The Modern Book Scene Part 7 by Kathleen Kinder

The Modern Book Scene 7.    12.5.23     Kathleen Kinder       

A warm welcome to everyone.  This is the 7th Zoom talk on the Modern Book Scene.  I  thank the Settle library management   committee for their continued support , and especially Hazel Allen, for organising the zoom event, putting the Talk notes and Book list  online with husband Chas at Hazel  also provides a link for the recording  of this Talk.  Thanks to other library friends John, Debi, Peter for  help with  poster, publicity and printing.

As before -I interpret “The Modern Book Scene” as books  published  in the last 10-20 years, most, in the last 3-4 years. which represent a wide range of reader interest in the library. I have more to say on some books than on others. Most  are fiction, a few non fiction. Some are on prize lists. I try to go for those which have high recommendations. To give the Talk shape, I review the books  under headings. In actual fact, some of them could be under different headings but I just make my choice. This time,  there is no “  feel good factor“ group but they pop up  all over the place..

 Murder, Mystery and Thrillers – a huge variety of interpretation

 Snow,  John Banville, 2020.  JB is an accomplished Irish crime writer. An earlier book The Book of Evidence, 1989, was short-listed for the Booker prize. This one too has won a lot of accolades. The title Snow  is not only a description of the coldest and most treacherous part of the year when the murder takes place, it is a metaphor for the chill, forbidding atmosphere which affects the action and the characters all the way through the book.  Its restrained, polished style  is in the classical tradition of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The main character Inspector St John Strafford has similar withdrawn qualities,  a gift for objective thinking and questioning which reminds me of Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. The chilling description of the brutal and sadistic murder of a seemingly well-loved RC priest   eventually reveals sexual abuse of children committed by some RC priests. I did not guess who the murderer was. This is a very impressive book, not a light read. It reveals too much not only horrific sexual abuse, but the attempts to conceal it  in  RC  Ireland, 1957.

The Guest List, Lucy Foley, 2020, S.times & Waterstones best seller. I was not sure I would like this rather unusual thriller at first, but when I went back over its 73 short chapters, I realised there was a lot more subtlety to the plot than I  had at first realised. The setting is an island off the Irish coast, uninhabited except for residents in  a hotel which a pair of celebrities had booked as a venue for their wedding. What emerges is that not only was the island hiding grisly secrets, several guests had secrets to hide as well. The atmosphere of fear and impending catastrophe grew until the horrifying climax, the murder  1 of one of the main participants in the wedding ceremony. The story is told in the first person, by various characters, a chapter for each. It did not strike me until nearly the end that the one person missing from the story-telling was the most significant of all. The thriller  then is a very skilful creation, but a little unsettling all the same.

 The Awakenings,  Sarah Maine, 2022.  I read 2 of her previous books and really enjoyed them. One of them The House Between won  Waterstones prize for Scottish fiction in  2018. The other,  Beyond the River,  also had a Scottish theme, while her latest  The Awakenings,  has a North Yorkshire location. This one is the most gripping of all. I literally could not put it down. The main theme that of one branch of a family resorting to various kinds of criminal and violent action against another in order to acquire his/ her wealth is a common theme of many a murder mystery. This book does not  fit  simply into that scheme.  The plot has interwoven strands. There is a love story and two time slips, Anglo Saxon and today, which  meld seamlessly and then melt simply into the present when they have done their work to resolve the intricacies of the plot. In all, a most interesting and enjoyable “ read” as we say. Plenty of copies in the library, and one for book groups because it will certainly stir up discussion.

