Posts Tagged ‘1959 Novel’

The Crab-Apple Tree by Richard Church ~ 1959. This edition: Heinemann, 1959. Hardcover. 238 pages.

Throbbing with symbolism, as might be expected from a novel written by a poet.

The crab-apple tree of the title represents the life passages of an elderly ex-seaman who has returned to his old home in the fertile farmland of Kent. He has known and loved the tree in childhood, and returns to see it blossom and fruit one more time.

At this point stood a large crab-apple tree in full bloom. It had a bridal look under the bright sunlight. A hum of bee-music filled it, and the marauders in their thousands kept the blossom trembling, shaking out the rosy perfume as if it were bell-music.

“So there you be!” exclaimed the old man, eyeing the tree fondly. He was so enamoured that he did not notice the general decay around it: the tumbled fence the tangled mass of last year’s skeleton grasses and umbels knee-high up to the rotting boards of the house; the blind windows stuffed with sacking; the nailed-up central door with the brick steps crumbled into a heap; the loose slates accumulated in and over the guttering.

Yes, Jim Bright has returned from sea at long last, but he hadn’t expected to find his old family cottage empty and neglected. His aged mother had died, and he knew that, but where was his younger brother Tom? And why are all of his old neighbours so unwelcoming?

This novel is not a static portrait of a village Eden as one might expect – oh, no! – but instead a moving picture crammed full of all of the human emotions – incidents of love and kindness are challenged by jealousy and core-deep hatreds; lust walks the country lanes. Lust for power, for land, for money, for plain old sex – and the most lustful of all of the residents watching Jim with deep suspicion is prosperous farmer Jim Bellaby, who has a long-standing grudge against the Bright family, and a strong urge to indulge his taste for grinding people down who dare to stand up against his brutal personality.

Enter Maggie Jones, a young Welsh widow, baby at breast, sent to seek refuge with Jim by an old friend, and then the return of brother Tom, a man with many troubles, not least of which is a warped and damaged mind.

Jim Bellamy sees Maggie and his desire to take her over for himself surges hot within him, and all through the coming summer he relentlessly courts her, while she is torn between her anguished love for her dead husband, her devotion to her young son, her growing love for the two elderly men whom she is now keeping house for, and her own physical desires which increasingly refuse to be ignored.

Yes, things are getting complicated; not much simple life in this part of the country!

Tragedy and violence inevitably strike, but are tempered by the responses of a few good people, and the strangely unexpected transformation of an angry man who seems set to find some sort of personal redemption through love.

While the author of The Crab-Apple Tree seems to have been held in esteem by his peers as an accomplished poet, his fictions are slightly less well-known; I could find only a few cursory reviews online, and none for this particular novel, which rather surprises me. It’s absolutely lyrical in places, beautifully written as a whole, and quite up to standard compared with other similar novels of its era. Perhaps its moods are a bit too troubled for happy reading? It’s not really a “literary” book, not quite a “popular” type novel, either, so maybe it falls unnoticed between those two camps.

I quite liked this novel, though it left me feeling rather melancholy. Not exactly a hidden gem, but a rewarding sort of discovery nonetheless.

I’d absolutely read another novel by Richard Church if it came into my hands. I’m now downright curious about his poetry, and his highly regarded three-volume autobiography. A name to add to my “look out for” list, though I don’t think I’ll expend a lot of effort deliberately tracking him down.

My rating: 6.5/10.

Are any of you familiar with this writer and his works?


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mrs harris goes to new york paul gallico 4 001Mrs Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico ~ 1959. Alternate title: Mrs ‘Arris Goes to New York. This edition: Penguin, 1984. Paperback. ISBN: 0-14-001943-X. 168 pages.

My rating: 6/10

Cute story, but much too much “tell” versus “show”. And I suspect that unless you’ve already read the first Mrs Harris saga, you’ll be rather at sea as to why we’re supposed to be so fully on her side. In other words, it screams “SEQUEL!”

In the second installment of what would eventually be a four book series, sixty-one year old London charlady Mrs Ada Harris undertakes another major journey, and another major quest. (Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, her first journey and quest, to Paris for the purchase of an exquisite Dior party dress, is one of author Paul Gallico’s best-loved light novels.)

This time around it is the United States of America looming as the golden goal; the quest is to return an abandoned and neglected young boy to his ex-American soldier father. Luckily, coincidences again merge to bring the almost magical Mrs Harris’s plans to glorious fruition, though not without some glorious glitches here and there.

