You may have noticed my absence from my blog for the last little while. As I noted in my last post, I am in England dealing with my late mother’s estate. Unsurprisingly, this has taken time, but there has been time for reading if no time for coherent thought about what I’ve read. In fact, I’ve managed to read quite a lot, partly because in addition to my dealing with my responsibilities in Manchester, I was able to take a little time to make a whirlwind tour of my friends and to raid their book-cases, often with highly pleasurable results, and I thank those of you who provided me with your company, with solace, visits to Arundel and Standen, the ever satisfying Pittenweem fish supper, surely the best anywhere, a fabulous lunch at the Goring Hotel, and your books.
So here is what I’ve read in the last month (also listed on my “Currently Reading and Recently Read” and “The Year’s Reading” pages of this blog).
Vickers, Salley. The Cleaner of Chartres.  London: Penguin 2013.
Spring, Howard. Tumbledown Dick: All People and No Plot. Illus. Steven Spurrier. Punch on Scotland ed. Miles Kington.
St. John, John. To the War with Waugh. Introd. Christopher Hollis. Illus. Peter MacKarell.
Searle in the Sixties.
Bingley, Xandra. Bertie, May and Mrs. Fish: Country Memories of War Time.
I also indulged in a couple of Famous Five books by Enid Blyton: Five Fall Into Adventure and Five Go to Smuggler’s Top.
I’m going to review The White Rabbit, The Cleaner of Chartres, and Bertie, May, and Mrs Fish brief reviews here; others, I will deal with in a little more detail in subsequent posts.
Originally published in 1952, The White Rabbit tells the story of Wing-Commander F. F. E.Yeo-Thomas, a member of SOE during the war who organised French resistance to the Nazis from 1942 until captured and imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1944. The account of his torture and survival of both Buchenwald and a death march as the Germans sought to flee the advancing allies is harrowing. A good read on the train.
The story of Agnes who “was found wrapped in a white tablecloth in a straw shopping basket on January 21st, St. Agnès Day” (9), The Cleaner of Chartres is ultimately a story about love, loyalty, faith, atonement, and redemption. I still think Mr. Golightly’s Holiday is probably Vickers’ best book, but I did enjoy The Cleaner of Chartres. Since I found this one on my mother’s shelf, I am taking it home with me.
Another book found on my mother’s shelf is
“Underneath the ice, the water is a mile deep.” So ends the German folktale with which Bingley introduces her memoir of her childhood on a farm in Gloucestershire during the war and the early fifties. Written primarily in the present tense and capturing the cadences and point of view of the child Bingley once was, Bertie, May and Mrs. Fish is at times a lyrical evocation of a time gone by and at others a subtle evocation of a tragic breakdown of a marriage.
Bingley is never sentimental. Her recollections of the hardship of war time farming, of the reality of dealing with rats, horses that must be put down, of farm accidents, of being bloodied in her first hunt are just matters of fact for a child. They just are. Her larger than life father, the colonel, the cavalry officer, dances in and out of the narrative “approach[ing] the Coburn 49 at a decanter” (90), singing hymns and spending his wife’s money “like water” (214). Her mother, an Anglo-Irish debutante “learns to farm . . . . Long white kid gloves are wrapped around a leaky pipe in her bedroom knotted at the fingers . . . . . Accidents happen” (18). This lack of sentimentality contributes to the overall power of the book and to the heartbreak of its final chapter.
This was perhaps not a good book for me to be reading at this time.