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The Holiday – Stevie Smith

18 Mar

Celia works at the Ministry in the post-war England of 1949 and lives in a London suburb with her beloved Aunt. Witty, fragile, quixotic, Celia is preoccupied with love — for her friends, her colleagues, her relations, and especially for her adored cousin Casmilus, with whom she goes on holiday to visit Uncle Heber, the vicar. Here they talk endlessly, argue, eat, tell stories, love and hate — moments of wild humour alternating with waves of melancholy as Celia ponders obsessively on the inevitable pain of love.

Alarm bells were ringing fairly early on with this one, it was all to do with the dreadful, disjointed, uninteresting conversation at a dinner party. A lack of speech marks didn’t help the book’s case either.

Getting over that hurdle early on, the book opened out into an assorted collection of meditations on the experiences of love and politics and the past, before becoming mildly irritating towards the end.  This is a book that will probably polarise opinions of all who read it.

There is little to add to the above blurb in terms of storyline, you are getting precisely what you read there.  It all rests on the quality of said writing and that is where this reader would have preferred more balance, what Smith says is much more interesting than the way She has written down.  Whilst the whimsical structure and thought processes of Celia and co. work well enough, it is the writing itself that troubled me.

There is plenty of repetition of certain words, whether in the same sentence or throughout a conversation, it’s distracting to be told four times within a page that the same character is saying something maliciously, for example.  Whether this writing is an intentional choice or through lack of a decent editor, I don’t know but it soon becomes tiresome.  There is a richness to our language and often I was mentally inserting my own words to avoid the repetitiveness.

It all feels very English, the countryside setting in summer is delightful and I enjoyed being there.  The novel possess a dreamy melancholia for the past (relationships and ways of life); as well as the uncertain future – to the backdrop of the Indian independence, and the waning of the British Empire – for the characters as well as the country.

The  publisher preferred the book to be set after the war to correspond with the times, rather than the WWII setting that was the original manuscript.  This is what gives the book a strange feel, slightly disjointed and fanciful which is no bad thing in this case.  Had I not known about the changing of the time period I wonder how that would have affected my reading and enjoyment of the book.

Apart from the way in which it is written – which I could have forgiven were that my only real gripe – there was one more thing that slightly ruined my reading experience and led to a number of eye rolls.  There was too many histrionics, especially towards the end, I find it hard to sympathise with people when they become plain annoying and childish.

It all feels quaint in today’s world but I did genuinely enjoy large portions of the book, the nostalgia of recalling long past feelings and evoking of places were the books main strengths.  Approaching this I had no idea what to expect and got more out of it than I imagined, based on the strength of the first ten pages.  This is a book of its time but retains a good offering of imagery and thoughts.

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23 Comments

Posted by on 18/03/2017 in Fiction

 

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23 responses to “The Holiday – Stevie Smith

  1. Christy B

    18/03/2017 at 17:43

    It sounds like a bit of a mixed bag. I’m glad you got over the slow start of it so that you could bring us such a genuine review here, my friend. Have a wonderful weekend!

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2017 at 13:02

      It has its good points and I do like a challenge, especially when the book is short. Have a great what s left of the weekend yourself!

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  2. gargoylebruce

    18/03/2017 at 22:10

    I’m impressed you ploughed on. Tedious dialogue is a bookish passion-killer in my ….book.

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2017 at 12:51

      I stayed for the imagery mostly, the dialogue wasn’t as bad as A Farewell to Arms, thankfully.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  3. heavenali

    18/03/2017 at 22:38

    Interesting, I read something by Stevie Smith many years ago , it might have been this one. I have a vague memory of something that was fairly hard going.

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2017 at 12:49

      This one was quick to read and light enough but the niggles I had were constantly underlining themselves, I probably wouldn’t pick up any of her other works but plenty more Virago books to choose from!

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. clarepooley33

    19/03/2017 at 02:16

    A bit disappointing then. I haven’t read any of her novels but from what you say it seems she wrote them in a similar way to her poetry.

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    • Ste J

      19/03/2017 at 12:53

      She sticks in a fair amount of poetry in this one and it hasn’t encouraged me to go seek out any more of her works. It had its high moments but it was too much of a mixed bag for me to explore her books further.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Andrea Stephenson

    19/03/2017 at 13:15

    It’s a long time since I’ve read Stevie Smith and I can’t say she’s one of my favourites, I hope you’ll enjoy your other Viragos more!

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    • Ste J

      21/03/2017 at 19:32

      On the strength of this one, I think I will find a lot to like in future Viragos and it hasn’t put me off adding to my collection in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  6. shadowoperator

    19/03/2017 at 15:06

    I have heard of Stevie Smith as a cult figure and a bit of an acquired taste; thanks for the warnings about her shortcomings. Life is just too short to read for the sake of being able to say I’ve read her, and impress people at cocktail parties (on the other hand, if you find yourself at a cocktail party any time soon, feel free at least to derive the benefit of your pain and suffering with the text to gain some points with any particularly cultish people you want to impress!).

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    • Ste J

      21/03/2017 at 20:10

      Cocktail party, well I’ll accept any invites as I have never been to anything as posh. I had never heard of her before reading, just a random pick up. I never get people who read to name check authors, the pure joy should be enough. I do enjoy being all dramatic about my less than stellar reading experiences.

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  7. macjam47

    19/03/2017 at 20:59

    Steve, with its ups and downs, you were still able to find enjoyment in reading this and giving it a thoughtful review.

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    • Ste J

      21/03/2017 at 19:35

      About halfway through I thought I would finish the book and write a really good review, it has its merits and I tried to balance what I liked and didn’t as I know others will probably see something else in what I disliked. Maybe it just isn’t my thing, nonetheless I am glad I read it.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  8. annadailyreads

    19/03/2017 at 21:10

    This sounds like something I would like to read.

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    • Ste J

      21/03/2017 at 20:13

      I find it interesting how the same words appeal to different people, it’s the joy of reading and sharing. I hope you enjoy it when you source a copy.

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  9. Liz Dexter

    20/03/2017 at 08:34

    I feel the novels are a sort of extension of her poetry, so similarly repetitive and whimsical with a very individual “voice”. But marmite-y.

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    • Ste J

      21/03/2017 at 19:58

      I looked at some reviews out of curiosity afterwards and she is divisive but I like that, it creates alternative viewpoints for when I do a reread. I don’t think I’d have much patience for her poetry though.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Sheila

    20/03/2017 at 20:00

    Thank you for not adding to my to-read list! It sounds like it would be fun to travel to this time and place but I’m sure there are less annoying books for that kind of a thing.

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    • Ste J

      21/03/2017 at 19:28

      I’m an all round service, I read books so you won’t have to sometimes. Overall, despite its good points and unique voice it just didn’t cut it with me overall.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  11. Resa

    20/03/2017 at 21:21

    Well, I won’t rush out and buy this book, in fact I will probably never buy it. However, that is not all because of your review, but rather my lack of reading time. I’m looking for what is the best for me to read, which is why I read your reviews.
    Have a great week, Ste J!

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    • Ste J

      21/03/2017 at 19:45

      I always appreciate you reading my posts my friend, I will find you the best books. It’s a shame you don’t have the time to read and write as I know you would love to. Stay awesome my friend.

      Like

       

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