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PostPosted: Fri Nov 28, 2008 7:41 am    Post subject: Jane Gardam  Reply with quote

From:   KlaraZthefirst  (Original Message)         Sent: 11/25/2007 2:52 AM
I'm only half way through this, 'The People on Privilege Hill', but already, I feel I can thoroughly recommend this. Lovely, haunting, exquisitely written short stories---the first one even brings back 'Old Filth'.
I haven't read as much Jane Gardam as I'd have liked--loved her early works for YA and have read a few others.
Now I shall be scurrying off to read more!
Any other Jane Gardam fans out there?

From:   Evie_forever                                       Sent: 11/25/2007 3:04 AM
I am not a fan of short stories generally, but make exceptions for favourite authors or carefully-chosen (!) recommendations. I love Jane Gardam's novels, and have heard about this new collection of stories - plus Verity has waxed lyrical about a previous collection (Pangs of Love, I think...can't remember if that's the right title), and I read one story that I loved in that.

I am still working my way through her works, after reading Old Filth last year and absolutely loving it, and she is definitely one of those authors, like Muriel Spark, Rosamond Lehmann, Rose Macaulay, Elizabeth Bowen and Elizabeth Taylor, whose complete works I will endeavour to read!

From:   Meredith752                                       Sent: 11/27/2007 5:53 AM
I, too, am a Jane Gardam fan, and if anything, like her short stories even better than her full-length novels. I was quite thrown by 'The Queen of the Tambourine', as for some reason, I thought it was short stories: it is not, of course. The whole pace of my reading was 'out', because I kept expecting a sort of climax at an early point, which obviously, did not come. So, I really do look forward to another volume that really is short stories! A good one to keep in mind for traveling at some point, I think!

From:   Melanie-D-LitSpice                                Sent: 7/15/2008 5:39 AM
Did anyone else listen to Jane Gardam's story, The People on Privilege Hill, read in exquisite style by Geoffrey Palmer on Radio 4 last week? I just caught the last few minutes on Thursday, when I switched on the radio to accompany making the children's tea - and was instantly captivated. I didn't know what I was listening to until the announcer gave the credits at the end...and thought - wow! Jane Gardam! I'd been so caught up by the story, I resolved to visit it on the Listen Again facility the next day to hear it in full. What a total *treat* - both Jane Gardam's wonderful story (my first meeting with Old Filth and his friends) - and having it read to me by Geoffrey Palmer! A fab combination! I loved the umbrellas, the life affirming characters - oh, and the real reason behind the naming of Privilege Hill... Smile  

I think it will still be on the Listen Again facility on the Radio 4 website for a couple more days, if anyone would like to catch it.... (on the page for the BBC National Short Story Award 2008). Yes - I've just checked, and it's currently still on the link for Thursday's reading....

From:   Evie_again  (Original Message)             Sent: 8/13/2008 10:58 PM
The Flight of the Maidens
Published in 2000 but set in 1946, this novel tells of the lives of three young women living in a small Yorkshire town who,
at the start, have just found out that they have been awarded scholarships to go to university.
Hetty Fallowes - now wanting to revert to her full name, Hester - 'Hestah!' - is the daughter of the local sexton, a man damaged by his experiences in the First World War, and of Kitty, part of the life and soul of the village, beloved of both the vicar and Hetty's own boyfriend.
Una Vane's father had gone out one day and his body was later found at the foot of a cliff; her mother runs the hairdressers ('Vane Glory').
Lieselotte Klein is a German Jewish girl who arrived in Yorkshire in 1939, and doesn't know what has become of her family - though one does know deep down that they perished at Auschwitz. She has been looked after by a Quaker couple in Yorkshire.
What happens to each of them over the summer before they are due to go off to university is the basic content of the book, but it's Gardam's ability to weave magic around ordinary human lives that lifts this book - like all her books - into the realms of something special.
Here are the opening paragraphs:

"Three girls in a graveyard. Four feet on a tomb. Tall, burnt-up grasses. The late summer of 1946.
'From now on I'm Hester,' said Hester Fallowes. 'Hestah.'
'Well, you were always Hester, weren't you?' said Una. 'Weren't you? Christened?'
'"Hestah". My mother saw it in a book.'
'Well, she'd have seen it in the Bible, wouldn't she? Being your lovely Ma?'
'"Hester" is OT. Ma's pretty hard line NT. Jesus first and always. New Testament. Book of Common Prayer. Anglo-Catholic. When I get to London I'm "Hester Fallowes". I shall start as I mean to go on.'
'Not for the first time,' said Una. 'It's Lieselotte who should be Hester. You're the Jew, Lieselotte.'

The third girl, whose feet were neither bare nor propped higher than her head against the flank of the table-tomb, but neatly side by side in the grass in laced-up shoes and fawn lisle stockings, continued with her knitting.

