A #1951Club wrap-up (and where next?)

1951 ClubI hope you’ve all enjoyed the 1951 Club – and Easter. I know that I’ve really enjoyed both – it’s always so fun to see people reading such different titles across the blogosphere and elsewhere, and it’s also fun when a smaller group band together to read the same title, as happened on Instagram with My Cousin Rachel. So many reviews and different authors – thank you! Between us, we’ve built up a complex and interesting picture of 1951.

I’ve been so busy this week that I haven’t had time to seek out and round up the reviews – so I’m doing that now. Below are all the reviews I could find – if you’ve written one and I haven’t found it, let me know!

Next time – in October, we’ll be doing this all again with a year from the 1960s. Karen and I would like your suggestions – so, if you have a particular one to advocate for, let us know which year and why. We’ll put our heads together and make a choice soon.

The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold
Leaves and Pages

The Street by Dorothy Baker
Stuck in a Book

A Grave Case of Murder by Roger Bax
My Reader’s Block

Molloy by Samuel Beckett
Recent Items
The Bookbinder’s Daughter

Where were you, Adam? by Heinrich Böll
Lizzy Siddal

The Glass Harp by Truman Capote
Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings
Monica’s Bookish Life
She Reads Novels

Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett
Stuck in a Book

Come In Spinner by Dymphna Cusack & Florence James
Words and Leaves

Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies
Consumed by Ink

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
Lizzy Siddal
Bag Full of Books
The Emerald City Book Review
Teereads on Instagram

The Quarry by Friedrich Durrenmatt
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert
I Prefer Reading

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Annabel’s House of Books

The Well at the World’s End by Neil Gunn
1st Reading

The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein
Booked For Life

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
I Prefer Reading
Desperate Reader

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer
She Reads Novels

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson
What Me Read
Intermittencies of the Mind

The Age of Longing by Arthur Koestler
Lesser-Known Gems

Murder Comes Front by Frances & Richard Lockridge
My Reader’s Block

A Mouse is Born by Anita Loos
Lesser-Known Gems

I Could Murder Her by E.C.R. Lorac
My Reader’s Block

The Woman Surgeon by L Martindale
Briefer Than Literal Statement

School for Love by Olivia Manning
Jacqui Wine’s Journal
Stuck in a Book
Books and Chocolate

Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh
Stuck in a Book

Forbidden Colours by Yukio Mishima
Lesser-Known Gems

The Devil’s Elbow by Gladys Mitchell
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford
Pining for the West

The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat
My Bookstrings

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols
Stuck in a  Book

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes ed. Iona and Peter Opie
Kate Macdonald

Lost Children by Edith Pargeter
Briefer Than Literal Statement

A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell
Hard Book Habit

Fabia by Olive Higgins Prouty
Joie de Livre 

The Sunday of Life by Raymond Queneau
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Memories of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge
Lesser Known Gems
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Lise Lillywhite by Margery Sharp
Beyond Eden Rock

Maigret’s Memoirs by Simenon
Lizzy Siddal

Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife by Simenon
Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

The Teahouse of the August Moon by Vern Sneider
Bookprint on Instagram

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
Ink Stains on a Reader’s Blog

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
Harriet Devine
Madame Bibilophile Recommends
The Blank Garden
The Indextrious Reader
The Book Satchel

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Staircase Wit

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Harriet Devine
Lady Fancifull

Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
Intermittencies of the Mind

The Invisible Collection & Buchmendel by Stefan Zweig
Desperate Reader



Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols – #1951Club

Merry HallAnd so we come to the end of the 1951 Club – what fun it has been (even though I think I might do most of my catching-up with it after the week is over – again, why on earth did we decide on Easter week?!) – and I’ve saved my favourite book of the week til last. It’s the entirely, utterly, scrumptiously delightful Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols.

