The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey

intellectuals massesMy copy of this book, which I bought in the early 1990s, has managed to stay with me through twelve changes of address and a depressive episode in which I gave all of my books away on Freecycle.  It is very creased and battered – it has character, you could say – and is much loved.

I read it again this week, for the first time this decade, and found that I still really enjoyed it, but now have the discernment to pick apart some of its argument.

The premise of Carey’s book is that early twentieth century literature, I suppose what we would call Modernist literature, was a reaction to mass culture.  Though more than this: it was an attempt to make literature too difficult for the ordinary person to understand.

He takes the examples of D H Lawrence, H G Wells, Graham Greene, T S Eliot and Virginia Woolf, among others, and shows how they abhorred ‘the masses’, inventing dehumanising terms with which to describe them, such as swarm, herd, beetles and bacteria. The intelligensia, Carey says, objected to a whole host of modern developments, such as democracy, railways, radio, Universal Education, tinned food, newspapers, bicycles, cameras and the suburbs and invented ways to exclude and destroy these symbols of degeneracy in their writing.

However, where I think Carey’s argument becomes a little far fetched, is in seeing the novels and poetry of these writers as part of a genocidal impulse, which found ultimate expression in Hitler’s gas chambers.  Perhaps some of them did think this – I’ve read some of Virginia Woolf’s diaries and in one entry she describes seeing some ‘imbeciles’ at Kingston-on-Thames and wonders if they shouldn’t just be killed.  I suppose I think Carey’s greatest mistake is in grouping all of these writers together to fit his argument and taking his hypothesis to a wild extreme.  Carey even tries to shoehorn Sir John Betjeman into his thesis at one point, though having seen the wonderful Metro-Land many times, I can’t see how anyone could argue that Betjeman disliked the suburbs.

Clerks were particularly despised by twentieth century intellectuals, which being an invoice clerk myself, I found quite amusing.  However, Carey fails to mention that T S Eliot was himself a bank clerk.  Perhaps some writers did hate the suburbs and find them ugly, but destroying the suburbs in a piece of fiction, doesn’t mean that you would actually like to see millions of people wiped out in reality.

Carey has a couple of chapters on H G Wells, who in The War of the Worlds has a martian spaceship land in Weybridge and then unleash destruction on Shepperton, Woking and Richmond.  As Carey says:

Towards the end, the narrator walks through suburban London – Mortlake, Putney, Roehampton, Fulham, Ealing, Kilburn, South Kensington – and finds it quite empty of people.  Vegetation is returning.  A red weed, introduced from Mars, spreads everywhere, burying the remnants of houses in its rampant growth.

On Putney Hill, the narrator meets an artilleryman, who rejoices in the devastation and exclaims that, “all those damn little clerks” ought to die!

Does this mean that H G Well thought the same?  I don’t think so, but Carey seems to suspect him of playing out destructive urges in his stories, because he was upset about urban encroachment into Bromley, the rural hamlet where he grew up:

In fantasy he took – again and again, and with mounting savagery – a terrible revenge on the suburban sprawl that had blighted Bromley.

In his conclusion, Carey also has a pop at post-structuralism (because it’s too difficult) and people who don’t like television (because they’re obviously intellectual snobs).  He also says that he admires some late-Twentieth Century poets, such as Ted Hughes, because even a schoolchild could understand them.  Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think that the job of literature or poetry is to be easy to understand, or that accessibility should be used as some sort of benchmark of literary or moral worth.  There is still a place for ‘difficult’ fiction and God help us if authors feel they have to cater to the average Sun reader in order to avoid accusations of elitism.

I’m off to open a tin of spam and read The Wasteland.

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Money, Martin Amis

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This isn’t a review.  I wouldn’t be so cheeky.  I just wanted to get down some thoughts on Money, before my memory of reading it evaporates (for my own benefit and for the edification of the two or three people who read this blog).

This was my first Martin Amis novel (yes, I know, I’m rather late to the party) and it seemed to me to be a masterclass of ‘voice’.  I’ve said before that I’m a dabbler in fiction writing and find voice difficult to get to grips with.  (To be honest, as my characters are based on me, they all have my voice!).  However, John Self, the main protagonist of Money, is clearly nothing like Martin Amis.  I’ve seen Amis on TV and he is erudite and intellectual, where John Self is not.  In fact, in a metafictional flourish, Martin Amis actually appears in this novel as himself.

