I've been casting around today for something to read on a forthcoming plane/train journey, and in a house full of books that's harder than it should be. Whatever I take has to be easily portable, so hardbacks are out (the very interesting Tellers of Tales, my current read, will have to go in hold baggage), and nothing on the Kindle seemed to suit, so I've been scanning the shelves and literally weighing likely candidates.
In the end I have plumped for Green Darkness by Anya Seton as the edition I have is compact enough for my purposes and came to mind the other day when I saw an Instagram post by Eva who was about to embark on the audiobook of Anya Seton's Katherine.
I remember finding my copy of Green Darkness in a box outside a second-hand books shop in Eton. I was about fifteen at the time and was with my aunt who had read the book, warmly recommended it, and spoke of her visit to Ightham Mote, one of the novel's settings. I read it then and loved it, but will I like it now, I wonder.
Kate Mosse says it's "seductive, atmospheric, intriguing, one of those classic novels you come back to time and again," so that's promising, as is the following from Books and Bookmen:
"Perhaps the greatest gifts Anya Seton brings to her historical novels are the zest of her narrative, the life she breathes into the most insignificant characters, and the atmosphere of the era she evokes around them."
Here's the blurb (albeit one with more than a glimpse of a ripped bodice): "The young Celia de Bohun has fallen helplessly in love with Stephen, the resident priest in the Catholic household of Sir Anthony Browne. Against his will, Stephen returns her love. Gripped by the sweetness of their forbidden passion, the young lovers become the victims of their savage times. Centuries later their tragedy threatens the life and happiness of another Celia. She can only be saved by piercing the green darkness of the past and revealing its mysterious truth."
"Focusing on Henry and Laura Broad and their daughter Carrie, this is a minute - but in true Nicholson style, extraordinarily empathetic - dissection of relationships and what keeps them going. It is an acute and compassionate look at male mid-life crises, female sexual desire, death and the fear of it, children and the trouble with them - all the things we battle with every day."
"Marriage is a useful arrangement for having children, it has all sorts of economic advantages, but once the children have grown up and left home, and the mortgage has been paid off, what's left? I take the view that our time of life is a time of reinvention. The hard slog is over. We can be young again."
I've just been catching up with Meet the Writers (you may have seen this post) and greatly enjoyed hearing the engaging Anthony Horowitz, particularly on the power and importance of storytelling, reading and literature, and on his incredible output and work ethic. You can find the programme here.
Next I listened to Ian Rankin on the origins of Rebus, the significance of music in the books, why the fact-finding comes after the first draft, Edinburgh's secrets, and 'making it up as you go along'.
“October knew, of course, that the action of turning a page, of ending a chapter or shutting a book, did not end the tale. Having admitted that, he would also avow that happy endings were never difficult to find: "It is simply a matter," he explained to April, "of finding a sunny place in a garden, where the light is golden and the grass is soft; somewhere to rest, to stop reading, and to be content.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists
"One day, when [Mrs. Blore] had some rubbish to burn, she gave me an old copy of Waverley that was pretty badly torn and falling out of its cover, so that I could get the fire going. I had read a chapter or two of it already, in one of the little books that [the schoolmaster] used to give out on a Friday afternoon, and I was passionate for the rest. You don't use gold mines to light fires with. I laid this one down where I thought she wouldn't spot it, and got the blaze started without it, but she spotted it all right. 'Here's the book. Why didn't you use it as I told you?' she said sharply, picking it up and flicking the pages through her fingers, as if she was half a mind that it was worth saving after all. 'I thought I'd like to read it, ma'am,' I answered, as meekly as I could, because it would be heartbreaking if I lost it after all. 'Read it? Why, whatever do you want to read a book like this for?' 'I read some of it at school, ma'am, and I wanted to finish it.' She finally made up her mind that it wasn't worth taking back and threw it down on the ground, saying, 'Well you can have it, if you want to.' So I took it home and the evening was aflame with delight. [...] It was the first real book of my own that I ever had, and I have it still.
That I was reading Scott must have caught Mrs. Blore's fancy, because she lent me the rest of the Waverley novels, one after another [...] The time after tea was something to look forward to all that winter. Sitting in a kitchen chair, with the book flat on the table in front of me, another world came in, a many-coloured, sounding world of knights and travellers, and paragons among women, and rascals who were all that rascals should be, came in and pushed everything else aside while they played out their play."
I've had another look back at my journal to see what I was reading around the beginning of December in each of the last few years, and barring two novels about which I was less than enthusiastic, here's a handful. The relevant posts may be worth a look if anything takes your fancy, but suffice to say these are all jolly good books.
Angela Thirkell, Charlotte Mosley, Elizabeth Gilbert, Eowyn Ivey, High Rising, Housekeeping, Margery Allingham, Marilynne Robinson, Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising, The Mitfords, The Signature of All Things, The Snow Child, The Tiger in the Smoke