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Jane Gardam

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.

Jane Gardam

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…

Re: Jane Gardam

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.

Re: Jane Gardam

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

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!

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.

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.

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

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

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

Castorboy wrote:
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

I think this was one that I like less, it seemed a bit "ordinary" as far as I remember. Just like any old women's fiction, which is hardly Gardam.

I've just had a look at that review now and it doesn't sound ordinary at all! I did read it, years ago now, didn't remember the plot, but I think some of the characters seemed a bit "women's fiction-y" to me.  I shouldn't really make than an insult, should I?  Embarassed   What do I mean ? - slightly stock plus slightly surreal, I think. The sort of people I never encounter in real life and whom I don't think really exist, yet exist in fiction and on TV. Yet many of the characters I do love in Gardam seem both odd and very realistic.

Gardam is on top form with The Man in the Wooden Hat, which despite the title is mainly about Elizabeth Macintosh who marries Edward Feathers, Old Filth, a respected lawyer. For readers of the earlier novel and the short story about Filth much of their life is known about already. Elizabeth had been in a prison camp in China, worked during the war and on a post-war holiday met Edward in Hong Kong while staying with a school friend. After the marriage Elizabeth, or Betty as she is referred to, and Edward have homes in both Hong Kong and London.
There are delightful episodes with a theatrical couple living next door to them in London. He is in a play where his part ends with Act Two so he is let off the final curtain. He jokes about always hoping to be let off the final curtain! Meanwhile Edward is finding that working conditions are becoming more onerous as the handover date of Hong Kong to the Chinese is approaching. How does he reconcile the English system of the law with the new rulers and their inscrutable ways? By putting feathers in the Scales of Justice?
Throughout the novel Gardam shows once again her flair for the right phrase, her sense of humour and for allowing the reader to build up a picture of a participant or a situation in their own mind. In addition there are a couple of revelations I didn’t anticipate which capped off a thoroughly satisfying novel.
Klara Z

I'm definitely going to look out for this one, having loved 'Old Filth' and his return in the short story in 'The People of Privilege Hill'!!

The flag of Showing the Flag is the Union Jack which is a symbol for Englishness, its weaknesses and illusions as depicted over ten stories of a high standard.
The title story about a young boy has been called perfect and I agree. It is matched, in my opinion, by Bang, Bang – Who’s Dead in which a young girl experiences, let’s say, illusions. Of course Gardam can write about adults, young and old, over a lifetime or for a shorter time span in these stories.
The longest one Damage describes a career woman who works as a translator for conferences in Geneva. It is the one story in the book I didn’t quite understand despite reading between the lines and concentrating on the hints about the relationships. Recommended.

Re: Jane Gardam

From: fiveowls                                             Sent: 11/8/2008 7:29 AM
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.

I agree with all your comments, fiveowls. She creates believable people who sometimes do the unexpected which is exactly what happens in the real world. I finished this novel with a very satisfied feeling of enjoyment and entertainment.

Following on from Bilgewater, the story of a schoolmaster's daughter in the North of England who becomes the head of a college, I quickly read the next month A long way from Verona (1971) in which the father is a curate who has changed his career by leaving the teaching profession when he moves north. His daughter, Jessica Vye, thirteen years of age, has dreams of writing because, as she reassured herself, she was told by a man who came to talk at her school that she was a writer (his name was Arnold Hanger – her father who has a sense of humour asked “Are you sure his first name isn't 'Coat'?) and she always believed in telling the truth and that has to be an essential attribute for any aspiring writer.

We follow her through her struggles to conform to the standards of behaviour expected at her new school. Then there is the weekend house-party where the son of the house takes a shine to Jessica (first love for her, hence the Verona in the title). It is on a day out with him to one of the Teeside towns that she in the aftermath of an air-raid she realises that not everyone and everything she has experienced so far is completely true.
As Evie has said in a  review of another novel, Gardam creates a warmth and humour out of mundane conversations in the midst of a real world with all its complexities.

Like Bilgewater, this novel was, I assumed, aimed at adolescent girls but I enjoyed it. Having experienced some wartime years in the North-East it brings back the atmosphere of an area subjected to bombing and the subsequent restrictions on personal movement. There was the irksomeness of a shortage of food; the difficulty of obtaining materials for household repairs as the war effort took priority for anything useful. The continual, soon becoming habitual, queueing. The necessity to carry ration books and gas masks at all times made journeys around the region a reminder that the next air-raid could happen unexpectedly. A simple pleasure for the stay-at-homes was a visit to a park usually found within easy walking distance which provided some relief from the tension of daily living for a majority of people in the towns.