Sometimes People Die, Simon Stephenson, 2022, S.Times Book of the Month, NY Times Editor Pick. This is the first time I have reviewed a book which I describe as a medical murder mystery with a hospital location and a doctor author now turned novelist. I first heard it discussed on the TV Book Group programme, Between the Covers. Although this book is listed as a work of crime  fiction, it is written in the first person by a doctor on a hospital staff who writes  of being constantly aware that doctors and their staff can soon become the accused in murder cases brought against them by relatives of patients who have died in their care.  Although there are deeply serious issues, the writing is witty and amusing at times. The book is full of a rich variety of human characters and made a very powerful impression. one of the most memorable and unusual crime thrillers I have read

The Locked Room, Ellie Griffiths, 2022 Ellie Griffiths is a popular writer of family saga crime fiction. I have read and enjoyed several of her books. In each of the books featuring Ruth Galloway, the archaeologist, we read of developing relationships amongst her family and friends. This side of Ellie Griffiths writing writing provides   a pleasant and interesting relief from the  sometimes gruesome murders Ruth helps to solve. This book presents the team led by Ruth’s former lover and father of her daughter, DCI Nelson with a series of deaths occurring in mysterious circumstances and which could be related to the sinister  locked room episode of the preface. The first body was 2         found in a locked room with the key in the door on the outside. The causes of the deaths are eventually discovered. The fact that these occurred during lock down adds to the stress of the situation. Another thriller for Elly Griffiths’  enthusiasts to enjoy.

The Sentence is Death,  Anthony Horowitz, 2018.  One of the most sophisticated and mind-exercising thrillers I have ever read. Many plaudits, including from the Wall St Journal while the STImes reviewer wrote, “AH is easily the greatest of our crime writers” This is the second novel featuring the fictional and maverick investigator Daniel Hawthorne,  with the author himself playing his real self  as Hawthorne’s side-kick. The relationship is not an easy one, but the exchanges make for an interesting read. There are several deaths in the book. The victims all seem to have some link with each other. One incident takes us to a caving accident, or is it murder, at Ribblehead? Horowitz has an ingenious way of  absorbing the reader into the intriguing mix of motive, character and interaction and one is held there until all the complex issues are resolved. I was really gripped by this book as a result of which I had several late meals and one very late night buried in the pages of this very intriguing thriller.

Freedom Curtailed

House Arrest, Alan Bennet 2022, subtitle Pandemic Diary,  a short book of 46 pages, Book group member “underwhelmed” by it. I found it a refreshing  change after  reading some rather long books. It told me a lot about Alan Bennett and his gifts of recollection over a long life  described in his witty, amusing, sometimes biting style. The illustration of his study reveals  old fashioned habits, a typewriter, no computer. He resents his growing infirmity (then 86) as much as the restrictions imposed by covid. He depends a great deal on Rupert his partner, who is also his carer. They have a cottage in Clapham, 5 miles from my home. He recalls visiting Jane Mansergh’s 2ndhand bookshop in Settle. I remember standing next to him in a queue for the toilet during a break in the Talk he gave in Giggleswick Church.

Old Rage, Sheila Hancock, 2022. Now SH really does chafe against both the restrictions imposed by old age and the pandemic. She begins with a much loved Dylan Thomas quote: “Do not go gentle into that good night. Old age should burn and rave, Against the dying of the light”. Then she adds, “I just don’t have the energy”. I know exactly hows she feels as I recall whether I had the energy to do this Talk, but I don’t have her anger and I am a year older than she is.  This combined with many recollections of a rich and varied life  and written in a vibrant writing style make for an absorbing book which really fizzes with life.  Sheila Hancock is one of Britain’s most highly regarded  popular actors. She was married to John Thaw, who    3 played Inspector Morse in the long TV series. Do put this book on your “To read” list. You will enjoy it, I think.    NOW,  for quite a change.

The Life Inside, Andy West, 2022, a memoir of prison, family and learning to be free (subtitle). Recommended by The Irish Times and was the  i-book of  the year 2022.  The author is a teacher of philosophy to prison inmates and the book is based  on real people and their situations. Members of the author’s family, including his father, have all done time in prison. We read of the demons he copes with as a result of his background. The book brings vividly to life  the prison environment and the wide variety of prisoners  he comes across in his work. Some of the prisoners are well educated and knew stories from ancient classical myths that cropped up in philosophical discussions. He loved his work and had great empathy with many of the men, some of whom were repeat offenders because they preferred the shelter of prison life to the harsh realities of the outside world. His own background obtrudes unhappily from time to time. You could call Andy West “a wounded healer” because he identifies with his students. This book is not an easy read, but it makes a powerful impression and is well worth the effort.

