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Books I Wish More People Would Read

I have just come across a Goodreads list entitled ‘Books I Wish More People Would Read’, and have stolen its title for my own purposes here at The Literary Sisters.  A lot of the books which I read seem to slip under the radar, and there are several which I have adored, or very much admired, of late, which I rarely see others reviewing, or even reading.  I thought that I would therefore make a list of six books that I would happily thrust into the hands of every reader whom I meet.  (Please note, it is entirely a coincidence that all of these books were written by women!)

 

185908911. Don’t Go To Sleep in the Dark: Short Stories by Celia Fremlin
Don’t Go to Sleep in the Dark (1972) was the first gathering of Celia Fremlin’s short fiction, a form in which she had published prolifically – for the likes of She, Playmen, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine – while building her reputation as a novelist of psychological suspense.  Female characters predominate in these tales, as does the doom-filled atmosphere that was Fremlin’s metier. She explores her familiar theme of strained mother-child relations, but she also delves into the supernatural realm as well as the psychological. As ever, her capacities for making the everyday unnerving and keeping the reader guessing are richly in evidence.

 

2. May We Shed These Human Bodies by Amber Sparks (review here) 15701573
May We Shed These Human Bodies peers through vast spaces and skies with the world’s most powerful telescope to find humanity: wild and bright and hard as diamonds.

 

321449223. A House on the Rhine by Frances Faviell
Having made her publishing debut with The Dancing Bear, a superb memoir of life in Berlin immediately after World War II, Frances Faviell applied first-hand knowledge to fiction, telling the riveting, harrowing tale of one large, troubled family in Germany nearly a decade after the war’s end.  In a town near Cologne, rebuilding is proceeding at a frantic pace, factory work is plentiful and well-paid, and the dark days of near-starvation have ended. But Joseph, a former Allied prisoner of war, and his enormous brood–his wife having received a medal under the Nazis for bearing more than 10 children–face new problems ranging from the mother’s infidelity, the oldest child’s involvement with a brutal youth gang leader, and a beloved adopted daughter’s plans to marry an American soldier.  Vividly portraying the love and conflict of a large family and the dramatic, sometimes tragic social change of Germany’s postwar recovery, A House on the Rhine is a powerful, heartbreaking tale from the author of the London Blitz memoir A Chelsea Concerto.’

 

4. We That Are Left by Juliet Greenwood 18760917
A privileged young wife on a large Cornwall estate gains responsibility and confidence when her husband leaves to fight overseas. This English home front saga then becomes something more when she leaves for France herself to rescue a friend from danger.

 

9773745. Daughters of the House by Michele Roberts
Booker Prize Finalist, Daughters of the House is Michèle Roberts’ acclaimed novel of secrets and lies revealed in the aftermath of World War II. Thérèse and Leonie, French and English cousins of the same age, grow up together in Normandy. Intrigued by parents’ and servants’ guilty silences and the broken shrine they find in the woods, the girls weave their own elaborate fantasies, unwittingly revealing the village secret and a deep shame that will haunt them in their adult lives.

 

6. The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna 17237713
Aminatta Forna has established herself as one of our most perceptive and uncompromising chroniclers of war and the way it reverberates, sometimes imperceptibly, in the daily lives of those touched by it. With The Hired Man, she has delivered a tale of a Croatian village after the War of Independence, and a family of newcomers who expose its secrets.  Duro is off on a morning’s hunt when he sees something one rarely does in Gost: a strange car. Later that day, he overhears its occupants, a British woman, Laura, and her two children, who have taken up residence in a house Duro knows well. He offers his assistance getting their water working again, and soon he is at the house every day, helping get it ready as their summer cottage, and serving as Laura’s trusted confidant.  But the other residents of Gost are not as pleased to have the interlopers, and as Duro and Laura’s daughter Grace uncover and begin to restore a mosaic in the front that has been plastered over, Duro must be increasingly creative to shield the family from the town’s hostility, and his own past with the house’s former occupants. As the inhabitants of Gost go about their days, working, striving to better themselves and their town, and arguing, the town’s volatile truths whisper ever louder.

