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mrs L A Johnson (London)

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Something in Disguise
Something in Disguise
by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Edition: Paperback

48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Journey into the interior, 8 April 2003
This review is from: Something in Disguise (Paperback)
Elizabeth Jane Howard, most recently famous for her quartet of bestsellers about the Cazalet family, is memorable for her subtlety and emotional intelligence. Her novels, fed by sensitive observation and unflinching, often painful honesty, are compellingly, page-turningly readable without losing one jot of sophistication. The author has lived a long life and known many luminaries of the literary scene. Something In Disguise was wrriten when she was in middle life, married to the great comic novelist Kingsley Amis and stepmother to Martin.
It deals with surprises. May, mother of two grown-up children, lost her husband during the Second World War and has misguidedly married again. Her second husband is, she thinks, merely difficult and cantankerous. As the story progresses, the reader—and May—will learn how much more sinister this bumbling old soldier really is.
The children, Oliver and Elizabeth, make their own discoveries during the course of the novel. Attractive, shallow Oliver finds himself falling for a girl who simply won't succumb to his easy charm; and shy Elizabeth, hiring herself out as a dinner party cook in London, meets the unlikely man who will transform and illuminate her future.
Most touching of all is Alice, hapless daughter of May's villainous husband. Escaping life at home by drifting into marriage with a hideously well observed philistine, her marital agonies are recorded with relentless comedy and a wealth of compassion.
As always with an Elizabeth Jane Howard novel, the characters are fully alive and the story grips as tightly as a thriller. This isn't, in my opinion, one of her best works—I'd recommend The Long View, The Beautiful Visit and After Julius—but, coming from her hand, it can't fail to charm, enlighten and absorb. She is a beautiful artist and, once encountered, vividly colours the memory.

The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year
The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sense, sensibility, but no sentimentality, 16 Sept. 2002
Susan Hill's The Magic Apple Tree marks a period of change for the author. It follows a time of intense creativity when she wrote half a dozen critically acclaimed novels - Strange Meeting, a novel set during World War I, being in my view particularly haunting and accomplished. After marrying the eminent Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, and with the arrival of their daughter Jessica, Susan and her family left town life to take up residence in the fen country, at 'Moon Cottage'. The Magic Apple Tree is a record of one year in the life of the family and the rural scene they became absorbed by.
Susan Hill is fond of the writing of Hardy, and has the same ability to express atmosphere and natural beauty. Also an unflinching acceptance of life's cruelties and terrors. She enjoys keeping hens but can't help admiring the machismo of the hunting fox. She reveres living creatures but 'sits on the fence' concerning the fox-hunting debate. She agonises over eating delicate spring lamb but frankly admits that she'll relish lamb chops later on. She has a quick eye for the beautiful but honestly appraises the problems of rural life under the punishing yearly ordeal of a seven-month winter.
Susan Hill is a sensitive and spiritual writer but never a sentimental one. She gives the reader her subtle response to the country scene and its inhabitants, and also allows us to inspect her vegetable patch and her larder.She gets tremendous satisfaction out of raising her own veg - she's positively lyrical about celeriac - but is half-hearted about growing flowers unless they 'earn their living'. She's fond of making chutney, pickled plums, damson cheese and eldflower ice-cream, but draws the line at wine-making. For me, these details, gardening tips and old-fashioned country recipes are fascinating.
Susan Hill has gone on to write other novels, notably the genuinely spine-chilling ghost story, The Woman In Black. I'd also recommend A Bit of Singing And Dancing, a collection of short stories, and the extremely moving, candid account she wrote of her efforts to conceive and carry to term a second child, Family.
Her style is plain but poetic, simple but subtle. She can evoke the sounds, smells, lights and shadows of the country without rhapsodizing. try The Magic Apple Tree as an introduction to her writing, then explore the fine novels that preceded it.

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