Florence’s Book Club

Good Afternoon readers! It’s time to share your reads this months, recommendations (do drop us a comment if you’ve read something brilliant recently) and opinions on this months choices by Rachel. As ever she has curated a wide selection and I’ve already spotted two from her list that I’ll be reading this month. Can you guess?

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
This book is mad. Its Waugh’s second novel written 15 years before Brideshead. It is nothing like Brideshead Revisited, but still as wonderful – just different wonderful. Whilst reading it I found myself really enjoying the way Waugh writes, his way with words. A story about a fictional group of ‘Bright Young Things’, they truly are characters in 1920’s London and how their lives intertwine. Yes they are wealthy, or broke but with wealthy friends or lovers, the parties sound great fun but not Gatsby-esque glorious. Where else do you get drunk majors, mad fathers, lost money, journalists of gossip columns making people up. Oh and if you’re into vintage cars there is a bonkers car race. This book may not be your cup of tea but I don’t think you’ll be bored reading it.

Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
My sister lent me this book. The author was sent to the depths of rural China as a child and now lives in France. His story is about the friendship of two boys who have been sent to Phoenix Mountain to be ‘re-educated’ there they meet the little seamstress. It’s a love story. A story of hidden love. Of teenage hidden love, climbing over steep mountain ridges to meet your love. It’s also a story of falling in love with books and the worlds they can take you to.

‘Did Four-Eyes stop to think about which book he would lend us? Or was it a random choice? Perhaps he picked it simply because of all the treasures in his precious suitcase, it was the thinnest boo, and the most decrepit. Did he have ulterior motives which we could not fathom? Whatever his reasons his choice was to have a profound effect on our lives.’

The Report : A Novel by Jessica Francis Kane
Based on the true event of the accident, where 173 people died, at Bethnal Green Tube Station during the war and the writing of the report. A tragic evening in March 1943, where the most harrowing fact is that night no bombs fell over London and Bethnal Green tube station in the impoverished East End was the only tube with a staircase that size with no middle banister. A report was written and the style of the report was ground breaking, the report was also buried for fear of the effect on wartime spirits, especially in the local area. The fiction part to it is the characters involved – their personalities and some of their actions. It is a book that is technically an ‘easy read’ the way the words, sentences and paragraphs flow, but emotionally as a fellow human being imagining oneself there in the midst, an onlooker or living at that time it’s hard and emotional. As someone who works near to Bethnal Green it made me want to find out more and surely that’s a good thing about reading.

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico
After all the reports on the SS13 fashion shows of London, Milan and Paris it felt fitting to include this book this month. First published in 1958 and republished in 2010 by Bloomsbury, as part of a small collection. Mrs Harris Goes to Paris is about a London char lady who dreams of couture, of Dior couture. She saves and saves and makes her way to Paris. If you want to be wrapped up in a world of descriptions and daydreams of dresses and the wonder of humanity then do read this. Ps In this edition Mrs Harris Goes to New York is also included, it’s good but nowhere near as precious and delightful as Mrs Harris goes to Paris.

Rachel
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14 thoughts on “Florence’s Book Club

  1. Oh I do love a books post.

    Vile Bodies is one of the great books, I think, and leads wonderfully up to Brideshead. When I was reading it as an undergraduate, a critic mentioned in passing the “vortex” or circle motif – everything in the book is circular, from the round of parties to the car race, emphasising the futility of the characters’ lives and the emptiness at its core. Every time I have read it again, I have noticed that more intently and I find it intensifies the reading experience.
    My mother read us Mrs Harris goes to Paris when I was about 11 (when it was called Flowers for Mrs Harris) and I haven’t re-read it for a long time. Perhaps I will now. It reminds me a little of Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day, another seemingly gentle but actually quite mordant novel written about the same time (published by Persephone Books).
    Recent reads for me have been quite a random assortment
    – Honour by Elif Shafak is a complicated novel about true and false constructs of honour in relationships told through a multi-generational Turkish family, set in Turkey and London
    – Rachel Sullivan is Getting Married – Marian Keynes – I picked this up in a B&B where I was spending the weekend and just devoured it. I had forgotten how engaging her early novels were. Not a challenging read though.
    – The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad – short story collection about the tribal lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fascinating and utterly bleak.
    – How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran – I read this when it came out first, incredibly quickly and joyfully and loved it. But then I read it again and just wanted it to be better. More academic, more structured, less derived from her highly specific experience. Or, more fairly, I wanted it to be marketed as a memoir and not as a Great Feminist Work. Would be interested in others’ views.

    • Peabody – I now want to re read Vile Bodies after your comment. How lovely to be read Mrs Harris as a child, yez it is a little like the wonderful Miss Pettigrew, which is my go to if I’m unwell book.

      • I’m currently listening to Miss Pettigrew in the car – I’m getting quite into listening to audiobooks on my work commute. Picked it up just as something to try from the library but am getting quite into it now!

  2. I am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Can’t vouch for the ending yet but I’ve read two thirds so far, and this book is brilliant, best book I have read in ages. Thanks for the recommendations, definitely going to check them out x

  3. Oh yes Vile Bodies! Very good – I love non Brideshead Waugh like Scoop, Decline and Fall and this. Peabody, I hadn’t thought of the circle idea but can see it now, thank you. I’m in a 20s 30s mood at the moment so am reading Elizabeth Bowen To The North (I also read the Last September(?) which was good but not an easy read – all that suppressed emotion!), and have just discovered Elizabeth Taylor too. I found a stash of the Elizabeths in a second hand bookshop in Sherbourne and had to exercise self restraint to limit myself to four. I really want to finish Parade’s End now – I started it on my honeymoon but switched to something a bit more fitting and haven’t been able to get going again.

    I’ve heard mixed things about CaitlinMoran’s book and am undecided. I’m tempted to wait for Tania Kindersley’s new book.

    • I read my first Elizabeth Bowen this summer, and yes to the supressed emotion. I’d like to read another but after a gap. Also read my first Elizabeth Taylor as well, also found in a second hand book shop!

  4. I love book posts, I’m always looking for good recommendations. I’ve not read any Evelyn Waugh, but I think it’s definitely something I would enjoy! Once the pile by my bed has depleted I think I will have to hunt some out. I imagine him a bit like F Scott Fitzgerald.

    I have recently finished Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan and I can’t recommend it enough – I have been telling everyone! It was so perfect and so well orchestrated, the most gorgeous love story but also there were spies! And intrigue! And mystery! I was in tears at moments, and I could not put it down. If you’re looking for something to read, I would definitely definitely go for it!

  5. I wrote a long comment about Scoop, Decline and Fall and Elizabeth Bowen and it seems to have disappeared! Mrs Harris is now on my v long Abe list of hints for Christmas pressies! X

  6. I can’t remember the author, but I recently read a book which I loved so much I had to take it to work to have a sneaky read at lunchtime (even gave up reading blogs at lunch in order to read it). It’s called “memoirs of an imaginary friend” but I can’t remember the name of the author, but it was seriously amazing! It’s a similar sort of style to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time”, so if you have read/liked that then you will probably love it. I’m now reading “Room” by Emma Donoghue. Think I’m a bit behind the times with this one as I think it’s been out for a few years but loving it so far, absolutely gripping. Love these posts, perfectly timed too for some snuggly Autumn reading now the nights are getting dark! x

  7. I remember discovering mrs harris goes to paris when i watched the film when i was ill off school one day. its a wonderful film with Angela Lansbury. it was only a few years later i discovered the book. and fell in love with the story again.
    Waugh is such a wonderful writer.

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