Five From the Archive (no.12)


It’s been three years since I last wrote a Five From the Archive post, so it’s entirely possible that you’ve forgotten (or never knew) what it is. But I remembered it existed this week, and thought it was worth resurrecting!

Essentially, I delve through my review archives and pick five that fit a theme. You can see all the previous themes here, and will discover that they’re quite esoteric at times! Previous themes have included hands, death, and pairs of women. This time…

Five… Eponymous Novels

1.) Miss Hargreaves (1940) by Frank Baker

In short:We all knew this would turn up, so let’s get it out of the way. Norman invents an eccentric old lady to get out of a fix, and then invites her, her cockatoo, harp, and hip bath to come and stay… and she turns up. Havoc ensues!

From my review: “Sometimes sinister, sometimes sad, sometimes hilariously funny – Miss Hargreaves covers more or less all the bases, always written in the sort of delicious writing which is hardly found anymore. Miss H is one of the best characters of the twentieth century, in my opinion, and I really cannot encourage you enough to find this extraordinary book.”

2.) Miss Mole (1930) by E.H. Young

In short: Miss Mole is a mischievous 40-something woman who seeks work as a housekeeper, to the embarrassment of her cousin. She helps the family she ends up with, without the novel ever becoming too sickly sweet.

From my review: “When it comes to drawing characters, she is really rather brilliant. Miss Mole is a creation of whom Jane Austen would be proud, and I think I’ll remember her for some time.”

3.) Angel (1957) by Elizabeth Taylor

In short: Taking the extremely popular, critically mauled novelist Marie Corelli as her inspiration, Taylor documents the life of a humourless, ruthlessly selfish writer who believes herself to be a genius and alienates everybody around her.

From my review: “Angel Deverell is never a likeable character; quite the reverse. Even so, Elizabeth Taylor creates in her a character of pathos, and it is difficult to take any pleasure in her downfalls, however deserved. It is testament to Taylor’s talent that such an unpleasant protagonist can inhabit a thoroughly compelling novel.”

4.) Mr Fox (1987) by Barbara Comyns

In short: The best of Comyns’ later novels, Mr Fox is a charming but tempestuous World War Two spiv whose life is entangled with that of the heroine, Caroline. The novel has Comyns’ trademark surrealism.

From my review: “With air raids and rationing and evacuees, Comyns uses the recognisable elements of every wartime novel or memoir, but distorts them with her unusual style and choice of focus.”

5.) Skylark (1924) by Dezső Kosztolányi

In short: A Hungarian novel about what loving but overly-dependent parents go through when their ugly, not-young-anymore daughter goes away for a while. A really beautiful book.

From my review: “This narrative is so clever and subtly written. It is a mixture of quite pathetic inability to manage in their daughter’s absence, with a glimpse of what life would be like without her.”

8 thoughts on “Five From the Archive (no.12)

  • August 21, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Skylark is one of my favourite reads in recent years. I’m so glad NYRB reissued it as it deserves to be better known.

    • August 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

      Bless NYRB for it! Such a beautiful book.

  • August 21, 2015 at 11:21 am

    I bought Miss Hargreaves wholly because of you Simon and shock horror still haven’t read it. I will I will one day. I love Elizabeth Taylor as you probably know and Angel is remarkable novel, not my personal favourite but the central character is truly fascinating. I remember enjoying Miss Mole a lot but it’s ages since I read it so the details have faded.
    I love the idea of five from the archive (wish I’d thought of it).

    • August 21, 2015 at 11:46 am

      I meant to say, please (everyone) do feel free to borrow the idea and icon! (And do read Miss H, Ali!)

  • August 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    It’s not often that I read a list of books and I have not read any of them but they all sound great. I have just recently started reading Barbara Comyns, but I haven’t read Mr. Fox yet. Same with Elizabeth Taylor. I’m taking notes!

  • August 21, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    I have not read any of these :(
    But thanks for sharing, will definitely pick these in future.
    And nice post!

  • August 21, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    I *loved* Miss Hargreaves, and I only bought it because of your recommendation! I’d forgotten about Skylark – must look out for that one!

  • August 22, 2015 at 5:54 am

    You know how much I love Skylark but, shamefully, that’s the only one of these I’ve read. I do have Miss Hargreaves and Miss Mole waiting, though.

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