Thursday, 11 September 2014

Thursday List: 'Books like I Capture the Castle'



A recent Twitter request from Sam Eades (publicist at Pan MacMillan, and yes that is Jo Nesbo with her in her avatar) said this:






Book recommendation! Suggestions of books like I Capture the Castle/Campari For Breakfast/Lost art of keeping secrets please
— SamEades(@SamEades) August 31, 2014



I answered her on Twitter, but I also thought it was a good list topic. We all know the kinds of books she means, although it is difficult to define them. You have to imagine a day when you don’t feel like reading Tolstoy, and the new novels seem dreary and same-y. You need cheering up, but you don’t want to read something soppy-stupid. And it has to be a guaranteed, no-fail book. It has to be well-written, and
 the kind of book that will be just as satisfying when you read it for the tenth time,10 years down the line.  

Some of the best ones, the ones Sam mentions, are in an even more specialized genre. It’s difficult to give them a title: Young women growing up in amusing circumstances, and how they achieve what they want in life – well, it’s not exactly short and catchy is it? But the good news is, there are a few of them out there. This is my list of books like that - the original delight, and ten more to go with it. Please add to the list in the comments: 

1) Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle. Entrancing, careful, beautifully done. A book to read over and over. As I have said before, you start out reading it at Cassandra’s age, and eventually realize that you have long ago passed Topaz in age, indeed you’re probably more like Mrs Cotton, or even Great Aunt Millicent. And still the book speaks to you… 


Topaz in her Angel of Death dress

Smith’s The Town in Bloom is another good example.

2) Nancy Mitford Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, Don’t Tell Alfred. Funny, clever, detailed, the real thing. Of course Nancy Mitford really was a deb and an Hon, unlike many of the writers of such books.

3) The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy – a Paris-set Catcher in the Rye for girls, with the wonderful Sally Jay Gorce and her attempts to live the life Bohemian and miss nothing.

4) Margaret Kennedy: The enduring appeal of The Constant Nymph gave us a study subject recently. Tessa is no cheery Cassandra or Fanny or Linda (more like Polly) but the book will continue to be read by teenage girls for as long as they eye up older men. And Kennedy's book Lucy Carmichael is also something of a treat.

5) Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe – a new addition to the genre, and a really splendid effort. Hoping for more from her. Blog entry here.

6) Stella Gibbons Westwood. Hilarious bit of social climbing, somewhere between Barbara Pym and Daphne du Maurier.  And also Flora Poste of Cold Comfort Farm – well it’s a crumbling building, she is young and lovely, and she sorts everyone out in the most satisfying manner.

7) Anita Loos Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Endlessly amusing and entertaining – gold-diggers on the make in Paris and New York

8) Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Fielding. She’ll live forever.

9) An Education by Lynn Barber – even though it’s a true story.

10) Hilary McKay’s series of YA books about the Casson Family (beginning with Saffy’s Angel, here on the blog) fall very much into this category, in a weird kind of way: Caddy, the oldest child, is of an age to do A Levels and fall in love, though in fact she is not the true focus of the books, her younger siblings are. The eccentric and Bohemian family with some secrets and surprises should be all kinds of annoying, but actually these books are wonderful, and you would have to have a heart of stone to resist them: they live on in your mind like the best book characters do.


The Casson family going to a funeral
11) Agatha Christie’s Man in a Brown Suit. If you’ve only read Poirot or Marple, this 1924 book might come as a surprise. Anne Beddingfield, penniless orphan, sets out to find adventure, succeeds, and meets Mr Right along the way. It’s very clever and very funny.

Now I want to re-read all of those. Please expand the list below if you have any great suggestions of similar books....

For Wendy, who loves books like this, on her birthday.

30 comments:

  1. Hmm, I don't think I'll be much help here - back tomorrow! (I am working on some lists of my own though)

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  2. Yes, the Nancy Mitfords. Though not in the coming-of-age category, Joyce Dennys's Henrietta's War and Henrietta Sees it Through do it for me every time (there is some great stuff about clothes - illustrations, too - in these, Moira.

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    1. Oh must definitely look those up - thanks Chrissie.

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  3. What a great list!! I didn't realize how many of those Hilary McKay books there were--I've only read The Exiles and The Exiles in Love.

    I remember reading a few of Margery Sharp's adult novels that had much the same tone as these. I was a big Miss Bianca fan as a child, but discovering her adult books in college was kind of a revelation (my college's fiction collection--in the 1980s--was largely composed of mysteries and light romances from the 40s through the 60s).

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    1. Thanks Molly. I LOVE Margery Sharp - I missed her out this time only because I'm going to do another list (in the future...) with older participants, I decided to stick to young women this time. (Too many books...)
      I really recommend the Casson books, they are even better than The Exiles IMHO...

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  4. Moira - I love this list! There are just those kinds of books aren't there? And as you say, they're perfect for those certain times... Oh, and I must say I wasn't surprised to see Bridget Jones' Diary among them...

