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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Beth Chatto: A Life with Plants by Catherine Horwood – This was happily sitting on the new arrivals shelf when I went for a browse and I snapped it up.  It’s impossible to be interested in gardening and not have heard of Chatto, though I’ve actually read very few of her books.  The one I did read – Dear Friend and Gardener – was excellent and I’m looking forward to learning more about the woman herself.  (Book Depository)

The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson – I have been so looking forward to this.  Wilson is an amazing food writer and this book, released earlier this year, looks at the way food systems have changed and how that has changed how we – all of us, all around the world – eat.  (Book Depository)

Wilding by Isabella Tree – This book was so in demand last time I had it out that I had to return it when I was only part way through.  I can’t wait to pick it back up and learn more about the rewilding project Tree and her husband undertook at their West Sussex farm. (Book Depository)

What did you pick up this week?

It’s a lovely, chilly autumn afternoon here and after a busy morning of garden work it’s nice to settle down inside and look through some holiday photos from beautiful, sunny Brittany last spring.

After somehow tearing ourselves away from Perros-Guirec (this still seems like a mistake.  Why did we ever leave?  Why I am not there at this exact moment, eating galettes and going for bracing daily swims?), we made our way to Saint-Malo.  Saint-Malo is a walled city best known for having been almost totally destroyed by Allied bombardment in 1944 (chronicled in the Pulitzer Prize winning novel All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr), although generations of Canadian school children also remember it as the birthplace of the explorer Jacques Cartier, who sailed from Saint-Malo to “discover” Canada and claim it for France.  Nowadays, it is also a major transportation hub, on the TGV line from Paris and with a port that welcomes British ferries and many, many British tourists.  After the tranquility of Perros-Guirec, it was a jarring change to suddenly be surrounded by so many (rather obnoxious) travellers.

So, I did the only reasonable thing: after checking into our AirBnB within the walled city, I hopped the boat to Dinard, a resort town just across the estuary from Saint-Malo.  One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Brittany was to explore the GR34 walking trail that follows the coastline.  I’d done a lot of walking around Perros-Guirec and was excited to now explore the trail around Saint-Malo, in a region known as the Emerald Coast.  Starting off with the beautiful 3 hour walk from Dinard to Saint-Malo was a great way to stretch my legs after a morning spent travelling and escape the daytripping crowds in Saint-Malo.

The next day, there was yet again more walking.  We caught the bus (the public transportation around Saint-Malo was excellent!) to Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, a little town to the west, and walked from there back to Dinard.  It was a stunning trail, with lots of variety and some extraordinarily beautiful points jutting out into the ocean.  The weather wasn’t great but it was properly atmospheric with lots of wind, a touch of rain, and a beautiful contrast between the bright sea and the dull grey clouds above.

This part of France is full of reminders of the Second World War, which, as a history buff, I found fascinating. Brittany had a strong resistance movement and there are tributes to the Maquis in many villages. And, as we walked along the coast, we came across many old bunkers, part of the German’s “Atlantic Wall”.

For a break from the sea, we spent the next day exploring the charmingly picturesque village of Dinan further inland.  We visited on a Monday, when most of the shops are closed, so we missed the tourist crowds that are usually there are enjoyed having the quiet, beautiful streets largely to ourselves.

For our last day in Brittany, I’d hoped to visit nearby Cancale but the weather was a bit unpredictable and the wind was extraordinarily strong so we stuck close to Saint-Malo, walking instead along the beach outside town and over to Pointe de la Varde east of town.

I did, although it may not sound like it, also spend some time inside the walls in Saint-Malo.  The town itself didn’t do anything for me – like most reconstructed cities, it feels a bit soulless – but I enjoyed walking the walls in the evenings, taking shelter from the winds on the sunny-south side of the walls and watching the locals play pétanque, and, of course, eating delicious local Breton specialties in its restaurants.

I don’t think I’d return to Saint-Malo (I’d stay in Dinard instead) but it was still well worth seeing and the places I was able to visit while using it as my base cemented my love of Brittany.  I’m already plotting to return and hopefully explore the western part of the region – after all, the GR34 trail covers the entire coast and I’ve only gotten to do little parts of it so far.  There’s a lot left to see!

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credit: Emery Walker Trust

When I was planning things to do for my London visit last spring, I came across Emery Walker’s House in Hammersmith.  I love a house museum and I especially love the Arts and Crafts movement.  Sadly, I didn’t make it there on this visit but it’s on the list for a future one!

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas – Any new book from Sherry Thomas is worth celebrating! (Book Depository)

London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins – How can it already be 3.5 years since Rachel first raved about this book?  It’s also a favourite of Darlene‘s and with such strong endorsements from two of my favourite readers I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to it.  (Though, to be fair, the delay was assisted by the fact that my library didn’t own it for most of this period.)  (Book Depository)

Fresh from the Country by Miss Read – Last month, Scott announced the nine titles that will be reissued by Furrowed Middlebrow in January and this was the one that intrigued me most.  The cover of the edition I have is horrendous and very much at odds with the sweet original illustrations inside.  (Book Depository pre-order)

After rereading Strong Poison last week for the 1930 Club, I’m eager to continue getting reacquainted with Lord Peter.  I have some of the books at home but they either too fragile or heavy for daily commuting use.  Thankfully, my library had these three in stock:

Clouds of Witness 

Five Red Herrings

The Nine Tailors

What did you pick up this week?

What a wonderful week for reading!  My rereading of old favourites for the 1930 Club continued on from The Diary of a Provincial Lady to Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (via Corduroy by Adrian Bell but I have complicated thoughts on that book and won’t manage to write about it before the Club is over).

