If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I have an abiding love for gentle books. Stories which ultimately make me sigh and feel that, despite everything, all is right with the world. When I say “all is right with the world” I don’t mean in the sense that the hero triumphs, wins the lottery, finds true love, conquers the enemy, whatever. Not in that kind of larger than life sense. I mean that the plot of the novel, the characters, the setting and, in particular, the style make me feel that, no matter what, life can be absorbing, interesting, engaging, beautiful.
Often the books that make me feel this way are those that deal with life close-up. Books that deal with the small but fascinating minutiae of everyday life. And with characters who may be unassuming but, on closer inspection, are also intelligent, perceptive, funny, courageous, and endearing. I’m thinking of books written by Barbara Pym and Anita Brookner, who I’ve written about here And of course the Nancy Mitford books. Or anything about the Mitfords, really. Not sure why I’m so fascinated by that family.
Lately I’ve been in need of a little gentle reading.
I’m at home with my mum in New Brunswick this week. And my brother, the apple of everyone’s eye… at least in the eyes of his mother and three younger sisters… is not doing so well. My big brother has had too many health challenges for me to roll out a list here. And with each knock-down punch he always struggles to his feet, metaphorically speaking, since he’s been in a wheel chair for many years. But of course each time the struggle is harder and longer. And we’re just not sure he has enough fight left in him this time. So I’m feeling a bit beleaguered this week. Mum and I have been at the hospital quite a bit. And I’ve been phoning, and texting my two older sisters and my step-bother, who all live far away, twice a day with updates. And at times when the “situation is iffy” (as Mum says) trying to decide if I should say “Come, now” or not.
So I’ve been taking my one sister’s advice and falling back on the cure for all ills, emotional or spiritual: tea and a good book. I must tell you first that I finally tried reading books on my i-pad when Hubby and I were in South America. I love the convenience, especially when travelling, and I’m even getting used to not being able to hold a real book in my hands. And when scrolling through “recommended books” at the airport last week, I was excited to see that I can get titles from Persephone Books for my Kindle ap. I discovered Persephone Books a few years ago when I picked up Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day at the bookstore. I adored that book. And immediately began to look for others like it. But I’ve been unable to get my hands on any more Persophone books in stores here in Canada or at the library. Until now.
If you’re not familiar with Persophone Books, they republish “neglected works of fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers.” Books which are, according to their website, “intelligent, thought-provoking, and beautifully written.” And which have fallen out of favour for whatever reason, and out of print. And this week I’ve been immersed in two books by Dorothy Whipple. Someone at a Distance and The Priory.
I’m not sure why these books make me feel immeasurably better, but they do. Both deal with family drama, told in a most undramatic way. The plots of both novels which involve happy marriages and unhappy marital breakdown, jealousies, selfish manipulations and unselfish sacrifices could so easily have become cliché or soap-opera-ish, but they don’t. Whipple’s characters are beautifully drawn. And her prose is clean and elegant, filled with rich detail, crisp images, and small moments.
The small moments, a solitary tea, the comfort of a cat curling up on a bed, conveying a character’s state of mind so much more evocatively than the big ones. Or, as one reviewer put it, Whipple, by describing the “mundane details,” conveys a character’s “sense of aching loss” so much more effectively than “if she had focussed on screaming matches or sobbing fits.” But you should really read that review for yourself. You can find it here on a lovely blog called Furrowed Middlebrow. Love that title. And coincidentally the author of Furrowed Middlebrow, writes about both Someone at a Distance and The Priory in his post. And like me he says he found them both “compulsive reading.”
Compulsive reading of a lovely, gentle book about characters who ultimately triumph in their struggles even if not in a triumphant way (especially if not in a triumphant way) is always life affirming, don’t you think? Especially if that book is consumed with a nice cup of tea and maybe a ginger cookie. Or two.
So that’s it for me tonight, my friends. I hope you get a chance to check out that book blog I mention above, and have a look at the Persephone Books website. If you’re a Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner fan like I am, I think you’ll find something to your liking there.
And… and… I almost forgot… Persophone Books has a London shop. And… a friend and I are planning a trip to England for this upcoming fall. Can’t you just see us browsing the shelves at Persephone Books in Bloomsbury?
Sigh. A book shop like that just had to be Bloomsbury, now didn’t it?
You can find Dorothy Whipple’s books Someone at a Distance here and The Priory here on Amazon. I now have an affiliate relationship with Amazon, so if you buy the book by clicking the link I will earn a small commission. NO worries if you don’t want to do that. None at all. 🙂