Reading the Decades #3: The 1930s

As a breather from Iain Banks, today, another of my Reading the Decades posts.

Those who visit this blog regularly will know of my devotion to contemporary fiction, the shiny and the new. But I’m not really a one-trick pony in my reading. The metrics in my annual reading stats include the number of books I’ve read published before I was born in 1960 and those between 1960 and 1999 and they prove I’m not totally addicted to the latest titles.

So, I started a new series of posts picking out some of the best old books that I’ve read, sorted by publishing date, decade(s) by decade(s), beginning with the 1940s HERE and followed by the 1970s HERE.

This time, we’re looking at the 1930s – to tie in with  Simon and Kaggsy’s latest reading week of 1936). The trusty spreadsheet showed 42 titles from the decade in total of which 13 are by Georges Simenon! However, I’ve tried to achieve a spread across what I’ve read and when I read it (although primarily since 2008 when I launched my blog). NB: ‘Buy’ links all go to Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.


1930 – The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

I first read Hammett’s great novels in my early twenties, and it was a pleasure to revisit this one for our Book Group a few years ago. The Maltese Falcon set the bar for all the great noir novels to follow, defining the main character types of the hard-boiled detective novel that will crop up again and again. Hammett’s style is florid, he always tells us how everyone looks with loads of descriptive text full of adjectives; his obsession with the ‘v’ shapes in Spade’s face gets a bit repetitive. I prefer Chandler for the writing but Hammett is great on plot. Full review hereBUY

1931 – The Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon

Simenon launched Maigret in 1931, publishing no fewer than eleven in the first year. This one, here translated by Linda Asher, is my favourite of that first batch. Maigret has been helping out in Rennes, and when a murder happens in fishing port Concarneau, he goes to help there. I don’t think I’d ever have been able to work out whodunnit in The Yellow Dog; for a mystery of a mere 130 pages, the plot was surprisingly complex. I liked Maigret in this novel – his non-judgemental support of the underdog, not suffering fools like the mayor gladly and his ability to say no comment without actually having to say it. Full review hereBUY

1932 – Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamund Lehmann

This was Lehmann’s third novel. Set in the 1920s, it is seventeen-year-old Olivia’s first dance. Written in three parts: the lead up to the dance and getting her dress, the day of the dance and getting ready, then the dance itself, the latter being the longest part of the novel. It is full of Olivia’s internal monologues: she discusses everything with herself, analysing, trying to understand her observations, but she’s also a romantic and wants to believe the best of everyone and everything. Lehmann captures the workings of Olivia’s innocent teenage brain so well. Full review hereBUY

1933 – The Forbidden Territory by Dennis Wheatley

Wheatley’s first published novel was an instant bestseller and as the first in his series of eleven ‘Duke de Richleau’ books, it introduces us to four of his most famous recurring characters. He is perhaps most remembered for his black magic novels, however, The Forbidden Territory is a good old-fashioned action adventure yarn, in which the Duke has to stage a daring trip to rescue his old friend and rogue Rex, imprisoned in the depths of Soviet Russia. Very entertaining! Full review hereBUY

1934 – Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

I think this tale of the doomed relationship between Nicole and Dick Diver, mainly set in the south of France and the Swiss mountains during the 1920s, is my favourite Fitzgerald, but it’s so long since I’ve read it. I remember being wowed by the BBC’s 1985 adaptation starring Peter Strauss and Mary Steenburgen and buying the paperback and devouring it (and the rest of Fitzgerald’s novels thereafter). One to re-read and savour again. BUY

1935 – England Made Me by Graham Greene

Not one of Greene’s better known novels, this is a pre-war morality tale. It concerns twins, Anthony and Kate Farrant, who are at first glance like chalk and cheese, but underneath cut from the same cloth. Kate is secretary and mistress to a shady Swedish financier, Krogh, and Anthony is a sponger, but Kate gets him a job as Krogh’s bodyguard. None of the trio are likeable, although Anthony has puppyish moments about him. Kate is too brittle and too involved, and Krogh is a tyrant. It gets interesting when a moral dilemma for Anthony is introduced. Full review hereBUY

