B.Moore, HH Richardson, E. Bowen, G. Gazdanov. Update pt 1

After an illness (still persisting) and short break visiting family near Barcelona, there’s been something of a hiatus on TD. Here’s a quick update (part 1) on reading since last time:

Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearn coverBrian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearn, Harper Perennial, 2007; first published 1955. This was Moore’s first novel published under his own name. Set in his birthplace, Belfast, it deals with what were to become some of his key topics: (loss of) RC faith, sex, solitude and the difficulties of connecting. It tells the sad story of a 40-ish spinster’s decline into serious problems as she struggles to deal with her isolation and inability to forge relationships. She’s lost and desperate. Moore shows impressive ability to inhabit the  troubled consciousness of this lonely woman. I was inspired to read the novel by JacquiWine’s post last year; she has an excellent, detailed post about it here

HH Richardson, The Getting of Wisdom coverHenry Handel Richardson, The Getting of Wisdom. VMC 1981; first published 1910. Born in Australia under the name Ethel Florence Lindesey Richardson, the author moved to Europe as a young woman and studied music in Leipzig. This semi-autobiographical novel relates the development of spirited, mercurial Laura Tweedle Rambotham from her move to boarding school in Melbourne at the age of twelve to her final days there aged sixteen. Unlike the other girls she comes from a poor background. Richardson subverts the usual girls’ school kind of narrative – this is no Chalet School. The teachers are bored, incompetent or vindictive, or all three. The other girls are much the same. Too impetuous to curb her spontaneity, Laura tries desperately to conform and be liked; she fails. She even stoops to aping the peevish snobbery and factional squabbling and bullying of her privileged peers, but acceptance and friendship elude her. As her sexuality awakens, she develops a passion for an attractive older girl – but as usual her judgement is faulty and she is destined for painful experiences. It’s a fascinating, lively account, partly marred by too much detail about Laura’s attempt to find some kind of solace in religious faith.

E. Bowen, Friends and Relations coverElizabeth Bowen, Friends and Relations. Penguin Modern Classics, 1984; first published 1931. I disliked this. Maybe it was the illness I was in the throes of. The basic premise is promising: two sisters marry, but one is in love with her sister’s husband. I simply had no interest in what would happen to these otiose, bloodless upper-class characters – they live in huge houses and have little to do but lust after each other. Elfrida is interestingly done: non-conformist, passionate. The prose is over-ornate, mannered and look-at-me ‘fine writing’. Disappointing; I’d read other Bowen novels long ago and enjoyed them.


Gazdanov Spectre A Wolf coverGaito Gazdanov, The Spectre of Alexander Wolf. Translated by Bryan Karetnyk. Pushkin Press, 2013. First published in Russian 1947-48. Another novel with semi-autobiographical tendencies. A sixteen year old lad fighting for the White Russians in the civil war following the Bolshevik Revolution thinks he’s murdered a man. Later he reads a story which seems to tell that story. Further coincidences and fusions of what he considers his reality and some other order of experience take place. It’s an intriguing blend of war narrative, bildungsroman, down and out in Paris account with murders, lowlifes and gangsters (there’s even a reference to ‘apaches’ in the slang French sense), blended with a Proustian memory theme and existential duplications. Reminded me (in a good way) of Blaise Cendrars’ Dan Yack novels – not just the content I just summarised, but the mix of gritty urban noir with surreal narrative shifts.

20 thoughts on “B.Moore, HH Richardson, E. Bowen, G. Gazdanov. Update pt 1

  1. Sorry to hear you’ve been poorly, Simon, and hope things improve. Some varied reading there, and an interesting reaction to the Bowen – not one I’ve read and obviously not one to put on top of the list. And I was so interested in your comparison of Gazdanov and Cendrars – spot on and I hadn’t made that connection before. Both wonderful authors!

    • Thanks, Karen. Much better now than I was, but still a bit groggy – hence the rather sketchy post. I have a problem with my left eye, on top of the infection I was suffering from, so can’t stay on the computer or other devices for long. Same with reading. At least before the eye thing started this week I could just about read – though at first I couldn’t manage anything too demanding. Glad you agreed with that comparison of the Gazdanov and Cendrars – it’s a long time since I read BC; must go back to him some time. A fascinating character, and writer.

