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Life in the Writings of Storm Jameson: A Biography (Cultural Expressions of World War II)
Life in the Writings of Storm Jameson: A Biography (Cultural Expressions of World War II)
by Elizabeth Maslen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £28.43

3.0 out of 5 stars Margaret Storm Jameson (3.5 Stars), 19 Dec 2014
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Born in 1891 in Whitby, North Yorkshire, Margaret Storm Jameson had her first novel published in 1919, when she was a young wife and mother. This debut novel: 'The Pot Boils', was the first of her impressive literary output which included over forty novels and a large number of essays, short stories, articles and critical reviews, as well as two volumes of autobiography. Margaret's first marriage, into which she was pushed by her domineering mother, was not a very successful one and ended after several years, by which time she had met her second husband, historian Guy Chapman. Guy was an intelligent, but sensitive man who was gassed during the First World War, and Margaret supported him financially for many years through her writing - in fact she supported several members of her family at different times throughout her writing career and, in consequence, she was often very short of money and regularly complained to friends that despite her success as an author, she was on the verge of bankruptcy. Margaret was a pacifist and a socialist, but she revised her pacifist stance in the build-up to the Second World War, appalled at what was happening to the Jews in Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Through her friendship with Lilo Linke, a young German Social Democrat, Margaret was aware of the complex situation in Germany which had allowed Hitler to gain power, and she brought her fears about Nazism to the fore in her 1936 novel: 'In the Second Year'; however although she was passionately anti-fascist, Margaret remained wary of communism. As a member and later president of PEN, Margaret was instrumental in helping refugee writers to build new lives in Britain and the USA, and she was an early champion of European writers such as: Arthur Koestler and Czeslaw Milosz. As president of PEN and through her fiction and non-fiction writing, Margaret came into contact with many well known writers of the day, including: Rebecca West, Virginia Woolf, Edith & Osbert Sitwell, E M Forster, T S Elliot, Rose Macaulay, Dorothy Sayers and Vera Brittain, to name just a few.

Elizabeth Maslen has obviously worked hard on this biography, but she has been hampered in her endeavours by her subject, who destroyed many of her own papers and letters - in fact Ms Maslen begins her biography with an apologia, stating that where there are gaps, she has tried to resist filling those gaps, and she has occasionally 'raised questions and left them hanging', preferring the reader to shape their own answers. Naturally, as a serious biographer, Ms Maslen must adhere strictly to the facts, but as the reader has not had the benefit of access to the archives and does not have Ms Maslen's knowledge of Jameson's life and work, it is difficult for the reader to make speculations and 'shape' their own answers, and Ms Maslen is much better placed to put forward theories about her subject's life than the reader. In addition, I do have to say that despite my interest in scholarly biographies, I found this particular biography a little heavy weather at times, and I was disappointed to find that the text was not enlivened by any photographs whatsoever. It is possible that there may not be many photographs of Storm Jameson available, but there must be some, and even if there are not, I would have liked to have seen some photographs of her family, friends and fellow authors. However, all of that said, and as stated previously, Ms Maslen has worked hard on this biography of a complex woman and one who said that she wished to be forgotten - and in the light of that, it may be that this biography is the best that could have been written with the amount of material available. In summary, although maybe not as enlightening nor enjoyable as I had hoped 'Life in the Writings of Storm Jameson' was worth the read and has certainly made me interested in reading some of Storm Jameson's impressive output, including the two volumes of autobiography:Journey from the North, Volume 1: Autobiography of Storm Jameson (Bloomsbury Reader) and Journey from the North, Volume 2: Autobiography of Storm Jameson (Bloomsbury Reader).

