April 3rd, 2012

book and cup

#35 Starlight - Stella Gibbons (1968)

I really thoroughly enjoyed this novel from Stella Gibbons, which was undeservedly out of print for many years before Vintage brought it back for us. It is fair to say that it is quite a strange, dark novel rather different to Cold Comfort Farm which is what most people associate Stella Gibbons with.
Gladys and Annie are elderly sisters living in two rooms in one half of a pair of dilapidated cottages in a quiet back street of London. Annie is bedridden while Gladys attends church and cleans at a local Cypriot café. Above them in the attic lives Mr Fisher – who changes his name once a month and is now nearing ninety. The Simms family who live downstairs leave when the cottages are sold to a local ‘rackman’ – the sale plunges the inhabitants of the house into fear. Gladys immediately turns to the vicar for advice, and it is in this way that the Curate Gerald Corliss and the Vicar Mr Geddes first become involved with the inhabitants of the cottages in Rose Walk. The dreaded rackman Mr Pearson moves his wife and her young German au pair into the vacant flat – Mrs Pearson is a fragile faded beauty suffering from an unspecified illness. Mrs Pearson has her part of the cottages done up a bit, and soon the residents of the cottages settle down nicely together. However Mrs Pearson describes herself as a medium, and appears to be possessed by some sort of evil spirit. The story of Mrs Pearson’s possession makes for a quite a chilling climax to the story, as the clergy gather to rid her of the spirit.
Mrs Pearson’s daughter, Peggy, meanwhile gets herself a job as a companion to an elderly wealthy woman, who has four little dogs, called A, Bee, Cee and Dee. Animal lover Peggy, is nursing her own sorrow, and quickly comes to the notice of her employer’s slightly oily middle aged son.
One of the things which came across mostly strongly for me in this novel is the descriptions and sense of time and place. The run down streets of London still scarred by the war twenty years earlier, the sad little rooms inhabited by Gladys and Annie, the empty church on a dark and windy evening are all beautifully evoked. Each character is well drawn – their voices distinct and strong. Although there is much in this novel that is dark, the narrative is shot through with poignant humour too. Stella Gibbons was obviously a wonderful observer of human beings, and the places they inhabit.

  • cat63

Book 20 for 2012

A Taste For Death by Peter O'Donnell. 284 pages
Fourth book in the Modesty Blaise series. 
Another caper for Modesty and her right-hand man Willie Garvin, this time involving the attempted kidnapping of a blind woman and mysterious goings on in the Sahara desert.
Considering that the book was written in the 1960s, the treatment of the blind character seems quite modern - she's shown as competent and sensible, as well as attractive. This contrasts quite sharply with the descriptions of one of the villains, who, while also competent, is repeatedly called "freak" because of his unusual body shape.
That aside though, this is another splendidly enjoyable adventure story.
a little different

Book 29: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Book 29: The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next #1).
Author: Jasper Fforde, 2001.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Alternative History. Science Fiction/Fantasy Humour/Satire. Metafiction.
Other Details: Paperback. 337 pages.

The Eyre Affair takes place in an alternative1985 in which the Crimean War between England and Imperial Russia has been going on for 130 years; a world where cloned dodos are popular pets, where dirigibles provide air transport and where literary and artistic issues can be so hotly debated that they can lead to public riots. Thursday Next is a thirty-six year old Crimean War veteran and a very non-Bridget-Jones-like London singleton employed by SpecOps as a literary detective. Her assignments are fairly routine and include apprehending forgers and recovering stolen manuscripts. Then, in an already surreal world, things get stranger still as Thursday comes up against Acheron Hades, a master criminal with diabolical plans to blackmail the literary world by entering into original manuscripts and kidnapping literary characters. As the title suggests, his main focus is Jane Eyre, both the novel and the character.

I recall some years ago spotting this novel at a local bookshop; its title and faux-distressed cover showing a brightly-stripped sports car crashing through what appears to be a tear in reality promised something very interesting. Yet it has languished on my to-be-read pile until this year when selected by one of my reading groups. Part of the issue was that I had heard from a few folk that it was a 'difficult read'. What I hadn't considered was that they may not have been as comfortable as I am with science fiction and surrealistic aspects or novels that engage so playfully in this kind of unabashed genre-busting. I certainly seem to have the right sort of brain box to enjoys its quirks because I loved it from the opening pages and now can hardly believe that I've owned it for years without reading it.

It was intelligent, witty and just a great deal of fun. I found myself laughing out loud a fair few times while reading it. It is packed with literary references and in-jokes aimed at book lovers and while some of these passed me by, I was able to appreciate a fair few. I could easily see how it almost instantly gained cult status. It was very well received at our reading group and quite a few of us felt inspired by it to re-read Jane Eyre.

Jasper Fforde's Sub-Index on TN-1: 'The Eyre Affair' - plenty to explore.