So that’s interesting.  What is also interesting in Money, especially if you happen to spend a great deal of time thinking about cities, are the locations: London and New York.  I’ve never been to New York, and in any case, John Self hangs out in the seedier parts of the city that I’d probably avoid, with their ‘singles bars’, brothels and porn emporiums.  I once read a piece, written by Christopher Hitchens, about visiting a brothel with Amis, which was probably research for this novel.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter that I’ve never been there, as this novel is set in 1981, which no longer exists.

London in the novel is grey, like ‘washing up water’, and we experience it filtered through the eyes of a money and pornography obsessed slob, which is funnier than it sounds.  It is a satire on the greedy 1980s, so all of the excesses that you might associate with that decade, are given a comic twist by Amis, and end up in the arena of Rabelaisian grotesque.

Los Angeles also makes a brief appearance in Money, in the memory of John Self, and from a psychogeographical point of view it’s a highlight of the novel.  I have been to LA and couldn’t wait to leave.  As someone who can’t drive, and has to walk everywhere, it’s tantamount to purgatory.  John Self sums it up beautifully:

In LA, you can’t do anything unless you drive. Now I can’t do anything unless I drink. And the drink-drive combination, it really isn’t possible out there. If you so much as loosen your seatbelt or drop your ash or pick your nose, then it’s an Alcatraz autopsy with the questions asked later. Any indiscipline, you feel, any variation, and there’s a bullhorn, a set of scope sights, and a coptered pig drawing a bead on your rug.

So what can a poor boy do? You come out of the hotel, the Vraimont. Over boiling Watts the downtown skyline carries a smear of God’s green snot. You walk left, you walk right, you are a bank rat on a busy river. This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals. You can get your chimp shampooed, you can get your dick tattooed, twenty-four hour, but can you get lunch? And should you see a sign on the far side of the street flashing BEEF-BOOZE – NO STRINGS, then you can forget it. The only way to get across the road is to be born there. All the ped-xing signs say DON’T WALK, all of them, all the time. That is the message, the content of Los Angeles: don’t walk. Stay inside. Don’t walk. Drive. Don’t walk. Run!

Very long blog post, in which I visit a bookshop

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I had a plan.  I would visit the Howard Hodgkin exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and then walk up Charing Cross Road to Foyles bookshop.  I exited the train station quickly, as I no longer like to hang around obvious terror targets.  Although even that is an old fashioned outlook, as Jihadis can and do strike anywhere.

I lived in London many years ago, while the IRA were still active, and dodged the Ealing station bombing by a couple of hours.  The next day, I had to find an alternative route to work, but it never crossed my mind not to go.  I’m altogether more jittery nowadays.

Why?  Possibly, because I’m not ready to die yet, but more likely, I have lost all of my London survival skills.  I have become tamed and softened by years of provincial living.

The last time I visited London, I noted that the pavements outside some restaurants are studded with metal spikes, like those on a medieval mace. Their frontages have the look of a torture device; iron maiden, bed of nails.  Don’t even think of resting here, they scream, lest your arse becomes a colander.

This is a microcosmic expression of the city; designed to prevent the loiterer, the homeless, the rough sleeper, yet also constructed for the tourist’s discomfort.  No visitor to London is welcome to relax there.  Perhaps those who live here are privileged with knowledge of its arenas of recreation, designed for lounging, recuperation, or idleness.  Or maybe Londoners become accustomed to the physical privations of the city; building up stamina, developing deep reservoirs of endurance, nerves of steel and the ability to block out everything around them?

At the National Portrait Gallery, I noticed that bags were not being checked and the ‘security’ presence at the entrance was a young blonde girl, who was probably about five feet tall.  Yet I remember when I worked at a major London museum, a decade ago, that security was much tighter.  I could flash my staff pass and walk right through, but all visitors were made to queue for bag searches by two burly male Front of House staff.  Are such measures now deemed an unnecessary inconvenience or is it a consequence of budget cuts?