3.5 Stars.


Lady Into Fox
Lady Into Fox
by David Garnett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.67

3.0 out of 5 stars Quirkily Entertaining, 13 Dec 2014
This review is from: Lady Into Fox (Paperback)
Set in the late nineteenth century, Richard Tebrick, a country gentleman, is out walking one day with his much-loved wife, Silvia, when she suddenly and very surprisingly, turns into a fox. Stunned by her transformation, but very keen to keep her close, Tebrick hides her under his coat and returns home, where he quickly dismisses the servants and (upsettingly) shoots the family dogs in order to prevent them discovering his vulpine wife. Initially, Tebrick tries to carry on married life with his beloved Silvia, sleeping together in the marital bed, helping her to wash and to dress (in a little flowered silk dressing jacket); covering her in scent (to disguise her somewhat rank odour); and feeding her lightly boiled eggs and buttered toast, with a little quince or apple jam. They even play piquet and cribbage together, with Silvia flipping the cards with her sharp claws, and winning more often than not. However, soon her foxy ways begin to take over, and before long she is running about on all fours, chasing the ducks and hungrily eyeing her own pet dove. Tebrick finds himself turning to the bottle in desperation, and when he discovers his wife crunching up chicken bones, bloodily despatching a live rabbit, and desperately trying to escape into the woods, he realises that maybe it is time to let her go her own way. But, still very much in love with Silvia, can he let her go? And, if he does, how will he be able to cope with the knowledge she may be killed by the foxhounds from the local hunt?

Not a story to be taken too seriously, but an intriguing little tale (less than 70 pages) and a very attractively presented one, illustrated with some attractive and characterful woodcuts by the author's first wife, Rachel Garnett. David Garnett makes no bones about depicting his main male protagonist as a rather simple and somewhat foolish fellow, but he deftly uses a mix of humour, fantasy and allegory to convey his message - if, of course, there is one. However, if there is a message, I'm afraid I am unsure exactly what it is - is this story intended as a short exploration of what happens when a loved one undergoes immense, uncontrollable changes and, therefore, a tale of marital fidelity against the odds? Is it about the dangers of entering into a serious relationship with someone you do not know sufficiently well and of the wildness that sometimes lies beneath a seemingly tame exterior? Was the story intended as a fable or just a whimsical little story that David Garnett created to amuse his Bloomsbury Group friends? (If you are not aware, David Garnett was, for a time, the lover of painter Duncan Grant, and lived at Charleston Farmhouse with Duncan and fellow artist Vanessa Bell, both members of the Bloomsbury Group. Much later, David married Duncan and Vanessa's daughter, Angelica and it was interesting to note that one of the fox cubs that appears in the story, and a favourite of Richard Tebrick's, is named Angelica - was this favourite fox cub named after his future second wife, who would have been a small child when this book was first written?) All in all, if you can suspend your disbelief and enter into the spirit of the story, you might find this little novella a quirkily enjoyable and entertaining read - albeit with some rather poignant moments - but although I am glad to have read this, finding it competently composed, well-written and rather unusual, it didn't go much deeper than that for me.


A Man in the Zoo: AND Lady into Fox (Vintage classics)
A Man in the Zoo: AND Lady into Fox (Vintage classics)
by David Garnett
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Quirkily Entertaining, 12 Dec 2014
A Man in the Zoo:
John Cromartie is in love with Josephine, but although he is keen to marry, Josephine worries about upsetting her father, General Lackett, and her Aunt Eily. When on a visit to the zoo, John becomes angry with her and damns her relations, she tells him: I am not going to make my father miserable. I am not going to be cut off without a shilling and become dependent on you when you haven't enough money to live on yourself, to satisfy your vanity...I might as well have a baboon or a bear. You are a Tarzan of the Apes; you ought to be shut up in the Zoo." In a rage, John makes the decision to somehow get himself exhibited in the zoo, and in order to arrange this, he writes to the curator of the zoo and offers himself as an exhibit. Surprisingly the curator agrees and before he can change his mind, John is allocated a cage between an orang-utan and a chimpanzee, and is soon on display to the general public. But what are John's intentions? And how does his madcap scheme affect the lovely Josephine?

Obviously not one to be taken too seriously, this is a strange, but rather interesting little story and (apart from the author's rather clumsy portrayal of a black gentleman who later becomes another exhibit at the zoo) one that I found worked quite well as a lightly entertaining bedtime read. Of course, if one looks beyond the surface, the author could be trying to tell a deeper story, but it is not one that encouraged me to spend too much time thinking about or speculating upon and, as it is less than 70 pages in length, I read it quickly, and was keen to start the next story in the volume: 'Lady into Fox' which had been recommended to me.

