Day 1044: The Lark

Cover for The LarkBest Book of the Week!
The Lark was E. Nesbit’s last novel for adults, and it is a delightful romp with lovable characters. I had been reading her books in order, but because of the recommendation of a friend, I skipped to this one. Written in 1922, it is set in post-WW I England.

The novel begins with a few scenes set several years before the main action. Exuberant 15-year-old Jane Quested finds an old book with a spell for seeing her true love, and she is determined to try it in the garden at night. John Rochester has just been advised by his mother to marry the wealthy Hilda Antrobus. (Jane and Rochester. Can this be a coincidence?) John is walking in the woods after missing his train and happens to come upon the scene just after Jane finishes her spell. She thinks she’s seen a vision of her future.

The war intercedes, and Jane and her cousin Lucilla are still in school at the end of it, both of them orphaned. They are surprised to get a sudden summons from their guardian, Arthur Panton. They are delivered to their new home, a small house called Hope Cottage, where they learn that Panton has lost all their money in investments and is leaving the country. He has left them with the house and 500 pounds.

Instead of being discouraged, Jane declares that they will live life as a lark, and the first thing to do is find a way to make money. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to do anything.

One morning Jane hands out flowers to the workmen on their way to work. One of them suggests she sell the flowers. So, she and Lucilla begin selling flowers out of their garden but soon find the garden isn’t big enough. The next thing to do is to find a place that is.

Of course, John Rochester appears on the scene, as the nephew of the man whose house they want to lease. But Jane is determined not to be side-tracked by a vision from making her own way in life.

This novel is lively and full of enjoyable characters, as Jane and Lucilla attempt to earn their living and so meet all kinds of interesting people. It is a light-hearted novel that I enjoyed immensely.

At the suggestion of my friend Deb, I’m attaching a link for The Lark online, since it is difficult to find: http://dbooks.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/books/PDFs/N10292048.pdf. I myself bought E. Nesbit’s complete works from Delphi Classics, also in the form of an ebook (the only disadvantage, in my opinion). If you live in the U. K., it looks like there are some newly printed paperback copies available.

Related Posts

The Story of the Treasure Seekers

The Railway Children

The Making of a Marchioness

Day 1042: Troy Chimneys

troy-chimneysTroy Chimneys is a curious novel. Written in the 1950’s by a contemporary of the modernist Elizabeth Taylor, Troy Chimneys is set in the early 19th century and feels more like a Victorian novel except for the complexity of the morality. As such, I preferred it over the spare works of Taylor.

Miles Lufton is an ambitious man, but he has no fortune or title, so he must make his own way. He becomes a member of parliament and so must please people and curry favor.

Mr. Lufton sees himself as two different people. The ambitious, political Lufton who is always diplomatic and conciliating and has sometimes had to associate with the wrong people he calls Pronto, after a character in a play. The more retiring, thoughtful Lufton, who has no particular ambition and tends to the naive he calls Miles. Lufton dreams of the day when he has earned enough money that he can retire to his home, Troy Chimneys, and become wholly Miles.

After only one adventure in romance when he was young, Pronto has been content with flirtation (well, almost). But he finally realizes he is in love with a serious, intelligent spinster named Caroline. Caroline has had the perception to notice the two Luftons, but she has a different opinion of them than Lufton does.

The introduction of my Virago edition states that, like Taylor, Kennedy was examining virtue in this novel. That seems rather stuffy sounding, but the novel is quite enjoyable, full of ironies.

Related Posts

Red Pottage

A Wreath of Roses

The True Heart

Day 1025: Dolly: A Love Story

Cover for DollyDolly lives a Bohemian life in what she calls Vagabondia with her sisters and artist brother Phil, his wife, and baby Tod. They are poor, so Dolly works as a governess for her disapproving Aunt Augusta. Dolly is not pretty, but she is witty and vivacious, and at a party she attracts the attention of the wealthy Mr. Gowan.

Only Dolly’s inner circle knows that Dolly has been engaged for seven years to Griffith Donne. The couple has not married, because they can’t afford to, although they dream of the day they can. Grif is a volatile young man who gets discouraged at the lack of progress in his career and becomes jealous of Dolly’s flirtatious behavior. He has a wealthy aunt, Miss Berenice MacDowlas, but she disapproves of him.

Dolly’s troubles begin when Aunt Augusta dismisses her, declaring that her children are too old for a governess. She must find work, and she finally gets a position as companion to Miss MacDowlas. Unfortunately, she must live in, which limits her meetings with Grif. He becomes more and more upset until an unfortunately convergence of circumstances and a true emergency lead him to believe Dolly is toying with him. He breaks from her without allowing her to explain.

Burnett creates a warm family life for Dolly, and we get to know and appreciate her family. She is also good at appealing to our sympathies for her heroine.

This novel was marred for me, however, by my dislike of Grif. The core problem between him and Dolly is that Grif does not trust her, but Dolly takes the blame because of her flirtatiousness, a Victorian conclusion, for sure (and worse, the novel accepts the problem as her fault). Even in their ultimate misunderstanding, when Grif refuses to listen to her very good reason for missing their date, Dolly blames herself. Well, obviously attitudes have changed, but these days his behavior would raise all sorts of red flags. I very much preferred the behavior of Mr. Gowan, who proves to be a true friend. So, I guess in this case I am guilty of judging a book by today’s standards.

And, to give away a plot point, Dolly goes into a decline. I thought that she was an unlikely character to do so. So, a mixed reaction to this one, one of Burnett’s first novels.

