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Waves of Woolf

I have read an awful lot of novels about aspects of Woolf’s life, as well as many biographies.  I have scoured library shelves, and thought that I’d made a real dent in reading reflections upon and criticisms about her work.  It seems that I was misled in this however, as whilst researching before Christmas, I came across an awful lot of wonderful looking tomes which view Woolf’s life in different ways, and from different angles.  Some are critical, and others not so much.  I thought that I would group these together in a single post, as a wishlist of sorts, as well as a resource for those I know also admire Woolf and her work.

 

1. Virginia Woolf’s Nose: Essays on Biography by Hermione Lee 785085
‘What choices must a biographer make when stitching the pieces of a life into one coherent whole? How do we best create an accurate likeness of a private life from the few articles that linger after death? How do we choose what gets left out? This intriguing and witty collection of essays by an internationally acclaimed biographer looks at how biography deals with myths and legends, what goes missing and what can’t be proved in the story of a life. Virginia Woolf’s Nose presents a variety of case-studies, in which literary biographers are faced with gaps and absences, unprovable stories and ambiguities surrounding their subjects. By looking at stories about Percy Bysshe Shelley’s shriveled, burnt heart found pressed between the pages of a book, Jane Austen’s fainting spell, Samuel Pepys’s lobsters, and the varied versions of Virginia Woolf’s life and death, preeminent biographer Hermione Lee considers how biographers deal with and often utilize these missing body parts, myths, and contested data to “fill in the gaps” of a life story.  In “Shelley’s Heart and Pepys’s Lobsters,” an essay dealing with missing parts and biographical legends, Hermione Lee discusses one of the most complicated and emotionally charged examples of the contested use of biographical sources. “Jane Austen Faints” takes five competing versions of the same dramatic moment in the writer’s life to ask how biography deals with the private lives of famous women. “Virginia Woolf’s Nose” looks at the way this legendary author’s life has been translated through successive transformations, from biography to fiction to film, and suggests there can be no such thing as a definitive version of a life. Finally, “How to End It All” analyzes the changing treatment of deathbed scenes in biography to show how biographical conventions have shifted, and asks why the narrators and readers of life-stories feel the need to give special meaning and emphasis to endings.  Virginia Woolf’s Nose sheds new light on the way biographers bring their subjects to life as physical beings, and offers captivating new insights into the drama of “life-writing.”  Virginia Woolf’s Nose is a witty, eloquent, and funny text by a renowned biographer whose sensitivity to the art of telling a story about a human life is unparalleled–and in creating it, Lee articulates and redefines the parameters of her craft.’

 

1160912. Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground by Gillian Beer
‘Eminent feminist critic Gillian Beer’s work on Woolf, George Eliot, and Victorian scientific discourse are well known and admired. As the essays in this collection affirm, Beer has an extraordinary command of British cultural history, a talent for interpretative prose, and a gift for pursuing genuinely rewarding questions. In Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground,Beer’s essays on Woolf are brought together for the first time in a single volume.  Through her close investigative textual readings, she demonstrates how Woolf’s conceptualizations of history and narrative are intimately bound up with her ways of thinking about women, writing, and social and sexual relations. This is demonstrated through precise, detailed configurations, setting Woolf alongside texts both contemporary and distant, scientific and literary, with the effect that Woolf’s writing is illuminated in entirely new and unexpected contexts.  Beer’s introduction pulls together the critical themes of her work, and renders Woolf accessible to the large audience of scholars interested in English Literature as well as women’s writing.’

 

3. Afterwords: Letters on the Death of Virginia Woolf, edited by Sybil Oldfield 108651
‘On 28 March, 1941, at the height of Hitler’s victories during the Second World War, Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse near her home in Sussex. At the time of her death some voices in the press attacked her for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy and for setting a bad example to the general population. Woolf’s suicide has been the subject of controversy for the media, for literary scholars, and for her biographers ever since.  Just when it may seem that nothing else could be said about Virginia Woolf and the ambiguous details of her suicide, Afterwords provides an entirely fresh perspective. It makes available to a wide readership for the first time letters sent to Leonard Woolf and Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) in the aftermath of the event. This unique volume brings together over two hundred letters from T. S. Eliot, H. G. Wells, May Sarton, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, E. M. Forster, Radclyffe Hall, and many others, including political figures and religious leaders. In addition, informative annotations reveal the identities of many unexpected condolence-letter writers from among the general public.’