Lady into Fox:
Set in the late nineteenth century, Richard Tebrick, a country gentleman, is out walking one day with his much-loved wife, Silvia, when she suddenly and very surprisingly, turns into a fox. Stunned by her transformation, but very keen to keep her close, Tebrick hides her under his coat and returns home, where he quickly dismisses the servants and (upsettingly) shoots the family dogs in order to prevent them discovering his vulpine wife. Initially, Tebrick tries to carry on married life with his beloved Silvia, sleeping together in the marital bed, helping her to wash and to dress (in a little flowered silk dressing jacket); covering her in scent (to disguise her somewhat rank odour); and feeding her lightly boiled eggs and buttered toast, with a little quince or apple jam. They even play piquet and cribbage together, with Silvia flipping the cards with her sharp claws, and winning more often than not. However, soon her foxy ways begin to take over, and before long she is running about on all fours, chasing the ducks and hungrily eyeing her own pet dove. Tebrick finds himself turning to the bottle in desperation, and when he discovers his wife crunching up chicken bones, bloodily despatching a live rabbit, and desperately trying to escape into the woods, he realises that maybe it is time to let her go her own way. But, still very much in love with Silvia, can he let her go? And, if he does, how will he be able to cope with the knowledge she may be killed by the foxhounds from the local hunt?

Again, not a story to be taken seriously, but an intriguing little tale (less than 70 pages) and a very attractively presented one, illustrated with some attractive and characterful woodcuts by the author's first wife, Rachel Garnett. David Garnett makes no bones about depicting his main male protagonist as a rather simple and somewhat foolish fellow, but he deftly uses a mix of humour, fantasy and allegory to convey his message - if, of course, there is one. However, if there is a message, I'm afraid I am unsure exactly what it is - is this story intended as a short exploration of what happens when a loved one undergoes immense, uncontrollable changes and, therefore, a tale of marital fidelity against the odds? Is it about the dangers of entering into a serious relationship with someone you do not know sufficiently well and of the wildness that sometimes lies beneath a seemingly tame exterior? Was the story intended as a fable or just a whimsical little story that David Garnett created to amuse his Bloomsbury Group friends? (If you are not aware, David Garnett was, for a time, the lover of painter Duncan Grant, and lived at Charleston Farmhouse with Duncan and fellow artist Vanessa Bell, both members of the Bloomsbury Group. Much later, David married Duncan and Vanessa's daughter, Angelica and it was interesting to note that one of the fox cubs that appears in the story, and a favourite of Richard Tebrick's, is named Angelica - was this favourite fox cub named after his future second wife, who would have been a small child when this book was first written?) All in all, if you can suspend your disbelief and enter into the spirit of the story, you might find this little novella, and the accompanying 'A Man in the Zoo' to be quirkily enjoyable and entertaining reads - albeit with some rather poignant moments - but although I am glad to have read both stories, finding them competently composed, well-written and rather unusual, it didn't go much deeper than that for me.


Lady Into Fox and A Man in the Zoo
Lady Into Fox and A Man in the Zoo
by David Garnett
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Quirkily Entertaining, 12 Dec 2014
A Man in the Zoo:
John Cromartie is in love with Josephine, but although he is keen to marry, Josephine worries about upsetting her father, General Lackett, and her Aunt Eily. When on a visit to the zoo, John becomes angry with her and damns her relations, she tells him: I am not going to make my father miserable. I am not going to be cut off without a shilling and become dependent on you when you haven't enough money to live on yourself, to satisfy your vanity...I might as well have a baboon or a bear. You are a Tarzan of the Apes; you ought to be shut up in the Zoo." In a rage, John makes the decision to somehow get himself exhibited in the zoo, and in order to arrange this, he writes to the curator of the zoo and offers himself as an exhibit. Surprisingly the curator agrees and before he can change his mind, John is allocated a cage between an orang-utan and a chimpanzee, and is soon on display to the general public. But what are John's intentions? And how does his madcap scheme affect the lovely Josephine?

