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The Future of Welsh Literature

The winning manuscripts for this year’s New Welsh Writing Awards were revealed at Hay Fest yesterday.

Peter Goulding won in the Rheidol category with On Slate and JL George won in the dystopian novella category with The Word. The winning authors were presented with their prizes of £1,000 as an advance against e-publication by New Welsh Review and a critique by top London literary agent at Curtis Brown, Cathryn Summerhayes.

ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY PRIZE FOR A DYSTOPIAN NOVELLA

WINNERS

FIRST PLACE: JL George (Pontypool, Wales) – The Word

SECOND PLACE: Rhiannon Lewis (Abergavenny, Wales) – The Significance of Swans

THIRD PLACE: Rosey Brown (Cardiff, Wales) – Adrift

RHEIDOL PRIZE FOR WRITING WITH A WELSH THEME OR SETTING

WINNERS

FIRST PLACE: Peter Goulding (Thetford, England) – On Slate (Non-fiction)

SECOND PLACE: Sarah Tanburn (Penarth, Wales) – Hawks of Dust and Wine (Fiction)

THIRD PLACE: Richard John Parfitt (Penarth, Wales) – Tales from the Riverbank (Non-fiction)

The New Welsh Writing Awards 2019 sought new works of between 5,000 – 30,000 words across two categories: the Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella (judged by NWR editor Gwen Davies) and the Rheidol Prize for Writing with a Welsh Theme or Setting (co-judged by Cynan Jones and NWR editor Gwen Davies).

The second prize winners received £300 vouchers towards a week-long residential course at Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre in Gwynedd, North Wales; and third prizes were for a two-night stay at Gladstone’s Library in Flintshire, North Wales. The top six shortlisted authors also received a one-year subscription to New Welsh Review.

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Book Jotter by Paula Bardell-hedley - 3d ago
An end of week recap

This is a weekly post in which I summarize books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the nightstand and keep readers abreast of various book-related happenings.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE TBR >>

I shared a few thoughts on My Cousin Rachel for Daphne du Maurier Reading Week. >> THOUGHTS ON: My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier >>

CHATTERBOOKS >>

* Lit Crit Blogflash *

I’m going to share with you six of my favourite literary posts from around the blogosphere. There are so many talented writers posting high-quality book features and reviews, it’s difficult to limit the list to only these few – all of them published over the last week or two:

Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin – Over at He Writes Words Adam Burgess has been reading a short-story anthology “about the human condition from a paradoxically cynical but hopeful perspective,” which “balances a wide array of topics and narrators without losing cohesion.”

A Stranger City by Linda Grant: A river runs through it – Susan Osborne at A life in books describes this contemporary novel as a “many-layered, vibrant portrait of London”. It drew her in and kept her “rapt to its end.”

East of Suez by Alice Perrin (1901) – Jane at Beyond Eden Rock discovered this book in her Victorian Secrets catalogue. She found Perrin “had the knack of making the India she knew come to life” in her “small human dramas”.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – Nirmala of Red Lips and Bibliomaniacs found Braithwaite’s blackly comedic novel “compelling”, “fast-paced” and “twisted enough to keep [her] guessing”.

On the nature of evil – Michael Graeme of The Rivendale Review has written a fascinating piece on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1973 “magnum opus”, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956 – a three-volume work that made the author a “target for the Soviet authorities”.

‘The Farm’ by Tom Rob Smith – Kim Forrester at Reading Matters had “mixed feelings” about this “strange and twisted story”. She found the mystery aspects “compelling” but the ending “abrupt”.

* Irresistible Items *

Umpteen fascinating articles appeared on my bookdar last week. I generally make a point of tweeting my favourite finds (or adding them to our Facebook group page), but in case you missed anything, here are a handful of interesting snippets:

****************************

i News: Judith Kerr: The Tiger Who Came To Tea author dies aged 95 – “The Tiger Who Came To Tea has sold more than five million copies since it was first published in 1968”, says Ruchira Sharma.

Publishing Perspectives: Oman’s Jokha Alharthi and Translator Marilyn Booth Win the 2019 Man Booker International Prize – The Man Booker International has its first Arabic-language winner.

The Irish Times: Helen Cullen: the literary letters I have loved the most – “From Patti Smith and Vita Sackville-West to the inventions of Jane Austen and Ian McEwan”.

The Paris Review: Feminize Your Canon: Mariama Bâ – In her monthly column exploring the lives of underrated and under-read female authors, Emma Garman looks at a woman once hailed as the pioneering feminist voice of a continent.

The Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Disappointed’: No winner for Australia’s prestigious manuscript prize – The judges for this year’s Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award have announced they will not award the prize this year.

The Guardian: Jeanette Winterson: ‘I did worry about looking at sex bots’ – Winterson talks to Lisa Allardice about her new novel, which “reimagines Frankenstein for the AI era.” She also discusses “immortality, anger and why she’s still an evangelist”.

The Atlantic: The J. R. R. Tolkien Story That Makes the Case for Fantasy Fiction – Yosef Lindell discovers that the Lord of the Rings author “once wrote a short tale about a painter that elegantly argues for the value of escapism in literature.”

Aeon: Susan Sontag was a monster – “She took things too seriously. She was difficult and unyielding. That’s why Susan Sontag’s work matters so much even now”, writes Lauren Elkin.

New Statesman: John Buchan’s clubland heroes – “In The Thirty-Nine Steps and his other yarns – with their decent chaps in scrapes and men on the run – John Buchan invented the modern spy novel”, says William Boyd.

Public Books: The Return of Homer’s Women – Eleanor Johnson wonders if books reinterpreting Homeric poems toward feminist ends rob readers of ethical ambiguities.

Columbia Journalism Review: The story of Ernest Hemingway’s $187,000 magazine expenses claim – Was Hemingway’s arrangement with Collier’s magazine doomed from the beginning asks Peter Moreira?

Wales Arts Review: Catherine Fisher wins the Tir na n-Og Award – “Catherine Fisher has won the 2019 Tir na n-Og Award for Children’s Literature for her latest novel, The Clockwork Crow.”

Literary Hub: 13 Common Mistakes in Book Reviewing and How to Avoid Them – Jay A. Fernandez shares his views on what you should and shouldn’t do when reviewing books.

