3

‘The Eternal Season: Ghosts of Summers Past, Present and Future’ by Stephen Rutt ****

The Eternal Season: Ghosts of Summers Past, Present and Future is naturalist Stephen Rutt’s third book. His newest effort is set against the background of the pandemic, which has so affected us all since the beginning of 2020. As with many of us, it stopped Rutt’s plans in their tracks, preventing him from travelling across Britain’s woods and forests, and following warblers, the intended initial focus of this book. A Suffolk-born resident of the Scottish market town of Dumfries, Rutt spent the first few months of the pandemic living with his partner’s family, during an ‘enforced stay’ in rural Bedfordshire.

Like many of us, Rutt turned to the constancy of nature during the first summer of the pandemic – and he found anything but. Wherever he was physically during this year, he spent his time noting ‘the abundance teeming in our hedgerows, marshlands and woodlands’. In his close communication with the nature around him, though, he began to notice ‘disturbances to the traditional rhythms of the natural world: the wrong birds singing at the wrong time, disruption to habitats and breeding, [and] the myriad ways climate change is causing a derangement of the seasons.’ What came out of lockdown for Rutt was The Eternal Season, in which he both celebrates the summer season, and observes the ‘delicate series of disorientations that we may not always notice.’

In his introduction, Rutt writes: ‘Birds have always been the focus of my passion for nature and they always will be. But the summer does not belong to them alone; there is a full spectrum of life to consider that can seem largely absent from the winter months: the butterflies and dragonflies that add colour to the days; the moths that haunt the warm nights and the swooping bats that pick them off; the unforgettable arachnids and amphibians that lurk in ignored corners.’ He goes on, commenting: ‘Our summer wildlife is the filter through which we can see what’s really happening in our seasons’, as it tends to have a far-reaching knock-on effect. As Rutt sets out, ‘A bird you look at is no longer just a bird but one of an intertwined series of forces, capable of being expressed as statistics, that explain the terribly restless, indecent state of the world.’

One of the real strengths of The Eternal Season regards the way in which Rutt writes of his surroundings. On his ‘allowed daily exercise’, as he walks in a Bedfordshire wood, he recounts: ‘A muntjac disappeared through a brief blizzard of blossom, driven from the blackthorn by the breeze. Cowslips and primroses and their hybrid, the false oxlips, spangled the edge of the track with stars of lemon and butter. Leafwards, I slipped into a green hypnosis.’

As a ‘locked-down naturalist’ trying to make the best of things, he turns to the Internet, exploring by way of Google and Ordnance Survey maps. He writes at length about the challenges climate change has already wrought in Britain, and muses about what it may mean for our native and visiting species in the future. He makes one continually aware of ways in which things are changing, and how something which alters somewhere else in the world can have such a serious knock-on effect in Britain. Everything is connected, and the ruin of one thing could bring about the ruin of all. Throughout, Rutt quotes the results of surveys, as well as a wealth of other naturalists, and even novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner.

Each chapter here focuses on a single species, from the little owl to the natterjack toad. He notices the species around him changing, along with their abundance. Throughout, there are stark warnings, and mixed feelings. On the walks which he takes around the Bedfordshire countryside, he comments: ‘It was the first cuckoo I had seen in two years. The first yellow wagtail in three, corn bunting in four… And this feeling is incredibly complicated for me. I’m excited, as birds always make me; I’m delighted to be seeing these species when I had begun to wonder if I would ever see them again. But here is the kicker: it’s one pair of yellow wagtails, one individual cuckoo, a few pairs of corn bunting… The species might be here but their numbers are low, the birds being spread even thinner. And it feels as if I’m writing my own archive of loss, walking through a living museum before it’s sealed off behind the glass case of history, a display of the future dead and gone.’

Rutt’s prose is intelligent and accessible, and it is clear to see that he is a rising star in the world of nature writing. The Eternal Season is a book for every single person who has sought out the nature around them in the last, strange year; who has mused upon the species which they have seen in their local parks; and who are more aware than ever of which species exist, and which thrive, around them. Rutt is acutely aware of what we may stand to lose, and what may have been lost already. A feeling of hope, however, suffuses the whole – and what more do we need after the last year, but hope?