I had planned to start writing this review by saying that I’d never read a book by Beverley Nichols, but discovered – while looking through my review list for other 1951 books – that, a handful of years ago, I read and reviewed a selection of essays he wrote with Monica Dickens. How embarrassing that I remember none of this. So, to all intents and purposes, this is my first Beverley Nichols book.

Which isn’t to say he’s new to me. I’ve long believed that I would love his books – and huge numbers of people whose views I trust wholeheartedly have vouched for him. I’m in the happy position of owning another 12 books by him, bought over the past 13 years (!), with this belief firmly in mind – which has, happily, been entirely justified.

Merry Hall is the first book in a trilogy (I am already well under way in the sequel, Laughter on the Stairs) about Nichols buying and doing up a Georgian house with several acres of garden and woodland. It’s non-fiction, presumably heavily tinged with fiction, and it is – well, I am going to use the word ‘delight’ a lot in this review, I can sense.

It begins with house hunting. When I am not having to do it myself, I adore house hunting, and will read any length of it – though, in Merry Hall, it doesn’t last very long. Money is clearly no object, and Nichols buys this substantial property in more or less a trice.

Most of the book examines the plants and planting arrangements that Nichols decides upon, with Oldfield his gardener, and I thoroughly enjoyed it while often not really understanding it. My knowledge of flowers and plants is nil, and I got less from this than somebody more practically-minded might have done. As such, I’ll mostly write about the rest – because there is just as much to love about Merry Hall for those who don’t have green fingers.

It was previously owned by Mr and Mrs Stebbings, and (before that) the Doves – known as the Doovz to the broad-accented, old, and extremely talented Oldfield. Nichols takes an immediate and long-lasting position of loathing to Mr Stebbings, who apparently did every single wrong with house and garden, from planting elm trees – how Nichols would have welcomed Dutch elms disease! – to his choice of wallpaper. (In Merry Hall, he focuses almost entirely on the garden – Laughter on the Stairs looks at the house.) This is a keynote of Nichols’ writing – he is very, very sure of his own taste, and very, very dismissive of anybody else’s. Luckily, he does it in a very, very amusing fashion.

Mr Stebbings has passed on to a better place, but he has an acolyte remaining in the area: Miss Emily. One hopes – for his sake and for hers – that there was no prototype for Miss Emily – or, if there was, that she is sufficiently altered in these pages so as not to recognise herself. In fact, the edition I’m reading was published for The Companion Book Club in 1953 and, rather delightfully, still has the little pamphlet with which it was initially distributed – and, in that, Nichols writes ‘where the female characters are concerned, I have naturally been obliged to invent a few elementary disguises, which are familiar to all authors who wish to avoid libel actions’.

Miss Emily is ‘one big flinch’ – she pops up regularly at Merry Hall, disparaging everything Nichols has introduced and lamenting every element of Stebbings that has been removed. Nichols can’t stand the sight of her, but she is always there – along with her friend Rose, apparently a note flower arranger, who tortures flowers out of their original shape – much to Nichols’ discuss. Terrible person that I am, my favourite moments in the book were when Nichols talks about how appalling he finds this pair – and is similarly wittily irate about a succession of labourers who do not labour. Of course, he wouldn’t dream of doing any of the hard work himself. (Curiously, he is much nicer about Emily and Rose in the sequel – I wonder if locals recognised themselves and threatened action??)

Nichols is everything one expects of a rich, creative, aesthetically-minded gent – albeit maybe more usual in one of the 1920s than the 1950s. Here’s a representative sample of his thoughts:

It is the same when you are furnishing a house. If you have only just enough money to buy a bed, a chair, a table and a soup-plate, you should buy none of these squalid objects; you should immediately pay the first instalment on a Steinway grand. Why? Because the aforesaid squalidities are essentials, and essentials have a peculiar was, somehow or other, of providing for themselves. ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’… that is the meanest, drabbest little axiom that ever poisoned the mind of youth. People who look after pennies deserve all they get. All they get is more pennies.

