Firstly, should an ocelot really be on the cover? I liked the little artist bios, but my favorites were obviously where they talked about the cats morFirstly, should an ocelot really be on the cover? I liked the little artist bios, but my favorites were obviously where they talked about the cats more and their names, because obviously cat names are important. The best pictures were with the cats being happy and obviously the stars, these were Brian Eno, Georgia O'Keeffe and Helmut Newton. But the best photo and story combo overall goes to John Cocteau, whose cat totally loved the picture too. Now if I just had a cat to snuggle....more
"Recollection of our past together is the happiest of time travel." That is all that remains of Fester cat. Memories, the fur clinging to the chair in"Recollection of our past together is the happiest of time travel." That is all that remains of Fester cat. Memories, the fur clinging to the chair in the beach house, and the echo of his voice in Paul's head. The grief is raw and real, but once you open your heart you realize that to shut off love from your life would be doing a disservice to the memory of the one you let in. Therefore Paul and Jeremy are hesitantly aware that perhaps there is room for a new furry face in their lives. At a quaint little charity shop that is also a pet rescue, full of the tat that Paul and Jeremy love most, from old disco records to moldering paperbacks, there's a room in the back full of cats. Paul has been looking at these cat's images online, thinking it was idle curiosity, but once at THARG realizing that it was more specific. They are there to meet a dapper tuxedoed cat named Sox. Despite much to-ing and fro-ing, Sox comes to live with them.
It's a new experience for all three of them. Paul and Jeremy have never adopted a cat, Fester having adopted them. Whereas the newly rechristened Bernard Socks has boundless energy with this new life full of rooms to explore as well as gardens and other cats not locked up! It will be an adjustment for all of them, but more than that, it will be a trial as their world quite literally collapses around them. With their cozy home now a disaster zone with a nice view of the looming storm clouds as their ceilings collapse. Yet they are able cope, to move forward, because of this new fury presence in their lives. They are literally rebuilding their lives post Fester and they have found a new companion for the journey. While Fester might not approve of them moving on so quickly, as he casts his wry gaze from a place that is in no way rainbow or bridge-like, he realizes that his boys need this new fury nucleus that is full of life and vim and vigor. Bernard Socks is there for his boys, and if he occasionally needs a little nudge in the right direction, that's why Fester's watching over them all. Ungow!
"You are my first, my last, my everything." The eternal question is how do you move on from your everything? When that little furry face is gone and it hurts to take a single breath. Most cat memoirs are about the cat that comes into these people's lives, makes everything wonderful, and then leaves his humans the better for having had him around. But this is false and the reason I usually avoid them like the plague. They don't tell the whole story. Despite all these narrative contrivances, life goes on and not in a golden glow of remembered love. Life doesn't stop when you lose the one you love. Cats didn't stop with the death of Fester or with the death of my Spotty. When I lost my kitty I was shocked that the world kept turning while I was stuck standing still, there in the backyard under the stars, unable to move forward.
I still have trouble with the moving forward, which makes me applause the braveness of this book. The Story of Fester Cat was about the joy Fester brought Paul and Jeremy. How despite his death, his time with them made them a family as well as raising the book above the standard fare with Fester's unique voice. While this first volume is bittersweet, knowing that Fester's time on earth is no more, this second volume is more about life. Life is messy and it's hard to pick back up the pieces. Yet Paul and Jeremy do. Paul exorcises his grief by writing Fester's story, though the coming year will try them more than once. Welcome Home, Bernard Socks is about moving on in the wake of disaster. Finding a way to keep moving forward. The bravery of embracing change and letting love in. Being willing to let time move forward and let another furry face into your heart, while not replacing the first. This book is warts and all dealing with grief and how life wins, no matter how hard it gets, which is something we all need to be reminded of.
That is why I connect to this book so strongly. Because Paul is letting us into his life. You see his pain and his joy, you see everything and it forges a strong connection between author and reader. Ironically this is a reason I usually don't read memoirs, even if written in honor of the more elevated feline. There's a lack of connection between the writer and their audience. They have created some sort of image and are there to perpetuate that. Not to offer insight or assistance, just to glorify themselves. Well, after The Story of Fester Cat I've started to revise my stance on memoirs. I saw that they could be a reflection of ourselves. I saw they could be full of truth and love and sadness and humor. This past year I have read more memoirs and autobiographies than I ever have. While I connected to none as strongly as I have Paul's writing, I have gotten more insight into myself then I would have thought possible. I also realize that my life could be a lot worse and am grateful for what I have.
But here, now, with Paul, what I connected with most is the weird little habits that develop after you have lost your furry friend. The secretly looking at adoptable cats online and forming attachments to them based on their stories and pictures. You know it's too soon, yet you can't help downloading a few of these pictures to look at later on your desktop. You might even have a cat folder on your computer, not that there's anything wrong with that. You spin scenarios in your head, you look at the hours of shelters and think, what would it hurt to drop by? Then you are shocked by how large cats are compared to the dainty gentleman that left you too soon. Thankfully for Bernard Socks Paul's habits moved into action, while mine are still in the realm of possibilities...
If there is one flaw in this book that I could point to it is that Fester's voice is so strong that it occasionally crowds out Bernard Socks. I love the little insights into the differences of their personalities. The distinguished old gentleman versus the rollicking teenager. The "ungow" versus the "weeee-oooooo!" The fact that Fester was more of a disco lover, while Bernard Socks is all about the jazz. I'm quite convinced my Spotty was into instrumentals, though not of the loud John Williams type, more the quite Sunday afternoon miniseries type, but he loved it when you changed the lyrics to songs to be all about him. Paul is just learning about Bernard Socks, getting to know him, so aside from one little talk between the two cats, Bernard hasn't found his voice yet and it's still Fester who is talking to Paul. Don't get me wrong, I love Fester's voice, I just wonder what Bernard Socks's voice will be like when he stops racing around and settles down. We all mature into our personalities and the newest inhabitant of Paul and Jeremy's house hasn't matured yet. So in other words, I see a third book in this style in Paul's future.
It's Paul's other books that brought me to him, through his fantasy writing where his stories wrap around you like a comfy blanket as he hands you a mug of spicy tea and is there for sympathy should you need it. Because Paul's books always have a ghost of himself flitting about the pages the transition from his fantasy writing to Fester's memoirs, which stayed mostly in the realm of reality, was a pretty seamless shift. The fantastical elements were missing but not missed, and if you're not a cat person and say that Fester's voice is pretty outlandish, well, obviously these books aren't for you. Yet there was a part of me that was excited to think he might one day combine his two styles. When I read in the book's blurb that "Bernard Socks escapes and discovers a ghostly cat parade that happens every Midsummer Night’s Eve in Levenshulme" I realized that time had come. Here Paul was ready to combine his two styles into something new.
"Deep underground in back gardens cat bones stir and start to remember." When I read these words a little frisson of excitement went across my skin. I was always the dorky cat kid who totally believed that Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats was real. I'd spend hours sitting in front of the piano with my cat on my lap trying to teach him how to play some of the songs. Because cats are magical beings that smell slightly of sulfur, and while most of their adventures are mundane, a true cat lover knows that not all of them are. And here Paul has brought to life one of those ghostly adventures, where all the cats who have left us come back to cavort on this one night every year. What it reminded me most of was the chapter "Danse Macabre" in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book which is filled with eerie ghostly revelries. There is a melancholy frivolity to both that make them memorable. But what is most memorable is the knowledge Fester gains on his return, that cats can come back so long as someone remembers them. With this second volume ghostwritten by Fester he has guaranteed his place at the revelries for years to come. Ungow forever!...more
Long before Beverly Cleary became a household name to generations of children who love her books, she was just a girl who grew up on a farm in the smaLong before Beverly Cleary became a household name to generations of children who love her books, she was just a girl who grew up on a farm in the small town of Yamhill, Oregon. When she was a little older her family leased the farm and moved to Portland where Beverly's life took on a more typical existence. Instead of wandering through meadows looking for wildflowers, she had school and friends. She was a voracious reader and one of her greatest joys was graduating eighth grade and getting an adult library card. Growing up during the Great Depression with stresses at home with her father scrapping by on work that was unsatisfactory and a mother that was controlling, Beverly escaped into the world of books and soon showed a talent for writing herself. While she was encouraged in her scholarly pursuits, her mother tried to maintain a firm grasp on the shape of Beverly's life, even guilt-tripping Beverly into a chaste relationship with a man named Gerhart for many years. If Beverly's mother had had her way Beverly would have ended up just like her, a frustrated housewife with ambitions of having been a writer, luckily for her, and us, things turned out differently.
