Review 1738: #1976 Club! Lady Oracle

My final choice for the 1976 Club is this early novel by Margaret Atwood, her third. Up until now, the earliest novel I’ve read by her is The Handmaid’s Tale, published nine years later. Although her novels have mostly been totally unlike each other except for frequent forays into dystopia, Lady Oracle was surprising to me. For the most part, it is quite a silly romp.

When we first meet Joan, she has faked her own death and run away from her life to make a new start in Italy. Over the course of the novel, we learn why.

Joan grows up with a distant and disapproving mother and a mostly absent and ineffectual father. Her mother focuses on her weight, though, so as she gets older, Joan changes from trying to please her mother to defiantly trying to get fatter. It takes the death of her beloved aunt to bring her down to a normal size, because if she loses weight, she’ll inherit enough money to run away from Toronto to London. However, she is thereafter haunted by the spirit of the fat lady.

As a na├»ve teenager in London, she gets involved in the first of a series of odd relationships characterized by her eagerness to please—first an impoverished Polish Count to whom she loses her virginity simply because she doesn’t know what to do in an embarrassing situation; then her husband, a fervent and ascetic believer in some cause, if only he could figure out which one; then the Royal Porcupine, an artist who offers a bit of romance, albeit on the shabby side. All the while, she is hiding two secrets—that she used to be hugely fat and that she writes trashy romance novels for a living. To hide her past, she accumulates complex lies. However, her secrets are threatened when she almost inadvertently writes a best-selling book of poetry.

By and large, I enjoyed this novel, which gets more and more complicated as it goes along, and sillier and sillier. I was deeply disappointed in the ending, which read to me as if Atwood just got tired of writing the novel and wanted to get it over with. Although Joan seems to be finally developing some self-esteem by the last chapters, everything is left up in the air, and I fear she is doomed to repeat her past.

Related Posts

Hag-Seed

Alias Grace

The Heart Goes Last

Review 1725: Cluny Brown

Mr. Porritt, the plumber, is worried about his niece, young Cluny Brown, because, he says, she does not know her place. Why, the other day she went to the Ritz just to see what it was like. When he catches Cluny about to take a bath in a gentleman’s lovely bathtub after she made a plumbing call, Mr. Porritt decides to take advice and send Cluny into service.

She ends up as a parlor maid in Devonshire for Lady Carmel and Sir Henry. There, although she’s not very adept at being a parlor maid, she finds she likes the country and she befriends a golden lab belonging to Colonel Duff-Graham, who allows her to take the dog out for walks.

In the meantime, Lady Carmel’s son Andrew has met Mr. Belinski, an eminent man of letters who has had to abruptly flee Poland and is barely getting by. Andrew invites Mr. Belinski to stay at his parents’ manor, where he can write. Andrew himself is preparing to propose to the beautiful Betty Cream.

Cluny is struck by Mr. Wilson, the chemist, and he rearranges his shop’s closing day to take walks with her. There’s something about Cluny, who is direct and forthright and doesn’t seem to understand customary boundaries.

This is a wonderful comic novel, absolutely delightful, and my first by Margery Sharp (I have reviewed one that I read after this one). I’ll be looking for more.

Related Posts

The Stone of Chastity

Beneath the Visiting Moon

Joanna Godden

Review 1719: The Nonesuch

Often when I am in the middle of some hefty nonfiction book, I take a break by reading some sort of light fiction. I was reading a biography of Lyndon Johnson when I thought I hadn’t read any Georgette Heyer lately, so I picked The Nonesuch out of my library.

The inhabitants of the village of Oversett are all interested when they hear that Sir Waldo Hawkridge, known as the Nonesuch, has inherited Broom Hall from the miserly Joseph Calver and will be arriving to look it over. The young men are excited to see this notable whip. Up at Staples, kindly Mrs. Underhill is dismayed to learn that Sir Waldo has arrived with a lord, his young cousin Lord Lindeth, for her unprincipled but beautiful ward, Tiffany Wield, has announced that she means to marry into the nobility. Tiffany’s governess/companion, Ancilla Trent, remarks with her customary humor and calmness that they will just have to convince Tiffany she is wasted on anyone under a Marquess.

