IT was world book day this week so I thought now was as good a time as any to start The Random Book Club. It’s random because I won’t necessarily be discussing new books, instead I’ll be reviewing older titles I find in secondhand book shops. It’s no secret that I love books, there’s a floor to ceiling book wall in our lounge full of all kinds of literary marvels. I have no interest in ebooks however, I much prefer the real thing. The smell of old books is especially wonderful and the discoloration of the pages makes me think about all the other people who have read the same words and how the stories played out in their minds. You can’t get that from a screen. So this will be a regular feature on Helen’s Wardrobe, adding a little extra to the “lifestyle” side of things on my blog.
An avid fan of Douglas Coupland – specifically Generation X, Girlfriend In A Coma and Hey Nostradamus – I became a little biased towards the “cult classic”. Although over time I’ve found that some of the best stories have been those I randomly selected from my library, off the beaten track when it comes to the author and/or genre. Having no expectations of these stories (I mostly read fiction) means they have the best chance of being great reads.
The first two titles I’m recommending are The Rose of Sebastopol by Katherine McMahon and The Haresfoot Legacy by Frances Brown. The reason why I’ve paired these two books together is because both stories are connected by The Crimean War. Both books came from a charity shop and were then randomly selected from my collection, so the fact they were connected in such a way was quite a fluke. Especially as I tend not to read the synopsis, preferring to go into these stories blind, which for me adds to the enjoyment of reading fiction. Random.
The Haresfoot Legacy is loosely based on the lives of the author’s own great-great-grandparents, Gypsies who lived and travelled through Sussex and Hampshire in the South of England. The story sees romance and tragedy in amongst the conflicts and customs of Romany life; full of twists and turns, just as you get comfortable, more revelations are thrown in. Judging this book by it’s cover – which we should never do, but let’s be honest we do – I would never have read this. It was written back in 1990 and the cover looks like some kind of awful romantic novel an unfulfilled housewife might have on their bedside table. But this is such a fantastic read, I absolutely loved it. In fact it would make a fantastic film. You could try your luck in a charity shop with this one or find it on Amazon, just make sure you add it to your reading list.
The Rose of Sebastopol starts off among the well-to-do, quite far removed from the setting of the aforementioned Haresfoot Legacy. Centred around family, love and home life this soon becomes a tale of mystery slap bang in the middle of The Crimean War. I love this book, the main character is initially meek and quite frustrating, developing into someone completely different. As the reader you feel part of this progression and share the frustrations and need for answers conjured up by the pivotal puzzle at the centre of this tale. Again, this is something I wouldn’t normally pick up but I’m so glad I did, it’s a captivating read with a poignant end. Another great contender for a film too (take note tv people – stop putting incoherent crap like TOWIE on our screens and spend the money on something with intelligence and depth). This book was written back in 2007 and is still available online and in Oxfam bookshops, I’m looking forward to reading more from Katherine McMahon and encourage you to give this novel a read.
Photographs by Helen Stanley.