Una and Hetty, but for their feet and legs, lay almost hidden in the neglected grasses among the tombstones that looked down on them from every side. Stone faces of angels, balloon heads of grinning rustics in medieval ear-flaps, the odd crumbling skull watched them like crouching tribesmen. Behind stood the church and its mausoleum, a few stones lying around in the grass. Plants bloomed and straggled from its cracks and a small mountain ash flourished from a quoin. The spire seemed to be toppling across the cobalt, un-Yorkshire sky. High up on a different air-stream, clouds as light as cheesecloth skirmished. The end of the summer.
Exactly one year ago this week the atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki.'

This weaving together of mundane conversation, deeper thoughts and aspirations, and the gritty reality of the world outside their immediate experience sets the pattern for Jane Gardam's writing, and through this she manages to create humour, warmth, deep sadness, a world I found myself very easily absorbed into.

But what really lifts the book, as I have already said, above the ordinary is that she often leaves the reader to do some of the work. She doesn't explain everything; often in novels things happen that are not immediately explicable, but by the end either we the readers or the characters or both know why something happened, what someone meant when they said a particular thing - Gardam is not afraid to leave some of these ends untied, and does this beautifully.
Near the end, an important letter is written; we never know whether the recipient read it or not, but our understanding (as well as that of one of the characters) of what happens to someone at the end is coloured by whether or not we think they read the letter - Gardam leaves us to decide, and it does change things, that decision - we are part of the way the book is written, things will be different according to our own interpretation of things that happen.
But it's gently done, leaving a slight ache of uncertainty that renders the whole thing more real, and more engaging, than if it were a simple story.

She also moves back and forth in time very successfully - similar in a way to the device Muriel Spark uses, of letting you know what will happen many years hence, and shifting the narrative point so that we are constantly seeing things afresh. The narrative is not linear, it is a kind of spiral, a maze that ultimately does lead to the centre but we are not sure even then whether there were wrong turns, dead ends, or simply false sensations born of not being sure where things were leading.

The book is frequently very funny - truly delicious writing. Gardam also relies on a certain level of literary knowledge on the part of the reader - she assumes we will know the plot of certain Shakespeare plays, and makes allusions to other literary works that we either know or we don't, but Gardam doesn't spoonfeed us, she leaves these cultural references, again, to our own receptive ability - she doesn't explain their origins or their referential purpose in the novel, we work these things out for ourselves. The plot could be one from a story in a women's magazine, but frequently I was brought up short as I realised just how clever Gardam's writing was.

That is an experience I have had with all the books of hers that I have read - and the main reason I look forward to each one I come to read. So far she has never disappointed me, and this one was no exception - a very funny, very sad, very sophisticated novel, and a beautiful one.
I recently included Jane Gardam in my list of my top 10 favourite contemporary novelists, and this book has confirmed that decision.

From: castor-boy                                            Sent: 8/31/2008 12:58 AM
The Flight of the Maidens – Jane Gardam ****
A novel about three girls on their way to university in 1946 England by one of the best contemporary writers who has just celebrated her 80th birthday.
Previously I’d only read her short stories so this was a pleasure which has been summed up by Evie in her review above.
Old Filth – Jane Gardam ****
An international lawyer’s life from birth to old age is the novel that won Gardam the 2005 Orange Prize for fiction.
It’s one of the many literary prizes this writer has been awarded, quite deservedly, over the years.
Once again I enjoyed this so much that I will have to seek out her previous output. Strongly recommended.

From:   Ann_M5                                              Sent: 8/14/2008 11:30 PM
I'd read her before, Evie, without even realising! We'd done Faith Fox in my reading group but I hadn't registered the name of the author. However many scenes from the book stayed in my imagination which is, to me, the mark of a good writer. I've read quite a few since because, luckily, my sister really likes her and had a quite a few of her books that she was happy to lend me.

From: castor-boy                                              Sent: 9/29/2008 3:18 PM
Not many this month.
God on the Rocks - Jane Gardam ***
Her first novel for adults is about an 8 year old girl growing up in a resort on the north east coast of Yorkshire.

Missing the Midnight - Jane Gardam ***
A book of short stories with the one about the Regent's Park zoo animals attending the Christmas Eve service, a classic.

From:   fiveowls                                                Sent: 10/8/2008 1:41 AM
Following Evie’s recommendation, I have just read Jane Gardam’s ‘Old Filth’ and found it a completely compelling read.

Filth, the lawyer Edward Feathers, is the central character and has acquired his nickname from the phrase, ‘Failed in London, try Hong Kong’.
Gardam traces his story as a Raj orphan back and forth up to his death in old age and portrays him and his many foibles with great compassion.

