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William Ashenden is an author of reasonable success, who is contacted by an old friend – fellow author and literary darling Alroy Kear, who in turn has been asked to write a biography of a recently deceased writer named Edward Driffield, by Driffield’s widow.  Kear – and Driffield’s widow Amy – want William’s help, as he knew Driffield many years earlier.  This request sparks William’s memory, and the majority of Cakes and Ale is written in flashback, as William – who also narrates the story recalls his friendship with Edward Driffield and his first wife Rosie.

Here, he faces a dilemma, because Rosie is remembered with disdain and even disgust by most people, due to her promiscuity, and her unfaithfulness to her husband.  However, William remembers her with affection, and is concerned over how much to tell Kear, and what exactly should appear in Kear’s biography.

I have never read anything by W. Somerset Maugham before, and was not sure what to expect.  I was thoroughly charmed by this novel.  It is narrated in a meandering fashion – laced with cynicism, but also very wry and humorous in parts.  William, who was clearly something of a wannabe snob in his earlier years, has clearly mellowed with age, and is able to think of Rosie without disapproval; seemingly the only person who is willing or able to do so.  The story is written in a conversational manner, and William’s observations about small town life, and the people who inhabited his childhood village were sharp and very ‘on the ball’ (I definitely felt like I knew some of these people!)

It sounds contradictory, but while quite a lot happens, it feels also like not much happens – perhaps because the main bulk of the story is written as a reminiscence, rather than events which are taking place in the present time.  It’s a light and easy read, and one that is perfect to curl up on the sofa with on a rainy day.

I would definitely recommend this book, and will be seeking out more work by Maugham as a result of reading it.

 

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Author Susan Hill was looking for a book in her house one day, and ended up coming across others which she had read and loved, or intended to read but never got around to, or some which she had read and wanted to read again.  As a result, she decided to not buy any new books for a year, and to only read those books which were already in her house.  What follows is a journey through Hill’s bookshelves, where she talks about which books and/or have inspired or moved her.  She uses these examples as a starting point for relating anecdotes and memories about her life, and about the authors who she has met.

I have read two novels by Susan Hill, and while I can’t say I actively disliked them, I also can’t say that I was blown away by them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this non-fiction work.  However, the premise really appealed to me – and has inspired me to at least consider doing the same thing – so I thought I would give this a try, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed Hill’s reminiscences, and her musings on such subjects as items which fall out of books (presumably used as a makeshift bookmark) and the importance of an interesting title, or why new books are often published first in hardback, when they have not really earned that right.  (It makes sense when you read her view, even if you don’t agree!)

Definitely an enjoyable and uplifting read, and one I would recommend to all fellow bibliophiles.  As I mentioned, this book has made me think about doing the same thing myself, and not buying any new books for a year.  Hill was successful, but I don’t know if I would be – but what a wonderful idea, to really get to know the books on your shelf, to rediscover old loves and maybe find some new ones.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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