Friday, 8 January 2010

Persephone Review and Additions

I shared with you here that the Persephone book I received from my Secret Santa, Jodie, was Every Eye by Isobel English (the end-paper for which, a 1956 'Iberia' fabric, is pictured above), and I read it at the close of the festive period. This novella opens with the arresting first words, "I heard today that Cynthia died" and alternately tells the story of Hatty on her honeymoon with her younger hustband on a train through Europe to the Spanish island of Ibiza and a younger Hatty who had an older lover, a friend of her Uncle Otway and his wife, Cynthia. From the opening page the reader knows that Cynthia was an influence in Hatty's life, our attention is focused on her from the outset and we know that Hatty will reveal the details of the deterioration of their friendship:

... It is six years since I last saw Cynthia, six years since I cut myself free from the inquisitive disapproval; the light unfriendly laugh that always accompanied her sharpest barbs - the honey and the gall mixed to such a smooth consistency that were inseparable. And yet I should have known the reason for this; I am alwaus talking about a true sense of vocation - the time when I was going to become a pianist - and now once more when I am trying to put together the bits and pieces of my life to start off with a husband who is so many years younger than I.

The closing line of the novella -written in French and crucial to translate- is revelatory and refers to something that Hatty reads, which illuminates her perception of the past and the perception of the reader; I wanted to reread the novella upon hindsight to seek out possible hints. It is a cleverly-crafted work that is beautifully written. Isobel English (a pseudonym for June Braybrooke) was friends with a number of other talented writers one of whom was Muriel Spark; Spark wrote, "The late Isobel English was an exceptionally talented young novelist of the mid-1950s. Every Eye is one of her most successful and sensitively written books, a romantic yet unsentimental story of a young woman's intricate relationships of family and love, intensely evocative of the period, remarkable in its observations of place and character". The stunning prose of Every Eye impressed me and I found it a wonderful book to lose oneself in the descriptions of the Iberian landscape, the observations that Hatty makes of the social position of women and to study the hold Cynthia retains on Hatty even in death. Thank you, Jodie, for your lovely gift as it may not have been one that I would have purchased for myself for some time.

Some favourite passages:

So, it is Wednesday and the first for Cynthia below the ground - the cold raw earth lined with evergreens. 'Six feet of semi-detached will do me nicely, dear,' I had heard her say often enough when she was looking for another smaller flat when their lease had expired. At last this had been realised as a permanency.

The words carried right into the soft part of my brain and stuck there like three neutral stones. I suppose that I must have stood there with my mouth open, my bad eye focusing all over the place in an effort to materialise him again in the gap which he had left. This was the first time that anyone had ever said these words to me; the first time, and they were no more active that fizzy lemonade. I wanted to reach out and extricate them from the smutty stucco frontages of the ugly houses, save them from the smell of petrol and the dust-thick sun of two o'clock of that September afternoon.

I remember her now as she had been when I first saw her. The picture that had been taken with the unclouded lenses of a fourteen-year-old's eyes had gained in the intervening years another dimension; I could see now the might-have-been: the little touches of English chintz and pottery that she must have added to her hotel bedroom to make it like home; the warm nest of spinsterly living into which she would eventually wind herself. So often this is the way with solitary Englishwomen of character who retire abroad: they harden like the autumnal beads at their throat into hard little wax pellets that no heat will ever melt again, they turn into a self-supporting wholesome substance that can never take anything in, nor be taken in, again.

At that time, already the clouds were beginning to build up behind Cynthia. I saw her as an all-powerful magician who could produce black evil and despair at the flick of her wrist. Her small white voice creaked on, in and out of the teacups as she sat smiling at me behind the tray; these were no longer objects of domestic comfort, but stark receptacles for surgical performance, something in which to catch the sly tear, or conceal for second, with the raising of a hand, the buttoned-down anguish of her mouth.