When I was in sixth grade I became more then a little addicted to the Scholastic Book order forms we'd get at school. Prior to sixth grade I'd order a poster or two, most likely of a cat, maybe a book, but in sixth grade I started to pour over them with religious fervor, trying to pick just which books I wanted. My parents were accommodating, there weren't may bookstores in town and the fact that I showed an interest in reading beyond my few books I'd read at least a hundred times made their publishing hearts happy. The core of my book collection is still all these books I ordered, from Beverly Cleary to Judy Blume. But when I discovered Roald Dahl's Matilda, many of these books languished on my shelves. I spent most of sixth grade reading and re-reading Matilda secreted in my desk at the back of the classroom near the sink. A Girl from Yamhill was one of these books that was brushed aside for Matilda. I have a vague recollection that I was sad it was a biography, and put it on my shelf to wait. Interestingly enough at some point my grandmother must have taken it down and started to read it. How could I intuit this almost thirty years later? My grandmother had a habit of using whatever was to hand to use as a bookmark and about a third of the way through this book I found a Queen of Hearts playing card. While not her common Halls wrapper, a playing card was as sure a sign she had been there as an "x" on a treasure map. She must have abandoned the book, and, seeing the book from her jaded POV I can see why. It's simplistic, lacks depth, and at times can be deathly boring. But there's something there that still makes it worthwhile.
The key aspect that I needed to keep in mind while reading A Girl from Yamhill was who Beverly Cleary's audience is. I mean, it should be obvious because I ordered this book from Scholastic in sixth grade, but it's easy to forget that her writing is aimed at children or adults who grew up on her books and have a fondness for her writing style. If, like me, you haven't read any of her books in years and are expecting some amazing depth or insight with this book you are sadly mistaken as to what kind of book you are reading. It isn't entirely simplistic, but the prose are straightforward and almost stark. She lays things out simply and tells her story without embellishment, and this leads to a lack of depth. But likewise this means that anyone can pick it up and read it and find something to connect with. Cleary also sticks to incidents that would be universal to her readers while having the barest framework of the historical era. She talks about struggles with her parents and touches on money problems they had without going into too much depth about the Depression. She has the typical worries of all kids, will she like school, what about friends, what about boys. She sets out her life to be relatable while also telling how she became a writer. Though I wish I had known going in that it's the second volume of her biography that deals with her writing career. Perhaps that's why A Girl from Yamhill starts to flag at the end? Maybe she was saving up the good stories for the next volume and just resorted to bland entries in her diary to sum up this section of her life. Why else would anyone resort to the sloppy writing of "looking in my diary"?
Overall it's the unflinching honesty that makes this book unique. She doesn't sugarcoat her life. Bad and good things happen and she doesn't hesitate to mention them. This is most seen in her relationship with her Mother. I have a feeling that Mrs. Bunn and Norma Bates would get on rather well. They both have a clinging need to be the center of their child's life, they aren't overly demonstrative with affection, and are just plain nightmares to live with. Beverly's mother has a pathological need to live vicariously through Beverly, whether it's in managing her friends, her boyfriend, her parties, or her "accomplishments" from dancing to the piano, whatever her mother says goes. She is a tyrant. Beverly has almost no say in her life and you can feel her yearning to break free. If it wasn't for her father laying down the law and saying that Beverly was going to go to California for college I don't think she would have ever broken free from her mother. The creepiest thing though is her mother's diary. Only, her mother doesn't write her own day to day exploits, oh no, she writes her daughter's dairy. Which she keeps secret from Beverly. This is just, what is she, psychotic? It's almost too creepy to discuss. I think at this point even Norma Bates would be shying away from Mrs. Bunn. There's being a controlling parent, and then there's this, whatever this is. In Beverly's defense, at least she didn't try to make her mother a saint and she didn't kill her like Norman Bates.
The one aspect of the book though that makes me question that Beverly is always unfailingly honest is the prophetic nature of her life. With teachers as early as grade school telling her to be a writer. I think the first mention is in third grade. I can get behind high school teachers advising her on her talents, she did so much writing for the paper and even wrote the school play, then it makes sense that her abilities would be commented on. A grade school teacher, when she's barely started to write telling her? Um, no. It's fairly obvious that she wanted to be a writer her whole life, despite saying that she wasn't sure what direction her life was going. So she foisted this belief onto other people so that she could be uncertain about her future, which most of her young readers would relate to, while at the same time laying down the law that a writer she was going to be. This felt all just too pretentious. Like a higher being shined a light from the sky and said "Beverly Bunn YOU ARE A WRITER!" Yes everyone might have a calling, something they are good at. But she just made too big a deal about this and I can't get behind the propaganda of it. Sure, it might have been inevitable. Was it prophesized? No. Not at all. If her mother had had her way Beverly would have been a home maker, and NOTHING is set in stone. It just worked out and Beverly seems to think this was fate. Sigh.
The real question I wonder though is is A Girl from Yamhill still relatable to kids growing up today? I don't think it is. My generation is the last generation to grow up with kids running wild in the streets with their bikes akimbo on the playground as they played till dusk. There is a lack of freedom and a focus on technology that today's kids grow up with. To read about someone growing up during the depression when school concentrated on penmanship and how to diagram a sentence, it might as well be a foreign language. Personally, I think it's more important then ever to make kids read books like this because they can relate to some of the struggles but it is also a more tangible, understandable, history lesson. This is what the world was like not too long ago before everyone had cellphones when having a private phone line to your house was a luxury. I can relate to the book because it's the world my grandparents and my parents and to an extent myself, grew up in. The world is just changing so fast that we need to look back to a time when things seemed slower. But more importantly, you see the maxim of history being doomed to repeat itself, think of the Depression and our current recession... they are very similar, if decades apart. Kids today need a little wake up call....more
The only reason I ever found out who Caitlin Moran is is because of a good book cover. Yes, we've all been lured into picking up a book because of a fThe only reason I ever found out who Caitlin Moran is is because of a good book cover. Yes, we've all been lured into picking up a book because of a fabulous cover, sometimes to our detriment, but for me it was really all about that hand lettering. For about six months straight How to Be a Woman was featured almost daily in my Waterstones email and I seriously clicked the link every time to admire the lettering. What I wouldn't give to be able to do hand lettering, but sadly it's not in my wheelhouse. Despite my insane case of cover lust I didn't feel compelled to buy the book. I'm not into nonfiction, I'm not into books that explore feminism, so I wrote off this book as not for me. Then all of a sudden within the last few weeks Caitlin Moran got on my radar again. One of my friends was reading another of her books, Moranthology, I have an e-galley of How to Build a Girl languishing on my Kindle, and Caitlin and her sister Caroline wrote a show based loosely on their childhood, Raised by Wolves, which has been airing on the BBC. It was really this last one that got me interested in reading more of her work. In twenty minutes I was able to gauge her humor and realize, that while uneven, it might just be for me.
How to Be a Woman was a great companion piece to Raised by Wolves, I got deeper insight into what might be a funny throw away line on the show by hearing the full story. It was like spending a little holiday in Caitlin's brain, which was oddly restful, relatable, and fun; and like all holidays, had it's crappy moments too. While I've seen many reviews saying how she is the British Tina Fey, I'd actually compare her writing style, and also her upbringing, more to David Sedaris. I had the same feelings reading this book as I did when I first read Me Talk Pretty One Day. The insights are something I've thought of but never really been able to verbalize. Their writing style makes me wish that I was more polished, that I could write like this. Because the truth of the matter is, while yes, I might have a book in me, I know in my heart of hearts that it would never be fiction. My book would be more memoir or a Roman à clef, and I would hope it would be like this. More even... but still, like this.
What I admire most about this book is how she simplifies the definition of feminism. Feminism has almost become a loaded word. Even women like me think of the strident feminist burning bras, not half the population just looking to be treated equally. So to simplify, here are Caitlin's instructions. "Put you hand in your underpants. a. Do you have a vagina? and b. Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said "yes" to both, then congratulations! You're a feminist." So simple and so true. I think Caitlin would probably now encourage me to stand on my hair and shout it, but due to wobbly chair and lack of coordination, this could end badly, so I will just say it here I AM A FEMINIST! But what saddens me is to look at this hopefulness in this book, this idea that we are all humans living together and hopefully we'll be bros and be just one of the guys and pal around in a world of equality and to see the reality of what has happened in the few short years since Caitlin wrote this book.