Literary Ladies Guide: Quotes from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – Nava Atlas looks at how to select quotes from Mrs. Dalloway when “almost every sentence in the book is quotable”.

Literary Tourist: What’s so exciting about London, Stratford, and Hamilton, Ontario? – Nigel Beale (aka The Literary Tourist) explores Ontario, Canada.

Longreads: Reimagining Harper Lee’s Lost True Crime Novel: An Interview with Casey Cep – “Somewhere along the way it became very clear to me that I was writing the book she never would.”

Read it Forward: Nonfiction Books That Are Perfect for Your Book Club – “The real world is chock-full of great stories that are perfect for discussion with your book club”, says Keith Rice.

BBC News: Hilary Mantel: Publication announced to complete Cromwell trilogy – “Hilary Mantel’s next novel will be published on 5 March 2020,” her publishers have revealed.

Book Riot: Cool Bookish Places: Sticky Institute, Melbourne – “Melbourne has no shortage of quirky literary spaces”, says Christine Ro. She visits “the only dedicated zine shop in Australia”.

Book Marks: Gabino Iglesias on Moby Dick, Goodreads, and Nightmarish Fairy Tales – In this week’s Secrets of the Book Critics Gabino Iglesias shares his thoughts on favourite books and literary criticism in the age of social media.

The Washington Post: Binyavanga Wainaina, barrier-shattering presence in African literature, dies at 48 – Harrison Smith on the death of a prizewinning Kenyan writer who explored themes of postcolonialism, gender and sexual identity.

The Bookseller: Harrison wins EU Prize for Literature – “Melissa Harrison has been revealed as the UK winner of the European Union Prize for Literature 2019 with All Among the Barley (Bloomsbury Circus), a novel exploring the dangers of nationalism and xenophobia.”

The New York Times: A Room Without Books Is Just Very Sad – “Tag your shelf! Hotels, restaurants, shops and yachts stock up on beautiful and lamentably inexpensive treasures.”

The Telegraph: New ‘novel’ edition of Anne Frank diary is ‘what she wanted’ – Jorg Luyken and Steve Bird on Liebe Kitty (or Dear Kitty), a new novel version of Anne Frank’s diaries.

The Guardian: John le Carré and Neil Gaiman join writers warning Brexit is ‘choosing to lose’ – Alison Flood reveals a “letter to the Guardian signed by many of UK’s most celebrated authors urges voters to support the EU in Thursday’s poll – or prepare for economic damage”.

Melville House: Las Vegas as a literary hub? The city has a surprising history of book culture – Liv Lansdale looks at literary Las Vegas.

Sky News: ‘Alexa, read a bedtime story’: Parents swapping books for tech, new research warns – “Many parents say they are often too busy or tired to read their children a bedtime story and so rely on technology instead.

****************************

FINALLY >>

If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week or if you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter in general, please drop me a line or comment below. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.

NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to the act of concluding something and should not be confused with the British expression: ‘wind-up’ – an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there’s an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.

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My contribution to Daphne du Maurier Reading Week

“How soft and gentle her name sounds when I whisper it. It lingers on the tongue, insidious and slow, almost like poison, which is apt indeed. It passes from the tongue to the parched lips, and from the lips back to the heart. And the heart controls the body, and the mind also. Shall I be free of it one day?”

When Ali Hope, the blog mistress at Heavenali, announced she would be hosting her first-ever Daphne du Maurier Reading Week from the 13th to 19th May, I knew instantly that the time had come to pluck the 1951 novel, My Cousin Rachel, from the uppermost reaches of my high-rise library shelves.

I received my copy of book number 491 in the Virago Modern Classics’ collection as a gift, when it was republished to tie-in with the 2017 film starring Rachel Weisz (which I haven’t seen) – though, along with many a literary masterpiece, it had hitherto lain slumped on my TBR list for donkey’s years.

The story focuses on the sexually inexperienced Philip Ashley – orphaned at an early age and raised by his wealthy and resolutely single cousin, Ambrose. Treated as a son by his guardian, he is heir to his big house and beautiful Cornish estate, where he feels at ease in their emphatically male bastion. His tranquillity is destroyed, however, when the older man travels to Florence for the sake of his health and there falls in love, marries and just as suddenly dies of what Philip believes to be poisoning.

Following his death, Ambrose’s widow (Philip’s cousin Rachel) sails to England. He expects to despise her but, like Ambrose, he is drawn by her charismatic, if unfathomable personality and serene beauty. He soon yearns to possess her – but could she be a murderess?

Du Maurier wrote this book when she was at the height of her creative brilliance. It is frequently described as a thriller, equally often as a romance, occasionally as a tragedy, but her bewitching work is so much more than mere genre: it is a complex, serpentiform, devilishly clever story of female sexuality, in which the tables are briefly turned in favour of the woman. The male perception of Rachel is at the centre of everything.

So, was this novel worth the wait? Absolutely. My only regret is that I deferred for so long.

“She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment.”

This is my tenth choice for The Classics Club.

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Book Jotter by Paula Bardell-hedley - 1w ago
An end of week recap

This is a weekly post in which I summarize books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the nightstand and keep readers abreast of various book-related happenings.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE TBR >>

I read and reviewed Conversations with Wilde: A Fictional Dialogue Based on Biographical Facts by Oscar’s grandson, Merlin Holland. It is due to be published by Watkins on 11th June 2019. >> BOOK REVIEW: Conversations with Wilde: A Fictional Dialogue Based on Biographical Facts >>

CHATTERBOOKS >>

* Wales Book of the Year 2019 *

The shortlist for the Wales Book of the Year 2019 awards for English and Welsh-language books has been revealed. >> WALES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019: Shortlist Announced >>

* 20 Books of Summer *

Cathy Brown of 746 Books has issued an advance alert for her highly popular reading challenge, 20 Books of Summer. Scheduled to begin on 3rd June and run for three months, until 3rd September, readers are invited to select and then read 20 books from their unread TBR stacks (10 or 15 are permissible, too). If you would like to participate, simply grab the BOS image, post on your blog a list of the titles you intend reading during the summer months and link back to Cathy’s master post from 3rd June. You should also look out for #20booksofsummer on Twitter.

