It was only just over a week ago that I declared I had a new favourite author – Barbara Pym. She’s refined, restrained, very English, writing with an acerbic and witty pen about “good women” and church affairs, genteelly fading areas of London and the deluded convictions of high church protestant vicars that they will remain celibate – (deluded because a vicar in possession of a living is always in want of a wife, according to some of his parishioners anyway) and other such matters which could be sneered at for not being very important but are so enjoyable to read about, especially from her pen.
I’ve only read three of her books so far; Excellent Women, Jane and Prudence and, for the Barbara Pym reading Week, A Glass of Blessings which has a self-confident heroine not unlike Emma in many ways but to my mind so much more appealing.
This is the cover of my copy, from a 1989 edition, which gives padded shoulders to the elegant Wilmet Forsyth as if she’d just stepped out of one of those women-rising-to-the-top-and-doing-everything-including-getting-the-best-man-in-town novels of the 80’s. If I’d been buying on cover alone I’d have passed it by but I’d already been alerted to Barbara Pym and I absolutely loved A Glass of Blessings. It’s not as funny as Excellent Women, it’s more subtle and a delight. I’m going to be grabbing every Pym I can in future, but I won’t be reading them one after another for this is delicious stuff, to be savoured and appreciated at your leisure, not something to gollop down in one hit lest you miss something and where you allow yourself the luxury to re-read paragraphs for the sheer pleasure of her prose and sly humour.
And at the same time that I fell in to the joys of slow-reading with Barbara Pym I discovered an author who is quite, quite different. Margaret from Books Please wrote a post about her six years blogging and mentioned Blood Harvest by S J Bolton as being one of the books she has most enjoyed. I wasn’t totally sure if it was my sort of thing. I usually find books that promise terror barely raise a ripple down my spine (in the same way whose covers say that “only the hardest-hearted won’t cry at the end” merely prove that I must be made of grante) but Margaret was so enthusiastic, and she shares my tastes in a lot of books, that I put in an order. Here’s what she had to say:
“Crime fiction set in the fictional town of Heptonclough in Lancashire where the Fletcher family have just moved into a new house built on land right next to the boundary wall of the churchyard. I was completely convinced not only by the setting but also by the characterisation that the place and the people in this book were real. It’s full of tension, terror and suspense and I was in several minds before the end as to what it was all about. I had an inkling but I hadn’t realised the full and shocking truth.”
If I really enjoy a book I’ll usually buy one other by the author and build the collection up quite slowly. I finished Blood Harvest and ordered the whole of S J Bolton’s back list that evening. When it arrived a few days later I went through three of her books on the trot, something I don’t do often as I get bored with reading the same style over and over again. Sacrifice, her first book, is slightly slow to start and I’d agree with Margaret that it’s far-fetched in places but so riveting that I didn’t give a toss.
Now You See Me and Dead Scared, are the first two in a police procedural series with a more straightforward tone than her previous ones. Dead Scared is frightening in the sort of way that gives you bad dreams and I’d challenge anyone to read it slowly. My general tension level wasn’t helped by my daughter, who’d been snatching up the books as I finished them, eyeballing me and going, ‘Mum, haven’t you finished that yet?’ (About an hour after I’d started it).
As you might gather I’d wholeheartedly recommend S J Bolton. And Barbara Pym. But perhaps not to read at the same time.