The truth is that this book is sadly dated. There's hope and progressive thought and in just four years so much progress has been undone. Rights of women are flowing out of our hands faster then water. How can we women be "one of the guys" when not only the government is turning against us but more and more vitriol is being spewed on the web against us? Look to Gamergate and all that has wrought! Gamergate is the newest horror in the ongoing culture war of men and women. What started as backlash for supposed preferment for a woman game designer has descended into sheer madness. Death threats, doxing, hate mail, threats of physical violence, in particular rape. This has created a culture of fear and hate, where even me writing about it gives me pause, because anyone who takes a stand and speaks out against Gamergate could be their next target. Caitlin Moran has even tweeted about this, but sadly the movement hasn't failed and is just as strong as ever, so maybe it's time to switch the conversation? I can't do it on a global scale, but I can in this review.
How to Be a Woman is the best when it's relatable, when Caitlin's experiences are shared by her fellow women, obviously me included. Her tackling what it's like to get your first period, which for me also happened on my thirteenth birthday, to dealing with the emergence of hair all over our bodies, I wanted to scream YES, but from my comfy chair (remember, bad balance, so no standing up on said chair here). Though I haven't experienced everything she has, no marriage and kids for me, these are such universally feminine issues that as a woman you get it, you understand. But the truth is Caitlin had a very interesting foray out of Wolverhampton and into the greater world at large, writing for Melody Maker at the age of sixteen. It's when she starts to dwell on specific events that happened to her that couldn't ever in a million years happen to you when the book loses that relatablity and starts to lose your interest. In particular I am thinking about Caitlin going to a very German bar with Lady Gaga. Yes, Caitlin's extrapolation of Gaga as a feminist icon works, but it's almost too specific and too much relating to her sitting in a banquette with Gaga falling asleep in her lap. Yes, it's an interesting if odd story, but I don't think it works in the context of the book.
But even if it's uneven and occasionally meandering, it's a book that every woman and every man should read. Seriously, I think guys would understand us a lot more just from a few key scenes in this book. And she's not afraid to tackle the big issues, like abortion, and she's not afraid of making herself look bad, she tells it like it is. Sometimes it can be preachy, and it is definitely NOT for everyone, ie abortion, but I feel somehow more connected after reading How to Be a Woman. It's not about "Girl Power" or anything so trite. It's about knowing that what I feel is somehow universal. That even if we are totally different people, and that my and Caitlin's life are so different you can barely compare us, there is literally an ocean that divides us, but underneath everything we are the same. If nothing else, this book will truly make you think. And laugh. A lot. Out loud.
*Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance, during Jazzy July to celebrate the release of Lauren Willig's The Other Daughter, i*Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance, during Jazzy July to celebrate the release of Lauren Willig's The Other Daughter, including introductions by Lauren! (July 2015)
The 1920s in England spawned a unique subculture. The Bright Young Things, people who partied every night, always had just the right bon mot, and never failed to make headlines in the newspapers, many written by their own set, swept through the country. While their parents might have thought of them as the scourge of the country with their depravity, the public couldn't get enough of reading about the antics of these young partygoers. But the artistic and bohemian lifestyle had a price, most of them wasted their talents and were burned out by their hedonistic lifestyle. Of all the Bright Young People, so few names remain memorable in the artistic community, such as Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford. What happened to the rest? They were the symbol of a decade but as that decade grew to a close the world was changing, war started to loom again on the horizon, and decadence wasn't looked on favourably during a time of retrenchment. Though looking back, it is fascinating to examine the beginning of what would become our celebrity obsessed society. It didn't start with Kim and Kanye, it started with Beverly Nichols and Elizabeth Ponsonby!
Biographies written by authors with an overinflated sense of self are hard to read. They don't let their subjects take center stage, being always more concerned with patting themselves on the back then doing justice to their subjects. D.J. Taylor is such a writer, more interested in using obscure words and overblown language to showcase his own "talent" then writing a solid book, whose subject matter I'm not even sure he liked all that much. There is a smugness in the way he assumes that everyone must know who and what he is talking about and that if you don't you are unworthy of this knowledge. This leaves the reader confused in a morass of names and events with only the loosest grasp of who any of the Bright Young People really are. Apparently a simple precise of the cast of characters would sully Taylor's writing and make the book too approachable by the uniformed masses. And the thing is, I'm not uniformed! I know many of the Bright Young People and still I felt like I was futilely trying to catch some meaning out of the fog Taylor creates with his impenetrable text. Bright Young People and authors like Taylor are the exact reason I have problems with biographies and why I so rarely read them. And if he referenced ONE MORE picture that wasn't included in the book I was ready to burn it, library fine or no.
When I read the biography on the Mitford sisters, I faced many of the same problems I faced here. The Sisters just rehashed commonly known facts and oft told stories I had heard in their own books while bringing nothing further to the table. Taylor does the same. He spends copious amounts of time dwelling on repeating plots from books or tales of parties that are better told elsewhere. Why would I be reading this book to read in detail the plot of Vile Bodies? If I wanted to know about Vile Bodies I would read Vile Bodies! Which I am actually planning on doing anyway. But the biggest problem I have with him summarizing these primary sources is he does it so badly. I know it's hard to condense a book's narrative down so that you engage your reader as well as give just enough detail without spoiling the book, heck I do it with every book review I write. So I think I'm a little qualified to pass judgment here. In the book's chapter entitled "Projections" which is near the end of the book, if you make it that far which I don't advise you to do, all Taylor does is badly summarize the literary efforts of the authors this generation spawned. Now I have read all the books Nancy Mitford has written, ALL THE BOOKS, and I could barely recognize Highland Fling from Taylor's description. The same can be said about Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie. Therefore I can only assume the books I haven't read were just as atrociously summarized. Plus, why do I want to read this when I could just pick up the original book? You would be better off reading all the primary sources then wading into this pompous and pretentious morass that theoretically attempts to unify the authors lives and works into one book.
What is fascinating about this grouping of authors, photographers, heiresses, and what have you is that they were a very egalitarian group, despite being very clannish. Many people site the first world war as the great equalizer. It was the last war where your status could get you a higher commission. The world started to shift from this Upstairs, Downstairs world to a world more founded on merit. Therefore why should it be any surprise that The Bright Young People were also a more democratic lot. Titled "Hons" rubbed shoulders with "laborers" in their midst. The two most recognizable of these lower orders rising up are Cecil Beaton and Evelyn Waugh. While Beaton was more overtly ambitious, these two men, who ironically hated each other, had humbler beginnings then many of their contemporaries among this glittering society. Waugh's father was an author and literary critic, while Beaton's was a timber merchant. While their beginnings weren't so humble as to be penurious, seeing as they went to the right schools and therefore worked their way into this new social circle, it is just fascinating that they had a-typical backgrounds. When you think of the writer to define this generation, this movement, while Nancy Mitford is a close second, Evelyn Waugh takes the top prize. He immortalized this period for future generations. Likewise if one was to think of a person who captured the images of the age, Cecil Beaton, hands down. Sure he went on to even greater acclaim and Academy Awards, but it is his portraiture of this age the captures it for time in memoriam.
One aspect that I found interesting enough to dwell a few minutes on was the idea of the Bright Young "Thing" versus the Bright Young "Person." Because it's an interesting theory I can unequivocally state that Taylor didn't think it up and it's been floating around for awhile, he just doesn't have it in him. While many people refer to the culture of the Bright Young Thing it would be more accurate to replace "Thing" with "Person" or "People" because this was a generation that, while they had an overall vibe, it was the personalities that made this movement important. Which is why little precises of all the movers and shakers would have been so helpful! If this is a movement about the people, it would be helpful to know who all these people are! Name drop all you want Taylor, if I don't know them just reading their names over and over again isn't going to magically enlighten me! This was really the epoch of what we now know as celebrity culture, of the "personality." Sure, there were famous personages prior to the twenties, but their every single detail down to who was at a bridge party at Nancy Mitford's house wasn't published in the press. This was when the exploits of so-called celebrities daily exploits were written up to be consumed by the masses who could barely comprehend living this party lifestyle. We still consume it at probably an even more rapid rate then they did back then. Turn on the television at any time of day and there are some pseudo-celebrities with cameras following them everywhere. And while it is funny to think about what a reality show with Elizabeth Ponsonby or Evelyn Waugh would have been like, in the end would the show be any more captivating then any current reality TV? Probably not. Just more people trying to stay in the spotlight with stunts and parties.
