20 Under 200 – A Summer Reading List

20 under 200 -2

Like so many others, I’ve decided to do something about those huge piles of unread books and not buy so many new ones anymore. Quite a few of the bloggers I know have joined Eva Stalker’s #TBR20 project. The idea is to pick 20 books from your piles and not buy any new books before you read those.

A similar initiative is Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer. Both sound great, but I felt like giving them a twist and that’s why I’ll start my own project called 20 under 200. I’ve chosen 20 books from my piles, which are all under 200 pages. Ideally, I won’t buy any more books until I’ve read those. I will however allow myself to read other, longer books from the piles or exchange some that are on the photos against other novels under 200 pages.

20 under 200

Interestingly, the pile is very diverse, although I didn’t plan that at all. I think I managed to find books from 14 different countries: Japan, Korea, US, UK, Canada, France, Italy. Belgium, Iran, Germany, Poland, Norway, Finland, Argentine.

I was not surprised to see how many books under 200 pages I own. I could easily have added another 20 or 40. I’ve always had a preference for shorter novels.

On to the books:

Tarjei Vesaas – Spring Night (1964, Norway). Vesaas is a Norwegian author whose books won many prizes. He was a candidate for the Nobel Prize in 1964, 1968, and 1969. The book tells the story of one nigt in the life of Sissel and her brother Olaf. They are alone on their parents farm when a strange family whose car has broken down, descends on them.

Luise Rinser – Septembertag (1967, Germany). Luise Rinser is very famous and highly acclaimed in Germany, but not many of her books have been translated. Septembertag – A Day in September – is creative nonfiction. It’s the account of one day. At the time she was living in Rome. I wish more of her books had been translated. I’ve never read anything by her that wasn’t profound and poetic.

Wlodzimierz Odojewski When the Circus Arrived (2000, Poland) Polish author Wlodzimierz Odojewski’s book is another one that hasn’t been translated. The book contains two novellas. I’ve read an excerpt of one and was stunned. The way history is blended into the narrative was masterful.

Banana Yoshimoto – Asleep (1992, Japan) The book contains two novellas. Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite writers, so I’m looking forward to return to her. In the blurb the stories are called “nostalgic, exquisitely sad, and delicate like gossamer”. Sounds promising.

Amélie Nothomb – Barbe Bleu (2012, Belgium) Amélie Nothomb is a Belgian writer, writing in French. She was born in Kobe and spent her first years in Japan. I’ve only read one of Nothomb’s novels and wasn’t so keen on it. I found it a bit cold and aseptic. But when I saw this book I had to get it because I’m fascinated by Blue Beard. Many authors, like Margaret Atwood, have been inspired by Blue Beard. I’m very curious to see what she made of it. I’m not sure this has been translated but usually all of her books are.

Patrick Modiano – L’horizon – Horizon (2010, France)  This is only one of a few Modiano novels I have on my piles. He’s another author whose every book I used to read until I needed a pause. As much as I appreciate and love him, he can be a bit repetitive at times. But it’s time to get back to him. Like in most of his novels, he blends history and memory in L’horizon. His characters are always looking for lost time. I was so glad when I discovered he’d won the Nobel Prize.

Alice Hoffman – Nightbird (2015, US) Alice Hoffman’s latest novel is a YA novel. I’ve only read her books for adults so far. This is the story of a family secret. “A gorgeously bewitching tale of magic love and stretching your wings,” says the blurb.

Margaret Atwood – The Penelopiad (2005, Canada) I’ve had this for so many years, it’s about time I read it. The retelling of the story of Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, in form of a chorus of voices. It’s a technique I find highly fascinating.

Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending (2011, UK) I’m late for this one. I think it would be easier to name the bloggers who haven’t read it than those who have. I’m particularly interested in the ending of the novel because it has generated such a controversy.

Mary Robison – One D.O.A. One on the Way ( 2009, US) The story is set in New Orleans and told in vignettes. Mary Robison is famous for being unpredictable. I’ve only read her short stories and was impressed. I’m sure this will be just as amazing.

Kim Young-Ha – I Have the Right to Destroy Myself (2011 ?, Korea) This book is said to blend art and reality. Critics call Korean writer Young-Ha urban and edgy.  Many of  his novels have been translated into English. I Have the Right to Destroy Myself  tells, among other things, the story of a love triangle.