 

 

Have I convinced you to pick up any of these unfairly neglected novels?

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Underrated Novelists Week: Ursula Orange

It was entirely unintentional that all of the authors I have put forward for this week’s Underrated Novelists compilation are women, but so it goes.  Ursula Orange is my fifth and final choice in this showcase; she has recently been reprinted by Dean Street Press, but still seems relatively unknown.

Ursula Orange (1909-1955)
Nationality: British

Biography: orange
Very little is known about Ursula Orange.  She was born in 1909 to Hugh William Orange, who received a knighthood for his contributions to education in India.  She married Dennis Tindall, with whom she gave birth to a daughter, the novelist Gillian Tindall, who has suggested that her mother committed suicide.  Orange worked as an assistant secretary for the British Poetry Society.

Bibliography:
Begin Again (1936)
To Sea in a Sieve (1937)
Tom Tiddler’s Ground (1941)
Have Your Cake (1942)
Company in the Evening (1944)
Portrait of Adrian (1945)

9781911579274Book to begin with: Begin Again
‘Oxford, it appeared, if it did not seem to have fitted her for any precise occupation, had at least unfitted her for a great many things. In her charming and incisive debut novel, Ursula Orange focuses her sharp eye on four young women only recently down from Oxford. Jane and Florence live in London, working at office jobs, the latter channelling her excess energy into a dreadfully earnest novel of her own. Sylvia remains at home, shocking her family with theories of sexual and social liberation. And Leslie, as the novel opens, idealizes the other three, as she tries to convince her mother to let her use her small nest egg to attend art school in London. As the four friends balance their youthful ideals with the realities of work and romance in 1930s England, Orange offers hilarious and thoughtful perspectives on the quandaries of educated, ambitious women in a world not yet ready for them. ‘

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Underrated Novelists Week: Eve Chase

Eve Chase is arguably my most contemporary choice for my Underrated Novelists Week; whilst Beatrice Colin is also a contemporary author, Chase has had work published most recently.  I have only read one of Chase’s books to date, but was absolutely wowed by it, and cannot wait to get stuck into her debut novel, and whatever is coming next.

Eve Chase (real name unknown)
Lives: Oxford, United Kingdom

Biography: 8934674
Eve Chase is the pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the press within the UK.  She likes to write about families, and lives with her own in Oxford.

Bibliography:
Black Rabbit Hall (2015)
– The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde (2017; also published as The Wildling Sisters)

Book to begin with: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde
31851231Nineteen fifty-nine. The four Wilde sisters, Isla, Violet, Maggie and Dot, are spending the summer in the Cotswolds, at Applecote Manor. Affectionately called the Wildlings, the sisters are exceptionally close, yet this year there’s a sense of nostalgia. Things are changing.  Except for Applecote itself, a house that seems frozen in time. The sisters haven’t been there in five years; not since their cousin Audrey mysteriously vanished.  But as they discover Applecote’s dark secrets and new temptations, the sisters begin to grow apart. Until the night everything spirals out of control and the Wildlings form a bond far thicker than blood . . .

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Underrated Novelists Week: Penelope Mortimer

Penelope Mortimer is my third choice for this week’s Underrated Novelists Week.  I have only read one of her books to date, The Pumpkin Eater, as most are proving quite difficult to get hold of, but I recently reread the aforementioned tome, and found even more to enjoy and startle me.

Penelope Mortimer (nee Fletcher; 1918-1999)
Born in: Flintshire, Wales
Died in: Kensington, London
Education: University College London

Biography: penelopemortimer_thumbnail
Penelope Mortimer had a rather unsettled childhood, moving between many different schools, and suffering sexually abuse by her clergyman father.  She attended University College London, but left after just one year.  She married twice and had extramarital affairs, giving birth to six children in all, by four different men.  She suffered frequent bouts of depression, and in 1962, the year in which The Pumpkin Eater was written, agreed to an abortion and sterilisation at her then husband’s urging, something which is reflected within this highly-autobiographical novel.  Career-wise, she worked as a journalist, with work appearing frequently in The New Yorker, and an agony aunt column in The Daily Mail.  She died from cancer at the age of eighty-one.