6

Summer Reading Plans

I have been so good for the last month whilst on a book-buying ban, but ended up being sucked in with cheaper prices on AwesomeBooks, as well as a 20% off discount code on Monday.  I could have been far more restrained – as is evident from the fifteen books which I ordered – but whilst looking at my to-read list, I found that I had hardly any books which seemed like summer-appropriate reading.

I tend to read on whims, picking up what I want to as and when, but have had some rigidity in my reading life this year, what with my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge.  I have a few holidays and trips away planned over the next few months, so thought it might be a nice idea to make a list of those books which I am planning to read over the summer, and my reasoning for them.

Madame Solario by Gladys Huntington is yet another gorgeous Persephone book  9781906784355which my parents bought for me last year, and which I’ve not yet read.  It is set in Italy – one of my favourite holiday destinations – in 1906, and looks like the perfect immersive read for summertime.  Likewise, Margaret Forster‘s Diary of an Ordinary Woman has been on my to-read shelf for quite a while now, and I so adored her novel Have the Men Had Enough? that I want to pick it up soon.  Treveryan by Angela du Maurier is set in Cornwall, one of my favourite reading locations.  I am so intrigued by the lesser-known du Maurier’s writing, and how it may compare to Daphne’s. Eden’s Garden by Juliet Greenwood is set in Cornwall too, as well as in Wales, and I am waiting for the perfect sunny day in which to devour it in one sitting, as I pretty much did with her novel We That Are Left.

9780307947697The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart is a novel which I’ve had my eye on for such a long time, and I was finally able to find a heavily discounted secondhand copy a couple of months ago.  Her books are amusing and intelligently written, and perfect to race through on holiday.  I have a review copy of Non Pratt‘s Truth or Dare to read, which tells the same story from two different perspectives, and looks wonderfully intriguing.  Fenny by Lettice Cooper is about a schoolteacher who , but I was so eager to pick up a copy after reading Ali‘s review; it’s only taken me six years to do so!

I like to read crime and thrillers over the summer particularly, and have a few to choose from: Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie, Singing in the Shrouds by Ngaio Marsh, My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart, and The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena.

Other novels I really want to get to during the summer are Ursula, Under by Ingrid 9780143035459Hill, about a young girl who becomes trapped in a well; The Big House by Helena McEwen, This House of Grief by Helen Garner, and Devotion by Nell Leyshon, all of which are about loss; The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud, as I have so enjoyed her short stories in the past; Panic by Lauren Oliver, as I feel that she does thoughtful thrillers rather well; The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, as I loved her latest novel, The Burning Girl; Maria Semple‘s Where’d You Go Bernadette, which many fellow readers have loved; and Louise O’Neill‘s Asking for It, which seems to have been all over my Goodreads and Booktube feeds of late.

9781408802816I am aware that there is no non-fiction on my list thus far, so I am including Eudora Welty‘s One Writer’s Beginnings, which I hope will give me a much-needed kick to focus on my own creative writing (well, once my thesis is out of the way, that is!).  I also have a copy of the much-anticipated Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys, which many reviewers whom I admire have raved about.  Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Girlhood Friend by Hannah Goslar and Alison Leslie Gold is also highly anticipated.

I have focused on rather easy reads, it seems, but whilst in the midst of University work, it is nice to know that I’ll be able to pick something a little easier up than dense theoretical books.

Have you read any of these?  Which books are on your summer wishlist?

Purchase from The Book Depository

2

Summertime List: Books About Gardens

I stumbled upon a Goodreads list – as any user inevitably does at one point or another whilst browsing the vast site – and thought that it would be a perfect one to transcribe for the blog. Whilst I haven’t read many of these books (those which I have read are followed by my star rating), they all sound wonderful, and are undoubtedly perfect choices for this time of year.  The following are about the garden rather than the practice of gardening; they evoke old England, and the charm of admiring what one has planted.  I have focused only upon the first fifteen (and therefore the most popular) books voted for on this list; you can see the rest of it here.  For each, I have added the blurb as shown on Goodreads.