Kristina Carlson – Mr Darwin’s Gardener (2009, Finland) Finnish author Kristina Carlson’s novel is a historical novel, set in Kent in 1870 and tells the story of Darwin’s gardener, Thomas Davies, a grief-stricken widower who has lost his faith.

Toni Morrison – Home (2012, US) I have read two of Morrison’s books so far and while I liked and admired Beloved I didn’t get along with Jazz. Home is her latest and, according to the reviews I read, her most readable. The story begins with a letter from a woman the protagonist has never met. “Come fast. She be dead if you tarry”. Sounds intriguing. I liked the idea that it explores the meaning of “home”. I often wonder myself.

Simenon – La Chambre Bleue – The Blue Room (1963, Belgium) This is one of Simenon’s romans durs – not one of his Maigret novels. It says on the cover: “Simenon’s gripping novel about lives transformed by deceit and the destructive power of lust.” It’s just been made into a movie.

Stewart O’Nan – The Odds (2012, US) Another favorite writer. It’s the story of a weekend. “A tender, bitter-sweet exploration of faith, forgiveness, and last chances.”

Italo Calvino – The Invisible Cities (1972, Italy) Italo Calvino was an Italian writer. The Invisible Cities is a series of short and very short fiction blending history, realism and fantasy. Calvino called the book “a love letter to the city”.

Adolfo Bioy Casares – The Invention of Morel (1964, Argentina) A fantastic exploration of virtual realities that Borges compared to The Turn of the Screw. An Argentinian classic.

Renata Adler – Speedboat (1971, US) Another experimental novel. The blurb says: It has been more than thirty-five years since Renata Adler’s Speedboat charged through the literary establishment, blasting genre walls and pointing the way for a newly liberated way of writing. This unclassifiable work is simultaneously novel, memoir, commonplace book, confession, and critique. It is the story of every man and woman cursed with too much consciousness and too little comprehension, and it is the story of Jen Fein, a journalist negotiating the fraught landscape of contemporary urban America. Her voice is cuttingly perceptive, darkly funny, and always fiercely intelligent as she breaks narrative convention to send dispatches back from the world as she finds it.

Jenny Offill – Dept. of Speculation (2014, US) This got much praise when it came out last year. It was called one of the most unusual books by many. “Written with the dazzling lucidity of poetry, Dept. of Speculation navigates the jagged edges of modern marriage to tell a story that is darkly funny, surprising and wise.” From the book: “They used to send each other letters. The return address was always the same: Dept. of Speculation.”

Sadegh Hedayat – The Blind Owl (1957, Iran) Possibly Iran’s most famous novel. Hedayat has been compared to Kafka and Chekhov. The novel has been forbidden for decades. I’m a bit wary because it’s said to be so depressing. It has even led to a wave of suicides. But it’s said to be as beautiful and poignant and the despair it describes is one most humans face at some point. “A haunting tale of loss and spiritual degradation.”

*****

I think those books will keep me busy this summer. What about you? Do you have summer reading plans?

If you like, you can join me in the 20 under 200 project and join, at the same time, Eva’s or Cathy’s projects.

Tove Jansson: The True Deceiver – Den ärlige bedragaran (1982)

The True Deceiver

Swedish-speaking Finnish author and artist Tove Jansson is most famous for her stories featuring the Moomintroll family and their friends. Their creation spans almost thirty years. The first story came out in the 40s, the last in the seventies. When Tove Jansson was in her 60s she began to write books for adults. Some, like The True Deceiver, are novels, other’s, like Fair Play, are a collection of linked short stories, or episodic novels.

I always wanted to read her work, the books for children just as much as the books for adults, and I have no idea why it took me so long. After having finished The True Deceiver and already started Fair Play, I must say, this is one of those writers whose every book I want to read. She’s such an orginal, refreshing, and highly inspiring writer.

Katri and her younger brother, Mats, live in a village, in an unnamed Nordic country. It’s the deep winter. The land is covered in snow. The lake is frozen. Katri has just resigned from a job for the local merchant. Her brother helps building boats, his biggest wish being a boat of his own. In the same hamlet lives Anna Aemelin, a famous, rich children’s book illustrator. She’s become famous for her detailed depictions of the forest, which she adorns with drawings of rabbits. Katri decides that she wants Anna’s money for her brother. And she wants to get it in an honest way. Now honesty is an elastic term and for Katri it seems to mean— speaking the truth. Anna Aemelin has her own idea of what honesty means. And so does Mats.

