This week I wanted my Five From The Archive (where I revisit old reviews from my blog – it’s been a while, so some of you might not know about it!) to be novels about families. Obviously that encompasses many, many novels – so I decided to be a little more specific, and insist that they have a relative of some sort in the title. Makes it more fun to pick them! Here are my five – as always, let me know which you’d suggest…
In short: The surreal account of Barbara Comyns’ childhood by the Avon in Warwickshire, paving the way for her later, equally surreal, novels.
From the review: “Tales of ugly dresses and bad haircuts are told in the same captivating, undemonstrative style as those of Grannie dying and Father throwing a beehive over Mother. If this motley assortment of remembrances were made-up… well, I don’t think they could have been. Such a bizarre childhood, so of its time, and yet utterly fascinating.”
2.) Travels With My Aunt (1969) by Graham Greene
In short: Meeting his Aunt Augusta at his mother’s funeral, Henry is caught up in her bizarre (and often illegal) cavorting around the globe.
From the review: “But the characters have the same indomitable spirit, eccentric manner, and amusingly unpredictable speech. The success of Greene’s novel, for me, is through character – through Augusta and Henry’s conversations, where two wholly different characters meet and travel together.”
In short: A typically Ivy Compton-Burnett novel – sprawling family, endless brilliant dialogue, and occasional doses of rather surprising action.
From the review: “Life-changing events are encompassed by lengthy, facetious discussions – gently vicious and cruelly precise, always picking up on the things said by others. Calmness permeates even the most emotional responses, and ICB’s writing is always astonishing in its use of dialogue.”
In short: Philip’s cousin Ambrose goes to Italy, marries Rachel, and (er, spoiler) dies – leaving Philip, and the reader, in doubt regarding Rachel’s culpability or innocence…
From the review: “The novel has a lot in common with Rebecca – and not just the setting. The same intrigue, power, and issues about what is left unspoken in relationships. […] My Cousin Rachel is brilliantly successful in the sense that I have never left a novel so uncertain as to a character’s guilt or lack of it – and either interpretation seems quite valid.”
In short: Katherine is an ingenuous 18 year old when she meets the Goldman family, but living alongside this enchanting (but bewildering) assortment of people – most of whose names begin with J – helps propel her into adulthood.
From the review: “Katherine herself it is difficult not to like, if only for this: ‘I reverted, as I do in moments of crisis, to rereading Emma, with cotton wool in my ears.'”
Over to you!