* Lit Crit Blogflash *

I’m going to share with you six of my favourite literary posts from around the blogosphere. There are so many talented writers posting high-quality book features and reviews, it’s difficult to limit the list to only these few – all of them published over the last week or two:

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson – Over at Bookconscious Deb Baker has been reading a newly published spy novel, which she describes as “cerebral” (in the John le Carré sense), “full of wise observations about womanhood” and “a terrific read”.

Travel Tribute to H V Morton and Wales – During a visit to the University of Queensland Alumni Book Fair, Gretchen Bernet-Ward of Thoughts Become Words discovered a 1932 edition of In Search of Wales by H.V. Morton. The experience left her feeling that “interconnections exist everywhere in many forms but none so strongly as with books.”

“Machines Like Me” by Ian McEwan – Martie at Leave Me Alone I Am Reading and Reviewing thinks this novel shows “Ian McEwan at his storytelling best.” She found the author gave “the reader plenty to think about in his what-if alternative world.”

“Take good care of it, it is my life,” said artist Charlotte Salomon about Life? or Theatre? which was also her Life’s Work – Diane at De Beer Necessities shares her thoughts on two books about the artist Charlotte Salomon.

Reading Rambles: The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier – Sandra at A Corner of Cornwall chose to read The Loving Spirit (along with three other titles) for Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week. She describes this 1931 novel – the author’s first – as “definitely worth reading but […] perhaps not the place to start”.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – John Latham found a “gentle humour” in this novel, which is “ostensibly about Russia”. Discover why he considers it “an attack on totalitarianism” in his review at Cheepcheepcopy.

* Irresistible Items *

Umpteen fascinating articles appeared on my bookdar last week. I generally make a point of tweeting my favourite finds (or adding them to our Facebook group page), but in case you missed anything, here are a handful of interesting snippets:

****************************

The New York Times: The Many Lives of Jan Morris – Sarah Lyall interviews 92-year-old Morris in her hometown of Criccieth.

The Guardian: Will Eaves: ‘Life is chancier than we imagine: we’re never far from the edge’ – “Fresh from winning the Wellcome prize […] the novelist talks about creativity, frustration and finding inspiration in the code breaker Alan Turing”.

Interview: We Asked New York’s Booksellers About Sally Rooney Fever – Sarah Nechamkin speaks to NYC booksellers about Sally Rooney’s novels and the people who buy them.

Verso: 5 Book Plan: Non-Fascist Living – “Natasha Lennard, author of Being Numerous, selects five books that shaped her thinking on fascism permeating life under capitalism.”

The Paris Review: Re-Covered: To the One I Love the Best – Ludwig Bemelmans is best known today as an illustrator or as the author of the Madeline books, but Lucy Scholes discovers that “his love letter to his best friend Elsie de Wolfe is profoundly charming.”

BBC: The royal mint releases new 50p coin dedicated to Sherlock Holmes – The royal mint has released a new 50p coin dedicated to Sherlock Holmes for the 160th anniversary of Conan Doyle’s birth.

Brain Pickings: Virginia Woolf on Being Ill and the Strange Transcendence Accessible Amid the Terrors of the Ailing Body – Another superb piece from Maria Popova.

Noteworthy: Reading Arendt Now – Samantha Rose Hill “fell in love” with Hannah Arendt’s work after reading The Human Condition in her freshman year at college.

CBC: A ‘bittersweet’ ending to venerable bookshop’s story – The Book Gallery in Ontario is giving away its entire collection following the death of the owner.

Australian Book Review: This is the way the world ends – Beejay Silcox on dystopian fiction in the age of Trump.

Literary Hub: Joanna Scutts on How We Find—and Lose—Women Writers – “Exhumations and revelations, from Zora Neale Hurston to Bette Howland”.

Electric Literature: 7 Books That Look at Nature Up Close – “Writing that focuses on a brief time in a small, specific ecosystem helps us feel more present in the world”, writes Carrie V. Mullins.

Book Riot: Why is a Literary Collective Translating 100 Classic Indian Novels? – M. Lynx Qualey finds the “Indian Novels Collective (INC) has set itself an ambitious goal.”

World Literature Today: The Role of Intuition in Translation – “After translating more than two hundred titles into Spanish and Catalan, Carles Andreu focuses on his translations of Jennifer Egan’s work to consider the role of intuition”.

The Washington Post: Escape reality with these delightful old-time thrillers. You’ll forget 2020 is almost here. – Set in the 1920s and ’30s, the works of Dornford Yates feature witty crime-fighters zipping around Europe.

Vulture: Siri Hustvedt’s 10 Favorite Books –Siri Hustvedt lists ten titles she would take with her to a desert island.

The Times Literary Supplement: Finding it – “Helen Lederer introduces the Comedy Women in Print Prize”.

Penguin Features: ‘Libraries protected me at my most vulnerable’: Kerry Hudson on why libraries can’t be lost – Kerry Hudson, author of Lowborn, has written an essay for Vintage where she explores the vital role that libraries and books played in her life, and why we must do everything in our power to protect them.

BBC Culture: The 1968 novel that predicted today – “In the first of BBC Culture’s new series on fiction that predicted the future, Hephzibah Anderson looks at the work of John Brunner, whose vision of 2010 was eerily accurate.”

CrimeReads: James M. Cain, The Femme Fatale and the Male Gaze – Sean Carswell on “grappling with the misogynist history of deadly women in noir”.

Deadline: Kristin Scott Thomas Joins Lily James, Armie Hammer In ‘Rebecca’ – A new adaption of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is planned for Netflix.

Independent: Simon Armitage named Britain’s new poet laureate – Jack Shepherd writes on Simon Armitage, the UK’s next poet laureate.

Knowledge Quest: Books That Can Make a Difference – School librarian, Maureen Schlosser, shares a few titles that may inspire learners to make a difference.

It’s Nice That: Jon Gray on designing book covers for Zadie Smith, Sally Rooney and other literary giants – “If you were pushed to pick a selection of the most notable book covers of recent years, there’s a very good chance some of Jon Gray’s designs would be in there”, says Daniel Milroy Maher.

