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A Blogging Good Read - February

Monday, 8 February 2016

Lack of internet has meant a brief hiatus over here - bet you didn't notice! All sorted now though and normal service can resume with the first Blogging Good Read of the year. Char and Lucy are back for more reading and reviewing.

I went for an old favourite - I Capture The Castleby Dodie Smith:

As you probably know if you've read more than about two BGR posts, my book tastes lean largely towards novels set in country houses. No surprise that I love I Capture The Castle then, is it? I'm just surprised I haven't chosen it already!

 The Mortmain family are rather down on their luck - a castle might be a romantic place to live but when your entire family income rests upon the shoulders of an author with writer's block, life isn't exactly full of luxuries. The Mortmain's social circle expands when a rich American family inherit the local hall and move in. The two sisters naturally see the American men as their way out of poverty (in a romantic way, obvs) and their pursuit unfolds, complete with an infamous fur coat incident.

The story is narrated by Cassandra, the younger of the two Mortmain sisters, and as with all first-person narratives, if you don't warm to her voice then you're probably going to struggle with the book a bit. I love her and I adore the book. It doesn't tread the path you expect and it doesn't end on the obvious note either. The fact that the girls basically have no money and no real prospects to escape comes across as a rather grim reality (albeit in picturesque surroundings) rather than just being a plot point. The book is still a joy though. Read it.

(I'm also going to recommend the 2003 film, mainly for young Henry Cavill.)

Did Lucy like it?

This book has become something of a cult classic recently but I must admit that when I read it some years ago I was not enamoured, though on paper a book about a young woman living a secluded life in a tumbledown castle with her eccentric family should be right up my street.

But I just didn’t get the hype. I found the characters quite fickle and self-serving and not likeable at all, and I find the way Cassandra addresses the reader directly quite jarring (I never used to like the straight-to-camera bits on Blossom or Clarissa either). I would have liked to have chance to read this again now to see if I still felt this way or if I’d missed some nuance the first time round and not really understood it, but unfortunately life got in the way and I didn’t have the time. It will be interesting to see what the others say about it and if they can convince me of a re-read!

What did Char think?

I'm ashamed to admit that I only read this book for the first time in March 2015. Since then I've listened to the Radio 4 dramatisation, and then read it again and thoroughly enjoyed it a second time around, too. I love Cassandra's way with words as she makes the castle come alive in her descriptions. Obviously, I like the other characters as well, but Cassandra stands out to me with her wry wit and her outlook on life. Definitely a book I'll keep coming back to.

Char picked Swallows and Amazonsby Arthur Ransome:

When my Mum was young, she lived in the Scottish Highlands and had access to an island and their own rowing boat. She used to tell me of this and I was always super jealous. Not many islands in the Midlands! I think this is the reason that I went through a childhood phase of reading as many island-y adventure books as I could get my hands on. I loved Enid Blyton's The Secret Island and Swallows and Amazons was up there - a book I read so many times. 

It's probably been fifteen years since my last read, but picking it up again made me remember how much I enjoyed it. I did this time around as well, although this time the parents' comment from the end of the book rather resonated with me. In response to the children saying they are planning to come back to the island every year, forever, their parents tell them that this is what everyone thinks when they are young. A poignant reminder that things move on?

I love this book so much. Ok, so I'm not entirely captivated by all the sailing malarkey (boats are decidedly not my thing) but it's easy enough to skip over those parts and just enjoy the rest of this rollicking good yarn. As Char has already mentioned, it's very like The Secret Island in tone and that's probably my favourite Blyton book, so it's a good sign.

Rereading it this time, I was struck by just how ace the parents are. The infamous telegram from their father at the beginning of the book has always really amused me but this time round I really appreciated how their mum lets them get on with their adventures. Obviously you'd never actually do this with your kids in real life (well maybe they did in the 50s, who knows?) but as a fictional scenario it works so perfectly and the conversations she has with them are utterly charming and adorable. In fact, all of the grownups are great. I'd completely forgotten the whole Captain Flint/Uncle Jim misunderstanding, apology and then the wonderful Battle of Houseboat Bay. Like the whole book, it's marvellous.

Did Lucy like it?

This was the only one of the three that I’ve not already read and -confession time- I haven’t managed to get very far through it, even though it was on my to-read list anyway. I gather it’s a bit “Blyton on a Boat”, telling of the adventures of four siblings who go off on a camping trip on an island by themselves, getting into all sorts of scrapes. It took me a little while to get into the linguistic style, and I really struggled through the first few chapters which were very heavy on the sailing terminology, but I’m actually starting to really enjoy it now and yearn for a simple life of camp fires, minnows, and vivid imagination!

Lucy chose The Readerby Bernard Schlink:

I’m a bit of a BGR veteran now and whenever I have to pick a book, I always try to go with one that has really affected me and remained in my consciousness long after I turned the final page. The Reader by Bernard Schlink certainly fulfils this condition, but I’m struggling to review it without giving away the entire plot. 

Our protagonist is Michael, a fifteen year old boy who meets an older woman by chance, and embarks on an illicit affair, in which he reads great works of literature and philosophy out loud to her in between bouts of passion, until one day she disappears. The first half of the book is the kind of writing I love, effortlessly simple and poetic, and dealing with the minutiae of the everyday.

Years later, Michael comes across Hanna once more, as a law student observing a Holocaust trial in which she is one of the defendants. Suddenly the pace of the book increases, or certainly the pace of my reading did, as we find out more details about Hanna’s alleged crimes, the possible motivation for her actions, and the reasons behind her plea. I devoured the last few chapters and was left reeling, mind racing with questions about culpability, shame, hindsight, and Hanna’s own question to the judge and jury: “What would you have done?”

Did Char enjoy it?

I hadn't heard of this book before so was intrigued. When the library finally managed to track it down for me, I got stuck in and was surprised at how easy I found it to immerse myself in the story. In a weird way the relationship between Hanna and Michael was probably the section I liked the most, although I thought it was clear from Michael's account that we as the reader are supposed to dislike Hanna. Yet, his obsession continues to haunt him, even though he thinks he will never see her again.

As for the reveal of the secret (I don't want to provide any spoilers!) I totally sympathised with Michael and the tough decision he had to make. I think he made the wrong choice, but can see his reasoning.

This is the point where I hold my hands up and admit I didn't read The Reader. Shame. On. Me.

I loved the film - does that count? No? Ach.  I did have every intention of reading it, I promise. The library let me down with the copy I'd reserved and then I forgot to buy one and oh dear, I am rubbish.

However, I've already read all three of the books for next month's edition! Woo me. If you want to join in with the chat and comments, we'll be reading 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, Gulliver's Travelsby Jonathan Swift and Murder Must Advertiseby Dorothy L. Sayers. 

Thanks Char and Lucy for taking part this month. You rock.


  1. Hello! I love the first two books- they are great ones! the Secret Island is possibly my favourite one too. Just a question, I'd love to take part again, have I offended you in any way, you've never got back to me about this any time I've asked? Sorry if I have offended you, it wasn't intentional!x

    1. I'm sure you won't have but A has been on holiday and had no Internet for the past month so that could be why she hasn't got back to you. x

  2. I love the whole Swallows and Amazons series. I always found it a bit better than Blyton - but can't really say why.

    Lizzie Dripping

  3. I'm surprised I Capture the Castle hasn't been on here either! Love that book so much, and I have a soft spot for the movie too, not just because it stars the God that is Henry Cavill :)

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