While I don’t agree with Nichols’ politics or his cheerful snobbery – though neither of these things stop me loving every moment of the book – there is one area in which I am in wholehearted agreement with him. I don’t think anybody has ever written as wonderfully about cats.

Nichols has two cats – One and Four. These whimsical names supposedly come from the idea that he would have 100 cats over the rest of his life. One is Siamese (the second Siamese of the 1951 Club!) and Four is a black cat, and he writes beautifully about their character and mannerisms, with every bit of the devotion that cats deserve. They weave in and out of the narrative, and won my heart completely.

There is so much I would like to say about this book, but I have already written quite a bit – and I suspect I’ll be writing more about Nichols often over the years. Basically, this is a very funny, very charming book that reminded me a lot of A.A. Milne’s Edwardian stories. It probably says quite a lot about me that my favourite 1951 Club book is completely anachronistic – but I will say to anybody who has yet to read Beverley Nichols: don’t be like me and put it off for a decade; read something by him immediately.

The Street by Dorothy Baker – #1951Club

1951 ClubYou might well know the name Dorothy Baker. A few of us read Young Man With a Horn for the 1938 Club, and Cassandra at the Wedding is another well-known book by her. And, when I saw The Street in 2011, it was Baker’s name that rang a bell – though, at that point, I hadn’t read her.

Here’s the curious thing. I think I’d suspected this before, but without confirming it – this Dorothy Baker is a different Dorothy Baker. While the famous one wrote about quirky things in America, The Street is about the working classes in the Black Country. I’ve dug around but not managed to find out much about this Dorothy Baker – except that she is, according to a library catalogue, connected with the BBC. Very mysterious, and something I’d forgotten to investigate until after I’d put it in my pile for the 1951 Club.

So, having read four extremely good books for the 1951 Club (one to be reviewed tomorrow), it’s about right that this one should only be OK. It’s certainly not a dud – but it’s very novel-by-numbers.

It’s all about Dora – a kind, anxious, emotional young girl living with her grandparents, having been more or less deposited on them by feckless (but slightly glamorous) parents. They’ve kept her three siblings, who never emerge from the shadows of the novel, but this unusual situation is never really alluded to – instead, Dora’s parents exist as occasional threats that she might be torn away from her life on the street.

While the novel is called The Street, we don’t see all that much outside of Dora’s grandparents’ house, and her school. And I think Baker fondly believes she has captured a snapshot of working-class life – which I absolutely can’t believe she has. There is the occasional moment of drunkenness thrown in to show ‘real life’, and poverty which demonstrates itself only in the miserly whinging of various passing uncles, but the characters mostly speak in the anonymous tones of middle-class stock characters. It could very easily have been a provincial house party.

The writing certainly isn’t bad – each scene is engaging, if a little earnest at times – but what holds The Street back from being a very good novel is the lack of momentum in it. There is something of a plot, mostly around the deaths and marriages of Dora’s relatives and her own (rather naive) budding into early adulthood, but not much pulls the reader through the novel. It wasn’t a chore to read by any means, but I would also quite happily have given up at any juncture without any real curiosity about what happened next.

We need light and shade, don’t we? It’s just as well that I didn’t get too exaggerated a view of 1951’s merits – consider this a slight lull before, tomorrow, I finish the week with my favourite of all five.

Darkness and Day by Ivy Compton-Burnett – #1951Club

Darkness and DayWhen we chose 1951, I was mostly excited that I could finally read an Ivy Compton-Burnett novel for a club outing. I’ve mostly been reading authors and books that I’ve long meant to get around to (which has been lovely), but I also treated myself to what I think is my 10th Ivy Compton-Burnett novel. I’ve got to the stage where I can’t remember which I’ve read and which I haven’t – because all the titles are the same. You’ll see what I mean when you see a sample of the ones I’ve read: Parents and Children, Mother and Son, Elders and Betters, A House and Its Head, A Heritage and Its History. Have I read A Father and His Fate? A God and His Gifts? I don’t know.