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    1. Yes, I am faithful in my favourites. Glad you liked the list Margot - I love hearing other people's suggestions, so it makes sense to share my own too.

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  5. Moira, barring Christie, I haven't read any of these authors. Would Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott fit in? My wife and daughter have read and reread all their wonderful books while I'm just throwing names.

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    1. They are great suggestions Prashant, thank you, exactly fitting the criteria. Young women trying to make their way in the world. Perhaps not your own first choices...

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  6. This is intriguing. Perhaps because I grew up in the U.S., I didn't know about authors from abroad until I was an adult. I mean authors gearing books to young women.
    I read various books about girls, and then read a slew of Nancy Drew mysteries.

    Then I started reading "adult" books with mature themes by U.S. muckrakers, like Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser and John Steinbeck. Few women writers were writing these type of books. But I then read Somerset Maugham and A.J. Cronin's books. Go figure.

    But I was also tearing through Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe and other detective stories while in high school. Not a lot about young women's tribulations.

    However, once the women's movement spread its wings, I was reading Marge Piercy, and slews of women authors. And when Marcia Muller, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky and Linda Barnes started writing novels about women detectives, I was in heaven with my nose in books. And then Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and more women writers.

    I think I skipped books, other than about girls, after about age 13.

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    1. There's room for all kinds of books. One thing I like today is that male experiences and male literature are not automatically valued above the female voice.

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  7. Can boys apply Moira? I know my nieces would want me to include some good 'frauenromans'! Beyond the likes of 'Jane Eyre' and so on, it's in the fantasy genre that I might turn the most often, especially Philip Pullman and Diana Wynne Jones. Great list, though I clearly must re-read that Christie because it didn't make much of an impression the first time round (not too keen on her spy thrillers usually).

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    1. Of course! Delighted to have more suggestions, and fantasy is a genre I'm not big on, so great to mention more names.
      I'm not a big fan of Christie's early adventure books, but this is the exception: loved it when I was about 12, love it now. I don't think most people would guess it was by her if they read it blind, which isn't normally true for her.

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  8. I agree about male voices and female voices, but I think it's about who is valuing the writers. There are still more book reviews about male writers, and a lot is still skewed toward male writers. Some men don't even read books by women, while I think women read books by both women and men.

    I get nervous when I see primarily male writers getting nominated for a book prize or getting the prizes. This sometimes still happens.

    There's a yearly study done about these issues -- is it by Vida? I've read them.

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  9. Mariana by Monica Dickens, published by Persephone Books, is a fun young- woman-growing-up-in-amusing-circumstances story, set in the 1930s; sharply observed and often very funny, with some very entertaining characters.

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    1. Oh yes, excellent addition to the list - I read this years ago, and would love to re-rad. Thanks....

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  10. Here is the link to VIDA's study of male/female reviewers and authors reviewed in several ezines and magazines. It's interesting. We've come a long way to a long way ahead is still left. Here's Vida's study from last year of various publizations:

    http://www.vidaweb.org/category/the-count/the-2013-count/

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    1. thanks Kathy - makes for interesting reading.

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  11. I'm fairly sure there are women readers who only read books written by women.

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    1. It'd be interesting to know the statistics wouldn't it? But there isn't really any way to check...

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  12. Dora in Iris Murdoch's The Bell is a perfect picture of a young flighty woman, and with the added bonus of the convent backdrop.

    And Le Divorce is great fun (Diane Johnson) and all those early Margaret Drabbles (Millstone, Waterfall, Garrick Year etc)

    Oh Moira you might have hit on my favourite genre!

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    1. Thank you that's a lovely thing to hear. We need to think of a good snappy title for this kind of book. Great suggestions, all of them.

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  13. Well, some women writers still use initials rather than a first name so the books could interest male as well as female writers.

    And with young folks, this is true. I remember hearing that a young relative wouldn't be seen with a book written by a woman. He read several with first initials and not names. Thankfully, he has expanded his reading now as a young adult. But for a while there -- yikes!

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    1. It seems a terrible idea to judge any author without reading them, or based on gender. I only realized after I had made this list that they were all female authors.

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  14. I have only read the Agatha Christie on this list. And only because it was Christie. I did like it though. The ending was only so-so but I like the Christie spy thrillers.

    I am sure at one time I must have read something on this order, but too long ago, no ideas. And as I have said before, no good with lists or examples. I draw a blank every time.

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    1. That's what your blog is for Tracy! You could go through your list of reviewed titles and spot which ones jump out at you as favourites....

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    2. True, but I would overthink it.

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  15. Margery Sharp's Cluny Brown for me (I see someone's beaten me to the author suggestion, so I'll be ultra-specific with title!). Also Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Winifred Watson).

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    1. I have Cluny Brown unread on my shelf (as I work my way through the entire works of Margery Sharp) - will get to it soon. YES, Miss Pettigrew. I think maybe a list of older heroines is needed....

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