Act of Oblivion, Robert Harris, 2022, plaudits from The Times, S.times, Observer. Robert Harris is a distinguished British novelist, author of many outstanding books . This historical novel is no exception. At the end of the Commonwealth period, the 1660 Act of Oblivion was published offering amnesty to those who had supported Oliver  Cromwell, but those who had  signed the death warrant of Charles I were to be hunted down and killed. This book deals with the 2 remaining regicides Col Edward (Ned) Whalley, cousin of Cromwell and his son in law Col Wm Goffe. The main story concerns a man hunt and a nail-biting pursuit from England to the fledgling states of new world America. Their ruthless pursuer is a fictional character Robert Naylor, part detective, part monster, utterly obsessed by the task. I found I could not be on either side of the conflict. There was nothing  admirable in the loose morality of Ch II’s court . I was repulsed by the narrow  theology of the Puritans but whose caring family lives were often exceptional. We do not know the fate of the two real life fugitives. Harris has used the prerogative of the novelist to create a fictional and positive ending. No spoilers. A long, but truly great book.

Haven,  Emma Donaghue, 2022. one of The Times Books of the Year. I’ve read and reviewed several of ED’s books. She is one of Ireland’s greatest novelists. Several reviewers wrote that they never expected to find the content of this book  on their wavelength but once they  started to read the  story  the beauty, power and skill of the writing had them riveted from the start to finish. This is fiction based on  4 historical fact, very well researched. The story concerns 3 Irish Celtic monks of the  6th c AD who left the great monastery of Clonmanoise on the  Shannon  to answer a divine call  to sail wherever God would take them  to create another community. I’ve been to Clonmonoise, impressive ruins and a fascinating museum charting  early Irish monasticism. It is well recognised that during the Dark Ages when hordes from the east were rampaging across mainland Europe, its civilisation was flourishing  in Irish monasteries.                             The 3 monks in the story are  very different characters. Artt is the leader, who has qualities of a fanatical visionary; Cormac is an old, wise and experienced monk and Trian, a young, enthusiastic monk who hides a secret of his own. They eventually land and settle on the rocky outcrop of Skellig Michael. (Wikipedia, photos of monastic huts still there). The way they build their dwellings, create their monastic rule of the day,  what they eat and so on is well described, but relations eventually break down. Trian’s secret is revealed and Artt banishes him to live in isolation in another part of the island.   Cormac now takes control and the ending  is inevitable but yet there is hope for the future. A great book, a refreshing change for a secular age.

The Feminist Agenda

Tidelands,  Philippa Gregory, 2019…. is a popular historical novelist whose main characters from the past have been taken from royalty or the upper classes. Now she writes in a short essay at the end that she has switched her interest to ordinary people of history. Her main character in Tidelands is  17th c widow Alinor who lives with her 2 teenage children Rob and Alys in a small Sussex community. Alinor ekes out a miserable existence as a healer and a midwife. At the start of the book, she gives shelter to James a young fugitive. RC priest. They are lovers and she becomes pregnant. Eventually she is accused of being a whore and a witch. She survives the ducking stool and daughter Alys then takes control of the situation accusing James of not standing by her mother.“Witchlit  is the term now used of books in which serious feminist issues are highlighted regarding how women with healing gifts were  often charged with witchcraft. The ending is not what you would expect, but there is hope for a new life elsewhere.

Godmersham Park, Gill Hornby, 2022. second book with a Jane Austen family theme I’ve read by GH. The first one Miss Austen about Cassandra, Jane’s sister I  reviewed for the 2nd zoom Talk. I wrote in my notes that GH had the gift of making the ordinary events in the Austen household very interesting and  never boring. That is true of this book. Moreover, the author has developed a style which has all the rhythms of Jane Austen’s prose. but yet is entirely modern. The main character of GP is based on the real character Anne Sharpe,5 governess to Fanny, daughter of Edward Austen, Jane’s nephew. His father George,  Jane’s brother, had been brought up by a wealthy uncle and had inherited Godmersham Park. The book offers a vivid and well researched insight into middle class women’s lives at the time. There was no contraception and many women died in child birth as did Mrs Edward Austen later,  giving birth to her 12th child.    We read of how her friend dealt with a drunken husband. She kept a rolling pin under the bed. Most  of the events we see through Anne Sharpe’s eyes. She regretfully rejects the chance of an illicit relationship. When her governess services are no longer required, she opts for a career  as head of a girls, school. As we see in the book, she and Jane Austen form a warm and close friendship  In 2008, a rare first edition of Emma turned up at a London auction house. It was inscribed, “ To Anne Sharpe from the author”. I thoroughly enjoyed reading GP.

