In prison you see only the moves of the enemy. Prison is the hardest place to fight a battle.’
117 Days is Ruth First’s personal account of her detention under the iniquitous ’90-day’ law of 1963. There was no warrant, no charge and no trial – only suspicion.
This sparsely written and unique record tells of her experiences of solitary confinement, constant interrogation and instantaneous re-arrest on release – lightened by humorous portraits of governors, matrons, wardresses and interrogators, seen as the tools of the police state.
In A Bowl of Cherries Shena Mackay tells the story of twin brothers whose lives are inexorably intertwined: Rex, a self-absorbed and successful writer, and Stanley, a minor poet who works as a dishwasher. Rex lives on the family estate being the older of the twins by one minute with his unhappy wife, Daphne, who writes children’s books. Their overweight daughter, Daisy, lives nearby, and as a result of a guilty secret of her own, has married an overbearing, misogynist, and skinflint husband, Julian. Rex’s illegitimate son, Seamus, 14, discovers Daisy quite by accident and their relationship blossoms despite the many flawed characters that surround them. He carries a family secret that proves to be devastating, but which ultimately releases his half-sister Daisy from her torments.
‘Highsmith is a giant of the genre. The original, the best, the gloriously twisted Queen of Suspense’ Mark Billingham
‘Dear Sir, I suppose you are pretty pleased with yourself? Superior to everyone, you think. A fancy apartment and a snob dog. You are a disgusting little machine, nothing else. Your days are numbered.’
Ed Reynolds, an editor at a prestigious publishing house, has received a number of anonymous poison pen letters. He has no idea who could bear him such a grudge. Returning home one night, he finds a ransom note for his wife’s beloved French poodle: ‘I have your dog Lisa. She is well and happy . . . I gather the dog is important to you? We’ll see!’
The criminal has hit the Manhattan couple where it hurts most. And so, with this bizarre event, their nightmare begins. A Dog’s Ransom captures the fragility of middle-class life in this riveting, scathing tale.
‘Mercurially funny, playful and mischievous’ Ali Smith
‘I was in heaven reading this book. I think she writes like an angel . . . just blissful’ Stephen Fry
A novel of ‘pure delight’ (Claire Tomalin) by the author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
When Mrs Hawkins tells Hector Bartlett he ‘urinates frightful prose’, little does she realise the repercussions. Holding that ‘no life can be carried on satisfactorily unless people are honest’ Mrs Hawkins refuses to retract her judgement, and as a consequence, loses not one, but two much-sought-after jobs in publishing. Now, years older, successful, and happily a far cry from Kensington, she looks back over the dark days that followed, in which she was embroiled in a mystery involving anonymous letters, quack remedies, blackmail and suicide.
With an introduction by Ali Smith.
‘Wonderfully entertaining.’ Sunday Telegraph
‘An outstanding novel … A Far Cry From Kensington has an effortless, translucent grasp of the spirit of the period.’ Observer
Grizel Dane, a bold young servicewoman in the US army, arrives at the London home of her great-uncle Sir Rollo Dane seeking refuge from the chaos of wartime. Through the old man, Grizel learns the surprising history of the Dane family and Lark Ingoldsby.
Orphaned by a train crash, Lark was taken in by the Danes as an adoptive daughter but soon found herself caught in a web of sibling rivalry, love and attrition. Selina Dane, racked with jealousy, set out to destroy Lark’s dreams of love. When Grizel falls for Pax Masterson, a wounded airman, Rollo urges her to seize her chance for happiness, as he was not able to. Rumer Godden’s dramatic story of romance and tragedy was the basis for the classic film Enchantment starring David Niven.
‘Her stories remain with one, indelibly, as though they had been some turning-point in one’s own experience’ – Elizabeth Bowen, author of The Heat of the Day
Intelligent and haunting, with echoes of Brief Encounter, this is a love story by one of the best British writers of the 20th century.
During summer games of hide and seek Harriet falls in love with Vesey and his elusive, teasing ways. When he goes to Oxford she cherishes his photograph and waits for a letter that never comes.
Years pass and Harriet stifles her dreams; with a husband and daughter, she excels at respectability. But then Vesey reappears and her marriage seems to melt away. Harriet is older, it is much too late, but she is still in love with him.
‘I love Highsmith so much . . . What a revelation her writing is’ Gillian Flynn
‘Ramón had done it. Obviously! He thought about Ramón, his Catholic soul trapped in his passion for Lelia. He’d find Ramón and see that he paid with his life for what he had done.’
In A Game for the Living threads of sexual jealousy and guilt are shot through with all Patricia Highsmith’s uncanny talent for the unexpected.
