No, sorry, not news of the Royal birth, though it must be any day now.
Is it Royal Baby mania in your country too??
My money's on George for a boy, Victoria for a girl...what do you reckon??
And poor Kate in this heat, but this is not meant to be a baby conversation because some really good books have been arriving and I must share news of them with you. Though Kate, if you are reading this (!) good luck with it all... remember keep your eyes open during the contractions and count, and to be honest, if you want some good reading while you are sitting up at night feeding the little one, you couldn't go wrong with any of these.
Virago are celebrating their fortieth birthday in style (can you believe it is forty years) and we can't let the moment pass unmentioned, because how lucky we are to have them as they continue to publish both old and new fiction by women, and some of the latest re-issues are looking very must have.
Three novels by Barbara Comyns, and I think I may be getting my Woolworths books muddled, thinking I have read Our Spoons Came From Woolworths when in fact I must have read The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson.
In the same parcel The Vet's Daughter and Sisters by a River.
I knew nothing about Barbara Comyns (1909 - 1992) so it was straight to the Oxford DNB to discover it all... renovating pianos, trading antiques, working as a cook, dealing in classic cars, breeding poodle puppies, converting flats and working as a model for artists and photographers, plus writing novels of course. Add to that the fact that her second husband's boss in Whitehall was Cambridge spy Kim Philby, which all necessitated an eighteen year sojourn in Spain to escape the scandal of association, and there has to be enough fodder from a life like that to produce some great writing.
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths..
"Pretty, unworldly Sophia is twenty-one years old and hastily married to a young painter called Charles. An artist's model with an eccentric collection of pets, she is ill-equipped to cope with the bohemian London of the 1930s, where poverty, babies (however much loved) and husband conspire to torment her. Hoping to add some spice to her life, Sophia takes up with Peregrine, a dismal, ageing critic, and comes to regret her marriage - and her affair. But in this case virtue is more than its own reward, for repentance brings an abrupt end to the cycle of unsold pictures, unpaid bills and unwashed dishes...."
Sisters By a River...
"On the banks of the River Avon, five sisters are born. The seasons come and go, the girls take their lessons under the ash tree, and always there is the sound of water swirling through the weir. Then, unexpectedly, an air of decay descends upon the house: ivy grows unchecked over the windows, angry shouts split the summer air, the milk sours in the larder and their father takes out his gun. Tragedy strikes the family, and before long the furniture is being auctioned off and the sisters dispersed among relatives. In her daring first novel, originally published in 1947, Barbara Comyns' unique young heroine relates the vivid, funny and bittersweet story of a childhood."
The Vet's Daughter...
"Growing up in Edwardian south London, Alice Rowlands longs for romance and excitement, for a release from a life that is dreary, restrictive and lonely. Her father, a vet, is harsh and domineering; his new girlfriend brash and lascivious. Alice seeks refuge in memories and fantasies, in her rapturous longing for Nicholas, a handsome young sailor, and in the blossoming of what she perceives as her occult powers. A series of strange events unfolds that leads her, dressed in bridal white, to a scene of ecstatic triumph and disaster among the crowds on Clapham Common. The Vet's Daughteris a uniquely vivid, witty and touching story of love and mystery."
And thank you again to Virago for these two which arrived a few weeks later, and to their website for all the book details in this post.
Up the Junction by Nell Dunn
"The girls - Rube, Lily and Sylvie - work at McCrindle's sweet factory during the week and on Saturday they go up the Junction in their clattering stilettos, think about new frocks on H.P., drink tea in the cafe, and talk about their boyfriends. In these uninhibited, spirited vignettes of young women's lives in the shabby parts of South London in the sixties, money is scarce and enjoyment to be grabbed while it can."
"Our Joy' - also called Blossom, Sunshine and Blondie by the men in her life - walks down Fulham Broadway carrying her week-old baby, Jonny. Twenty-two, with bleached hair, shoes too high and too big, she dreams about 'oh, loads of things - to have something, to be something'. Then her husband Tom is sent to prison for thieving, leaving Joy and Jonny to move in with Auntie Emm. This is Joy's story: a pink-lipsticked, mini-skirted tale of life, love and young motherhood in the sixties."
Published in 1963 and 1967 respectively, and considered classics of 1960s London life, both books passed a ten and fourteen-year old me by, as did film adaptations and TV series, the sort of thing you heard about but were perhaps rightly (in them days) considered too young to read or see. Just checking it out and a film cast for Up the Junction that feels as familiar now as it may have equally felt unknown then... Suzy Kendall, Susan George, Dennis Waterman, Adrienne Posta and Maureen Lipman.
Any Barbara Comyns fans out there??
And I wonder whether any of you have memories of Up the Junction and Poor Cow. I feel as if I know them given that they have been around for much of my life, yet I don't, so I am looking forward to reading them both (nice and short at 140 pages) and especially in the light of Nell Dunn's fascinating preface which offers real context for that moment in time...
'The women really ruled the roost in those days. Sometimes a man had to change his name to the woman's to fit in with the family... I wrote Up the Junction and Poor Cow when I was still young enough to believe I was immortal... I hope these two books capture my time there - when the day began around six, eating fresh rolls on the way to work, and often ended after midnight kissing somewhere forbidden, someone forbidden.'