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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 10 December 2018

"The Unspeakable Skipton" by Pamela Hansford Johnson

Hansford Johnson was a prolific novelist who wrote 27 novels between 1935 and 1981 as well as collaborating on two detective novels, writing eight plays and a book of poetry, translating Anouilh, and writing a memoir, a work of sociology and several critical works. She was a friend of Dylan Thomas and her second husband was C P Snow.

The Unspeakable Skipton is about a dirt-poor novelist living in Bruges. He relies on an allowance from a cousin and from the occasional cheque from his publisher. He resents both of these and writes vitriolic letters of abuse which causes them, unsurprisingly, to cut him off. Otherwise he makes a living by ripping off tourists. He is a pimp and a fraud.

This is a great story and a wonderful character study of the artist as an obsessive and it has some woderful characters. But what really excited me were the magnificent descriptions:
  • The sun has begun to set ... in a moment the quay would shine like a square opal in all the marvellous colours known to man and, better yet, with marvelous colours to which no man had yet fitted a name.” (C 1)
  • A miraculous evening. The sky broke like an egg into full sunset and the water caught fire.” (C 1)
  • "The swans glimmered in the rustic dust like washing left out all night.” (C 2)
  • She went into her usual jelly-dance of silent laughter” (C 2)
  • It was Sunday morning and all the bells were rocking the bright sky about, boxing its ears with their glorious hands.” (C 4)
  • Tantrums of rain burst across the Grand’ Place, wild winds, stiffened by the sea, scolded the cafĂ© blinds and slapped the skirts of the women over their legs.” (C 5)
  • The trees had been lichened with frost.” (C 7)
  • A side street looking like a crack in the wall between two tattered hotels.” (C 10)
  • He subsided into his own bulk as a pig does when it sits down.” (C 11)
With writing as good as this, one wonders why Hansford Johnson never because as well known as some of her contemporaries.


  • Other great lines:
  • “It was disgusting to have the naked toes rubbing together, the sweat rolling between into grey crumbs.” (C 1)
  • There was nothing except smell to indicate the various income levels through which he passed, since the whole staircase was shabby; but the first floor smelled of dust and biscuits, the second of stewing steak and cheese and the first of ether and flowers.” (C 2)
  • Unlike his fat friend, he looked not made for pleasure, but for disillusionments of an amusing nature.” (C 3)
  • He walked slowly across the square, feeling their eyes, like four pairs of prongs, upon his retreating form.” (C 3)
  • His thoughts running round like mice on a treadmill.” (C 4)
  • To work on this book was perhaps the greatest pleasure Daniel had ever known. When he did so he was not a man but a god, improving not only upon a beautiful earthly creation, but upon a creation already divine.” (C 4)
  • He was joyful, knowing genius in himself, burning tall and steady as a candle flame on a windless night.” (C 4)
  • The Flemish masters introduce, behind the figure of the Madonna, perhaps through a small window, little scenes of domestic life.” (C 6)
  • Doubt stirred like a centipede, one foot and then another: slowly.” (C 8)
  • You can't accuse Duncan of not respecting women ... he has respected at least four since we came here.” (C 19)
  • If my friend Flavio had any sense he would relax and let himself go to seed; because really there is nothing so young as seed.” (C 22)
  • In the old days, before God had settled upon a policy of temperateness and detachment, lightning would have wriggled from His hand to strike the blasphemer down.” (C 23)
  • Not that I am accusing you ... of being dirty minded. Where no mind exists, it Is impossible for there to be either dirt or cleanliness.”(C 24)
  • He despised Dante, a little, for his lack of enterprise in leaving so many of the less-advertised sins unaccounted for.” (C 27)

December 2018'196 pages

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