Obviously not one to be taken too seriously, this is a strange, but rather interesting little story and (apart from the author's rather clumsy portrayal of a black gentleman who later becomes another exhibit at the zoo) one that I found worked quite well as a lightly entertaining bedtime read. Of course, if one looks beyond the surface, the author could be trying to tell a deeper story, but it is not one that encouraged me to spend too much time thinking about or speculating upon and, as it is less than 70 pages in length, I read it quickly, and was keen to start the next story in the volume: 'Lady into Fox' which had been recommended to me.

Lady into Fox:
Set in the late nineteenth century, Richard Tebrick, a country gentleman, is out walking one day with his much-loved wife, Silvia, when she suddenly and very surprisingly, turns into a fox. Stunned by her transformation, but very keen to keep her close, Tebrick hides her under his coat and returns home, where he quickly dismisses the servants and (upsettingly) shoots the family dogs in order to prevent them discovering his vulpine wife. Initially, Tebrick tries to carry on married life with his beloved Silvia, sleeping together in the marital bed, helping her to wash and to dress (in a little flowered silk dressing jacket); covering her in scent (to disguise her somewhat rank odour); and feeding her lightly boiled eggs and buttered toast, with a little quince or apple jam. They even play piquet and cribbage together, with Silvia flipping the cards with her sharp claws, and winning more often than not. However, soon her foxy ways begin to take over, and before long she is running about on all fours, chasing the ducks and hungrily eyeing her own pet dove. Tebrick finds himself turning to the bottle in desperation, and when he discovers his wife crunching up chicken bones, bloodily despatching a live rabbit, and desperately trying to escape into the woods, he realises that maybe it is time to let her go her own way. But, still very much in love with Silvia, can he let her go? And, if he does, how will he be able to cope with the knowledge she may be killed by the foxhounds from the local hunt?

Again, not a story to be taken seriously, but an intriguing little tale (less than 70 pages) and a very attractively presented one, illustrated with some attractive and characterful woodcuts by the author's first wife, Rachel Garnett. David Garnett makes no bones about depicting his main male protagonist as a rather simple and somewhat foolish fellow, but he deftly uses a mix of humour, fantasy and allegory to convey his message - if there is one. However, if there is a message, I'm not sure exactly what it is - is this story intended as a short exploration of what happens when a loved one undergoes immense, uncontrollable changes and, therefore, a tale of marital fidelity against the odds? Is it about the dangers of entering into a serious relationship with someone you do not know sufficiently well and of the wildness that sometimes lies beneath a seemingly tame exterior? Was the story intended as a fable or just a whimsical little story that David Garnett created to amuse his Bloomsbury Group friends? (If you are not aware, David Garnett was, for a time, the lover of painter Duncan Grant, and lived at Charleston Farmhouse with Duncan and fellow artist Vanessa Bell, both members of the Bloomsbury Group. Much later, David married Duncan and Vanessa's daughter, Angelica and it was interesting to note that one of the fox cubs that appears in the story, and a favourite of Richard Tebrick's, is named Angelica - was this favourite fox cub named after his future second wife, who would have been a small child when this book was first written?) All in all, if you can suspend your disbelief and enter into the spirit of the story, you might find this little novella, and the accompanying 'A Man in the Zoo' to be quirkily enjoyable and entertaining reads - albeit with some rather poignant moments - but although I am glad to have read both stories, finding them competently composed, well-written and rather intriguing, it didn't go much deeper than that for me.

Please note: I read the very attractively presented, but very elderly hardback edition, but there is a much newer paperback copy:A Man in the Zoo: AND Lady into Fox (Vintage classics) available on Amazon Marketplace, and if you just want to read 'Lady into Fox' then there is this 2014 edition available also from Amazon: Lady Into Fox.