Lord Lindeth meets Tiffany after she carefully arranges an encounter while he is out fishing. When Waldo sees her and her affect on Lindeth, he is dismayed. However, he is much struck by Ancilla. It is Ancilla who does not have a high opinion of Corinthians, the set to which Waldo belongs.

As usual with Heyer, this novel is full of likeable characters, humor, and an engaging hero and heroine. I tend to like Heyer’s sillier plots best, because they are so funny. This is not one of them, but I enjoyed it very much just the same. A perfect Covid-era lightener. (I re-read it last January.)

Related Posts

The Convenient Marriage

Sprig Muslin

Cotillion

Review 1715: #ThirkellBar! The Demon in the House

This third book of Thirkell’s Barsetshire series returns to the village of High Rising and Laura Morland and her young son Tony. Tony is now thirteen, and he is of course the demon in the house.

The novel is set during four holiday seasons that make up most of the year, during which Tony creates as much havoc as is humanly possible. During the Easter holidays in the first section, Tony talks his mother into getting him a new bike. He has grown out of his old one but is not yet tall enough for an adult bike, so she compromises by renting one from Mr. Brown. Then, knowing his talent for falling into trouble, she waits, agonized, to hear about his lifeless body being picked up from the road.

During the course of the novel, several of the old friends from High Rising are on the scene. We also meet new ones, though, in particular Master Wesendonck, Tony’s friend from school, who manages to be silent throughout the novel while proving himself to be loyal and sweet.

Lest we be afraid that there will be no romance in this novel, there is one, but it is very understated. The novel is mostly about Tony’s hijinks. Tony is the same ebulliant, know-it-all motormouth, but some of his adventures seem a little young for thirteen. Still, times have changed, and children now are probably a lot more sophisticated. In any case, this is another charming and funny entry in the series. I hope that the readers who are not on Team Tony will still want to continue with the series.

Related Posts

High Rising

Wild Strawberries

Diary of a Provincial Lady

Review 1710: Classics Club Spin Result! The Woods in Winter

I might have saved The Woods in Winter for a chillier time of year, but its number was chosen for me for the latest Classics Club spin. It’s a lovely tale.

Ivy Gover (not Gower, as it says on the back cover of my Furrowed Middlebrow edition), three times a widow and a charwoman, is living in a tidy but small North London flat when she receives a letter. Not being able to read well, she takes it to her employer, Miss Helen Green, who tells her she has inherited her great-uncle’s cottage out in Buckinghamshire for her lifetime.

Ivy abruptly moves to the country but not before stealing a neighbor’s dog that she has heard barking for months and finds living in its own dirt. Although the cottage is primitive and has a hole in its thatch, she moves right in and begins befriending the local animals. For she has a touch with wild things and for healing, as Lord Gowerville finds out when she magically cures his dying dog. The next day, he sends someone over to fix the thatch in her roof.

As Ivy befriends the birds, a fox, and eventually a boy, her neighbors also have their adventures. The vicar is suddenly taken with Pearl Cartaret, one of two sisters who open a tea shop. Helen is sometimes nearby pursuing an affair with an elusive young man. Angela Mordaunt, a “spinster” brought up by her mother more as a well-bred boy than a girl, catches the eye of Sam Lambert, a kind farm laborer.

This novel was the last one published (in 1970) during Stella Gibbons’ lifetime and displays a longing for the England of 40 years before, when most of it is set. I just loved it. It is funny yet astringent, has some engaging and other very lifelike characters, and contains lyrical descriptions of the countryside around Ivy’s cottage as well as a conservationist conclusion. Ivy herself is a spunky individualist. I liked her a lot.

