Yet another Bank Holiday, but I'll be working so it won't seem like one and after all the wedding kerfuffle time to get back to books I think. If you look over here >>>> there's a side bar entitled 'Thinking and writing, on here soon' listing the queue of books which are now waiting to make an appearance and the list is getting longer.
I had to set aside Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn to re-read Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of the World Book Night reads for Radio 4's A Good Read, and in the process overcome what felt like a paradigm cultural shift from England in turmoil at the start of the twentieth century to Nigeria in turmoil some sixty years later. Except in the end, perhaps the shift wasn't quite so seismic because Anthony Quinn and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are still both dealing with the frailties and the dissents of humankind. Flipped from one zeitgeist to another through the pages of a book and I will admit I was loath to put Half of the Human Race down for several reasons; not least because I was enjoying it so much at the time, but also because I wasn't sure if that enjoyment might be short-lived, and when I came back to it what if the book had somehow lost its momentum with a heavy dose of African civil war inbetween.
This often happens, I start a book which I am loving, get unavoidably diverted elsewhere and when I return I just can't see what I had loved in it at all. I can't recall the characters or why I was bothered about them, I've lost the details of the plot, who is married to who, who's killed who, the enthusiasm has gone and so often can't be recaptured and I kick myself. To add to the potential confusion I had four books on the go at the time with female leads called either Connie (this book and Lasting Damage by Sophie Hannah) or Cora ( The London Train by Tessa Hadley and My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin) so it could all have gone horribly wrong.
To up the anti Half of the Human Race is also 350 pages of closely spaced typeface that, with the more usual fiction spacing I notice these days, could easily have been stretched to a 500 pager by the publisher... and I can't decide whether that would have been for the better or for the worse, but these 350 pages, even with the break, have taken me several weeks to read.
In the end I did eventually pick the book up again and can tell you that it copes admirably with being forced into a book of two halves because I was very quickly back into the Edwardian world of Connie Callaway, a free-thinking, cigarette-smoking young woman from a middle-class London family whose intentions to train as a surgeon have been thwarted by the unexpected death of her father. Suddenly the prosperous family must downsize in order to be able to afford to send the only son to university, whilst Connie must surrender her ambitions and settle for a job in a bookshop. This all sufficient to light the blue touch paper in Connie's soul, and for those around her to take cover as she takes her disaffections to the suffragist movement and has to decide quite how far she is prepared to rebel for the cause.
But the world chosen as a counterpoint to all this is an unlikely one because Anthony Quinn sets Connie's world against the rather louch and leisurely, male-orientated world of cricket, and for all its chauvinist leanings Connie is a huge cricket fan and very knowledgeable about it all too. Any woman who had a good grasp of silly mid on in 1911 must have been considered different and unusual, and perhaps it was this that helped stamp Connie's character so indelibly in my mind.
Cricket, that genteel world, the bastion of fair play, keeping to the rules and gentlemanly conduct and of course there is bound to be a beau or two hovering around the stumps or lurking in the pavilion and Anthony Quinn dutifully provides them with the well-to-do but with-a-lot-to-learn Will Maitland, and his batting partner the legendary test batsman Andrew Tamberlain, "The Great Tam".
Any book that reaches 1914 and still has a hundred pages of close-set type to go is hardly going to avoid the Great War and whilst Connie's values and principles have been fired in the crucible of female suffrage, Will's have yet to be tested in the maelstrom of the trenches, whilst Tam's are to be severely tested in other ways. It was at this point that I again thought I might lose interest because if I'm honest it was Connie's story that had gripped me the more and, though the direction of the plot is clearly telegraphed, Antony Quinn does save the day with some slightly different and interesting times for both Will and Tam which in the end didn't spoil my enjoyment of a cracking good story.
Anthony Quinn illustrates well myriad social forces at work, the turmoil of the age and in the end, with the suffrage cause in abeyance at the onset of war, perhaps the blunt reality that for all the efforts of the suffragettes it was ultimately man's folly against man coupled with the capability shown by women to step up to the plate that won them the day and the vote.
Sometimes, these days, it's a blisteringly good old plot-driven, engrossing story that I want so I am very glad that this one held fast in the reading schedule and I will certainly now read Anthony Quinn's first novel The Rescue Man which had passed me by.
And now I'm trying to think of other novels that deal with female suffrage and not a single one comes to mind...surely there must be more? Help me out.