This tension, even at a schoolgirl level, is captured in a number of sequences where Jessiaca walks through one of the local parks admiring the dahlias in the flower beds, the oak trees and the smell of wild garlic.The fact that she really shoudn't be there unsupervised added to her feelings of independence from school discipline.
With an author I like I am in the habit of reading their early novels so that I can compare the standard of the later ones. I imagine a writer will improve over the years as there are so many new experiences which can be incorporated into future novels leading to a maturity of expression. Gardam is different. I consider the early novels are as good as the later ones – she seems to have discovered a style which right from the start carried her on to great success. Was there a possibility that her novels would develop their characters in such a way that they became predictable and boring? Only if she had concentrated on the same type of person. But, on the contrary, she has the ability to draw word pictures of young and old, married or single, in work or retired, those with serene or agitated natures, etc, etc then just as we think we know where the story is going, she adds in the unexpected situation or crisis, which happens in life, and thus it is not surprising that Gardam continues to entertain to this day.
Green Jay

I read this novel a few years back, Castorboy, and loved it. Mine was a Puffin edition (i.e. for children) but I felt it was a perfectly adult book. As you say, it gives a fine flavour of the era  - not that I was around! The tawdryness, the restrictions, but the ability (as most young people had to have) of getting pleasure out of small freedoms and rebellions. I loved the weird dentists! And the warmth of the heroine's own home, despite its frustrations for her.

I agree with you about her early books being just as good as her later ones. But she is quite old, over 80  Sad so perhaps she was not a complete ingenue when she was first published and did not need to "mature" as a writer. There was a nice profile of her in last Saturday's Guardian newspaper here. I'm sure you could google it.

Have you read God On The Rocks? A similar sort of feel, that era, and the small seaside town, and the youthful embarrassment.

I have never thought of any of Gardam's books as written for children, but it's interesting to think some of them are!  I love all the ones that have been mentioned.  The only Gardam I didn't enjoy was Faith Fox.

Does anyone know what has happened to the paperback of Man in the Wooden Hat?  Surely it should be available by now - Amazon seems inconclusive!

Green Jay, I read GOTR in Sep 2008 but didn't put up a review as I hadn't quite worked out how to copy a document to the site. I suppose with Bilgewater, GOTR and Verona this makes a trio of novels about girls of different ages living in the North East. Varied outlooks on life but still very readable with plenty of humour.

I was hoping either Gardam or Lodge would be in the New Year's Honours – maybe the choice of subjects for their novels is not considered 'intellectual' enough for the those who make the recommendations for awards! As a consolation I will find that profile. Thanks for that.

As for Andrew Greig I have read five of his and if I haven't reviewed them all, others have expressed their appreciation of an accomplished novelist.
My wife has read and enjoyed In Another Light so I will have to get to it one of these days!
Green Jay

Castorboy wrote:

I was hoping either Gardam or Lodge would be in the New Year's Honours – maybe the choice of subjects for their novels is not considered 'intellectual' enough for the those who make the recommendations for awards!

Good iea - not that I'm a great fan of honours, but then if someone's getting them, why not the right people? Goodness knows, there's enough non-intellectual people in the list.

And, though Gardam and Lodge do entertain (now there's  dreaded concept) their readers, there are plenty of serious ideas in their work and in the way they have chosen to write their novels. Perfectly intellectual enough. In the profile of Gardam there are a couple of novels I had never heard of, one of which won a major prize, if I remember rightly. I found it very odd as I've followed her work for quite a few years now, that something could sink without trace like that. And The Queen of Tambourine, which I did not get on with, also won a prize. I think she's got 2 Bookers under her belt. My brain...I'll have to go back to the article and look it up  Embarassed  I don't know why she isn't better known and feted -  she was obviously never in the right "gang". And certainly people who've met her at book signings say she is very modest and self-effacing.

