The Folio Society’s New Edition of Trollope’s The Duke’s Children

The Folio Society edition of The Duke's Children

The Folio Society edition of The Duke’s Children

In March 2015, the Folio Society will publish the first complete edition of Trollope’s The Duke’s Children.  

The Duke’s Children was written as a four-volume novel, but was cut to three volumes. As the Folio Society tells us, “65,000 words ended up on the cutting-room floor.”  The restored manuscript is published in this limited edition, and a separate volume of scholarly essays and notes is included with the novel

I am excited about the new edition, because  I am rereading Trollope’s Pallisers novels:  Can You Forgive Her?, Phineas Finn, The Eustace Diamonds, Phineas Redux, The Prime Minister, and The Duke’s Children.  If I wait till March to read The Duke’s Children, I can read the Folio Society edtion.

I dearly love the Pallisers books, which I discovered in the 1970s, when the BBC series aired in the U.S.  In those days, mass market paperbacks were often published to complement the TV series.  My set had photos of the actors on the covers.

A scene from the BBC Pallisers series.

A scene from the BBC Pallisers series.

Then, in the ’80s, I found a classier set of Oxford editions at a used bookstore. Alas,  I was not very fussy about condition, and I must say these were too well-used.

A set of the Pallisers books.

A set of the Pallisers books.

Now I have the inexpensive Oxford World Classics editions.

The new set of Oxford Palliser books

The Oxford World Classics Palliser books

Much as I like the Folio Society books (I recently saw a gorgeous edition of Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trezibond at a used bookstore), I am not a collector.  They are beautiful, but expensive.

But perhaps I’ll treat myself to the new The Duke’s Children.  I’m not traveling to London this spring, so this can be the substitute.

Mary Wesley’s Jumping the Queue & A Teasing Mockery of Book Review Publications

Last week I had a Mary Wesley marathon.  I reread four of her witty, whimsical, often darkly comic novels.

mary wesley jumping the queue 720832As I mentioned, Wesley’s first novel Jumping the Queue was published in 1983 when she was 71.  She became an overnight sensation, a respected novelist whose work is reminiscent of the books of Elizabeth Jane Howard , Alice Thomas Ellis, and Barbara Pym.

Jumping the Queue is a rich, dark comedy that could not be possibly be categorized only as women’s fiction.

The heroine, Matilda/Mattie Poliport, a suicidal widow and mother of three neglectful adult children, rescues the suicidal Hugh, known in the press as the Matricide. (The alliteration of Mattie and Matricide is not coincidental.)  Matilda has planned her suicide precisely:  after a final picnic and pills, she intends to swim out to sea. Prevented by a group of young people who gather near her rock, she roams the town and finds Hugh getting ready to  jump off the bridge.  She is old enough to be his mother, as she says,, but she also pretends to make out with him so a slow-cruising police car won’t recognize the Matricide from his picture in the papers.

Slightly incestuous?

And no wonder:  Matilda’s husband, Tom,  had a long, incestuous affair with their daughter, Louise, which she carefully ignored. She thinks there are worse things than incest and matricide.  She says she, too, has murdered someone.

As we learn more about Matilda’s past, there is a sense of menace.  A few of the characters she knows are sinister, especially one old friend who briefly muses that he might have to stage her heart attack.  (Thank God she doesn’t know too much.)    Her  dog and cat are dead, and she only has her goose, Gus, the Matricide,  a stray dog they pick up, Folly, and a neighbor who is in love with her.  Everyone recognizes the Matricide, but no one wants to turn him in.  There are so many twists near the end of the novel that I won’t reveal them, but they are utterly logical.

By the way, her books are in print as e-books, and you can also find used copies at Amazon, Abebooks, etc.

Mocking the BOOK REVIEW PUBLICATIONS.  Much as I enjoy book reviews, I  am often flippant about the critics. After the recent debacle of Ayelet Waldman’s complaints on Twitter about not making the Notable 100 Books at the New York Times, I thought how very silly it is to give the book pages so much power.  I probably find at least half of my books browsing at bookstores , and read the reviews later.  The reviews may or may not be good, but my motto is Caveat Emptor.  The death of the book review pages WILL be the end of civilization, but meanwhile we can browse.

