Here’s my reading list for April.
Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
The plot of this rather short novel takes place on March 30th 1924. This is Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday as it was known then.
Jane Fairchild is an orphan and a housemaid. Like all other housemaids in that age of large scale domestic service, Jane is given the day off to go and visit her mother. How will she occupy her time when she has no mother to visit?
Beginning with an intimate assignation but with broad hints of what the future holds for Jane, this is the story of her life encapsulated on that fateful day in March.
I found the novel slow to start and had to re-read the first chapter to get into it. But once started, I didn’t put it down again until it was finished. The writing is so succinct and vivid. Remarkably good and very moving, particularly the subtle exploration of the emotional impact of bereavement in WW1.
Long Spoon by Kath Middleton
I’ve read nearly all Kath Middleton’s books and was delighted to find she’d released a new title. Long Spoon takes the reader into student life and the desire of two friends, Ed and Paul, to make loads of money. Their plan is to sell a home-made legal high to their friends and other students for a grossly inflated price. Ed becomes carried away with what they might accomplish although Paul is the person in the firing line when things get out of hand.
There are some underlying serious aspects to the novel but these are explored without dragging the book down. I particularly enjoyed the way the author leads the reader to think the novel is heading in one direction then suddenly throws a spanner in the works and goes off in another. This keeps the book light and lively and makes for a most entertaining read.
Fur Coat and No Knickers by Adrienne Vaughan
This collection of short stories has so many twists on the notion of a love story: an older couple meet while a beautifully described solitary swan reflects their emerging romance; a one-sided telephone conversation is amusing and edgy; so much emotion packed into one lemon bag; a woman meets a man in a bar and her ultimate ruination; a so-called married man sends poor Eva to a tragic end; a theatrical agent is stitched up by his best friend; a lonely woman is helped to find something positive in her marriage by an ageing father; and a young woman finds out that all was not as it seemed in her early life.
My favourites were:
A Seed of Doubt
A man whose wife has died goes on a weekend bereavement course. He is struggling to come to terms with his loss as he believes his wife was unfaithful. Help and a solution come from an unexpected source and the moral of the story is one from which many might benefit.
A Visit at Christmas
I mean it: I had tears in my eyes at the end of this story.
Fur Coat and No Knickers
Just so much fun! A woman who is a snob and a traditionalist turns out to be living a life of pretence.
There’s such a great variety and depth of feeling in these short stories which makes the whole collection a pleasure to read.
Pattern of Shadows by Judith Barrow
Pattern of Shadows is a wonderful story set in the latter days of World War Two somewhere in the north of England. Mary Howarth is a nurse who is part of a medical team given the unenviable task of caring for sick and injured prisoners of war at the prison camp hospital.
Mary starts a relationship with one of the guards at the camp, Frank Shuttleworth. The relationship proves difficult for Mary but Frank is persistent. Meanwhile, Mary’s home life is far from easy and she finds solace in her work. As the novel evolves Mary’s life becomes increasingly fraught and complicated. To say more would be to give away an extremely well constructed plot which explores some challenging issues of the day.
The novel is well researched and the sense of time and place is established securely. The author has created a group of characters who are very real and the dialogue and interactions between them are a strength of the writing. The romance element of the novel has a degree of predictability but when the concluding chapter is reached there is a sense of relief that what was anticipated has occurred.
Pattern of Shadows is the first part of a trilogy and it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens next.
The Prime Suspect Cases by Lynda La Plante
We enjoyed the recent TV drama series Prime Suspect 1973 and I downloaded the three original Prime Suspect cases onto my Kindle for a bargain price of 99p. I’ve only had time to read the opening of the first case but as the price for the collection has returned to £9.99, I’m glad I downloaded it when I did.
The Britain I Want by Emanuel Shinwell
As the 2017 General Election approaches, I’ve been dipping again into The Britain I Want by Emanuel Shinwell first published in 1943. The book is now out of print but I inherited a copy from my dad many years ago and read it twice. Unfortunately, it was stored in our garage and we were plagued by a mice infestation and the book had to be thrown away. Eventually, I tracked down a second hand copy complete with war-time economy compliance accreditation and now keep it on a very safe bookshelf.
Here’s a flavour of the book:
We pride ourselves in being the highest products of the biological scheme. We stand in something not far removed from awe at the achievements of our kind in science, philosophy, the arts, high moral conduct and sublime courage. Yet, so far, it has apparently been impossible for us to devise a method of living based on social justice and the right of everyone who does useful work in the community to something more than a drab scale of living, chaotic movements of the crazy barometer of employment and souring insecurity.
If you liked Ken Loach’s Spirit of 45 you’ll find this book fascinating but it might take some tracking down.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe
Alan Sillitoe, who died in 2010, left school at fourteen and worked in various factories until becoming an air traffic control assistant with the Ministry of Aircraft Production in 1945. After leaving the RAF he went to live in France and in 1958 Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was published. I read the book for the first time in 1966 and I’ve read it several times since.
The book has become a cult classic of working class life in post-war Nottingham. It’s the story of rebellious factory worker Arthur Seaton who works all day at a lathe leaving him with energy to spare in the evenings. Arthur is a hard-drinking, hard-fighting hooligan who knows what he wants and is determined to get it.
His affairs with a couple of married women are the stuff of local gossip but then one evening he meets a young woman and things start to get complicated.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is such a readable book and the 1960 film, starring Albert Finney, captures its spirit completely. But as Sillitoe wrote the screenplay that’s hardly surprising. This never-to-be-forgotten clip shows a few minutes from the opening scenes of the film.