POSTCARD #3: HOTEL SPLENDIDE

April has arrived and with it another postcard review! This time it’s for Hotel Splendide, written by Austrian author Ludwig Bemelmans in 1942. (Little known fact: Bemelmans was also, apparently, an internationally known gourmet.)

Now, I wouldn’t exactly call this review gushing… but there’s something rather sweet it reveals about the book somehow; a meandering sense of purposelessness. Not that sweet, though: I’m going out on a limb here to say this has not made it to the top of my reading list. But then my reading list is a very long one, and ever-growing, so we shouldn’t hold that against it too much. A bit, but not too much.

Anyone else intrigued by the ending?

The end is the best bit: possibly not a good sign

Say what you like about the book, but who can spy these beautiful old Penguin cover designs and not feel a little bit happier inside?

I like a reviewer who can finish their sentences

1942: Hemingway had just published For Whom the Bell Tolls, Camus had just published L’Etranger, and Ludwig Bemelmans published this slice of fluff. A series of loosely connected vignettes and character sketches set upstairs and downstairs at the Hotel Splendide, it reads as what it was – a collection of pieces written for The New Yorker. My interest waned long before the end, which was only 140 pages from the beginning. Yet I can’t think of anything critical to say about it, beyond the fact that I can’t think of anyone I’d recommend it to. Plus it suddenly gets good in the last chapter, only to leave the story unfin— Jonathan Eyers, jonathaneyers.com/blog 02/04/2012

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POSTCARD #2: RABBIT, RUN

If you’ve been feeling unnecessarily buoyed or heartened by our last review – which revelled in As You Like It‘s frivolity, silliness and general high jinks – I’ve got the perfect antidote for you. Postcard review #2 is in, and with it we are dragged back to earth with a resounding bump. 

The childlike, almost eerie cover illustration is brilliantly designed by Milton Glaser – the very same man who designed that ubiquitous 'I heart NY' logo. Does its simplicity sit uncomfortably with the dark and complex subject matter of the pages behind it? (The book cover, that is, not the NY logo.)

'Bleak' doesn't even cover it

'Updike’s novel is divided perfectly between the beauty of its prose and the ugliness of its content. The language – always present tense – is poetic, peaceful, transcendent. The depiction of working-class life is brutal, hopeless and terrifyingly real. Abandonment, alcoholism, abuse, tragedy and hopeless dependency allow no room for redemption or hope, which are continually dashed by human frailty. I wish I could read more Updike for his beautiful words but I cannot face his bleak reality.' Nicholas Price, London 17/03/2012

So there it is, laid bare for the world. And maybe it does have something in common with our previous review after all – a recognition of the author’s mastery of language – so beautiful that it gilds even the ugliest of sentiments, whether it’s Rabbit’s brutality in Updike’s classic, or, say, Iago’s moral bankruptcy in Shakespeare’s Othello


So, does the review make me love the book? No.

But does it make me want to read it? Well, yes, it sort of does. Devastating or no, how can one doubt the power of a narrative than provokes such a visceral response?


But what do you think? Have you read it, and do you agree with the review? Will you be picking up a copy?  

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POSTCARD #1: AS YOU LIKE IT

It was a special moment when, groping inside the Penguin Postcard Project HQ mailbox, my hand came to rest on this anonymous little oblong card. The metaphorical gold star for first review goes unequivocally to Mr Thomas Green of York – congratulations! (Real ones, not metaphorical.)

And look – it’s typed up! For a fleeting moment, I supposed that to be some sort of obscure cheating – was using a computer to help you squeeze in 292 words really, you know, cricket?

But then I read the review, and loved it. I remembered all the reasons I love As You Like It, all the reasons I love Shakespeare, and all of the reasons I’ve been so excited to receive your postcard reviews. The thing was settled: far from fraudulent, it was absolutely in the spirit of the project to be creative and resourceful. It was the perfect start. One down, 99 to go!

I’d love to hear your comments – do you like it? Is it inspiring? Do you want to (re)read the play? Answers on a postcard… oh, on second thoughts… maybe just in the Comments box below.

Postcard design by C. Walter Hodges, 1956. Walter Hodges (1909–2004) was an illustrator and author whose lifelong attachment to the theatre led him to be heavily involved with the construction of Shakespeare’s Globe in London (the new one, obviously, not the 16th-century one). He designed costumes and scenery for the theatre throughout his life and once argued that ‘the theatre must be seen as a most powerful instrument in the social history of mankind’. Cool, huh?

This little bit of fluff is my favourite example of Shakespeare’s frothy mood. Don’t read it for a guide to natural history (a lioness in the Forest of Arden?), nor to the art of disguise (change a girl’s clothes, and her own father won’t know her); and don’t look for subtle studies of the growth of love, either: Orlando and Rosalind, Celia and Oliver, and unlucky Phebe all fall in true and eternal love at first glimpse. Equally abrupt are the two conversions from unmotivated villainy to sudden saintliness. Nor is it tightly plotted. Random events (the lioness) and persons (William) pop in from nowhere. In the second half Celia, important and engaging in the first half, suddenly fade out of view and just stands around monosyllabically, and Touchstone’s character and role become very different. Do read it for the down-to-earthiness – briskly sending up all rubbishy claims to be dying of love. And enjoy the set-piece speeches, including the Seven Ages of Man and Seven Types of Lie, though these are simply pasted in – I think Shakespeare wrote them for fun in his bath and stuck them in the play at random. Read it for Shakespeare’s usual stunning phrase-making, and for his compassion for all unlucky people. Some good songs, too. And of course, read it for the clever knot that tangles all the main characters, but comes apart will one pull on the end of the strong: the boy ‘Ganymede’ is revealed as the girl Rosalind, and all is sorted out. Above all read it for Rosalind’s bright repartee, especially with Orlando her would-be lover; and for the brilliant contrivance of presenting a boy actor pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl. Thomas Green, York

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The heady heights of legal rights

I’ve been hearing plenty of buzz suggesting that the postcards have landed and that Amazon’s doing a roaring trade… well, it’s nice to support small business, isn’t it?* I am most eagerly anticipating the reviews that follow – one gold star (a metaphorical one, by the way) to the first one to come in!