1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett ***** 231815
When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.  The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. One day, with the help of two unexpected companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?

 

2. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton *****
A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. The Forgotten Garden is a captivating, atmospheric and compulsively readable story of the past, secrets, family and memory from the international best-selling author Kate Morton.  Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra’s life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.  Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace—the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century—Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself.

 

14702453. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce ***
Lying awake at night, Tom hears the old grandfather clock downstairs strike . . . eleven . . . twelve . . . thirteen . . . Thirteen! When Tom gets up to investigate, he discovers a magical garden. A garden that everyone told him doesn’t exist. A garden that only he can enter . . .

 

4. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Voodoo. Decadent socialites packing Lugars. Cotillions. With towns like Savannah, Georgia, who needs Fellini? Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil takes two narrative strands–each worthy of its own book–and weaves them together to make a single fascinating tale. The first is author John Berendt’s loving depiction of the characters and rascals that prowled Savannah in the eight years it was his home-away-from-home. “Eccentrics thrive in Savannah,” he writes, and proves the point by introducing Luther Diggers, a thwarted inventor who just might be plotting to poison the town’s water supply; Joe Odom, a jovial jackleg lawyer and squatter nonpareil; and, most memorably, the Lady Chablis, whom you really should meet for yourself. Then, on May 2, 1981, the book’s second story line commences, when Jim Williams, a wealthy antique dealer and Savannah’s host with the most, kills his “friend” Danny Hansford. (If those quotes make you suspect something, you should.) Was it self-defense, as Williams claimed–or murder? The book sketches four separate trials, during which the dark side of this genteel party town is well and truly plumbed.

 

5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen *** 11758562
Taken from the poverty of her parents’ home, Fanny Price is brought up with her rich cousins at Mansfield Park, acutely aware of her humble rank and with only her cousin Edmund as an ally. When Fanny’s uncle is absent in Antigua, Mary Crawford and her brother Henry arrive in the neighbourhood, bringing with them London glamour and a reckless taste for flirtation. As her female cousins vie for Henry’s attention, and even Edmund falls for Mary’s dazzling charms, only Fanny remains doubtful about the Crawfords’ influence and finds herself more isolated than ever. A subtle examination of social position and moral integrity, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s most profound works.

 

6. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen ***
The women of the Waverley family — whether they like it or not — are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them.   For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother’s unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town’s constraints. Using her grandmother’s mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business — and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life — upon the family’s peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire’s routine existence upside down. With Sydney’s homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire’s own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways.  As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney’s child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.

 

113172897. Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim *****
“Elizabeth and Her German Garden,” a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, was popular and frequently reprinted during the early years of the 20th century. “Elizabeth and Her German Garden” is a year’s diary written by Elizabeth about her experiences learning gardening and interacting with her friends. It includes commentary on the beauty of nature and on society, but is primarily humorous due to Elizabeth’s frequent mistakes and her idiosyncratic outlook on life. The story is full of sweet, endearing moments. Elizabeth was an avid reader and has interesting comments on where certain authors are best read; she tells charming stories of her children and has a sometimes sharp sense of humor in regards to the people who will come and disrupt her solitary lifestyle.

 

8. A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
All the joys and sorrows, fears and fantasies of an imaginative solitary child are brought together in this edition of a much-loved classic. Stevenson’s timeless verses bear witness to a happy childhood and create a treasure garden for every child to explore.

 

9. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh ***** 10032672
A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.  The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.  Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

 

10. The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre
The Constant Gardener is a magnificent exploration of the new world order by one of the most compelling and elegant storytellers of our time. The novel opens in northern Kenya with the gruesome murder of Tessa Quayle–young, beautiful, and dearly beloved to husband Justin. When Justin sets out on a personal odyssey to uncover the mystery of her death, what he finds could make him not only a suspect among his own colleagues, but a target for Tessa’s killers as well.   A master chronicler of the betrayals of ordinary people caught in political conflict, John le Carre portrays the dark side of unbridled capitalism as only he can. In The Constant Gardener he tells a compelling, complex story of a man elevated through tragedy as Justin Quayle–amateur gardener, aging widower, and ineffectual bureaucrat–discovers his own natural resources and the extraordinary courage of the woman he barely had time to love.