The biggest flaw though, in this overly flawed book, is that Taylor breaks basically the only rule for writing a work of non-fiction, and that is overreliance on one source. When you write non-fiction using only one person's diaries or journals it gives you a skewed view of what really happened. You are only getting one side of the story. You can't provide any kind of faithful narrative with only this one POV. Here the POV is almost strictly that of the Ponsonbys. Taylor must have been so flattered to be allowed unprecedented access to the Ponsonby family archive that it inflated his already inflated ego and turned this book more and more into a platform for the elder Ponsonbys to rail against their daughter, Elizabeth. Firstly, why didn't Taylor just write about them if they were so obviously his pet project, and secondly, the "generational struggle" that the diary entries are supposed to highlight as a typical reaction to children misbehaving don't work. At all. Instead, these diary entries focused on the behavior of their daughter make Elizabeth's parents seem unstable. They appear, quite dramatically, to be psychotically obsessed with their daughter's comings and goings, even onto the point of her sexual activity. If you think OCD helicopter parents are a new trend, I give you the Ponsonbys as proof against that. Seriously, they just give me the creeps. There's a book in their relationship with their daughter, it just shouldn't have been in any part of this one. Also, Norma Bates, you have been outdone, FYI.
The feeling this book leaves you with, beside rage at the author and a desire never to meet the Ponsonbys, is that of overwhelming sadness. The Bright Young People burned bright and fast, falling into ruin and disipation. The book couldn't be bothered with going into the whys and wherefores as to how this generation was formed, aside from quotes from far better authors of the time. But you still get that this generation was lost, not in the typical sense. They didn't disappear, they left their mark, but it was fleeting. They were lost in the wilderness and didn't know how to make a life of parties and treasure hunts and dressing up transition into a real life, with productive work and a future. Of all the personalities profiled, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Evelyn Waugh, Cecil Beaton, Anthony Powell, Harold Acton, John Betjeman, Edward Burra, Edward Gathorne-Hardy, Babe Plunket-Greene, Brian Howard, Beverly Nichols, Brenda Dean Paul, Bryan Guinness, Henry Green, the Sitwells, and the Mitfords, and many more, the average person would probably only know Evelyn Waugh. If they are more of a reader, perhaps Waugh, Nancy Mitford, and Anthony Powell. Of the coeterie of personalities, only a small handful are still known. Only these few had any lasting power. Yet all these people wrote or act or were creative and yet there is nothing to remember them by. So maybe they are lost in every since of the word. It's too too sad making. ...more
*Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance, during Jazzy July to celebrate the release of Lauren Willig's The Other Daughter, i*Special Content only on my blog, Strange and Random Happenstance, during Jazzy July to celebrate the release of Lauren Willig's The Other Daughter, including introductions by Lauren! (July 2015)
Evelyn Waugh was one of the writers who immortalized the 20s generation of "Bright Young People" through his books. But his book, Brideshead Revisited, more then any of his other work, was a touchstone for a generation and one of the greatest books of the 20th century. Yet the story didn't emerge fully formed from his conscious, it was inspired by his relationship with the Lygon family. They lived in a great old pile, Madresfield, where the three sons and four daughters grew up in bucolic bliss till their family was rocked by scandal. The Lygon patriarch, Lord Beauchamp, was exiled from England upon divorce proceedings initiated by his wife for his homosexual tendencies. The children blamed their mother for this rend in the family and started to live a life devoid of parental control. Into this world Evelyn Waugh appeared. Bringing his signature wit and style he befriended the family and came to fall in love with them all, rumors had it that back at Oxford he was more then a little in love with the second son, Hugh. Hugh would become the basis for Sebastian Flyte, and the entire Lygon family and their life was to be immortalized in Waugh's magnum opus. But did they have any say in the matter?
If you want to keep your well held belief that Evelyn Waugh is a genius and Brideshead Revisited is one of the most original masterpieces of the last century, I urge you not to read this book. If, on the other hand, you always suspected that Waugh wasn't that nice or that Brideshead Revisited was a boring plotless book, well, you probably won't read Mad World, but know that your opinion is validated a thousand fold. While I always suspected that Evelyn Waugh wasn't that nice, never did I think that he would so carelessly use his friends and family as fodder for his books. Yes, I did know that he satirized those around him, much as Nancy Mitford did, but this book brought it home as something more. Waugh was a user. He lived an itinerant life travelling from one friend's home to another and then using what he saw there to create his books. He lambasted friends who couldn't use the world around them as fodder for their books and needed to do research, yet he used the lives him around in a cruel and flippant ways in his work. He was a leech, and not a very likable one. The thing that mystifies me is that Byrne claims that Waugh's friends didn't blame him for capitalizing on their pain, that mockery was part and parcel or being Waugh's friend and that he was easy to forgive. Yet Byrne says this, she doesn't show this. How am I to believe this? Because it sounds like Waugh hurt a lot of people to get to where he got in the literary world and that the wounds struck his friends deep but they just put on a brave face for him.
Mad World boils down all Waugh's books, his entire literary cannon, to thinly disguised roman à clefs. Byrne, while obviously a fan of Waugh, did a disservice to him in writing this book because it takes away the magic of that lost generation captured in Brideshead Revisited. Why is the magic gone? Because Waugh just used the Lygon family and transferred their lives into another medium. While the book still captures this lost generation of halcyon Oxford days, it narrows down the universality of the book. It makes it one family's history, not an archetypal history. It also shows that Waugh, while able to spin a wonderful phrase, didn't have an original bone in his body. He was more historian than writer. All his books, not just Brideshead Revisited, are rooted in reality, almost painfully so. Each character has a real life counterpart, each adventure is centered on a story in his life. While writers do take inspiration from the world around them, it feels like Waugh was a hack. He could ONLY write the world around him transmuted into a book. And while Brideshead Revisited was a loving portrayal of the Lygons, unlike some of his vicious parodies hidden in such characters as Anthony Blanche, did Waugh's friendship with them give him carte blanche to write this story? No it didn't. He used them and moved on.
But what disturbed me most about this book was that while the book was cleverly supposed to be a dual history of Waugh and the Lygons, which is why I was interested in this book, it became more and more a single-sided story where we were just given Waugh's POV. We read his copious letters to the Lygon sisters, and how they were transmuted into the Flytes, down to even phrases excised from Waugh's letters to them and then used in the book, but we never hear their voices. We never get a feeling as to who these sisters were. Was their relationship reciprocal? Did they actually write to Evelyn as much as he wrote to them? Why don't we have any of their letters? Was Waugh perhaps a venal man who carried on single-sided correspondence with the great and the good making more out of a friendship then it really was? I'd say this is quite possible and without any evidence or letters to the contrary, this is the only conclusion I can reach. The Lygon sisters where barely more than props to Evelyn who used his connection to them to puff up his ego and used his experiences with them to make a name for himself with his writing. And while Byrne states that after the sisters left Madresfield forever Waugh kept up a correspondence with them that lasted the rest of his life, but that isn't what it looks like. It looks like he wrote Brideshead Revisited, made a true masterpiece and dropped them. He'd occasionally look in but he had no use for them and his old itinerant lifestyle so, much like the props they appear to be, they were placed in storage only to be occasionally let out into the light.
The subject matter and how it's handled wasn't the biggest downfall of the book. The biggest downfall was the haphazard way that Byrne decided to keep some facts and omit others. By redacting parts of Evelyn's life, how can I actually believe anything this authors says in her stilted and amateurish writing style? She skips over things that I think are rather important, like Evelyn working as a gossip columnist. Not only did this feed into his writing style but it was a common experience with his friends and contemporaries. Why omit this? Because if it was to show him as a superior writer, well, everything about this book portrays him as a hack, so why not a hack journalist? Then Byrne's lack of adherence to naming conventions drove me batty. In a time when everyone had three nicknames, just choose one please? I seriously don't know which is which Lygon sister due to Byrne randomly choosing a different nickname or occasionally their real name. Just stop. But worst of all was the repetitive nature of the book, the reliance on only a handful of quotes used over and over again. Did Byrne have any editor at all? My guess is no as in the way she's string quotes from different sources with clunky "and this" "and then" "and now." This kind of sloppy writing was beaten out of me in high school and here is a published author trying to write a discourse on Brideshead Revisited that wouldn't pass muster with the most generous of teachers.
