Thursday, August 17, 2006

Queen Of The Underworld

Surely the greatest publishing discovery round my neck of the woods has to have been that of Persephone Books. Based on the charming Lambs Conduit Street in London's Holborn, Persephone is a wonderfully traditional, largely-female publisher of long-forgotten favourites that have been out of print for ages. The website explains, "Our titles include novels, short stories, diaries and cookery books. They are all carefully designed with a clear typeface, a dove-grey jacket, a 'fabric' endpaper and bookmark, and a preface by writers such as Lyndall Gordon, PD James and Eva Ibbotson."

On the whole, of the 20 of so Persephone books I have read so far, my favourites by a long shot are:

* "Lady Rose And Mrs Memmery" - Ruby Ferguson
This was one of the late Queen Mother's favourite books of all time - being about a super-priviledged Scottish girl who grows up to inherit a palatial Scottish empire. But after being forced into a loveless marriage so that she could unite her fortune with an equally wealthy local heir, she realised where her heart truly lay.

* "Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day" - Winifred Watson
Apparently this is Persephone's best-selling book, and it's easy to see why. Another day-in-the-life-of book (but much more readable than "Ulysses"), "Miss Pettigrew" is the fairytale of an ageing spinster who comes to work for a flighty socialite in London by mistake... and her life is magicaly transformed.

* "The Making Of A Marchioness" - Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frances Hodgson Burnett famously wrote "A Little Princess" and "The Secret Garden", and as ever "The Making Of A Marchioness" is a rags to riches tale with a cruel Indian element... but this one has a more adult feel than Burnett's better known books.

* "Miss Ranskill Comes Home" - Barbara Euphan Todd
The author of "Worzel Gummidge" puts a new slant on the World War Two book with a story about a lady, Miss Ranskill, who has been shipwrecked on a desert island for two years, and when she is rescued comes home to find Blighty in the middle of World War Two. Unable to buy clothes without coupons, or to sleep with the windows open, "Miss Ranskill" is a fresh look at some of the absurdities of wartime practice.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Notes From A Small Island

The boyfriend laughed at me the other day – no big surprise there as I seem to be a constant source of amusement to him. Never mind the old, “I’m laughing with you, not at you” line, that doesn’t make sense when I’m always having to look perplexed and ask, ‘What are you laughing at?”

We were settling down to watch our current favourite TV treat, ITV1’s “Love Island” (about which we’re both distraught that we shall be on holiday when the grand finale airs). We’re both hooked on the adventures of La Anderton and her many vile personalities, the mewings of Playboy bunny Colleen, and their merry band of freaks and attention seekers. And we shall both forever remember the hideous war in Lebanon as having been bizarrely scheduled by the bigwigs at ITV to appear sandwiched between the two nightly episodes of “Love Island”.

The reason for his humour is best summed up by my friend Ben, who made a remarkably similar comment in an email to me only this morning: "I can't believe you're watching "Love Island". Still, makes for an interesting juxtapotision - "Love Island" and "Ulysses" - I imagine those two don't cross paths too often. I have no intention of ever reading "Ulysses", I'm afraid to say. Life is too short for that kind of thing as far as I am concerned, it sounds far too much like hard work to me. But good for you ploughing through it."

And my favourite thing about "Love Island" - Paul Danan and his Lilo Banter (see picture). Bring back the Danan!

An Odyssey Into "Ulysses"

When James Joyce first saw ‘Ulysses’ published in 1922, it was greeted by controversy and outrage. Some claimed it was blasphemous, others that it was pornographic, and most that it was unreadable. Since then, people have gone on to either call the book pretentious, or to say that it’s the most inspiring thing they’ve ever read. Virginia Woolf was so inspired she went on to write ‘Mrs Dalloway’ – another stream-of-consciousness, day-in-the-life tome.

I’ve been trying to get to grips with ‘Ulysses’ for about three weeks in preparation for the MA. To say I’d enjoyed any of it would be a fib. But I am enjoying the challenge of trying to get through this mountain of a book. True, quite a lot of the time I feel like I’m just reading word after word without understanding what they all mean strung together; and true, occassionally I give in and let myself skim a chapter… but it’s still satisfying, not least of all because so few people I know seem to have conquered it and I’ve always been a competitive cow.

Right now I’m on chapter 10 (of 18)… which, while that might be halfway through, still only seems to be 200 pages in (of 800). Even with my maths, I know that’s not good going. But that might have a lot to do with the fact that for me, reading "Ulysses" just seems to involve moving the book into different rooms inthe flat and leaving it on a different table "for later".

So far, Bloom and Dedalus have shaved, eaten breakfast, had a shit, been to a funeral and the library, and eaten a cheese sandwich for lunch. I know, I know, it’s difficult for you to imagine why I’m not hooked.

But don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted on what happens next. There’s supposed to be some rude bits to look forward to. I've already heard about Bloom going to the museum so that he can peer at a statue's bottom, so that's a start.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I've decided it’s time for a rebrand. Why? I'm going back to school. More specifically, in October I'm going back to university (part-time) to do an MA in Modern & Contemporary Literature.

On Sunday, my second-cousin (who teaches A'Level English Literature to middle-class kids) told me that 1) her students largely don't read books for pleasure, and 2) they freely litter they essays with text message speak, such as 'da' and '4'. She seemed to think this was merely the progression of the English language. I think it’s appalling.

But I'm sure I can't have forgotten everything I learnt in my expensive public school education... it wasn't even that long ago. We'll see...