Wednesday 27 April 2022

Maigret Goes to School #1954Club

I'm a bit late but my second and final book for the 1954 Club challenge, which was hosted by Karen and Simon, was Maigret Goes to School by Georges Simenon.



In the police station in Paris where Maigret works, the room where people wait, hoping to be seen by a police officer, is known as Purgatory. And wait they do, sometimes for hours, depending really on the whim of the officers concerned. This is precisely what happens to teacher, Joseph Gastin, who is running from a small village near La Rochelle on the French Atlantic coast. An elderly woman has been shot and killed and it seems Monsieur Gastin is the prime suspect. Fearing he will not get a fair hearing in the village, the teacher has headed for Paris hoping he can persuade the famous Maigret to come back with him and help prove his innocence. 

Spurred on by he knows not what, possibly the approach of summer, possibly the promise of oysters, Maigret decides to go. It's not his patch so he has no jurisdiction... luckily the officer in charge in La Rochelle doesn't mind, but the minute they arrive he nevertheless arrests Gastin. Maigret is left to settle into the village, look at what's going on and try somehow get beneath the front the villagers have errected to keep the truth to themselves.

These are my favourite Maigret yarns... those where he leaves Paris and takes up residence in what is often a coastal area, cut off from civilisation in a manner in which we find hard to fully understand these days with our motorways and instant communication. It does mean we lose the presence of his other officers, Luca, Le Point, Janvier etc. and that's a shame but it's made up for in my opinion by Simenon's brilliance at depicting these insular regions. 

Because insularity is what's damning the school teacher of course. He's not local, not 'one of them', so they have no compunction whatsoever in letting him go down for a murder he may or may not have committed, just as long as it's not 'one of them'. Luckily Maigret, coming from another such village himself, understands this very well. He also knows about the secrets that lurk behind the front doors of these places, who's sleeping with whom, who drinks too much, who likes guns...

I enjoyed this very much but I do sometimes wonder if they present better on-screen than they do on the page. We've recently been watching one of the original Maigret series from the 1960s, starring Rupert Davies, on one of the obscure Freeview channels. I think I saw somewhere that his was a portrayal that Simenon himself enjoyed, and I'm not surprised as each episode has been really excellent. I'm actually old enough to have watched this version as a child, it was 'must watch' TV, so I was a big crime fan even that far back. In fact, I've enjoyed all of the various series I've seen with actors, Michael Gambon and, more recently, Rowan Atkinson, and it does seem to me they translate very well onto the small screen. Some of the books are better than others but all of the TV episodes are enjoyable. 

I should add that I know the area this book was set in as we had family who lived near La Rochelle for a while, so it was quite nice to be transported back there while I read the book. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads and am now thinking I might've been a bit mean as Maigret Goes to School really was very readable indeed.

Tuesday 19 April 2022

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering #1954Club

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering is my first book for the '#1954 Club' which is running all week and is being hosted by Simon and  Karen.


Millie Maitland has been a widow for many years, her husband having died only three years after their marriage, but it was long enough to produce a daughter, Amabel, who is now in her late twenties. The two live together in the Scottish Borders in fairly straightened circumstances because Millie's husband left her with no money, although they're fortunate in that they do have a home in a lovely little village.

Luckily, Millie discovered, by accident really, that one way to make money was to take in dogs as boarders for people going away on holiday. Now though, Amabel has a good job in Edinburgh and things are a bit easier. Unfortunately, Amabel was never an easy, amenable child and she's carried this obstreperousness into adulthood. She has a spiteful tongue and never ceases to criticise her mother for anything and everything. Millie copes with this with tolerance and fortitude but her life pretty much revolves around what pleases Amabel, or what Amabel will say about this or that.

The village they live in, Mennan, is peopled with the usual suspects as regards types of people. There's the overbearing, organising woman, the vampish woman who seems to be after everyone's husband, there are young couples and bachelor farmers and so on. Small things cause loads of gossip because there's not a lot else going on and people are thus very wary of village 'talk'. A bachelor farmer, Martin Heriot, decides to ask Millie to board a black Lab, Sam, that belongs to his cousin but there seems to be no end in sight, and Millie's solicitor in Edinburgh, Mr. Ramsey, starts coming to stay at weekends. It doesn't cause gossip but Millie's ordered life starts to become a bit less ordered, especially when she gives some advice to the young couple with the new baby...

I have to say straight off that this is a novel where nothing 'momentous' happens. It's very much a story of very ordinary folk, doing very ordinary things, just like we all do every day of our lives. If you like to read books that're non-stop action where you hardly have time to draw breath before the hero or heroine is off again, hotly pursued by murderers, spies, the police, tripods from the planet Mars, whatever, this is not the book for you. 