As for the most disgusting aspect of this book? The general acceptance of pederast culture. Wherein any pretty young man was viewed as fair game, even if they were underage. Teacher's quite literally using their students, in particular a nasty story about one of Evelyn's friends having a student sodomize him with his foot, and Lord Beauchamp using every able bodied and attractive male as a possible sexual conquest. I'm not saying this shouldn't be addressed or omitted. This happened and a discourse needs to be had. What I am saying is that it shouldn't be treated with such a laissez-faire attitude. Using a position of power for sex is something that should NEVER be acceptable. Yes it happens, but it's this acceptance by people like Byrne that allow it to continue. That this happened should incite a revolt! It shouldn't be a joke in one of Waugh's letters. Some talk about the culture of the time would have been considerate. But making a point that this is unacceptable needed to be said, and Byrne didn't. She even seemed to find it all a little piquant, especially when discussing Beauchamp and his servants. It's not piquant, it's repulsive. ...more
Fester Cat had spent twelve years on the streets of Manchester, twice contemplating domesticity, but the last lady didn't understand him, she thoughtFester Cat had spent twelve years on the streets of Manchester, twice contemplating domesticity, but the last lady didn't understand him, she thought he was a girl! The indignity! Then Paul and Jeremy enter his life. They're the new couple in Fester's territory, even though they've been there about a year. There's something alluring and different about them, but most magical of all they know Fester's name! The Spanish lady thought he was a she and here's two guys who not only know he's a distinguished gentleman but that he answers to Fester! Ungow!
After a little time coming and going Fester decides that he shall adopt Paul and Jeremy and their lives together begin. Fester isn't just a furry family member but he helps the three of them become a family. Through rituals of turkey at Christmas and long summer days reading in the "Beach House" to singing and talking, they bond into a cohesive unit that is campy and cuddly and most of all filled with joyous everlasting love.
In March of 2013 my heart broke a little at the news that a certain tuxedo kitty was no longer in this world. Thirty-six days later I got a story in my inbox, The Story of Fester Cat. And I knew I couldn't read it. In a little over two weeks it would be four years since I had lost my tuxedo kitty, Spot. 1445 days and growing. This September Paul contacted me asking if I'd review the book for my blog. I said I was glad to, all the while wondering, but can I? I usually avoid reading books about animals like the plague. I can't take the fact that the book was written because their furry little story had come to an end.
I don't want excesses of unnecessary emotion and rainbow bridges, a sentiment that Fester himself would agree with I'm sure. I don't feel that it's cathartic or will help me heal, all I feel is the pain as fresh as the day I lost my little guy. But somehow this book was different. Yes, it did break my heart, I cried uncontrollably for awhile, but it also put my heart back together. In the two years I'd known Paul, Fester had become a part of my life, the daily pictures on Facebook of them working away at his computer or relaxing in the Beach House was a highlight of my day. The lose of a furry family member leaves a hole in your heart that you don't know what to do with, Paul filled his with Fester's song.
Fester's story is told in Fester's own unique voice, ungow! I'm not talking just about the conversational aspect, the vocal inflections that everyone who has known and loved a talkative cat knows about. The way they insinuate themselves into conversations with a mow here and a meep there. I'm talking about the inner voice made real in the narration of his story. All cat "owners" will tell you that their cat has a unique voice, I always imagined my Spot's voice as regal and somewhat sardonic, like Jeremy Irons.
Paul though has masterfully written this book in such a way that it feels he is channeling Fester. Fester is observant and witty and knows how to keep his humans in line and sticking to their routines. He is streetwise but also has a deeper understanding of life. His voice isn't just unique like some books have a unique narrator. Fester's voice attains a whole other level where it feels like it's destined to be classic, much like Eloise in the fabulous Kay Thompson series. You just read it and go, yes, this is Fester.
Reading The Story of Fester Cat you realize how important and personal a book this is. While in some regards as Paul says "It's like our little cat going out to meet the world!" But I think there's a whole deeper level, the level of Paul and Jeremy. If you have been lucky enough to read any of Paul's other books you will realize that Paul rather sneakily works himself into the stories. There's a bit of Paul in Robert in the Brenda and Effie series, then in Jack in 666 Charing Cross Road, and then there's Simon in the Iris Wildthyme series. You get this feeling that Paul has always wanted to be on an adventure and as a talented writer he has used these surrogates to insert himself into the narrative.
But for the first time he doesn't need a stand-in. This is Paul's life. There must be something so scary opening yourself up in such a way when for years you've had this separation. Not just showing a fictionalized version of yourself shown in the best light, but to show the good, the bad, the love, the heartbreak, the fights, the fusses, to show it all for everyone. This book is Paul laid bare. This is him, and Fester, and Jeremy. This is their song, full of love and heartbreak, but undeniably catchy. I can only hope that it will stick with you as the chorus and refrain play in your memory. Ungow!...more
Agnes Magnúsdóttir has been convicted of killing her lover and employer, Natan Ketilsson. She has been scheduled to be executed. Agnes is sent to an iAgnes Magnúsdóttir has been convicted of killing her lover and employer, Natan Ketilsson. She has been scheduled to be executed. Agnes is sent to an isolated farm at Kornsa, near where she grew up, to await her execution. The family of four living in the croft at Kornsa must allow Agnes into their lives for the duration because of the will of the District Commissioner, Björn Blöndal. Divided by prejudices, most the family doesn't trust the murderess, but over time, slowly, they do get to know Agnes, and she is far from what they expected. With the counsel of a local Reverend, Tóti, Agnes tells her story, knowing that nothing can stop her impending death.
Books based on actual events are tricky. My main problem with them is you know what's going to happen. Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last execution in Iceland. Therefore Agnes is going to die. No matter how much you love or hate her this will not change the fact that the end of her story is a fixed point, she can not live. As for her imagined life, in some regards I was at an advantage and in some regards I was at a disadvantage. I knew nothing about Agnes and the legend that has grown up around her seeing as I'm not familiar with Icelandic history or urban legends or even Iceland when I started this book. This gave me a clean slate. I could view her story with no preconceptions. Yet Hannah Kent was obviously out to change these preconceptions. So how could I fully understand what she was trying to do without being fully aware?
What I felt this book lacked was a coda that showed how maligned Agnes was in her time. Some historical context after the fact that would have shown us exactly what the preconceptions were that Hannah was working against in writing this book. The national museum still has the axe and the chopping block used in Agnes's execution on display. Is this because of it being the last capital punishment, or the triumph over evil, or to remind them of a wrong they did as a country? The problem of trying to find out the folklore surrounding Agnes now, the wanton witch, is that the web is populated with Hannah's story of setting things to right, or at least giving us an unbiased view. So while we won't know the truth, I'd at least like a glimpse into the mindset of the times.
Burial Rites does suffer because Hannah is a first time author. The book lacks a polish that would smooth over the rough patches and the literary tricks she pulls out of her bag. I think that literary tricks are the bane of first time writers. They go to school, learn all these concepts and narrative techniques, and then decide to use them all in their first endeavor as a writer. The key to writing a good book is to let the story tell you what it needs, not to shoehorn in things just to show you can do it. I know at least one of my fellow book club members would agree with me that Hannah's annoying preference for "Head-Hopping" is something that needed to be worked on to avoid the disjointed nature it brings to the narrative.
For those of you who don't know the term, or have never experienced this technique in writing, "Head-Hopping" is when an author switches the point-of-view character in a single scene. One second you're in Agnes's head, the next you're in Tóti's head, and on and on. While it gives you a more direct connection to the characters then omniscient narration, it can be confusing at times and feel contrived. But then again, I've never been a fan of literary tricks. Nothing has or even will annoy me more then in John Scalzi's Redshirts that his first, second, and third coda were written in first, second, and third person respectively. That's just a writer being indulgent. Seriously, ask yourself does it benefit the story? If the answer is no, it benefits my ego, then cut it.
Yet I was able to look beyond these initial flaws because underneath there was a fascinating story that transported me to another place and time. Plus, seriously, if you're feeling bad about your life, it's not as bad as it could be, and this novel is here to prove it. Though it was looking from Iceland to the greater world view of the time that staggered me. Iceland is a country above the tree line, the use of wood in buildings at this time is rare and used only for the wealthy or places of importance. The country is bleak and dark and filled with mud, lots and lots of mud. Houses are sod with sheep bladders as the membranous windows through which the little light sneaks in. Summer days are spent preparing for the long winter days to come when all you do is stay indoors and knit.
If someone was to tell you that this was 1830 you might be in shock, I know I was. At this time Jane Austen had already come and gone. Queen Victoria would be on the throne of England in only seven more years. Napoleon had already stirred up France, bugged off to Egypt, been incarcerated, escaped, and died. The Revolutionary War in America was almost fifty years prior! If we think of these times do we think of an advanced country like Iceland, a country where one in ten people have written a book, and think, mud huts filled with knitters? NO! This just blows my mind. To think of this greater world view through the eyes of this story and this time just astonishes me. Sure, I could tell you you should read Burial Rites it because it's like Icelandic Brontës, but in truth it is so much more amazing.