The blurb of the English edition tells the reader that Katri fakes a break-in at Anna’s house to convince her she needs companionship, that’s why it’s not a spoiler to mention that she and Mats will move into Anna’s big house.

While the plot is interesting, the book’s strength lies in the characters and the setting. These people are so unusual. All three are eccentrics, each in their own way. And their interests, occupations, their innermost being is so original.

The artist Anna Aemelin was the character I enjoyed the most. Before Katri arrives, she’s not even aware of how much money she made with her illustrations. She lives a very ordered life, following the seasons. In winter, she doesn’t draw. It’s a bit as if she was hibernating. She orders food from the shops, doesn’t go out, and spends her days answering fan letters and reading adventure stories for kids. The books will be the foundation of her friendship with the boy Mats, a friendship that will create tensions between her and Katri. In spring, after the thawing, Anna goes into the forest and draws her pictures.

Katri is mysterious. She resembles a mythical figure, how she walks around with her huge, nameless dog, hardly speaking to anyone.

The way they live and communicate with each other is so peculiar because all three characters are loners. The conflicts between Katri and Anna are fascinating because they are both scheming, but both can’t really lie. But does that make them honest?

The story is set during winter and a huge part of its charm stems from the descriptions of the winter landscape, the harshness of the weather, the isolation of the big rambling house.

I don’t want to say too much. Pick it up and discover this unique writer for yourself. It’s certainly going to make my Top 10 of the year.

I read the German translation. That’s why I can’t offer any quotes. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve already started Fair Play, the story of two women artists. It’s another great find. I also want to read her Moomin stories chronologically and have her biography and a few other novels sitting on my piles. So, be prepared, you might read a lot more about Tove Jansson on this blog in the future.

Tove Jansson

Louise Millar: Accidents Happen (2013)

Accidents Happen

I’m not sure where I’ve first heard of Louise Millar, but the review I read was very positive, so when I saw Accidents Happen at the local book shop, I picked it up.

It’s a book that’s easily spoilt. For once, the blurb doesn’t give away anything. All it says is that Kate had some serious bad luck in her life, which has made her obsessive and paranoid. We learn early that her parents have died tragically and later her husband too. It takes a while until we know how they died, and since I enjoyed discovering it for myself, I’m not going to reveal anything more.

When the book opens, Kate and her young son, Jack, live in Oxford. They have moved from London and live in a shabby neighbourhood, although Kate is very rich. Her parents-in-law aren’t happy about this choice. But they are equally unhappy about Kate’s behaviour which is extreme. She’s obsessed with statistics and hopes that if she controls her son’s and her every move, she’ll be able to avert more bad luck. The relationship with her in-laws and her sister-in-law is more than a little strained. On top of that there were break-ins in the house, Jack pretends he hears noises in the cupboard, and Kate can’t shake off the impression that someone enters while they are out. Unfortunately the in-laws think Kate’s making it all up and that she’s a bad influence on her child. They are planning on taking Jack away and so she’s forced into action. Either she sees a therapist or she changes radically. That’s when she meets visiting Oxford professor Jago, a statistician who proposes a very unorthodox way to cure Kate. I can’t say more.

This is one of those novels that might lose readers halfway in because a lot of what happens during this so-called therapy is more than a little bewildering. I’m not sure why I kept on reading anyway, but I’m glad I did because at the end – everything makes perfect sense. I think I don’t spoil too much when I say it has a major twist but a twist that works because Kate doesn’t know what’s going on either. You have to trust the author in this case, and just wait and see.

Apart from this bewildering element, the book has a lot to offer. I liked that it’s set in Oxford and the way she described the city was really appealing. The topic of statistics and the theme of whether someone is cursed or whether you can prevent accidents, was unusual. The pacing is great. It’s suspenseful but never too fast-paced. Most of the characters are extremely unlikable. Luckily Kate isn’t and we care for her.

I’d love to say more about the transformation she undergoes but – again – it would spoil the book.

While this isn’t one of my all-time favourite crime novels, I liked it a lot. It’s solid and highly entertaining, with some really nasty, even creepy characters. I’ll certainly pick up another of her novels. I was also glad that I couldn’t come up with a comparison. It didn’t feel like I’ve read  a book like this or similar authors before.