Her 1951 novel is Darkness and Day, which is the last of her novels that I bought (I have them all, except her first novel, Dolores – which I thought was impossible to find, but apparently the 1971 reprint is widely available). It starts off with a much smaller cast than I’d anticipated – just Sir Ransom Chance (what a name!), his daughters Anne and Emma, the servant Mrs Jennet, and the housekeeper/companion/dogsbody Miss Hallam. Anne and Emma could be considered the darkness and day of the title (though this later has myriad interpretations): the older sister is cynical and selfish; the younger is selfless and kind. The scene is a deliciously odd debate between servant and master as to whose place in life is better:

“I envy you, Jennet,” said Sir Ransom. “Because it is the proper thing to envy people placed as you are. Not because I really do.”

“Well, I shouldn’t expect it.”

“Do you envy me? That is not the proper thing. But tell me if you do.”

“Not on every count, Sir Ransom.”

“You mean you have longer to live. Why do people always think of age? Or why do they ever think of anything else? I often wonder why I do. Perhaps I don’t.”

“Well, I have the advantage of thirty years there.”

“Jennet, we do not talk of our advantage over people.”

“It is not a thing I can often do. I am not in danger of the habit.”

But we end up seeing surprisingly little of them – the cast gets much wider when we move to another house.

Like all Compton-Burnett’s novels, this one is set in late Victorian opulence. The families live in enormous houses, usually with a big household staff – and the house down the road is one such. The second son of the house is returning home, bringing his wife Bridget and two young daughters, Viola and Rose. They bring with them a secret; one that led to them leaving, and which has blighted their lives.

Some people say that nothing happens in Compton-Burnett’s novels. Well, I defy any novel to match this one for plot and twists – which I shan’t spoil here – and it ties together many different characters in an unlikely but satisfying way. What makes ICB’s novel so unusual is that it takes you a while to work out what the bombshell is. In a swirl of people correcting each other and talking about the inconsequential, the bomb is dropped, almost in passing. And several characters see their world in a whole new light – the darkness and day here represent ignorance and enlightenment, as is made (sort-of) explicit in the text.

What can I say about Compton-Burnett’s writing that I haven’t said before? This novel has the same unique, love-it-or-hate-it style of all her others. It’s mostly dialogue, there is a lot of pernickety arguing, and it is (if you like it) very funny indeed. The keynote of a Compton-Burnett novel, I realise, is that there is no such thing as an acknowledged truth. Whether it is a maxim or an attitude or what, no character will allow an assumption to stand unchecked – instead, it is passed around the characters until it is unrecognisable.

This is true (as always with ICB) with characters of any age or strata. The servants, the masters, and the children will all debate and analyse in the most highbrow words imaginable, and my favourite sections were when Miss Hallam attempts to be a governess to Viola and Rose. She approaches the task with affected good humour and gentleness; they meet it with stony independence and a refusal to take anything at face value. It is very, very funny.

“Are you painting?” she said, in a tone of pleasant interest.

“Well, you can see we are,” said Rose.

“Yes, I can. It was a useless question, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was.”

“But I am afraid painting is not lessons.”

“Of course it is not, or we shouldn’t have been doing it before you came.”

“Well, you don’t want to do it now I am here.”

“We do want to,” said Viola.

“I mean that I cannot let you do it.”

“You did not say what you meant.”

“How can you prevent us?” said Rose, continuing her work.

“I am not going to prevent you. I am going to ask you to put away your painting things, and I am sure you will.”

This confidence was not justified and the minutes passed.

