THE TRUE HEART by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Penguin £10.99, 304 pp)


by Sylvia Townsend Warner (Penguin £10.99, 304 pp)

The bewitching scenery of the Essex marshes dominates this wonderfully written Victorian love story. Orphanage girl Sukey wins prizes for excellence, is declared ‘a credit to the institution’ and is sent to work as a skivvy at a marshland farm.

Despite the drudgery, she relishes farm life and falls in love with the glittering creeks and sea mists, as well as with a beautiful, brain-damaged boy farmhand. The result: he is packed off home and she is turned out, destitute.

Wholly innocent, she begins a perilous quest to find her boy. Funny, heart-rending, with brilliant dialogue, an irresistible plot and the poetic, almost mystical ending is perfect.


THE OPPERMANNS by Lion Feuchtwanger (Persephone £13, 560 pp)

by Lion Feuchtwanger (Persephone £13, 560 pp)

Never have the initial effects of Hitler’s racist bully-boy tactics been so movingly evoked. German-born Jew Feuchtwanger and his highly respected family were living in Berlin in 1932 when Hitler started demonising the Jewish population.

His autobiographical novel describes how careers are destroyed, shops boycotted, culture abandoned and houses trashed and looted by Nazi stormtroopers.

Truly sickening is Nazi disregard for education. Schools are infiltrated by moronic Hitler Youth leaders, who make pupils sing banal Nazi songs. Published in 1933, the author could never have imagined that Hitler’s plan would end in the Holocaust.

THE HOUSE OF DOLLS by Barbara Comyns (Turnpike books £10, 160 pp)


by Barbara Comyns (Turnpike books £10, 160 pp)

Here’s a little gem . . . widow Amy Doll rents the top floors of her house to four past-their-prime women who entertain elderly men. As Amy insists, ‘my ladies are not really tarts, but are visited by gentlemen friends who give them a few bob’.

How else could they pay the rent? They have transformed upstairs — red walls, a bar, mirrors galore — where doddery old regulars can enjoy a convivial drink. Amy, in the basement, turns on her radio and ignores the upstairs goings-on. No real problems then, until a neighbourhood policeman offers to tidy up the garden, remarking: ‘Your tenants look a rum lot.’ Oops! Will Amy be arrested for running a brothel? Hilarious.

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