Book review: After Leaving Mr Mackenzie

A slim novel, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie is the second novel by Jean Rhys, published in 1931. Semi-autobiographical, it tells the story of a young woman [if a woman in her mid-thirties can be called young] who faces up to the realities of life after a love affair ends. The title is not strictly true because Julia did not leave Mr Mackenzie, he left her. She moves to a cheap hotel room where the furnishings are faded and the only decoration is a poor painting which she assumes must have been left in lieu of debt by a previous tenant.
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My Porridge & Cream read: Toni Jenkins

Today I’m delighted to welcome novelist Toni Jenkins. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. “My sister-in-law heard about a book in early 2008 she thought I might like and gave me a copy of Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. It has become a precious companion and the book that I turn to most. It always spurs me on to make courageous decisions in my life. It’s about an American woman in her thirties who decides her perfectly normal life is unfulfilling and leaves her husband and home to find herself abroad, travelling to Italy
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Book review: The Blue Flower

If ever there is a book to persevere with, to have patience with, and to go back and re-read again, it is The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. When I bought it, I didn’t realize it was the last novel by the Booker prize winner; published five years before her death in 2000 aged 83. For someone about to read it, it can seem a trifle intimidating. Set in 18th century Germany, Fitzgerald tells her imagining of the teenage story of real German poet and philosopher Fritz von Hardenberg, later called Novalis. He is a young man so self-contained, so
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Book review: The Lie of the Land

A simple yet deceptively nuanced story of modern times, The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig is full of the contrasts and comparisons thrown up by ordinary life. The Bredins, Quentin and Lottie, have agreed to divorce after his infidelity but cannot afford to. Unable to sell their London house, they rent it out instead and move to Devon to a dank dark creepy farmhouse where they must manage to live together. What happens over the next year is unexpected and changes all their lives forever. This is a funny, mysterious and sometimes sad story of a city family
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Book review: The Walworth Beauty

From the first page, I knew this was going to be one of those reads rich in historical scents and sensations, a story to lose yourself in. The Walworth Beauty by Michèle Roberts is set in the London district of Walworth, just south of the River Thames and part of the Borough of Southwark. It tells the story of Joseph Benson in 1851 and Madeleine in 2011, 160 years apart but experiencing so many similar things. Madeleine loses her job as a lecturer of English literature, as a result she moves to a garden flat in Apricot Place, Walworth. She
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Book review: Odds Against

Odds Against by Bruce Harris is not an ordinary collection of short stories. All have been shortlisted for prizes. All feature characters fighting ‘against the odds’. The theme is personal: all money raised by sales of the book is to be donated to the UK’s Huntington Disease Association. For Harris, whose partner suffers from the disease, the battle against the odds is personal. The stories are divided into three sections so, rather than review each story, I have chosen one from each. The first third of stories feature women. In ‘Devil’s Evening’, Iana from Moldova is trapped beneath a bed.
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Family history: Films bring history to life

Film archives are a great boon for family history researchers, as they shine a lens onto life as it was lived in a dusty daily glory. There are many gems, from the Mitchell & Kenyon archive at the British Film Institute with hundreds of short films made in Edwardian England, to the Imperial War Museum’s film archive of war-related footage [below]. The best place to start is with the ‘Britain on Film’ project [above] at the BFI National Archive which is easy to search by region, date and subject. From here you can expand to regional film archives of which
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Great Opening Paragraph…102

“I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way. And but for the fact that it coincided with a landmark in my own physical growth, his death seemed insignificant compared with what followed. My sisters and I talked about him the week after he died, and Sue certainly cried when the ambulance men tucked him up in a bright-red blanket and carried him away. He was a frail, irascible, obsessive man with yellowish hands and face. I am only including the little story of his death to explain how my sisters and
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Twiggy, Dusty, Paul and John… photos of The Sixties

If you love The Sixties, music and fashions, check out my Pinterest board for Ignoring Gravity. It’s where I collate all the images which inspired me when I wrote the book. From Twiggy to Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Beatles to Dusty Springfield, there are black-and-white and colour images of life from 1960-1969. My favourite comes from 1961, it’s an image of Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. See my Pinterest board for Ignoring Gravity here. The board for Connectedness – featuring more roses and trees, plus Picasso, art, and Malaga in Spain – will go online later this
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Book review: The Garden of Evening Mists

This is another enchanting novel by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng. The Garden of Evening Mists focuses on the post-Second World War period in Malaya. The Japanese occupiers have gone and local communist fighters are challenging British rule. In the hills of the Cameron Highlands, next to a tea plantation, lies a delicate Japanese garden created by Nakamura Aritomo, a man who was once gardener to the Emperor of Japan. Decades later when Yun Ling Teoh retires as a Supreme Court judge in Kuala Lumpur, she re-visits the garden at Yugiri. This is her story. In the 1950s Emergency, the
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