Wednesday, 31 October 2012

I finally finished reading Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamasov, and it almost felt like losing an old friend when I reached the final page. The characters seemed so real, their lives so fascinating, that I felt somewhat bereft. But I still have the book, of course and could always re-read it in the future.

Autumn to Winter in the Cantal

We;ve been here in the Auvergne for over a week now, and have had the most variable weather.The English complain about the variability of their weather, but this region in France seems to outdo that. The day we arrived and for a few more, we had a gale force wind, fortunately from the south, so not too cold., but with gusts of 80 kilometres an hour. The French meteo warned about this.

Eventaully the wind died down, then it rained for a bit, and last Saturday night it snowed, and on Sunday there was a strong, cold north wind. Happily the weather here has improved since then, with clear sunny days, which are still fairly cold, but calm. Other parts of France have had extensive flooding, especially at Lourdes, in the Pyrenees. The day before the weather broke, we went up the vallley of the Maronne, and then up to the Puy Violent. The view from the  top of the Puy was amazing, over valleys and puys for miles. We went for a short walk along the valley road on Monday, meeting some elderly residents out for their constitutional; we returned through the woods, which are now passing quickly from autumn to winter. The path was deep with beech and hazel leaves, very pretty golden bronze colours underfoot.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Wifely reads

Good Wives: Mary, Fanny, Jennie and Me, 1845-2001
   I recently read two books about wives, the first Good Wives? by Margaret Forster and the second Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife. Although written over a decade apart, they do have themes in common, such as is a wife able to use her education and abilities to develop her own individuality, or must she subsume her life into that of her husband. Good Wives? looks at the lives of three very different women, Mary Livingstone, wife of David; Fanny Stevenson, wife of Robert Louis, and Jenny Lee, wife of Aneurin Bevan., as
well as Margaret Forster's own married life.  All from different periods in history, all married to men for whom career was all-important and which were also of national  and international interest and significance. Margaret Forster also includes herself in the reflections about wife-hood, whether Mary, Fanny, Jenny or herself were good or bad wives. The lives of these women and their husbands were full of stress and anxiety and in the public view not all were always 'good' wives. Some of the problems they faced are still present today, such as , if you or your husband  works abroad, does the partner without the job in a foreign country stay at home and carry on with their career, or join their partner abroad. And when children arrive, such complicated decisions become even more so. Health, either of husband or wife, is an important aspect of married life and Margaret Forster gives several examples of wives protecting husbands for the sake of their health, but fewer examples vice versa. Although at times a slightly frustrating read, it is still of interest, as the topic of what makes a good or bad wife will doubtless go on changing over time.

Joanna Trollope's The Soldier's Wife tells the story of Alexa  Riley and her husband Major Dan Riley. He is about to return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and when home finds it difficult to talk about his  and his troops experiences there. Meanwhile Alexa, daughter of a minor diplomat and with a first  class languages degree, has applied for a job at a local private school. Isabel, Alexa's eldest daughter is unhappy at her boarding school, feeling she is missing out on family life at home with her young twin sisters. The friendships of Army wives on a camp are somewhat sketchily drawn,  balanced against the support that the returning men provide for each other. Joanna Trollope is good on the details of an occasionally chaotic family life, which highlights the lack of communication between Alexa and Dan. However, support from grandparents and somewhat surprisingly the Army lead to a more-or-less satisfactory ending for the troubled family.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

September round up

Having settled back at home for a while, I have finished a few books but not posted about them.
Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is the story of Rose Edelstein who discovers aged nine that she is able to taste feelings and emotions in food, that is the feelings of those who made the food. This is first revealed when she tastes a slice of lemon cake made by her mother, and is almost overwhelmed by the sadness she felt which her mother was experiencing when she made the cake. The descriptions of the various foods that Rose eats and her response to the emotions revealed in their taste are numerous, and eventually leads her to rely on food which is , as they say, untouched by human hand, although even this food reveals  its origins to Rose. Her family although apparently an average American one, are rather detached from each other, and become increasingly so as Rose grows up. This is a beautifully written story, so much so that its writing almost hides the strange bleakness of Rose's family life. For me, there were some resonances of Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time Travellers Wife, which I found a really intriguing and memorable read.
Heather Gudenkauf's debut novel, The Weight of Silence, is written from several points of view. Calli is seven years old and selectively mute, but also very bright. One morning she and her best friend Petra disappear. The story of what exactly happened that day, the lead up to it and the consequences for both families and others involved in the events is told by Call's mother, Toni, her brother Ben, Petra's father and the local sheriff, a former boyfriend of Toni's. Calli's voice is the only one we don't hear. The others are all written in the first person, using the present tense, which gives a more intensely dramatic effect, while what happens to Calli and what she is thinking are written in the third person and past tense. An interesting and successful debut novel.
One classic story I had never read was William Thackeray's Vanity Fair. This was a Book Club read, so the discussion was fairly wide ranging, from the humour of the names ( Lady Bareacres), to how sympathetic we felt towards Becky Sharpe, and also to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and thence to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible. Several of the group had read it before, mostly as teenagers and felt that on re-reading it, their opinion of Becky had changed radically. I found it an easy read, humorous despite the tragedies that happened to the characters, and it left me wondering just how much human behaviour hadn't changed at all in 150 years. Most of the group enjoyed the story, even those who hadn't finished reading it.
Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind is an essay on what affects mountains have had on human imagination. From a history of how we came to view mountains as adventurous places to go , instead of being avoided, to descriptions of Mallory and Irvine's attempts to climb Everest, and how that mountain was discovered and eventually measured, the beautiful descriptions of glaciers, mountains and people carried my imagination along. I read my copy on Kindle, bought as an offer earlier, together with his The Wild places, which I read some time ago.

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