Full Stop: In Praise of Bullshitting – Tom LeClair write in praise of literary bullshitting: from Herman Melville to William Gaddis to Gayl Jones.

The New York Times: Why Are There So Many Books About Dogs? – Vanessa Woods And Brian Hare with an essay for book-reading dog-lovers.

Scientific America: Unread Books at Home Still Spark Literacy Habits – Karen Hopkin discovers that growing-up in a house filled with books makes you more intelligent.

LOCUS: Seanan McGuire Guest Post–“Not a Prison” – Fantasy writer, Seanan McGuire, believes genre is “a tool and a gift, not a prison.”

The Guardian: The other side of Black Mirror: literary utopias offer the seeds of better real life – Sandra Newman has concerns that the “rule of cynics and nihilists has led us to a dangerous place, where everything from healthcare to wind farms is declared intrusive, big-state meddling”.

****************************

FINALLY >>

If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week or if you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter in general, please drop me a line or comment below. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.

NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to the act of concluding something and should not be confused with the British expression: ‘wind-up’ – an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there’s an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.

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Hosted by Literature Wales

I would like to share with you a list of the recently announced Wales Book of the Year 2019 shortlist for English and Welsh-language books.

After spending several months wading through titles published in Wales during 2018, two independent judging panels finally selected nine works for each language in the categories of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction.

Lleucu Siencyn, the chief executive of Literature Wales, was quoted in Cardiff University News as saying: “These exceptional titles encourage readers to explore and consider some of life’s biggest questions. Mental health and identity – both personal and national – flow through these selections. This is contemporary Welsh writing at its very finest.”

The winners will be announced at an Award Ceremony held at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Thursday 20th June.

THE ROLAND MATHIAS POETRY AWARD

Insistence, Ailbhe Darcy (Bloodaxe Books Ltd.)
Salacia, Mari Ellis Dunning (Parthian Books)
Gen, Jonathan Edwards (Seren)

ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY FICTION AWARD

Arrest Me, for I Have Run Away, Stevie Davies (Parthian Books)
West, Carys Davies (Granta Publications)
Sal, Mick Kitson (Canongate Books)

THE CREATIVE NON-FICTION AWARD

Moneyland, Oliver Bullough (Profile Books)
The light in the dark: A winter journal, Horatio Clare (Elliott & Thompson)
Having a go at the Kaiser: A Welsh family at war, Gethin Matthews (University of Wales Press)

The English-language judges for this prestigious award are poet Sandeep Parmar, Louise Holmwood Marshall of Aberystwyth University, and novelist and professor Russell Celyn Jones.

THE WELSH-LANGUAGE POETRY AWARD

GWOBR FARDDONIAETH

Twt Lol, Emyr Lewis (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch)
Cyrraedd a cherddi eraill, Alan Llwyd (Cyhoeddiadau Barddas)
Stafell fy Haul, Manon Rhys (Cyhoeddiadau Barddas)

THE WELSH-LANGUAGE FICTION AWARD

GWOBR FFUGLEN PRIFYSGOL ABERYSTWYTH

Ynys Fadog, Jerry Hunter (Y Lolfa)
Llyfr Glas Nebo, Manon Steffan Ros (Y Lolfa)
Esgyrn, Heiddwen Thomas (Y Lolfa)

THE WELSH-LANGUAGE CREATIVE NON-FICTION AWARD

GWOBR FFEITHIOL- GREADIGOL

Cymru mewn 100 Gwrthrych, Andrew Green (Gwasg Gomer)
Y Gymru ‘Ddu’ a’r Ddalen ‘Wen’: Aralledd ac Amlddiwylliannedd mewn Ffuglen Gymreig, er 1990, Lisa Sheppard (Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru)
Rhyddhau’r Cranc, Malan Wilkinson (Y Lolfa)

The judges for this award in the Welsh-language are poet and former winner, Idris Reynolds, broadcaster and author Dylan Ebenezer and Cathryn Charnell-White of Aberystwyth University.

The awards ceremony for the competition includes a people’s choice winner in both languages.

VOTE HERE!

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By Merlin Holland

“Well, dear boy, this is a surprise, but a very pleasant one, and I’m delighted that you decided on Paris. I don’t think I could have faced going back to London”

Who has not at some point read, overheard or discovered themselves quoting a witty epigram accredited to the Irish dramatist Oscar Wilde? We frequently find ourselves able to “resist everything except temptation” or ironically forgiving our enemies because “nothing annoys them so much”, but how often, I wonder, do we stop to consider the person behind the pithy aphorisms?

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) was a hugely popular playwright and spokesperson for aestheticism in the latter decades of the 19th century. He became successful in numerous spheres, from penning clever essays and writing a Gothic novel (The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890) to lecturing in America and editing a fashionable ladies’ periodical (The Woman’s World). It was, though, with his amusing but subversive comedies of manners that he became a sensation among Victorian theatregoers. At the very height of his celebrity, however, he was convicted for ‘gross indecency with men’ and sentenced to two-years’ hard labour. On his release in 1897, he was broken in body and spirit. He died alone and in penury at the age of 46.

In his excellent Foreword to Conversations with Wilde, Simon Callow describes Oscar’s fame as “never being greater.” Certainly, in the modern world he is widely remembered as a gifted writer, conversationalist and gay martyr – but this was far from true during his lifetime. Indeed, he was treated as a pariah by the British establishment and cast out of ‘decent’ society. As Callow so impeccably asserts: “His savage treatment at the hands of the English law was for many generations a potent image of its vicious absurdity, and its eventual reform is in some senses a posthumous redemption of his suffering.”

Merlin Holland – biographer, editor and sole grandson of Oscar Wilde – has for many years researched his grandfather’s life and works. In this “fictional dialogue based on biographical facts”, Holland deftly traces his distinguished relative from his birth in Dublin to those heady days at Oxford University; through scintillating conversations in London’s finest drawing rooms to his great literary triumphs; leading us inexorably towards Lord Alfred Douglas and Wilde’s final humiliating downfall.

This innovative little book – part of a series that currently includes Conversations with JFK by Michael O’Brien and Conversations with Casanova by Derek Parker – presents a biographical essay followed by a question and answer style interview with Oscar, which is greatly enhanced by Holland’s intimate knowledge of his subject.

