Eight Great Series

As a child, I read a lot of book series – The Chronicles of Narnia, everything by Enid Blyton, Harry Potter, and even, embarrassingly, the Babysitter Club books as a tween – but I definitely gravitate more towards standalone novels as an adult. However, recently I began Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, about a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk, who assists the local police in all manner of grisly cases. I realised that I very much enjoy the gradual character arcs which such a series brings, and am eagerly awaiting the newest instalment=.

This led me to think about the fictional series which I have actually read the majority of as an adult, and I wanted to piece together a post which showcases my favourites. I have tried to be as varied as possible, but the majority of series which I have read are crime-related; this is great, I suppose, if you are partial to a detective story, but I have tried to focus on the slightly more unusual, or lesser known, series here. Of course, I love the Miss Marple stories – and have read every single one – but I decided not to include them, as they are so well known.

1. The Ruth Galloway Series by Elly Griffiths

As I have mentioned above, Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist, who works as a lecturer at the fictional University of North Norfolk (UNN). In the first book, she begins to assist the police with forensics in a case, and soon becomes one of the people they call on to help. Along with the rather awful cases which come up in each book – the murder of a young girl in The Crossing Places (book number one), and six bodies found at the foot of a remote cliff in The House at Sea’s End (book three) – there is also a running storyline of Ruth’s brief affair with married policeman, Harry Nelson. The character development here is impressive, and every single novel has kept my interest. I would highly recommend starting the series if you’d like something with elements of the detective novel, but which is rather different in its approach.

Start with: The Crossing Places, as these books do need to be read in order
My favourite from the series: The Crossing Places, The Outcast Dead (book number six), and The Dark Angel (book number 10)

2. The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I have only read the first three books of this series so far, but I absolutely adore them. I am writing this post ahead of time (thank goodness for WordPress’ scheduling abilities!), so hopefully by the time this is published, I will have read the five book cycle. The novels display a family, the Cazalets, in all of their trauma and their glory. There are many characters, but each is distinctive. The first novel, The Light Years, begins in 1937, when the Second World War ‘is only a distant cloud on Britain’s horizon’, and the final book, All Change, is set during the 1950s. I am so looking forward to seeing where this series takes me, and what happens to my favourite characters as they change and grow.

Start with: The Light Years; this cycle is chronological, and also needs to be read in order
My favourite from the series: Marking Time (book number two)

3. The Pilgrimage Cycle by Dorothy Richardson

I started reading Dorothy Richardson’s excellent Pilgrimage cycle in January 2016, with the first book, Pointed Roofs. The novels, written in the stream-of-consciousness style, follow a young woman named Miriam Henderson. They are beautifully written, and enlightening. I had planned to write my research Master’s thesis about the novels, but my supervisor was already working on such a project with another student. Regardless, these are wonderful books to study, as there is so much to look at. I have not finished the thirteen novels which make up Pilgrimage yet, as I have had trouble getting my hands on the later volumes. I am pretty sure that I will love them, though.

Start with: Pointed Roofs, as this series also needs to be read in order
My favourite from the series: Pointed Roofs (book number one), and Backwater (book number two)

4. The Rougon-Macquart Cycle by Emile Zola

Emile Zola is a wonderful author, and one whom – perhaps controversially – I do not feel is read enough. I am not very far through the Rougon-Macquart Cycle, but I have loved each tome from it which I have read to date. A great thing about the series is that it does not need to be read in any order, given that the characters differ from book to book. I started reading this whilst studying at King’s College London, when The Ladies’ Paradise (book number eleven) was one of the books on my reading list. I absolutely adored it, and have been (very slowly) working my way through since.

Start with: whichever you like, although I would highly recommend The Ladies’ Paradise! Nana (book number nine) would be a good starting point too
My favourite from the series: The Ladies’ Paradise

5. The Gervase Fen Mysteries by Edmund Crispin

Edmund Crispin is an excellent writer of vintage mysteries, and I have thoroughly enjoyed this series so far. They are entertaining, filled with fascinating characters, and clever mysteries. I really like the character of Gervase Fen, an ‘unconventional’ Oxford University don whom we first meet in The Case of the Gilded Fly. Fen is also an amateur detective, and likes nothing more than taking a strange case to its conclusions. Again, I do not feel as though this series needs to be read in order, so choose whichever tome you want to begin with.

