Saturday, 30 April 2011

April doings

Another month past. This year seems to be flying along as we are planning our first visit of the year to the house in France. Meanwhile a short break in the Lake District was very enjoyable and the weather just right. The fisrt day f our visit was fairly typical Lakes weather, rainy, cool and cloudy and was spent visiting friends up there, but the remaing few days were lovely, warm and generally sunny, ideal for walking, which we did for a couple of days. The day we left for home , the lake was like glass , reflecting the boats perfectly.

While there I did a little reading, mainly during the evening after dinner ( not prepared by me, thank goodness) and got well into Antonia Fraser's Must You Go, about her affair with and marriage to Harold Pinter. I enjoyed this very much, although I'm not a great biography reader. The life these two writers eventually settled into sounds at once slightly bohemian but well-orderd at the same time, although thinking back, her description of her early life at home in north Oxford, before her father Lord Longford inherited his title, perhaps life wasn't always as well-ordered as we like to think. The book is sometimes described as a love letter to Harold Pinter, but there is no trace of sentimentality in it, not that any would be expected from Antonia Fraser's pen. It is a wonderful description of the life of two writers, both supportive of each others work. Although Harold Pinter is described elsewhere as being an angry man, here he comes across as passionate in his opinions, sometimes angry but more often vehement in his arguments. His moods seem completely normal to me, the moods of a man who cares deeply about things and is unafraid of others opinions.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

March reads

I seemed to have a bit of catching up to do, although as we have been finishing off decorating a bedroom and de-cluttering two others, replacing beds and so on, there hasn't been quite as much time for reading as Iwould like.

One book I enjoyed was Downhill All The Way:walking with donkeys on the Stevenson trail. (here's a sort of review ) An amusing tale by two women friends who decided to follow Robert Louis Stevenson's footsteps in his journey in the Cevennes with the donkey Modestine. The writers, Hilary Macaskill and Molly Wood hired donkeys, and the personalities and foibles of these animals, as well as the attitudes some have to the accompanying dog, Whiskey, make for some hilarious moments in the tale. The journey is spread out over a few years, and the weather and some of the places the little group stay at during their travels add to the amusement, although they are careful not to make fun of the French people they meet ( one of the writers lives in France, in the Cevennes) I don't think it is meant as a serious guide to the route, although the writers do give signposts to more detailed guides.

Michael Frayn's Spies was a Reading Group read and an interesting one: Stephen Wheatley, now an old man, returns to the street where he spent his childhood, and reminiscences about his life then. The period he returns to in his mind is during the last World War, when his friend and playmate Kevin Hayward became convinced that his mother was a German spy. The two young boys begin following Mrs Hayward whenever she leaves the house, and aslo start investigating her desk at home. They have a den in the garden surrounded by a privet hedge, a place which Keith calles private, but, spelling not being one of his accomplishments, ends up being called "privet". Various secrets of adult life slowly come to light, the two boys not really understanding what it is their activities have revealed , although Barbara Berrill, another child from the street is much more aware of what is going in the adults lives, and tries to enlighten Stephen when she finds her way into into the secret den. Part mystery, part war story and part coming-of-age story, this is a good read, with a beautiful twist at the end.

I've also enjoyed Katie Ffordes's A Perfect Proposal, a nice, cheerful, story with an eventual happy ending as required by a romantic novel. Sophie Apperly is hard-working, practical and very unacademic in a family who are all the complete opposite, and who undervalue Sophie's skills, and Sophie herself. She is invited to New York by her old schoolfriend Millie, now working there. Sophie manages to save up for the journey, and finds herself a job, which unfortunately falls through at the last minute. Sophie stays on for a holiday, during which she accompanies Millie to an evening event and meets Matilda, a rich elderly lady who invites Sophie to her home in Connecticut for Thanksgiving. Sophie is first vetted by Matilda's grandson Luke, extremely arrogant but very attractive and who is also one of the Thanksgiving party. A delicious tale of mistunderstandings and eventual making up follows, making this a lovely comfort read for me.
Another sort of comfort read, although of a very differnt type was Susan Hill's The Shadows on the Street, although to call a story concerning the murder of prostitutes a comfort read is a bit odd. I, like many other readers, enjoy crime stories because they follow a pattern in which evil deeds are committeed, but the perpetrator is eventually found out and punished. In this story Simon Serrailler is on holiday on a Scottish isle, while back in Lafferton his sister Cat is gradually coming to term with the death of her husband. Simon returns home to find that two prostitutes have been murdered and their bodies dumped in a canal. The story lets us into the lives of these girls and those who try to help them. Another girl is attacked but manages to escape. Meanwhile the Cathedral has a new Dean whose wife is busily trying to set up a committee to help the local prostitues, involving Cat somewhat against her wishes.

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