This is what I would call a 'quiet' novel and I loved it (even though I quite like a pursuit novel from time to time). Millie is a survivor despite being financially poor. She's a genuinely nice person who would do anything for anyone. I felt extremely aggrieved for her when a certain will was read (not her husband's) and her difficulties did not improve. She, on the other hand, accepts whatever life throws at her with equanimity, only occasionally being sharp with people when they go too far. I had the feeling that although she's 'nice', even she has limits. She's no walk-over and just occasionally even shrewish Amabel had to acknowledge that and take a step back. I liked that. 

I also like how unashamedly domestic Millie is. For instance she's a wonderful cook, back in the fifties of course domesticity was not seen as a questionable talent the way it might be today. Perhaps 'questionable' is the wrong term, I mean in the manner in which being capably domestic is not valued as much today as it was in the 1950s. And although this book is 'of its time' some things never change and various traits in people, being too organising, overbearing, flirtatious, totally oblivious, selfish, not wanting to give offence to the point of doing something you hate, well that never changes no matter what the year. 

I haven't been lucky enough to visit the Scottish Borders, the closest I've managed is a visit to Hadrian's Wall which is a few miles short. Judging by this book I think it must be incredibly pretty and I shall put it onto my 'Hope to go there one day' list. A superb start to the 1954 Club week and I unhesitatingly gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

Monday 18 April 2022

The 1954 club

I've not been able to join in with this challenge before, which involves the choice of a particular year and asking people to read books from said year. But this year I'm free to do it! 

The challenge is run by Simon and Karen, it will last all week and the year that's been chosen is 1954. 

So, I've just started this:

Because of Sam by Molly Clavering is set in the Scottish Borders and is about a widow, Millie Maitland, and her adult daughter, Amabel. Millie boards dogs to scrape a living, life is good but the daughter is an awkward, difficult character. It's gentle in the manner of D.E. Stevenson, everything is in the detail and the circumstances and I love it already.

Other possiblities if I manage to finish this by the end of the week, which I should do:

Maigret Goes to School - Georges Simenon

The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov

The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien

The Toll-Gate - Georgette Heyer

If you're joining in as well do tell what you're planning to read.

Tuesday 12 April 2022

A bit of catching up

I'm several books behind with reviews so I thought I'd do a 'brief review' kind of catch up. Well that's the plan...

My last read of March was Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey. This was a random Kindle buy after I'd enjoyed the dolphin section of James Nestor's book, Deep.

The author, Susan Casey, has a surprise encounter with dolphins off Hawaii which she can't get out of her head and this leads to all of the investigations within the pages of this book. It's thought that as humans we share a unique bond with dolphins, people swim with them and find it life-changing but no one can really explain why. They're vastly intelligent of course, in fact in one section of the book it's speculated that when scientists are interacting with them they often get the feeling that the dolphin is finding them mentally slow. I love the idea of that! The tragedy about dolphins though is how certain people in certain countries (Japan, Norway, The Solomon Islands etc.) treat them. There are some awful things recounted in this book and I mean truly appalling. Brace yourself if you want to read this. It's 'well' worth it though as I think we all ought to know what goes on but also there's much that's fascinating and wonderful. Dolphins are one of the few species who recognise themselves in mirrors for instance. There are even people who think that dolphins know how to travel between dimensions and it's thought that the author, Douglas Adams, must've been aware of this when he wrote Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy... 'So long and thanks for all the fish' and all that. Excellent book. I want to read more about dolphins now.

Next I read, Stop Worrying, There Probably is an Afterlife by Greg Taylor. I'm blaming Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea for this current fascination of mine as she started it by reviewing After by Bruce Greyson (who does actually get mentioned in this book) which I read and was instantly hooked. I love the mysterious and unexplained (thus, one of my favourite books last year was The Cold Vanish by Jon Billman) and am always looking for serious discussion on these strange topics. This one was an excellent exploration of Near Death Experiences, Death Visions, Mediums and so on. Not everyone's cup of tea but I enjoyed it.

After that I read The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow of course. (Read this book!!!)

And then, Endangered Species by Nevada Barr which is book 5 in her 'Anna Pigeon' series, wherein Anna is a US National Park ranger who moves around to various parks and ends up solving murders. As you do.

