Mumsnet book club
November 2009 Book of the Month shortlist: Retro classics
This month, please welcome the Bloomsbury Group. Not the love-triangled, eccentric gang of arty pacifists but a wonderful new series of once-lost but now-rediscovered novels from the early 20th century.
Get ready to immerse yourself in a lost world of thwarted romance, madcap fancy and characters called Hyacinth and Hester. Which one would you like to see crowned as the Mumsnet Forgotten Classic?
Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys
Spirited Henrietta wishes she was the kind of doctor's wife who knew exactly how to deal with the daily upheavals of war. But then everyone in her close-knit Devonshire village seems to find different ways to cope - from the indomitable Lady B, who writes to Hitler every night to tell him precisely what she thinks of him to the terrifyingly efficient Mrs Savernack, who sits on umpteen committees and bosses everyone around. And then there's Charles, Henrietta's hard-working husband, who manages to sleep through a bomb landing in their neighbour's garden. In letters to her 'dear childhood friend' Robert, Henrietta chronicles the dramas, squabbles and loyal friendships of a life turned upside down under the shadow of war. Warm, witty and perfectly observed.
Critics say: "Reads like a 1940s Adrian Mole, mocking war's little absurdities." The Times
The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson
The Carne sisters share an insatiable appetite for the fantastic. Eldest sister Deirdre is a journalist, Katrine a fledgling actress and young Sheil is still with her governess. Together, in their pre-war London house, they live a life unchecked by their mother, continuing to make up stories as they have done since childhood - about their nursery toys, Ironface the Doll and Dion Saffyn the Pierrot, and about their fulsomely-imagined friendship with 'Toddy', the real-life high-court Judge Toddington. But, when Deirdre meets Toddy's real-life wife at a charity bazaar, the sisters are forced to confront the subject of their imaginings. And when fancy and reality collide, who can tell whether Ironface can really talk, whether Judge Toddington truly wears lavender silk pyjamas or whether the Brontes did indeed go to Woolworths?
Critics say: "The Brontes Went to Woolworths is about the imagination. It is marvellously successful." AS Byatt
Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
On the spur of a moment, Norman Huntley and his friend Henry invent an 83-year-old woman called Miss Hargreaves and post a letter to their new fictional friend. It is only meant to be a silly, harmless game – until Miss Hargreaves arrives on their doorstep, complete with her cockatoo, harp and bath. She is, to Norman's utter disbelief, exactly as he'd imagined her: enchanting, eccentric and endlessly astounding. He hadn't imagined, however, how much havoc an imaginary octogenarian could wreak in his sleepy Buckinghamshire home town. How will he explain to his friends, family and girlfriend where Miss Hargreaves came from when he hasn't the faintest clue himself? Will his once-ordinary, once-peaceful life ever be the same again? And does he even want it to be?
Critics say: "One of the most amusing and moving stories I've come across for a long time." Tatler
Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson
Edith and Bruce Ottley live in a very new, very small, very white flat in Knightsbridge. They are like every other respectable couple in Edwardian London and that is precisely why Edith is beginning to feel a little bored. Excitement comes in the form of the dazzling and glamorous Hyacinth Verney, who doesn't understand why Edith is married to one of the greatest bores in society. But then, Hyacinth doesn't really understand any of the courtships, jealousies and love affairs of their coterie: why the dashing Cecil Reeve insists on being so elusive; why her loyal friend Anne is so stubbornly content with being a spinster, and why she just can't seem to take her mind off love. A wry, sparklingly observed comedy of manners, Love's Shadow brims with the sharp humour that so endeared Ada Leverson to Oscar Wilde, who called her the wittiest woman in the world.
Critics say: "Saki meets Jane Austen in the delectable Edwardian comedies of Ada Leverson." Barry Humphries
A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz
Joe, six, knows a unicorn when he sees one. His downstairs neighbour, the tailor Mr Kandinsky has told him all about them. So when Joe sees a little white goat amid the singing birds and salted herrings of a Whitechapel market, he has to have him. He knows it's just a matter of time before the tiny bump on the unicorn's head becomes the magic horn that'll grant his every wish. And, in the embattled working-class community of 1950s East End London, there are plenty of people in need of good fortune: Mr Kandinsky wants a steam press; his assistant Shmule needs a ring for his girl, and all Joe and his mother wish for is to join his father in Africa. Maybe, just maybe, Joe's unicorn can sprinkle enough luck on all his friends for their humble dreams to come true.
Critics say: "A small miracle. Wolf Mankowitz, you are not a star. You are a planet." Daily Express
Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson
Vivacious Hester Christie tries to run her home like clockwork, as would befit the wife of British Army officer Tim Christie. But it's a struggle to remember groceries, rule lively children, side-step village gossip and placate her husband with bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade. Left alone for months at a time whilst her husband is with his regiment, Mrs Tim resolves to keep a diary and, once pen is set to paper, no affairs of the head or heart are overlooked. A move to a new regiment in Scotland hurls Mrs Tim into a new set of challenges, including disentangling a dear friend from an unsuitable match. And then, against the wild landscape of surging rivers, sheer rocks and rolling mists, into Mrs Tim's life strides the dashing Major Morley. Hester will soon find that life holds unexpected crossroads.
Critics say: "Miss Stevenson has spiced this tale of British army life with an effortless wit." New York Times
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