Start with: the mystery which appeals to you most.
My favourite from the series: The Moving Toyshop (book number three)

6. The Fairyland Cycle by Catherynne M. Valente

These books are a little more unusual, and nothing which I would ordinarily choose to read, as I steer clear of fantasy novels as a general rule. Catherynne M. Valente’s novels, though, are beautiful, with excellent word choices, and unusual prose. The stories in this series are imaginative, and I love the way in which she weaves together the everyday and the strange, to make something quite compelling. The long chapter titles, too, are very appealing.

Start with: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, the first book in the series. There is a continuous thread of story here, so the books do need to be read in order.
My favourite from the series: I like them all equally.

7. Tommy and Tuppence by Agatha Christie

I feel that Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence stories are far less well known than the likes of her Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. The stories were televised a few years ago, but I have not watched them, as I cannot imagine David Walliams in the title role. Regardless, the stories are clever – in true Christie fashion, of course – and they keep one guessing throughout. Tommy and Tuppence also feel rather different to her more famous characters.

Start with: your choice; again, I do not feel that these books need to be read in any particular order.
My favourite from the series: The Secret Adversary (book number one)

8. Wildwood Chronicles by Colin Meloy

The frontman of one of my favourite bands, The Decemberists, Colin Meloy started releasing books in the Wildwood trilogy back in 2011. This imaginative series is set in Portland, Oregon, in ‘a dense, tangled forest’ at the edge of the city. Here, a young girl named Prue McKeel ventures after her baby brother is snatched by a murder of crows. It sounds strange, and it is, but as with his songs, Meloy’s choices of vocabulary are gorgeous and rich, and his stories come together so well.

Start with: Wildwood, the first book in the series. These stories do need to be read in chronological order.
My favourite from the series: Wildwood

Have you read any of these series? Do you have anything to recommend to me along this vein?


Problematic Biographies: ‘Alan Turing: The Enigma’ by Andrew Hodges *** and ‘Dorothy M. Richardson’ by John Cowper Powys ****

Further to my question of yesterday as to whether all biographies are flawed, I thought I would write about two which I read at the tail end of last year and had problems with.

Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges *** 9781784700089
Like many, I purchased this because I very much enjoyed ‘The Imitation Game’; it then sat upon my TBR shelf for well over a year.  I felt that I should try my best to read it before 2016 was out, so I squeezed it into my November reading.

As far as biographies go, Alan Turing: The Enigma is incredibly long, running to 679 pages excluding the notes and index.  The whole was not as well written as I was expecting, and it did not feel very consistent in places.  The intricate mathematical details placed here and there did not always seem necessary, and it read almost like a Further Maths textbook at times.  It is quite a difficult book to categorise, and it is by no means a straightforward biography, nor a critique of Turing’s work.  It occupies a strange middleground, which consequently means that it does not sit quite right with the reader.

Turing was undoubtedly a fantastically bright man, but I thought that the telling of his story would be more compelling than it turned out to be.  I do not feel as though I’ve learnt much more about him from this volume, sadly; Hodges’ account is undoubtedly well-researched, but it is also rather disappointing.


Dorothy M. Richardson by John Cowper Powys ****
I borrowed this from my University library to aid with my understanding of Dorothy Richardson’s life; prior to this, I knew very little about her, if I’m honest.  It is incredibly slight; standing at just 48 pages, I wasn’t entirely sure if it would be able to give me a full picture of Richardson.  It wasn’t overly in-depth, and presented barely anything of Richardson as a woman; rather, it provides a critique of her Pilgrimage series, and how its techniques veer away from the traditional.  Regardless, it is very intelligently written, and Powys clearly admires Richardson.  I would recommend it as an introduction into her work, but I’m sure there must be a more thorough and authoritative biography out there somewhere.

Purchase from The Book Depository


‘Pilgrimage’ by Dorothy Richardson: Where I’m At

Some of you may know that I’m focusing upon Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage sequence in part for my PhD thesis.  One of my supervisors and I have decided that the first to fifth volumes will be good to focus upon, and with that in mind, I present my thoughts about the fourth and fifth books in the sequence – The Tunnel and Interim.

The Tunnel ****
9781554811106The Tunnel is the fourth volume of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage series, which follows the fascinating protagonist Miriam Henderson.  This particular novel finds Miriam firmly ensconced within London, where she works as an assistant to a dentist.