She writes with convincing flair and a delicious sense of humour, whether describing the minutiae of Filth’s likes and dislikes or the endearing, and at times outrageous, dispositions of the many other characters that surround his life.
I found it a thoroughly satisfying book and have already ordered another of Gardam’s novels.
From:   bookfreak0                                          Sent: 10/29/2008 2:52 PM
Just finished The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam (on Evie's recommendation).  
I am quite new to short stories but although I found a few of this selection too short, on the whole I enjoyed them immensely.  My favourites were The Flight Path, The Milly Ming and Snap.
Jane Gardam writes so fluently and satisfyingly and her characters are so real that you feel that you know each one.

From:   bookfreak0                                           Sent: 11/9/2008 9:54 AM
I've just read Jane Gardam's "God on the Rocks" (which I believe was recommended by Castorboy?)
As usual Gardam sets the period and locality in intimate and accurate detail, which brought back to me many nostalgic memories.   As a child I spent several years living on the seafront in a small Yorkshire  town less than 17miles from the setting of this novel, albeit some 10 years later.
Our town too had a hellfire preacher similar to Kenneth March of the book, and our preacher too led rousing hymn-singing meetings on the beach!   We had a very devout bible-thumping battleaxe of a housekeeper and on a couple of occasions she took me (behind my mother's back!) to her Meeting Hall to hear sermons of terrifying fire and brimstone.

I loved the extremes of Gardam's characters in this book; the main character Margaret the delightful 8-yr old child, her father the rigid-backed preacher of the "Primal Saints" church, the softer maternal wife, the floozy servant girl with a heart of gold, the extremely aged yet dictatorial "County" matriarch who still lives in the manor house after having given it over as a mental home, her dominated son and daughter who mean less to her than the forgetful artist patient.
We come to know and to love them, warts and all.

This is not an exciting or stunning book, but one emanating warmth and many scenes of great humour so typical of Gardam's writing.   I also greatly appreciated the neatly wrapped-up ending tying together all the strands.
All together a most satisfying and enjoyable read.

From: castor-boy  (Original Message)                Sent: 11/1/2008 12:11 AM
I wonder if this month's total will pass November's last year? So here's my first contribution to the figure.

Going into a Dark House by Jane Gardam is an excellent collection of short stories.
Outstanding for me were The Damascus Plum because, for one thing, it called to mind the Food Heroes TV programmes of Rick Stein. Then there was Bevis in which the twists and turns fooled the reader and finally Telegony which could be classed as a novella.
Gardam uses simple words to tell compelling stories: it looks easy. But I think it was Conan Doyle who said the Sherlock Holmes short stories were as difficult to write as the long ones because they had to include a great deal of information in a shorter form than the novel.

For my current reading I have Private Battles by Simon Garfield which is the diaries of civilians in WW2 and surprise,surprise! The People on Privilege Hill.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2008 9:42 pm    Post subject: Jane Gardam Reply with quote

From: fiveowls                                             Sent: 11/8/2008 7:29 AM
Following Evie’s encouragement I have now read two of Jane Gardam’s novels within the last month or so: Old Filth and Bilgewater. I loved them both for their sharply etched observations of human fallibility and idiosyncrasy and the delicious bursts of humour.

I found Bilgewater, a novel told in the first person and through the eyes, thoughts and words of Bill’s daughter (Bilgewater), Marigold Green, compelling. With her mother dying at her birth and her father a taciturn, bumbling yet lovable Classics master at a boy’s public school, Bilgewater grows into her teen years feeling ugly, isolated and ill-understood. Gradually, she becomes aware of two things about herself: her emerging sexuality and her exceptional academic prowess. In the first, she stumbles her way through infatuation, puzzlement, loathing and jealousy. In the second, she overcomes the prejudices of the insidious English teacher, Miss Bex, and applies for and gains a place at Cambridge.

I find this book a very perceptive exposé of what it can mean to be an adolescent – especially one who feels, and is generally seen as, a misfit. Jane Gardam seems to offer such insights for girls where David Mitchell does the same for teenage boys in his Black Swan Green.