 

1383911. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?

 

12. The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
A 20-year-old Chinese painter named Stephen is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout with tuberculosis. Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper and a master gardener. Over the course of a remarkable year, Stephen learns Matsu’s secret and gains not only physical strength, but also profound spiritual insight. Matsu is a samurai of the soul, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel and arbitrary world, and Stephen is a noble student, learning to appreciate Matsu’s generous and nurturing way of life and to love Matsu’s soul-mate, gentle Sachi, a woman afflicted with leprosy.

 

13. The Virgin in the Garden by A.S. Byatt 253300
The Virgin in the Garden is a wonderfully erudite entertainment in which enlightenment and sexuality, Elizabethan drama and contemporary comedy, intersect richly and unpredictably.

 

14. The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield *****
Written during the final stages of her illness, “The Garden Party and Other Stories” is full of a sense of urgency and was Katherine Mansfield’s last collection to be published during her lifetime. The fifteen stories, many of them set in her native New Zealand, vary in length and tone from the opening story, “At the Bay, ” a vivid impressionistic evocation of family life, to the short, sharp sketch “Mrs. Brill, ” in which a lonely woman’s precarious sense of self is brutally destroyed when she overhears two young lovers mocking her. Sensitive revelations of human behaviour, these stories reveal Mansfield’s supreme talent as an innovator who freed the story from its conventions and gave it a new strength and prestige.

 

3117315. Villette by Charlotte Bronte *****
Arguably Brontë’s most refined and deeply felt work, Villette draws on her profound loneliness following the deaths of her three siblings. Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Villette,flees from an unhappy past in England to begin a new life as a teacher at a French boarding school in the great cosmopolitan capital of Villette. Soon Lucy’s struggle for independence is overshadowed by both her friendship with a worldly English doctor and her feelings for an autocratic schoolmaster. Brontë’s strikingly modern heroine must decide if there is any man in her society with whom she can live and still be free.

 

How many of these have you read?  Do any of them pique your interest?

10

Our Big Summer Readathon: Truman Capote

Summers are perfect for reading great swathes of books, and what could be better than focusing upon a writer whom everyone has heard of, but whom nobody really seems to read?  I am sure that a lot of you will be familiar with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, but have you read any of Truman Capote’s short stories before?  Are you familiar with his other novella, The Grass Harp?  Do you know what his recently discovered novel, Summer Crossing, is about?

Whether you answered no to any of the above questions, or if you squealed a ‘yes’ and are excited about what may be coming next, we would love you to join us with our Big Summer Readathon.  Lizzi from theselittlewords and I have decided to read through a lot of American author Truman Capote’s work over the next two months, and will be scheduling posts with our reviews on the last two days of both July and August.  Both of us are using the fabulous A Capote Reader as our starting point, and shall be reading Summer Crossing as an accompanying volume (the review for this will be posted in mid-August).

Our Big Summer Readathon schedule is as follows:

July:
Novella – The Grass Harp
Short stories – ‘Miriam’, ‘My Side of the Matter’, ‘A Tree of Night’, ‘Jug of Silver’, ‘The Headless Hawk’, ‘Shut a Final Door’

August:
Novella – Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Short stories – ‘Master Misery’, ‘Children on Their Birthdays’, ‘A Diamond Guitar’, ‘House of Flowers’, ‘Among the Paths to Eden’, ‘Mojave’
Novel – Summer Crossing

 

If you would like any more information about our readathon, please visit Lizzi’s wonderful introductory post.  If you are planning to join us, please do let us know!  Our aim is to get as many people to read Capote’s fabulous work as we can, and we would love to hear if you want to get involved with our project.