How did this stack up against other ICB novels? Well, besides the slightly uneven apportioning of time spent with characters – it felt odd to kick off with several characters that we barely saw again until much later in the novel – I thought that Darkness and Day was fantastic. It’s not worth especially tracking this one down, though, because all her novels are pretty much the same – which does make me feel a bit of a fraud for including it in the 1951 Club. Yes, it was published in 1951, but Ivy Compton-Burnett paid absolutely zero heed to the changing fashions of writing, and continued writing in exactly the same way for forty years. Sorry for cheating – but I couldn’t resist.

Other books from 1951 for the #1951club

I will be catching up with rounding up reviews soon – sorry I’ve had rather a hectic week! – but I also wanted to do a post about other books I’ve read 1951. Where there are links, they lead to review, but I haven’t written about all of them. (Still three more reviews to come from me this week, hopefully!)

1951 Club

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

Quite a few people are reading this one, and I think it’s brilliant – you can hear Rachel and me talk about it in an episode of Tea or Books? that is, I should warn you, rather spoilery.

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

His books are all so different – well, that’s true of the four I’ve read – but this story about an affair and the person observing it is heartbreaking and brilliant.

Here’s How by Virginia Graham

I love both Say Please and Here’s How by Virginia Graham – this is a faux instruction manual for everything under the sun, from how to play the piano to how to plumb. Follow that link for some hilarious examples!

They Came To Baghdad by Agatha Christie

I never hate an Agatha, but I will say that They Came To Baghdad is pretty far down my list… it’s one of her novels where she doesn’t concentrate on a domestic scene, and it all gets a bit overblown and silly for my liking.

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Her second novel, and perhaps her oddest – not really in terms of what happened, but in her rather disjointed prose style. It makes for very interesting reading, particularly if aligned with her biography, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a good place to start!

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

My review is very short, and suffers from the odd quotation formatting that all my old reviews got when I moved to WordPress – but I remember struggling with the first half of this novel, then getting it, and then being wildly impressed by the writing.

My Turn To Make The Tea by Monica Dickens

The third in her autobiographical series – she is a journalist, and she is funny about it, but it doesn’t live up to One Pair of Hands or One Pair of Feet, where she writes about her time as a cook and a nurse respectively.

The Letters of Elizabeth Myers

Elizabeth Myers was married to one of the Powys brothers, and I really loved this collection of letters that I picked up as a whim. She died young – in her 40s, I think – and the book is organised by correspondent, so you have to keep coming up against her death. It’s oddly poignant.

* * *

It turns out I own more than thirty books from 1951, and I’ve quite a few unread – but, from the ones I have read and am reading, it turns out it’s a rather intriguing year with plenty of gems. And the 1951 Club keeps bringing up more!

Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh – #1951Club

Opening NightNgaio Marsh is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read for many years – and I don’t think I’ve actually read anything by her, though I wouldn’t swear to it. Anybody who loves Agatha Christie has probably at least thought about trying her contemporaries – and, in my time, I have given Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers attempts (liking one and rather disliking the other). Well, Marsh is probably my favourite of that trio of anti-Christies, based on Opening Night – but I am a sucker for anything set in the theatre. This one falls in the middle of her writing career – though the heyday of the Golden Age of Detection was surely coming to an end.

Martyn Tarne (are any women actually called Martyn?) has come from New Zealand to England with the ambition of becoming an actress. Indeed, she has done this a little in NZ – but London is calling her, and she has come to the weary end of auditions (and also to the end of her money) when she arrives at the final theatre on her list. It’s The Vulcan (the novel was called Night at the Vulcan in the US) – notorious as the site of a murder in the dressing rooms some years earlier, but now re-established as a respectable theatre. Only there’s no part going.

But… Ella Hamilton needs a dresser. Martyn is in the right place at the right time. She becomes Ella Hamilton’s dresser.

