One of the great pleasures of being a member of the Lit and Phil in Newcastle is that I have been able to choose books that I wouldn’t normally have picked. It has been a kind of strategy. So far I have hit a very rich vein of reading material which has been a godsend during these difficult times.
This approach is how I came across Persephone books. In their unassuming dove grey covers they didn’t exactly shout out to be selected but in many ways they reminded me of the excellent Everyman series. I picked one, I forget which now but ever since have been enthralled.
According to its website ‘Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. All of our 139 books are intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written and are chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial.’ Apparently they are grey because they like grey and it does bring a calm beauty to the works.
I have bought a few now.
They are all excellently written, none more so than ‘There Were No Windows’ by Norah Hoult, a story about getting old and out of time, memory loss and confusion. It covers the last months and days of Claire Temple, whose flame had shone brightly in London’s artistic circles only to be left impoverished and lonely, with her friends now dead or forgotten.
She is a character that could be charming one moment, cantankerous the next, frail and vulnerable then snobbish and rude. She imbues in the reader a sense of both love and loathing. The book is a beautiful and challenging description of what it is like to get old and be lost in a world you know longer belong to. It made me feel for my own frailty and in the end, I shed a tear or two.
You can learn so much about life in literature, especially from such powerfully written books as ‘There Were No WIndows.’
If you get a chance, you should read it.