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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?

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Really Underrated Books (Part Five)

The final part of this week’s Really Underrated Books brings with it a question – which is the book which has caught your attention the most this week?

1. The Unpossessed by Tess Slesinger 253668
Tess Slesinger’s 1934 novel, The Unpossessed details the ins and outs and ups and downs of left-wing New York intellectual life and features a cast of litterateurs, layabouts, lotharios, academic activists, and fur-clad patrons of protest and the arts. This cutting comedy about hard times, bad jobs, lousy marriages, little magazines, high principles, and the morning after bears comparison with the best work of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy.

 

2. Postmortem: How Medical Examiners Explain Suspicious Deaths by Stefan Timmermans
As elected coroners were replaced by medical examiners with scientific training, the American public became fascinated with their work. From the grisly investigations showcased on highly rated television shows like CSI to the bestselling mysteries that revolve around forensic science, medical examiners have never been so visible—or compelling. They, and they alone, solve the riddle of suspicious death and the existential questions that come with it. Why did someone die? Could it have been prevented? Should someone be held accountable? What are the implications of ruling a death a suicide, a homicide, or an accident? Can medical examiners unmask the perfect crime?  Postmortem goes deep inside the world of medical examiners to uncover the intricate web of social, legal, and moral issues in which they operate. Stefan Timmermans spent years in a medical examiner’s office following cases, interviewing examiners, and watching autopsies. While he relates fascinating cases here, he is also more broadly interested in the cultural authority and responsibilities that come with being a medical examiner. How medical examiners speak to the living on behalf of the dead is Timmermans’s subject, revealed here in the day-to-day lives of the examiners themselves.

 

3. The Devil’s Footprints by John Burnside 3057525
Once, on a winter’s night many years ago, after a heavy snow, the devil passed through the Scottish fishing town of Coldhaven, leaving a trail of dark hoofprints across the streets and roofs of the sleeping town.  Michael Gardiner has lived in Coldhaven all his life, but still feels like an outsider, a blow-in. When Moira Birnie decides that her abusive husband is the devil and then kills herself and her two young sons, a terrible chain of events begins. Michael’s infatuation with Moira’s teenage daughter takes him on a journey towards a defined fate, where he is forced to face his present and then, finally, his past…

 

4. Awake in the Dark by Shira Nayman
Bold and deeply affecting, “Awake in the Dark” is a provocative and haunting work of fiction about who we are and how we are formed by history. These luminous stories portray the contemporary lives of the children of Holocaust victims and perpetrators as they struggle with the legacy of their parents — their questions of identity, family, and faith. “Awake in the Dark” is peopled by characters embarking on journeys of self-discovery; they unearth the past and the secrets that shaped them. In “The House on Kronenstrasse,” a woman returns to Germany to find her childhood home; in “The Porcelain Monkey,” the shocking origins of an Orthodox Jewish woman’s faith are revealed; in “The Lamp,” the harrowing experiences of a young woman leave her with the perfect daughter and a strange light; and in “Dark Urgings of the Blood,” a patient is convinced that she shares a disturbing history with her psychiatrist.

 

5124915. Lucky in the Corner by Carol Anshaw
Nora and Fern’s relationship as mother and daughter is a tumble of love and distrust. To Nora, her daughter is an enigma — at the same time wonderful and unfindable. Fern sees her mother as treacherous — for busting up their family to move in with her lover, Jeanne. As their lives become complicated by the arrivals of a skateboarding boyfriend for Fern, a shadowy affair for Nora, a baby in need of a family, and by the failing health of Lucky, their beloved dog, this mother and daughter find their way onto a fresh footing with each other.

 

6. I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops by Hanan Al-Shaykh
At the intersection of tradition and modernity, East and West, childhood and adulthood, the characters in this book find their way through the shifting and ambiguous power relationships that change the landscape of the modern Arab world.

 

7. Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi (one of my personal favourites!) 7516243
A single mother takes her two sons on a trip to the seaside. They stay in a hotel, drink hot chocolate, and go to the funfair. She wants to protect them from an uncaring and uncomprehending world. She knows that it will be the last trip for her boys.  Beside the Sea is a haunting and thought-provoking story about how a mother’s love for her children can be more dangerous than the dark world she is seeking to keep at bay. It’s a hypnotizing look at an unhinged mind and the cold society that produced it. With language as captivating as the story that unfolds, Véronique Olmi creates an intimate portrait of madness and despair that won’t soon be forgotten

 

8. Focus by Ingrid Ricks
In her powerful memoir, Ingrid Ricks delves into the shock of discovering at age thirty-seven that she was in the advanced stages of Retinitis Pigmentosa, a devastating degenerative eye disease that doctors said would eventually steal her remaining eyesight. Focus takes readers into Ingrid’s world as she faces the crippling fear of not being able to see her two young daughters grow up, of becoming a burden to her husband, of losing the career she loves, and of being robbed of the independence that defines her.  Ultimately, Focus is about Ingrid’s quest to fix her eyes that ends up fixing her life. Through an eight-year journey marked by a trip to South Africa to write about AIDS orphans, a four-day visit with a doctor who focuses on whole-body health, a relationship-changing confrontation with her husband and a life-changing lesson from her daughters, Ingrid learns to embrace the moment and see what counts—something no amount of vision loss can take from her.

 

831719. America’s Boy by Wade Rouse
‘Wade didn’t quite fit in. While schoolmates had crewcuts and wore Wrangler jeans, Wade styled his hair in imitation of Robbie Benson circa Ice Castles and shopped in the Sears husky section. Wade’s father insisted on calling everyone “honey”—even male gas station attendants. His mother punctuated her conversations with “WHAT?!” and constantly answered herself as though she was being cross-examined. He goes to school with a pack of kids called goat ropers who make the boys from Deliverance look like honor students. And he both loved and hated his perfect older brother.  While other families traveled to Florida and Hawaii for vacation, Wade’s family packed their clothes in garbage bags and drove to their log cabin on Sugar Creek in the Missouri Ozarks. And it is here that Wade found refuge from his everyday struggle to fit in—until a sudden, terrible accident on the Fourth of July took his brother’s life and changed everything.  Equally nostalgic, poignant, funny, and compelling, this is a story of what it is to be normal, what it means to fit in, and what it means to be yourself.’

 

10. The Debut by Anita Brookner
Since childhood Ruth Weiss has been escaping from life into books, and from the hothouse attentions of her tyrannical and eccentric parents into the gentler warmth of lovers and friends. Now Dr. Weiss, at forty, a quiet scholar devoted to the study of Balzac, is convinced that her life has been ruined by literature, and that once again she must make a new start in life.

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