Eight-year-old Henry Brown has been fostered out by his feckless mother after her first wartime marriage to Henry’s father ended in divorce, and because her prospective second husband refused to have another man’s child under his roof. For a while all went well, with regular child support payments coming through, but eventually the monthly cheque ceased coming, and no one could trace the boy’s mother. She had obviously moved without leaving a forwarding address. It was then that Mrs Harris and her good friend Mrs Butterfield began to hear disturbing sounds coming from the flat sandwiched between their two independent domiciles. Young Henry was being regularly beaten and abused; he appeared increasingly pinched and obviously hungry; his uncomplaining endurance and sweet, unsoured nature under the burden of his sad fate endeared him to the two grandmotherly ladies, and they often mulled over just what could be done.

Then one day Mrs Harris had a brainwave. What about Henry’s American father?! If there was some way to notify him about his child’s plight, surely he would effect an immediate rescue? One small problem existed: no one knew exactly where Henry’s father now was. The child is, effectively, an orphan.

And then marvelous fate steps in. One day, at an employer’s flat, Mrs Harris stumbles upon what she considers a message from the heavens.

Left to herself, Mrs Harris then indulged in one of her favourite pastimes, which was the reading of old newspapers. One of her greatest pleasures when she went to the fishmonger’s was to read two-year-old pages of the Mirror lying on the counter and used for wrapping.

Now she picked up a page of a newspaper called The Milwaukee Sentinel, eyed the headline ‘Dominie Seduced Schoolgirl in Hayloft’, enjoyed the story connected therewith, and thereafter leafed through the other pages of the same instrument until she came to one labelled ‘Society Page’, on which she found many photographs of young brides, young grooms-to-be, and young married couples.

Always interested in weddings, Mrs Harris gave these announcements more undivided attention, until she cam upon one which caused her little eyes almost to pop out of her head, and led her to emit a shriek, ‘Ruddy gor’blimey – it’s ‘im! It’s happened! I felt it in me bones that something would.’

There among the wedding announcements is one for a Mr George Brown, described as an ex-soldier who had been stationed in England, and referring to the fact that this was Mr Brown’s second attempt at nuptials. What a brilliant flash of serendipitous luck this was! This must be young Henry’s father, for isn’t the groom’s father’s name also Henry Brown? And wouldn’t the little British-American baby have obviously been named after his paternal grandfather?

The wheels of Mrs Harris’s single-minded focus are suddenly set turning. If only there was a way to deliver young Henry to his father, then surely paternal love would instantly overwhelm the man, and he would cleave unto his dear son and rescue him from his current awful situation. And there is a possibility of actually bringing this about, for Mrs Harris is herself shortly to depart for a trip to America!

You see, another of her clients is the wife of a movies-and-television company director, and, upon a sudden promotion, the couple are to return to the States to allow Mr Schreiber to take on his new duties. Mrs Schrieber, a sweetly dithery, rather ineffectual, and continuously gently worried lady, is thrown into a state of absolute panic at the thought of having to establish a new household in New York, one which will require her to manage a number of domestic helpers, and to continually entertain her husband’s entertainment industry movers and shakers, and more than a few movie and music stars. What will she do? Could, would, will Mrs Harris come along, just for a few months, to help establish the Schrieber’s new ménage? Mrs Harris takes a deep breath and hesitatingly agrees, after arranging that her good friend Mrs Butterworth accompany the party; Mrs Butterworth being a skilled cook, and a definite asset to Mrs Schrieber during the “finding her legs” New York debut.

Now what if there was some way to smuggle young Henry aboard the bustling ocean liner Ville de Paris, ferry him across the sea, and reunite him with his father? Once they’re all in New York, surely a quick trip to Milwaukee will be easy to arrange…

If this seems to good to be true, of course it is. But the unlikely escapade starts off exceedingly well. Henry, a bright young lad, plays along most willingly, and his two sponsors get him on board and manage to keep his presence under wraps until mid-Atlantic, when it becomes apparent that getting the child off the boat at Ellis Island may prove something more of a challenge, what with stringent American customs and immigration officials examining every set of incoming papers with fine tooth combs and such. As for papers, young Henry possesses none. Gulp!