Conversations with Wilde is an entertaining read tinged with sadness and not a little bitterness for the cruel ruination of a unique talent at the peak of his creative genius. It also brings to the fore the many and varied reasons why almost 120 years after his death we continue to be enthralled by Oscar Wilde.

Many thanks to Watkins Publishing for providing an advance review copy of this title.

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Book Jotter by Paula Bardell-hedley - 2w ago
An end of week recap

Disaster struck as I was taking a short break in Mid Wales last week. My laptop conked out losing all my most recent work and I could do nothing about it until I returned home several days later. Unfortunately, I was unable to post WUTW last Saturday – for which I apologise. I shall do my utmost to make amends today.

As ever, this is a weekly post in which I summarize books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the night-stand and keep readers abreast of various book-related happenings.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE TBR >>

Look out for my comments on Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel, My Cousin Rachel, which I am reading for both Ali Hope’s Daphne du Maurier Reading Week (13th-19th May) and The Classics Club.

CHATTERBOOKS >>

* New Welsh Writing Awards 2019 *

The two shortlists for this year’s New Welsh Writing Awards have been revealed. >> NEW WELSH WRITING AWARDS 2019: Shortlists Announced >>

* Thirty-Five Years Earlier… *

After successfully hosting last month’s 1965 Club, Karen and Simon have announced that the next occurrence of their popular biannual reading event will be from the 14th to 20th October 2019. Rather excitingly, they’ve “plumped for 1930”, says Simon, as they haven’t previously done the “beginning-of-a-decade […] and there are quite a few big hitters you can turn to if needed.” The briefest of online searches for books originally published in that year produces titles from William Faulkner, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy L. Sayers, Evelyn Waugh and Agatha Christie, to name but a handful. So, start searching the attic for your favourite Art Deco pieces, tune the wireless to the BBC National Programme and put on your high waisted sailor pants: 1930 promises to be a swell reading year.

* The Persephone Readathon Returns *

Jessie B at Dwell in Possibility has revealed that Persephone Readathon #3 will take place from 31st May until 9th June 2019. Readers are invited to indulge in “ten days of reading, reviewing, chatting, and celebrating all things Persephone.” Please check out the official Persephone Readathons page for a complete description of the event or take a look at Jessie’s most recent post: A Persephone Readathon #3 Readalong?, where you can vote for the book you would most like to read from a list of four free eBooks.

* Lit Crit Blogflash *

I’m going to share with you six of my favourite literary posts from around the blogosphere. There are so many talented writers posting high-quality book features and reviews, it’s difficult to limit the list to only these few – all of them published over the last week or two:

Review 1344: Minds of Winter – Ed O’Loughlin “has done a beautiful job of intermingling history and fiction”, writes Kay at Whatmeread. She describes this 2017 novel as “wondrous”.

Novella a Day in May 2019 #4 – On day four of Novella a Day in May Madame Bibi Lophile read J.L. Carr’s poetic novel, A Month in the Country. She found it: “Absolutely deserving of its classic status.”

259 Dead Mountain – Donnie Eichar’s “discoveries are as captivating as the mystery itself”, says Veronica of Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Read her review of “this real-life X-File” at The Thousand Book Project.

Harper Lee’s Abandoned Work: A Crime Spree and a Mysterious Reverend in the Deep South – Over at What’s Nonfiction? Rennie Sweeney found Furious Hours by Casey Cep “a masterful work, weaving together many threads”.

Secret by Philippe Grimbert (France) tr. Polly McLean – Claire McAlpine of Word by Word found this award-winning 2004 historical novel “a compelling, thought-provoking read”.

The “Appalachian States” Reading Challenge – Diana at Thoughts on Papyrus has challenged herself to read books set in the Appalachian States. Her goal is to read books set in “13 American states: West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.”

* Irresistible Items *

Umpteen fascinating articles appeared on my bookdar last week. I generally make a point of tweeting my favourite finds (or adding them to our Facebook group page), but in case you missed anything, here are a handful of interesting snippets:

****************************

The Guardian: Feminist retellings of history dominate 2019 Women’s prize shortlist – “From Pat Barker’s reworking of Greek myth to Anna Burns’s take on the Troubles, the finalists turn familiar stories on their heads”, writes Alison Flood.

Vulture: Will Translated Fiction Ever Really Break Through? – Chad Post wonders if translated fiction will ever truly achieve success in America?

Granta: On Taking Time – Elizabeth Crook shares her thoughts on taking time to write.

Book Marks: In Context: Ali Smith – Lori Feathers found that “reading Ali Smith allows one to hope that these individual transformations, collectively, hold the promise of a better world”.

BBC Culture: The story of handwriting in 12 objects – The British Library has a new exhibition that traces the evolution of writing.

The Washington Post: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s ‘Call Me Zebra’ wins PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction – Stephanie Merry reveals that the “offbeat” novel, Call Me Zebra has won this year’s PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

The Observer: Why Harry Potter and Paddington Bear are essential reading … for grown-ups – Oxford don, Dr Katherine Rundell, “champions children’s books as figures show that sales to adults are soaring”.

The Economist: Obituary: Les Murray died on April 29th – “Australia’s greatest modern poet, a political controversialist, was 80.”

Los Angeles Review of Books: The Fantasy Editor – Tim Groenland on the history and shifting role of the literary editor.

The Paris Review: The Siege of Clarice Lispector – “How was it that an author who had revolutionized Portuguese writing [and] whose debut novel was praised as ‘the greatest novel a woman has ever written in the Portuguese language’ suddenly couldn’t get her name in print?” asks Mike Broida.

Quill & Quire: CanLit mourns as Wayson Choy, Teva Harrison pass away – Two much-loved Canadian literary figures passed away during the night on Saturday 27th April.

Read it Forward: Enchanting Books for Fans of Fairy Tales – “Fairy tales remind us just how powerful a captivating story can be”, writes Dianca London Potts.

Slate: Contemporary Clothing – Claire Jarvis asks the question: “Is Sally Rooney a millennial novelist or a 19th-century one?”