Related Posts

Nightingale Wood

A Pink Front Door

Bramton Wick

Review 1649: The Hoarder (aka Mr. Flood’s Last Resort)

Best of Ten!
Let me just start out by saying I hate the trend of changing the name of a book from the British edition to the U. S. edition. In this case, I got caught out buying both versions of this novel just because I didn’t realize they were the same. I loved this novel, but I don’t need two copies of it. If they are going to do this, the least they could do is warn us in really big letters on the cover.

____________________________

As with Things in Jars, it took a bit of time before I plunged myself into the eccentric world of The Hoarder. But when I did, I was all in.

Maud Drennan is a care worker whose job it is to feed the difficult Cathal Flood and attempt to make some headway in cleaning his house, for the old man is a hoarder. There are odd rumors surrounding Flood, not only about his recent behavior—he is supposed to have tried to brain carer Sam Hebden with a hurley—but also about his past—his wife died after falling down the stairs.

Maud herself is a little eccentric. She is followed around by the ghosts of saints, particularly St. Dymphna and St. Valentine, and her best friend is Renata, an agoraphobic transgender woman with an elaborate wardrobe. It is Renata who suggests that perhaps it was Cathal Flood who pushed his wife down the stairs.

Certainly, something is going on, because Maud is approached by Gabriel Flood, Cathal’s son, who is looking for something in the house. Then, Renata and Maud discover that Gabriel had a sister, Maggie, who disappeared as a teenager. Maud’s sister, we learn, also disappeared, so Maud becomes immersed in an investigation and attempts to search the blocked-off portions of Cathal Flood’s house.

This novel is a bit gothic, a bit funny, a bit haunting, and Kidd’s writing is brilliant. Love this one. Need more.

Related Posts

Things in Jars

The Vet’s Daughter

The Rathbones

Review 1631: Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

It turns out that Mrs. Tim Gets a Job is part of a series. Unfortunately, because I’d rather read series books in order, I never find this out until I mark that I’m reading it in Goodreads. Luckily, the novel seems to stand perfectly well on its own.

The Second World War is over, but Mrs. Tim’s husband is still stationed in Cairo and won’t be getting home anytime soon. Mrs. Tim’s two children are off at school, and she finds herself at loose ends. So, without really consulting her, a friend arranges a job for her at a hotel in Scotland. At first, Mrs. Tim is inclined to turn down the job, but then she gets a letter from her landlord giving her notice to move out.

With trepidation, she sets out to work for Miss Clutterbuck, who she understands is a difficult person. Miss Clutterbuck has been forced to open her family home to the public, and she has a rude manner. Mrs. Tim finds that part of her duties is to talk to the guests, because Miss Clutterbuck can’t bear them.

This novel is written in a light style as a diary, reminding me very much of the Provincial Lady series except gentler and with less overt humor. We follow Mrs. Tim’s progress as she grows to appreciate Miss Clutterbuck, learns how to deal with a housemaid who hates her, and straightens out a guest’s love life. I enjoyed this book very much.

Related Posts

Miss Buncle’s Book

Miss Buncle Married

Diary of a Provincial Lady

Review 1630: Scot & Soda

I love Catriona McPherson’s creepy psychological thrillers mostly set in small Scottish villages, and I like her Dandy McGilver mysteries set in the early 20th century, but I wasn’t that enamored with the first of her Last Ditch mysteries, set in present-day Northern California. However, I thought I’d give the second one a try before giving up.

One of the jokes of this series is a Scottish woman as fish out of water. That woman is Lexie Campbell, a therapist. She and her friends from the Last Ditch Motel are on the houseboat she inherited in the last book having a Halloween party. When Lexie tries to haul up the beer she has been cooling in the water, up comes a corpse with a wig and tam on its head. Lexie also spots a ring on his finger.

Detective Mike Rankinson is not exactly Lexie’s friend, so after Lexie has a brain wave when she reads a newspaper story about a horse having its tail cut off, Mike isn’t very receptive. Lexie thinks the events remind her of the poem “Tam O’Shanter.” In pursuit of this idea, she and some friends visit a derelict farm that has a burial mound in it, and they find some women’s clothing with blood on it.