 

173470274. Virginia Woolf’s Garden: The Story of the Garden at Monk’s House by Caroline Zoob
‘A chronological account takes the reader through the key events in the lives of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and their deaths. This is allied to an account of the garden and its development, and the creation and development of the key areas of the garden. A wonderful selection of full-colour contemporary photographs, archive photographs, illustrated maps and planting plans take the reader through the various garden ‘rooms’, including the Italian Garden, the  Millstone garden, the Orchard, the Vegetable Garden, the Terrace, the Walled Garden, the Fishpond Garden and the Greenhouses and Conservatories. Throughout there are quotations from Virginia and Leonard’s diaries, giving a vivid account of their plans for, views on and activities in the garden.’

 

5. Travels With Virginia Woolf by Jan Morris 3176787
‘Virginia Woolf had a lively sense of place and delighted in `lighting accidentally. . . upon scenes which would have gone on, have always gone on, will go on, unrecorded, save for this chance glimpse. Following Virginia’s footprints from her beloved Sussex and Cornwall to wartime London, Italy and the Riviera to Greek mountains and the wilds of Spain, Jan Morris intersperses swift verbal sketches of a Greek peasant wedding, a fenland sky, an elderly spinster in a hotel dining room in Italy, or Bognor pier in the rain with her own brief, telling comments on both writer and subject’

 

188436. Women and Writing by Virginia Woolf and Michele Barrett
‘Known for her novels, and for the dubious fame of being a doyenne of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’, in her time Virginia Woolf was highly respected as a major essayist and critic with a special interest and commitment to contemporary literature, and women’s writing in particular. This spectacular collection of essays and other writings does justice to those efforts, offering unique appraisals of Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Duchess of Newcastle, Dorothy Richardson, Charlotte Bronte, and Katherine Mansfield, amongst many others. Gathered too, and using previously unpublished (sometimes even unsigned) journal extracts, are what will now become timeless commentaries on ‘Women and Fiction’, ‘Professions for Women’ and ‘The Intellectual Status of Women’. More than half a century after the publication of A Room Of One’s Own, distinguished scholar Michele Barrett cohesively brings together work which, throughout the years, has been scattered throughout many texts and many volumes. . . affording these very valuable writings the collective distinction they deserve at last.’

 

7. The White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Stephanie Barron 6561286
‘In March 1941, Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in England’s River Ouse. Her body was found three weeks later. What seemed like a tragic ending at the time was, in fact, just the beginning of a mystery. . . .  Six decades after Virginia Woolf’s death, landscape designer Jo Bellamy has come to Sissinghurst Castle for two reasons: to study the celebrated White Garden created by Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West and to recover from the terrible wound of her grandfather’s unexplained suicide. In the shadow of one of England’s most famous castles, Jo makes a shocking find: Woolf’s last diary, its first entry dated the day after she allegedly killed herself.  If authenticated, Jo’s discovery could shatter everything historians believe about Woolf’s final hours. But when the Woolf diary is suddenly stolen, Jo’s quest to uncover the truth will lead her on a perilous journey into the tumultuous inner life of a literary icon whose connection to the White Garden ultimately proved devastating.   Rich with historical detail, The White Garden is an enthralling novel of literary suspense that explores the many ways the past haunts the present–and the dark secrets that lurk beneath the surface of the most carefully tended garden.’

 

Which are your favourite books about Woolf?  Have you read any of these?

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One From the Archive: ‘Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf’ by Norah Vincent ****

Norah Vincent’s Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf is, in simplified terms, a fictionalised biography of one of the twentieth century’s most enduring authors.  Adeline, named as she was after her mother Julia’s deceased sister, was Woolf’s given name.  It was never used within her family, ‘as Julia did not like to use the name full of painful association’.

The structure of Adeline is fitting; Vincent has chosen to split the story into separate ‘Acts’, all of which correspond to Woolf’s own publications; one is entitled ‘Night and Day’, for example, and another ‘The Voyage Out’.   The novel begins on June the 13th 1925, and ends with Woolf’s suicide on the 28th of March 1941.  Throughout, Woolf’s thoughts – all of which have been influenced by her diaries and letters – have been woven into various plotlines from her novels.  Vincent is marvellous at demonstrating in this manner how inspiration strikes.

