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Yesterday, late at night, I was watching my favourite Netflix show, when I suddenly remembered A.J.Cronin. It made me smile.

A.J.Cronin was probably the first literary fiction writer that I ever read. I was in my middle teens when I first discovered his books. I still remember how it happened. I was at the bookshop one day, browsing. I used to spend a lot of time in bookshops even then, when people my age were playing cricket or watching TV or gossiping. When I was browsing at the bookshop, I saw Cronin’s ‘The Citadel‘ in one of the shelves. I’ve never heard of him before. Most of the books at the bookshop were not affordable for me, and so I mostly spent time browsing, but this one was priced so low that I was surprised. I’d never seen a full novel at this price and I couldn’t resist getting it. I read it a little later and I loved it. Sometime later, when I went to the library, I saw another Cronin book. I couldn’t resist borrowing that and reading it. This continued happening and Cronin’s books started cropping up everywhere – I saw them at the library or at secondhand bookshops and I continued getting them and I loved most of them. I didn’t know anyone who had read Cronin. None of my friends or acquaintances had heard of him. He was my secret.

I continued reading Cronin’s books till my late twenties, but at some point it was hard to get them, because they went out of print and secondhand copies were hard to come by. I spotted the occasional copy at the library, but otherwise Cronin had just disappeared. When the Kindle arrived, I looked for Cronin’s books but they weren’t there. During the peak of his career, Cronin was a very popular writer, and many of his books were made into movies or TV series, but now it looked like he had disappeared. I was surprised when in one of the online bookclubs I used to be a part of, readers one day started discussing Cronin. I didn’t know anyone else who had read his books. Most of the readers who discussed Cronin’s books were closer in age to my mother, and when I told them that I loved Cronin’s books, they were surprised, because according to them, I was too young to have read Cronin.

Most of Cronin’s stories were about doctors – ‘The Citadel‘, my most favourite book of his, was about a doctor who worked in a mining village and his wife who was a teacher there; ‘The Green Years‘ was about a boy who wanted to become a doctor; ‘Grand Canary‘ was a story set in a ship in which the main character was a drunk doctor. ‘Adventures of a Black Bag‘ was about a doctor called Dr.Finlay and the cases he handles in a small town / village. ‘Adventures in a Black Bag’ was probably based on Cronin’s own experiences as a doctor and it became quite famous when it was first published. It was made into a TV series which was very popular. I think this might have been the forerunner of and the inspiration for most of the TV series which followed in future decades, including two popular Netflix series now, ‘Doc Martin‘ and ‘Virgin River‘, which are about doctors in small towns / villages. The doctor in ‘Virgin River’ looks like a drunk doctor who is perennially annoyed and he almost looks like a character who has stepped out of the pages of one of Cronin’s books.

So yesterday, when I suddenly remembered Cronin, I paused my Netflix show, and searched for Cronin’s books on the Kindle. When I pressed the ‘Search’ button, I was in for a surprise. Page after page of listings turned up with Cronin’s books! I’ve never seen that before! It was like a lost treasure had been found suddenly and Christmas came early. I was so thrilled!

I couldn’t resist buying the Cronin books, of course! I wanted to add every title which was listed, but then had to resist temptation and pick more carefully. I got all my favourites, ‘The Citadel’, ‘The Green Years’, ‘Lady with Carnations’. ‘Lady with Carnations‘ is one of the Cronin books in which the main character is not a doctor. The story is about an aunt and a niece who are very fond of each other, but then surprisingly discover that they are both in love with the same man. What happens after that is very beautiful. I also got ‘Shannon’s Way‘ which was the sequel to ‘The Green Years’. I always wanted to find out what happened to the boy in ‘The Green Years’ who wanted to become a doctor. I am excited to find that out when I read ‘Shannon’s Way’. I also got ‘Adventures of a Black Bag’, ‘The Innkeeper’s Wife‘, Cronin’s alternate Christmas story on the Nativity, ‘Hatter’s Castle‘, Cronin’s first book which I’ve always wanted to read, ‘Adventures in Two Worlds‘, Cronin’s autobiography, in which Cronin describes how he started out as a doctor and ended up also becoming a writer. There were not many doctors who wrote stories in the pre-Second World era (I think Somerset Maugham was trained as a doctor but didn’t practise, while Anton Chekhov was probably one of the few practising doctors who also wrote stories) and so that should make interesting reading.

I’m so excited to get started. I think I’ll probably read ‘The Green Years’ again and then get to ‘Shannon’s Way’. My long dream of reading ‘Shannon’s Way’ is finally going to be realized and I’m so excited!

Have you read A.J.Cronin? Which of his books are your favourites?

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I have wanted to read an Elizabeth Taylor novel for some time (I know what you are thinking – this is not the actress, this is the English novelist) and when I was wondering which one to read first, Caroline from ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat‘ recommended ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont‘.

Mrs Palfrey moves to the Claremont hotel. It is a place where mostly single, retired people live. There is an interesting cast of characters who live there and each of them is unique in their own way. Mrs Palfrey settles down there and makes new friends. One day while coming back from the library, she slips and falls. A young man helps her, takes her to his home nearby, and treats her to a cup of tea, and finds her a taxi to get back. And that is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. What happens after that – you have to read the book to find out.

Mrs Palfrey is a very likeable character and her friends and acquaintances at the Claremont are all interesting characters that we enjoy reading about. The relationship between Mrs Palfrey and Ludo, her young friend, is beautifully depicted. Elizabeth Taylor’s prose is charming and there are many beautiful sentences and passages in the book, which are filled with humour and insights. I am giving below some of my favourites.

“He had a glass of wine on the table beside him, but did not touch it. He sat patiently still, with his hands on his knees, as if waiting for the drink to drink itself.”

“Perhaps from his father he had his sense of duty, and from his mother its sporadic quality.”

‘Do you consider yourself an optimistic person?’
‘Oh, I think so.’ She did not explain to him how deeply pessimistic one must be in the first place, to need the sort of optimism she now had at her command.

“Sometimes, when I was a young, married woman, I longed to be freed – free of nursery chores and social obligations, one’s duty, d’you know? And free of worries, too, about one’s loved ones – childish ailments and ageing parents, money troubles, everyone at times feels the longing – to run away from it all. But it’s really not to be desired – and I realise that that’s the only way of being free – to be not needed.”

“It was hard work being old. It was like being a baby, in reverse. Every day for an infant means some new little thing learned; every day for the old means some little thing lost. Names slip away, dates mean nothing, sequences become muddled, and faces blurred. Both infancy and age are tiring times.”

I enjoyed reading ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont‘. I am glad I read my first Elizabeth Taylor book.

You can find Caroline’s (from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) review of the book here, and Jacqui’s (from JacquiWine’s Journal) review here.

Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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