Ah, but again, kind fate steps in. Sharing the journey is a certain French diplomat whom Mrs Harris came to know well during her Paris stay. He and Mrs Harris have renewed their mutually affectionate acquaintance while on the journey, incidentally giving Mrs Schrieber something of a shock when she finds her Tourist Class charlady ensconced at the chief table at the First Class Captain’s Dinner Party. Gallantly stepping up when appealed to, the Ambassador temporarily adopts Henry as his grandson, and the latest disaster is averted. However, getting the child back from Washington, DC, where he has accompanied his “grandfather”, proves to be a bit more complicated…

And on and on it goes. Mrs Harris forges ahead, comes upon calamity, regroups (usually with the assistance od some random person completely won over by her twinkling eyes and sterling nature, etcetera) and trots along until the next hurdle pops up. Her creator treats us to occasional moments of musing, and throws a moral or two in as well for good measure, and to appeal to our sentimental natures. The ending is, predictably, a happy one, though not quite as Mrs Harris has envisioned it to be from her earlier altruistic schemings.

A light and completely impossible fairy tale is this one, though it touches upon some serious issues – child abuse, social class structure, discrimination, and the follies of celebrity worship. The Dior dress shows up again, with a rather good discussion of its symbolic significance. Mrs Harris is allowed the grace to realize that her impulsiveness is not always wise; in a real world she’d have been slapped down long ago, but because this is fiction of a particularly fluffy type she gets not just a pass but a promotion. Oh, and there is the teasing promise of a love affair for our Mrs Harris, too, setting things up, no doubt, for book number three.

An understated early (possibly first?) edition dust jacket.

An understated early (possibly first?) edition dust jacket.

Here we have an overly elderly Mrs Harris (she's only sixty-one, for goodness sake!) plus her charming young protégé.

Here we have an overly elderly Mrs Harris (she’s only sixty-one, for goodness sake!) plus her charming young protégé.

And my favourite of the lot. I wish I had this copy! It's apparently illustrated, too.

And my favourite of the lot. I wish I had this copy! It’s apparently illustrated, too.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson ~ 1959Alternative title: The Haunting. This edition: Penguin, 1999. Softcover. ISBN: 0-14-028743-4. 246 pages.

1st edition dust jacket

My rating: 8/10.


Oh, brrr! I do not like ghost stories as a general rule, or anything in the horror-supernatural genre. However, I do very much like American novelist and short story writer Shirley Jackson, whose works varied from the gently ironic domestic comedy of Life Among the Savages to this read-with-the-lights-on horror story, which I finally braved up enough to read after picking it up and setting it down numerous times over the years.

The Haunting is the story of an “evil” house, a “not sane” house, which exerts a malign influence over those unfortunate enough to enter through one of its many doors.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Four disparate personalities invade Hill House’s solitude with a view to discovering its secrets. Dr. John Montague is a doctor of philosophy and anthropology with an interest in “the analysis of supernatural manifestations.” He has sought out a “haunted” house, and hopes to observe at first hand the cause and effect of the psychic disturbances within it, with the aid of several lay-people he has recruited on the basis of their previous supernatural experiences.

Dr. Montague plans to spend several months in residence at Hill House with artistic and mysterious Theodora, and lonely and troubled Eleanor Vance, both of whom who have shown psychically sensitive traits.  Theodora appears to have a form of extra-sensory perception, while Eleanor was at the center of a poltergeist occurrence in her childhood.

Joining the party are Luke Sanderson, nephew of the owner of Hill House, and its prospective inheritor. Also present, during the daylight hours only, are an uncouth and sinister married couple, the Dudleys, local caretakers of the estate. The visit of the doctor’s amateur-spiritualist wife and her blustering male companion adds an element of comic relief which brings the horrific elements of the tale into even sharper focus.

What happens to this group of people in the “not sane” environs of Hill House I will leave you to discover for yourself. I must say that it is one of the creepiest stories I have had the dubious pleasure of enjoying, and enjoy it I certainly did, to my reluctant surprise.

The Haunting is a beautifully presented and rather unusual piece of writing. The story is told mainly from the point of view of Eleanor, who has grasped the opportunity to participate in Dr. Montague’s project as a way to escape her desperately unhappy everyday life. Eleanor and Hill House respond to each other in an unexpected and ultimately tragic way; the story’s ending is artistically satisfying and emotionally haunting.

There’s a lot going on in this story, and you’ll find yourself working through it in your mind long after the last page is turned.

I would highly recommend this to older teens and adults. Best read in the daylight hours, and preferably not when all alone in a country house far from neighbours!

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