The Strand: Psychology as a Forensic Science: From Auguste Dupin to Sherlock Holmes – From “the earliest detective fiction, authors have used mysteries to explore human behaviour”.

Independent: It’s the 21st century, yet Spanish books are still suffering from censorship – “Two generations have passed since the death of dictator General Franco – yet his legacy is felt to this day. Jordi Cornellà-Detrell explains how doctored literature from his reign has a chilling effect on free speech”.

The Bookseller: Penguin rushes out Extinction Rebellion book after protests – Mark Chandler reveals that “Penguin Books is rushing out an anthology by environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion who brought parts of London to a standstill [last] month.”

Book Riot: Happy Birthday, Sir Terry Pratchett – Priya Sridhar remembered the late Terry Pratchett on what would have been his birthday.

Crime Reads: T. S. Eliot, Crime Fiction Critic – “Thoughts on crime writing from the man who rescued Willkie Collins from obscurity”.

BBC News Northern Ireland: Aimée Johnston, ‘Barefoot Bookseller’ in The Maldives – “Aimée Johnston believes she has one of the world’s best jobs”, says Eimear McGovern.

The Irish Times: Sherlock Holmes facts you should know – Daniel Smith is surprised to learn that “Holmes and Dr Watson were once going to be called Sherrinford Hope and Ormond Sacker”.

Culture Trip: Robinson Crusoe, and Other Tales From Literature’s Desert Islands – Grace Beard “takes a voyage through Western literature’s most iconic desert island stories.”

The Penguin Newsletter: The stories behind the notebooks that documented Rob MacFarlane’s travels underground – “As Robert Macfarlane prepared to write Underland, he recorded everything in a series of notebooks.”

The Times Literary Supplement: Death of the critic? – “Michael LaPointe on complaints about criticism”.

Washingtonian: Is Shakespeare’s DNA Hiding in the Folger Library’s Vault? “Project Dustbunny” Aims to Find Out – “That extremely unlikely outcome is just one aspect of an intriguing scientific effort”, writes Rob Brunner.

Creative Review: How I Work: Vintage Creative Director Suzanne Dean – Vintage’s Creative Director talks about her creative process when designing some of the most iconic book covers.

The Local Fr: Paris’ riverside booksellers battle for survival as Unesco race heats up – Evie Burrows-Taylor on the ‘bouquinistes’ of Paris and their fight for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Bookish: Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Through Literature – “May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month”. Kelly Gallucci and Elizabeth Rowe highlight some of their favourite books by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Book Riot: What It’s Like to Use the Hogwarts Library – Alice Nuttall investigates the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Publishers Weekly: Eight Essential Books Set in Isolated Locations – Julia Phillips believes “every tale ever told depends in some way on isolation”.

The Atlantic: Was Shakespeare a Woman? – The investigation into Shakespeare’s identity continues.

The Conversation: Spoilers: making people angry since Victorian times – It would seem that ‘spoiler culture’ and ‘spoiler-phobia’ have been issues since the 19th century.

News.com.au: News Corp Australia journalist Trent Dalton wins big at Australian Book Industry Awards – “News Corp Australia journalist Trent Dalton has swept the Australian Book Industry Awards in Sydney winning four gongs for his acclaimed debut novel, Boy Swallows Universe.”

Gulf News: Speed-reading with Blinklist isn’t reading at all – “A book is something we ought to live with”, writes David L. Ulin. “Reading app Blinklist doesn’t quite get this”.

BuzzFeed: 18 Bookcases That Make Us Feel All Warm And Fuzzy Inside – “Any book lover knows that their bookcase is their most prized possession”, says Ciera Velarde. “Many of us spend hours organizing it to make it absolutely perfect.”

****************************

FINALLY >>

If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week or if you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter in general, please drop me a line or comment below. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.

NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to the act of concluding something and should not be confused with the British expression: ‘wind-up’ – an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there’s an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.

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The Fifth Year of the Prize

Photo of Conwy Castle by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

The shortlists of the New Welsh Writing Awards 2019 were revealed last night to an enthusiastic audience at the Bookshop in the Aberystwyth Arts Centre. This year entries were accepted in two categories: the Aberystwyth University Prize for a Dystopian Novella (in association with Aberystwyth University) and the Rheidol Prize for Writing with a Welsh Theme or Setting.

The competition was created in 2015 to advocate the best short-form writing in the English language. Three women writers from Wales appear on this year’s shortlist: Rosey Brown, JL George and Rhiannon Lewis – all of them presenting dystopian novellas.

The shortlisted and highly commended writers are listed below in alphabetical order by the author’s last name:

ABERYSTWYTH UNIVERSITY PRIZE FOR A DYSTOPIAN NOVELLA

SHORTLIST

Rosey Brown (Cardiff, Wales) – Adrift
JL George (Pontypool, Wales) – The Word
Rhiannon Lewis (Abergavenny, Wales) – The Significance of Swans

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Dewi Heald (Llantwit Major, Wales) – Me, I’m Like Legend, I Am
Thomas Pitts (Newbury, England) – The Chosen
Heledd Williams (China) – Water, Water, Nowhere…

RHEIDOL PRIZE FOR WRITING WITH A WELSH THEME OR SETTING

SHORTLIST

Peter Goulding (Thetford, England) – On Slate (Non-fiction)
Richard John Parfitt (Penarth, Wales) – Tales from the Riverbank (Non-fiction)
Sarah Tanburn (Penarth, Wales) – Hawks of Dust and Wine (Fiction)

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Marilyn Barlow (New Quay, Wales) – The Smallholding I Knew (Non-fiction)
Mark Blayney (Cardiff, Wales) – The Devil Next Door (Fiction)
Elizabeth Griffiths (Lincolnshire, England) – Closing the Gap (Non-fiction)

The Awards were judged by New Welsh Review editor Gwen Davies (with assistance from students at Aberystwyth University’s Department of English and Creative Writing) – she was joined by co-judge Cynan Jones for the Rheidol Prize. The winners in each category will be announced on Friday 24th May at the Summer House in the Hay Festival.

The Awards are open to all writers based in the UK and Ireland plus those who live overseas who have been educated in Wales.