Bibliography:
Johanna (1947; as Penelope Dimont)
A Villa in Summer (1954)
The Bright Prison (1956)
Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (1958; reprinted by Persephone Books)
The Pumpkin Eater (1962)
My Friend Says It’s Bulletproof (1968)
The Home (1971)
Long Distance (1974)
Saturday Lunch With the Brownings (1977; short stories)
About Time (1979; autobiography)
The Handyman (1983)
– About Time Too
(1993; autobiography)

26021671Book to begin with: The Pumpkin Eater
“The Pumpkin Eater “is a surreal black comedy about the wages of adulthood and the pitfalls of parenthood. A nameless woman speaks, at first from the precarious perch of a therapist’s couch, and her smart, wry, confiding, immensely sympathetic voice immediately captures and holds our attention. She is the mother of a vast, swelling brood of children, also nameless, and the wife of a successful screenwriter, Jake Armitage. The Armitages live in the city, but they are building a great glass tower in the country in which to settle down and live happily ever after. But could that dream be nothing more than a sentimental delusion? At the edges of vision the spectral children come and go, while our heroine, alert to the countless gradations of depression and the innumerable forms of betrayal, tries to make sense of it all: doctors, husbands, movie stars, bodies, grocery lists, nursery rhymes, messes, aging parents, memories, dreams, and breakdowns. How to pull it all together? Perhaps you start by falling apart.

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Underrated Novelists Week: Josephine Winslow Johnson

My Underrated Novelists Week continues with Josephine Winslow Johnson, an absolutely wonderful author, whom barely anyone seems to have heard of, despite her winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, Now in November.

41cx2tqi5ll-_ux250_Josephine Winslow Johnson (1910-1990)
Born in: Kirkwood, Missouri
Died in: Batavia, Ohio
Education: Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

Biography:
Josephine Johnson attended Washington University between 1926 and 1931, but did not earn a degree.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for her first novel, when she was just twenty-four years old.  Johnson went on to publish several books, before marrying Grant G. Gannon in 1942, and moving to Iowa City.  She taught at the University of Iowa for three years, before giving birth to one son and three daughters.  She and her husband moved again, from Iowa to Hamilton County in Ohio, and finally settled in Clermont County in the same state.  She died of pneumonia at the age of seventy-nine.

Bibliography:
Now in November (1934)
Winter Orchard and Other Stories (1936)
Jordanstown (1937)
Year’s End (1939; poetry)
Paulina Pot (1939; children’s)
Wildwood (1947)
The Dark Traveler (1963)
The Sorcerer’s Son and Other Stories (1965)
The Inland Island (1969; essays)
Seven Houses (1973; memoir)
The Circle of Seasons (1974)

Book to begin with: Now in November 2702515
Brilliant, evocative, poetic, savage, this Pulitzer Prize-winning first novel (1934) written when Josephine Winslow Johnson was only 24, depicts a white, middle-class urban family that is turned into dirt-poor farmers by the Depression and the great drought of the thirties. The novel moves through a single year and, at the same time, a decade of years, from the spring arrival of the family at their mortgaged farm to the winter 10 years later, when the ravages of drought, fire, and personal anguish have led to the deaths of two of the five. Like Ethan Frome, the relatively brief, intense story evokes the torment possible among people isolated and driven by strong feelings of love and hate that, unexpressed, lead inevitably to doom. Reviewers in the thirties praised the novel, calling its prose “profoundly moving music,” expressing incredulity “that this mature style and this mature point of view are those of a young women in her twenties,” comparing the book to “the luminous work of Willa Cather,” and, with prescience, suggesting that it “has that rare quality of timelessness which is the mark of first-rate fiction.”