Yours cheerfully, A.J.Pearce, 2021, the second of 2 AJP’s books I review in this Talk.  The other Dear Mrs Bird  is under the 4rth heading. Each is a stand alone but the same characters appear.They  are easy to read, “feel good factor” books. Yours cheerfully fits under The Feminist Agenda label . What we read is based on fact and was a step forward for women with children who had to work, being provided with childcare. Emmeline Lake, a research journalist, is the main character again, centre of a group that provide comfort and support when tragedy strikes, which it  often did in WWII There are some nail-biting incidents which keep you engrossed. The book is well-written with lively, sparkling dialogue and prose full of wit and  humour.  

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Gamus, 2023, S. Times best seller,  discussed on TV’s Between the Covers. This is a most unusual book, love it or hate it. I nearly discarded it but glad I did n’t. You do not have to read very far before you realise that a major purpose of the author is to expose in a funny, sardonic, satirical way the inequalities women suffered in 1960s USA and how her main character Elizabeth with her ultra clever scientific mind, deals with them. The humour that comes out of it reminds me of the black, slightly sick humour of Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder. Elizabeth leaves her daughter Madeleine,  to take a job as presenter of a TV cookery show, but spends the time describing the chemical compounds of the ingredients. There are various incidents to illustrate how in her life she has suffered as a woman. Her feminism is a dominant influence. This is a very quirky book but it ends more positively than you might imagine. I am glad I read it because it exposes cleverly a raw feminist nerve still at the heart of our society.




The Marriage  Portrait, Maggie O’Farrell, 2022 – longlisted  for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023. More plaudits for this book than for any other in the Talk, Book Group 26th in the queue! The book is a powerful fictional re-imagining of the real life of a  beautiful, high-born, intelligent and artistic  woman in Renaissance Italy. Lucrezia, duchess of Ferrara was 16 years old and newly married to the duke, Alphonso. She has led a very sheltered  life, but as time goes by and she is not yet pregnant, she becomes  convinced  that her husband,  desperate for a male heir, intends to kill her.  The author, M O’F was part inspired by Browning’s poem  “That’s my Last Duchess hanging on the Wall” allegedly about Lucrezia and the Duke of Ferrara. In the poem, the duke is pointing out the portrait to the servant of another nobleman whose daughter he, the duke, seeks as his next wife. The woman in the portrait smiled too much at the painter, said the duke. “I gave commands and all smiles stopped together”. The author tells us that the real Lucrezia died in mysterious circumstances. The real duke had 3 wives and no children at all.                                                   What is the point of writing a novel if the fate of the heroine is common knowledge before we begin to read? The author has devised an ingenious fictional ending, so much so that the duke is convinced that his plan has been carried out. Lucrezia has had her portrait painted and the painter’s assistant has a significant part to play. No spoilers. The writing is  richly imaginative, a sensuous mix of artistry, beauty and horror. Cruel and vicious intentions are hidden in a web of sophistication and culture. (patrons of arts, Machiavelli’s Prince) . I was truly engaged all the way through. The tension is ratched up a notch every chapter and Lucrezia is the focus of it. M O’F is one of our greatest novelists and this book is certainly one of her finest.

