This weekend I sat in the garden, the sun shining, and read the most beautiful, lyrical and vividly written book – Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew.This weekend I sat in the garden, the sun shining, and read the most beautiful, lyrical and vividly written book – Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew. This isn’t the first book I have read by this author (more on that later) so I knew that I was in for a treat and I wasn’t let down in the slightest.
This book is a feast for the senses. From the very first sentence, I was whisked immediately away to the Provencial countryside as a new spring is dawning and I was immersed in colours and fragrances and sensations that can only be brought about by the most talented author. I was there under the lime tree, I felt the breeze lift the hem of my skirt, and heard the parched earth drink the water from the upturned pail.
The man of the book title is, in fact, Vincent van Gogh, however, he isn’t the protagonist; that is Jeanne Trabuc. Van Gogh is more of a supporting character to enable Jeanne to evolve and blossom, and the story is really hers. The year is 1889 and set in the Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh admitted himself and was a patient for a year, painting some of his most loved paintings during that time before he became more well known. Jeanne lives with her husband Charles in a little white cottage next to the asylum in the French countryside as Charles is the Manager there. Jeanne, whose three grown up sons have all left home, lives by the rules she has become accustomed to over the years and is forbidden to enter the asylum grounds but she finds a way to meet with Vincent often and through their conversations while he paints, she learns to remember the woman (and child) she was; the playful, independent girl who grew up with just her belovèd Father and wore yellow silk dresses, wore her hair unpinned, and who did handstands in the square. It’s an incredibly moving story as Jeanne considers her life and contemplates her future. Van Gogh’s paintings awaken something in her; a desire and a longing for something more than the life of conformity and routine.
Seven years ago, I interviewed this author about her book Corrag (which is now re-published as Witch Light and is still one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read) and in this interview, she explained about spending half-an-hour of watching a bumble bee visit foxgloves, writing down how it looked and sounded, and I can completely see this. The scenes of nature in both books are exquisite; full of vibrancy and sentiment. Just stunning. When I read a book I want to believe I’m right there in the pages. Few authors make me feel this as well as Susan Fletcher. Others that have had a similar impact are Joanne Harris (particularly the Chocolat series) and more recently Sealskin by Su Bristow.
This book was a joy to read from start to finish. Susan Fletcher can write. I mean, REALLY write. If you love beautiful storytelling and pitch-perfect prose, you need to read this book. I cannot recommend highly enough....more
What a wonderful and charming book this is. Written in 1932, Greenbanks tells the story of the Ashton family spanning from around 1910 to 1925. It isWhat a wonderful and charming book this is. Written in 1932, Greenbanks tells the story of the Ashton family spanning from around 1910 to 1925. It is centered around the house, Greenbanks, in the Lancashire village of Elton, and revolves mainly around Louisa Ashton, Mother and Grandmother. Louisa has five (very different) children who have all started to make their own way in the world too and so Louisa dotes on her 4 year old Granddaughter, Rachel. Greenbanks may be a lovely, beautifully written book about a family in a grand old house but there is plenty of room for sibling rivalry, illegitimate births, divorce, tyranical fathers and heartache. In fact all these are done so well that I was in awe of how well Whipple understood human emotion such as depression, jealousy, shame and love.
The book is set at during the early part of the last century when ideas and ideals are shifting and in particular Whipple explores the changing roles of women at this time. Louisa is the gentle, kind head of Greenbanks (after her philandering husband dies) but her daughters are exploring new territories that are still thought of as a huge embarassment to the gossiping folks of Elton. Daughters Letty and Laura both carving out new paths for themselves and lodger Kate Barlow still lives the shame and stigma of having an illegitimate child all those years ago. Granddaughter Rachel, much to her Father Ambrose’s profound disappointment, is intelligent and is desperate to continue her studies at University when she grows up, but Ambrose wants a dutiful daughter who will greet him at the door and “take his hat”.
The character of Ambrose Harding is actually one of my favourite characters despite his prigishness and I found him (unintentionally on his part) very amusing: he is so old-fashioned and is constantly baffled as to why people don’t behave the way he expects and wants them to.
“And he did not believe in all this education for women; in fact, he considered knowledge definitely unbecoming to them. It destroyed their charm; they did not listen so well if they knew too much.”
“That’s what this modern education did for them. These modern girls, smoking, riding motor-bicycles, flying airplanes, breaking speed records; they would do anything for notice. What else could it be for? Men did these things for the love of them, to try them out, or to advance knowledge, experience, but women did them for notice, just to get into the papers, to be made a fuss of.”
The quotes made me laugh, especially when I think of how times have changed now. But even with Ambroses sexist rants I could still sympathise with him to a degree as he was born in an age where men were head of the house and no one (especially a wife or daughter) would ever question him. His three other children (all boys) were a huge disappointment to him also as they didn’t follow the direction he wanted them to follow and went their own way; Ambrose felt unloved and and couldn’t understand why. Such a brilliantly drawn character.
A final quote that made me laugh (because it could have been me saying it) Iwas when Letty who in frustration cries:
“”Is there something wrong with me?” she asked in alarm. “This is no more than other women have to put up with. Why don’t I like housekeeping?”"
Verdict: I highly recommend this gorgeous book. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea (or in the bath, or in the postoffice queue….pretty much anywhere really). Loved it!