Thanks for mentioning that article, I found it very absorbing – she even finds the time to organise the Sandwich arts festival.
I wonder if the two novels you are unfamiliar with are The Hollow Land and Crusoe's Daughter? The major literary prize may be the Prix Baudelaire for God on the Rocks (courtesy of Wikipedia). The entry also mentions the two Whitbreads she has won and that GOTR was nominated for the Booker.
It is astonishing that she has not been recognised more than the once in the Bookers.

I enjoyed that review of In Another Light so I have put a copy on the Greig author topic. I think we are in good company in admiring talented writers like Gardam and Greig bounce

Evie wrote:
Does anyone know what has happened to the paperback of Man in the Wooden Hat?  Surely it should be available by now - Amazon seems inconclusive!

According to the Guardian interview it will be published this month.

Thanks for that, Castorboy - good news.

Definitely another Gardam and Greig fan here!  I ordered a secondhand copy of In Another Light, and it arrived on Saturday, so I hope to read that soon.
Green Jay

Castorboy wrote:
Evie wrote:
Does anyone know what has happened to the paperback of Man in the Wooden Hat?  Surely it should be available by now - Amazon seems inconclusive!

According to the Guardian interview it will be published this month.

Thank you for putting that link up. I was just being lazy in suggesting people google it. It was the Whitbread prize that she won twice, and was shortlisted for the Booker prize once.  When you think of writers who make a gaudier reputation on the strength of much flimsier books.

Is the Whitbread now the Costa? Oh, all these drinks firms are confusing me!  Smile  

The Hollow Land was the one I have just never heard of - I will have to see if it is on Amazon.
Green Jay

Castorboy wrote:

I enjoyed that review of In Another Light so I have put a copy on the Greig author topic. I think we are in good company in admiring talented writers like Gardam and Greig bounce

Thank you - I don't know how to do that. The book is still reverberating round my mind, even with its flaws.

Yes, the Whitbread is now the Costa.  From beer to coffee...sign of the times?  ;0)
Gul Darr

In Another Light is very good, so you're in for a treat. I must read some more Greig.

Just to say that  I found the paperback of The Man in the Wooden Hat in Waterstone's the other day - in their 3 for 2 offers, happily!  Even more happily as I had a book token to spend.  :0)
Green Jay

Ooh, will have to look out for that, Evie. Thanks.

The copy from the the library last year wasn't a hardback, which surprised me, so I have to assume an advance softback or paperback version is used for orders from overseas libraries to reduce the freight cost. And yet the large print books are invariably in hardback.

I am about half-way through The Man with the Wooden Hat, but I am not quite enjoying it as much as Old Filth.  It doesn't seem to have as much depth to it somehow.  I like the writing - mostly.  Though I do wonder why there is quite a lot in Elisabeth's thoughts and chat which presages present events and ideas - women in high positions, things like Malta gaining independence, etc.  There must be a reason for Gardam to do this, but it's not really a completely realistic picture for the times.  (Having been to Malta recently I was interested in the picture of Malta just after the war.)

Nothing much has happened yet, after 119 pages.  I feel as if I am waiting in anticipation, rather than being in the story yet.  Also I find I am not as fond of Elisabeth as I was of Eddie - perhaps that comes from Old Filth looking backwards whereas this one is looking forwards so far.  Both of them are quite self-centred in many ways, but people are really, aren't they?  There's a lot of mention of future children, but children don't come, do they?  Or was there suggestions of an abortion or similar which left her unable to have children?  I can't quite remember.  

But it's a book I look forward to reading, which is not always the case.

Cheers, Caro.

I have just read "Crusoe's Daughter", a lovely lovely book. I put things aside to finish it as quickly as I could because it was so absorbing.

Polly Flint arrives at the Yellow House in 1904 , aged 6 and an orphan. Her mother was the teacher daughter of a clergyman, and her father a merchant sea captain. Standing on the coast in the north east of England, with marsh behind it and The Works in the distance, the house is an island, and Polly, who reads greatly, becomes obsessed with Robinson Crusoe, making his endurance her moral code when the deep religion of the aunts who bring her up fails her. Opportunities crop up but also slip through her fingers and Polly stays at the Yellow House through all the changes of the early decades of the 20th century. These are magnificently and quirkily depicted by Gardam, in her usual amazingly sharp manner. Tragedies small and large, resourcefulness, snobbery, and out-and-out oddness abound.