In Adeline, Woolf comes to life immediately, and the novel’s opening scene is particularly vivid: ‘She is lying full down in the bath, with the tepid water hooding her head and lapping just below the vaulted arches of her nostrils…  She can hear her heart galloping distantly, as it so often does when she is ill, thrumming weakly but so quickly, a soft insistence sucking at the drums of her ears’.  Vincent goes on to describe the way in which, ‘as if startled by the sound of her own voice, she sits upright with a great sloshing urgency, her buttocks squeaking on the porcelain, her knees bucking, legs tensing straight and splashing’.

Vincent is so in control of Woolf’s dual personality; one gets the impression that she comprehends it, and its implications, perfectly: ‘There is the stall of recognition.  She knows this feeling, this progression of decline, she knows it very well, the consciousness curling under the despair, helpless as a page in the fire, succumbing to the grey, darkening possession’.

In Adeline, Woolf and her genius have essentially been placed upon a pedestal, from where they are examined.  Vincent has included some well developed conversations, and has built the plot around Woolf’s relationships with others, from her siblings and husband Leonard, to her affair with Vita Sackville-West.  Famous characters from the Bloomsbury Group have been considered too, from biographer Lytton Strachey to poet T.S. Eliot.

Adeline has been meticulously researched, and its prose is both beautiful and intelligent.  The turns of phrase are deftly created: ‘The world seemed to be speeding up and slowing down, going liquid and solid at the same time, and me with it’.  The literary techniques which Vincent has used – Woolf talking to her child self, for example – work so well, as does the way in which the story follows both Virginia and Leonard.  The Bloomsbury Group, intrinsic as it was in the lives of the Woolfs, has been considered too: ‘Their life, their bond, their work and their circle of closely kept friends are about one thing: maintenance of the necessary illusion’.  So many ideas can be found within the story, and one really gets a feel for Woolf’s world.

The only thing which let the novel down for me are the Americanisms which sometimes creep into the text.  The use of the word ‘gotten’ is rather jarring, and its historical inaccuracy with relation to England during the 1920s and 1930s pulls the novel from its otherwise excellent historical grounding.

Adeline is a must-read for any fans of Woolf, or those with interest in the wider circle of the Bloomsbury Group, providing as it does a stunning and interesting portrayal of an author whose life and legacy still fascinate to this day.

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‘Pepita’ by Vita Sackville-West **

Vita Sackville-West was a prolific author indeed, writing fiction (novels and short stories), poetry, biographical works, travel literature, and a column on gardening, amongst other things.  Vita Sackville-West’s Pepita, a biography which portrays the lives of both her grandmother, Josefa, whom she never met, and her mother Victoria, was first published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s The Hogarth Press in 1937.  The edition which I read was sadly not an original, but it did include rather a lovely introduction written by Alison Hennegan.

Josefa, lovingly known as Pepita to those around her, was ‘the half-gypsy daughter of an 9781784871161old-clothes pedlar from Malaga’, who made her fortune as a dancer, first in Madrid, and then as the ‘toast of all Europe’.  In May 1852, when she was just twenty-two years old, she arrived in London, already having been married and separated.  She soon met and became the ‘contented though severely ostracized mistress of Lionel Sackville-West, an English aristocrat and diplomat’. and bore him five illegitimate children, of whom Sackville-West’s mother was the second eldest.

After Pepita’s death, her nine-year-old daughter Victoria was sent to live in a convent, where she stayed until she was eighteen.  At this juncture, she was summoned to Washington to become ‘mistress’ of her diplomat father’s household.  She goes on to find herself ‘the volatile and wayward mistress of Knole’ in what is termed in Pepita‘s blurb as an ‘unlikely inheritance’.

In her introduction, Hennegan states: ‘For what appears to be a straightforward joint biography of her grandmother and mother becomes the means whereby Vita explores and makes sense for herself of those warring elements in her own past and temperament which most exercised and perplexed her.’  She goes on to say that for Vita, it was her ‘”Spanishness” which enabled her to accept her lesbianism comparatively easily, her “Englishness” which forbade anything as “vulgar” as a public acknowledgement of it.’  Sackville-West herself saw Pepita as a ‘gift to herself of the mother she almost had… [and] an extended love letter to the woman she wanted her mother to be.’  She writes: ‘Pepita, can I re-create you?  Come to me.  Make yourself alive again.  Vitality such as yours cannot perish.  I know so much about you: I have talked to old men who knew you, and they have all told me the same legend of your beauty’ of the section on her grandmother.  She extends this rule of exploration, and the hearsay she has been told, when she writes about, and tries to understand, her mother.