  2. Sorry to hear about the illness and hope you’re back to tip-top form soon. I am fairly sure I have the HHR on my TBR (actually Kaggsy will know as she passed me some last year!) and it looks interesting if it’s not too Dorothy Richardson-y! Bowen leaves me a bit cold, too, you have to be in the mood for her and I think if you’re poorly you want kind, warm books.

    • Thanks, Liz – I’m slowly improving. The HHR was perfect reading while ill – unlike some of the other novels I read recently. Mrs TD often says I read too much gloomy stuff…Lucky Per post coming soon, for example

      • I find George Eliot to be warm, and Larry McMurtry is very warm. Hm, I feel a post I will never write coming on! Books about rewilding fields and running, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, that was a warm book …

        • Hm. G Eliot can be pretty cold, too, but maybe the warmth wins through. I didn’t think I knew Larry McM, but on looking him up remember he wrote The Last Picture Show, the novel Hud was based on, the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain among other things. Does warm connote nostalgia? That old west thing, or GE’s conveniently setting Middlemarch decades before it was written? I certainly didn’t know The Little Bookstore…interesting that Larry McM ran bookstores – big ones. Let’s hope you get to write that post, Liz

  3. Many thanks for the link to my Brian Moore piece, Simon – that’s very kind of you. As you say, his portrayal of this complex, troubled character is incredibly impressive. It reminded me a little of another novel with a 1950s Belfast setting, Tea a Four O’Clock by Janet McNeill – possibly one for you to look out for in the local secondhand shops.

    That’s a shame about the Bowen. It’s not one I’ve ever come across, so I can’t comment on the characters, but it does sound somewhat cold and alienating. She’s not the most accessible writer, for sure!

    In the meantime, wishing you all the best for a speedy recovery – I hope you’re back to full fitness very soon.

    • Most welcome, Jacqui- as I said in my post, your piece was what caused me to read it – though I’m an admirer of BM’s work. Thanks for the recommendation of that other Belfast novel. Maybe I railed against the Bowen novel because I wasn’t on top form. The illness almost went then came back. It’s an odd sensation, reading when lightheaded or unwell- all seems filtered through a distorting prism

  4. Sweet Heavens!

    Your choice of reading, after illness, is alarming.

    “Summer Lightning” by P.G.Wodehouse might be a suitable antidote?

    Regards from Dublin, Ireland

    Maria Buckley

    • Hi Maria – so good to hear from you. Yes, you’re right, I should have gone for something more soothing to the aching mind and soul! Must admit I’ve never read PGW. I said in a reply to a previous comment: I don’t seem to have much reading matter that’s not sombre. The next batch of updates on my convalescent reading doesn’t really lighten the mood…

  5. Welcome back, Simon ! I missed your posts so much.
    TLPOJH was one of my favourite reads last year. What worries me is that I laughed a lot while reading it (for example, I found the attack on the tabernacle hilarious) ,whereas my husband, who read it shortly after me, thought it was absolutely tragic and didn’t see any humour in it at all ! Surely, BM couldn’t have meant that ? Or what would that say about me, I wonder ? 😀

    Friends and Relationships (it sounds like an Ivy Compton Burnett title !) has been on my wishlist for some time. I quite enjoy a Big House novel, if that’s what it is. You actually made me curious to read it and to compare notes. Can Bowen actually write a bad novel…

    • Ah, thanks, Izzy, that’s so kind of you. I’m just back from laser surgery on my eye, so feeling a bit fragile, but am ok to write and read in small doses. I must admit I don’t recall finding too much humour in Judith H, though tragedy is always a hair’s breadth away from comedy. I’m sure many people would enjoy Friends and Relations (yes, it’s a very IC-B title!); it wasn’t just my inverted snobbery that found the love triangles of these privileged gentry tepid, I hope. The style was so arch and affected, straining for poetic effect and, I thought, overwritten. I daresay I could return to it a few years hence and form a very different opinion. I thought The Heat of the Day wonderful – moving, subtle and beautifully crafted. I’d be interested to hear other readers’ responses.

  6. I do indeed find comedy in tragedy sometimes…or it could be that my lack of patience with religions got the better of me 🙂

  7. Sorry to hear you’ve been ill – hope you continue to mend.

    I loved the Moore, which I read recently, and I’ve got the Gazdanov waiting on my shelves. This is the second lukewarm review of Friends and Relations I’ve read recently by people who generally have liked her writing – Madame Bibi Lophile wrote similarly. So I’ll put that to the bottom of my Bowen tbr!

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