Seriously, firstly, why do I own this book? Secondly... why did I just read it? Oh, at least I know the answer to my second question, I can't let a boSeriously, firstly, why do I own this book? Secondly... why did I just read it? Oh, at least I know the answer to my second question, I can't let a book go unread... This was just a stupid, pointless read. Catherine Hardwicke is a self obsessed egomaniac, who is perhaps a little too obsessed with Twilight... which means my original theory that the first movie is slightly taking the piss was entirely wrong, it's unintentionally funny... Then there's all the issues I have with whomever did the book's layout. It's crap. Tiny pictures, gimmicky handwriting, and I'm sure for those obsessed with Twilight, not enough pictures of the actors. Also, why did this movie have like no budget and why did it not film in Washington? Just wondering... ...more
The world around us should be our inspiration for art. There is a reason why art and architecture varies by climate. The materials available and the surrounding environment should feed art and make it of it's place, not attempting and hence forcing it to being something it's not. Yet if the labourer who is to create these masterpieces doesn't have any artistic freedom his work is just that of another cog in the industrial revolution. Man can either be a tool or a man. To make a truly great society there needs to be expression allowed in each and every man's work, otherwise society is failing. There needs to be heart in work. Hand, heart, material working in harmony will bring about the artistic revolution that is needed to offset the industrial revolution.
This slim volume contains the chapter "The Nature of Gothic" from Ruskin's The Stones of Venice and a talk he gave on "The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy" in Tunbridge Wells in 1858. This book is part of the Penguin Books series of "Great Ideas." Penguin has always been an innovator when it comes to reissuing books of note. As the blurb on the back says "Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves - and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives - and destroyed them." With the way Ruskin's writing fed the Pre-Raphaelites and their Brotherhood, I think we can safely say that this is one of the books that have enlightened and enriched our lives. Given that art is a difficult and nebulous topic to write on, Ruskin's clarity of vision shines through in such a way that anyone interested in art should pick this up if they can... the Brotherhood certainly did, in more ways then one. Who knows if without Ruskin's vocalization of his beliefs if the Brotherhood would have been able to settle on a cohesive ideology and change the face of art. But more then that, his support of them gave the movement credibility.
Ruskin has such a way with words you can see why the Pre-Raphaelites took him and his writing to heart. He has a way of illuminating the everyday and rising it above the mundane. Through his words you can see a Utopian society for the betterment of man is possible. Yes, these ideals might be romantic, but that is what the Pre-Raphaelites where all about. Ruskin easily breaks down what is wrong with Victorian society. Art and craft are moving towards the mass produced, cookie cutter houses where the decoration in the homes are done by rote, not by feeling, one wonders what he would make of today's subdivisions. A society enslaved by their industrialized homes with the same wallpaper and the identical rosettes lining the walls and ceilings. That is why Ruskin embraces Gothic Architecture. In the Gothic he sees aspects that show the originality of the craftsman. He believes that there is a Gothic Heart that needs whimsy and naturalism among other things in order succeed. Of course the Utopian aspect (ie unrealistic) is where he believes that a society would move away from convenience and back to this time of buying custom objects wherein the maker was able to express themselves and therefore break free of being just a tool, a slave of modern industrialization.
Ruskin's beliefs are impractical but worthy. Ruskin needed the Pre-Raphaelites as much as they needed him. Without someone to latch onto his treatises there was no way to see if they were feasible, even on a small scale. The early doctrine of the Brotherhood believed in genuine ideas, naturalism, empathy, and quality. This tailors so well to all that Ruskin has written. In his talk at Tunbridge Wells he said that hand, heart, and material needed to work together in harmony. Add in Ruskin's belief in this Gothic (literally Northern from "Goths") Heart that believes in changeableness and naturalism and truth, ie, truth to nature, and it's a perfect fit. This naturalism/truth to nature of listening to ourselves as well as our abilities that feeds into our choice of medium aligns the man and the Brotherhood into one.
The nature of your location and the environment creates how you express yourself, but some things can only be done in certain materials. Don't ever try to use a material in a way that is not conducive to what you want to do. If something is light and airy, don't use marble. Each man must believe in truth and beauty. Truth to the world, the materials, the subject, and himself. Each to his own means and own thoughts, the master to perfection, the average man to imperfection, but take joy in both and look for nothing less. The artist shall use his skill to make everything to the best of his abilities, even down to making his own paint. You read these tenets and everything clicks. This is what the Pre-Raphaelites believed. This was their code like the Musketeers, "One for all and all for one." Ruskin was the chronicler and inspiration for them... a little bit ironic though when you realize that Ruskin thought all art should be of it's time, whereas the Pre-Raphaelites loved to paint classic allegorical subjects using real artifacts... but not everyone can agree all the time. ...more
Effie Grey thought that in marrying the erudite author and art critic John Ruskin that she was entering a life of parties and soirees peopled by the elite of London. Instead this young Scotch girl entered a loveless marriage where she was repeatedly berated and belittled not just by her husband but by her in-laws as well. She suffered through six years of daily horrors but was willing to accept her fate because it was the life she had chosen. But then John Everett Millais showed up in her life. They had once met at a dance years ago, before their lives took different paths, a meeting Millais remembered well. Those paths would converge when Ruskin took Millais under his wing. The two men working together and even vacationing together meant the young Effie and Everett where often thrown together, perhaps by Ruskin's doing, and love soon stirred in their hearts. Effie had the grounds to do something unheard of in Victorian England. Effie could leave Ruskin because their marriage was unconsummated and therefore was not a real marriage at all. With Everett's encouragement, she took this unheard of step to reclaim her life. But in trading one man for another, was Effie able to get what she wanted or was she stifled yet again?
There are two ways in which this biography could have worked. One would have been to write more in the style of Philippa Gregory and make it a fictionalized biography though as thoroughly based in fact as possible. The other would have been to go more scholarly and linger on details and events. Instead Effie is a book that leaves you wondering why you are reading a book obviously dumbed down for the masses. At times the writing style shifts into a conversational conspiratorial style only to be followed up with dull facts and figures. I just wanted to shake the author and tell her to pick a style, any style. This mishmash of styles gave me extreme dissatisfaction and at times annoyed me to the point of wanting to throw the book. I've read my fair share of art history books and biographies but I don't think I've ever been this bored and frustrated by a book that combines two passions of mine.
At a little over two hundred pages, minus all the appendices, Suzanne Fagence Cooper has written little more then a fleshed out outline for a book. I got no sense of the three people one who this book hinges. In fact, Ruskin, Millais, and Effie, seemed nothing more then cardboard cut outs that occasionally mimicked Victorian stereotypes, but usually remained two dimensional. I'm sorry but two dimensional characters can not, by definition, have passion, so right there the title of the book is wrong. There's a part of me that just wishes to rewrite this whole book. Cooper had unheard of access to documents that have never been seen and the soapy miniseries Desperate Romantics did a better job of making these people flesh and blood in their minimal screen time then a scholar whose life is the Pre-Raphaelites. The fact that the secondary family members and friends were far more interesting then the subjects of the book is a sign that your book isn't working, just so you know for future reference.
But it's not just the writing style that is irksome. The structure of the book is such that I have a feeling I plot out my book reviews more then the author did this book. She relied too much on the gimmickry of using Millais artwork as chapter headings, work that is not included in the book, but more on that later, then bothering to realize her timeline was fucked. There is no way to capture her structure then by saying it's wibbly wobbly timey wimey. I get why Cooper starts out with a little flash forward to Effie leaving Ruskin, because it gives the beginning of the book a thrust, an event, a crisis we are building to. We only cover twenty-seven years in the first eight chapters, most of those concentrating on the six to seven years of Ruskin and Effie together, leaving us five chapters to cover the remaining forty-two years of her life, of which two chapters don't even deal with Effie, the supposed topic of this book. And it's these remaining five chapters I have the most issue with. They jump around and go forwards and backwards over events from different points of view and at different times. I have no freakin' idea of a coherent timeline of events in Effie's life other then she had tons of children. If there was just some through line, some way to sort things out into order instead of writing in such a way that it feels like Cooper forgot to tell part of her story and instead of going back and adding it in in the appropriate spot, she just wrote it into the section of the book she was on even if it made no sense, then I might have at least come to grips with the book.
Adding to the issues of the book making no sense is the fact that Effie and Millais really had too many children, and Effie too many siblings, and couple that with the propensity for using the same names in different branches of the family and you are at sea. Not to mention all the children had nicknames and while Cooper claims she will use the same naming conventions throughout the book, she does not, not that this is a surprise given the grammatical errors and the abysmal mess that is the appendices. I hope she knows there are standards for appendices, you can't sight something differently each time... which ties back in with the naming issues. Effie's eldest daughter is Effie... yep, this wasn't fun, because Cooper would quite often forget to say Effie the younger and so, who knows which Effie was which. There reached a point pretty early on when I realized I didn't care. Also, the multiple Everetts, the eldest son's nickname being Evie, which, when you are reading fast, as you do with books you are growing more and more in hate with and longing for the time when you can write a scathing review, well, it too reads like Effie. But again, what does this all matter. All these people, all their lives, I couldn't care less about any of them as they are portrayed by Cooper.