Despite Sackville-West’s proclamation in her own introduction to the book that everything which she has written is true, it seems rather fanciful and unrealistic at times.  Due to the style which Sackville-West has adopted, Pepita reads more like a novel than a work of biography.  The historical context has been used well, and does give one a feel for the backdrop which both Pepita and Victoria lived against.  Sackville-West does recognise that her portrayal of both her mother and grandmother are heavily biased as, of course, one would expect: ‘The one person who never speaks in this whole history, is Pepita herself.  We see her always objectively, never subjectively…  Pepita herself is never explicit.  In order to understand her at all, we have to find a piece from a different part of the puzzle, and fit it in.’

What I found most interesting about this account was the effect which Pepita had upon Lionel.  Sackville-West writes: ‘I mean no disrespect to my grandfather, but I do not think he was the man ever to enjoy dealing with a difficult situation: he far preferred to go away if he decently could and leave it to somebody else.  Hitherto, Pepita had ordered his life, and now [after her death] there was to be an uncomfortable period of transition until Pepita’s eldest daughter was of an age to assume the same responsibility.’  The psychological effects of the First World War which Sackville-West presents are also fascinating.

There is a lot of Vita herself within the book, and not just in the fact that she is writing about her ancestry.   She measures herself against her mother and grandmother at junctures, and is always passing her own opinion about their characters, or the decisions which they made.  Of course she has a strong connection with both of her subjects, but there is nothing objective about this biography; there is not the level of detachment and feeling of truthfulness which I expect of works of this kind.  Sackville-West does not remove her own self from the book enough for it to be anything like a full and far-reaching biography.

Pepita is a relatively entertaining book, but I feel as though it pales in comparison to much of Sackville-West’s other work.  It is difficult to take Pepita at face value, and it lacks that engagement which I have come to expect from Sackville-West’s books.  It is clear that her relationship with her mother was turbulent, but it feels at times as though episodes have been suppressed, or skimmed over.  There is no real explanation as to their relationship which lasts long enough to be entirely satisfying.  Overall, Pepita did not quite live up to my expectations.

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One From the Archive: ‘Virginia Woolf in Manhattan’ by Maggie Gee ****

Championed by bestselling authors such as Jacqueline Wilson and Patrick Ness, Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan was first published in 2014, to great acclaim.  The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, for instance, term it ‘a remarkable feat’ and ‘an exhilarating novel’.

The premise which Gee has focused upon is most inventive: ‘What if Virginia Woolf came back to life in the twenty-first century?’  Rather than simply muse upon this idea, Gee has fashioned quite an original story around it.  A mid-life crisis has befallen her protagonist, bestselling author Angela Lamb.  After her ‘irrepressible’ daughter Gerda has been left at her boarding school, Angela decides to take an impromptu flight to New York in order to ‘pursue her passion for Woolf, whose manuscripts are held in a private collection’.  The following twist ensues: ‘When a bedraggled Virginia Woolf materialises among the bookshelves and is promptly evicted, Angela, stunned, rushes after her on to the streets of Manhattan.’  She soon becomes the chaperone of the novel’s ‘troublesome heroine’, as she tries to adjust to life in the modern – and rather bewildering – world.

The novel begins in an engaging manner, the tone, strong prose and wit of which is sustained throughout: ‘There is thunder as Angela flies to New York with Virginia Woolf in her handbag, lightning crackling off the wings of the plane’.  In Virginia Woolf in Manhattan, Gee writes intelligently.  It is clear to see that she is very practiced at her craft, and is comfortable with being playful in both her choices of vocabulary and turns of phrase.