Strong Poison was the fifth of Sayers’ mystery novels features Lord Peter Wimsey, the erudite graduate of Eton and Oxford who loves old books, music, cricket, and sleuthing.  Suffering from shell shock after the First World War, Lord Peter, the second son of the Duke of Denver, loafed about a little before discovering in his early thirties a passion for crime solving.  And so he became one of the world’s best-loved literary detectives.

He is, as always, surrounded by a cast of excellent supporting characters: his delightful mother, the Dowager Duchess; Charles Parker, a Scotland Yard detective with whom Wimsey works closely (and who will eventually become his brother-in-law); and Miss Climpson, who runs what Wimsey refers to as “the Cattery”, an employment bureau stocked with useful women who can be installed as informants in offices and homes of interest to the cases Wimsey works on.  Best of all, Wimsey is supported by his batman-cum-valet Bunter who has been with him since the war and is integral to both the running of Wimsey’s life and the solving of crimes.

Strong Poison contains all of these beloved supporting characters and introduces the most important one of all: Harriet Vane.

When we – and Peter – meet her, Harriet Vane is in the dock at the Old Bailey, accused of murdering her former lover.  A detective novelist by trade, Harriet is twenty-nine years old, a graduate of Oxford, and, Peter is convinced, entirely innocent of the murder by poisoning of Philip Boyes.  Despite her plain appearance, Peter falls in love with Harriet at first sight and becomes determined to both prove her innocence and marry her.  He alerts her to both intentions when he finally manages to meet her.  Harriet, being an entirely sane and reasonable person, is not terribly impressed and sees a number of bumps along the path to wedded bliss.  Peter is unperturbed by these concerns, including her past relationship with Philip Boyes:

‘I was absolutely stunned that first day in court, and I rushed off to my mater, who’s an absolute dear, and the kind of person who really understands things, and I said, “Look here!  Here’s the absolutely one and only woman, and she’s being put through a simply ghastly awful business and for God’s sake come and hold my hand!” You simply don’t know how foul it was.’

‘That does sound rather rotten.  I’m sorry I was brutal.  But, by the way, you’re bearing in mind, aren’t you, that I’ve had a lover?’

‘Oh, yes.  So have I, if it comes to that.  In fact, several.  It’s the sort of thing that might happen to anybody.  I can produce quite good testimonials.  I’m told I make love rather nicely – only I’m at a disadvantage at the moment.  One can’t be very convincing at the other end of a table with a bloke looking in at the door.’

Of Harriet’s concern, separate from their romantic future, that she night not have any future at all as the jury seems inclined for her to face the gallows, Peter is equally confident:

‘People have been wrongly condemned before now.’

‘Exactly; simply because I wasn’t there.’

There is much to be said for such confidence.  And so Peter sets out to use all his intelligence and ingenuity to prove Harriet’s innocence.

Strong Poison is, aside from the murder bit, drawn on events from Sayers’ own life.  Harriet, Sayers’ alter ego, was involved in an intense affair with the deeply selfish Philip Boyes, a fellow novelist.  Despite Harriet’s desire to marry and live conventionally, Boyes’ asserted his beliefs in bohemian ideals and free love, eventually breaking down her resistance and convincing her to live with him.  In Sayers’ own situation, she had a passionate affair with a poet who, like Boyes, rejected convention and embraced free love.  After two years, they parted and Sayers’ love then married another.  In Strong Poison, she had the satisfaction of killing him off instead.

Peter is Sayers’ ideal man so it is no surprise that he proves to be the perfect foil to selfish Philip Boyes.  He appears and immediately offers the one thing Harriet had tried so hard to get from Boyes: marriage.  He plays no games and tells her that her past is no barrier to their future together – after all, he also has a past.  Why should hers be more of a barrier than his?  And Peter is wonderfully accepting of other views.  When he visits with Harriet’s friends to gain a better understanding of the case, he good naturedly responds to their egalitarian beliefs – no macho posturing for him:

‘No, thanks’ – as Wimsey advanced to carry the kettle – ‘I’m quite capable of carrying six pints of water.’

‘Crushed again!’ said Wimsey.

‘Eiluned disapproves of conventional courtesies between the sexes,’ said Marjorie.

‘Very well,’ replied Wimsey, amiably.  ‘I will adopt an attitude of passive decoration.’

And yet…Let us be clear, I enjoy these books and always find them entertaining.  But with the introduction of Harriet, I also find myself a little unsettled.  Peter’s pursuit of Harriet is determined and, in the face of Harriet’s repeated assertions that she will not marry him, that becomes a little disturbing.  And there was one statement that drew me up short:

‘…I say,’ said Wimsey, ‘that it would be better for her to be hanged outright than to live and have everybody think her a murderess who got off by a fluke.’

This seems a little out-of-character for Peter and it seems a sentiment that is more focused on his feelings than Harriet’s.  Peter can easily incorporate a wife who has been cleared of wrongdoing into his privileged world but one who still has the stain of notoriety would be a rather different matter.  This statement seems fixed on his concerns, rather than Harriet’s.  Yes, she is a proud woman but would she really prefer to be dead?  To be alive and free might appeal more to the prisoner herself.

In the end – thanks to the extraordinary assistance of Bunter and Miss Climpson – the true murderer is discovered and Harriet is freed.  All is well and we end the book with Peter still determined to marry Harriet and Harriet perhaps feeling a little more inclined in his favour.  But we’ve another five books for that story to play out across…