Now, on a more serious topic: I have a clever lawyerish type friend – let’s call him Norbert, for argument’s sake – that has brought to my attention that I should probably give heed to Consequential Matters that go above and beyond just getting people to read lovely books and write lovely reviews and all have lots of lovely fun together. Norbert tells me this is so I can use them here, and on other sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Basically, Norbert says, ‘If you send your postcard with review back to the Project, you will be agreeing to give up any rights in what you wrote as far as it is possible to do so under English law. In return, the Project promises to let everyone know it was you who wrote it [if you want us to, that is] every time the review/postcard is used.’**

Now, since this project’s whole raison d’etre has always been to share the postcard reviews, I’m sort of assuming that everyone’s taking this part of the deal as read.  If you don’t want to do that, please keep the postcard as a memento – I won’t be angry, just disappointed… If anyone’s got any other problems with it please do get in touch via Facebook or the contact form, and I’ll let Norbert explain the finer points of the law of copyright. Apparently, this is something he likes to do, but please don’t encourage him.

So there you have it – the terrible consequences of the meeting of literary and legal minds. I’ll add a page, too, detailing the simplified Ts & Cs so they are easy to locate if ever you feel the unfortunate urge to do so. Hopefully from now on I can avoid all such legal jargon and continue to live in let’s-all-play-nicely fairyland. It is, after all, so lovely here.

* If you’d like to go elsewhere for your books, why not try AbeBooks (UK or US) which sell beautiful old copies of everything under the sun, or else try your local second-hand bookshop? Their stock lists never fail to amaze me. Or the library! – the most incredible resource, and so often overlooked these days.

** Norbert wanted to write a lot more here – and in fact did, including defined terms and very, very, small print – but this is my simple version of it.

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Full house

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a full house – all one hundred spots for the Penguin Postcard Project have been snapped up. Incredible! If you were hoping to join up, sorry for the bad news – but please do continue to leave your details here on the site, and follow the blog for updates. After all, in the event that not all reviews are returned first time round*, I might just need to call on my reserves…


It’s been a whirlwind week, with over a thousand views of the site here, and lots of positive feedback to boot (thank you, lovely commenty people). As you can see, I’ve been a busy little bee, buying stamps and envelopes and scrawling out addresses en masse. And the response has been global: UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, USA, Australia, NZ… The list goes on. It’s wonderful, and so encouraging, to see the passion is inspired by literature for so many around the world. Vive the literati!


The postcards will be sent on their merry little way soon – released and flying the nest for havens unknown. So keep an eye on your doormats and mailboxes. The allocation of postcards was entirely random, and I should probably warn you that there are a few… let’s call them… obscure ones in there. If that turns out to be yours, don’t despair! Why not embrace the opportunity of immersing yourself in something completely different? Even if that something is Aircraft Recognition… (Sorry!)

More to come in due course on the logistics of sourcing your book, which may or may not be out of print. Until then: please follow the blog, like our Facebook Page or follow us on what is currently a sparse wasteland of a Twitter page – but which will spring to life just as soon as people start noticing it… (It has a few morale issues.)

* This is in no way some sort of tacit permission for anyone not to return their review to me. That’s a legally binding contract you’ve entered into here… well, OK, not legally binding, but still jolly important. Up there with tax returns, world peace and trying not to laugh when someone trips over in front of you.

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This is your mission.

Most of us wish we’d read more classic books in our lives. Some of us still gamely plan to; who doesn’t aspire to improve their score on 100 Books To Read Before You Die? If you’re anything like me, you might even have blithely convinced yourself you have read x, or y, or z, until a flash of scenic clarity advises you that you’re thinking not of the book but of the BBC mini series / Disney adaptation / Clueless. And whichever way you look at it, that just doesn’t count.

(I honestly have read Emma. Promise.)

I opened this little gem on Christmas Day 2011. A hundred classic book jackets, each printed on nifty little postcards. Iconic designs that made me feel highbrow without so much as a sniff of an endpaper. Never mind two hundred of them.

A hundred postcards: that's an awful lot of stamps

It quickly became clear I would never find time or (shamefully) inclination to read all the books featured in Postcards from Penguin. Let’s be frank: I would probably never even find enough friends to send them all to.

And that’s where you come in, dear reader.

So here’s what to do:

  1. Fill in your details here.
  2. Wait.
  3. You’ll receive an envelope, inside which will be a postcard and a return address. A pretty Penguin book jacket will feature on your postcard.
  4. Buy and read your book. Ponder, learn, love or hate. Keep it forever, pass it on, donate it to Oxfam.
  5. Write a review on the postcard. Five words or 500, positive or negative. Serious or silly.
  6. Post back the postcard.
  7. Keep an eye out for your review right here.

Oh, and spread the word! All the sharing buttons you could ever wish for are below – please pass on the word and keep the momentum going. And join up to our shiny new Facebook page to follow our progress and keep up to date with the reviews submitted.

So jump on board. Happy reading and happy reviewing!

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