Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Cruellest Month by Hazel Holt

17. The Cruellest Month (US title - The Cruelest Month) - second in the Mrs. Malory series
by Hazel Holt
mystery, 1991
paperback, 211 pages
finished, 3/16/09

We may thank Mr. Eliot for the phrase, the cruel(l)est month. From The Waste Land:

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Hazel Holt's The Cruellest Month takes place in the month of April in Oxford, England. Mrs. Malory is doing some research at the Bodleian Library for a paper called "The Home-Front Novel: English Women Writers in the Second World War" (wouldn't you love to read it!), and her "roots" are stirred. She says:

If I am honest, I must admit that my time at Oxford was the most purely happy of my whole life. That is not to say that I haven't had a marvelous life since - a happy marriage, a son, a sort of minor but satisfactory literary career - but there is something about the days of one's youth, when the world still had the dew upon it and anything seemed possible.

It may be better to let the past alone and go on with our lives, because upon closer examination all may not have been as it seemed. Indeed, "memory and desire" can stir up emotions that are better left undisturbed. However, there she is, at the place where she was so "purely happy" and of course the memories stream back. She recalls her first love to whom she was drawn because of his "resemblance to Peter Wimsey." She becomes reacquainted with a professor she knew in those days. The flood of memories accompanies a modern day death which has just occurred in the library. A ladder slipped, and shelving fell upon a woman, killing her. She was found by Mrs. Malory's godson. He feels that perhaps it was not an accident, and the sleuthing begins!

In a world where so many films and books feature young characters, it is a treat to read the stories about Mrs. Malory. She is in her fifties as the series begins, recently widowed, with a son at Oxford University. She is a role model for women in this life situation. She is sad, but she dwells on her happy memories. There are a lot of nonfiction books about widowhood, but I feel that sometimes a fictional character can help a reader as much as a real-life guide. Just being in her presence offers a great deal of comfort. I love these books and look forward to reading them all. For book reports on two other Mrs. Malory books, you may go here, and here.


  1. So glad you are reading Hazel Holt's delightful and very well written books. I don't know whether you know, but Hazel was a friend and colleague of the late Barbara Pym (novelist) and, with Barbara Pym's sister, Hilary, wrote a biography of Barbara Pym.
    Margaret Powling

  2. I did know, and hope to buy the biography and perhaps spend a bit of next year immersed in Barbara Pym! I've read two books over the years and so enjoy her work. There's even a book report :<)

    Someone told me there is a cookbook which I'd also like to buy.

  3. Thank you for this book review. This sounds like a very interesting book.

  4. Glad to read your book report. I'll put these on my list, but, like you, I am happily immersed in my own shelves. I'm really liking this year of "my books". :-)

  5. Both Kays! The Mrs. Malorys are such good books. Easy and quick reads, thoughtful, interesting stories, with wonderful descriptions of locales.

  6. I can certainly vouch for the accuracy of the descriptions of the scenery in Hazel Holt's Mrs Malory books, especially her descriptions of Exmoor which, for those of you who live outside the UK, is moorland which stretches across the northern part of the counties of Devon and Somerset. In the novels the town of Taviscome, where Sheila and her friend Rosemary are wont to have tea in the Buttery, is actually the coastal town of Minehead, just in case you want to get out your atlases and see the actual location for yourselves. Like Shelia in the novels, Hazel has a lovely Siamese cat, too!
    Margaret Powling

  7. Oh, thank you, Margaret. It was wonderful reading this.

  8. I must read Mrs. Malory!

  9. This book sounds wonderful. I'm not familiar with this author at all but I like what you wrote about it and would be willing to read it!

  10. Staci, do you know the fantastic fiction site?

    This will tell you all the titles in order, along with their British and American titles. (why do publishers do that?!)


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