Saturday, 29 May 2010
Two Vintage Classics
Vintage classics is a wonderful imprint from Random House devoted to the republication of writers from both the twentieth century and previous centuries. The list covers a wide range of authors from Graham Greene to George Grossmith and they are all handsomely issued in paperback with wonderful covers and sleek red spines. Perusing the site, a couple of titles caught my attention, and Fiona from Vintage was kind enough to send them to me to read and write about on my blog.
Liza of Lambeth was Maugham's first novel, and although reviews on both Amazon.co.uk and librarything suggest (I only found this out afterwards!) that it is not the best place to start, I think it was actually a very good introduction. Before Maugham became a writer, he studied medicine in London, and often had to attend maternity cases down backstreets near to St Thomas Hospital where he was based. He writes in a preface to the book that it was these experiences which gave him the inspiration for writing the novel, and then it was the success of writing this book which led him to give up his medical career and concentrate on writing. It's often said that writers need to write about something which they know about, and the realistic portrayal of working class life in London through the colloquial dialogue and vivid descriptions of the streets in the novel show that this was something which Maugham really knew about.
The plot itself is fairly simple. The book is the tale of 18 year old Liza and her life in the Lambeth slums. She works in a factory and hangs out in the streets. She has a steady admirer, Tom, although is not particularly enthusiastic about their relationship. She then meets Jim, a married man, and they embark on an affair. Initially they manage to keep it a secret, but eventually the neighbourhood works out what is happening and Liza is eschewed. Ultimately it is a somewhat tragic tale; I won't reveal the ending, but suffice to say it is not a happy one.
Has anyone read any other W Somerset Maugham? He is certainly an author that I think I should probably have read more of. What should I read next? The title Cakes and ale sounds quite appealing, although I have no idea what the story is about!
At this time of year, it's time to think about summer holidays, and even if one isn't able to get away then it's good to be able to make a virtual escape. Thus Elizabeth Bowen's A time in Rome caught my eye - a description of the city and its history based on three decades of visits and a three month stay in the 1950s. In some ways it could be seen as a guide book, but Bowen suggests that it is more like her personal notes on a guide book which gives it a wonderfully individual tone. What I liked most was the way that Bowen managed to evoke the feel of the city - from the golden sunlight of the daytime, to the shutdown of the city during the siesta and the spectacle of the night life.
I've never been to Rome and would love to go ; this book really brought the city to life for me and is definitely something that I would take along to reread if I get to go there. A perfect book for an armchair vacation.
Thank you very much to Vintage for sending me these two very different but equally enjoyable and interesting books.