Now I must finally vent on a personal pet peeve. Graphics! I'll first just state I hate this cover with a passion. You have one of the greatest painters of ALL TIME as your subject and he painted his wife quite often and you have a crappy stock photo of a girl with ill fitting gloves. If there's one thing I learned, Effie loved her clothes and those gloves wouldn't do. Are you trying to appeal to the common demographic who you might lure to see the upcoming movie by making it look not about art? Cause right there, you're pissing me off with underestimating me, but then again, the book was written at such a basic level, perhaps the people who this book appeals to will find it fascinating, ie, not me. Yet this little cover rant isn't my main issue. My main issue is that when you have a book about artwork you MUST include pictures of ALL THE WORK! Yes, there are some pieces featured, but Cooper goes into great detail annoyingly waxing her own views on Millais' work only to not have the work included in the book. You talk about it, we have the right to see it. You can't get printing rights or some other snafu that doesn't let you include the art, you omit that section wherein you tried to color my views of the work with yours. Here's an idea lady, you go off and write your bland pap for the unwashed masses who hope to seem educated in picking up this paltry tome, and I'll avoid you and read fascinating works by real scholars. ...more
Long before our modern world of chemicals dyes, all the hues and colors came from something found in nature. A tangible object, a plant, a bug, somewhLong before our modern world of chemicals dyes, all the hues and colors came from something found in nature. A tangible object, a plant, a bug, somewhere in nature's paintbox there was something that could make our ancestor's lives more richly hued. Victorian Finlay goes around the world in search of these "lost" colors and where they came from. Part travelogue, part memoir, and part history book, this read definitely isn't for everyone with her casual writing style relying on anecdotes and suppositions. This is by no means a perfect book, the author admits so herself. But for me, there was just the right combination of my interests and fields of study that I was sucked in.
I have never been one for history books or non fiction for the most part. I find it dry. Hence my interests lean toward historical fiction. In this medium I thrive. I am able to get the history that I am interested in without the dry discourses. The characters bring a human element that connects me to the subject in a way that I never would otherwise. This has had odd effects in my life, especially in history classes. I would always love the books that told a story. I remember in one class discussing the book King Leopold's Ghost about Africa in the 19th Century. The book was riveting to me, I just really enjoyed it, but during the discussion in class everyone was ripping it apart because it wasn't scholarly enough and made history too accessible. Well, you know what classmates in a class I very quickly dropped, history should be accessible. It's little anecdotes and stories that add a bit of the human factor into history and help me connect like I do with historical fiction.
The history and art history geek in me likes the more living narrative that Finlay infused in her book versus the dull dry facts and figures that she could have presented us with. Sure, this does lead to some problems, mainly invention, speculation, and supposition on her part that might drive those pedants in my history class to tear their hair out. But I read this book knowing that it wasn't a straight up history, though really, is any history cut and dry? This book is her take, her insights, her opinion. While I might disagree with her, I was never not entertained by her and the anecdotes she used to highlight the different colors.
The book has a rocky (pun kind of intended) start with the chapter on ochre and the aboriginals. Finlay seems unable to successfully merge her personal experiences with the historical origins of the ochre medium. It feels as if she almost doesn't know what her own intentions with the book are. Therefore we are left with a muddy mess that made me fear for the rest of the book. Yet in the very next chapter on Black and Brown she finds a natural balance that she is able to maintain through the rest of the book. By taking real people and imagining their hunt for colors that mimic her own, she is able to create a tangible, though fictional, link to the past.
Finlay is telling us stories that bring the materials to life. There is a part of me that wishes that this was a TV Documentary so that I could see all the pictures and places she went to, as this book is lacking on the visual side. But there's another part of me that is glad this is a book. The stories about Turner and his laissez-faire attitude to the permanence of his medium choices making him the Jasper Johns of his age, with his cats and their flap on the door made from one of his paintings would have come across as a bad reenactment in a documentary. And Ruskin's slam against Turner that no pictures of his "is seen in perfection a month after it is painted" is not only humorous, but brings into account something I had never really thought about. Before chemical dyes color would change. There was a flux with it. The color you paint on the wall today will be a different color in a week, a month, a year, who knows, if there's enough arsenic in it it might just kill you.
I think that is what I will take away most from this book. It made me think. I am an artist and designer and with this comes a heritage, one I haven't in a long while thought about. I now want to go out into the world, go to museums, go to artist supply stores, meet Victoria Finlay and tell her to embrace Pantone. I want to go out and explore the paintbox of the world, which, while I find it a cliched and dumb phrase, same as "the world is my canvas," but, you know what they say about cliches? There's something right about them. Now let me see the earliest flight I can get to England to check out that Winsor and Newton museum...
Diana Mitford felt stifled in her life with her family. When she went to Paris she got a sense of the enormity of the world and how she was admired for her beauty and wit. As soon as she could she made a prosperous marriage to the heir of the Guinness fortune and started her life surrounded by artists and poets and writers to fill the void she felt in her life. Yet this wasn't her true calling. Her true calling was to Oswald Mosley, the dynamic and married politician who founded the British Union of Fascists. She left her husband for him and spent her life dedicated to his causes and his happiness. They did eventually marry in Germany with Hitler as one of the only guests at the ceremony, which was one of the reasons they spent much of the war in prison. In A Life of Contrasts, Diana finally tells us her side of the story that captured headlines and made her one of the most memorable to those very notable Mitford sisters.
Frank Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford, had said of Diana in a review of her memoirs that she "lacked a dimension." I can think of no more perfect an insult than this for a woman who in her own writing comes across as a shallow, unfocused, self-centered, self-impressed, socialite. She is one dimensional, never bothering with anything below the surface. In fact, if you were to scratch her, I bet there would be more surface below the surface. Apparently being "the most glamorous Mitford Sister" means being the most superficial. Before reading about her life in her own words I wasn't predisposed to like her based on what I knew, but after reading Mary S. Lovell's book The Sisters, I was willing to give Diana the benefit of doubt. I was fully willing to let Diana surprise me with insights and details to the events of her life. To hear more about her feelings and thoughts on her marriages. But none of this presented itself. She had no depth coupled with a scattered writing style wherein she would change the subject every paragraph and sometimes every sentence. She never picked a thought and stuck with it unless it was to parrot Walter Mosley's ideologies to such an extent that I was made sick to my stomach and she literally disgusted me as a human being. I was left with the distinct feeling that the world would have been a better place without her in it, because really, what good did she ever contribute to society? Being pretty doesn't count, just FYI.
Diana's shallowness is evident in every line she writes in this book. Like minor celebrities she name drops like no tomorrow assuming that we will know who everyone is and be impressed with how much they love and adore her. Guess what Diana? Your day has come and gone and so have all your comrades in arms. Name drop all you want, all it shows is your own flaws in being needed to be validated by those around you because you had no inner life to sustain yourself. To need constant validation with artists demanding to paint her or draw her just made me want to smack her. The fact that Evelyn Waugh (one of the few celebrities I actually knew) was in love with Diana makes me not think more of Diana, but makes me think less of Evelyn.
Diana is also infuriatingly self-impressed, by all means Diana, don't translate all the French, Italian, and German for those who don't speak or read it to show us how worldly you are, I'm not going to bother to look it up on the assumption that it's just more of the same shit that came before. Also, with the book, she was given the chance to tell her side of the story, a story that has had many commentators and writers over the years, and she failed miserably. Her wedding to Bryan Guinness was glossed over in two seconds, as was her second marriage to Mosley. The fact that her sisters have written in more depth on her life shows that Diana has absolutely nothing to offer us.
Yet, it was this shallowness counterbalanced with bizarre political tracks that made me furious with her. You could feel at those times that it wasn't her voice by that of her master's, Walter Mosley. She was too shallow to have any true beliefs of her own so when she latched onto her idol Mosley, well, she took him all, even his opinions. Now that I've reached the "political tirade" section of my review, I firstly want to address the Hitler question. Diana has taken a lot of flack over the years for being unwilling to change her view of Hitler after the outbreak of war and his true desires and ambitions were revealed. Personally, I don't think that this in particular is what she should be criticized for. Hitler had to have been a charismatic and personable man in order to amass such a following and accomplish all that he did. I'm sure in a one on one setting he could be delightful. Therefore I don't blame Diana for being unwilling to take something back when her own experiences where different to public opinion. It was her opinion, one she is perfectly willing to stick to.