The whole of Virginia Woolf in Manhattan has a marvellously contemporary feel to it; there are no constraints in terms of the text existing in strict, conformist paragraphs.  I was reminded of Ali Smith at times, with regard to the thought which had clearly been given to the visualisation of the text.  The narrative, too, has been well-handled.  Portions are told from the imagined voices of both Woolf and Angela, and these alternate with the omniscient third person perspective, which gives a wonderful overview.  Virginia Woolf in Manhattan is facetious, creative, and brimming with a plethora of thought-provoking scenes.  It is the first of Gee’s books which I have read, but I can safely say that it certainly will not be the last.

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New Release Wishlist

Since I’ve stopped reviewing books for other websites and publications, I’ve found myself rather out of the loop when it comes to knowing about new releases.  Yes, I can find not-yet-released books on Netgalley easily enough, but it’s not quite the same as browsing book websites and blogs and building that delicious anticipation.  Thus, I have scoured the Internet to bring you a list of ten new releases which I am coveting.

1. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy 51chitfapol-_sx336_bo1204203200_
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness transports us across a sub-continent on a journey of many years. It takes us deep into the lives of its gloriously rendered characters, each of them in search of a place of safety— in search of meaning, and of love.  ​In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around one another, as though they have just met.  A braided narrative of astonishing force and originality, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once a love story and a provocation—a novel as inventive as it is emotionally engaging. It is told with a whisper, in a shout, through joyous tears and sometimes with a bitter laugh. Its heroes, both present and departed, have been broken by the world we live in—and then mended by love. For this reason, they will never surrender.’

 

2. Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss 514dlw-rjgl-_sx323_bo1204203200_
‘Jules Epstein has vanished from the world. He leaves no trace but a rundown flat patrolled by a solitary cockroach, and a monogrammed briefcase abandoned in the desert.  To Epstein’s mystified family, the disappearance of a man whose drive and avidity have been a force to be reckoned with for sixty-eight years marks the conclusion of a gradual fading. This transformation began in the wake of Epstein’s parents’ deaths, and continued with his divorce after more than thirty-five years of marriage, his retirement from a New York legal firm, and the rapid shedding of possessions he’d spent a lifetime accumulating. With the last of his wealth and a nebulous plan, he departs for the Tel Aviv Hilton.  Meanwhile, a novelist leaves her husband and children behind in Brooklyn and checks into the same hotel, hoping that the view of the pool she used to swim in on childhood holidays will unlock her writer’s block. But when a man claiming to be a retired professor of literature recruits her for a project involving Kafka, she is drawn into a mystery that will take her on a metaphysical journey and change her in ways she could never have imagined.  Bursting with life and humour, this is a profound, mesmerising, achingly beautiful novel of metamorphosis and self-realisation – of looking beyond all that is visible towards the infinite.’

 

97817864847343. Five Get Beach Body Ready by Bruno Vincent
‘Enid Blyton’s books are beloved the world over and The Famous Five have been the perennial favourite of her fans. Now, in this new series of Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups, George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy are keen to hone their physiques ready for the summer holidays. All it will take is a bit of effort and willpower …and pulling together as a team. What could possibly stand in their way? True to form, the path to the body beautiful is less straightforward than they hope! ‘

 

4. St Petersburg: Three Centuries of Murderous Desire by Jonathan Miles 9780091959463
‘From Peter the Great to Putin, this is the unforgettable story of St Petersburg – one of the most magical, menacing and influential cities in the world. St Petersburg has always felt like an impossible metropolis, risen from the freezing mists and flooded marshland of the River Neva on the western edge of Russia. It was a new capital in an old country. Established in 1703 by the sheer will of its charismatic founder, the homicidal megalomaniac Peter-the-Great, its dazzling yet unhinged reputation was quickly fashioned by the sadistic dominion of its early rulers. This city, in its successive incarnations – St Petersburg; Petrograd; Leningrad and, once again, St Petersburg – has always been a place of perpetual contradiction. It was a window on to Europe and the Enlightenment, but so much of the glory of Russia was created here: its literature, music, dance and, for a time, its political vision. It gave birth to the artistic genius of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Pavlova and Nureyev. Yet, for all its glittering palaces, fairytale balls and enchanting gardens, the blood of thousands has been spilt on its snow-filled streets. It has been a hotbed of war and revolution, a place of siege and starvation, and the crucible for Lenin and Stalin’s power-hungry brutality. In St Petersburg, Jonathan Miles recreates the drama of three hundred years in this absurd and brilliant city, bringing us up to the present day, when – once more – its fate hangs in the balance. This is an epic tale of murder, massacre and madness played out against squalor and splendour. It is an unforgettable portrait of a city and its people. ‘

