Posted by: billpurdue | December 13, 2011

Nearly a classic

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953) seems to have spent most of her life writing in one way or another, whether it was short stories or novels of for journals. She also taught creative writing. I’ve recently finished what was her final novel: The Sojourner. My copy is one of those “Companion Book Club” editions which appeared in the early 1950s, but I had no idea until I sat down to write this posting that this novel had been republished back in March this year. It’s published by Benediction Classics and is available from Amazon at £15.99 [978-1849024945].

I’m not sure which of the characters in the book the title refers to. It’s the story of two brothers, Asahel and Benjamin who grow up on a farm in the USA. Benjamin has already left to seek his fortune elsewhere as the story gets going, whilst Asahel stays put on the family farm and marries Benjamin’s former girlfriend Nellie. Their mother, Amelia, has always made no secret of the fact that she prefers Benjamin to Asahel and remains convinced to her dying day that Benjamin will one day return having made his fortune.

Asahel has no desire to go wandering and stays put to run the farm with his new wife and their ever growing family. On the face of it, all seems to be sweetness and light amongst the family members, but his children seem to prefer the company of their mother to him and communication between Asahel and particularly his eldest son is difficult. There is only one of the children, Dolly, who finds her father good company, but perhaps out of spite, Amelia takes Dolly a walk one snowy night and leaves her to rest in the snow and die of hypothermia. Amelia is already showing signs of eccentricity by then, so the finger of blame is not automatically pointed at her.

Later on in the book, Asahel’s children , having left home, are all living and working with the oldest son, Nat. He appears to have done very well for himself using business methods which are not entirely honourable. He tries to persuade his parents to retire from the farm (as it is still in Benjamin’s name, so they are technically tennants), so that he can take it over and build factories on the land. No word has been received from Benjamin, who is assumed to have died.

Nat does not get his way and Asahel finally gets the chance to venture beyond the nearest big town. Until I reached at least two thirds of the way through the book, I felt that this was just another family saga, possibly a candidate for one of those 1950s black and white films. (By the way, that may remind you of RKO Radio Pictures. I was surprised to find that the company is still going). After that point though, things became more interesting and I was glad I didn’t give up on it earlier. Possibly not a contender for my “Forgotten Gem” accolade, but well worth the read nevertheless.

Dolly gets them reading

I’ve just been listening to a programme on Radio 4 about “how Dolly Parton got Rotherham reading”. It’s all part of Dolly’s campaign to get children reading books. Under the scheme every child in Rotherham between the ages of 0 and 5, who signs up to the scheme, receives a book through the post every month. Now 85 % of this age group in Rotherham is enrolled. The scheme operates all over America and is spreading throughout the UK. You can hear the programme on the BBC iplayer at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b012ql5c . I think this will be available for the next 7 days.

You can also read the article which the presenter of the programme Sarfraz Manzoor wrote for the Guardian in July.

For the booklover who has everything?

I’d love to have a look at the latest book by Lucinda Lambton. It’s all about the various edifices we humans have built for our animal friends – pig sties, kennels, memorials and so on. It’s lavishly illustrated and I gather from the press, hugely entertaining. It’s called Palaces for Pigs and other Beastly Dwellings  [English Heritage £14.99 978-1850749899] and I’m going to seek it out the next time I pop into Waterstone’s.

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