Monday, 27 June 2016

Some recent reads

I've neglected this blog for a while, but have still been reading, both for personal interest and for the book club I belong to, the reading for which is still usually enjoyable.

One of the latter reads was The cellist of Sarajevo by Stevan Galloway, describing the cellist who sat outside his apartment in Sarajevo during the nearly four year long siege of that city and played for 22 days to remember the 22 people killed in a mortar attack on a queue for bread. There are only 4 main characters, including the cellist; two men one of whom has to collect water for his family, an older man who meets a long lost friend while out searching for bread, and a young woman who is sniper and is given the job of protecting the cellist while he plays. The privations of life in a modern city under siege are carefully made clear, while the characters show us the courage of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation. Although desperately sad  and moving at times, nevertheless a great and uplifting read.

Another intriguing read was a debut novel by Cecelia Ekback, Wolf Winter. Set in Sweden in 1717, a time when Sweden was involved in several wars, taking away many of the male population. Maija and her husband and two daughters move from Finland to northern Sweden to take over a relative's small farm on Blackasen mountain. Shortly after arriving, the two girls find a dead body and run home to inform their mother. Maija wants to know how he died and who killed himwhen it is revealed he didn't die a natural death. The story follows Maija's search for the truth, while also managing the farm on her own while her husband goes away. The winter she and her daughters endure is very hard, made more difficult by the failure of the summer harvest. 
A well researched historical novel and also very accomplished writing for a debut novel. The sense of menace both from other people and nature itself is very successful.

For a complete change of reading material, I picked up Philip Hoare's The Sea Inside. Philip Hoare is a local author to me, as he lives in Southampton. He swims daily in Southampton Water. This book is about the sea, not just the local part of it but the wider oceans and their inhabitants, particularly whales and dolphins, our nearest marine cousins. His descriptions of whale watching in various parts of the world and of visiting Tasmania and finding that the Tasmanian devil may not be extinct are fascinating. A discursive and interesting read.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Brexit thoughts

On Friday morning I woke up in our holiday home in the rural Cantal to the news on French radio that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. My immediate feeling was one of immense sadness and despair.
I'm also getting a bit tired of the vote to leave being blamed on the older generation. As an over 65 year old, I'm of that generation, but voted to remain along with 40% of fellow over 65's, and as I had voted to stay in Europe in the vote held in 1975, two years after we joined what was then called the Common Market.
Britain has always been a part of Europe, geographically, politically and culturally. Our history has been European since before the waters rose after the last Ice Age and cut us off from the continent of which we were part. The world  and Europe now is even more interconnected than has been in the past, with the Internet and more efficient transport links - are we going to demolish the Channel tunnel, a physical link to the continent? between Britain and the rest of Europe
French news media is full of constant opinions as to what happens next between Britain and the rest of Europe.
We live in interesting times, as the saying goes and time will tell whose predictions about the future of Britain will be realised.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Spring reading

It is well and truly spring, despite the fact that I'm still wearing layers of clothes.With variable weather and chilly winds, it seems that spring is here to stay a while. But at least when the sun does appear, it now has some actual warmth in it, rather than just looking good. Out on a walk yesterday, through some woods, I saw violets and wood anemones, as well as some pulmonaria and a few orchids just appearing.

Wood anenomes

Wild violets

 In the cooler and wetter spring days, I've been doing some reading .Rosie Thomas' Daughter of the House, set in London just after World War One was an enjoyable read Nancy Wix is the daughter of Devil Wix and his actress wife Emily, and has no desire to act on stage, in the theatre owned by her father.After the war the men returning from the fighting want their old jobs back .However, Nancy has a gift which will help save the theatre now fallen on hard times, as the variety shows of the past are no longer popular with audiences. Nancy's gift is a sort of clairvoyance, developed with aid of the mysterious Mr Feather, which proves very popular with the post First World War audiences. Nancy has an affair with a wealthy businessman who sets her up in her own flat. I found this tale , with its descriptions of the lifestyle of the "bright young things" of the twenties and as the tale progresses, hints of more disruption in Europe to come, an engaging read. I have enjoyed several of Rosie Thomas's novels, and this one was well up to standard.
Another recent read was The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. This novel is set in early nineteenth century Charleston and is about slavery. The two main characters are Sarah Grimke and her personal slave Hetty, also called Handful.. The story alternates between Sarah and Hetty's points of view. Sarah's family were rich, her father a judge and plantation owner, but while Sarah's brothers are sent away to be educated, Sarah herself receives little in the way of education, although she can read anything in her fathers extensive library. She even teaches Hetty to read, although this was against the law. Sarah Grimke was a real person, a abolitionist in the early to mid nineteenth century, at a time when slavery in America was seen as necessary in the southern States and when women had few if any rights nor expectations of education or work, other than marriage.
Cecelia Ekback's Wolf  Winter is a debut novel and a very accomplished one. Set in Swedish Lapland in 1717, the story tells how Maije and her husband and two daughters settle in a small place on Blackausen mountain. The atmosphere of menace starts early in the story with the discovery of a dead body by Maije's daughters. Maije's search for the truth behind this killing leads to all sorts of discoveries among  the people of the small settlement and the local townspeople, despite their efforts to cover things up. Well-researched and well-written with a very successful sense of atmosphere and menace, this was a very interesting read.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

A few quick thoughts

I've been doing some reading, but haven't posted my thoughts for a while. One book I found an interesting read was Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which was 2014's Booker prize winner. The story of Darrigo Evans, a Tasmanian who becomes a doctor just before the Second World War. He joins the Australian army , becomes an officer and is eventually posted to the Asian theatre of war, where he becomes a prisoner of the Japanese and one of the many men who were forced to build the notorious Burma railway. A large part of the book describes the appalling conditions of that situation, but also tells of Darrigo's attempts to make life easier for the men. In contrast to the horror of war, Darrigo's experiences with women, his wife and others are tenderly narrated.

