The Sunday Salon: A Serendipitous Reading Experience

Hello and welcome to this week’s Salon.  I hope everyone is having a nice weekend.  Our weather is sunny and mild for a change, and it’s been a pretty good week overall.  I finished two books:  Carry Me Down, by M. J. Hyland (my review), and A Long Long Way, by Sebastian Barry (my review), both of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize several years back.  I’m also working on two knitting projects (two pairs of socks, one for me and another for my husband).  Both designs are from the knitting books I wrote about last week, and they’re both interesting but not too difficult, so I’m making good progress.

Yesterday I sat down to tackle my next read, Molly Keane’s The Rising Tide, and found a very pleasant surprise.  When I assembled my August book stack, I had no idea it contained one of those satisfying serendipitous reading experiences.  Here I’d just finished A Long Long Way, which described the experience of working-class Irish soldiers in World War I, and the political upheaval surrounding Irish Home Rule.  Of course I knew Molly Keane was Irish, but while The Rising Tide covers a similar time period, it’s focused on a completely different slice of society.  As Polly Devlin wrote in her 1983 introduction to my Virago Modern Classics edition:

She writes of narrow horizons, elitist occupations, the preoccupations of a moneyed, hunting, curiously dislocated class of people, floating as it were over the political, angry geographical reality that was Ireland.  In The Rising Tide there is no mention of political turmoil though at the time in which it is set the issue of Home Rule was tearing the country apart. In this disregard for the outside world she is akin to Jane Austen; in concentrating on the two inches of ivory of one Edwardian family, in her feeling for the minutiae of human behaviour, she gives an unforgettable picture of a vanished world, the world Home Rule was threatening.  These people are sustained by an absolute sense of their own superiority, by a certainty about the appropriate social response to every crisis, including tragedy.  It is a book about, among other things, heartlessness.  (p. vi-vii)

I’m about 1/3 of the way into the story now, and this passage has really shaped my reading experience.  The Rising Tide is the story of the French-McGrath family during the Edwardian period (roughly 1900-1919), and reading Keane’s prose you’d never know there was anything to life beyond houses, hunting, and fine dining.  I can’t help but think of young Willie Dunne from A Long Long Way, whose father was Dublin’s chief of police and therefore deeply involved in the change sweeping over Ireland.  In some ways, Willie’s family would have been ready for things to come, but the French-McGrath’s fortunes will undoubtedly change as the book moves on through the years.

Yes, I know these specific characters are all works of fiction, and yet they represent types of people who were very much alive during that period.  I’m enjoying the comparison and contrast of these two works and am grateful for the happenstance that led to this back-to-back reading!

Have you ever had a serendipitous reading experience?  Tell me about it!

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8 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: A Serendipitous Reading Experience

  1. How wonderful! I don’t think it qualifies as “serendipitous” but lately and totally randomly I have been finding small things related in my books. A song referenced in one book is mentioned in the next book I read, an unusual word used several times in one book and then again in the next, a movie line quoted and then there it is again in the very next book I read. Just small things binding this books together in my mind.

    Happy Reading!

  2. I kind of just had a similar thing to Dollycas in that I was reading a Golden Age crime by Michael Innes (who I’ve just discovered!) – “Hamlet, Revenge”. When I looked up Innes on Wikipedia, it turned out that Edmund Crispin, one of my favourite detective novels, had taken his pseudonym from a character in this book, and also that Innes’ detective Appleby makes a guest appearance in one of Crispin’s detective stories! Spooky! Life is full of strange connections….

  3. Houses, hunting and fine dining, oh my! I love the sound of this book and am feeling a bit ashamed that I pass Keane’s books by on the shelf. A favourite second-hand shop of mine usually has a few Virago titles on hand so I will keep my eye out for this one.

    The best serendipitous reading experience of mine was picking up a copy of Diary of a Provincial Lady because of its rather pretty Cath Kidston cover. I could have wept for its perfection, just the sort of story I had always been looking for! It led to me discovering Simon’s blog and the rest, as they say, is history.

    • Darlene, this is my third Molly Keane and I’ve really enjoyed them all. I would pounce on the next one you find in the shop! And I loved reading about your serendipitous experience — that definitely led to wonderful things!

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