Book Reviews

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1935) – a review

From the original review of National Velvet by Enid Bagnold in the Paris (TX) News, August,1935:  Those of us who loved the story Black Beauty when we were children will turn with delight to another fresh, vivid horse story of more recent date, National Velvet by Enid Bagnold.

She has written little up to this date, but this book will assure her of lifelong affection in the hearts of all people interested in stories about horses.

The story is highly fantastic and in improbable but appealing for all of that. A spindly child of 14, Velvet Brown is so foolish about horses that she has cut out all the pictures of them that she can find and has pasted them on cardboard. To her, they are real; she goes on far journeys on them, she leads them to pastures, she grooms them every day. Read More→

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Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather (1935) – a review

From the original review in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August, 1935:  Willa Cather’s Lucy Gayheart gropes a wistful way back to the time of the horse and buggy, when some men and some women loved deeply and truly and make themselves miserable and hugged their misery, so that small towns, no less than Vienna and the Paris Left Bank and a Greenwich Village as dirty and noisy then as it is now, had romances of which they had a right to be proud.

It was long before Mr. Theodore Dreiser made every young couple paddling a canoe upon a fresh water lake American Tragedy conscious … it was a time when the rich Harry Gordon might mark Lucy for his own, because he knew she would do him honor is the wife and his home and because he loved her. Nobody in Haverford thought it strange that the son of the Gordons should have picked out the daughter of the little German watchmaker and leader of the town band. They thought it was nice, in the manner of small towns with other things to gossip about.

“Photographs of Lucy mean nothing to her old friends,” Miss Cather explains. “it was her gaiety and grace they loved. Life seemed to lie very near the surface in her. She had that singular brightness of young beauty; flower gardens have it for the first few hours after sunrise.” Read More→

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Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith (1950)

From the original review of Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith in the Oakland Tribune, April, 1950:  Crime Tale Has Touch of Poe, Stevenson at Their Eeriest.

This eerie tale may be read as a story of “possession” in the old demonic sense — as a philosophical allegory of the extremes of good and evil that like in every man’s nature — as a psychological study of divided personalities and the power of suggestion — as a high powered detective yarn of murder, its concealment and eventual unmasking — or as a terror tale fully equal to the classics of Stevenson and Poe.

All this came about through a chance acquaintance, struck up on a transcontinental train, between Guy Haines, a brilliant young architect on his way west to get a divorce from his no-good wife, and Charles Bruno, a harried playboy psychopath whose various complexes and degeneracies include, among others, the last stages of alcoholism, obsessive hatred of his father, a half infantile, half erotic dependence on his mother, and incipient homosexuality. Read More→

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The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (1952) – a review

When The Price of Salt was published in 1952, it was a rarity in lesbian literature. Lesbian pulp novels were quite a thing, but in order to pass censors, one of the two protagonists had to either come to a bad end or realize that she was straight, after all.

The Price of Salt was written by Patricia Highsmithwho used the pseudonym Claire Morgan for this book. She was at the start of a career writing thrillers about sociopaths (such as the one in her first book, Strangers on a Train, the basis for the 1951 Hitchcock film). The Price of Salt was an early departure from what was to be her preferred genre — psychological thrillers; it would remain an outlier among her works.

Highsmith was bisexual, and her novel about women falling in love became the basis of the film adaptation, retitled Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. It would have been impossible to make a film of the novel upon its publication — Hollywood has always been more tolerant of violence than same-sex love stories on the screen. Read More→

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The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald (1946) – a review

The Egg and I is the book that put Betty MacDonald on the map. Not only did the book become a world-wide bestseller, the film version starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray was hugely popular as well. While many contemporary readers still adore the book, others are deeply disturbed by its blatant racism the against Native Americans as well as its classism and snobbery toward those the author describes as Neighbors with a purposeful capital. In fact, following the book’s publication, lawsuits against the author were filed by the Chimacum community.

Those who have read The Egg and I, we’d love to hear your comments on how this book reads with a contemporary view.

From the original review in the Valley Morning Star (TX), January 1946: The Egg and I  by Betty MacDonald is the funniest best-seller to top the nonfiction list in many seasons. It is largely the story of life on a wilderness farm-chicken ranch, while the first two chapters give an account of Miss MacDonald’s harum-scarum childhood. Read More→

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