Books for all Seasons

Here is a little indulgence: a challenge to find four books I’d read, with each of the seasons in the titles. A kind of structured serendipity. Nothing significant emerged from the combination, but I do get to recommend the four books.

Les 4 saisons par ou d’apres Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) via Wikimedia

Les 4 saisons par ou d’apres Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757) via Wikimedia

If on a Winter’s Night a traveller by Italo Calvino

Translated by William Weaver

211 If on coverThis is the ultimate meta-novel. Calvino addressed the reader in alternate chapters. Every interpolated chapter begins and explores some aspect of novels. The reader chapters considers reading and writing, culminating in a discussion between readers in a library, who all read in different ways and to different purposes.

As well as a serious exploration of books and reading this novel is full of playfulness – such a good quality in writing. Playing with the reader, as reader. I think it’s great and I need to read If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller again soon.

If on a Winter’s Night a traveller … by Italo Calvino (1998) published by Vintage Classics

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald

211 Begin of Sp coverI enjoyed this story of an expatriate in Moscow in March 1913 for 12 months, whose wife mysteriously disappears and leaves him with his three children. The place is beautifully evoked, with believable detail. It is a very enigmatic.

The beginning of spring comes as Nellie reappears. We have only just found out where she went and why. The relationships of all these quirky characters are not cold, but spring returns with hope. However we know that within a few months Europe will be at war and Russia convulsed.

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988) published by 4th Estate

In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor

65 Winifred coverElizabeth Taylor’s eighth novel is about love of many different kinds. It is also about love’s tendency to appear and disappear as the title suggests. The summer changes their experience of love for all the characters. Elizabeth Taylor knew what she was doing in this, her eighth novel.

Kate Heron is around forty and has recently married for the second time. Her husband Dermot fails to find suitable employment. Lou, Kate’s sixteen year old daughter falls for and hangs around the chaplain, Father Blizzard. Kate’s son Tom is used to having girls at his beck and call, has become practised in letting them down gently when he moves on to the next one. But he is smitten with Araminta, the daughter of a neighbour.

It is Dermot’s lack of fibre (as they would say) that pushes the story to its conclusion. While there is tragedy, sudden and brutal, all does not end badly for Kate in a conclusion that does will satisfy all readers as we are unsure what kind of future Kate will have. The final short chapter allows us to see how where love leaves her and the other characters, a year on from that summer season.

In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor re-published in 1973 by Virago Modern Classics.

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

204 4tet in Autumn coverFour people work together in an office, doing unspecified work. The two men and two women are all single. Their lives have little in them, although each has made a small effort to do something, whether it is to engage with the church, admire her surgeon, collect milk bottles, be bitter or plan for retirement in the country.

The women retire, and the death of one of them brings the others together in a strange way. ‘But at least it made one realise that life still held infinite possibilities for change’, the novel concludes. On the way to this conclusion, every tiny action or event is squeezed by the quartet for its meaning and engagement.

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (1977) published by Pan/Picador Books

Related posts

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald reviewed on Bookword January 2014

I could have included The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald in the posts about Books in Moscow a few weeks ago.

I reviewed In a Summer Season in my series on the novels of Elizabeth Taylor in the winter of 2013.

I reviewed Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym for the older women in fiction series recently.

Have you any recommendations of books for a season?

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Filed under Books, Elizabeth Taylor's novels, Older women in fiction, Reading, Reviews, Travel with Books

8 Responses to Books for all Seasons

  1. Kathleen Bethell

    You’ve set me a challenge to try to come up with a similar list. Alas, I can only add two winter titles — the other seasons elude me (although I would have offers A Quartet in Autumn had you not already included it). My two additions for winter are The Winter of our Discontent, by John Steinbeck, and Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for these suggestions Kathleen. I have not read either of your two winter novels. Are they recommendations? I must admit to a weakness for these serendipitous book lists. They often throw up interesing unread books. Like the recent 1924 bloggers’ reviews.

  2. Eileen

    Great structure – I love that

  3. Sophie Tomlinson

    I love book lists too so this is fun. I’ve been getting into short stories lately so my first recommendation is Summer-time, a story contained in a collection called Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards. Virago Modern Classics published her in the eighties but my edition is produced by the Library of Wales. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before – dreamlike, atmospheric, understated. At the same time I kind of feel like every word carries weight, significance. I want to read a lot more. She wrote one novel in 1928, (the stories were published the year before) called Winter Sonata, so it fits in with the list but I haven’t read it yet. Judging by the stories it will be, at the very least, interesting. Tragically, she took her own life at only thirty one. My other short story is Winter in the Air by Sylvia Townsend Warner. Very understated in that English way, but I think all the more powerful for that. It contains some very fine writing indeed. It’s in The Virago Book of Love & Loss, but may be in other collections.

    • Caroline

      Goodness, I started something with this post. Thank you so much for these recommendations, especially as they are short stories. And for the introduction to Dorothy Edwards.
      The challenge remains to find another book with Autumn or Fall in the title.

  4. Anne

    HI Caro- I have just finished rereading Elizabeth Taylor’s View From the Harbour and just could not put it down. In many way it was even more rewarding reading it for a second time as I was freed from the need to know what was going to happen ie the narrative and could just concentrate and glory in the detail, the characterisation and the wonderful painting of the landscape. But the reason I am writing – and I know we have discussed this before and not agreed- but I am convinced that the final paragraph of the book is highly significant.
    Why has Taylor allowed Teddy Foyle to come back into the story here at the very end if not to suggest that the tying up of all the loose ends in their lives ie the suppression of Tory and Robert’s love affair which Tory has managed by agreeing to marry Bertram when clearly neither of them is really happy with the idea, and her fleeing to London, when Prudence knows and hasn’t yet told her mother, is about to come to an overturn. I feel that we the reader are supposed to read that Teddy has come back to see Tory “with dread and delight” and that not finding her here he will look her up in London and her neat plan will explode. The book could have ended at the previous paragraph and we the reader would have been content but by allowing Teddy to make an appearance Taylor leaves one with a feeling of disquiet and a desire to know more……what happened next?

    Take a look- what do you think?

    • Caroline

      Hi Anne,
      thanks for posting this. It’s great to read the comments of another enthusiast about Elizabeth Taylor, and someone who reads so closely. I’m not sure why you think I disagree with you, as so many of her novels end with some level of ambiguity. I think you have pointed to it for this novel.
      Great to read your comments as always.

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