In any case, the exhibition was uneventful and pleasant.  Unlike my struggle to walk along Charing Cross Road without being knocked down like a skittle by a wheeled suitcase.  Everyone seems to be dragging one along in that part of the city; either that, or carrying a collection of dirty rucksacks and leading a pit bull on a string.  Has it always been this filthy?  Probably, but the stink of piss was especially pungent on Saturday.  I felt like I was being jostled along and yet I only came into physical contact with two other pedestrians: one a granite-bodied young man talking on his phone and the other a plump northern tourist on a hen-do, whose body was as taut and bouncy as an over-inflated beach ball.

I didn’t mind too much.  At least on this occasion, everyone seemed to be real.  I had a very strange experience earlier in the year, when I visited the National Gallery and then walked to Covent Garden, via Soho.  I sat in a sandwich bar on St Martin’s Lane and began to wonder if I was in some sort of holographic simulacrum of London, and if the people were acting on a pre-programmed loop, like avatars from The SIMs.  This form of derealization can be an indicator of mental problems, but in this case, I think I was just feeling alienated and let my imagination run wild.  It later inspired me to make a mini graphic novel about the day, in which Jean Baudrillard welcomes me to the desert of the real, like Morpheus in The Matrix.

The Foyles flagship store isn’t all that new, but it still seems fresh and gleaming.  I accidentally spent hours in there and could have spent a fortune.  In the end I bought some graphic guides to philosophy and John Berger’s Confabulations.  I would have bought more philosophy books, but I was driven away by the brain haemorrhage inducing jazz music coming from the adjacent department. Unfortunately, the same music was being playing the café on the top floor, but I managed to ignore it while I ate my lentil soup.

Some other diners were wearing earphones, while they nursed their coffees and read their books.  Perhaps they also hate jazz?  I enjoy eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, so I probably wouldn’t do this.  Not that very much was being said, as most people were alone and reading.  For anyone who has never been to Foyles café, it is always busy and it is very difficult to find a seat, which means squeezing onto long bench-like tables opposite a complete stranger.  I found this quite uncomfortable, as I felt that I was too close to the person opposite, invading their personal space.  Most people politely ask permission before they sit down, but this actually seems to increase the awkwardness, because they are then nervous that you might try to strike up a conversation.

I’ve been formulating a dystopian story based on Calhoun’s Mouse Utopia Experiments, so visiting London was part of my research – there simply aren’t enough people to spy on where I live.  Calhoun built high rise environments for rodents, that were intended to investigate the effects of over-population, and I have been particularly intrigued by the mice he described as ‘the beautiful ones’: well-groomed and healthy-looking subjects which seemed bright and alert, but were actually very stupid.  Anyway, I ended up writing more about my own discomfort, while observing that everyone else in Foyles looked quite relaxed.

No one else appears bothered by London’s transition from Imperial city to global Megalopolis, with its hideous new buildings, that look like chrome and glass sex toys.  They are taking the changing skyline, the constant erasure and rebuilding, the over-crowding and unfamiliarity, and even the ever present threat of extinction, in their stride.  The conclusion I reached, therefore, is that the problem may be mine alone and I need to get over it and move on.

[Note: I drafted this blog post on my way home from London on Saturday, a few hours before the horrific terrorist attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market.  My thoughts are with all those affected.]

Orwell’s England

orwell I was delighted to pick up this copy of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in an antiquarian bookseller’s today. I’ve never seen this particular edition before, which is published with some of Orwell’s diary entries, letters and journalism. It even has some contextualising black and white photographs, for those who’ve never seen working class people before.

I love The Road to Wigan Pier and read my previous copy until it fell to pieces.  I used to live ‘up north’ and so have a familiarity with many of the places mentioned, as well as a residual sense of what it was like to be working class in the 1930s, from my own working class upbringing in the industrial heartland of the West Midlands.  My grandmother even lived next door to an old fashioned chimney sweep, who looked like he’d stepped straight from the pages of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

As I now live ‘down south’, I get a sense that the world described by Orwell will be alien to many English people.  Few of the people I work with have ever been to Wigan, Manchester or Leeds.  Not that these places are now anything like the cities described in this book.  However, I would say that this is more of a reason to read it, not less.  I feel it is more important than ever to get a sense of what England used to be like, before it is altered beyond all recognition.