Mary Hocking: Letters From Constance (1991)

Letters From Constance

I think it speaks for the quality of a book when you feel like discussing it. Mary Hocking’s Letters From Constance is such a book. There’s so much to discuss. Characters, themes, and even the structure of the book. As the title indicates, Letters From Constance is an epistolary novel. A genre I’m particularly fond of and so it’s not surprising that I liked this novel very much.

Constance and Sheila met when they were only kids, in 1933. They were inseparable during their school years and confident they would stay close in the future. While they stayed close emotionally, they were often separeted. Sometimes for many months, even years. During those times of physical absence, they wrote letters. The novel renders one part of that correspondence that lasted from 1939 to 1984– the letters from Constance to Sheila. Those from Sheila to Constance had to be destroyed. In lesser hands this one-sided correspondence would have felt lacking, but the richness of the letters, the depth of Constance’s analysis and feelings, and her love for her friend, make sure Sheila’s just as present as the writer of the letters.

Constance and Sheila are very different and so are their life choices. While Constance marries an Irishman, Fergus, whom she met while she was posted to Ireland in the WRNS, Sheila marries the musician Miles. Constance has seven children, Sheila has two. Ever since they were teenagers, Sheila wrote poems and Constance was sure she would become a famous poet. It takes decades and a lot of heartache before Sheila finally follows her calling. One could say, she needed a detour to land on her path, while Constance follows her own calling intuitively. There are three things that define Constance – her friendship with Sheila, her children, and her religion.

I was surprised by this book because it’s very different from the first Mary Hocking (The Very Dead of Winter) I read. I must say I loved the first one more – it was richer in atmosphere and descriptions -, but it didn’t make me want to discuss it while this one did. There are so many themes explored it’s hard to name them all. I’ll just pick a few.

Motherhood. Maybe this is the main topic and the way it’s treated is arresting because there are so many elements attached to it. We are introduced to a multitude of mothers. First the mothers of the main protagonists, then the two friends, and finally their friends and daughters. Each woman stands for another type of mother/mothering but – and that’s what’s so great – not one of them is one-dimensional or clichéd.

Love for the children. More interesting than different types of motherhood is how Constance describes herself as a mother. She’s not one mother, but seven different mothers, depending on which child she’s talking about. All the parents of more than one child I know pretend they love all of their children the same. It’s something I’ve a hard time believing and sometimes you just have to listen to them and you know it’s not true. I’m sure they try to treat all of their children the same way, love them all, but there will always be one that’s closer to their heart. Funny enough, when you ask people with siblings, they will tell you that they experienced this, that one was the mother’s favourite, while another one was preferred by the father . . . In the novel Constance, openly names a favourite child. She also says which one she thinks is the most intelligent, the best looking . . .  nonetheless she’s just and does love them all. I found that very refreshing, because it’s the way we are. Be it friends, colleagues, siblings, kids, even animals, there’s always one we feel more connected to. I suspect that a lot of heartache comes from our trying to deny this.

The role of women. The novel spans far over half a century and captures the changes in the lives of women, their changing roles, and status. There’s a lot that’s worth discussing here as well.

Religion. While Sheila’s an agnostic, Constance converts to Catholicism. Not because she’s married an Irishman, but because she discovers some writings that help her cope, understand life, and approach it in a more philosophical way. One author who is mentioned is Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751), a French Jesuit priest. I looked him up and what I read sounds very interesting and reminded me a bit of Greek philosopher Epictetus.

The perception of others. For a long time Constance envies Sheila. Her life, her home, her marriage. It sounds freer, more creative. For her, seeing Sheila and her family together, making music, equals a vision of  paradise. Over the years we learn that things were very different. I think Mary Hocking touches upon something that happens very often— we haven an idea of people and, eventually, we don’t even see the real people anymore and, through comparison, we don’t even see ourselves.

Structure. This is another of the things I would have loved to discuss. Why did Mary Hocking choose to include only one part of the correspondence? And why did she choose Constance’s? Maybe it’s unfair, but I often thought that Sheila sounded like the more interesting woman.

As I said, I didn’t love this as much as The Very Dead of Winter, even so it is a wonderfully rich novel. One that would make a particularly great choice for a book group. I’m pretty sure it would lead to fascinating discussions.

Unfortunately I don’t know a lot about Mary Hocking. I wonder whether she was more like Constance or more like Sheila – I guess the latter.

This review is part of Heavenali’s Mary Hocking Week. She read and reviewed Letters From Constance last year. Here’s the review.