 

97807553909535. Tin Man by Sarah Winman
‘The unforgettable and achingly tender new novel from Sarah Winman, author of the international bestseller WHEN GOD WAS A RABBIT and the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller A YEAR OF MARVELLOUS WAYS. ‘Exquisite’ Joanna Cannon It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things. And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael, who are inseparable. And the boys become men, and then Annie walks into their lives, and it changes nothing and everything. Tin Man sees Sarah Winman follow the acclaimed success of When God Was A Rabbit and A Year Of Marvellous Ways with a love letter to human kindness and friendship, loss and living.’

 

6. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong 512bsgqt67tl-_sx331_bo1204203200_
‘Freshly disengaged from her fiance and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.   Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life.’

 

510v2bugqkyl-_sx333_bo1204203200_7. The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
‘The text message arrives in the small hours of the night. It’s just three words: I need you.
Isa drops everything, takes her baby daughter and heads straight to Salten. She spent the most significant days of her life at boarding school on the marshes there, days which still cast their shadow over her.  At school Isa and her three best friends used to play the Lying Game. They competed to convince people of the most outrageous stories. Now, after seventeen years of secrets, something terrible has been found on the beach. Something which will force Isa to confront her past, together with the three women she hasn’t seen for years, but has never forgotten.   Theirs is no cosy reunion: Salten isn’t a safe place for them, not after what they did. It’s time for the women to get their story straight…’

 

8. The Upstairs Room by Kate Murray-Browne 51-bhijiful-_sx306_bo1204203200_
‘Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and becomes convinced it is making her ill. Whilst Richard remains preoccupied with Zoe, their mercurial twenty-seven-year-old lodger, Eleanor becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the house’s previous owners – including Emily, whose name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room.’

 

51e4ckmnrbl-_sx331_bo1204203200_9. The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson
‘From the publisher of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, the first in a new series of distinctive, standalone crime stories, each with a literary bent. In 1950s London, a literary agent finds fame when he secretly steals a young woman’s brilliant novel manuscript and publishes it under his own name, Lewis Carson. Two days after their meeting, the woman is found strangled on Peckham Rye Common: did Lewis purloin the manuscript as an act of callous opportunism, or as the spoils of a calculated murder?’

 

10. Two Stories by Virginia Woolf and Mark Haddon 51skmqr3jdl-_sx351_bo1204203200_
‘Virginia Woolf was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. With her husband, Leonard Woolf, she started the Hogarth Press in 1917: the list ranged widely in fiction, poetry, politics and psychoanalysis, and published all Virginia Woolf’s own work.   Its first publication appeared in 2017: Two Stories, bound in bright Japanese paper, contained a short story from both Virginia and Leonard. Typeset and bound by Virginia, with illustrations by Dora Carrington, 134 copies were printed by Leonard using a small handpress installed in the dining room at Hogarth House, Richmond.  To celebrate the 100th anniversary of ‘Publication No. 1’ this new edition of Two Stories takes the original text of Virginia’s story, ‘The Mark on the Wall’ (with illustrations by Dora Carrington), and pairs it with a new story, ‘St Brides Bay’, by Mark Haddon, a lifelong reader of Virginia Woolf.  TWO STORIES also includes a portrait of Virginia Woolf by Mark Haddon, and a short introduction from the publisher about the founding of the Press.’

 

Which new releases are you most excited about?  Will you be reading any of these?

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‘The Hours’ by Michael Cunningham *****

I first read Michael Cunningham’s The Hours several years ago, and of late have been itching to reread it – partly, I think, because I am focusing upon Woolf in my PhD thesis.  Although The Hours is (sadly) not thesis applicable, it still felt as though I was researching by picking up my beautiful Harper Perennial copy – always a bonus.  Whilst I very much enjoyed it the first time around, I got so much more out of it during my 2017 reread; so much so that it is now firmly nestled amongst my favourite novels.

