Category: Fiction / A - C
Publication date: 5 June 2006
Number of pages: 240
Prizes: Shortlisted for PEN/Ackerley Prize 2006.
This is a lyrical, evocative and wonderfully original wartime memoir about life on a farm in the Cotswolds, seen through the eyes of a child. "Bertie, May and Mrs Fish" is Xandra Bingley's account of her childhood on a Cotswold farm, set against the backdrop of the Second World War and its aftermath. Bingley's mother is left to farm the land, isolated in the landscape, whilst her husband is away at war. With its eccentric cast of characters, this book captures both the essence of a country childhood and the remarkable courage and resilience displayed by ordinary people during the war. The beauty and sensitivity of Bingley's observation is artfully balanced by the harshness and grit of her reality. 'In the cowshed my mother ties her hair in a topknot scarf that lies on the feedbin lid. At five-thirty each morning and four o'clock in the afternoons she chases rats off the mangers. She measures cowcake and rolled oats and opens the bottom cowshed door. Thirty-one brown and white Ayrshires and one brindle Jersey tramp into their stalls! Two thousand acres. A mile of valley. Horses cattle sheep pigs poultry. Snow above the lintels of the downstairs windows. Her fingers swelling. Chilblains. Her long white kid gloves wrapped around a leaky pipe in her bedroom. Knotted at the fingers. She has a lot to learn and no one to teach her. Accidents happen.' Bingley tells her tale in a startling voice which captures the universe of a child, the unforgiving landscape and the complicated adult world surrounding her. Her acute observation, and her gift for place, people, sound, and touch make this a brilliantly authentic and evocative portrait.
What the papers say:
'There is nothing usual about Bingley's story or her way of telling it. It is full of bright colours like a child's paintbox. This is her first book!but it instantly takes its place beside country classics.' John Carey, Sunday Times 'This is a book so alive that when you finish it you feel that you have been there and met the people![The] book has immense charm, and also a resonance that is beyond charm.' Diana Athill, Guardian 'You would need to have lost touch with all feeling not to be moved to tears by the book's final chapter.' Peter Parker, Telegraph '"Bertie, May and Mrs Fish" is an instant English classic!a runaway pleasure to read' Ali Smith 'Utterly enchanting, and quite unputdownable' Jilly Cooper 'Your book is a great masterpiece, incredibly vivid!the whole thing is brilliant' Mark Amory (Spectator Literary Editor) 'I sat down on the edge of my bed when I brought Xandra Bingley's book upstairs. It is now 10.15 pm. I haven't moved, I haven't taken off my coat, I haven't had supper. I think it is absolutely wonderful. I'm spellbound' Diana Athill 'I haven't been able to put it down. I think it is absolutely magical, a wonderful bittersweet stream of consciousness, and a terrific ability to capture the wonder of childhood. It is extraordinary how the book has achieved the voice of a child. The authenticity shines through. I think you're onto a winner here.' Simon Jenkins 'It's absolutely lovely - and so beautifully produced and enticingly written. I wept over the ending. Wonderful.' John Carey 'It's terrific. Like Diana Athill I didn't put it down until I'd finished it. I recognized my own childhood on a farm, like I recognized Lorna's village school life in Bad Blood; and that kind of recognition is a (rare) absolute pointer to something being seriously good. The atmosphere at the beginning is so evocative and mysteriously inviting.' - Holly Eley (TLS editor) 'It is utterly wonderful. I think it is nothing less than a masterpiece. Reading it is like watching a wonderful painter gently filling a canvas. The way the story is quietly and deftly put together is entrancing, exciting, funny, evocative, upsetting and also wistfully sad. I adored the way the author brought out youthful hope and wonder, and the inevitable ending of it.' - Brough Scott (TV, ST, Racing Post)
Xandra Bingley rode and trained ponies before she started work at seventeen for MI5. She travelled extensively before returning to London to join Ian Hamilton's New Review, and became a publisher's reader and then a commissioning editor at Jonathan Cape. She wrote regular profiles of writers for Tatler before she started her own literary agency. She has a son and a daughter and a grandson, and has lived by Primrose Hill for thirty-five years. This is her first book.
In Stock: 8 copies