One of the really exciting and rewarding aspects of this blog are the e mails I get off-blog with all your ideas for books and writers I might like to try.
I have until the end of the year to take up one challenge to read David Malouf (and it will happen) and last week I had a lovely e mail recommending that I read some Paul Bailey. This was quickly followed up by a wonderfully generous parcel of his books which I've made a very eager start on.
I knew of Paul Bailey from his introductions to many of Elizabeth Taylor's novels and indeed I had quoted him in a piece I wrote about her for newbooksmag last year. I could think of no better way of describing her books than his so I used it.
"The novelist Paul Bailey who has written many prefaces to Elizabeth Taylor's novels sums up her writing succinctly when he refers to it as "her reports from the chintz-bedecked battlefields"
I also discover that Paul Bailey was Elizabeth Taylor's inspiration for the character of Ludovic in Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.
But for some reason he's been a bit invisible down here in the Tamar Valley, never really showing up on my radar as a novelist despite having two books shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Peter Smart's Confessions and Gabriel's Lament and I'm sure Susan Hill has recommended his writing.
I must have spent years walking round in a haze because this keeps on happening, so despite thinking I might be reasonably well-read there's always something to chop your legs off and cut you down to size, it's a very great big book world out there.Writers who have quietly been getting on with it now finding their way onto my shelves and I'm delighted.
I've just finished Old Soldiers which will be on here next week but then selected Paul Bailey's latest book Uncle Rudolf from the pile and am already impressed by the number of literary luminaries who sing his praises, Beryl Bainbridge, Ali Smith, Penelope Lively and Stevie Davies to name a few.
There's another one, I had never heard of Stevie Davies until Margaret Drabble named her as a one of her all-time favourite authors when I heard her talk years ago. I dashed home and ordered everything I could find and leapt feet first into Stevie Davies' writing and have been reading her ever since.Unbridled Spirits Women of the English Revolution 1640-1660 one of those rare and fascinating glimpses into the lost voices of seventeenth century women who spoke out amidst political turmoil and the drama of headless monarchs.
In fact Stevie Davies worthy of a post of her own I think.
Back to Paul Bailey and already I discover in Uncle Rudolf beautifully measured and gently soothing prose that just flows off the page and into your mind.I'm sitting and reading with that gloriously relaxed and balmy feeling you get in the hands of writer who knows what they are doing.
Invites you into a world you want to share and entertains you warmly whilst you are there.
It's all in stark contrast to some of the really gritty and occasionally disturbing books I've read lately. Paul Bailey quite the perfect bridge for me between the cutting edge contemporary fiction of recent months, which has been a bit like sitting in a cold bath in the comfort stakes, and my nineteenth century rehab.
Now I'm having a huge wallow in that wonderfully reassuring hot scented bath that is the nineteenth century world of Daniel Deronda with a bit of Paul Bailey thrown in, if you see what I mean...what a rubbish analogy baths are, far too much can be misinterpreted there.