My fascination with the British class system is probably evident to anyone who has read this blog before.  Although, the class structure, as it was taught in my ‘O’ level Sociology lessons thirty years ago, now seems very different.  The Upper, Middle and Working Class system has divided and proliferated to include new terms: the elite, the established middle class, the technical middle class, new affluent workers, emergent service workers, traditional working class and precariat.

Not that I think it’s an exact science – according to this calculator on the BBC Website, I am now a Precariat, which would mean that I have dropped down a rung on the ladder from the Traditional Working Class family I was born into.  I would contest this categorisation – I now have a degree and I’m definitely posher than I used to be!  Although, I did yesterday buy a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, thinking it would be white, so I have a long way to go before I’m middle class.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is really.  Apart from to encourage everyone to read Orwell.  I think we need a modern George Orwell, actually.  Is there anyone to inherit his mantle?  Unfortunately, I read the Guardian (purely out of habit) and they seem to hate the working classes, while repeating a brainless mantra of ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ from their metropolitan bubble.

There is a sort of read-a-thon happening next Tuesday, 6th June, 9am until 10pm at Senate House, London WC1E 7HU.  Where those who wish to, can read Orwell’s 1984, from beginning to end.  Followed by a ‘two minutes hate’ (I made that bit up).  It sounds like a wonderful event.  See here for further details: 1984 LIVE.

 

What have you missed?

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I haven’t blogged here for such a long time, though you’ll be pleased to hear that I have still been reading books during my absence.  I think I’ll do a quick recap of the year so far, to get the ball rolling again.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read twenty-six books in 2017, though I have actually read more than this, as I’ve re-read certain books either in full or just a few chapters for research.  One book I read again recently, was ‘How to See the World’, by Nicholas Mirzoeff.  I find the chapter on cities particularly interesting and I would recommend it for a stimulating discussion of the peculiar times in which we live.

In a similar vein, I also read ‘How to Think Like an Artist’ by Will Gompertz.  I wouldn’t say it was life changing, but it was definitely encouraging, and if, like me, you’re a bit chaotic, then you may find it a helpful way of approaching creativity in a more structured way.

I haven’t read many novels this year.  Those I have read have been pretty average in the main: The Silver Linings Playbook, Apple Tree Yard and The Girl on the Train.  They were entertaining enough, I liked the use of an unreliable narrator in The Girl on the Train, although I think it became increasingly implausible towards the end.  One book absolutely loathed was The Girl with all the Gifts by M R Carey.  In hindsight, I’ve no idea why I thought I would enjoy a zombie novel, but my expectations were raised by some Booktubers’ enthusiastic reviews.  The best novel I’ve read in 2017 is Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, which probably shows that I should stick to the classics, rather than listening to what other people rave about.

Sticking with Brontës, I also read the anthology of short stories called Reader, I Married Him, taking the famous line from Jane Eyre as their inspiration.  Or so I was led to believe.  In actual fact, very few of the stories seemed to have anything to do with Jane Eyre at all.  My favourite was by Tracy Chevalier, who also edited the collection, and so perhaps was the only author who stuck to the brief!

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing is an examination of loneliness through the art work of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz.  Now this was quite fascinating actually, when she was talking about the artists instead of herself, that is.  I can’t deny that she is a very good writer, but I found the discussion of her own mental state a bit boring and felt she was someone trying to make herself seem more interesting by piggybacking on other people’s hardship.  Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but I’ve had enough of self-indulgent moaning from a Feminist perspective.

So that’s the pick of the year so far.  I’m reading Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot at the moment, though it’s too soon to say what I think of it.

Review of 2016

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halls-bookshop1Well, it’s nearly over and I’ve decided to do my review of the year while my Goodreads Reading Challenge is at a nice round figure of one hundred books.

I’ve read some fantastic books this year, but my reading has tailed off slightly since the summer.  This is because I’m making art in the evening, rather than reading.  Time is precious and unfortunately something has to give.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that 2016 has been a dreadful year, which has made reading even more important to me as a means of escape.  It’s wonderful that there still many books and authors out there for me to discover, and this year I have found a new favourite author and a new favourite book.

