Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I bought a copy of Muriel Barbery's novel the Elegance of the Hedgehog a little while ago, but decided to wait until I was in France to read it - it seemed to be more appropriate, despite the fact that the setting for the story is an elegant appartment block in Paris, not la France profonde. It was a beautiful read., full of delicious detail about the lives of the families who live in the appartments. The story is narrated by the concierge, Renee, who although from apoor background, nevertheless has read widely all her life and values culture even more than the rich and cultured occupants of the appartments. We also meet Paloma, the younger daughter of a politician and his socialist wife, who is thinking of committing suicide on her thirteenth birthday. She expresses herself through a series of profound thoughts, is an avid manga (Japanese comic book) reader and is teaching herself Japanese. There are numerous references to socialist and communist texts and people, to various philosophers, as well as to Japanese culture - a fascinating blend.
When one of the occupants of the appartments dies, both Renee's and Paloma's lives are changed in ways they never dreamt of.
A book I thoroughly recommend.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

An autumn drive

Today we went off to Aurillac to do some shopping and having completed that, decided to drive back a different route from the main road we took to get there. We headed for the Route des Cretes ( the Crest Road) which takes us up the side of the Jordanne Valley and via wonderful twisting mountain roads and one or two passes, such as the Col du Legal, which is 1,231 metres (4039 feet) above sea level, to the ancient town of Salers, then along the side of the Maronne valley above the little village of Recusset to the Col de Neronne, then down to Le Falgoux and back along the Mars valley to Le Vaulmier. A beautiful drive through lovely mountain scenery. There are places on the route where one minute you overlook a pretty valley on the right, and a couple of minutes later another one equally pretty on the left. The autumn colours on the trees were beautiful, and enhanced by an absolutely gorgeous sunset. We've been contemplating doing this drive for a while now, and think that this is probably the best time of year to do it, as some of the trees have lost their leaves, so you can see more of the scenery and views. In summer with everything in full leaf, there are places when you can't see so much when driving through woods.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Bon Courage

I took advantage of the extra hour in bedthis morning to finish Richard Wiles tale of renovating a barn or grange in the Limousin region. I'm glad we didn't take on such a lengthy project, although I admire his energy; the house we are renovating is enough work, considering it is a holiday home, not a permanent residence here in France. It's also a house, and had water and electricity already available when we aquired it. It could be a permanent home, as it's large enough, but I think I'm a city girl at heart and would miss not being able to hop on a bus for a ten minute trip into townfor a bit of shopping. The nearest town is about a 25minute drive away(though a very pretty drive), and has only limited shopping facilities. This area is also very cold in winter, and the heating in the house would have to be improved somewhat to spend winters here in comfort. The nearest large town or city, Clermont-Ferrand is a couple of hours drive away - not exactly local. The times we spend here are usually divided between working on the house and occasionally going out for a walk or swim (this last in the summer only) or visiting some of the other local towns and villages. Today the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm, much needed after yesterday's rain and mist.
Richard Wiles book is a lesson for all those who dream of a place in rural France - be prepared for a lot of hard work and also to learn to speak French, as otherwise communication is very difficult.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Here at last in the Vallee du Mars, a beautiful, peaceful place where the background noise is the sound of cowbells, not the constant but subdued roar of traffic as at home, we have experienced in only a few days almost all varieties of weather - sunshine, howling gales, rain and up on the mountains we can see from our house, the first snow of winter; only a dusting which will probably disappear in a day or so, but still a hint of things to come.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A book launch

The evening before leaving for France, I attended a book launch at Shirley Library. It was for Jayne Woodhouse's first children's novel, titled The Stephenson's Rocket. It was an honour to be invited, as I've never actually been to the launch of any book before, despite being involved in the library world for about 40 years. The evening was fun, with Maisy, also a retired greyhound in attendance, and meeting up with many former colleagues as well as Jayne and her publishers. There is a short interview with Jayne here. I'm really pleased for Jayne and wish her well in her future writing career.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Amenable Women

Just before setting out on our fnal visit this year to France,I was pleased to find a copy of Mavis Cheek's most recent novel, Amenable Women. It's mainly about two very different women, Flora, recently widowed and an important historical character - Anne of Cleves. So the story is a clever combination of an historical novel and a modern day novel. The link between the two stories is a history of Hurcott Ducis, the village in which Flora lives. Her husband had been writing the history when he died, and Flora decides to continue and finish it. Her researches lead her to a viewing of Hans Holbein's portrait of Anne, and overhearing a guide's remarks about the lady, becomes somewhat irritated, resolving to find out a lot more detail about Henry VIII's fourth wife. This Flora duly does, which leads her into a variety of situations with her solicitor, her grieving daughter Hilary, Pauline the village siren and others. I've always enjoyed Mavis Cheek's writing, as her sense of humour and of observation are nicely sharp.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

So little time..

A non-reading period - sometimes there seems to be so much to do, so little time and things that are important to me, but not maybe to others get pushed aside. I've managed to read half of Dickens Dombey and Son, part of Louis de Bernieres The Partisan's Daughter and started Bon Courage by Richard Wiles about living in rural Limousin and converting a barn. Meanwhile life goes on, shopping gets done, parish Harvest Lunch takes place and the church is decorated with flower arrangements, visits to hospitalized sister-in-law and from my sister happen, phone calls to mother-in-law in hospital for knee replacement take place and so on, and now we are planning a final trip to France this year to close up the house for the winter and hopefully admire the autumn colours in the vallee du Mars.

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