From this moment, we are thrown into a wonderfully-realised world of 1950s theatre – cattiness, competition, camaraderie and all. Ella Hamilton is married to Bennington, but having an affair with Poole. A nervous young actress, called Gay Gainsford, is unsuccessfully trying to play a part that Martyn would love to play. The cantankerous author of the play wanders around, telling people they’re appalling and quoting Shakespeare at them. A friendly Frenchman comforts everybody and does their work for them. It’s a fantastic ensemble, and I adored being in this melee of rehearsals and reprisals. Marsh is rather a witty writer – I enjoyed this description of the play:

Martyn tried to find out from Cringle what the play was about. He was not very illuminating. “It’s ’igh-brow,” he said. “Intellectually, it’s clarse. ‘A Modern Morality’ he calls it, the Doctor does. It’s all about whether you’re brought up right makes any difference to what your old pot ’ands on to you. ‘ ’Eredity versus enviroment’ they call it. The Guv’nor’s enviroment, and all the rest of ’em’s ’eredity. And like it always is in clarse plays, the answer’s a lemon. Well, I must go on me way rejoicing.”

But I was beginning to wonder if it was a murder mystery at all. I knew Marsh was a detective novelist, and this edition was published by The Crime Club, but page after page was going by without a hint of a death. Well, fear not – eventually it comes, although not until halfway through. Opening Night is clearly far more about the wonderful setting and characters, rather than a drawn-out detection process.

There is a detective on the scene – Inspector Alleyn. I believe he is a regular in Marsh’s novels, as perhaps his assistant Fox is, but they weren’t particularly distinctive in Opening Night. Alleyn is wry and wise, and a little paternal to Fox – but they don’t seem very vivid against the backdrop of the theatrical characters Marsh has created. I’m sure they would, after reading several in their series.

Marsh obviously has a fondness for the theatre, and there are some nice references. I enjoyed this one, having enjoyed the first two plays mentioned – though I have no idea what Sleeping Partners is or who wrote it:

“Tell me, Mike,” Alleyn said, “are many young women of your generation like that?”
“Well, no, sir. She’s what one might call a composite picture, don’t you think?”
“I do, indeed. And I fancy she’s got her genres a bit confused.”
“She tells me she’s been playing in Private Lives, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, and Sleeping Partners in the provinces.”
“That may account for it,” said Alleyn.

Nobody will ever topple Christie in detective fiction stakes (as I probably say with dulling regularity when I mentioned detective novels), but I loved reading Marsh – Opening Night was a real 1951 delight. Indeed, the year is shaping up to be pretty special.

School For Love by Olivia Manning – #1951Club

School For LoveI wish I could remember who bought me School For Love by Olivia Manning… I know that I’ve had two copies at different times, and currently have one, but other than that its history is clouded in the vagaries of my terrible memory. Anyway, it’s been on my tbr for a while – as has Manning more broadly, though I have shied away from the Balkan Trilogy because anything that comes in a trilogy seems like too big a commitment to make to the uninitiated.

I started School For Love with absolutely no knowledge of what it was about (having not read the blurb or the introduction). It came as something of a surprise that it was set in Jerusalem, and that there wasn’t a school in sight. Instead, recently orphaned Felix has arrived at the house of a distant sort-of-relative, where he is being offered a place as a paying guest. Felix is young, devoted to his late mother, and rather lost in this confusing 1945 world. Miss Bohun seems like a Godsend, and he is grateful for the place in her household – which also has eccentric Mr Jewel in the attic, a maid, a sort-of servant (Frau Leszno), and that servant’s son – Nikky, who is almost always described as handsome whenever he is mentioned. Later, a Mrs Ellis also joins the house – a glamorous woman (in Felix’s eyes), unconcerned with the mores and opinions of the house.

Oh, and a Siamese cat called Faro. (Incidentally – this NYRB Classics cover is so perfect that it’s almost unbelievable.) That’s also not the last time you’ll hear about Siamese cats in the 1951 Club…

Manning creates an astonishing character in Miss Bohum – because she is in many ways bad, but it is also impossible to view her actions too severely. She is a miser, clearly taking as much money as she can from her houseguests, while also pretending to be self-sacrificing and motivated entirely by kindness – indeed (and this makes her less wicked than she could be), she seems genuinely to believe these are her motivations. She can imagine slights and unkindnesses in those around her – while we also learn that she has subtly forced people out of the house, taking it over as her own when this was never the original intention.

