Posts tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

October 17, 2017

To the River: a Journey Beneath the Surface by Olivia Laing

by Team Riverside

Paperback, Canongate, £9.99, out nowOlivia Laing TO THE RIVER

This fresh and interesting account of Laing’s midsummer exploration of the Ouse river is now available in a good new edition of the excellent Canons series.

Originally published in 2011, this is nature writing partly in the vein of Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, or Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun.  Exploring East Sussex in part to get away after a horrible relationship break up, Laing brings a sharp eye to the natural world in what may feel like a very familiar area: “It is astonishing what wood and earth together will yield, given a spark and a puff of air.  A windowpane, say, bubbling and settling into cool green sheets, like ice on a winter’s day” (p. 31).  She preserves a genuine sense of wonder at the natural world, while never prettifying what she experiences.

There are excellent literary stories throughout the book, particularly about Virginia and Leonard Woolf who are strongly associated with this area.  I am a fan but didn’t know that after their house in London was bombed, “the Woolfs went down to salvage what they could from amidst the dust and rubble: diaries, Darwin, glasses, her sister’s painted china.  A melancholy business, but she says she likes the loss of possessions, the liberation” (p. 207).

The steamy heat Laing walks through rises off the page, and we are reminded that midsummer is still something magical, even in the midst of modern life.

Review by Bethan

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March 21, 2015

A London Year

by Andre

Paperback now available – £12.99

A LONDON YEAR365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters – compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

“With Thelma to the George Inn, Southwark, for a lunch of steak-and-kidney pie, cherry pie and beer. Expected hordes of American tourists but found only English, including three young men with posh accents who went through a repertoire of advert slogans, radio catchphrases and anecdotes about cricket, bloodsports and motors, even calling beer ‘ale’.” – Peter Nichols, Diary, 16 June, 1971

Part of the pleasure of this anthology of diary entries (one or more for each day of the year) is discovering the familiar from a distance. So for Southwark residents like us, there’s playwright Peter Nichols on a certain type of tourist in Borough High Street 44 years ago. Or how about the Quaker merchant Peter Briggins on the retail opportunities of the frozen Thames during the Great Freeze (21 January, 1716):

“Afternoon I went to London Bridge & saw booths & shops as farr as the Temple but they say there is booths to Chelsey, & below Bridge from about the Tower booths & many huts & people crossed over. There was they say 2 oxes roasted.”

With the capital as the changing backdrop, this is a remarkable portrait of London penned by more than 200 diarists, including Samuel Pepys, Kenneth Williams, Alan Bennett, Mary Shelley, James Boswell, Virginia Woolf and George Gissing. From the 16th century to the 21st, it’s an eyewitness account of everyday life that takes in grisly deaths in Tudor times, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, anti-Vietnam war protests, World War I Zeppelin raids and Derek Jarman’s night out in Soho.