Archive for December, 2019

Table Two by Marjorie Wilenski ~ 1942. This edition: Dean Street Press, 2019. (Furrowed Middlebrow – FM35). Softcover. 224 pages.

Those of us with a penchant for reading middlebrow fiction of the second to sixth decades of the 20th Century have been quietly delighted by the recent collaboration (since 2016) between Dean Street Press and book blogger extraordinaire Scott of the deliciously, dangerously eclectic Furrowed Middlebrow.

A steadily growing list of unfairly forgotten out-of-print “women’s literature” has been assembled from hither and yon, dusted off, ┬áre-read and assessed for republication. I’ve been acquiring quite a few of these, and have found every single one of them to be interesting in some form or another, though occasionally I strike one which is not completely enthralling.

Such as this one.

Table Two starts out with considerable promise, as we are introduced to a range of characters working in a (fictional) branch of the Ministry of Foreign Intelligence in the early years of World War II.

Elsie Pearne is chief among the group of female translators transcribing various documents from a wide variety of foreign languages into English. Elsie is perhaps the most intelligent and efficient of the eclectic group working away at Table Two in the Ministry Office. (We never get to know the ladies of Table One, as they exist merely to provide a vaguely antagonistic counterpoint to the Table Two-ers.)

Elsie is clever enough, but she’s also bitter and prickly, having been wronged in childhood by bullying peers and in adolescence by her family – she was made to give up a scholarship position and go out to work at the age of thirteen – and she has an extraordinarily tenacious chip on her shoulder as a result of the setbacks she has undoubtedly experienced.

Elsie’s practical talents and drive to succeed are considerable, but her equally strong tone deafness to the nuances of common social relationships means that she will never quite figure out why no one appreciates her true worth. When a junior translator joins the group, Elsie is determined to strike a blow at her co-workers (she knows full well how unpopular she is) and annex pretty, popular young Anne as her very own belle amie, triggering a cascading series of hurt feelings and convoluted misunderstandings which coincide with the onset of the London Blitz.

Unfortunately, the darkly humorous character portraits of Elsie, Anne and the rest of the Table Two staffers aren’t quite enough to carry the weaknesses of the office-drama plot, and the second half of the novel fades in interest as the author gradually loses control of her story.

Drawn from the writer’s personal experiences as detailed in the interesting Introduction by Elizabeth Crawford, Table Two is readable enough, but ultimately more for period colour than for polished literary quality.

This was Marjorie Wilenski’s one and only novel. It certainly shows initial strength of narrative and character development; it is regrettable that the author appears not to have had the opportunity to further develop her technique.

Recommended for readers looking to round out their World War II “first-hand fiction” collections, with the stated reservations.

My rating: 6.5/10

Read Full Post »

Looking forward to 2020!

Seasonal greetings to those bookish friends who, despite my long blogging hiatus, still appear to be checking in to this sadly inactive site. (WordPress kindly updates me with viewing statistics, and people are always stopping by for a browse. Lovely to see, and I thank you all and hope you are finding things of interest.)

Well, another year has rolled on past, and with astonishing speed. It’s all a bit of a blur. We are all well and happy here. Ridiculously busy, all self inflicted, but it beats being bored, so no complaints.

I am hoping to be back on deck with some book posts this coming year, as I truly miss my interactions with all of you. I do receive a number of other people’s posts via email, so am not completely out of the loop, though my involvement has been very lurker-ish versus participatory. But one has high hopes for the near future…

Here comes 2020 – already! – and of course we are all making jokes about forward vision and the like. I personally am all set to roll forward, and my own vision is experiencing something of a renewal, as I recently splurged on a pair of prescription reading glasses, and have found them to be absolutely wonderful. What took me so long to do this???! Silly, silly me.

I am desperately short-sighted and have worn glasses from an early age, and for most of my life have managed to function quite nicely, but as my sixth decade trundles on I’ve found it harder and harder to read fine print on yellowing pages, which of course applies to a whole lot of my target literature. Well, with these new glasses, the words are jumping off the pages once again, opening up all sorts of possibilities in the way of reading material I had reluctantly been setting aside as “too hard to read” in a purely practical sense.

The only problem is that I now have TWO sets of specs to keep track of, but since my everyday glasses are more than adequate for everything else I do, I’ve been able to develop a new habit of keeping the readers with the current book. So far, so good. I find I am reading much more comfortably, no more squinting or stretching my arms way out to try to find the perfect distance for deciphering print. It has, in fact, been life changing, in a very good way. I highly recommend this! If you have been mulling over a similar decision, I would say “Do it!” Worth every penny.

I will close with warm wishes to you all for an optimistic turn-of-the-decade. Here’s hoping for good things to come, and a continued companionship of shared interests. Happy New Year to come!

Read Full Post »