I have been very lucky in my reading choices lately, loving eleven of the twelve most recent books that I have read. This is particularly gratifying since I have had such a difficult time getting out of my reading slump this year.
|This is not how I pictured the characters.|
I know that Crompton has written about 4,000 William books, but that is not how I know her. Never having read any of those, my only experience with Crompton has been with her fantastic novel Family Roundabout republished by Persephone. Recently when I was about to make a purchase of three vintage D.E. Stevenson books from an independent online bookseller based in the UK, I noticed he also had a Crompton for sale. Impossible to find in the US, I snapped it up without hesitation.
Like Family Roundabout, I loved, loved, loved, Linden Rise. Although it isn't as nuanced or complex as Family Roundabout, both novels focus on families of adult children headed by widowed (or eventually widowed) matriarchs. In this case, the action centers around young Matilda Pound a 15-year old who enters service for the first time at a country cottage called Linden Rise. When she first arrives the house is about to be leased by the Culvertons looking to escape London for the summer. (Or was it some other city? One forgets.) Tilly, as Matilda is known, is one kick-ass housemaid who eventually becomes cook and housekeeper. Tilly knows her place for sure, but that doesn't keep her from intervening with one or two family members when they are being pills. And she does it fabulously in ways that make you want to cheer. She is like an action hero without the super powers or violence. In fact, she deserves to be made into an action figure. That would be awesome.
I finished Linden Rise about ten days ago, but I could sit down right now and read it all over again. It was such an enjoyable read. If only some publisher would reissue all of Crompton's adult fiction. Prices for some of her books are really crazy expensive. If you are ever out book shopping and see one of Crompton's adult novels for less than 20 pounds, just buy it.
The Happy Prisoner by Monica Dickens
Dickens is another Persephone author, but unlike Crompton, my first experience with Dickens, her novel Mariana, left me somewhat ambivalent. I enjoyed it, but couldn't muster much enthusiasm. My "review" was only one sentence followed by some visual analysis of the fantastic Persephone cover. Having now read another of Dickens' novel, I am inclined to go back and re-read Mariana to see if I would like it more now.
In The Happy Prisoner, the center of attention is on Oliver North (no Americans, not the Iran-Contra felon), a wounded WWII soldier convalescing at his family's country home. And it literally centers around him in the ground floor study that has been turned into his hospital room. The entire novel is set in those four walls with action outside of it being described by the family and friends who come in and out of the room. There could be a little more omniscience that I am forgetting at the moment, but this could easily be dramatized on stage without the need for any set changes.
I liked The Happy Prisoner only slightly less than Linden Rise. It also had shades of D.E. Stevenson as multiple marriages ensue and everyone comes up smelling like roses in the end.
Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym
Typical Pym, this. Which means it's bloody brilliant. Unlike the two wonderful novels already mentioned in this post, Pym's work is easily a cut or two above. They are deep, and clever, and humorous in ways that push her from mere author into the genius category. The novel is full of the usual cast of Pym characters, academics, and clergy, and librarians, and so many excellent women. Catherine Oliphant is a writer living with her anthropologist boyfriend. He begins an affair with another woman, an anthropology student and eventually Catherine begins to move on, developing an interest in an older anthropologist. One can imagine Pym sitting in the corner with a pad and paper taking notes on the mating rituals of this tribe of British anthropologists.
As enjoyable as it was, Less Than Angels, is not my favorite Pym. But that is a pretty high bar.
Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household
I have a giant stack of NYRB Classics that I bought just because they are such beautiful books. When it comes to this publisher I tend to err on the side of buying every one of them unless the blurb makes it absolutely clear it isn't going to interest me. It was wonderful then to pick this one out of my TBR and realize how perfectly it fit with my recent interest in mid-century spy/crime fiction. In this case an Englishman in the 1930s attempts to assassinate an unnamed European despot (it's really Hitler) and finds himself fleeing back to England where he continues to be hunted by the multiple parties who want him captured. This book is pure adrenalin and suspense. Published in 1939, it is fascinating to see how hard it is for someone to disappear in 1930s England. One would think it would have been easier to disappear back then, but apparently not. This book is one part Ambler and one part Shute. A fantastic book.