Buchan of the Month: Greenmantle by John Buchan

Buchan of the Month

GreenmantleAbout the Book

In Greenmantle (1916) Richard Hannay, hero of The Thirty-Nine Steps, travels across war-torn Europe in search of a German plot and an Islamic Messiah. He is joined by three more of Buchan’s heroes: Peter Pienaar, the old Boer Scout; John S. Blenkiron, the American determined to fight the Kaiser; and Sandy Arbuthnot, Greenmantle himself.

The intrepid four move in disguise through Germany to Constantinople and the Russian border to face their enemies: the grotesque Stumm and the evil beauty of Hilda von Einem.

Note: I read my personal copy of Greenmantle published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1950 but the details and links below are for an ebook  public domain edition available free on Amazon.  Other paperback editions are widely available.

Format: ebook (178 pp.)    Publisher:
Published: [1916]               Genre: Adventure, Thriller

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Greenmantle on Goodreads

 My Review

Greenmantle is the fourth book in my Buchan of the Month reading project.  For a spoiler-free introduction to Greenmantle, including details of its first publication and context, click here.  To find out more about the project and my reading list for 2018, click here.

Recovering from injuries sustained at the Battle of Loos, Richard Hannay is charged by Sir Walter Bullivant with investigating rumours of an uprising in the Muslim world.  It seems the Germans plan to use religion to help them win the war by causing Britain and its allies to divert troops from the Western Front. Hannay reluctantly accepts the case seeing it as a diversion from his true role leading his troops on the front line.

The action of the book moves from wartime Germany to Asia Minor as Hannay and his comrades seek to disrupt the plot.  This involves a perilous journey through enemy territory to meet up with his friend, Sandy Arbuthnot, in Constantinople.  Hannay and his other companions Peter Pienaar and John S. Blenkiron, have to outwit some formidable foes, including the thuggish Ulric von Stumm, Turkish army officer Rasta Bey and the charismatic but malevolent, Hilda von Einem.

It’s all terrific fun involving coded messages, a dying prophet, disguises and a secret band known as The Companions of the Rosy Hours as Hannay seeks to foil the dastardly plot.  However, there are also elements of real life events.  For example, the character of Sandy Arbuthnot is based on Buchan’s friend Aubrey Herbert – with a touch of Lawrence of Arabia thrown in.  It all comes to a climax in a vividly described battle scene, again inspired by actual events in the First World War.

Next month’s Buchan of the Month is A Lost Lady of Old Years, first published in 1899.

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In three words: Action-packed, thrilling, adventure

Try something similar…The Three Hostages by John Buchan

John BuchanAbout the Author

John Buchan (1875 – 1940) was an author, poet, lawyer, publisher, journalist, war correspondent, Member of Parliament, University Chancellor, keen angler and family man.  He was ennobled and, as Lord Tweedsmuir, became Governor-General of Canada.  In this role, he signed Canada’s entry into the Second World War.   Nowadays he is probably best known – maybe only known – as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.  However, in his lifetime he published over 100 books: fiction, poetry, short stories, biographies, memoirs and history.

You can find out more about John Buchan, his life and vast literary output by visiting The John Buchan Society website.

Book Review: The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby

The Crowded StreetAbout the Book

This is the story of Muriel Hammond, at twenty living within the suffocating confines of Edwardian middle-class society in Marshington, a Yorkshire village. A career is forbidden to her. Pretty, but not pretty enough, she fails to achieve the one thing required of her – to find a suitable husband.

Then comes the First World War, a watershed which tragically revolutionises the lives of her generation. But for Muriel it offers work, friendship, freedom, and one last chance to find a special kind of happiness…

Format: Paperback (288 pp.)                    Publisher: Virago
Published: 19th November 1981 [1924]  Genre: Modern Classics, Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Crowded Street on Goodreads

My Review

“In books things always happen to people.  Why doesn’t somebody write a book about someone to whom nothing happens – like me?”

The Crowded Street follows Muriel Hammond through the years 1900 to 1920.  The reader first glimpses Muriel as a nine year girl attending her first formal party and experiences with her the anguish of feeling left out and unable to understand the expected rules of behaviour, to the disappointment of her status conscious mother.

This early experience sets a pattern for Muriel throughout the book.  Serious, thoughtful but timid, lacking in self-confidence and with a liking for certainty, Muriel finds herself always the one left without a partner – whether at a dance, the tennis club, even at school.    ‘Was she more stupid than other people, or did everyone feel like this at first? She was travelling in a land of which she only imperfectly understood the language.’

This changes when the confident and worldly Clare Duquesne joins Muriel’s school and offers her the friendship she has always sought.    Clare ignites a sort of hero worship in Muriel.  Clare seems to be everything that Muriel isn’t.  As time goes on it turns out others are equally in thrall to Clare.

Muriel allows herself to be persuaded by others that her academic interests, in astronomy and mathematics, are not suitable subjects for her to pursue.  Her headmistress asks: “How will it help you, dear, when you, in your future life, have, as I hope, a house to look after?”  No, Muriel’s duty lies in staying at home and assisting her mother until a suitable marriage can be made.  Indeed, her mother’s sole ambition seems to be to manoeuvre Muriel and her sister, Connie, into a position in society where they can secure themselves husbands.  This overwhelming desire will have tragic consequences and act as a stifling influence on Muriel, making her feel that life is passing her by.

The outbreak of the First World War and the renewal of an old acquaintance bring change and the possibility of a different future for Muriel if only she can find the courage to grasp it.  ‘A respectable marriage had not always been the one goal of her life.  She had dreamed dreams.  She had seen visions, but her visions had faded before the opinion of others; she had lacked the courage of her dreams.’

Living in an age where equal opportunities are for the most part a given, I’ll admit I found it difficult at times to understand Muriel’s inability to escape from her situation and her lack of…gumption, I suppose.  However, on the other hand, I’m guessing the author intended to create a sense of righteous anger in the reader, at the waste of talent and at the prevailing notion that a woman’s role was merely as an appendage or helpmeet to a man and not as a person in her own right.  Like me, you may give a silent cheer at the end of the book.  “The thing that matters is to take your life into your hands and live it, following the highest vision as you see it.”

The Crowded Street was the book I drew in the recent Classics Club Spin #17.  You can find my full Classics Club list here.

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In three words: Elegant, insightful, thought-provoking

Try something similar…Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain

Winifred HoltbyAbout the Author

Winifred Holtby (1891 – 1935), novelist, journalist and critic, was born in Rudstone, Yorkshire.  With the exception of South Riding, this is her most successful novel; powerfully tracing one woman’s search for independence and love, it echoes in fictional form the years autobiographically recorded by her close friend, Vera Brittain, in Testament of Youth.