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Book Jotter by Paula Bardell-hedley - 1M ago
An end of week recap

This is a weekly post in which I summarize books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the night-stand and keep readers abreast of various book-related happenings.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE TBR >>

I shared my thoughts on The Millstone by Margaret Drabble for the 1965 Club. >> 1965 CLUB: The Millstone by Margaret Drabble >>

Look out for my comments on Mary Poppins by the Australian novelist P.L. Travers, which I’m currently reading for The Classics Club.

CHATTERBOOKS >>

* Lit Crit Blogflash *

I’m going to share with you six of my favourite literary posts from around the blogosphere. There are so many talented writers posting high-quality book features and reviews, it’s difficult to limit the list to only these few – all of them published over the last week or two:

I shall have snow on my glassy fingers – Juliana Brina of The [Blank] Garden was struck by the often “poetic and violent images” of Emily Holmes Coleman’s novel, The Shutter of Snow, a study of being a patient in a 19th century mental institution. “Our protagonist”, she says, “seems to be perpetually crossing a thick layer of fog”, and the reader has the sensation of being “trapped in the present continuous of a mind run wild.”

The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden – the reality of loss and survival in war and peace – “This novel of Australia” is “a powerful comment on the First World War”, says Joules Barham of Northern Reader. Ultimately, she found that it “flowed and achieved much”.

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting – “Wood is central” to this Norwegian novel says Karen at BookerTalk. She found it “cleverly plotted with plenty of surprises” and a “keen observation of the natural landscape”.

After Julius by Elizabeth Jane Howard – Jacqui of JacquiWine’s Journal read this “very carefully constructed novel” for the 1965 Club. She thought it “perceptive” and “beautifully observed”.

Thérèse Raquin, Émile Zola (1867), #ZolAddiction2019 – Over at Relevant Obscurity, Laurie Welch chose one of Zola’s most famous realistic novels for Zoladdiction 2019. She “responded to his simplicity of describing the complicated descent into insanity” and found “the murder mystery really worked for [her].”

Book review: “Educated” by Tara Westover – Julia Rice “found this [memoir] both a shocking and a moving read”. Head over to Julia’s books to discover why it “caused something of a sensation when it was published last year.”

* Irresistible Items *

Umpteen fascinating articles appeared on my bookdar last week. I generally make a point of tweeting my favourite finds (or adding them to our Facebook group page), but in case you missed anything, here are a handful of interesting snippets:

****************************

Literary Hub: Writing Fiction About Fact: Using Historical Figures As Characters – Steven Rowley on Michael Cunningham, George Saunders and other ‘literary grave-robbers’.

The Guardian: ‘It drives writers mad’: why are authors still sniffy about sci-fi? – Sarah Ditum looks at the reasons behind science fiction’s lack of respectability in the literary world.

Independent: Brexit in fiction: How literature latches on to the theme of political divisions – Erica Wickerson thinks we should look to literature for answers to the “bloody mess” of Brexit.

Public Books: Translators and Other Icons – “Writers are sexy figures”, observes Lily Meyer. She wonders why they get all the attention while translators seem to be invisible?

Aeon: The birth of the book: on Christians, Romans and the codex – Classical scholar, Benjamin Harnett on the history of the codex – the Roman name for a book.

New Statesman America: Tolkien’s first words –John Mullan find that “JRR Tolkien’s fictions grew out of a gift for language and a passion for male friendship, tempered by the horrors of the Western Front.”

Bitch Media: First of Many: Jamia Wilson, Lisa Lucas, and Kima Jones on the Future of What We Read – Lisa Factora-Borchers finds these “pioneers are transforming the future of literary culture for readers and writers of color.”

CBC: Looking back at the extraordinary Simone de Beauvoir on the 70th anniversary of The Second Sex – “To mark the 70th anniversary of the publication of The Second Sex, Writers & Company revisits a conversation from 2008 with three Beauvoir enthusiasts.”

The Conversation: Shakespeare: research blows away stereotypes and reveals teenagers actually love the Bard – Cathy Baldwin’s research disproves the myth that inner-city teenagers prefer video games to Shakespeare.

Los Angeles Times: English translations of Armenian memoirs share diaspora stories with a new generation – Liz Ohanesian focuses on English translations of Armenian memoirs.

RCC: Canadian Independent Bookstore Day – Today, twenty stores across Canada will join in the celebration of Independent Bookstore Day.

The Bookseller: Faber pays tribute to ‘gifted’ author and journalist Lyra McKee – “Tributes have been paid to 29-year-old “gifted” Lyra McKee, a journalist and debut Faber author, who was shot on [18th April] while observing rioting in Londonderry’s Creggan estate”, reports Heloise Wood.

Slate: The Straight Story – Laura Miller reveals that Slate has reviewed the Mueller Report as a work of literature!

Book Marks: The Essential Ian McEwan – “A reading list for the most adapted man in literary fiction”.

The Irish Times: Desert island risks: Robinson Crusoe at 300 – “Daniel Defoe’s 300-year-old novel has enjoyed an immense literary legacy”, says Brian Maye.

CNET: For World Book Day 2019, a new take on an old way to celebrate literature and love – Discover why Patricia Puentes believes 23rd April is “the perfect day to give the gift of literature and roses.”

The Atlantic: People Underestimate How Fun It Is to Do the Same Thing Twice – Joe Pinsker writes in favour of rereading.

npr: Christopher Columbus’ Son Had An Enormous Library. Its Catalog Was Just Found – “The Libro de los Epítomes, a guidebook to the 16th century library of Hernando Colón, recently turned up in a manuscript archive in Denmark”, says Ari Shapiro.

Literary Hub: What Do We Really Mean By ‘Women’s Fiction’? – Rachel Howard recommends six essays on the gendering of books.

The Baffler: Successful People Listen to Audiobooks – Nora Caplan-Bricker reflects on the evolution of audiobooks.

BuzzFeed: 17 Books That Will Change The Way You Think About The World – “From Naomi Klein to Barbara Kingsolver, these authors explain the consequences of our warming planet — and imagine its future”, writes Arianna Rebolini.