I love Gardam’s pithily expressed style and the generosity of her sense of humour. These are illustrated in Paula, thirty-something and all the way from Dorset (the novel is set in Yorkshire in the early 1970s), who is housekeeper looking after Bilgewater and her father in their school-house. There is an interchange between Bilgewater and Paula, something of a surrogate mother to Bilgewater, soon after the girl has encountered Mrs Gathering, the Head’s large and moonstruck wife. Referring to the ‘posh’ tones of Mrs G’s voice and manner, Paula says,

I don’t know roightly. It’s what used to be called County. Before that it was Gentry.”
“Gentry’s a bit ancient,” I said, “and I don’t like County. It’s not right to say County.”
“You mean it’s not county to say County. Don’t you come this Marxism-we’re-all-one with me.”
“No – I don’t mean that,” I said. “But it’s only people who think they’re less than County who talk about County. I’m not less than Mrs Gathering.”
“Nobody could be MORE than Mrs Gathering.” We laughed and Paula put down the iron and was Mrs Gathering all round the kitchen…

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 2:13 am    Post subject: Re: Jane Gardam Reply with quote

From:   Evie_again                                         Sent: 9/9/2008 11:07 PM
The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam.
I have just finished the last story in this lovely collection, and am feeling utterly bereft.
It's been a book that I have had to ration - wanting to read and read and yet knowing I don't want it to be over too quickly - and this from someone who claims to be a reluctant short story reader!
A wonderful range of stories, from the poignant to the surreal by way of a gentle ghost story for Hallowe'en - one or two less satisfying than the others, but all delightful, and all cleverer than they seem at first. Marvellous writing, and it was lovely to be given the hardback edition which is a joy to look at and to hold, with lovely thick paper.
Definitely recommended, especially for anyone looking for something they can dip in and out of - the stories are mostly quite short, some just a few pages, none of any great length, but tardis-like in terms of how much is contained within them.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 09, 2008 2:20 am    Post subject: Re: Jane Gardam Reply with quote

The hard back edition of The People on Privilege Hill will make a great Christmas present for anyone new to short stories. There are 14 in this one with subjects raging from fantasy through ghost stories to children and of course Old Filth.
Evie quite rightly says Gardam leaves the reader to do some of the work; I would call it ‘teasing’ but in a nice kind of way.
I can see her thinking of a character in detail but then, when she comes to write the story, leaving out as much as possible. The result is the reader supplies their own details to satisfy the need to have everything explained. Almost a feeling of sharing in the writing.
For instance take the beautiful, sad story of Pangbourne a gorilla whom a woman of eighty adores.
We know she married but were there any children?
She is rich but was the money made in animal food?
We know she was transfixed in wonder by a larger than life size poster of a gorilla – could she have seen ‘King Kong’ as a youngster?
And we don’t find out why the name Pangbourne was chosen.
But Gardam’s technique works.
In The Hair of the Dog there is enough information about Eleanor, the elderly widow, and yet it still needs a novel to expand on the hints Gardam puts in. As can be said of at least another four people in the story. I can’t say more in case I spoil it.

What can I say about Old Filth? A marvellous creation – I want another 13 stories about him!
The title story gives me the impression that Gardam enjoys writing about him because there is a quality to the writing I can’t explain.
My only regret is that he wasn’t brought to life twenty years sooner.
He will live in my imagination alongside Gungers and DeeDee the eccentric school teachers in Black Faces, White Faces.
As a Gardam fan I need a tonic of G & D with Filth! Laughing

Last edited by Castorboy on Wed Jan 07, 2009 12:14 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 05, 2009 8:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hair of the Dog was recently read as an Afternoon Reading on Radio 4, and that reminded me again of what a beautifully written story it is.  The way Gardam can bring a character to life with just a few deft strokes is what makes her stories so good, I think- I too struggle to define just what makes her writing so good, but part of it, I think, is that sense that she is completely in control and yet not giving everything away.  Her characters are real, even when in eccentric situations (such as falling in love with a gorilla!), and the little window we are given into their lives is just enough to enthrall and leave us wanting more.

I agree completely about Old Filth - I would love to hear more about him too, and that is a marvellous story.  And the lovely picture on the cover complements it brilliantly!  I have always loved umbrellas...strange, I know!  The things are a right pain, but they look great, especially a few together...I'll shut up!

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 11:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am going to look for Flight Of The Maidens as this is one I haven't read yet. I read Going Into A Dark House and A Long Way from Verona last year, and the images still stay with me. Especially the drunken dentists. There is something about these seaside towns and confused girls and boys and batty old ladies that is really compelling. My favourite used to be Crusoe's Daughter, partly because of the wonderfully rendered landscape (a bit like The Woman In Black) but then Old Filfth overtook it. Five stars.

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 1:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Crusoe's Daughter is fabulous, isn't it.  I haven't read those two you mention, Freyda, but am gradually working my way through all her books!  She gives them great titles, too, which is always seductive.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 5:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Her writing room was pictured in the Guardian Review section last Saturday. It looks so civilised.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jane Gardam's new book is out, and apparently it is the wife, Betty's, version of the Old Filth and Veneering story.
Looking forward to reading it.

See a review here

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 09, 2009 9:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Faith Fox is the one novel of hers which I haven’t enjoyed so far but naturally has to be read by all Gardam fans! Fiveowls has written a good review on

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