The landscape, the sea and weather are beautifully drawn, as is  the creeping development that eats up the wild marsh and brings with it convenience, money and modern life. I often look at old cottages on busy roads, or faded old large houses surrounded by urban creep  and wonder what it felt like when this "was all fields". In the same way, Polly's family are old-fashioned even in 1904, steeped in Victorian high Anglicanism and what is done and not done, despite their extreme (genteel) poverty. Polly's dimly-recalled early years seem rather Defoe-like, with some kind of baby-farmer in Cardiff and vague memories of rude Welsh words (and scenes) that come back at times of crisis. This background does not help her meet the challenges of 20th century life for a female, or take up its opportunities, as sometimes I wished she just would! Gardam concentrates mostly on her early life, and I loved her picture of this particular era, the Edwardian years and the strange time after the war.

I have just seen Evie's comment early on this thread about Gardam not being afraid to leave some things unexplained. There is some of this in "Crusoe's Daughter" - we never quite know the details of what happened to one of the aunts. I would love to know, but respect not having to know. Polly narrates, and would not have been able to find out, unless the author created some device to let us have that information; and she chose not to. Another author may not have felt brave enough to introduce such an episode without finding a way to round it off.

I should add that this was a re-read for me. It came out in 1985. I had forgotten virtually all of the "plot", such as it is, and I was gratified to find how much I enjoyed the quality of her writing, perhaps even more than first time round.

The Man in the Wooden Hat is the companion of Old Filth and I am not sure how it would read if you hadn’t read it earlier.  I don’t think I can write about this without spoilers, so be warned but I will separate spoilers for you.  (Since writing that I have realised that it would be best for anyone planning to read this book soon to perhaps not read my review – though most of what happens is foreshadowed in Old Filth.) I wrote earlier that nothing much had happened halfway through; well nothing much does happen while we see through Betty’s eyes.  I found Betty very elusive really in both this and Old Filth.  She gives the impression of someone who hasn’t lived the life she wanted to and yet she was intelligent and had worked at Bletchley Park – something which is not stressed at all and yet which must have been quite important in her youth, both for what it meant nationally and what it must have meant for her personally.  

Betty’s story is or seems to be of a rather blighted or at least unrealised life.  We first see her in Hong Kong when she is quite joyfully contemplating marriage to Eddie Feathers, lawyer.  The man in the wooden hat is his friend, the all-knowing dwarf, Albert Ross.  Ross is never seen through his own eyes in either of these books as far as I remember, but he has influence and the fact that he is the title of this book shows his significance.  Ross tells Betty she must never leave Eddie – he will chase her down if she does.  She is happy to promise this, says Yes to Eddie’s proposal and then –


meets Terry Veneering and his son Harry.  They fall for each other and spend a night together.


The marriage goes ahead, though Betty never seems to be quite sure how much Edward/Old Filth loves her.  The reader feels it is more than she loves him.  For some of the book she is quite unwell after a miscarriage and goes back to London where she has a hysterectomy.  The marriage seems to drift along happily enough in their new home, but Betty is devastated with Harry, a soldier, is killed.  She too dies, and the last 30 pages are devoted to Old Filth and his relationship with Terry Veneering who lives nearby.  Old Filth gave the impression that Eddie had little knowledge of his wife’s inner life, but that proves not to be true when he says  -


something about Betty never having really loved either of them, but mostly the son Harry.  (Betty had wanted lots of children when she married.)  He also says it doesn’t matter whose child the miscarried baby was, and admits to an affair of his own.  


There is an underlying theme to this book that the couple have been happy enough, but not intimate enough and their sexual life has been thwarted and their true sexuality pushed to the background.  

I had some difficulties with this book – I am doubtless reading it too literally, but I don’t think you keep alive a love for someone you see as rarely as Betty seemed to see Veneering.  Perhaps he was more a symbol of sex than the long-lost love he is made out to be.  

For me this book came much more to life when it concentrated on Old Filth and I recall finding him a very appealing character in his seeming aloofness and vulnerability in the first book. So many of the phrases Gardam uses of him make me smile in sympathy with him.  Just one example here:  “Filth thought that using a phrase like ‘see me right’ was what he had always detested about Veneering.”  And he’s put out about the real estate agents being so crass as to be a For Sale out on the roadside.  Just lovely little touches to characterise him, which I didn’t find so obvious in her portrayal of Betty.  He is less central here, but at the end we see how knowledgeable he has been all along.  Something that wasn’t clear in Old Filth.  