Looking over my year of reading, I’m slightly ashamed that I haven’t read more modern fiction.  Perhaps this is because I’m so often disappointed by contemporary literature, falling for the hype and then feeling completely out of touch when I haven’t enjoyed it.  I also haven’t read much poetry in 2016, because I haven’t been writing poetry.  However, A Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe stands out for me, as does anything I’ve read by Selima Hill.

A year of non-fiction

img_20161016_163721This year I have enjoyed Paul Theroux’s travel writing and Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.  However, my particular favourite has been Simon Garfield’s To the Letter.  Not only is it an accessible and fascinating history of letter writing and the postal services in England and America, it has actually proved life-changing for me.  To the Letter inspired me to start making mail art and I now have penpals in the USA, Canada and Germany as a result.  I owe my friend Ray a big ‘thank you’ for introducing me to this book and for rekindling my interest in the art of letter writing.

A year of women writers

owls hier resI haven’t made it a mission to read so many female authors in 2016, it just seems to have happened that way.  This year, I have acquired a taste for the novels of Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark, have finally got round to reading something by the incredible Janet Frame and have ‘discovered’ the short stories of Lucia Berlin.  Janet Frame’s books aren’t readily available in the UK and so I intend to track down more of her work in 2017, via AbeBooks and other secondhand sources.  Having read Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women, I’m saving Barbara Pym’s other books for a rainy day, as there’s something so cosy and cheerful about their world of curates, middle-aged spinsters and cauliflower cheese.

 

My favourites of 2016

voyage dark2016 is the year I fell in love with Jean Rhys and read all of her novels, apart from After Leaving Mr MacKenzie.  I also read her short stories, letters and a biography.  It would be impossible to pick a favourite of her books, as I think they’re all wonderful.  However, I don’t think that everyone will read her work and feel the same way about her as I do.  I just relate to her bitterness, misery and loneliness on a really personal level and she articulates it all so beautifully!

Having said this, after careful consideration, I think my favourite book of 2016 is Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.  I’m old and jaded and it’s difficult to excite me, but this novel made me sit up and take notice.  It is grim and violent, though beautifully written and strangely uplifting.

Didn’t quite make it

The first book I read this year was The Blue Fox by Icelandic author, Sjon, and this deserves an honourable mention – the stark poetry of this novella has sustained me all year and I may well re-read it in 2017.

Death and the Seaside

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Death and the Seaside
Alison Moore

I can’t possibly review this book, as I am yet to finish it.  However, it is a very stimulating novel and I want to get a few thoughts down about it, while I have the time…

If you’ve read this blog, then it will be no secret to you that I’m not a fan of modern life, and this novel highlights one of the things I hate about being alive in the 21st Century: everything is so bloody clever nowadays.

This is a very clever novel: it is full of literary references, packed with nods to Behaviourism, semiotics and postmodern theory.  It has a story within a story – Bonnie writes Susan into being and the fictional character, Susan, is very much like the fictional character, Bonnie, who created her.  Only, they were both created by Alison Moore, who perhaps bears no resemblance to either of them.  So this in itself is a reference to The Death of the Author, an essay by Roland Barthes.  Can you see how clever it all is?

And yet… it is really badly written – full of horrible similes and clumsy chapter endings.  But it can’t really be badly written, can it?  Even this is Alison Moore being clever.

In the same way that Les Dawson must have been an excellent pianist to play the piano so badly; Alison Moore must be a very good writer, who knows exactly what she’s doing.

To The Letter

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My reading has a postal theme at the moment, as one of my friends has rekindled my interest in writing letters.

To the Letter, by Simon Garfield is a fascinating history of postal services in the UK and abroad, combined with wonderful examples of correspondence from famous people, such as Ted Hughes, and not so so famous, such as a couple who fell in love via letter during the Second World War.  It also mentions a great English eccentric, W. Reginald Bray.

