Thursday, 22 January 2015

'The Happy Tree' - Rosalind Murray


It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Persephone Books. I love the warmth of them, the feel-good factor of many, and the insight into lost worlds and ways of lives in almost all of them. The idea behind Persephone Books is charmingly simple: to republish and celebrate forgotten classics, most of which were written by women, and bring them to light and to a new audience. And the formula works so well.

Which is why it makes me sad on the very, very rare occasion when I come across a Persephone book that I just don’t enjoy, and I’m sorry to say that Rosalind Murray’s 1926 novel The Happy Tree is one such book.

In a nutshell, The Happy Tree follows our protagonist Helen, who grows up with her grandmother in London but spends her holidays with her cousins Guy and Hugo, and their mother, in the countryside. It’s an idyllic time, spent in and around the ‘Happy Tree’ of the book’s title. And although Helen evidently falls in love with the enigmatic Hugo, she ends up marrying the boringly stolid Walter… which whom she is left after her cousins go off to fight in the war, for which Walter is declared unfit. In simplicity, The Happy Tree is a novel about how the war swept up previously happy families, tore them apart and left misery and desolation in its wake. But that’s a very stark description of this novel, and one that doesn’t really do the delicate content justice.

Rosalind Murray’s writing style was where I struggled with The Happy Tree, and I found it very hard to become engaged in the book or to want to follow the narrative on. Her sentences are often very staccato, and the prose is very factual with heavy description of rooms and items, but seemingly little drive to the narrative. Personally, I find this style of writing hard to engage with, but clearly the team at Persephone disagree and found much in The Happy Tree to make them choose to republish it.

I’d love to hear from others who’ve also read the book and find out what you think. Maybe I’m alone in my disappointment with The Happy Tree? I’d heartily recommend one of this season’s other Persephone reprints instead: Because Of The Lockwoods by the ever-reliable Dorothy Whipple, which is impossible to put down. Review here.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Bath Literature Festival


Returning for its twentieth year, the Bath Literature Festival is rolling back into town from February 27 to March 8. And for the second year running, the artistic director is the multi-talented Viv Groskop (who is not only a whizz at programming arts festivals, but is also a stand-up comedian, a broadcaster and a fab journalist). Here are some of our highlights from the packed programme, but I urge you to visit the website and check out the full programme for yourselves. Be warned, lots of events sell out early so don’t wait too long! 

With a cast including What The Frock! favourite Rachel Parris, as well as comedy talents such as Cariad Lloyd and Andrew Hunter, the brilliant Austentatious is an improvised Jane Austen novel - and it is always hilarious. Every show is different and is inspired by the title of a lost Austen novel suggested by the audience. There’s a good reason why this show sold out in seconds (well, almost seconds!) last year when it came to the Bath Lit Fest. Book your ticket for this now while you still can. 

Hosted by Viv Groskop (a favourite with What The Frock! audiences), the festival’s comedy night is headlined by the mighty Helen Lederer (Absolutely Fabulous, Bottom, The Young Ones) who first made her name during the infamous Alternative Comedy era of the early 1980s. Joining Viv and Helen will be Cariad Lloyd (Toast of London, Vodka Diaries, Austentatious) and Gerry Howell (whom The Guardian describes as being a young Eddie Izzard). 

BBC Radio 4 presenter Anita Anand has struck gold with her newly published biography of the enigmatic Princess Sophia: an exiled Sikh princess who became an unlikely icon of the suffragette movement at the turn of the last century. 

Aristocrat, literary celebrity, devoted wife, lesbian, recluse … Vita Sackville-West remains a controversial figure. Best-selling historical biographer Matthew Dennison follows up his sold-out lecture on Queen Victoria last year with his latest work: a dazzling insight into the closed world of an extraordinary woman.

Old shopfronts and ghost signs give an insight into a forgotten world, and Bath is one of the best places in the country to see them. Join Andrew Swift and Kirsten Elliott on a walk through the city’s streets and byways to discover the rich legacy of long-lost businesses. 

Olivier Award-winner Celia Imrie has been described as “one of the greatest British actresses of recent decades.” The star of Acorn Antiques, Calendar Girls, Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel discusses her debut novel, Not Quite Nice, about a woman forced into early retirement, who sells up and moves to Bellevue-sur-Mer, just outside Nice.