With another Persephone book read and reviewed I look to the recent additions to my collection -bringing it to thirty five and the need for a longer shelf- acquired at the shop yesterday. Again, I would like to say how generous the shop are and I feel greedy and guilty looking at my Persephone loot. I purchased the copy of To Bed With Grand Music as I have been coveting a copy since October and Santa didn't me one (he brought other exciting and surprising things instead) and will most probably read that first swiftly followed by The Home-Maker, which I bought for my Santee, Thomas, and which he loved.

My new Persephones:

To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski
The Village by Marghanita Laski
The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher
Daddy's Gone A-Hunting by Peneople Mortimer
Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
Amours de Voyage by Hugh Clough
Consequences by E.M. Delafield
How to Run Your Home Without Help by Kay Smallshaw
Making Conversation by Christine Longford
Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malle


Bloomsbury Bell said...

Such a great Persephone book hoard - enjoy!

Steph said...

Every Eye sounds wonderful, and you've definitely piqued my interest to read it!

I have a copy of The Home-Maker, but I suspect you'll get to it before I do! I eagerly await your thoughts!

So envious of all your loot - it's probably for the best you didn't take a picture of your current Perspephone collection; I don't think my covetous heart could take it! :D

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said...

I'm impressed by the number of Persephones you now own! I don't think I'll ever get to that number. I hope you enjoy them all.

Anonymous said...

Most envious of that hoard I have to say. I only have three unread Persephone's on my TBR to last me the whole year, so thats one every month, or three in your Persephone week this year!

Maybe with all the money I save this year my treat could be to by the whole lot at the start of 2011...

Vivienne said...

I feel quite jealous, as I only have two. This one sounds wonderful.

Iliana said...

35 Persephones? Oh I'm a bit jealous :)

Anonymous said...

I am in awe of your Persephone collection. You must post exorbitant amounts of photos documenting their beauty.

Karen said...

What a wonderful collection you have. I am currently saving my Persephone books for the reading week in May - although I might need to get my partner to hide them for me so that I can resist tempatation!!

Mrs. B. said...

Wonderful stash! You're going to love Consequences.

verity said...

Enjoy enjoy enjoy! So pleased that we spotted The home-maker for you...

Darlene said...

Oh, Consequences was fantastic! Darker than any Provincial Lady novel (which wouldn't be hard), I'll be interested to read your take on that one.

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JoAnn said...

I envy your Persephone collection! There's an award for you at:

Frances said...

That passage is fantastic! As a Persephone newbie, I feel a bit hypnotized by all the possibilities. Frozen for now looking at my first Laski, and afraid that if I begin to move I won't stop. The temptation of acquiring a collection as impressive as yours!

Jodie said...

So glad you enjoyed it and that I could hasten your getting it. I think To Bed with Grand Music is the book that led me to the whole Persephone swap thing when it was mentioned on someone's blog, hope it is great.

StuckInABook said...

Just to let you know I've tagged you in a meme! Have a go if you think it looks fun, and let me know if you do... enjoy!
Info. here:

Anonymous said...

Every Eye isn't a Persephone I had tagged for purchase, but I might have to reconsider that now. It sounds interesting.

And that is quite a pile of dove grey happiness! I'm looking forward to reading your reviews of them.

skirmishofwit said...

What an excellent review! The book sounds fascinating - I'll have to buy a copy myself. I read To Bed With Grand Music for the Persephone Book Group in London - it's brilliant! Looking forward to reading your review.

Sophie said...

Oh, this sounds excellent. It wasn't one I'd previously had high on my Persephone wish list, but now I'm thinking it might be a good choice for one of my Christmas Persephone book tokens! Although To Bed With Grand Music is definitely at the top of my list for Persephone lust-afters atm. Amours de Voyage was the first text I had to write an essay when I arrived at university! Sadly the beautiful Persephone edition hadn't been published then, obviously. I look forward to hearing what you think of it, as I enjoyed it v much, despite the terrors of the first tutorial associated with it ;)

Paperback Reader said...

