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Title: The Grasmere Journals

Author: Dorothy Wordsworth

Published: 1991

Genre: Journal

Blurb: ‘I went &sate with W & walked backwards & forwards in the Orchard till dinner time – he read me his poem. I broiled Beefsteaks.’

Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals are a unique record of her life with her brother William, at time time when he was at the height of his poetic powers. Invaluable for the insight they give into the daily life of the poet and his friendship with Coleridge, they are also remarkable for their spontaneity and immediacy, and for the vivid descriptions of people, places, and incidents that inspired some of Wordsworth’s best-loved poems.

The Grasmere Journal was begun at Dove Cottage in May 1800 and kept for three years. Dorothy notes  the walks and the weather, the friends, country neighbours and beggars on the road; she sets down accounts of the garden, of Wordsworth’s marriage, their concern for Coleridge, the composition of poetry.

How I came to own it: I bought this from Gower St. Waterstone’s after we decided to read it for book group.

What I thought: Two things in particular struck me about this journal. The first was the lack of introspection. Dorothy’s gaze is fixed firmly on the outside world, on nature and on other people. The second is the contrast between the mundane details recorded, quite unconcerned in the lack of interest – “It rained today,” that sort of thing – with the flashes of brilliant poetic, evocative description that recreates her world so vividly. The two, side by side, combined with the divisive nature of a series of short, daily journal entries, made the book very difficult to ‘get into’ and I struggled to keep attention.

Rating: 3.5/5

How I’m doing: 41 to go.

Title: The Dean’s Watch

Author: Elizabeth Goudge

Published: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960

Genre: Novel

How I came to own it: I bought this online as a teenager after, on my English teacher’s recommendation, I had read and loved the copy in the school library.

What I thought: I read this book a few times a year, usually when I’m ill or depressed. It’s the only book that I keep rereading like this. It’s like… hot chocolate. Everything is bathed in a rosy glow. Not everything that happens in nice, and not all the characters are nice, and yet all are loved and lovable: there is ample sympathy, understanding and redemption for everyone. Every detail of the city is described in such loving detail. It’s an explicitly Christian book, and yet never didactic or preachy. There is the occasional moment where I think something has been laid on a bit thick but I can forgive this book anything because it’s so forgiving.

Rating: 5/5

How I’m doing: 4Still 42 to go.

The Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: North and South

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Published: Penguin, 1986 (originally 1854-5)

Genre: Novel

How I came to own it: I bought it in the world’s most fantastic bookshop, an old train station in Alnwick, Northumberland.

What I thought: I was thoroughly enjoying this and then I went sneakily and watched the BBC adaptation. When I came back to the book, the story was just too fresh in my mind and it was spoiled. So I will read the whole thing again later (after the TBR pile is vanquished), when I have forgotten all the details, and I shall review then.

Rating: 4.5/5

How I’m doing: 42 to go.

“In my mailbox” is a not-very-weekly-in-my-case meme hosted by The Story Siren in which people share the books that they have acquired that week. I threw the rules out of the window long ago. Just keeping it to attempt to fool myself into believing I have some kind of structure going on.

Book group gave me an excuse to go into Waterstone’s in Gower Street on Thursday and pick up:

TBR pile back up to 43.

Title: The Fry Chronicles

Author: Stephen Fry

Published: Penguin, 2010

Genre: Autobiography

Blurb: Stephen Fry arrived at Cambridge on probation: a convicted fraudster and thief, an addict, liar, fantasist and failed suicide, convinced that at any moment he would be found out and flung away.

Instead, university life offered him love, romance and the chance to stand on stage and entertain. He began his iconic relationship with Hugh Laurie, befriended Emma Thompson among a host of household names, and emerged as one of the most promising comic talents in the country.

This is the intriguing, hilarious and utterly compelling story of how the Stephen the nation knows (or thinks it knows) began to make his presence felt as he took his first tentative steps in the worlds of television, journalism, radio, theatre and film. Shameful tales of sugar, shag and champagne jostle with insights into credit cards, classic cars and conspicuous consumption, Blackadder, Broadway and the BBC.

For all its trademark wit and verbal brilliance, this is a book that is not afraid to confront the aching chasm that separates public image from private feeling. Welcome to The Fry Chronicles, one of the boldest, bravest, most revealing and heartfelt accounts of a man’s formative years that you will ever have the exquisite pleasure of reading.

How I came to own it: Birthday/Christmas present.

What I thought: This is not a book I can review objectively (we are all subjective but I am extra super subjective in this case): Stephen Fry was the hero of my adolescence and I still have a soft spot for him, so I was bound to enjoy this. As always, I enjoyed his humour and his wordiness, his playful use of language. It was a very courageous book, painfully self-aware and self-conscious in its raw honesty about his less worthy emotions and his insecurities. These are all things that excite either irritation or admiration: rather obviously, in my case, the latter.

Rating: 4/5

How I’m doing: 43 to go.

The Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: Lady Windermere’s Fan

Author: Oscar Wilde

Published: in ‘The Complete Illustrated Stories, Plays and Poems of Oscar Wilde’, Chancellor Press, 1991 (originally published 1893)

Genre: Play

How I came to own it: This bumper Oscar Wilde collection was an Oxfam bargain at £2.99 several years ago.

What I thought: It’s been so long since I read a play – I thought I might struggle to get into it. This wasn’t the case at all. It’s an easy, fast read, very funny, as expected with Wilde, with those one-liners popping up almost constantly, and yet also rather moving in places. I enjoyed it very much.

Rating: 4/5

How I’m doing: 44 to go.

Title: The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield

Published: Orion, 2006

Genre: Novel

Blurb: Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.  It was once the imposing home of the March family – fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie, her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline.  But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates…

Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past — and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel.  What has the house been hiding?  What is its connection with the enigmatic author Vida Winter?  And what is it in Margaret’s own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield’s spell?

How I came to own it: I BookMooched this at the recommendation of Katie, aka The Old English Rose.

What I thought: Firstly, I’d like to (rather lazily) direct you to Katie’s review of this book. Katie has a real gift for recreating a novel’s atmosphere, and it was this review which inspired me to get a copy in the first place. Katie’s blog is professional and reader-centred, while I use mine more for keeping track of my own reading. When I was at secondary school, we had to keep a ‘reading log’, an exercise which I thoroughly enjoyed, and this is now the online equivalent. In short, if you’re here (and I somehow doubt anyone is), I rejoice at it and you’re most welcome, but you might be happier there.

Back to the book. Everything Katie said, but I’d like to add…. Firstly, I loved this book! It was so indulgent. I particularly enjoyed tracing the influence of novels like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The Heights-like, many-voiced, many-layered narrative structure was done particularly well. The only real niggle for me was the post-scriptum: I had thought that one of the novel’s achievements so far was its ability to be outrageous and to flirt with the supernatural whilst remaining believable. The post-scriptum broke that spell and suddenly I was irritated rather than enchanted. The whole point of the supernatural is that it’s just around the corner. It’s not in your face and it can’t be confirmed. The minute a ghost turns up with his head under his arm and says ‘Oooh,’ he ceases to be frightening or interesting and he becomes a figure of fun. Not quite as bad as Philippa’s Melusina, but it’s the same thing. I love the gothic genre and I love the supernatural in fiction, but for goodness’ sakes, keep it unknowable and keep in ambiguous, or just wave goodbye to reality completely and call the ghost Casper.

Rant over. Snip off the post-scriptum and this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

Rating: 4.5/5

How I’m doing: 45 to go.