Mohawk's Brood
Mohawk's Brood
by Amanda Prantera
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.20

4.0 out of 5 stars An Unusual and Entertaining Story, 8 Dec 2014
This review is from: Mohawk's Brood (Paperback)
Moving between England and China and from the year 1906 to the present day, Amanda Prantera's unusual novel focuses on a large, middle-class British family with business interests in Shanghai, and also on the people around them. Head of the family is Henry, known as 'Mohawk' who, at the beginning of the story, hands over his business empire to the eldest of his nine children, Harry. Harry soon marries the lovely Rebecca, and the pair start married life in Shanghai; however, Harry has a secret life, which Rebecca finds difficult to understand or accept and, after a time, she returns to England with their son, Sasha. Apart from Harry and Rebecca, we meet Little Ida, Harry's sister, who is thwarted in love and is unable to make an escape from her overbearing mother's control; then there is her sister, Noel, who has no wish to escape and is content to remain at home, but who is made very anxious by her sister's methods of dealing with her desperation and unhappiness; there is poor Edwin, with mental difficulties, who is accused of a crime and has to undergo the consequences; there is Ernest with a useless arm; there is Neville, who Mohawk feels will not amount to much; then there is Tom, brave and reckless and well on his way to becoming a socialist; also Lester, an ambitious young architect; and lastly, the 'baby' of the family and his mother's favourite, Jack, of whom we only see brief glimpses.

Written with the deft use of multiple first-person narratives, where each character relates their story from their perspectives, this is an absorbing and enjoyable tale which pulls the reader right into the lives of this sprawling and, at times, ill-fated family. In addition, Amanda Prantera's unusual novel takes the reader on a brief journey through the twentieth century, gently revealing the changes and differences in society and culture of both Eastern and Western countries, and of how the family and those around them attempt to cope with what life throws at them. I found this an entertaining and intriguing read and one that is very well-written, and although I felt the end section lacked credibility in some respects ( I cannot explain further without revealing spoilers), I very much enjoyed this novel, which the author says, she composed by shamelessly ransacking and manipulating the life stories of members of her own family: "I trust they won't mind. After all, that is what families are for: to feed not only the body but the imagination as well." Ms Prantera, it seems, has been very well-fed.

4 Stars.


Aspects of Love (Vintage classics)
Aspects of Love (Vintage classics)
by David Garnett
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Aspects of Love. (3.5 Stars), 6 Dec 2014
In Montpellier, Rose, a beautiful, young French actress, meets Alexis, a star-struck English youth, who develops an ardent passion for her and takes her to his uncle's holiday villa at Pau. At Pau, the pair become lovers, but when Alexis's uncle, Sir George Dillingham, a wealthy widowed poet, turns up at the villa unexpectedly, Rose finds herself transferring her affections from the passionate young Alexis to his more worldly and experienced relation. When Alexis belatedly discovers Rose's fickleness, he threatens to kill her, unwittingly setting in motion a train of events that he is unable to control or fully comprehend.

The son of Constance Garnett, who translated over seventy volumes of Russian literature into English, David Garnett was, for a time, the lover of painter Duncan Grant, and lived at Charleston Farmhouse with Duncan and fellow artist Vanessa Bell, both members of the Bloomsbury Group. Much later, David married Duncan and Vanessa's daughter, Angelica, and his involvement with 'Bloomsbury' is reflected in this short tale of triangular relationships and of young people falling for more mature partners, but I won't reveal more as this is a very short novel and I don't wish to spoil the story for prospective readers.

Beautifully written and with some lovely evocations of Paris, Venice and the French countryside, this story of tangled emotions did not go as deeply as I would have liked, but was still enjoyable nevertheless. Maybe not for those who are looking for a realistic and meaningful read, but ideal for those times when you want something undemanding, yet well-written and, as such, this novella works well for a down-time or bedtime read - and at just over 100 pages, you can read the whole book before turning out the light.