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Underrated Novelists Week: Beatrice Colin

Even the most discerning reader can walk into a bookshop and be confronted by authors he or she has never heard of.  I am always surprised when, on closing the pages of a wonderful novel, I check the Goodreads page for that particular tome in order to upload my rating and review, and barely anyone has read it.  I thought therefore that I would dedicate this week to discussing five underrated novelists, whose work I very much enjoy, but who do not seem to be that well known in the literary world (at least in the circles that I move in, anyway!).  For each novelist, I will offer biographical information, a complete bibliography, and the blurb of my favourite novel by them.

 

Beatrice Colin

Born: London
Lives: Glasgow

Biographical information: A former arts and features journalist, she also writes novels for adults, children, short stories, radio plays for the BBC. She has spoken at numerous book festivals, taught at Arvon and was a judge and mentor for the Scottish Boom Trust’s New Writers Award.

Bibliography:
Nude Untitled (2001)
Disappearing Act (2002)
The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite (2008; also entitled The Glimmer Palace)
The Songwriter (2010)
Pyrate’s Boy (children’s; 2013)
To Capture What We Cannot Keep (2016)

Begin with: The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite 6084332
The debaucherous celebration of the cabaret-era. The magical ascent of cinema. The deprivation of World War I and the build-up to World War II. Set against the rise and fall of Berlin and the innovations in art that accompanied it all, The Glimmer Palace brilliantly weaves together the story of one orphan girl’s remarkable journey from poverty to film stardom, with an illuminating account of an astonishing history.

As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. The illegitimate, soon orphaned daughter of a cabaret performer, she lands at a Catholic orphanage where she finds refuge and the first in a string of friendships that will change the direction of her life. When fellow orphan Hanne takes Lilly beyond their stone confines, introducing her to the seedy glamour of Berlin’s notorious nightlife, it begins for Lillly a trajectory of reinvention. From urchin to maid, teenage war bride, tingle-tangle bargirl, model, and script typist, Lilly is eventually transformed into one of Germany’s leading film stars and a partner in a remarkable love story that will span decades and continents—and be inextricable from the history unfolding around it.

Gripping, seductive, and mastefully written, The Glimmer Palace is a page-turning story of glitter and splendor, drama and love, friendship and identity. The story of an extraordinary heroine living in an extraordinary time, it is vivid and surprising in its telling, intelligent and ambitious in its scope, sad and beautiful and unforgettable.’

Author website: http://www.beatricecolin.co.uk/

 

Which authors do you very much enjoy, who could be categorised as underrated?

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Furrowed Middlebrow

I’m sure that a lot of you are already familiar with Furrowed Middlebrow‘s fantastic and comprehensive ‘British Women Writers of Fiction, 1910-1960’ list (here).  If not, US blogger Scott has compiled an enormous list of just what it says above; British women writers, both popular and forgotten.  He has recently teamed up with Dean Street Press to bring some of the more neglected female authors back into the public eye, making their work more easily accessible to the modern reader.

With this in mind, I have perused the list and picked out ten novels which I very much like the look of, and will try my best to find in the weeks to come.  I would love nothing more than to work my way through Scott’s entire list, but this seems a little unrealistic, particularly with a thesis to write, and after yesterday’s announcement that I’m not doing that well with 2017’s reading challenges!

I have chosen books which I have never heard discussed for this list, and whilst all of the Dean Street Press publications (yes, all of them) appeal to me, I have deliberately not included any of them.  (That said, please go and read Ursula Orange and Frances Faviell immediately.  They are fantastic.)  For many of my choices, I have been unable to find a blurb, but have used the information which Scott has very helpfully written alongside his entries.

1. Perronelle by Valentina Hawtrey
This 1904 novel is set within fifteenth-century Paris, and is by an author who received most success with a translation of a book on Mary Magdalene.  You can read a 1904 review of the novel on the New York Times‘ site (here).