And so I have created mocking nicknames for some of the publications I read.

BOP:  The Boys’ Own Paper.  Though The Washington Post Book World is one of the best  review publications in the U.S,  it is very male-oriented, and the tenure of the three in-house male critics has seemed very old-fashioned indeed.  Though I’ll miss the great Jonathan Yardley, who  is retiring at 75, this is an opportunity for a female critic to step up.

GOP.  The Girls’ Own Paper.  The New York Times Book Review, now edited by Pamela Paul, is  the most equitable book review publication in the U.S., reviewing numerous women’s books and hiring many women reviewers.  I was exhilarated one week when  almost all of the books reviewed were written by women and reviewed by women.  What validation:  Is that how men feel all the time? But women are under a lot of pressure to succeed, and I think pop books like Jennifer Weiner’s should still be barred from The New York Times Book Review.  .A short review of Weiner’s latest book was sneaked into an article with several short reviews.  Couldn’t the space have  been better used for small-press books or university-press books?

SNOP.  The Snobzzz’ Own Paper.  The New York Review of Books is zzzzzzzzzzzz…snobbish and intellectual, very male-oriented, but…did I just fall alseep ?   zzzzzzzzzzz.

FREQ-COP:  The Frequently Controversial PaperThe Guardian has one of  the best and largest book pages, and is  well-known for its controversial, liberal slant on literary matters.  The creative essays are original and fun to read, the lists of oddball books are entertaining, and  I very much enjoy the columns on paperbacks, science fiction, and the book clubs.  My one criticism is that the book news is frequently rehashed from  other newspapers, with remarkably little original reporting.   Let’s get out of the tabloid mentality and send those writers into the field!

The Best Books of the Year Lists & Merry Capitalism

Pile-of-BooksThe Best Books of the Year lists are so much fun.

I’ve read lists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Telegraph, TLS, and The Guardian.  The latter two publish articles consisting of recommendations by famous writers, and these influence me more than lists compiled by critics.

Do lists matter?

They must have an effect on sales.

Writers like to be on these lists.

This week Ayelet Waldman has protested on Twitter because her well-reviewed novel Love and Treasure didn’t make the New York Times 100 Notable Books list of 2014.

Waldman tweets,

I am really not dealing well with having failed to make the @nytimes notable book list. Love & Treasure is a fucking great novel IISSM.


I never complain about this shit, but there are MANY books on that list that are NOWHERE near as good as mine.

On the list or off the list, does it really matter?  Her tweets get attention, and I suppose they sell books.  (Or perhaps Twitter should be illegal till after the holidays.)   I read a sample of her book at Amazon:  it is well-written and  interesting.

But would we really care if her book was on the list?


I don’t use the “Best of” lists as shopping lists.

I have not read any of the 100 Notable New York Times books this year. I don’t read many books published after 2000, so the list is non-applicable to my reading.

Yet I did read a few marvelous new books this year that did not make the list. They are:

Fowler is one of three women longlisted for The Man Booker Prize.

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Awarad &  longlisted for The Man Booker Prize.

Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize  (this didn’t make the NYT list, but did make the Washington Post and The Guardian, I think)

Tim Winton’s Eyrie

Michelle Huneven’s Off Course

Jo Walton’s My Real Children

Alice Hoffman’s The Museum of Extraordinary Things

I’m not setting myself up as an arbiter of taste; I’m just saying that many remarkable books don’t make the lists.

The book I want for Christmas isn't on a list.

The book I want for Christmas isn’t on a list.

The book I want for Christmas is not on a list:  Wendy Pollard’s biography, Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times, has scarcely been reviewed, and the one review I found was vituperative.  The Spectator reviewer doesn’t believe Johnson and her husband C. P. Snow are worth writing about.   I disagree:  Johnson is one of my favorite writers, and I look forward to reading the biography.

Merry Capitalism,!

And do you use the Best of lists?

The Mary Wesley Marathon: In Which I Reread “Second Fiddle”

Mary Wesley

Mary Wesley

Mary Wesley’s first novel, Jumping the Queue, was published in 1983 when she was 71.  When a novelist is discovered at an advanced age and becomes a star,  the rest of us have hope for the future.