Beautifully written from the very beginning, The Hours weaves together the stories of three women – Virginia Woolf herself, as she nears the end of her mortality; young wife Laura Brown, living in a Los Angeles suburb in the 1940s, who is yearning to be able to read her copy of Mrs Dalloway away from her motherhood duties; and Clarissa Vaughan, residing in the New York of the 1990s, who steps into the city in order to buy some flowers for a party which she is hosting, thus echoing Woolf’s eponymous character.  These stories are at once separate and connected; a clever technique which gives a marvellous flow to the whole. michael_cunningham_the_hours

Cunningham’s writing is sublime, and the imagery which he presents is immediately vivid, particularly in those instances where he portrays movement: ‘It’s the city’s crush and heave that move you; its vibrancy; its endless life’.  The characters which he presents are vibrant and realistic; his embodiment of Woolf herself as a character has been sensitively and cleverly wrought.  In the single following description, for instance, an ageing Woolf is brought to life: ‘She is still regal, still exquisitely formed, still possessed of her formidable lunar radiance, but she is suddenly no longer beautiful’.  Cunningham captures some continuation of Woolf’s breathtaking prose too, particularly with regard to his presentation of characters: ‘This is one of the most singular experiences, waking on what feels like a good day, preparing to work but not yet actually embarked.  At this moment there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead.  Her mind hums’.  When discussing lost housewife Laura, too, Cunningham shows the utmost understanding of her, and her place in the world: ‘… and when she glanced over at this new book on her nightstand, stacked above the one she finished last night, she reached for it automatically, as if reading were the singular and obvious first task of the day, the only viable way to negotiate the transit from sleep to obligation’.

Everything in The Hours loops around Mrs Dalloway; Cunningham’s approach is startlingly simple, yet remarkably clever.  The Hours is, in fact, nothing short of phenomenal.  The prose throughout is exquisite, the characters fully formed, and the sense of place as real as if one was standing in it themselves.  The singular diurnal structure, reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway, is a clever touch.  Cunningham handles everything marvellously, and the flow to the whole is flawless.  Indeed, much of his writing is rather profound: ‘She thinks of how much more space a being occupies in life than it does in death; how much illusion of size is contained in gestures and movements, in breathing.  Dead, we are revealed in our true dimensions, and they are surprisingly modest’.

In The Hours, Cunningham essentially presents a love letter to the utterly splendid novel that is Mrs Dalloway.  At times, it is rendered almost painfully vivid, for instance in those passages which describe the suicide of Woolf.  I shall leave you, dear reader, with Cunningham’s musings upon death: ‘It might be like walking out into a field of brilliant snow.  It could be dreadful and wonderful.’

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Really Underrated Books (Part Two)

Part two of this week’s Really Underrated Books showcase brings to light some fascinating looking tomes.

1. Going West by Maurice Gee 866199
For all the promise of his name, Jack Skeat cannot be a poet. His friend Rex Petley – eel-catcher, girl-chaser, motorbike rider – takes that prize. Is he also a murderer? And why, forty years later, does he drown out on the Gulf? Jack has to find out, and is drawn to examine their lives. Going West has long been regarded as one of the most autobiographical of Maurice Gee’s novels.

 

2. Roger Fry: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s only true biography, written to commemorate a devoted friend and one of the most renowned art critics of this century, who helped to bring the Postimpressionist movement from France to England and America.

 

16198633. I Know My Own Heart: The Diaries of Anne Lister, 1791-1840, edited by Helena Whitbread
Upon publication, the first volume of Anne Lister’s diaries, “I Know My Own Heart,” met with celebration, delight, and some skepticism. How could an upper class Englishwoman, in the first half of the nineteenth century, fulfill her emotional and sexual needs when her sexual orientation was toward other women? How did an aristocratic lesbian manage to balance sexual fulfillment with social acceptability?  Helena Whitbread, the editor of these diaries, here allows us an inside look at the long-running love affair between Anne Lister and Marianna Lawton, an affair complicated by Anne’s infatuation with Maria Barlow. Anne travels to Paris where she discovers a new love interest that conflicts with her developing social aspirations. For the first time, she begins to question the nature of her identity and the various roles female lovers may play in the life of a gentrywoman. Though unequipped with a lesbian vocabulary with which to describe her erotic life, her emotional conflicts are contemporary enough to speak to us all.  This book will satisfy the curiosity of the many who became acquainted with Lister through I Know My Own Heart and are eager to learn more about her revealing life and what it suggests about the history of sexuality.

