Monday, 9 November 2009

Two reads inspired by my VMC love

My love of Virago Modern Classics, which is being documented as I make my way through the complete collection over on my other blog, got me reading two books this weekend that I might not have picked up otherwise.

I spotted the green spine of Helen Garner's Cosmo Cosmolino in Oxfam at the beginning of the year. This was just after I had begun reading Virago books in earnest, but before I had learned much about the imprint or embarked upon my crazy challenge. I thought that the green spine meant that it was a VMC, I later discovered that Virago published a fair amount of fiction in the 1990s with green spines. However, I am glad that I picked it up as I am sure I wouldn't have bothered otherwise.

Cosmo Cosmolino tells the story of Janet, who lives alone in a crumbling house. She married late in life at 40, but her husband left after 5 years and now she has it to herself again. She takes in two homeless lost people - Maxine, an artist, and Ray, a born again Christian who convinces Maxine that he is a reborn angel. They live a somewhat uncivilised existence - food is rarely in the house and they keep to odd hours. The book also contained two wonderful short stories by Garner; much of her work seems to be in short story format and I, the short story disliker, found myself gripped by the first, entitled Recording Angel, where a woman visiting an old friend in hospital wishes he was dead, and reveals this to his wife.

The other VMC inspired reading this week was The juniper tree by Barbara Comyns. I've read a couple of her books for my challenge - The Vet's Daughter, Who was changed and who was dead, and Sisters by a river. and have loved her extremely individual style. She has two further titles in the Virago Modern Classics series which I am hoping to read soon, but also this title which is not a VMC.

The Juniper tree was quite different to her other books, being written 18 years after her previous novel - the writing itself was less quirky and better punctuated and thus an easier read, but one which was no less gripping - all of Comyn's storytelling abilities were certainly present and there are some elements of "magic realism". It tells the story of Bella Winter, a beautiful but scarred woman, and her illegitimate daughter, who marries a wealthy but distant widower. The book is based on one of Grimm's fairy tales, but I shan't mention which as I didn't know that before reading the book and it might have spoilt it if I had known what was going to happen at the end. Do read this book - it is excellent.

Don't you just love the way that one can pursue a trail of books?


  1. I also love pursuing a trail of books. The Juniper Tree was on my wishlist anyway but now I definitely want to obtain a copy; I love books based on fairy tales. You've read Our Spoons Came from Woolworths too, yes?

  2. Yes - I have, but I have yet to revisit it for the VVV. Can't remember much about that - was that based on a fairy tale too?

  3. No, but thought you had read it. I didn't find it as experimental as you have made the others souns so perhaps, like The Juniper Tree, it isn't.

  4. I think it was one of her later ones. I will definitely have to reread Our Spoons as I read it when I was at college. (I'm trying hard not to confuse it with The Brontes!)


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