Do people still read Wesley?  In the ’80s and ’90s, she was very popular.  Women were and are starved for unconventional novels about women’s lives.

Her books are slightly reminiscent of the domestic comedies of Elizabeth Jane Howard, Alice Thomas Ellis, and Barbara Pym. Do women want romance?  Sex?  Marriage?  Independence?  Solitude?  Wesley’s quirky characters consider all of their options.

The other day, when I came across Wesley’s books on my shelves, I couldn’t resist rereading.  They are short, light, well-written, and witty, and, though her writing has a  bite, there is a fairy-tale spin.

Second Fiddle Mary Wesley nice cover 886161Second Fiddle, her sixth novel, is my favorite.  She paints a brilliant comic portrait of life in a market town.  When the unlikely hero, Claud Bannister, fails his university exams, he comes home to live with his mother.  At a concert, where he realizes sulkily that he knows nothing about music and can’t have an opinion unless he reads a review in the Times, he is infuriated by the old people in the audience.  When someone says his mother is witty, he wonders what the old can know about wit.

Grey, grey, grey, they are all grey, grey-haired and largely dressed in grey.  Claud’s eyes roamed disapprovingly over the audience, seeing grey even when the heads were tinted black, auburn, even blond.

Isn’t this exactly how we  feel when we’re young?

Then he meets Laura Thornby, a gorgeous 45-year-old friend of his mother’s who has accompanied a Roumanian composer to the concert in her hometown.  Claud charms her with his plans to write a novel, and very soon she has organized Claud’s life. She has sex with Claud, gives him antiques from her family’s attic (she lives in London but still has a flat in her family’s house), and  installs him in a neighbor’s loft so he can write.  Ann Kennedy is at first dubious about the new male lodger, but her daughter, Mavis, a waitress and an actress, finds the situation very funny, and persuades her it is all right.

second fiddle mary wesley 539102The characters behave unexpectedly.  Margaret Bannister is only too glad to get rid of her son, and, in fact, she sells the house so he can’t come back. Laura’s mother and uncle are mischievous book reviewers who decide what tone they will take before they read a book.  Laura is devoted to the eccentric couple, and when they have flu, she comes to take care of them, and is not shocked to find them in the same bed.  And, to her surprise, Claud turns out to be a talented writer, and she finds herself falling in love, which is strictly against her rules.

Although Laura, who restores missing parts of statues for a living (hands, etc.), is fond of Claud, she has doubts about playing second fiddle to the heroine of his novel.  And one wonders if part of this is because she is not an artist herself, but a restorer.

Although it may seem this is all about plot, Wesley’s dialogue is lively, the writing graceful, and it is the perfect length (184 pages) to read in an afternoon.

Lots of fun, and I’m so happy to find it has stood the test of time.

“War and Peace” on Radio 4 & Other Book News

"War and Peace" in my bicycle helmet one summer!

“War and Peace” in my bicycle helmet one summer!

New Year’s Day puts the “e” in ennui.

While your husband watches TV,  you peruse a Top Book of 2014 chosen by a critic whose taste doesn’t coincide with yours.

But this year will be different.

On New Year’s Day, Radio 4 in the UK will broadcast a 10-hour dramatisation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, starring Simon Russell Beale, Lesley Manville and John Hurt.  There will be interruptions for news breaks and The Archers.

You can listen to War and Peace at the Radio 4 website.

One small problem:  the time difference.

9 a.m. in the UK is  3 a.m. here.  It doesn’t seem likely I will be up at 3, does it?  But I will be up at 9 a.m., or, err,  3 p.m. there.

I reread War and Peace this year and loved it.  I am very much looking forward to the dramatization on New Year’s Day.


The Washington Post Book World has announced its Top 10 Books of the Year.

Goodreads has announced the Goodreads Choice Awards of 2014 (most of these are on the lighter, poppier side).

It is the 40th anniversary of the publication of Shardik, the second novel of Richard Adams, who is best known for Watership Down.

Times Higher Education has published an article on novels about campus life.