Words, Books and Libraries

Dear Mrs Bird, A.J. Pearce, 2018, the second book by this author, but the first in order.  The inspiration for this book came from   the discovery  of a 1939 copy of a women’s magazine where letters on the problem page were answered by a sympathetic and supportive  Agony Aunt (My mother & The Woman’s Companion). The  location of the story, is  London 1940 and the blitz has just started. The story is told in the first person by Emmeline (Emmy) Lake who had taken a job on the London Chronicle  as an assistant to “Mrs Bird”, an unsympathetic Agony Aunt.  Emmy assumes the role of Mrs Bird, and answers the letters secretly. There is trouble when it is discovered, but it all works out in the end. The description of the bombing is very moving.  Although there is tragedy for some, the final outcome is positive and hopeful. A book to enjoy,  illustrating the power & effect of words. 7

The Last Library,  Freya Simpson 2021. After a slow start,  the characters and plot in this book took off and  my interest was   thoroughly engaged. The story is about how a library assistant, a rather timid lady called June and a small group of  borrowers, fought to save a much loved library from closure. It is a story which resonates with us. June as an employee is forbidden to take part in various ploys to engage public attention, but she finds a clever way to help her library friends. All the main characters have secrets which are revealed as the story proceeds. The ending is a happy one, another “feel good factor” book, all about the determined action of a small group to save an institution valued by their community.

The Reading List,  Sarah Nisha Adams, 2022. This book is written in a simple, easy to read style, which made me wonder when I saw the author’s second name, if English was her second language. Sure enough, the main group of characters are from an Indian heritage background. We know this because their favourite foods are curries and the occasional reference they make to their Hindu beliefs. What is so interesting is that the books that inspire them are a selection of popular past and present British publications, some of them classics like Pride and Prejudice. The  books discussed are on a list  accidentally discovered. The characters discuss the impact each book has on  them. The style is simple,  the book a bit on the long side  but a regular reading of British literature can exert  considerable influence,  playing an  important role in introducing overseas people of non British heritage to British culture. Example: Nigerians & Shakespeare

The Lighthouse Bookshop, Sharon Gosling, 2022. When I first looked at the attractive cover of this book, I thought  it should be in the chick lit category, but I was  not quite right. The fictional location is a remote village on the Aberdeenshire coast featuring a mysterious lighthouse situated nowhere near the sea. The lighthouse is home to a bookshop which is well used by locals who also use it as a place for socialising.  Rachel, the main character runs the bookshop on behalf of the owner.   The characters are all well-drawn, highly individual people. At the heart of the story, there is an intriguing mystery focussed on the lighthouse. I found myself really drawn into the plot and the relationships developing between the characters. I enjoyed this book. The ending, a good one, but not quite what. I expected,

The Personal Librarian, Victoria Christopher Murray, & Marie Benedict 2021. NY Times best seller, Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. Several other US plaudits. It actually caused quite a stir that such a deception could go completely unnoticed. It is biographical fiction of the life of the celebrated Belle da Costa Greene 1879-1950(not her real name), personal librarian of the J.P. Morgan specialist library. 8   Her job was to scour the world and buy rare, historical books and manuscripts for the  collection, and she was very good at it. Her employer J.P. Morgan was a multimillionaire. The story is written in a first person format, addressing the reader personally to draw him/her deeply into the thoughts, feelings and actions of the main character. The style intensifies the dilemma . Belle da Costa Greene was living under a false ethnicity. She  was actually a pale skinned “coloured” woman, masquerading as white. Had she been found out, she would have lost her prestigious job and been cast out of society entirely. This after all was  early 20th c. America. The book is skilfully written and I was engrossed throughout. Belle used ingenious ways to hide her secret.  Her employer’s daughter  had her suspicions, but Belle threatened to expose her as a lesbian. J.P. Morgan left her a lot of money  and her greatest legacy was to persuade his son to put the library into the public domain for the benefit of the whole country. A truly memorable book.(only 2  library copies, Wikipedia entry VG).

