“Greenwitch” by Susan Cooper
“The Grey King” by Susan Cooper
“Silver on the Tree” by Susan Cooper
So, I persisted with “The Dark is Rising” series – it’s alright, I suppose, but I think that there was something deeply appealing about the first book that is missing in the others. The author does have a great sense of place and that comes across in the settings of all of the books. I also like the way that she inserts Welsh phrases into “The Grey King” without translation or much by way of explanation. Nice touch. But for me, I think I am just too old to enjoy these properly. The nice thing about children’s books though, is how they respect the rules. In Greenwitch, the children are fighting the dark for the survival of mankind but they can only do it in the Easter holidays and our hero is worried that the week provided by the school authorities won’t be long enough. Well, rules are rules, even if evil is about to take over.
I thought the last book which was largely set in fantasy land was the weakest of the bunch. When she talks about England and Wales and an idealised landscape she is really quite unbeatable. The “Lost Land” is just tedious. But maybe not if you’re 13 which is probably when I should have read them.
“The Memory Chalet” by Tony Judt
A series of autobiographical essays, vaguely reminiscent of W.G. Sebald, except that I enjoyed them. The essays are full of nostalgia for the 40s, 50s and 60s which I found very appealing. They are very readable though about hard ideas so they make you feel clever. Always welcome. The one about French intellectuals is the best.
“Decca, The Letters of Jessica Mitford” edited by Peter Sussman [New Year's resolution list]
Lads, this is a massive book. 700 odd pages. Why, oh why are American books so bloodly long?
Once you are sucked into the world of the Mitfords, you never really leave. Last summer I read “The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters” which was a collection of the sisters’ letters edited by Diana Mosley’s daughter-in-law Charlotte Mosley. I enjoyed it very much.
What this book suffers from by comparison is that it is all one voice. Only Jessica Mitford’s letters. The early letters are pretty dull but as she gets beyond her 20s, they are a lot more interesting. She becomes a much more compassionate and appealing person (I suppose we all do). And although she was doing very interesting things in her 20s, somehow she fails to convey much. I feel that she was probably putting up a brave front and that makes for a dull read.
If you are steeped in Mitford knowledge, then you will be aware that Jessica (or Decca – the nicknames, Lord, the nicknames – here’s a selection of the sisters’ nicknames for each other – Sooze, Cord, Honks, Bobo, Woman, Hen) is the second youngest, that she eloped to Spain with her cousin, Esmond Romilly; moved to America; stayed there when he died; married a radical lawyer and wrote about the American funeral industry. What I found really interesting was her life after Romilly’s death. This doesn’t really get a great airing in most of the accounts I have read. She was a committed communist, very happily married to a radical lawyer for the rest of her life. And she knew EVERYONE. Random example – Hillary Clinton was an intern in her husband’s office. They really were an extraordinary family. Each of the 6 daughters, other than Pam, did very, very unusual things. Jessica fell out with them all when she eloped with Romilly. As a dedicated communist, she was peeved with her sister Diana who married Oswald Mosley and didn’t see her for 34 years. There is a rather funny letter where she describes meeting Diana while weeding in her sister Nancy’s garden. When Diana asks what she is doing, she says that she refrained from saying that she was giving the irises lebensraum.
For someone so unconventional, she does seem to have been unhappy about her daughter living in sin. Not so much for the sin but because, I think, she felt that it made for a somewhat unstable relationship. She was a veteran of many anti-racism campaigns. She used to front to buy houses for black families in white neighbourhoods. In response to the regularly asked question “Would you let your daughter marry a negro?” she answered “Rather!” Her daughter’s partner was black.
I find myself veering wildly in my opinion as to whether I would like to be around her. At times her letters are so funny and loving and she bore all sorts of deprivations very cheerfully. But, my goodness, she was quarrelsome and not at all inclined to just let things go. In the end, I think this made her what she was but she could be difficult, I feel.
I did enjoy this book but it was just too long and I am already steeped in Mitford knowledge (though considering re-reading Nancy’s novels and “Hons and Rebels” after this). If you fancy getting into the Mitfords, and there’s plenty of material to go around, Charlotte Mosley’s book is just much better. If you’re there already, then this is worth a read. Perhaps more fun for an American audience than a European one as dramatis personae presumably better known.
“A Soldier for Eden” by James Congdon [New Year's resolution list]
There is potentially excellent material here. This is the story of a young American boy who ends up joining the fedayeen by accident and proves himself an outstanding recruit. Unfortunately, the author has a gift for making everything dull. Not recommended.