Last month I read Antonia White's Frost in May the first of a quartet of books which are autobiographical in nature. I have yet to write about it, but I will. Frost in May also happens to be the first book that Virago published as a 'Virago Modern Classic' and I can see why it was such a good fit for them. The book that launched the list, right? It was about time I read it, and it was compulsive reading, too. Not particularly happy really, but thought-provoking and so very well done.
Since I'll be writing about it soon, I won't go into details, but in case you aren't familiar with the story it's about nine-year old Nanda who is sent to a Catholic boarding school after her father has converted to the religion later in life. It's 1908 and as you can imagine it's an intensely strict environment and a closed one, too. Nanda is something of an interloper initially--not as wealthy as some of the girls and not Catholic by birth, so there are all sorts of prejudices amongst the girls and the nuns, too.
Not wanting to lose the momentum of Antonia White's excellent storytelling I've picked up the second book, The Lost Traveller and started reading it yesterday and am finding it hard to put the book down. Nanda has become Clara, though this second book is essentially a continuation. Apparently White thought the first book was too much her own life. The Lost Traveller isn't so far off from White experienced as a young woman, but there is much to the story that is changed and invented. The four books cover the adolescence of Nanda/Clara from ages seven to twenty-three.
Since The Lost Traveller is my most recent 'start' and happens to be on my mind at the moment, I thought it would be fitting to share a little teaser with you. The story begins with the death of Clara's grandfather, which has thrown her family's household into an upheaval. Clara, nearly fifteen now, is away at school but has been called home to attend the funeral. The first few chapters, however, focus on her parents and grandmother, and White creates such finely drawn portraits of each in turn.
I don't always do well with books filled to the brim with teeny tiny print (have I mentioned that I have had to finally get glasses for reading?) and so much of it that the entire page is covered--top to bottom and side to side, but with prose so artfully managed and such an interesting story I don't 'feel' the size of the print at all. In this case I'm only happy that there is so much of it---that much more to enjoy.
In this excerpt Clara has just returned home, which is for her very uncomfortable now. Not so very long ago she had been quite close to her father but now she feels only awkward to be at home again.
"Clara began to long more and more than ever for the day when she could get back to school. Though the discipline was strict and every minute of her time parcelled out and supervised, she felt free there. In the enforced silences of the convent day the mysterious creature could breathe and grow. At home, to be silent was taken for a sign that one was sulking. However full, however empty one's mind, one was expected to endlessly be making conversation."
And Clara's attempts at conversation with her father only end in her remarks being seen as impertinences.
I had thought I would stop with this book and take a break from White's work and move on to other books, other Viragos, but I might just keep going until I've read all four books (and I've got a book of her stories as well). We'll see how wrapped up I get in Clara's life.