the publication of “Testament of Youth” “Never did I imagine that the Testament would inspire such praise at such length, or provoke – in smaller doses- so much abuse”. This is a writer who really knows his subject, and who gives such extensive footnotes that no assertion is unsubstantiated. Each writer is genuinely enthusiastic about their subject, and it has the effect of sending this reader off to seek out so many books.

It is difficult to write a detailed review of a book which contains so many gems of reviews of itself. I will admit some pieces were less interesting to me, but I have no doubt that they would appeal greatly to others. Not a book to read at one sitting, but an undoubted celebration of many writers in many ways.

This book is available in hardback at the moment, so correspondingly rather expensive. This is a book to posses if you can – if you borrow it you will possibly want to keep it for future reference!

So the end of series four of Poldark has been and gone. Those of us who have read the “Angry Tide” have been waiting for the tragic events of the last episode to happen, and indeed have perhaps been avoiding letting too much slip .Here is a very interesting article on the relative lack of attention that the four series have attracted compared to less watched series perhaps deemed more fashionable. Certainly it is interesting that The Poldark novels are shelved with “Romance” by WH Smiths; there is so much more to them as anyone who has read the books will know!

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome – a classically funny book

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This is a classic in all senses. It is the classic English, gently comic, novel. It is a classic piece of late Victorian writing, originally published in 1889. It is descriptive of a way of life and the countryside around the river, but also the misadventures of three young men and some of their reflections on life. Even the dog, Montmorency, has his standards and indeed experiences of meeting other dogs, fine fights and meals. Life is simple, but inanimate objects, the scenery and the whole process of getting the boat along the river can be difficult, and our hero, George and Harris, have to take on many difficulties and indeed each other on occasions. Legend have just reissued this classic in a most readable and enjoyable format, and I was pleased to receive a review copy to enjoy reading again.

The unnamed narrator of the book, being a convinced hypochondriac, has been working his way through a medical dictionary and is therefore convinced he needs a holiday. Being a victim of advertising, he, George and Harris decide that their combined seediness means they ought to have a holiday, and the river is agreed on as preferable to a sea trip, with all its attendant dangers of sea sickness which the narrator expounds on at length. Packing all the food, clothes, basic cooking equipment and other items judged to be essential is quite a performance, amidst much reflection and high jinks. Taking the boat up the river until they meet with George who has had to visit his place of employment has its challenges. There are many well known incidents which he describes in this short but discursive book; the dangers of towing a boat, the attractions or otherwise of churches alongside the river, the problems of finding a way of Hampton Court maze. This is an all male book, but there are passages which reflect on girls on the river getting distracted by chatting or being profoundly upset at the experience of getting their clothes dirty. Cooking, rowing, finding accommodation in villages, trying to sleep on the boat all have their humourous side, and taken in the right way this is a very funny book.

Many Victorian novels are known to be socially or morally based, and can often be quite dour if not depressing. This, like “Diary of a Nobody”, features an unreliable narrator, no big dramas, and is a relaxing read. Full of funny incidents, passages of exaggeration and local colour, there is only one incident which is seen as a familiar story of a desperate unmarried mother. Otherwise, there are self-consciously purple passages of history and natural lore, dogs winning fights and a stupendous irish stew. This is a lovely clear edition of a novel which can genuinely be enjoyed by most people, well set out and good to handle. The author states, ironically, “The chief beauty of this book lies not so much in its literary style…as its simple truthfulness”.

So another type of book reviewed, and a refreshingly cheerful one at that. Sometimes it is good to find a book that is funny and cheerful in the midst of many that are far from happy. It does not take long to read, but it is a definitely different sort of book, and quite possibly an acquired taste!