The pleasure of the familiar

There are people who never re-read books.  People who have yards and yards of shelving filled with books that they will never read again, stories that they will never lose themselves in again, characters who will never be greeted as the friends that they became in the few hours spent with that book at an earlier time.

I am not one of those people.  Sure, there are books that I know I won’t read again, either because they were disappointing, or because they were so slight that they wouldn’t hold my attention for a second time.  And some crime novels, those that are all about the whodunnit and less about the characters, tend to hit the charity shop pile.  But I love to re-read books sometimes, whether that’s a masterpiece such as Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, a slim volume where each reading reveals a new nuance, a new insight or something with far fewer literary aspirations – One for the Money by Janet Evanovich is an excellent companion for a tedious trip when one doesn’t have the concentration for something new.

When I have a cold though, or when the wind rattles the sashes and the rain lashes down, or when my soul needs soothing, there are a number of books that I reach for. These are old friends, whose company is always reassuring and welcome and I whole-heartedly recommend them if you haven’t already read them.

castleI Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.  Very different from 101 Dalmations, the children’ book for which Smith is best known, this book is a coming of age novel, concerned primarily with Cassandra, younger daughter of the aristocratic Mortmain family, now living in genteel, bohemian poverty in their increasingly derelict castle, Godsend. I have several copies ranging from a shabby reading-in-the-bath paperback to a beautifully bound Folio Society edition.  Do read it, and if you know a teenage girl, give them a copy too.

Hens Dahensncing by Raffaella Barker.  This tale of Venetia Summers, mother of three, newly divested of her faithless husband, living chaotically in rural Norfolk is a delight.  The trials and tribulations of her hen-keeping, infrequent encounters with Bloody Marys and an unexpected romance are balanced by the War Hammer obsessions of her two sons and the eccentric presence of their sister, The Beauty.  It’s told in diary form (but don’t worry, it’s not a Bridget Jones clone) and it’s a regular companion when I get the sniffles and retire beneath my duvet.  Currently out of print, those sensible people at Bloomsbury are going to be republishing all of Raffaella’s backlist this year, including a couple of titles that I haven’t read yet.  Looking forward to that.

flambards (Flambards by K M Peyton (and also Flambards Divided). When this was dramatised for tv in the late 70s, I was allowed to stay up late to watch it and I loved it, spending my pocket money on the tv-tie in editions of the paperbacks which I still have on the shelf.  I loved the horses, the story, the countryside.  The dastardly Mark (played by Steven Grives with a frankly ill-advised moustache*) was my first crush and even now I sometimes find myself huming the theme tune as I gallop along.  Wonderful books that utterly transport you to another time and another world and why the incredibly prolific (a book per year for over 60 years) Kathleen Peyton is a heroine to so many.  I also love Flambards Divided, the fourth book in the trilogy, added 12 years after the third, following the popularity of the tv series and continuing the story.  It still causes controversy among fans between those on one side who loved the idea of Christina’s happy ever after with stable-boy-made-good Dick and realists like myself who knew that life wasn’t going to be as simple as that. Loved the books then and love curling up with them still.

jillJill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson.  I have to confess to a vested interest in recommending this book as our publishing company Fidra Books is in the process of reissuing this series of books, but I love it very much. I’ve read this book so often that I know chunks almost off by heart.  Jill is a witty, practical girl who sets out to teach herself how to care for the neglected pony that she buys and to learn to ride.  She has plenty of help admittedly, but she is resourceful and self-reliant and when I was a similarly pony-mad girl, Jill is exactly the sort of person I wanted as a best friend.  Although the perfect book for a ten year old, the books can be enjoyed by an adult, especially one who wished for a pony of their own when they were you. I re-read it from time to time and each time I get a little glow of pleasure that we’ve been able to bring these books back from obscurity.

the PLThe Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield.  Another book that I have in multiple editions, my favourite being a lovely fat green-spined Virago containing all four titles featuring the diaries of the Provincial Lady (like the second Mrs de Winter, we never know her name) although this is becoming rather fragile now and my last re-read was of the Folio Society edition. Nice, but the illustrations don’t fit with my idea of how the PL looks.  Do read them – the PL is a perfect companion for a train journey or a weekend on the sofa with a sniffle. The books are largely autobiographical – the day to day life of the wife of a Devon land agent – but have a sharpness and sense of the ridiculous which prevents any tweeness.  If you haven’t already discovered the PL, what are you waiting for?  Answer comes there none…

What are your comfort re-reads?

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