The Calvert Journal: In conservative Poland, gay literary couple ‘Maryla Szymiczkowa’ are cutting a defiant path – Jacek Dehnel and Piotr Tarczynski (aka ‘Maryla Szymiczkowa’) discuss “the mechanics of joint authorship, LGBTQ rights in Poland, and their new 19th-century murder mystery series whose heroine is a social climbing housewife.”

Electric Literature: 7 Unlikeliest Friendships in Literature – “Ayşegül Savaş, author of Walking on the Ceiling, recommends fiction about eccentric pairings”.

CrimeReads: Locked-Room Mysteries: A Beginner’s Guide – Gigi Pandian talks impossible crimes, closed circles and fiendish whodunnits.

Longreads: The Women Characters Rarely End Up Free: Remembering Rachel Ingalls – “The recently re-appreciated novelist Rachel Ingalls passed away last month”, writes Ruby Brunton. “She was among a cohort of twentieth-century women writers who were ‘famous for not being famous.’”

Melville House: Bucharest opens Arcul de Triumf to visitors for World Book Night – “Thousands of residents in Bucharest were given the opportunity to look inside the city’s Arcul de Triumf for the country’s Open Books Night.

The Guardian: The Clockwork Condition: lost sequel to A Clockwork Orange discovered – An unfinished manuscript has been found among Anthony Burgess’s papers, which was described by the author as “a major philosophical statement on the contemporary human condition”.

Spine: The Australian Book Design Awards Shortlist – The Shortlist for the 67th Australian Book Design Awards has been announced – the winner will be revealed on 31st May at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney.

Read it Forward: 13 Reasons Why Book Clubs Are Saving the World – Jessica Mizzi believes that “we need these communities of book-lovers now more than ever before.”

****************************

FINALLY >>

If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week or if you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter in general, please drop me a line or comment below. I would be delighted to hear from you.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.

NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to the act of concluding something and should not be confused with the British expression: ‘wind-up’ – an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there’s an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.

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Reading books from 1965

Collaborative Book-Blogging

1965 was a frenetic twelve months. It saw the state funeral of Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan ‘go electric’, the assassination of Malcolm X, the film premier of The Sound of Music, the rise of Beatlemania and an escalation of US involvement in the Vietnam War. It was also the year in which I was born (as was J.K. Rowling).

This was an exceptionally fruitful period for book lovers, too, who were treated to the publication of Frank Herbert’s Sci-Fi classic, Dune (which also won that year’s Nebula Award), Margaret Forster’s Georgy Girl and Sylvia Plath’s Ariel – not to mention new novels by Iris Murdoch, Norman Mailer, John le Carré, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, Agatha Christie, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Muriel Spark and oh so many others.

We celebrate this literary rich spell with the 1965 Club, the latest chapter in a popular biannual reading event hosted by two leading lights of the book blogging community, Karen Langley of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book.

Here I share my thoughts on The Millstone by English novelist, biographer and critic, Margaret Drabble – winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1966.

The Book

“My career has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice: almost, one might say, made by it.”

Rosamund Stacey is an unmarried, academically brilliant young woman living rent-free in her parent’s spacious London apartment while they are away in Africa. She has come of age on the cusp of the sexual revolution when the capital is about to morph into ‘Swinging London’ and sex is almost de rigueur for a modern city girl of her class and generation. Nevertheless, in that typically hypocritical British way, illegitimacy continues to be taboo.

She feels in many ways out of step with her fashionable and literary friends because she is (secretly) still a virgin. While she thoroughly enjoys socialising, drinking and ‘going-out’ with young men, she is in some ways determinedly asexual, content to allow each of her two ‘boyfriends’ to think she’s sleeping with the other. One must, of course, remember, it is 1965 and the contraceptive pill is available only to married women – a situation that continues until 1967 (the same year in which abortion is legalized) – so accidental pregnancies are an ever-present risk. Rosamund’s refusal to yield to sex is then understandable and probably not as unusual as she thinks.

After a single sexual encounter with George, a shy, gentle, possibly gay announcer for the BBC, Rosamund falls pregnant. They are, however, both diffident and deeply unsure characters – indeed, people in general aren’t as emotionally articulate as they are nowadays. She has been raised never to inconvenience others and never to make a fuss. She therefore does not inform George of his paternity but chooses to stay away from him throughout her pregnancy. Where she differs most drastically from other middle-class, well brought-up young Englishwomen of her era is in making a conscious decision to keep the baby. She elects to combine single parenthood with having an academic career.

Drabble has always maintained this book is about motherhood and isn’t political, but The Millstone has nevertheless come to be regarded as a seminal 1960s feminist novel. During the writing of the narrative she was expecting her third child and large chunks of the story are based on her own experience of learning to navigate the system (GPs surgeries, clinics, NHS maternity wards etc.). I was particularly fascinated by the chapters relating to pregnancy and birth in Britain during this period having often heard my own mother discuss the subject from a personal perspective.

Unlike so many of the unmarried mothers she meets, Rosamund has financial padding: she’s not rich but she certainly isn’t impoverished. She sees poorer women having a far worse time than herself and she comes to understand that she has been born into a privileged world. She does, though, feel rather shocked when the letter U (for Unmarried) is placed at the foot of her hospital bed.

She names her daughter Octavia and finds in her an unconditional love, the like of which she has never known. So, when her baby requires life-saving heart surgery and Rosamund is barred from the hospital by an officious matron who informs her it will be a fortnight before she will be permitted to visit her child, she turns from a dumbly obedient young lady into a screaming, howling madwoman. Here I will leave the plot in order not to spoil the story for those planning to read the book.

Written in the first-person, this poignant, minimalistic tale is about class positioning, accepted codes of behaviour and being a single woman bringing up a child in a still highly priggish England. Unlike the Kitchen Sink Dramas of this period, often written by and about ‘angry young men’, Drabble’s novel is social realism from a woman’s viewpoint. Though it could be described as a bleak tale of missed opportunities, it is also a funny, astute, extraordinarily beautiful, if understated, paean to motherhood.

The Millstone is a peculiarly British novel of its time that continues to captivate readers of all generations, and I was unsurprised to learn that it has never been out of print since it was first published 54 years ago.

In addition to the 1965 Club, this is my ninth choice for The Classics Club.

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