Mollie Panter-Downes: One Fine Day (1947)

One Fine Day

Mollie Panter-Downes was a British novelist and columnist. She’s well-known for her novel One Fine Day and her wartime short story collection Good Evening, Mrs. Craven.

One Fine Day is set on a summer’s day in 1946. It follows one day in the lives of Laura and Stephen Marshall and their young daughter, Victoria. During the war, Stephen was away like most men, while Laura and Victoria, together with other women and their children lived at their big house in the village of Wealding. While the Marshalls haven’t lost anyone during the war, they are still reeling. Their marriage suffers from the strain that comes with the changes in their way of life. Belonging to the upper-class, they were used to have servants: cooks, maids, gardeners. During the war, a lot of the servants left, died or moved on and only a very few were willing to return. Taking care of a big house and garden is clearly not what Laura was meant for. She makes a poor job of it and the house and people inhabiting it grow shabbier every day. While Stephen was gone, nobody minded the chaos, but now that he’s back, Laura feels she has to make an effort and mourns her loss of freedom.

Stephen hopes that things might get back to normal soon and before he leaves the house that morning, he begs Laura to go and look for a new gardener.

The book changes the point of view a few times, but mostly we follow Laura’s outer and inner life. She goes to the small village to buy food – no small feat as there’s still rationing and there’s hardly any choice. Then she prepares dinner, which takes her ages. Every household chore takes ages and is never done to satisfaction. The war and the house have taken their toll. She’s constantly tired. She’s thirty-eight but feels and looks much older.

A large part of the day is dedicated to hunting Stuffy, the Marshalls’ small dog, who has run away. When she goes to find her, she takes this opportunity and makes an excursion up a hill from which she can see the beautiful English landscape and savour an intense moment of solitude.

One Fine Day reminded me a lot of Carr’s A Month in the Country, only the time is even more condensed. The richness doesn’t lie in the plot but in the inner lives of the people and the lyrical descriptions of a beautiful, hot English summer day.

What a morning! Later it would be very hot, but now the dew frosted the grey spikes of the pinks, the double syringa hung like a delicious white cloud in the pure air. The cat sat with her feet close together on the unmown grass, and suddenly, sticking out a stiff back leg, ran her mouth up and down as though playing a passage on the flute. Summer at last, thought Stephen, and about time too. London wold be an oven.

The beauty and warmth of the day affect all the characters. It makes them live intensely and hold still for a few moments. There’s a lot wrong with the life they are living. They are not equipped for it and the spouses have grown apart. But this beautiful day revives them, makes them appreciate what they have, makes them wish to get closer again. The end is uncertain, because in uncertain times, hopes and wishes are easily squashed. While we are not sure they will be able to make it – as people, as a couple – there’s hope.

The novel is gentle but outspoken. The characters hope and dream but they are realistic. They see things the way they are, notice the marks the war has left. Laura who knows she’s lost her looks, tries to strive for charm instead. Or here – an early description of Wealding that used to be

 ( . . . ) the perfect village in aspic, at the sight of which motorists applied their brakes, artists happily set up easels ( . . . )

Those days are gone and now Wealding is

It’s perfect peace was, after all, a sham. Coils of barbed wire still rusting among the sorrel were a reminder. Sandbags pouring out sodden guts from the old strong-point of the bracken, the frizzy lily spikes pushing up in the deserted garden of the bombed cottage, ( . . .)

One Fine Day is intense and lyrical, a novel for those who like introspective books and don’t need a lot of action. But it’s also masterful because of the delicate way Mollie Panter-Downes uses motifs and other recurring elements that reinforce the themes of loss, change and – more positively – transformation. And how she juxtaposes the lives of her two main characters, who undergo, in one single day, a whole transformation, believing at first that they each want what the other has – an independent life, leisure to savour what a day brings -and then discover – it’s already there – they just have to grab it.

I first came across this novel on Danielle’s blog here.

Just an aside – I’m not sure why it says Molly on this book cover, as she’s clearly called Mollie and my edition – same picture – says Mollie.

Duong Thu Huong: Novel Without a Name – Tiêu thuyêt vô dê (1995) Literature and War Readalong May 2015

Novel Without A Name

Duong Thu Huong is one of Vietnam’s most important writers. Since I haven’t read a lot of Vietnamese novels I was looking forward to reading her most famous book Novel Without a Name – Tiêu thuyêt vô dê. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s beautiful and harrowing.