 

4. Victorine by Maude Hutchins
Victorine is thirteen, and she can’t get the unwanted surprise of her newly sexual body, in all its polymorphous and perverse insistence, out of her mind: it is a trap lying in wait for her at every turn (and nowhere, for some reason, more than in church). Meanwhile, Victorine’s older brother Costello is struggling to hold his own against the overbearing, mean-spirited, utterly ghastly Hector L’Hommedieu, a paterfamilias who collects and discards mistresses with scheming abandon even as Allison, his wife, drifts through life in a narcotic daze.   And Maude Hutchins’s Victorine? It’s a sly, shocking, one-of-a-kind novel that explores sex and society with wayward and unabashedly weird inspiration, a drive-by snapshot of the great abject American family in its suburban haunts by a literary maverick whose work looks forward to—and sometimes outstrips—David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and the contemporary paintings of Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin.

 

5. The Penguin Book of First World War Stories, edited by Barbara Korte 3212619.jpg
This new collection of short stories about World War I features works by such famous British authors as Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan, Rudyard Kipling, D. H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, Radclyffe Hall, Katherine Mansfield, Robert Graves, Muriel Spark, and Julian Barnes. Written during the war and after, these stories illustrate the impact of the Great War on British society and culture, as well as the many ways in which short fiction contributed to the literature of that time period.

 

6. Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard
Born in 1918 into a working-class Edinburgh family, Muriel Spark ended her life as the epitome of literary chic, one of the great writers of the 20th century. This book tells her story.

 

208197177. The Crocodiles by Youssef Rakha
Set in Cairo between 1997 and 2011, The Crocodiles is narrated in numbered, prose poem-like paragraphs, set against the backdrop of a burning Tahrir Square, by a man looking back on the magical and explosive period of his life when he and two friends started a secret poetry club amid a time of drugs, messy love affairs, violent sex, clumsy but determined intellectual bravado, and retranslations of the Beat poets. Youssef Rakha’s provocative, brutally intelligent novel of growth and change begins with a suicide and ends with a doomed revolution, forcefully capturing thirty years in the life of a living, breathing, daring, burning, and culturally incestuous Cairo.

 

8. The Shutter of Snow by Emily Holmes Coleman
In a prose form as startling as its content, “The Shutter of Snow” portrays the post-partum psychosis of Marthe Gail, who after giving birth to her son, is committed to an insane asylum. Believing herself to be God, she maneuvers through an institutional world that is both sad and terrifying, echoing the worlds of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “The Snake Pit.”  Based upon the author’s own experience after the birth of her son in 1924, “The Shutter of Snow” retains all the energy it had when first published in 1930.

 

9. Orpheus: The Song of Life by Ann Wroe 16088815
A powerful and poetic work of history on the figure of Orpheus: his life and myth, and his representation and imagining from the sixth century BC to the present day.  For at least two and a half millennia, the figure of Orpheus has haunted humanity. Half-man, half-god, musician, magician, theologian, poet and lover, his story never leaves us. He may be myth, but his lyre still sounds, entrancing everything that hears it: animals, trees, water, stones, and men.  In this extraordinary work Ann Wroe goes in search of Orpheus, from the forests where he walked and the mountains where he worshipped to the artefacts, texts and philosophies built up round him. She traces the man, and the power he represents, through the myriad versions of a fantastical life: his birth in Thrace, his studies in Egypt, his voyage with the Argonauts to fetch the Golden Fleece, his love for Eurydice and journey to Hades, and his terrible death. We see him tantalising Cicero and Plato, and breathing new music into Gluck and Monteverdi; occupying the mind of Jung and the surreal dreams of Cocteau; scandalising the Fathers of the early Church, and filling Rilke with poems like a whirlwind. He emerges as not simply another mythical figure but the force of creation itself, singing the song of light out of darkness and life out of death.

 

10. The Giants by Jean Marie G. Le Clezio
Upon an immense stretch of flat ground at the mouth of a river bathed in sunlight rises Hyperpolis. It stands there, surrounded by its four asphalt car-parks, to condemn us – a huge enveloping supermarket. Each of us will see ourselves reflected in the characters who move mindlessly about Hyperpolis, but The Giants is a call to rebellion. This bold and inventive novel is the work of a tremendously talented writer and both an intoxicating and exhilarating read.

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