I nearly called this post The Hills is Lonely and Retro Reads but this is a word used by magazines such as Ideal Home etc, and ranks alongside 'shabby chic' and 'eclectic' as a word of total wankdom, so I avoided it but really 'retro' is just short of retrospective and quite a bit of reading I am doing at the moment is just that. However, I just could not bring myself to use the word retro in a book post.
Which of course, I just have.
The Hills is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith was published back in the day when I worked in the library system and was a mini skirted teenager and why I wanted to read this at that stage in my supercoolteenagedays I do not know, but I did and I loved it. I had rather forgotten about it and then received a rather nice email from Pan MacMillan saying they were republishing this title, among others, and would I like a copy for review. Oh yes please is my immediate response and it arrived, along with another title, The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham (yes he of Poldark fame).
I began to read The Hills is Lonely and was immediately transported back some fifty years to when I first came across it and oh, what a delightful book it is.Lillian is ordered away to the country for a long rest following an illness and chose a room in a Scottish cottage rather than the Kentish farmhouse she had been considering. I have to say that the farmhouse sounded a darn sight more restful and peaceful but it was this letter from Morag, her landlady, that swayed her to come to the Hebrides:ot
"Dear Madam Its just now I saw your advert when I got the book for the knitting pattern I wanted from my cousin Catriona. I am sorry I did not write sooner if you are fixed up now or if you are not I have a good house stone and tiles and my brother Ruari who will wash down with lime twice a year.... it is that quiet here even the sheeps themselves on the hills is lonely and as to the sea its that near I use it myself every day for the refusals..."
So off Lillian goes and arrives in a howling gale and a flood and has to climb over a wall to get into the house and she wonders if she is stark staring mad.
Well of course, she settles in and, in fact, stays for a long long time as there are other books after this one telling us of her life in Bruach. Now, if there is one thing that I do wonder about these kind of stories, it is this. Does everyone who lives in the countryside or on a remote island have to be eccentric or barking? Peter Mayle set the tone in his Life in Provence, Gerard Durrell also in his My Family and Other Animals set in Greece and while I make allowances for ratcheting up the dottiness for the sake of a good yarn, I do find it gets a teensy bit wearing after a while and the charm begins to wear a tad thin.
It seems that the author moved to Bruach with her husband, but no mention is made of him in these books at all and it seems that some of her comical characters were a little too close for comfort and she became not quite as welcome amongst them as she used to be. She ended up moving to the Isle of Man and, in her obituary, she was referred to as a writer of 'novels set in the Hebrides'. When this book was first published I remember well that it was classified as non-fiction and is written in an autobiographical style which would lead the reader to think that this was her own personal life.
Whatever and wherever the dividing line between fact and fiction is drawn, this book is highly entertaining and I loved reading it all over again and delighted that it is available once more.
Lots of other nostalgic reads are coming my way at the moment. Bello books, the e-branch of Pan Macmillan are also making loads of older books available. A few months ago I simply wallowed in a Richmal Crompton fest as they produced a shed load of her adult books as e books. I have about 25 titles on my shelves by this author, but they are increasingly difficult to track down and are rather expensive when you do find them, so delighted with these titles and others. Do check out their website, here and see out what is available.
Bloomsbury has its own e-branch, the Bloomsbury Reader, and I have already benefited by their largesse a few years ago when it was being launched and this coincided with my trip to Australia. My usual grovelling cadge resulted in my Kindle being loaded up with simply heaps of titles including a whole series The Lorimer Line by Anne Melville, which I read in my youth (again when I was working in the library system) and a whole raft of titles by Norman Collins, including Bond Street Story and Children of the Archbishop, both immensely readable (my earlier thoughts on Collins are here).
As you know I am never backward in coming forward and have come up with many suggestions of books that I read in my youth and would love to be available again. I think it is just marvellous that such authors are now available once more. Anybody out there got some favourites they would like to see again?
Do let me know.