The nuance of Manning’s depiction of characters also comes in showing them to us through Felix’s perspective. Not directly – the novel is in the third person – but his views colour all our understanding of them. And he spends much of the novel being in loyal agreement with Miss Bohun – unthinkingly, because she should be right about things. He feels cross on her behalf when she talks of people’s ingratitude; he accepts her edicts as gospel. Only as the novel continues does he – conflicted – begin to feel the scales fall.

I haven’t even mention Miss Bohun’s cult, the ‘Ever-Readies’. What a great choice on Manning’s part. I would have loved to see a little more about them, as she wrote very entertainingly about them, but I suppose it is part of the effect to keep them a bit cloaked and mysterious.

We don’t see very much of 1945 Jerusalem, so School For Love isn’t much of a case history of a time and place – instead, it is a character study, and a depiction of how a young, uninformed boy feels when transplanted from all he knows. It’s a little bit like The Go-Between, in the sense of an innocent seeing a world he doesn’t quite understand – more affected it than anybody could quite realise. The plot is really that: his gradual comprehension of the people around him, and the fall of the idol of Miss Bohun – but in a measured, quiet way. It is all rather beautiful and poignant, and vividly real.

My only real quibble with the book is its title – which does very little to evoke the content of the novel, and might well make somebody think they were going to read a rather different sort of story. It is explained, fairly late in the book – Mrs Ellis quotes part of a Blake poem:

Look on the rising sun: there God does live
And gives his light, and gives his heat away.
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning joy in the noonday.

And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love

And that is why she thinks of life as a school for love. It is one of many things that Felix learns, though not in the way that Blake describes. And what I learned is what a good novelist Olivia Manning is. The 1951 Club got off to a great start with me – I hope it’s also going great for you!

Welcome to The 1951 Club! (And my blog birthday)

1951 ClubIt’s here! Welcome to The 1951 Club – this post will be where I round up everybody’s reviews of books published in 1951, whether fiction, non-fiction, or anything in between. Just pop a link in the comments.

It’s also (though this was not deliberate) the 10th birthday for Stuck in a Book. That’s right – 10 April 2007 saw me take a break from revising for my undergraduate finals and decide to start a book blog. It’s been rather strange and wonderful since then, and has led to far more than I could have dreamt of – but it’s also rooted in the shared love of books and online community that something like the 1951 Club embodies.

When I picked these dates out of the air last October, I hadn’t appreciated that it would be Easter this week… that means it might be rather busy for me; I’m still hoping to do lots of reading and reviewing, and gathering up reviews, but I don’t think I’ll have time to do links for older posts. But please do still do your own posts, rounding up all the 1951 reviews you’ve already had on your blog!

Happy reading!

The 1951 Club is around the corner!

Karen and I both realised that it’s not long until the 1951 Club starts – 10-16 April – and we have leapt into action! I’ve made another one of the badges (please feel free to use at any point), and I’m going to busy myself looking among my books for some 1951 titles. I’ve loved these ‘clubs’ so much, especially the sense of community across the blogging world that it brings about – and building up an impression of a particular year in publishing, from many different voices.

1951 Club

For those who are new to this – we ask everybody to review books published in a particular year, in the same week. You can read it before, but most of us also try to do some reading that week. We welcome novels, plays, poetry, non-fiction or anything – and in any language – so long as it was originally published in 1951. Between us, we can construct an overview of a year that would take an individual reader years to put together.

We especially love it when people look beyond the obvious, but do feel free to start thinking with the Wikipedia page for 1951 in literature. I’m mostly excited that I’ll finally be able to read Ivy Compton-Burnett for one of these clubs!