1936 – Double Indemnity by James M Cain

In the edition I read, this is 136 pages of perfect noir. A femme fatale uses a weak insurance salesman, Huff, to murder her husband and get the insurance money – or so the plan goes. You do have to suspend your disbelief momentarily, in that he agrees so instantly to help do the dirty deed, but allow yourself to be hooked and you won’t put the book down, it’s superb. The dialogue is snappy, the whole story is told by Huff and has a doomed quality about it – you can picture him going through the wringer. Full review hereBUY

1937 – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I re-read The Hobbit for the first time since childhood around ten years ago. Although I enjoyed it, I was surprised to find that Gollum was fairly incidental, and there were too many grumpy dwarves. However, as a taster for the full LOTR, it’s super fun. Full review hereBUY

1938 – Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This is a gloriously frothy Cinderella story of a forty year old governess who’s never been kissed and gets swept along in swirl of excitement when she mistakenly gets sent for a maid’s job for a night-club singer. Total brilliant fun, and a huge hit for Persephone Books whose editions have lovely illustrations too. BUY

1939 – The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sheriff

Set just into the future in 1946, Hopkins is a retired schoolmaster and member of the Lunar Society, through whom he finds out that the Moon is falling towards Earth. Hopkins, who is rather self-important feels it his duty to carry on life as normal, but ere long it becomes obvious even to the man in the street, that the moon is getting nearer. There are some great scenes of stiff upper lips and trench-style camaraderie, but none is more evocative than the last village cricket match on the night of the impact. After the moon crashes, life becomes much more serious – as at first the survivors have to learn to survive. I read the Persephone edition which has great extra material but is currently out of print. Full review hereBUY


I hope you enjoyed the tour of my reading from the 1930s.

Do you have any highlights to recommend from particular years of this decade?

11 thoughts on “Reading the Decades #3: The 1930s

  1. Liz says:

    What a great post, packed full of goodies! I really enjoyed the Sherriff and also absolutely adore one of his other Persephone titles, The Fortnight in September. And lovely Mis Pettigrew too! But I really enjoy being reminded of must-read classics that I haven’t managed to get to yet, so will be saving your list for further reflection, thank you. 😀

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I haven’t managed to get around to Fortnight in September, it’s been on my wishlist for yonks. If you were to read just one noir, Double Indemnity from 1936 is one of the very very best…

  2. Col says:

    Really interesting. I’ve never thought about decades in which books were published so would have been clueless really about whether I’d ever read anything published then. But from your list there’s a few I’ve read especially Tender Is The Night that I loved first time round and loved even more second time of reading. As I recognise and have read a few of these have had a quick look at things have read and if I had a list of 1930’s books myself I’d definitely include Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath which I first read so long ago it might have been the 1930’s(!), and the wonderful Our Town by Thornton Wilder. There are probably others but as I say I’m pretty clueless on that sort of stuff!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      That’s the beauty of my reading spreadsheet, I can filter the books so easily. Never read Thornton Wilder, although I know I should and would probably love him.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      There were some really good ones I had to leave out – more noir for instance – which would have rather unbalanced the decade!

  3. Calmgrove says:

    Of your list I read the Hammett recently, and also a graphic novel version of The Hobbit. Other books from the 1930s which I’ve reviewed have included Simenon’s Maigret in Holland, Masefield’s The Box of Delights and two of Alison Uttley’s books, The Country Child and A Traveller in Time — I’m sure there are a lot more but I’m not as organised as you! 🙂

  4. Liz Dexter says:

    Great post! I really enjoyed CLR James’ Minty Alley which I just read for the 1936 Club myself. I’ve read The Hobbit and Miss Pettigrew, as well as Invitation to the Waltz.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’m sorry I’ve not been able to fit in a 1936 book this week, but Double Indemnity – my choice for 1936 above is one of the very best noirs.

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