I will go and check some reviews now and will probably be embarrassed at how little I have understood this book.

Cheers, Caro.

(By the way Jane Gardam said this was the third book to focus on Old Filth – which is the third?)
Green Jay

Filth shows up in stories in The People on Privilege Hill, though I'm not sure if in all of them.

The long title story features him and Veneering in retirement and still in competition with each other. I have posted a small review earlier in the topic.

Yes, he only appears in that one - though it's a wonderful story.

‘The Queen of Tambourine’ by Jane Gardam

This won the Whitbread Best Novel Prize in 1991, but I infinitely prefer her other books. An interesting choice for the prize, it is an epistolary novel, but all the letters are from the same person and there are no replies, so the point-of-view is as limited as a first-person narrative (which of course it is).

Eliza writes to her neighbour Joan, first short notes, then long screeds that become less and less like real correspondence. As Joan never writes back, Eliza begins to write into a vacuum of supposition. It becomes clear that the letters are ways for Eliza to express herself, and record what goes on in the road where they live, after Joan appears to have done a midlife crisis bunk abroad. Eliza’s own life is unravelling in odd ways. She confesses that she does not post all the letters, and sometimes several lengthy screeds are written on the same day. Eliza appears to be losing her mind, and the responses of those around her seem to confirm this. Eliza is married to Henry, a remote, apparently unloving senior civil servant and does not have a career herself, nor any children. They lived abroad for many years when Henry was a member of embassy staff. She volunteers at a hospice and has a particular young friend, Barry, who is dying of AIDS. She is also a church-goer and the sort of helpful neighbour that busy professional people rely on for small chores and favours. Her busy but rather purposeless life becomes increasingly bizarre; her husband leaves home with Joan’s husband (we’re not sure if this is desperation, friendship, or more), she adopts Joan’s dog as well as looking after her own; gets involved with the curate’s chaotic household and observes and sometimes interferes with the neighbours’ strange goings on.

Rathbone Road, in comfy well-heeled suburbia, is a milieu familiar from Gardam’s short stories and Filth. It has a very clear geographical setting, with a large Common nearby surrounded by grand old houses, a mysterious pond and a visiting fair, and areas of it that are quite isolated and rural. There are pleasant local shops and business dedicated to supporting a wealthy clientele. And the essential train station from which everyone commutes. I wondered if it was Richmond (not an area I know) as it had a distant view of the Epsom hills? Gardam makes the setting completely concrete and detailed even when Eliza’s peregrinations verge on the surreal.

And that was my problem. Eliza’s mind is coming undone and it was hard for me to work out what was real and what was going on only in her own mind. The “real” feedback comes from the responses of neighbours and the head of the hospice to Eliza, but since it is all filtered through Eliza’s consciousness I did not know what to rely on. I could not always keep track of the contradictions. There are several small incidents that are patently not real at all, and they threw me because they just shone a weird light back on the events that had led up to them, which I had been reading as "true". They seemed to be more like episodes of magic or the utterly surreal, rather than the careful depiction of a deteriorating mental state; the latter I was more able to cope with.

Eliza’s voice is very striking; she is bossy, opinionated and acerbic, just as a middle-aged woman of her background and experience might well be. Many of her older female neighbours are like this too, academics, wives of wealthy men, or just ladies with private income; the assumed authority of the ruling classes! But Eliza has some surprising opinions and skills, too. Barry and some of her 'new-money' neighbours and the curate and his wife are from a wider, younger, less fixed social arc. Eliza’s voice was what drew me into the novel and kept me going for a long time. She is sharp and funny, not always intentionally so. There is also bathos and true sadness in this book, all shown with Gardam’s deft touch. But ultimately, so much turned out to be just a product of Eliza’s mind – actually I’m still not clear how much, without going back and re-reading some episodes – that I felt confused and rather disappointed. And there is a such a cast of thousands that it was hard to keep track of the many minor characters who popped in and then did not appear again for many pages. In fact, everyone is a minor character apart from Eliza, as I had so little that was definite to go on about them all.
Green Jay

I'm sure I started this novel once long ago, and was put off, and never finished it, but I have absolutely no memory of the book as you describe it! Still, I do sometimes pick up a book and only a little way in do I realise I have must read it before.

