Why I’m beginning to love Persephone Books

I am quite enjoying Mariana by Monica Dickens, but not at all wanting to race through it! Parts of it remind me of my own childhood (Mary and her cousins all sit on the Swing Tree and hurl insults at their nannies, while my siblings and I would all stand in our ‘airplane tree’ and shake the branches, pretending to fly it!), it seems so true of people I’ve known, including a rather disagreeable child like this:

Margaret had inherited this sticky trait from her mother but did not confine it to her father. She was always flinging herself on people, clinging round their necks with limp reptilian arms, and saying, ‘Auntay,’ or ‘Un-kerl, I want to speak chyou. D’you like me?’ If she got a snub, she would creep away and commune with her conscience, which was more than life-size. When she had no sins of her own to fret over, she would fret over somebody else’s. She would be a ‘good woman’ when she grew up, you could see it coming miles away.

It starts off in rather a Proustian way, the first chapter introduces Mary as an adult alone in a small country cottage during a storm, waiting to hear about her unnamed husband. As she lays in bed, unable to sleep, she starts to think about her past (just as In Search of Lost Time begins in the confusion of darkness and sleeping and long lost memories slowly rising up) and then chapter 2 starts with a memory of the smells of her past (just as Proust writes about too, in fact this reminded me of his ecstasy in Swann’s Way over smells “homey, human and enclosed, an exquisite, ingenious, and limpid jelly of all the fruits of the year that have left the orchard for the cupboard”), where I was hooked by this:

It was the smell of clean sheets that reminded Mary of what, when she was a child, she called the Charbury Smell. It was the first thing you noticed as you went in at the front door of Charbury; an indefinable pot-pourri of all the fragrant things in the house — roses, wood-smoke, polished floors, bread, and lavender-kept old linen. You were only conscious of it when you first came down from London. Once you had been there some time, it became a part of your country self, like the ragamuffin clothes you wore, and the grazes on your knees, and waking on Saturdays to the sound of the gardeners sweeping the gravel drive with brooms.

I grew up on a farm and so definitely had a ‘country self’, complete with old clothes the better to explore the woods in and scraped knees from learning to ride my bike on gravel.

One of the reasons I am beginning to love the Persephone books so much is that they speak to this earliest side of me, the country child self that learned to cross stitch and quilt and bake with my grandmas, that played in the trees and gardens, picking raspberries and fresh peas, that learned to read on old books lying around the farmhouse before I ever watched tv. I’m only 30, but I grew up in a rather old fashioned way and these lost old classics speak to me, to my first self.

In other Persephone news, I found a Dorothy Whipple novel at my library! She seems to be quite the favourite among Persephone readers, only the one I found has not been published by them yet… it is Every Good Deed. The beginning looks good, so I’ll probably start that after I’m done Mariana.

Also, I’ve been thinking of a plan to collect all the links to the various Persephone reviews around the internet and put them all in one place somewhere, perhaps on a separate page of my blog. It could become overwhelming, but I thought there’s so many of these books that are terrific but that you’ve never heard of, it’s hard to know what you’d like until you read a quote or review and then it would be easier to find all that info in one place. I feel like I’m caught in a whirlwind, going from review to review just now, plus looking over last year’s Persephone Reading Week too! Just an idea as of yet, but I’m already collecting links for one book at a time. What do you all think, would this be a good idea and where would it best be hosted?

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17 thoughts on “Why I’m beginning to love Persephone Books

  1. Claire (Paperback Reader) says:

    Lovely review! I’ve been saving Mariana because it’s a novel that I don’t want to rush.

    Lucky you finding a non-Persephone Whipple! They are like gold-dust, even in libraries.

    A Persephone review resource in one place is a great place although I’m not sure of the logistics.

    • afewofmyfavouritebooks says:

      I thought of using delicious, the bookmarking site, as a way to organize them all, or as I said, a separate page on my blog. I started looking for reviews of Tea with Mr. Rochester last night, since at this point it’s the one that’s most intriguing to me (I’ve been able to order a few others that interest me through inter-library loan, like To Bed with Grand Music and found I could also get the other unPersephone’d Whipple, something about the Lockwoods, through inter-library loan too! Back to my original point…) and found some really interesting things about it, like that it inspired A.S. Byatt to become a writer when she was about 12. I also found links to downloads of the BBC broadcasts of a few of the stories from the book, so now I’ve got a pretty good collection of info on this book that’s fairly unknown (although I’m sure there’d be lots more on Miss Pettigrew) ~ I’m not sure how far I want to take this! But it seems like fun, to promote relatively unknown great books and it would be nice to learn more about them all.

  2. fleurfisher says:

    Marianna wasn’t really calling me but you make it sound quite lovely. Oh for more reading hours in the day!

    • afewofmyfavouritebooks says:

      It’s so funny and delightful. Definitely a hot-water bottle novel, as they say. I keep overestimating how much reading I’ll be able to get done, imagining myself forever stretched out on some great sofa, reading the day away.

  3. iliana says:

    I’m reading Mariana too and sadly just haven’t had a chance to make it very far into the story but that passage I loved the passage you quoted with the kids in the trees. My favorite scene though was when they played hangman! I don’t know that I’ll finish the book by this week but that’s ok, I don’t mind taking my time with the story 🙂

    And, how lucky that you found a Persephone at your library!

  4. Coops says:

    Violet, don’t worry! Maybe you’ve simply not come across a Persephone that appeals to you yet. I thought Doreen and Saplings were both fantastic, yet Mariana left me cold, apart from this quote:

    Aunt Winifred did not speak much, but when she did, she often got straight to the heart of the matter in one simple, penetrating remark. When Julia had gone wandering away, bored with the grown-ups, Winifred said, “Child wants a good spanking.”

    🙂

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