3.5 Stars.


Tove Jansson: Work and Love
Tove Jansson: Work and Love
by Dr Tuula Karjalainen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tove Jansson: Work and Love, 4 Dec 2014
Born in 1914 in Helsinki to a Finnish father, who was a sculptor, and a Swedish mother, who was an illustrator, Tove Jansson grew up in a world surrounded by art. Living amongst bags of plaster-of-Paris and figures awaiting bronze casting, and watching her mother designing postage stamps and illustrating books, it was hardly surprising that Tove studied art and design and became an artist. However, much as Tove wished to think of herself as a painter first and foremost, it was as an illustrator and writer, particularly of the Moomin books, that she became most well-known. Tove created the Moomin family during the dark days of the Winter War (fought between Russia and Finland from 1939-1940), the first Moomin book was delivered to the publisher during the Continuation War (1941-1944) and appeared in 1945, shortly after peace was declared following the Lapland War (1944-1945). Author, Dr Tuula Karjalainen, explains how Tove's Moomin book was written during a period of considerable gloom and uncertainty, and the mood of the story reflected that sense of fear and menace, albeit with a happy ending. Later books, written in peacetime, focused more on the tensions between the characters and discussed questions of justice and morality, and the true relationship between right and wrong. When the books were first published there was some discussion about their suitability for children in an educational context, but Tove - who depicted her Moomins drinking wine, smoking and sometimes saying rude things - responded with: "I write to amuse - but not to educate." And amuse she did, with the Moomin family becoming so popular that in the 1950s Tove was commissioned to write and illustrate a Moomin comic strip for the London 'Evening News'. Although the Moomin books had been read and enjoyed by both children and adults, the comic strip was designed to be primarily for adults, and Tove welcomed the regular income brought in by this work. Thinking that the comic strip would be fairly easy to produce and allow her time to concentrate on her painting, Tove soon found that having to create and produce work to deadline was very stressful, and actually left her with less time and energy for her painting. She gave up the comic strip (temporarily sick of her Moomins) and returned to writing books for children, but she also began writing short stories and novellas for adults, and her imaginative, yet cool and simple prose worked particularly well for shorter fiction. Tove also wrote a semi-autobiographical collection of stories entitled:Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir.

'Tove Jansson: Work and Love' is a beautifully presented book and Dr Tuula Karjalainen certainly projects her enthusiasm for her subject's artistic and novelistic abilities. However, although the author shares with the reader certain details of Tove's personal life and of her lasting relationship with her female partner, Tuulikki Pietila, it is not a detailed biography in the fullest sense of the word - the book totals less than three hundred pages and almost half of those pages are devoted to a wonderful variety of photographs and illustrations - and, as an art historian, Karjalainen understandably focuses more on the paintings and illustrations than on the woman behind them. That said, the photographs are beautiful, I very much enjoyed reading about Tove's art and I learnt things about her that I did not know. Overall I found this book to be an enjoyable and entertaining account of an interesting and talented woman and I shall be putting it back onto one of my bookcases to read again at some point in the future.

3.5 Stars.


Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Work and Times
Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Work and Times
by Wendy Pollard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pamela Hansford Johnson, 1 Dec 2014
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Pamela Hansford Johnson's first novel was published in 1935, when she was only twenty-two and this debut: This Bed Thy Centre (the title having been suggested by the author's then boyfriend, a very young Dylan Thomas) was the first of twenty seven novels written by this prolific and well-regarded writer. After her 'on-off' relationship with Dylan Thomas ended, Pamela married Australian journalist, Neil Stewart, in 1936, and the couple had two children: Andrew and Lindsay. Alongside her novel writing, Pamela also reviewed books for various newspapers and literary magazines and whilst married to Neil, she began a correspondence with Charles Percy Snow (CPS), a scientist and Fellow of Christ's College Cambridge, who was working as a civil servant, but had begun writing novels. Pamela reviewed his novel: George Passant (Strangers and Brothers) (the first in a sequence of novels coming under the 'Strangers and Brothers' umbrella) and recommended it as "one of the most striking and vital literary products of five years or more[...] lingers in the mind like a reflected fire". CPS, who Wendy Pollard informs us, was everlastingly prone to deep despair when receiving adverse criticism (and he had already received some disappointing reviews for this book), was delighted with Pamela's review, and so began a close and intimate friendship, which on Pamela's part turned to romantic love and deep respect.