This takes place on Cumberland Island NP which is just off the coast of Georgia. Anna is there protecting the island as part of the fire crew but also does other things such as being present to help when turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. She's there with, as always, as motley a bunch as you could imagine including an eccentric scientist, other rangers and crew, their wives and various other volunteers. A light aircraft that's there to patrol for drug inforcement comes down in the forest on the island and the two men aboard are killed. It's thought to be an accident but naturally they soon find out it wasn't - Anna shouldn't get involved but then there would be no book so of course she does. All manner of secrets come out of the woodwork and life gets exciting and dangerous for her. I've liked all these books so far and this one is no exception. Anna is an interesting 'detective' character, a loner really, she lost her husband years ago but has never really got over it. I like that she's not girly and is very independent and able to look after herself. Good series. 


So, I'm currently reading two books. First, True Crime Addict by James Renner.

Not being American I'd never heard of the strange disappearance of Maura Murray in New Hampshire in 2004. The author is an investigative journalist who specialises in unexplained disappearances and starts looking into this case in 2011. I'm finding the book fascinating but am not sure how I feel about the author. Plus, the seedier side of humanity is very much on display here and I always find that a little hard to take. I don't 'think' I'm about to become addicted to True Crime books, but we'll see... I'm very odd. LOL!

And the second book I'm reading could hardly be more different. 

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer was written for girls in 1925! Heavens above, that's nearly 100 years! Wow. For some reason I didn't read these when I was a young teen but I know they're popular with women now because I've seen them talked about on Youtube and blogs. Finding a couple that must've belonged to one of my daughters I thought I'd give them a go. Enjoying it so far.

So that's my reading for the first 12 days of April. I hope you're all well and finding some good books to read.

Thursday 7 April 2022

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is a book I've had on my radar for several years now. It seems to divide the crowd a bit, I notice on Goodreads that there are a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews but also quite a few 2 stars. I fancy though that this is ever the way with Jane Austen adaptations, they are loved and loathed in equal measure, an equal opportunities genre if ever there was one!



I'm going to warn of a few spoilers in my review, if you want to read this book and know nothing about it then maybe don't read all of the following.

So the first quarter or so of this book shadows the events of Pride and Prejudice somewhat. Not entirely, as Mary, the sister that this book focusses on, was not always present in that of course. Plus, we see her in her childhood, happily keeping company with Jane and Lizzie until one day she overhears a conversation between her mother and her sister, Mrs. Phillips, and realises with horror that she is plain. Not only that, she has four very pretty sisters and beside them she will never shine. It's the start of the Mary we see in P&P, very bookish, a bit priggish, a figure of fun.

Janice Hadlow takes quite another sort of approach to Mary. Why is she like that? We're all a product of our upbringing and Mary is no different. Between her father's indifference and hatred of anything that disturbs his peace and her mother's selfishness and dislike of anything that doesn't match her view of 'pretty', sits Mary, desperately trying to attract her father's attention and trying equally as hard to avoid her mother's. It's incredibly sad. She's made to feel dowdy and uninteresting, so that's what she becomes. 

The catalyst happens when Mr. Bennet dies and Longbourn has to be vacated so that the Collins family can take up residence. Four of the sisters are married so are not much affected. Mrs. Bennet and Mary go to the Bingleys but somebody there is determined to make sure Mary is unhappy. And thus begins Mary's search for a family to take her in. 

Well, you'll probably have guessed by now that I come into the '5' star category on Goodreads. I thought this was an amazing book. To take a character who is not heavily featured in a classic and create a whole life for her is an amazing acheivement to my mind. Not only that but to turn her into a thinking, feeling, intelligent woman who, rather than being a figure of fun, was actually someone we should feel mightily sorry for. 'Plain', unmarried women with no income had very few choices back then. But even Mary realises that she is better off than some, citing the example of the single woman who comes to teach the sisters the piano who lives in poverty and has no one.

What struck me so forcibly about Mary's situation is how very few people gave a damn what happened to her. Her own mother, although that did not surprise me, Jane and Lizzie, very wrapped up in their own married bliss, Charlotte Collins in a strained marriage, none of them seemed to have any idea that Mary had nowhere to go. Thankfully, she does eventually find a place to be and then the book takes another turn completely as Mary discovers that she is a worthwhile person with a right to exist and to be loved. A whole section takes place in The Lake District and I think for me those were the best chapters. There are misunderstandings and unrequited love and internal wranglings and all the things that make up a good romance, so I think you could read this and enjoy it even if you're not really into Pride and Prejudice.

I'm pretty certain that The Other Bennet Sister is going to be in my top five books for 2022, it was just wonderful. I believe it's Janice Hadlow's only fiction book to date, I 'sincerely' hope she has more planned.