Syria’s Secret Library,  Mike Robinson, 2019. Syria’s President Assad has been waging war against dissident groups  for 10 years resulting in 350,000 lives  lost and the huge destruction of  Syrian towns and villages. Mike Robinson is a BBC reporter who has risked his life in many areas of conflict . He writes a riveting, gripping prose, telling the story of a secret library created amidst the bombed rubble of the town of Duraya by young men of great courage and resilience. The library began in the basement of a building which had  the appearance above of just a heap of rubbish. Volunteers collected books from ruined buildings , noting  where they came from. There were many Arabic. translations of English classics. A borrowing service was set up. The secret location was eventually discovered and the library destroyed.. Survivors were sent to displacement camps in Turkey. Then one day, their spirits were raised. A mobile library suddenly appeared in the camp. This is a hard book to read, but I am glad I stayed with it.

The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams, 2021. In 2020, this book  fictional but based on a real situation, sold more copies in Australia than any other popular book. In 1901, the word “bondmaid” was discovered missing from the first edition of the OED. This is the story of Esme, the girl who stole it. In fact, words associated with women are the ones most missing from the early dictionaries. Esme was motherless and irrepressibly curious. She spent her childhood in the scriptorium, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers were gathering words for the very first OED. Esme loved to stay beneath the sorting table unseen, unheard and listening intently to the conversation. One day, she sees a slip bearing the word “bondmaid” flutter to the floor, unseen and unclaimed. This word is the first one of a collection she makes and which she calls The  9 Dictionary of Lost Words. It was made much later into a book by her fiancé Gareth, who presents it to her instead of an engagement ring. He could not afford both, he tells her. This is a book full of the milk of human kindness. It ranges over events in  the late 19th c, the suffragette movement, WWI which brings tragedy and loss, and then  to the early decades of the 20th c. The story is beautifully told. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Adequate copies in different formats.

Families and Relationships

French Braid,  Anne Tyler, 2022. Famous American novelist whose work has won many accolades over the years. AT is known for her perceptive, in depth writing. There are complaints that nothing much happens in her novels, but it does, in a very subtle way. Her style is good to read and she has excellent mastery of dialogue which highlights character and the  intentions of family members. Sometimes a sense of foreboding is conveyed by decisions which will lead to trouble for the person concerned, but somehow through the actions of other members, the various branches of the  family hold together. The title is significant.   In the first chapter, Serena Drew and James her boyfriend are waiting for the next train to Baltimore when Serena spots a man she thinks is her cousin Nicholas. They catch up with him later and hear news of family members. Chapter 2 takes us into another branch of the family. It seems as if ch. 1 was an isolated one. Towards the end we learn the meaning of the title as it refers to strands of the family. Only when I got nearly  to the end did I see where the first chapter fitted in.  It was the first lock of hair in the French Braid which created an intriguing and intricate family story.

The Instant, Amy Liptrot, This is a stand alone memoir but it describes the period of her life after the one she wrote about in The Outrun, where as a recovering alcoholic she returns to her native Orkneys  receiving  healing from her work amongst the sea birds. In The Instant, her restless, fractured personality  is made more obvious in the  rich narrative prose. She has a great gift of involving the reader in the sights and sounds she experiences, involving her/him in her mood swings  and the sheer loneliness and emptiness of  her existence. Now in her mid thirties, she is an unfulfilled woman, longing for a permanent sexual relationship and a child. She decides to go to Berlin where through her vivid descriptive prose she brings the city, its people, wild life, especially the birds, alive for us. She describes fully the sexual relationship she had, full of pleasure for her, but when it suddenly  ends, she experiences utter desolation. The reader is not spared the full account of her misery. Towards the end of the book, I got a little weary of her being  unable to snap out of depression . And then suddenly in the last few pages, we learn she has found someone to love and has a baby.  10    I found this a very interesting book, but the ending too brief. My generation is tempted to judge her morality. or rather its absence, but  there must be many unfulfilled young people  who do not have her gift of sharing their predicament with others and the ability to create some understanding of it. This book caused quite a stir in my Book Group.