At the beginning, Quan, the narrator, is sent on a mission to find his friend Bien. Quan, his commanding officer, Luong, and Bien have grown up together. When Luong hears that Bien has gone mad, he sends Quan to go and find out if it’s true.

What follows is the account of a dangerous mission on which Quan meets many people, dead and alive, sees atrocities, remembers his childhood, falls dangerously ill, dreams about his love, and finally finds his old friend.

Bien stands for many other “crazy” men we meet in this novel. Some really go mad because of the horrors they have experienced, others just withdraw into themselves, trying to escape the war.

Quan and his younger brother, who has been killed, have signed up right at the beginning of the war, ten years ago. Their father was one of those who supported a 100% mobilization, accepting that he might lose both of his sons. Almost all of Quan’s comrades are dead. The main story follows Quan on his mission, but overall the book is more like a series of vignettes. In parts it reminded me of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Without the metafictional elements. Duong Thu Huong uses a mix of very short and long chapters. Some are dedicated to what’s happening to Quan on his trip, some are childhood memories or stories from the war, otheres are just short, intense snapshots.

What I liked best is how descriptive this book is. It speaks to the senses like not many others. It felt at times like watching a documentary on Vietnam. We read about the food, the flora, the fauna, the beliefs, the scents, the way people love, sleep, cook. Several chapters describe the landscape and make you want to visit this country that has sun sets the color of chrysanthemum flowers.

Duong Thu Huong served in the North Vietnamese army and so it’s not surprising the descriptions of combat, dead soldiers, the horror of war are drawn in a shockingly realistic way. She also manages to capture how tired and disillusioned most soldiers have become. The political slogans that fired them up and made them sign up have become mere empty words. Bodies pile up, their country is destroyed – for what? An ideal that isn’t even humane?

On his quest, Quan meets many people. Simple farmers, single mothers, small girls, old men. They are drawn with a lot of detail and warmth. We suffer for these kind, gentle people who had to endure the worst for such a long time.

It’s admirable that the author doesn’t blame the US. She finds a lot of fault with party politics and the false promises of the government. There is no evil enemy. Nor is there an army of faceless Vietnamese soldiers. Every soldier she describes becomes a human being with a history, feelings, wishes and hopes.

Novel Without a Name is a visceral account that doesn’t leave out any aspect of this war. It’s an insider’s perspective, a soldier’s account. The novel unrolls like a huge canvas, a painting of an abundant jungle, where humans butcher each other amidst the most beautiful scenery.

I read the German translation of this novel that’s why I can’t share any quotes. It’s too bad because many of the descriptions are so amazing that I read them more than once.

Other reviews

 TJ (My Book Strings)

Bonespark 

 

 

*******

Novel Without a Name is the second book in the Literature and War Readalong 2015. The next book is the Hungarian Holocaust novel Fateless – Sorstalanság by Imre Kertész. Discussion starts on Wednesday 30 September, 2015. Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2015, including the book blurbs can be found here.

Are You Ready for Mary Hocking Week?

#Remember Mary Hocking

I discovered Mary Hocking last year, thanks to Heavenali‘s Mary Hocking Week. So, of course, I was keen on joining when I saw she was going to do another week this year.

Last year I read the wonderful The Very Dead of Winter. This year I will read Letters From Constance, which I first discovered a while back on Danielle’s blog here.

Letters From Constance

Here’s the synopsis should anyone be interested in reading along:

In 1939, as they leave school, Constance and Sheila vow to keep in touch. Posted to Ireland in the WRNS, Constance marries Fergus, a gregarious Irishman. Before long, stifled by domesticity and motherhood, she envies Sheila, writing poetry and married to the fiercely creative Miles. Gradually, however, a different reality emerges, for Constance has unacknowledged talents of her own, while Sheila’s public success is bought at great personal cost. From the war to the 1980s, Constance writes to Sheila of her everyday hopes and sorrows, and through her we learn much of Sheila’s gallantry and courage. We learn, too, of the social and political developments that challenge and shape her values, until finally outside events come too close and the fragile balance of Constance’s own world is threatened.

There are many Mary Hocking novels that sound amazing but they are not easy to get. Many are out of print. I managed to get a used copy of Letters From Constance.

Mary Hocking Week starts next Monday, so if you want to join, you have to hurry up a bit. Here are the details.

Will you join as well? What are you going to read?