In my opinion, The Tunnel is not the best, nor the most interesting, volume of Pilgrimage to date; indeed, at points, it feels almost static.  I found myself far less interested in the external storyline than in Miriam until almost the end of the novel.  Of course, it is still spectacularly written, but The Tunnel is my least favourite Richardson novel to date.

Interim ****
is engaging from the first, and as a construct, Miriam becomes even more spectacular; she is realised in such detail that she could step to life from the page and absorb herself into modern life without lacking anything.  There is a real dreamlike quality to her here, which I absolutely adored.

Richardson’s writing, as ever, is beautiful throughout; more so, I feel, than in The Tunnel.  Scenes are evoked down to the smallest detail; like Miriam, they are almost achingly realistic.  It feels, in Interim, as though there is a change of direction; Miriam is still our protagonist, but the comparably large cast of secondary characters are focused upon far more than are the secondary characters in the previous novels of the sequence.  There is less emphasis placed upon Miriam at points, and whilst she does spring to life as she always does, it does not feel as though much development of her character and mindset has been provided overall.  Still, Interim is undoubtedly enjoyable and well rounded.  My only qualm is that the penultimate chapter felt a little anticlimactic, and the ending was a little underwhelming.

Purchase from The Book Depository


Three Dorothies

Skimming through my extensive to-read lists, I notice that there an awful lot of books by authors named Dorothy.  I thought that I would profile a couple of the lesser-known books by three different – and equally wonderful – Dorothies; Miss Baker, Miss Whipple, and my beloved Miss Richardson.  Whilst a handful of their books have been reissued by the likes of NYRB and Persephone, many are still sadly out of print, and rather difficult to get hold of.  Still, the following are the ones which I am coveting!

Dorothy Baker (1907-1968; most famous for Cassandra at the Wedding, 1962)

1. Young Man With a Horn (1938) 518al6ccrol-_sx310_bo1204203200_
‘Rick Martin loved music and the music loved him. He could pick up a tune so quickly that it didn’t matter to the Cotton Club boss that he was underage, or to the guys in the band that he was just a white kid. He started out in the slums of LA with nothing, and he ended up on top of the game in the speakeasies and nightclubs of New York. But while talent and drive are all you need to make it in music, they aren’t enough to make it through a life.   Dorothy Baker’s Young Man with a Horn is widely regarded as the first jazz novel, and it pulses with the music that defined an era. Baker took her inspiration from the artistry—though not the life—of legendary horn player Bix Beiderbecke, and the novel went on to be adapted into a successful movie starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, and Doris Day.’

2. Trio (1943)
A comprehensive and intriguing review can be found at A Penguin a Week, here.


51kkv-ltu5l-_sx335_bo1204203200_Dorothy Whipple (1893-1966; nine of her books are published by Persephone)
1. Young Anne (1927)
A fascinating review of this, and Persephone’s choice to reprint, can be found at BooksSnob’s blog.

2. Every Good Deed (1950)
BooksSnob has also reviewed this novel, which you can see here.



Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957; most famous for the Pilgrimage trilogy)

  1. The Long Day (1905)
    The Long Day: The Story of a New York Working Girl, As Told by Herself is a book about the life of a working-class girl. She was formerly a teacher in a small town, but is now alone in New York City, living day to day on a few dollars. She lives from boarding house to boarding house, experiencing harsh rules, starvation, and the death of a friend. Furthermore, she works in a number of different positions, including box-making, flower/feather making, sewing, and finally, a shaker. Throughout this time, she learns what it is like to live on a few dollars a week, working twelve-hour shifts with horrible conditions and few breaks. Ultimately, she is able to earn a respectable living as a typewriter.  At the time the book was released, Richardson remained anonymous.’


Have you read any of these?  Which are your favourite books by Dorothies?




Dorothy Richardson and her husband Alan Odle

I am all about modernist fiction, particularly when it is written by and about women.  I find it fascinating, and adore the stream-of-consciousness style which was pioneered at the time.  I have found two incredibly interesting Guardian articles about the rising popularity of Dorothy Richardson, and May Sinclair, the so-called ‘readable modernist’, which I wanted to share.

It’s question time…
Are you a fan of modernist literature?  Which is your favourite modernist work?  Have you read any Richardson or Sinclair novels, and what did you think of them?  Which single work would you recommend to someone who is just starting out in the reading of modernism?