Mild-mannered Theo is a wealthy German expatriate; hot-tempered Ramón was born into poverty in Mexico City. The two men are unlikely friends – especially as they are in love with the same woman. When Lelia is found brutally murdered, both lovers are suspects – and each suspects the other. But then they discover that a thief was seen at Lelia’s apartment, and their hunt leads them on a frantic chase to sun-drenched Acapulco. Theo begins to get the uneasy feeling that his every move is being watched.
Wilmet Forsyth is well dressed, well looked after, suitably husbanded, good looking and fairly young – but very bored. Her husband Rodney, a handsome army major, is slightly balder and fatter than he once was. Wilmet would like to think she has changed rather less.
Her interest wanders to the nearby Anglo-catholic church, where at last she can neglect her comfortable household in the more serious-minded company of three unmarried priests, and, of course, Piers Longridge, a man of an unfathomably different character altogether.
Emma’s anxious and manipulative plea, ‘Someone listen to me’, opens- and closes- this deliciously uncomfortable novel in which Nina Bawden explores myriad emotional disguises with her characteristic acuity.
When Emma’s father-in-law falls down the stairs to his death, she is convinced she pushed him in an act of wish-fulfilment. To her husband Henry and her close friend Holly, this is unthinkable. Guilt is simply Emma’s obsession in a humdrum domestic existence enlivened by romantic fantasy. For Holly, who successfully fields a string of love affairs, sexual pleasures are more easily attainable, whereas Henry, a Divorce lawyer, prides himself on being a realist. Each tells their story in turn, illuminating and distorting their separate versions of the truth.
As they do so, an intricate jigsaw of the private deceits with which they shore up everyday life emerges . . .
Born in 1831, Isabella, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes in 1872 ‘in search of health’ and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel. In 1873, wearing Hawaiian riding dress, she rode on her spirited horse Birdie through the American ‘Wild West’, a terrain only recently opened to pioneer settlement. Here she met Rocky Mountain Jim, her ‘dear (one-eyed) desperado’, fond of poetry and whisky – ‘a man any women might love, but no sane woman would marry’. He helped her climb the ‘American Matterhorn’ and round up cattle on horseback.
The wonderful letters which make up this volume were first published in 1879 and were enormously popular in Isabella Bird’s lifetime. They tell of magnificent unspoilt landscapes and abundant wildlife, of small remote townships, of her encounters with rattlesnakes, wolves, pumas and grizzly bears and her reactions to the volatile passions of the miners and pioneer settlers.
By the author of “Circles of Deceit” and “Tortoise by Candlelight”, this novel shows the fragility of a family’s equilibrium. Three children live with their mother and are happy in the love of their stepfather. The arrival of an aunt and the adolescent worries of the girls sets up tensions.
A timeless Cinderella story, A Little Princess is one of the best-loved children’s classics of all time. A heartwarming tale that champions the power of imagination.
‘I’d read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and loved it – so I tried A Little Princess and liked it even more!’ Jacqueline Wilson
‘Sara Crewe is a Cinderella figure… She is intelligent and good humoured with an infectious warmth that embraces the lowliest of her new acquaintances. The sunshine continues when impoverishment and drudgery befall her and she relies on her private fantasies to preserve her natural zest for life’ Guardian
‘It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.’
When Sara Crewe is sent to Miss Minchin’s school for young ladies, her indulgent father provides for her as if she were a little princess. But although her toys and clothes are the envy of the other girls, Sara’s kindness and gift for storytelling soon win her lots of friends. Then, the tragic news arrives that her father has died penniless and, without wealth or a guardian, Sara is at the mercy of Miss Minchin. Forced to work from dawn until dusk as the school’s unpaid servant, she looks over the rooftops from her damp attic room and dreams of a better life. All is not lost: she has friends, courage and imagination – maybe that’s all she really needs.
A collection that will be coveted by children and adults alike, this list is the best in children’s literature, curated by Virago. These are timeless tales with beautiful covers, that will be treasured and shared across the generations. Some titles you will already know; some will be new to you, but there are stories for everyone to love, whatever your age. Our list includes Nina Bawden (Carrie’s War, The Peppermint Pig), Rumer Godden (The Dark Horse, An Episode of Sparrows), Joan Aiken (The Serial Garden, The Gift Giving) E. Nesbit (The Psammead Trilogy, The Bastable Trilogy, The Railway Children), L. M. Montgomery (The Anne of Green Gables series) and Susan Coolidge (The What Katy Did Trilogy). Discover Virago Children’s Classics.