2. Island Farm by Hilda Brearley 51rd5fktvjl-_sx333_bo1204203200_
This children’s book was published in 1940, and was the first of the author’s three novels.  I cannot find much information about it aside from the following, but it sounds quirky and Enid Blyton-esque; what’s not to like?:  ‘3 children are the family of 2 unconventional archaeologists, and are sent to stay at an east-coast farmhouse.’

3. The Chinese Goose by Jean Edminson (aka Helen Robertson)
This 1960 novel sounds wonderfully strange; it is a mystery novel which revolves around a woman killed by swans.  I’ve never read anything quite like it, but am suitably intrigued!

4. Alice by Elizabeth Eliot
Alice was published in 1950, and compared to Nancy Mitford.  Scott deems it ‘clever’ and ‘darkly humorous’.  Kirkus Review writes the following: ‘A first novel which has considerable charm, an insouciant brightness, and a definite knowledge of the rather worldly world from which it derives- the indolent, elegant upper classes in England between the wars. As told by Margaret, her oldest friend, this follows the story of Alice from the time when they attend a rather impossible finishing school. Everything Alice does goes badly; she seems attuned to failure in her search for emotional security, the only thing she wants. The first boy she loves is appropriated by her older sister; she marries Cassius Skeffington, a self-absorbed, self-indulgent exquisite; she has an affair with a bluff but bad-tempered older man; and as finally she makes a success in the theatre, she obliterates reality when she loses her memory, her identity… The early scenes here, of both these jeunes filles en fleur and their devastating deflation of their elders and betters are highly entertaining; and if the wit here is more disarming and not quite as deadly as Nancy Mitford’s- who deals with much this same type of milieu- there should be a parallel public.’

vaughan-thinkofnoughttitlepage5. A Thing of Nought by Hilda Vaughan
This 1934 novel is Vaughan’s most famous, and is set in her native Wales.  It tells a couple who fall in love, but have to be separated when Penry Price, the youngest of five sons of a farming family, has to go to Australia in order to make enough money to marry his sweetheart.  Scott’s beguiling review of A Thing of Nought can be found here.

6. The Two Windows by Mary Cleland
I can find hardly any information about this 1922 novel, but Scott has found a charming quote from the Queenslander, which deems it ‘something fragrant, delicate, and altogether charming’.

7. The House by the Sea by Jon Godden
Jon Godden, real name Winsome Ruth Key Godden, was the older sister of the far more famous Rumer.  She wrote twelve novels of her own, and the siblings also co-authored several tomes.  This particular novel is about a woman named Edwina, who is able to embark on her own, free life after being left some money.  The lovely Jane at Beyond Eden Rock wrote an utterly splendid review of The House by the Sea, which can be found here.

8. Before the Wind by Janet Laing

Before the Wind is a 1918 novel, an ‘energetic comedy’, which focuses upon a young woman who serves as a companion to ‘two eccentric women in wartime Scotland’.  It sounds as though it includes everything I look for in a novel, and I shall be very pleased indeed when I can find my own copy!

9. Sallypark by Margaret Hassett 35490183
This entertaining story by the author of ‘Educating Elizabeth’ etc., tells of the experience of Mrs. Warmbath, a widow, when visiting her cousins the Hartes in Cork.  The atmosphere at Sallypark is extremely well done. The father is a local doctor, who keeps his three daughters in subjection and refuses to let any of them marry; the daughters, while paying respect to their father, carry on their love affairs behind his back; Mrs. Warmbath, against her will, gets involved in these affairs, and manages the father so successfully that the family become suspicious of her motive.  However all ends well in this highly amusing tale.

10. The Tinsel November by Julia Rhys
This 1962 children’s book is wonderfully described as as: “A fantasy tale of a gloomy All Hallow’s Eve, an old English house, some mysterious antique marionettes and a magical time of dark November days which will usher in the candle-glow of Christmas.”  It sounds utterly splendid, and I’m hoping that copies won’t be too difficult to find by the time the year is out!

 

Have you read any of these books?  Are you, too, wishing that you could work through the entirety of the Furrowed Middlebrow list, or are you actually in the process of doing so?  If so, which has been your favourite discovery to date?