For Part 4, I’ve kicked off with three books based in Oxfordshire – each one very different from one the other. First, a classic of upper class society between the wars, then a humorous time travel tale, and finally a psychological thriller. Completing the selection is a stray, unconnected collection of three.
I have to admit that Brideshead Revisited from the pen of Evelyn Waugh, was a book I read only after I’d watched the TV adaptation – long, long after in truth. I watched the series upon its release in 1981, and only read the book almost 20 years later in 2019. I was smitten by the glamour, the campness, the vulgar display of wealth and self-indulgence displayed in the Oxford University years, and it was only later, as a mature reader, that I even noticed the depth of the tale. For a tale set between the World Wars, the casual homosexuality of those Oxford years is surprising, whereas in the post-Oxford years, it is the weighty guilt of Catholicism in an Anglican country which is most striking. The peculiarity of British class society is seen in exquisite detail, as Waugh depicts the gulf between the ordinary upper-middle class Charles, and the properly posh, rich folk. The only aspect of Charles’s personality we get to see with any detail is not just how much he covets first Sebastian – and then Julia – but how much he envies and desires the life their family have. In truth, the book highlights just how little of substance is present in Charles and, however much we might be appalled by the Flytes and their like, one cannot say the same of them.
To Say Nothing of the Dog from Connie Willis could’ve been tagged with Coventry, where the hapless historians from Oxford are sent over and over again to find the missing artefact. But, we’re sticking with Oxford, for the parallel tale where our resting historian finds himself in Victorian Oxford spotting Jerome K Jerome’s three men in a boat, while trying to remember what he was sent back to do. It’s a fun romp and I’ve included it here, as it’s a book I recommend to absolutely everyone as a hugely fun read. I will admit there’s not as much dreaming spires as you might expect however 😉
England: Witney, Oxfordshire
The Girl on the Train from Paula Hawkins was a massive bestseller, so much so that they made a film of it and set it in New York! But in the book, the central character, Rachel, travels from the Oxfordshire town of Witney by train into London – and it’s from the train where she observes the life of her ex and his new wife, as well as the seemingly perfect life of another couple. When the woman with the seemingly perfect life is killed, Rachel is interrogated by the police, as she was drunkenly in the area while stalking her ex and his new family. A psychological thriller where who dunnit comes as no surprise, saved by a remarkable portrayal of an alcoholic. Again, no dreaming spires I’m afraid, just suburban English homes viewed from a passing train – a sight familiar to all commuters.
I was absolutely convinced I’d read Persuasion, until I heard a clip of it read out and knew I’d have remembered those bitingly witting words from Jane Austen! So, I downloaded it immediately. The less likeable characters are portrayed with great detail and quite some relish, such that the likeable ones could almost be said to end up being less memorable. This tale of the only worthy still living member of the Elliott family having been persuaded to turn down a man she loved when still young, only to have a second chance eight years later, is rather charming. Bath and it’s architecture provides a pleasing backdrop to the sharp tongue of the ever marvellous Miss Austen.
England: North Yorkshire
Big Sky is the latest Jackson Brodie tale from Kate Atkinson. Brodie, a retired copper turned private detective, is now living near Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. Whitby’s links with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the ruins of the clifftop abbey provide a suitable hint at something darker behind its rundown seaside town facade. With more than a nod to the Jimmy Saville revelations, we join Brodie in this tale where the outcome is his grim discovery of a paedophile ring. I read this at the start of 2020 and Atkinson’s description of the raw beauty of the rural area’s coastline has remained with me.
The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is a rather gentle and lovely book written by Mary Ann Shaffer (with the assistance of her niece Annie Barrows after she received a terminal illness diagnosis) despite being written about the period of the German occupation of the Channel Islands. Written in the form of letters between a young female author and members of a Literary Society on Guernsey, which had originally been formed as a front to permit meeting up during the occupation, I’m not sure how much of a feel I got for Guernsey, as opposed to Guernsey-under-occupation, if you see what I mean. But it is a charming and easy read.
Of the books covered this month, three are among my top rated reads – and David will tell you that I’m very mean in handing out my 4 and 5 stars – but all are decidedly good reads.
My list for the future is pretty chock full, but do add to it as I laugh in the face of that swaying TBR pile 😀
© Debra Carey, 2022