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When my gran, Elsie Cooper, died in 1989 aged 75 we found a huge stash of old Book Club books in her bedsit. There's precious little information on The Book Club on the internet (if anybody can help me here, I'd be very grateful) but it appears to have been established by W.G. Foyle, almost certainly as in Foyle's famous bookshop in London's Charing Cross Road, and was probably no different to any modern book-club, offering popular novels in budget-quality editions at vastly reduced prices. That said, these editions were hardbacks, even if the covers were lighter and more cardboardy than their modern counterparts, and they all had dustcovers. Although there was something quaint about the books, they were obviously old-fashioned and didn't really appeal to anyone in the family, so we gave them to a charity shop. At the last minute, however, I salvaged a selection of the dustcovers as a memento of my grandmother, her era and her tastes. Of course it seems perverse now that the books themselves are gone, but, to adapt the old adage, maybe you can judge something about a book from its cover? I have tried to do so with each of the surviving selections reproduced here...
Click on the thumbnails for larger versions.
The Children Grow Up by Beatrice Kean Seymour
Pipe-smoking bore bangs on about marriage while flame-haired girl dreams of exotic passion?
Joy Street by Frances Parkinson Keyes
A story about a happy street or a woman called Joy Street who may or may not be happy?
Pompey's Head by Hamilton Basso
Greenesque exotic spy shenanigans, or story about a man with enormous wings who sits behind a desk a lot?
You Can Call It A Day by Peter Cheyney
We didn't have bras when we were gels.
Mieaou! by Charles Platt
Not actually a Book Club edition, but from the same era (or slightly earlier - it's dated 1934), and the only one where the book survives. Not a novel but a compendium of facts and folklore about "pussy", as Platt insists on referring to the feline race.
These Lovers Fled Away by Howard Spring
Figures escape from "grim up north"-type Lowry painting for the metropolitan sophistication of central Europe? Or an epic about the career of one Chad Boothroyd? See below...
(Uncle Arthur! Miss Orlop-Rose! And could Eustace Hawke be destined for anything other than poetry?)
Lover Under Another Name by Ethel Mannin
Lovers torn apart by war try to find each other again amidst the ruins of Europe, their quest thwarted by their change of identity? Everything works out in the end perhaps as they uncover an immense stash of Nazi loot flimsily disguised by a red curtain? Er, maybe not, as the blurb below reveals...
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Period drama of manners featuring cameo appearance by what looks like a ghost on top of a Hansom cab? (Detail below)
The Strange Land by Hammond Innes
A precursor to Star Wars? Maybe not...
To The Wood No More by Ernest Raymond
Dull-but-rich lonely bloke covets passing girl-with-parasol? Actually, it's much more bizarre than that. Who would guess that a plot seething with "diablerie, witch-craft and spiritualism", not to mention "wardroom language and rumbustious conversation" lurks beneath such an innocent illustration? Harry Potter, eat your heart out...
Westward the Sun by Geoffrey Cotterell
Love in a posh bingo hall? Sadly no blurb survives...
The Linden Tree by Hester Rowan
This Collins dustcover makes the already abstract title even more intriguing. Probably my favourite of the lot. The jury is out, however, on whether it's more interesting than the story, as outlined here:
More about Hester Rowan
From the back cover of The Linden Tree
The back flap of each dustcover contains lists in various styles of the Book Club's authors - some illustrious (Evelyn Waugh, for instance), some less so (L.A.G. Strong, anyone?) Some of these names are fabulous: Warwick Deeping! Rafael Sabatini! But wasn't Richard Mason the boy wonder who published The Drowning People at the tender age of 20 while still at Oxford? There's a Dennis Wheatley-HG Wells ghost/time travel epic in there somewhere...
The back covers meanwhile feature recent and forthcoming books in the list, together with their original prices and the Book Club's own price representing a discount of some 75%.
I wonder why Nicholas Monsarrat's The Story of Esther Costello was only 10s. 6d while all the others were 12s. 6d? Oh well, I guess we'll never know now...