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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798


Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Sun Jan 23, 2011 8:39 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

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.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2979


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Tue Jul 05, 2011 4:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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.


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Freyda



Joined: 04 Jan 2009
Posts: 425



PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 3:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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.


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Freyda



Joined: 04 Jan 2009
Posts: 425



PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 3:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2979


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2011 10:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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 –


SPOILER





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





END of SPOILER.  

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  -


SPOILER


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.  



END of SPOILER


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?)


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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


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Castorboy



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 1798


Location: Castor Bay Auckland NZ

PostPosted: Fri Jul 08, 2011 11:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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.


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Evie
Site Admin


Joined: 24 Oct 2008
Posts: 3569


Location: Kenilworth, Warwickshire, UK

PostPosted: Sat Jul 09, 2011 6:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

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


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Freyda



Joined: 04 Jan 2009
Posts: 425



PostPosted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 3:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

‘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.


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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
Posts: 1605


Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Sun Sep 11, 2011 7:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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.



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