I actually enjoyed Niall Williams The History of the Rain more, although it was only (!) longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker prize. Narrated by Ruth Swain, lying in her attic bedroom under a skylight streaming with rain, surrounded by her father's library.Although it seemed a little slow to get into, when Ruth begins to tell her family story, I became absorbed in the book. We all have family stories behind us, as well as making our own. Ruth tells of how her father grew up, how his family first came to Ireland, how her parents met and her father's attempts at farming on their 14 aces of unsuitable land. Ruth's comments on the events around her are delightfully sharp and funny, and the writing is lovely. Ruth's descriptions of her father's books and her relationship to a huge number of individual titles is fascinating, as is the importance of actual physical books to her, her father and grandmother.
A wonderful story of lives as they are being lived, about human failings and sadness, but also about hope and persistence.

D J Taylor's The Windsor Faction starts from the assumption that Wallis Simpson died on the operating table and that Edward VIII carries on as king. It's a "What if history had been different" story, which makes for interesting fiction, especially as in this tale, several of the characters are real. The extracts from the diaries of Beverly Nichols are a nice touch - I've only read a few of his gardening books in the past, and Edwards behaviour seems to be based on the many biographies and memoirs that are about him. We also get a different point of view, that of Cynthia Kirkpatrick, who returns to England from Ceylon as World War Two breaks out. Cynthia becomes a secretary at a literary magazine, and also is involved with Tyler Kent  and eventually is asked to work for MI5. The atmosphere of what is called "the phony war" is evoked very well, and the whole story is enjoyable, especially as we know the eventual outcome of the war in real life, but is not apparent at the end of this story.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Autumn and a sewing room

While waiting for and having some work done on our French house, we've been enjoying some fine weather in the Auvergne - that is, up until the last few days, when it has become much cooler and cloudier. My husband has had some beautiful cycle rides while I've been walking and occasionally swimming in the indoor pool in Mauriac. The glorious autumn colours surrounding us when we first arrived are now almost gone, with just the occasional tree still with some brightness left.

I've also done some sewing, as I now have a sewing room, a small narrow room with its own tiny balcony, where I can leave sewing projects, instead of having to move them off the dining table every time we have a meal. I have made in it so far a dust cover for my ancient Bernina sewing machine, an infinity scarf from pieces left over from older projects (as was the dust cover) and have embarked on some machine embroidery. I'll probably still use the dining table for cutting out, as the desk (IKEA) is not very wide.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

My Wedding Dress

My Wedding Dress was made by me, using a Vogue  Designer Original Belinda Belville pattern. It has quite a lot of hand stitching round the lace edged sleeves and bodice top. Here it is on display in my local church, when there was a flower and craft festival last year. The theme was the circle of life , so included craft items and flower displays on baptisms, weddings, Easter, Christmas, tea parties and many other celebrations. The church was filled with gorgeous flower displays . My wedding was in October 1980, so the style reflects the fashion at that time. It was comfortable to wear, but as it has 17 tiny fabric covered buttons down the centre back, with rouleaux loop fastenings, is impossible to get into unaided.

Linking to
Not Dressed As Lamb
albeit a day late.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Two good reads

I've enjoyed two of my most recent reads. One was a book club read, the Wolf Border by Sarah Hall and the other was The Round House by Louise Erdrich.
Sarah Hall's  story has a fairly feisty heroine, Rachel, who starts out as a free spirit, leading a project studying wolves in Montana. She pays a brief visit home, to visit her mother in Cumbria,, returns to the wolf reservation where she is working and has a brief fling with a Kyle, a fellow worker and Native American. After the sudden death of her mother, Rachel returns to Cumbria when offered a job involving the bringing back to Britain of a pair of wolves, into a reserve set up by an aristocrat, Thomas.
Rachel settles into the familiar Cumbrian landscape, then discovers she is pregnant. There is a lot of comparison with the newly -imported wolves and their breeding and Rachel's pregnancy and eventual motherhood. Her ambivalent emotions are described very well. I enjoyed Sarah Hall's writing, which can be lyrical in her description of the local environment, and also almost staccato when describing meetings and talk between her characters. The contrast of Thomas and his son and daughters lives with Rachel and her team of co- workers is well brought out, and her difficult relationship with her younger brother and his wife, childless but not through choice is tenderly interesting and topical read, as there is much public discussion about the re-wilding of Britain; elsewhere in Europe where wolves are successfully increasing their range in the French Alps, Italy and Spain, the discussion is about how farmers might be compensated for loss of livestock attacked by wolves.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is a quite different read.It is written from the point of view of Joe, a 12 year old Native American, whose mother is attacked and raped, The story concerns the consequences of this act for Joe, an only child , and his parents. It also covers some Native American legends, as well as the legal side of reservation life. I really cared about Joe and his group of friends as they dealt with the complexities of the adult world around them, as well as the problems the attack on Joe's mother had brought to the whole community.
I found this an interesting read, showing a part of modern American life of which I knew very little. Louise Erdrich is an award winning novelist and poet, as well as being part Ojibwe Native American, so writes from a particular point-of-view.
I had this on my bookshelves for a couple of years, then saw a copy in a French bookshop,  and plucked it off my shelves to read and enjoy.

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