The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles, 2022. Some of us have read and enjoyed AT’s previous book A Gentleman in Moscow. This long book is very different. It is a picaresque novel about people sharing a journey  in this case  along the Lincoln Highway,  from NY to California.    revealing in  their adventures  what their  travelling  experience brings oto  their relationships. This book however, does not quite fit the form.  We begin in 1954 With Emmett released from jail, equipped with money and a car seeking out his young brother Billy to travel with him to California to find their mother and other family members. They meet 2 escaped jailbirds ,Duchess and Woody who have business of their own to settle in NY before joining the pair going to California. Other characters add to the mix and have their own business to sort out before they can join the others. This we learn about in their own allocated chapters. The book is cleverly written, funny in places, but there is no punctuation which adds a kind of breathlessness to the story.  The chapters are numbered in reverse, beginning  with 1, at the very end when Emmett and Billy finally set off on the Lincoln Highway.

Small Things like These,  Claire Keegan,  2021  Long-listed Booker Prize. Location: a small Irish town 198,5 during Christmas preparations. The inclement weather adds a touch of anxiety and stress to a crystal clear style of writing brought alive in its story-telling by vivid and apt imagery. The main character is successful coal merchant, Bill Furlong, happily married with a family of 3 girls. Bill, an adopted child, was brought up in a happy family situation, but longs to know who his biological father is. Does he find out by the end of the book? It is not a long one. In the course of his work, he comes across examples of the notorious Magdalene laundries and the treatment meted out to illegitimate children by Irish nuns. The author at the end points out that her work is fiction, but these institutions did exist and what she describes did actually happen to many children. Bill’s concern for what he found leads him to make an act of considerable kindness. No spoilers. I found this a very moving book and one I warmly recommend.

A Marriage of Fortune, Anne O’Brien, 2023. In my 1st library Talk, 2016, The History and Development of the English Novel, I mentioned the importance of the 15th c Paston Letters, not only the  first hand account in English  of a middle class family during the Wars of the Roses but significant for its promotion of the modern view of marriage based on love. This well-written, good to read book is yet another combination 11  of fact and fiction. Set amidst the social  turbulence, events and power struggles of the 15c, the book is about the main character and formidable matriarch Margaret Paston and the relationships of her various children. Each has a separate chapter to describe their lives. Margaret has the most chapters in the book to tell how her efforts are proceeding to bring about successful marriage partnerships for  her offspring. Her view is the medieval view of a business relationship with someone with money, of the same class or higher. Love does not enter into it. Her daughter Margery  disagrees. She and the bailiff Richard Calle, who runs  the Paston business, have fallen in love and have married against her mother’s will. They express their love movingly in letters (Jane Austen). This book is a real gift to those  who love well written historical fiction, and which is  based on important historical fact.

Three Women and a Boat, Anne Youngson, 2023.  I read and reviewed Anne Youngson’s first book Meet me at the Museum  in  a previous Talk. This book is very different. It has obviously been inspired by Jerome K Jerome’s 1889 novel Three men in a boat.  In this book, 2 women, complete strangers, one who has left a boring husband and the other a stressful job, come across a deserted canal boat, with a barking dog called Noah, locked inside. They smash a window to release him. The owner Anastasia, a real drop out, turns up. She tells them she is not well and is in hospital care, though they don’t know  what is wrong with her. The boat has got to be taken to Chester. The upshot of this utterly crazy tale is that the 2 strangers with the dog, inexperienced as they are, agree to take the boat on the canal to Chester. They have some hair- raising adventures along the way and meet some unusual characters . Anastasia keeps in touch on her mobile. It proved a hilarious read and I’m glad I did not put it on the reject pile.

Wild Fell, Lee Schofield, 2022,  I finish with this highly acclaimed, beautifully written book  about a different kind of relationship, that of human beings with the environment. L S  has charge of an RSPB farm  in the Lake District.  The author has a rich background to call upon, which he does on every possible occasion, bringing to life the Haweswater  landscape, man-made and natural. It is a love tinged with the sadness many environmentalists feel. They observe daily the relentless  decline in animal life, plant and insect species more than most of us do. The author is quick to point out and discuss some of  the natural delights still to be found. He tells us that because of the hard work of his colleagues and himself some of the lost diversity of life in the Haweswater area is being recovered and restored. (report on BBC Online news a few days ago)  I was very impressed by the book. It is for me, a “feel good factor book. I want to mention briefly Hindsight. Jemma Watt, 2022. ebook.    Thank you for watching and listening.  12