Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ September 2016

Hogarth Press, the publishing company founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, has a new project: to have some of the plays by Shakespeare retold by current bestselling authors.

Shakespeare himself was not averse to borrowing stories and hopefully this idea will prompt readers to look again at the well-known plays. I’ve just finished my first one which is Anne Tyler’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew called Vinegar Girl.

My oh my! This is a perfect little book - well produced (just look at the front and back covers) and very amusing. I laughed out loud.

It is about a strong-willed nursery school teacher who is pushed into the arms of the Russian assisting her demanding father in his long-term research. Father wants him to stay even though his residency permit is about to expire and Father can’t see why daughter Kate shouldn’t marry him in order to keep him in America. There is of course a precocious younger sister eyeing off her possible boyfriends. Anne Tyler’s books are always good and this one is very funny. Laugh out loud funny. We need more of this!

I am now going to read Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time, which is retelling The Winter’s Tale. A friend tells me this is very good. Margaret Atwood’s version of The Tempest called Hag Seed and Howard Jacobson’s retelling of The Merchant of Venice which is Shylock is My Name are next. There are four more titles in the pipeline: Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear. I’ll alert you when they arrive.

Ian McEwan’s new novel has just arrived into the shop. It is called Nutshell and features a world-weary foetus commenting on the actions of his mother and her lover, who is also his uncle. They are named Trudy and Claude and they are plotting to kill his father. I immediately thought it must be the next title in the Hogarth series which will be Hamlet. But no! Gillian Flynn is down to produce the Hamlet re-write. Meanwhile Ian McEwan is enjoying himself having a long rant on the problems in modern society. Very enjoyable. He got into a bit of trouble about this.

I always enjoy memoirs and can recommend The May Beetles: My First Twenty Years by Baba Schwartz.
Baba spent a happy childhood in a small town in Hungary, part of a substantial Jewish community. By the late thirties this happy life was shattered as the whole family, father and mother and three daughters, is shipped off in crowded trains to Auschwitz.The remainder of the book describes their sufferings and lucky escapes.

These day-to-day accounts show how people just got by in the mass of Displaced Persons at the end of Second World War. Father is lost forever but Mother and girls do survive and return to their town where all their possessions have been taken by supposedly friendly neighbours. Soon they sail off to Israel before finally migrating to Australia.

Although I have read many holocaust memoirs I found this one especially interesting and well written.

Father Edmund Campion has been writing small biographies of Catholic personages for many years and you can read some in Australian Catholic Lives, which is a sort of history of the church in Australia. A history of the people, not the Bishops. He has now written Swifty: A Life of Yvonne Swift whose work as Principal of Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart and later as head of Sancta Sophia College in the University of Sydney is well-known to generations of students. She was much concerned about social justice and in mid-life decided to train as a lawyer. She set up her own office with another lawyer, finally in Chippendale, where she defended many notorious Sydney criminals. The small book contains many admiring messages from students and friends. I think there will be many who will enjoy this.

I set off eagerly to read a new biography of Evelyn Waugh by Philip Eade called Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited. I did feel the need later to read a more full biography such as the one by Selina Hastings but it seems this is now out of print. A Life Revisited is packed full of gossip, ranging from schoolboy adventures, undergraduate indiscretions and too much detail on flirtations and drinking. Nonetheless it is very amusing, chiefly in the direct quotes from Evelyn’s own diaries and letters.

It was good to get clear the fate of Shevelyn, his first unsuccessful wife (also called Evelyn) and the future success of wife number two, Laura, mother of his six children. Coincidentally Nancy Mitford was the flatmate of Shevelyn, and it is through this connection that Waugh began his legendary friendship with Mitford and also Lady Diana Cooper.

His first book, Vile Bodies, was such a tremendous success Waugh was taken up by “society” and able to indulge his fondness for witty insults, while collecting great material for his next black comedy.

His father, Arthur Waugh, was a director of Chapman and Hall, who published all Evelyn’s books except the first one. They were more than happy to do so seeing the copyright for their most important author, Charles Dickens, was about to expire. Evelyn turned out to be not only a terrific novelist but also a very savvy author who was able to turn his talents to journalism, essays and travel pieces. His many overseas adventures were funded by his publishers and the success of his satiric novels, while the success of Brideshead Revisited made him quite a rich man. At one time in his middle age it all became too much for him and while on a cruise to the Mediterranean, as he himself noted, he became “absolutely mad. Clean off my onion”.

This story is told in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, his last comic novel. His wartime adventures, with like-minded soldiers such as Randolph Churchill, formed the basis for the three novels which are now published together as the Sword of Honour Trilogy. One special favourite of mine is The Loved One, which he wrote after a visit to California to investigate the possibility of a film to be made of Brideshead Revisited. That never happened, only the marvellous TV version starring Claire Bloom and Jeremy Irons.

The Loved One was Evelyn’s satire on the American Way of Death as practiced at the Whispering Glades Memorial Park (not to be confused with Jessica Mitford’s American Way of Death. This best seller was reissued in 2000 as American Way of Death Revisited). I think it is time for another dose of Evelyn Waugh. You will find most of his novels in stock at Abbey’s. 

Check the website. Enjoy re-reading the backlist.

Keep well,


Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

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