I have finally finished Faith Fox, having started it towards the beginning of the year. I notice that although this thread is a haven for Jane Gardaam lovers, a few people have mentioned that they found Faith Fox weak or bland in comparison to the rest of her oeuvre. This review, by Five Owls, provides a good starting point for me to talk about it - I'm terrible at summarising and this will help me out and remind everyone of the premise:

Posted: Fri Oct 09, 2009 2:46 pm    Post subject:
I have just finished Jane Gardam’s Faith Fox and, although cool in my response at first, I increasingly warmed to the web of characters whose lives interweave around the baby, Faith Fox.  I shall try to avoid ‘spoilers’.

Born to the exuberant, much loved Holly Braithwaite (née Fox), Faith is orphaned by her mother’s death as she gives birth and is farmed out to the care of Jack, the older brother of Andrew, Faith’s father.  Jack is ordained and heads up a religious community on the North York Moors, a bleak and cold complex of buildings centred on a ruined abbey.  Although Faith is the almost symbolic centre of the story we encounter her but rarely as she is cosseted and nursed by Pema, an elderly Tibetan who, with other Tibetans, is a reluctant part of the community.

Initially, I had expected the novel to unravel around Faith’s childhood and early adulthood but the span of the book simply occupies the first year of her infancy.  The main characters’ lives spin into turmoil through the premature death of the popular Holly and the ‘marooning’ of her child in the ‘North’.  Here there is a classic North/South divide between Jack, Andrew, their parents Dolly and Toots and Alice Banks, the grim-faced ‘Missus’ who cooks (after a fashion) for the community, on the one hand and Holly’s mother, Thomasina, her friend Pammie (with her Surrey lipstick), fey Madeline and the General on the other.  The ex-hippy and Jack’s wife, the enigmatic Jocasta, and her dyslexic son Philip are too cosmopolitan to be part of this divide.

There is much delicious humour in the book, the characters become increasingly believable, a darker side emerges well through the story, and I found the novel’s denouement moving and convincing.

After my initial lukewarmness I strongly commend Faith Fox.  Do read to the end!

Having taken about 6 weeks for me to read, this is the longest I've ever spent reading such a novel of average length. This is partly down to my own circumstances and busyness, but is also because the book is very slow burning. After 100 pages, I wasn't sure whether I was interested enough to keep reading. After two hundred pages I didn't want to stop reading because I'd inadvertently grown attached to the characters, and there were moments of poignancy which touched me more than anything I've read in a long time. If the novel is 'about' anything, I'd argue it's about the unusual ties and divides between family members, even where affection or similitude are lacking. The title character is conspicuous by her absence throughout much of the novel, which dramatises the play of influences around her life which she is detached from.

I want to briefly provide a counter to some of the talk about the characters in this book. From memory, I think earlier in the thread people commented that they seemed women-writerish, stereotypical with a hint of the quirky thrown in. What challenged this for me was how the characters formed narratives about themselves and how they were, and how their own self-narratives and levels of self-awareness changed throughout the novel. Jack's analysis of his 'love' for Jocasta, for instance, or Toots and Dolly's changing perceptions of their sons. Even though the characters weren't necessarily sympathetic, I could recognise their hopes, fears and anxieties. They are worried by who they are and aware of the influences that defined them, and I think that something that makes the struggle for Faith's identity so poignant, Jocasta's lack of family identity so sad, and Philip such an interesting character.

Something else I felt was very striking was how visual the novel is. I can still see Toot's and Dolly's nursing chair or picture and Missus at the kitchen sink.

Anyway, while it might not be the most fantastic book I've ever read, I think it's worth a read.

I can only agree with Klara who on another thread called it the Filth/Veneering trilogy rather than just the Old Filth trilogy – it is such a more descriptive title. After all, The Man in the Wooden Hat is about Filth’s wife Elisabeth, sometimes known as Betty, while Last Friends is the back story of Terry Veneering. I think that with the short story The People on Privilege Hill where Betty and Terry are prominent Gardam has predetermined her intention to make the two following novels individual portraits of those two characters. Taken as a whole, the trilogy once again shows the Gardam flair for understatement and humour combined with an acute observation for bringing out the absurdities of life. Anyone new to the novels and story should approach them as one complete novel and read them one after another.

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