After the breakdown of Pamela's marriage to Neil, CPS and Pamela married - although he seemed less inclined than she on enjoying wedded bliss, initially eschewing the marital bed and returning to his bachelor flat each evening until Pamela insisted that he join her in their new home. Three years after their marriage, their only child, Philip, was born, but Pamela was unable to focus all her energies on being a 'hands on' mother due to her need to contribute to supporting her family with the proceeds from her novel writing. Therefore, to enable her to concentrate on her work and on her husband's needs, a nanny, and later a series of full-time housekeepers were engaged. Over the following years, Pamela and CPS became a well-known literary couple (although they were not always as well-regarded as they would have wished) and through their novel writing and CPS's work as a Scientific Adviser for the Civil Service (for which he was awarded a Knighthood in 1957), they also became widely-known internationally, and were often invited to the USA and Russia to give talks and lectures. Pamela, a forthright and opinionated speaker - who, it should be mentioned was very protective of her husband's over-sensitive feelings regarding his literary reputation - was invited onto various television and radio programmes and was a panellist on 'The Brains Trust' and 'The Critics', but she had to wait until 1975 before her services to literature were recognised with the award of the CBE. There is, of course, more to Pamela's and CPS's personal, public and working life than I have revealed here in this review, but I shall leave the remainder for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

Written with the cooperation of Pamela Hansford Johnson's children, author Wendy Pollard was given access to PHJ's previously unexamined diaries and letters, and Ms Pollard has produced a meticulously researched and respectful account of her subject's life and work. However, despite Wendy Pollard's apparent fairness in the depiction of her main characters, Charles Snow does not come out of this biography awfully well, and it is not easy to understand why Pamela was so deeply in love with him and so utterly devoted to him - particularly as it seems that her feelings were not equally reciprocated, he was not faithful to her, and apparently was less keen than she on the sexual side of marriage. Naturally, his intelligence would have been a draw and enabled her to look past his unprepossessing appearance, especially as there is a lot more to a person than how they look (although Pamela seemed unable to look past the highly intelligent Iris Murdoch's appearance, describing her as: "...heavy, low-hung [and] grotesque in appearance"), but from the information we learn about CPS from this biography, he appears a self-obsessed, needy individual who continually put his own needs above Pamela's. In fact his brother, Philip Snow, revealed that the gruelling US tours Pamela and CPS underwent during the 1960s and 1970s (which Pamela found increasingly exhausting and unwelcome) were primarily motivated by CPS's delight in accumulating honorary degrees from the universities he visited. Pamela was also constantly rushing to her husband's defence when he was attacked by the literary world and despite the success of her own novel writing abilities, always seemed to regard herself as inferior to her husband, and the pressure of having to continually bolster his ego, took a toll on her own health.

Wendy Pollard's 'Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times' is an illuminating, detailed and well-written account of an interesting and prolific writer and one that has made me want to read at least a few of her large number of novels. Although I knew of Pamela Hansford Johnson before reading this biography, I had not read anything by her, and on checking with Amazon I have discovered that virtually all of PHJ's novels are available on Kindle at very affordable prices, and there is also a memoir: Important to Me (Bello) which looks worth investigating. It is also worth noting, for those who may not be aware, that not only did Pamela Hansford Johnson write novels, she was a worthy literary critic, she wrote poetry, essays and literary monographs and she also produced a meditation on The Moors Murder Trial. In addition, PHJ wrote two detective novels with her first husband under the name of Nap Lombard, and she also wrote two stage and radio plays - all of which is certainly rather impressive.

4.5 Stars.
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Kitty & Virgil
Kitty & Virgil
by Paul Bailey
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Kitty and Virgil, 24 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Kitty & Virgil (Paperback)
Beautiful Kitty Crozier, an editor in the middle years of her life, wakes up after an operation in hospital to find a stranger smiling down at her; months later in a London park she encounters the stranger again and discovers he is Virgil Florescue, a dissident poet who escaped Ceausescu's Romania by swimming across the Danube. As their relationship develops, and Kitty and Virgil become lovers, the reader learns of their unusual backgrounds, of their extraordinary families, and of the cast of interesting characters that surround them. Set in the 1980s during the build-up to the collapse of Romania's Communist regime, but also moving backwards and forwards in time, we read of Kitty and her twin sister, Daisy, and of their fractured relationship with their handsome, dissolute and serial philanderer father, the feckless Felix; we meet Felix's close companion, an ex-butler and absolute master of the put-down, Derek Harville; we learn of Virgil's past life in Romania, of his very close relationship with his mother, of the devastating discovery of a barbaric act carried out by his father during the Second World War, and of Virgil's deep sense of guilt and his feelings that he should atone for his father's crimes.