Related Posts

The Making of a Marchioness

That Lass O’Lowrie’s

Red Pottage

Day 913: The Unforgotten

Cover for The UnforgottenA novel set in two time periods, The Unforgotten is a thriller and a mystery. But it is more than that—a story with deep-running themes offering its characters difficult choices.

In 1956 Cornwall, Betty Broadbent is an innocent, naive 15-year-old. She helps her unstable mother run a hotel and sometimes has to run it herself when her mother is in the throes of depression or alcoholism. The small fishing village has been invaded by reporters after the murders of several young women.

In 2006, Mary reads that the man who served time for the murders back in 1956 still insists he is innocent. Mary remembers him as the man her mother used to date and believes he is innocent. She thinks she knows who the actual killer is and is torn between telling what she knows and keeping a long-held secret. Although we don’t know why she is living under another name, we are soon sure that Mary is Betty.

This novel is about the painful choices two people must make under difficult circumstances. It is also about a sad and doomed love affair.

At first I thought that some of the dialogue and situations were unlikely, but I soon forgot those thoughts, driven forward by the sheer power of the story. It is one that has many more levels than first expected. This is a great first novel by Powell.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Related Posts

The Lace Reader

Sharp Objects

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns

Day 873: Fidelity

Cover for FidelityBest Book of the Week!
Fidelity begins in 1913 with the return of Ruth Holland to her home town in Iowa after an absence of ten years. As a naive young woman from a privileged background, Ruth fell in love with a married man. When he was diagnosed with tuberculosis a few years later, Ruth left town to join him in Arizona.

Ruth’s good friend, Dr. Deane Franklin, would like to see Ruth’s old friends welcome her back as she returns to her father’s deathbed. He knows that Ruth’s life has been difficult, both emotionally and economically, and would like people to show some sympathy. He wants to introduce Ruth to his new wife Amy. But Amy thinks this suggestion is shocking and can’t imagine why Deane would want her to know this scandalous woman.

Eventually, the novel returns in time to show how the affair started and progressed. It is not until Ruth returns that she learns how difficult things also were for her family after she left.

The plot of Fidelity, which was written in 1915, closely mirrors a situation in Glaspell’s own life, in which she ran off with a married man and later married him. She wrote the novel to answer the question “Was it worth it?”

During Ruth’s visit back home, she meets a woman who teaches her to recognize another type of fidelity—to herself. Although we don’t know where this fidelity will take her, we know that she will keep to it.

Of course, the novel is also meant as a condemnation of the small minds in Ruth’s home town. Even though they have known her from a child, most of her former friends misinterpret her actions in terms of her new reputation. Only her youngest brother Ted and a few friends see her for the person she has always been.

I found this novel completely fascinating from beginning to end, even though I’m not sure I would answer the question the same way Ruth did. The novel is particularly insightful about its characters, making readers understand and sympathize with even some of its unlikable ones.

Related Posts

A View of the Harbour

Someone at a Distance

Greenbanks

 

Day 849: Our Souls at Night

Cover for Our Souls at NightBest Book of the Week!
Since this is my post before Valentine’s Day, I’m trying to observe the day with a book about love. Kent Haruf, who passed away in 2014, was a great stylist. His prose is unbelievably spare, his tales about ordinary small-town people in eastern Colorado. When it was my turn to make a book club selection for the anniversary of his death, I picked Our Souls at Night, his last book.

Louis Waters is a lonely widower in Holt, the town where most of Haruf’s books are set. One day his neighbor Addie Moore stops by with a proposal. She would like Louis to come over and sleep with her at night, sleep and talk. She misses this intimacy since her husband died. He decides to agree.

Although Louis and Addie are not having a romantic relationship, at least not at first, that’s what the town thinks. Instead, they are simply lying together and talking over their lives. We learn, for example, that once Louis fell in love with another woman and briefly left his wife for her. Everyone in the town knows this, but Louis explains to Addie how he felt and why he returned to his wife.

Addie’s son Gene is having marital problems, so he asks Addie to take his young son Jamie for the summer. Soon Jamie grows to care for Louis, who adopts a dog for the boy to play with.

This is a quiet novel about loneliness, friendship, and love. Haruf said it has its roots in the conversations he had at night with his wife. Our Souls at Night is a lovely novel.

Related Posts

Black River

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

Beautiful Ruins

Day 826: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Cover for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryI know that many people enjoyed reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. The reason? I think that this novel is manipulative, pulling out all the stops to make you feel for its characters. What it didn’t do is make them convincing.

Harold Fry is retired, but since his retirement he’s done virtually nothing. He and his wife are estranged over a series of misunderstandings followed by a tragedy. He is an ineffective person who blames himself for lack of action at important times during his life.

One morning Harold receives a letter from a former coworker, Queenie Hennessy. Harold feels guilty about Queenie because he wronged her in some way, but we don’t find out why for some time. Queenie tells him she is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, dying of cancer.

Harold, who is not good at self-expression, writes her a stiff letter and sets off to the post office to mail it. But he feels reluctant to return home and makes an excuse to walk to the next post office. Soon, Harold finds himself walking from Kingsbridge in far southern England to Berwick-upon-Tweed on the Scottish border.

This novel is about Harold’s self-redemption through the accomplishment of a difficult goal. It is a feel-good novel that uses all kinds of tricks, including a dead child, to make us feel sorry for Harold and sympathetic to his wife Maureen. But I did not find Harold’s journey very involving, and all along I felt manipulated, probably because, as I said before, the characters in the novel don’t seem to be real. They are instead types. This novel just doesn’t have much depth. It seems to be catering to the audience for “quirky,” saccharine, feel-good stories, which I am not a part of, and I didn’t find it very interesting.

Related Posts

My Wish List

Pastoral

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!