The hallmarks of this series are Lexie’s tiffs with the police, the plethora of eccentric friends, and the confusing myriad of clues. One of the things I like about McPherson’s other books is the atmosphere of small Scottish villages, with some eccentric characters but ones that are mostly believable. In this series, McPherson has tried to create the same atmosphere with the eccentric inhabitants of the Last Ditch Motel. First, there are so many of them that I can’t keep them straight. Second, this doesn’t really work in a big city setting, even in California. Finally, I find her making mistakes about the American side of things, having her characters say things Americans wouldn’t say, for example. I think I won’t be reading more of this series.

Related Posts

Scot Free

As She Left It

Strangers at the Gate

Review 1624: The First Bad Man

The First Bad Man reminds me of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine except on steroids, because while Eleanor is one eccentric character, all of the characters in The First Bad Man are eccentric. I read this novel for my James Tait Black project.

Cheryl Glickman is a bit out of touch with normal human behavior. She is a manager at Open Palm, a martial arts/exercise company, but she has been directed to work from home and is only allowed to come to work one day a week. She has long been in love with Phillip Bettelheim, a much older man who is on the company’s board, and she consults a chromotherapist to treat her Globus hystericus simply because Phillip recommended him and so she can report back to him about it.

When she gets up enough nerve to show some interest in him (she tells him “When in doubt, give a shout”), he responds by asking her whether she thinks it is okay for an older man to be interested in a much younger woman. Of course, Cheryl takes this question as an interest in herself, when he is really in love with a 16-year-old schoolgirl. He continues to update her on the progress of the relationship, using explicit language.

As if this weren’t enough, the owners of the business, who routinely help themselves to supplies and the employees’ food when they come in, force her to let their daughter Clee stay with her until she gets a job. Clee is surly and unresponsive and then physically abusive when Cheryl tries to set her eccentric limits.

Cheryl herself is positive and upbeat most of the time, although she has arranged her house so that it doesn’t get dirty during occasional depressions simply by having almost no possessions. But Cheryl finds a way to respond to Clee that is unusual but ends up lightening the atmosphere.

Cheryl has some surprises for herself in this bizarre but touching novel. I liked it very much.

Related Posts

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!

Review 1623: Miss Buncle Married

How delighted I was to find out there are actually three Miss Buncle books, since I so enjoyed the first one. This second book continues in the first one’s gently comic, frothy tradition.

Barbara Buncle, now Mrs. Abbott, and her husband Arthur discover that neither of them has been enjoying their active social life. There seems to be no way to get out of it, however, because they’re such a popular couple. So, they decide to move.

It takes Barbara quite a long time to find a house she likes. When she visits a solicitor’s office in Wandlebury to view a house, Mr. Tupper, mistaking her for another client, has her read a will in which Lady Chevis Cobbe leaves her estate to her niece, Jeronina Cobbe, on the condition that she isn’t married before Lady Chevis Cobbe’s death. When Mr. Tupper discovers his mistake, he is horrified and asks Barbara to tell no one.

Of course, Barbara discovers the perfect house in Wandlebury, and after extensive renovations, it makes a comfortable home. Shortly after moving there, Barbara meets Jeronina Cobbe, who goes by Jerry. She is an industrious young woman who has been running her own stables to keep afloat financially and is worried about her brother Archie. Archie has been living beyond his means because he thinks he is Lady Chevis Cobbe’s heir.

Barbara and Arthur have been enjoying their new home immensely when Barbara discovers that Arthur’s nephew Sam has fallen in love with Jerry. So, without telling anyone about the will, Barbara feels she must keep the two apart until ailing Lady Chevis Cobbe dies, so as not to deprive Jerry of her inheritance.

If anything, I enjoyed this novel more than I did Miss Buncle’s Book. It’s a lot of fun.

Related Posts

Miss Buncle’s Book

Vittoria Cottage

The Baker’s Daughter