Apologies for the delayed response, people, but I sprained my wrist and I have been attempting to type as little as possible.

Naomi, I don't know where to begin! Just now I'm settling for admiring them often.

Steph, Every Eye is an intriguing book.

The Home-Maker is top of my Persephone reading list so I hope to share my thoughts with you soon!

Hee. Once I work out the logistics of space, I may very well take a photograph of my burgeoning collection - you have been warned!

Jackie, I'm quite addicted! In 2009 I managed to accrue 22 of the current collection, which is a lot... now I need to read them!

Simon, you've been quite lucky finding Persephones in your library so hopefully they have some more that you can borrow this year.

Vivienne, I've been collecting for over eighteen months though and ten at once help! Every Eye is beautiful.

Iliana, I can appreciate that :). Even with my 35 I want more!

Lena, once I find a place for all of my collection together, I shall post documentation of their beauty.

Karen, May seems so far away... I hope you enjoy yours whenever you read them.

Mrs. B, I have been wanting to read Consequences since your review! It was the only copy that had real damage to it, justifying its remainder status, but I couldn't leave it behind!

Paperback Reader said...

Verity, The Home-Maker is the one that I most delighted by and I am so grateful to you for noticing it!

Darlene, can you believe that I have yet to read Diary of a Provincial Lady? :s Perhaps I should read both Delafields consecutively...

JoAnn, thank you for the award! I shall be accepting that tomorrow.

Frances, I can understand that sense of being overwhelmed by the unlimited possibilities and temptation. I hope that you enjoy Little Boy Lost as much as I did.

Jodie, To Bed With Grand Music will be my next Persephone and I hope it meets my high expectations. Thank you again for providing me with another satisfying Persephone to read; the quality of writing of this one is high and memorable.

Simon, thanks for the tag! I hope to complete that for tomorrow.

makedo, I was very pleasantly surprised by Every Eye and hope you find it interesting when you read it.

I love the phrase, "pile of dove grey happiness"! I am excited to read them all.

Miranda, thanks; I hope you enjoy it! I'm delighted to read another positive endorsement of To Bed With Grand Music! I can't wait to read it and share my thoughts!

Sophie, how lovely to have received Persephone book tokens for Christmas! It is always such a dilemma which books to choose... To Bed With Grand Music was the one I lusted after and had done since I first learned of its forthcoming reissue so I understand you coveting it.
It tickles me that you had the chance to study a Persephone text! Albeit before it became one. I'm impressed that it remained a favourite despite the terror associated with it and I look forward to reading it.

Nymeth said...

I really like those passages you shared - her writing really is beautiful. And wow - so many new Persephones! Enjoy :D

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, I had difficulty whittling down the passages to the ones quoted; I had taken note of so many, which is testimony itself to the beautiful writing.

claire said...

Ohh so many unread Persephones! I'm saving my present of To Bed with Grand Music for Persephone Week! Hopefully by then I'll have acquired a couple or so more. :) Enjoy your loot!!

Paperback Reader said...

Claire, I'm beginning to think that there are too many and that I need five Persephone weeks to catch up with the reading! I hope to read To Bed With Grand Music over the next few weeks - I have coveted it for months and it has been sidelined by other books that have to be read this month!

claire said...

Excited to hear what you have to say about To Bed with Grand Music! I'm thinking of getting The Village and Little Boy Lost for Persephone Week, so make it a Laski event, ha ha. Then again, so many authors I'd be missing, like Whipple! I loved her short story in the last Biannually.

Paperback Reader said...

I'm planning on reading The Village soon too, Claire (or possibly during PRW seeing as I have so many Persephones on hand) as I love Laski... but, yes, there are so many other tempting Persephone titles and authors! Whipple's great, the short story was brilliant and I've been wanting a bit of a Whipple fix myself this last week but don't have any of her other books in my collection as yet :(.