Three books

Walking to and from the shop today (to buy soft food for Mrs TD, who has toothache and is feeling wretched; her dentist recommends root canal work – poor thing) I listened on my phone to the BBC Radio 4 podcast of their weekly book programme, ‘A Good Read’. It’s one of several literary podcasts I subscribe to (I did a piece on this and related topics a while back HERE).

This was last week’s show (link HERE). Guests were the journalist Grace Dent and comedy writer Sian Harries. All three books they chose (presenter Harriet Gilbert gets to speak about her choice each week – she has good taste) gave rise to some interesting discussion:

Lissa Evans: Crooked Heart (2015)

Max Porter: Grief is the Thing With Feathers (2015)

Barbara Pym: Excellent Women (1952)

My Virago Modern Classics copy

My Virago Modern Classics copy

I posted on the fabulous Pym’s book a couple of years ago – she’s sharp and funny. In discussing the book Dent, Harries and Harriet Gilbert speculate whether men would like this sort of novel; I can answer that – she’s one of my favourite authors. My posts the seven novels of hers that I’ve read so far can be found HERE.

I hadn’t heard of (or, more accurately, realised I’d heard of) Lissa Evans or Crooked Heart, her fourth novel for adults (she’s also written children’s books). From the account given of it in the podcast it’s definitely going on the To Read list.

According to Wikipedia she qualified as a doctor in 1983, then had a career in stand-up comedy, was a TV and radio producer and director (including the excellent Father Ted). Crooked Heart and Their Finest Hour and a Half (published 2009) were longlisted for literary prizes. The latter was filmed as Their Finest a year or two ago, and I found it ok as entertainment; maybe the novel is more substantial.

Just looked her up on Amazon and see that her novel Old Baggage, that came out in the UK this summer, is one I’ve seen in the bookshops and passed over.

I’d resisted the Max Porter partly because of the hype about it when it was published, and also because of its subject: grief and bereavement. It just didn’t appeal. Now that I’ve listened to this thoughtful trio of readers discussing it, and having read this review by Kirsty Gunn in the Guardian when it was published, I think I’ll add this title to the list, too.

I’d be pleased to hear from anyone who’s read either the Evans or the Porter novels: are they as good as this podcast suggested? As for the Pym: well, I recommend her work wholeheartedly: beneath the slight exterior (timid or anxious spinsters, vicars and jumble sales, caddish chaps, etc.) her novels are pulsing with intelligence and wit.

I’d started working on a post about Angela Thirkell, but that will have to be completed another day.

17 thoughts on “Three books

  1. Best wishes for Mrs. TD. Root canals are miserable but once they are done, the tooth will give you much less misery. I hope she enjoyed her soft food as much as possible.


  2. Simon, I love this observation on “LA PYM” : )

    “[B]eneath the slight exterior (timid or anxious spinsters, vicars and jumble sales, caddish chaps, etc.) her novels are pulsing with intelligence and wit.”

    Yes, this is where the great artists make themselves known. As Emily Dickinson (she of the tiny cottage and grassy yard) muses:

    “To see a world in a grain of sand And a heaven in a wild flower Hold infinity in the palm of your hand. And eternity in an hour.”

  3. No, I haven’t read any of these.
    Somebody sent me a copy of Grief is the Thing With Feathers, but my parents had just died within 18 months of each other and I was in no mood for reading about grief.

  4. I read both Old Baggage and Crooked Heart earlier this fall and loved them. (Still holding out hope I might write about them…) Turns out they are linked and OB follows from CH, but reading them in the “wrong” order made no difference. They can easily be read as stand-alones. OB is particularly good, but I recommend both highly. They’re a little sweet, but also a little acerbic, and never sappy. They do kids well. They don’t romanticize history. Good stuff all round.

  5. A Good Read has been a favourite of mine for 20 years, when I discovered it quite by chance. I have read Pym’s Excellent Women, but neither of the other two.
    I’m now in Trégastel, Brittany, for the holidays and I’ve brought Jane and Prudence with me.
    P.S. The weather is glorious, we walked along the coastal control path (the GR 34) in the afternoon and people were sunbathing (and actually bathing) and tomorrow I’ll definitely have a swim ! I don’t know whether I should enjoy or worry about climate change though.

  6. I can really recommend Lissa Evans: I have loved all her novels. I wrote about her so enthusiastically on the blog that we have become friends, but my admiration for her did pre-date that! Her books are very funny, and I think can be under-rated because of that, but she has a human understanding that I think is wonderful. Old Baggage, the most recent one, is a unique and wonderful book, about the later life of a suffragette. It is a prequel to Crooked Heart.

  7. I really enjoyed Old Baggage, which I reviewed some time this year, I think. Ali liked Crooked Heart and Old Baggage and I’d def read CH when I get a gap in the endless reviewing responsibilities (I’m lucky to have them, is all my own fault, etc.).

  8. Our Book Club will read Excellent Women next March. I’m looking forward to it. If you haven’t read it by then, you’re welcome to read it along with us.

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