Thursday, January 01, 2009


Jonathan Coe published an intriguing piece in the Guardian last year about his love affair with the Virago Modern Classics, a series I read very widely around in as a teenager and in my early twenties (I was always plucking the green volumes from the library shelves without even really looking too closely as to what they were - I think one of the ones that most stuck with me was Barbara Comyns' The Skin Chairs - I cannot say that I think that is a very good description of the book, but both the description and the author biography have just made me laugh!).

Anyway, I have been reading Coe with admiration and enjoyment for ten years or so now (here's an old post on Like a Fiery Elephant), and a copy of his latest novel came my way, only I was somehow left with the impression that I had to read Rosamond Lehmann's The Ballad and the Source first! I am not sure that is quite true, but I have just read both the Lehmann novel and Coe's The Rain Before It Falls, and found them both well worth my while.

I think Coe himself could not hold it against me if I say that I found Lehmann's novel astonishingly and strikingly good, and now feel I must read everything else of hers! I have only read one or two others, in distant memory, so I will get them all from the library and just see what strikes my fancy. I would not place this novel with Sybille Bedford's, which seem to me possibly superior in terms of their power to stir the emotions and imagination, but the descriptive writing is utterly lovely. One tiny passage that caught my attention (but really this novel should be read by everyone, especially if you like descriptions of clothes - Abigail Joseph, I am looking at you, you have to read this book!): oh, but I do not have time to find it again now, I did not mark it as I was reading because (a) it is a wartime edition, borrowed by me from the Columbia library, on very poor-quality paper and (b) I was on a plane! To a very beautiful and warm place - the flight was delayed by an hour in New York this morning, I might add, for the unprecedented and comical reason that all the water on the plane had frozen, and the crew rightly refused to take off without the wherewithal for producing tea and coffee!

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