Bray’s story can also be found in The Englishman Who Posted Himself written by John Tingley, a philatelist and collector of postal ephemera.  It is a slight, but nicely illustrated book about man who set out to test the Royal Mail to its limits by posting himself (with his bicycle) and other strange objects, such as a carved turnip and a rabbit’s skull.

I am also about to read the correspondence of the famous Mitford sisters; surely one of the most interesting families of the twentieth century?  They included Hitler and J.F. Kennedy among their acquaintance, so I am prepared for lots of name-dropping.

Bartleby, the Scrivener

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zizek-would-prefer-not-toBartleby, the Scrivener
Herman Melville

Melville’s short story is set in a Wall Street legal office and provides us with a wonderful array of characters.  Namely the narrator, the owner of the business, and his three clerks: Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut.  The titular character,  Bartleby, arrives at the offices unexpectedly and is engaged as a scrivener.  At first, Bartleby shows a great flair for his work of copying legal documents, almost ‘devouring’ the work given to him, but not with relish: his method is almost machine-like and he resembles a pale, passive automaton.

Then one day, Bartleby simply refuses to work any more, using what will become his famous catchphrase of passive resistance: “I would prefer not to”.  The rest of the tale sees the Lawyer attempt various means of coaxing, bribing and cajoling Bartleby to industry.  However, Bartleby would rather spend all day stationary: standing in the middle of the room and staring at a blank wall.

I really enjoy reading about work and have found Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym particularly good on workplace dynamics.  My favourite sections of A Confederacy of Dunces are when Ignatius J Reilly is employed as a filing clerk at Levy Pants.  Unlike Bartleby, his rebellion is belligerent, chaotic and obvious – he files all of his work in the trash and stirs up his fellow workers to noisy protest (one of the funniest things I’ve ever read).

The story of Bartleby is entirely different.  It is fascinating psychologically, but also seems to be symbolic in some way.  The narrator keeps referring to Bartleby’s pallor, his dislike of change, and at one point calls him an ‘incubus’; he haunts the story and the narrator is unable to shake him off.  I can’t help wondering if he is in some way a reference to Melville’s novel Moby-Dick.  There are probably many ways of reading the story and I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone to do so.

All Passion Spent

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all-passion-spentAll Passion Spent
Vita Sackville-West
Vintage Classics

What draws you to a particular book?  Are you seduced by an attractive cover?

I am, but have learned that it really isn’t the best way to select a novel.  Not that this knowledge ever stops me wasting money.  All Passion Spent was part of a lovely display of novels from the 1930s in my local Waterstones and something about the cover art led me to choose it, rather than any other.  Also, I’d just been reading about Vita Sackville-West’s personal life and how she inspired Virginia Woolf’s wonderful Orlando, so had high hopes for her writing.

This is a novel about the elderly Lady Slane whose eminent husband, Lord Slane, has just popped his clogs, leaving her with very little money to live on.  Lady Slane confounds her children’s expectations by asserting her independence and going off to live with her housemaid in a rented Georgian house in Hampstead.  There she rejects the company of her family for three new and rather eccentric characters: the owner of the property, a builder and an art collector.

I won’t spoil the plot by saying any more, but it is rather an interesting little tale.  Lady Slane’s children are pretty loathsome, money-grabbing types and we learn something of her deceased husband from her reflections on her life with him.  Although, it seems to me that she considers it somewhat wasted.

And I think this is where the novel starts to lose momentum and become boring for me.  Vita Sackville-West meanders off on a Feminist path, bemoaning the loss of a woman’s identity within a marriage, while I was left wanting more of the interesting characters and Lady Slane’s new independent lifestyle.

I found it a shame, that a fascinating collection of people are only sketchily drawn out by Sackville-West, and wish that she’d been told to flesh it out more.  There is the odd line, which goes right to the heart of the matter, but there is also a lot of unnecessary tangential stuff about the lot of married upper-class women, which spoilt it for me.

“I do believe it,” said William, working himself up. “Mother is like a child who treats rubies as though they were pebbles. She has never learnt; she has merely wandered through life.”

This sentence is All Passion Spent in a nutshell, and I can imagine this would make a good radio play, as the bare bones are really quite engaging.  Someone who is interested in Feminism would probably find this fascinating, but the novel wasn’t quite my cup of afternoon tea.