TBR Lucky Dip: October

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - Save & Share - 2 Comments

Those of you with long memories may recall my TBR lucky dip project which I spoke about in my reading plans for the new year.  Despite my best intentions, it failed to materialise in August or September as blogging took a back seat and getting married, going on honeymoon and settling into our new home came to the forefront.  Now that I have time to read again, I’ve brought the challenge back and turned my TBR pile over to random selection once more.

Part of moving has involved packing up all my books and finding new homes for them on the new shelves.  I’ve completely cleared out my LibraryThing catalogue and I’m only adding books back to it once they have a proper place (this is partially because the Thorn has suggested that I tag each book with its location so that he can find them all by himself).  Consequently, www.random.org only had a small pool of books from which to select this month’s read, and the deities have ordained that it shall be book number 41.  According to my TBR pile, that means that I am reading…

The Last and the First by Ivy Compton-Burnett


Ivy Compton-Burnett occupies a unique place in English literature.  Unquestionably one of the greatest English novelists of the twentieth century, she seems to have been uninfluenced by any earlier writers: she is wholly and inimitably herself.  When she died, in 1969, it was believed that she had completed one more novel.  After a search, the manuscript — hand-written, and covering several exercise books — was found by a friend.  All her admirers will be thankful and delighted that there is now, and finally, a nineteenth title to add to the Compton-Burnett canon.  Like all its predecessors it is characterised by dry satirical wit and profound observation of human behaviour, aphoristic brilliance and total integrity.  In particular it continues, and further refines, the economy and austerity of her later novels: here we have the distillation of her art.

She strictly observes her own conventions.  Once again we have the English country house setting, around the turn of the century.  This time there are two families at its centre, and the inevitable “power figure”, the tyrant.  The members of the families interact and comment; there are a pair of typically delightful children; and the domestic “chorus” includes both housekeeper and butler, splendidly realised.  On the face of it, this is a simple tale, but one that is packed with opportunities for Ivy Compton-Burnett to exploit her many gifts, and especially her unrivalled quality of irony, ruthless and comic.  The dialogue, carrying the entire weight of characterisation, is more subtle and condensed than ever.  Her final novel will be ranked among her finest.

I have never read anything by Ivy Compton-Burnett before so I’m a bit dubious about reading her last novel first, particularly as the foreword suggests that this one was pieced together after her death and so probably isn’t the best reflection of her work.  I also feel as though I’m going into this book blind, as the internet has failed to yield any reviews or plot summaries which might provide an indication of what it is about.  Nevertheless, I’ve heard some interesting things about Compton-Burnett and I know she is a favourite of Simon at Stuck in a Book, so I’m looking forward to giving her a go.

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2 Responses to “TBR Lucky Dip: October”

Comment from FleurFisher
Time October 18, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Interesting. I’ve picked up a few ICBs, having seen Simon’s praise and knowing that she’s a Virago author, but I have yet to read any and I’ve never heard of this one. I’ll be very interested to learn how you get on.

Comment from oldenglishrose
Time October 19, 2011 at 10:08 am

So far it’s interesting, to say the least. I’m not convinced that I like it, but I’m not sure that I dislike it either. I have a feeling it’s going to be a challenging book to write about.

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