This unusual novel is beautifully written and is so rich in characters - all of them interesting, many of them eccentric, some of them wonderfully bizarre - that I was sorry to leave them behind and wished I could have learnt more about almost each and every one of them. The repartee between Derek Harville and Kitty's father, Felix, is bitingly funny and even Virgil's landlady - a former opera singer who looks after him 'like a mother' when he is ill and who tells him: "I wasn't the motherly type in my younger days. I loathed small children with a vengeance. I would have out-Heroded Herod" - comes totally to life even though she only appears for a few pages. A story of family, but also a beautiful love story interwoven with Romanian folklore, politics and history, this novel also looks at how events from the past can cast very long shadows. Although hauntingly sad in places, this is a warm, entertaining and worthwhile read and, if you enjoy something a little different, then this is a novel I find easy to recommend.

5 Stars.


Moon Island
Moon Island
by Rosie Thomas
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Moon Island, 23 Nov 2014
This review is from: Moon Island (Paperback)
Set in Maine, in New England, Rosie Thomas's story focuses on fourteen-year-old May Duhane, her father, John, a widower, and her eighteen-year-old sister, Ivy, who arrive at the coast one summer to rent Captain's House, one of five old clapboard houses set on a secluded beach, looking out towards the sea. May, an unhappy, overweight, solitary young girl, who is still mourning the loss of her mother, feels isolated and resentful when her lovely, long-limbed sister makes friends with the Beam family who live in one of the other houses on the beach - particularly the very attractive, tanned and pony-tailed Lucas Beam, who makes a beeline for Ivy. Living at the Beam house is self-appointed matriarch Marian Beam, who is Lucas's grandmother, and her large tribe of sons, daughters and grandchildren, all down for the summer, including Marian's daughter-in-law, the unhappily childless Leonie, who finds herself attracted to the widowed John Duhane. In one of the other houses lives Elizabeth Newton, an elderly widow, who regrets a decision she made in the past and who reveals her secret to May; then there is Judith Stiegels, a sculptor, and her overly-affable husband, Marty; and further along the coast live year-round residents Aaron and Hannah Fennymore, whose past is unhappily tied up with Elizabeth Newton's. As the days of the summer holiday pass and Ivy becomes increasingly intimate with Lucas, and John becomes more friendly with Leonie than perhaps is wise, May, who is feeling left out, hides away in her bedroom, where she discovers a diary written by Doone Bennison, the teenaged daughter of the owners of Captain's House, who tragically drowned the previous summer. Identifying with Doone, who before her death confessed in her diary about her romantic obsession with an unnamed man living in one of the houses on the beach, May begins to feel that maybe it is her fate to follow in Doone's footsteps, especially when she encounters a strange and ghostly apparition on Moon Island. (No spoilers - we become aware of all of this part-way into the novel).

I have been given several of Rosie Thomas's novels and I am working my way through them, finding some better than others. There were parts to this particular story that I enjoyed, such as the author's descriptions of the clapboard houses and their interiors, and Rosie Thomas is good at creating interesting characters and dilemmas for those characters - but there are so many of them in this book that it is difficult to become more than barely acquainted with any of them. There is also another strand to this story - one that is set in the past and brings into play a supernatural element (I cannot explain further without revealing spoilers) which I think the story could have done without. There was, for me, just too much going on in a book of less than 350 pages and I feel the author should have decided to focus either on telling a convincing tale of love, loss and family dynamics - which, in part, this novel was - or on writing an unsettling story about unhappy spirits reaching from beyond the grave into the present day - which I didn't find to be a very credible or enjoyable aspect of this particular story. All of that said, I have read some of the author's other novels which have worked quite well for undemanding holiday reads, but I do have to be honest and voice my reservations about this one.

2.5 Stars.


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