What I do think Diana should be criticized for is her parroting of horrid antisemitism. Yes, she is entitled to this view, but that doesn't mean it makes me like her, accept her, or even settle my nauseous stomach at some of the things she said. I came to not only really dislike her on a human level, but I revolt against all her ideologies. She actually states that what happened in the Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jews had just left Germany. Apparently they had plenty of warning, so they should have just moved on. Forget that these people have homes and lives and families, if they had just got up and gone history could have been different. In fact, in her opinion, if everyone would just go back where they came from, everything would be better for her. She didn't even want immigrants in England! While she never really outright states that she hates those who are Jewish or Black, the fact that she wants everyone to go back to where they came from shows a severe xenophobia that appears to be the sole aspect of her personality that isn't about her appearance. Also, extra ironic seeing as she lived in France and was therefore an immigrant herself. So by all means, if you want to read about a narcissist who will occasionally expound vitriolically on Jewry, well, Diana Mitford Mosley is the Mitford for you. She definitely isn't the Mitford for me....more
It is hard to grasp that a little boy who grew up in a tribal setting in South Africa would become the driving force to eliminate apartheid and wouldIt is hard to grasp that a little boy who grew up in a tribal setting in South Africa would become the driving force to eliminate apartheid and would subsequently become the president of South Africa, and a man who changed history and shaped the 20th century. Nelson Mandela was fortunate in that he was allowed access by a flawed system to an education, an education that he would then use to dismantle that very system. There is no ambiguity that Mandela and his struggles symbolized freedom to the world and to South Africa. He was a great man. But being a great man doesn't translate to being a great writer. To me, the reason to read is for enjoyment and entertainment, and yes, education. But I like my knowledge presented to me in an engaging fashion. Therefore nonfiction has never been my genre of choice. The fact of the matter is life doesn't necessarily have a narrative. Life has a beginning, a middle, and an end, that is true. But not every life is worth or worthy of a book. Great historical figures, as well as annoying celebrities, are an exception.
Yet to have a biography or autobiography there needs to be more then this beginning, middle, and end. There needs to be insight as to how that time was filled. As a reader I didn't want just a dry telling of the facts, I wanted to know Mandela's feelings. I wanted to know his beliefs, his loves, his despair at spending 27 years of his life incarcerated. His feelings when Winnie went a little crazy, instead of a press release. This is what I desired, and instead I got brief glimpses of his life amid a struggle with no narrative, nothing to grab you and make you feel invested in his journey. Just a dry telling of the facts and figures that would make a statistician cry from sheer boredom. Flat, emotionless writing with so many names and acronyms, I wasn't sure if I could finish the book without loosing my mind.
To be fair, I will say that I was fairly ignorant of what the history in South Africa was, I kind of dropped that African history class in undergrad due to surly students and an indifferent TA that reminded me of Eric Stoltz. I did work on the play "Master Harold"... and the Boys about institutionalized bigotry and racism in Port Elizabeth during apartheid, but I can honestly say I don't remember anything about it other then how long it took me to paint that set. Therefore learning more about this time did hold some fascination for me and also underscored the fact that the world will basically turn a blind eye if you're killing your own people, Pol Pot, Stalin, early Hitler. But the fact that the government was just as bad if not worse then Nazi Germany and that this lasted not just a few decades but for almost an entire century is staggering. The travel bans, the pass books, the government did everything they could to push down the natives. The fact that the government was Boer, aka the Dutch who came and settled in South Africa, who are most known for that lovely Boer War, has made me draw the conclusion that the Boers are Bastards... I think this would make a catchy bumper sticker, don't you? Or Afrikaners suck. Your choice.
This is the world that Mandela grew up in. I liked that we saw his journey and how he questioned things. He thinks like I do in some respects. If he didn't know about something he would go out and find out everything about it before making a decision. He'd read and read and read till he came to his own conclusions. But this was a bit lugubrious to read about his reading. I don't want to be doing battle with my books. Really I don't. I take a certain glee in writing the reviews later... but that doesn't make up for the previous torture the book has inflicted on me. What I wouldn't have given for maybe a little bit about his family, his feelings about not being there for them instead of a day by day breakdown of one of his trials that lasted years, but felt like millennia. While nothing makes up for the life he lost locked behind prison walls, I can definitively say that I felt every single year he was locked away with him.
With this book there is also a final question to be asked. How much did this book sanitize Mandela's image? The book was rushed to publication for his taking office as president with the help of his co-author, not, in my mind, ghostwriter as some have said, if it was ghostwritten, it would have been actually better written, so therefore, what was tweaked? What was taken out and what was kept in? In fact many people believe that Mandela was chosen as the image for anti-apartheid because his hands we clean. While he advocated the taking up of arms, he himself didn't.
There were little things in the book that disturbed me, such as his having a picture on the wall of the winter palace to commemorate the uprising that killed the Tsar and his family. How could anyone want to hang on their wall a reminder of the death of innocent children? Even if you are a communist, seriously? No. Just no. He also worshipped Castro, which recent articles have said wasn't talked about in the book, I just think they didn't finish the fifty million page opus of dullness, because Mandela clearly states his admiration of him. There are just so many thoughts spinning in my head about using one bad political model to fight another one... I just want to clear my head, get ride of the lugubriousness of this text, wipe away the cobwebs and have a real author come in and write about Mandela. With his passing I want a truly great writer of biographies to come along and do justice for Mandela, and maybe find a little bit of the truth... or at least don't varnish over things like Winnie.
Idina Sackville was was born in 1893. Raised in affluence amid a family of loose morals, she herself grew up to be not only unconventional, but some might even say scandalous. In a time when divorce was not prevalent, she went on to marry five times, it might have been six if her daughter hadn't begged her to not marry again and return to her maiden name. The first bolt to Africa left behind her very small children with her ex and his new bride. She would grow to love Africa, so much so that despite numerous divorces and reclamation of her property, she would set up three separate homes there over the years. Her parties in the Happy Valley became notorious for the booze, drugs and bed jumping. Her life became the stuff of fiction and parody in her own lifetime, with Nancy Mitford, among the many authors to take on Idina as a subject, immortalizing her as "The Bolter" in her books The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Despite making the rift valley in Kenya "happy," her life wasn't that glamorous, and one has to wonder if she brought down the misery on herself in the end.
So, I fully admit that, seeing as this is the book that inspired Lauren Willig to write The Ashford Affair, that logically, "Ashford April" should have started with this book... rarely can it be said that I am logical, and therefore this is the second book reviewed this month. I just felt that Wigs on the Green was a nice transition between a month of Mitfords and a month of Ashford. I really liked the concept of this book more than the actual execution of it. I should have known I was in for trouble just by the fact that this book was recommended by Oprah's magazine, O. Oprah's selections tend to be... how shall I put this... books that I avoid like the plague. There is some sort of dynamic and polar opposites between me and Oprah. I have long ago accepted it, she, well, she doesn't even know I exist. But she was sneaky, instead of that "O" sticker, there was a little red band at the bottom that I didn't even bother to read the reversed out type on. Well played Oprah, well played.
The first hurtle that I couldn't get past was that every single person in this book was unlikable. They weren't just mildly annoying, but full on, me banging my head against the wall declaring that they deserved all the ill will that befell them because of their lack of morals or likability. Supposedly Idina could transfix anyone and endear them to her, so that despite all that she had working against her, the scandals, the affairs, that to those who personally knew her, she was the life of the party and a wonder to behold. Yet this never came across in the stories I read about her. Instead her great-granddaughter, who is obviously lacking in this ability to transfix anyone, has to repeatedly say it over and over as if to assure us, that despite appearances to the contrary, Idina was likable. OK... guess I'm going to have to take her word for it because rarely have I met someone who I wanted to throttle as much as India.
On top of Idina, the book is peopled with too many other characters that you don't care for because of their odiousness. Sometimes it feels like Frances Osborne goes out of her way to highlight the bad traits so that her book comes across as unbiased. Instead I felt like she just really hates her family. Then the odd rants about people other then Idina where wearing... I picked up the book because it was about Idina, not because of her son David, or anyone else. Excise David, sure she was Idina's son, but guess what, he died, so the end. In fact, they all die. And I couldn't give a damn. They all led lives that I found amoral and depraved, and they all deserved what they got. Sure she inspired some great fiction... but that's the thing about fiction, it makes this more palatable. Truth is harder to digest.
Next rant... Kenya. I picked up this book because of the "chief seductress of Kenya's scandalous 'Happy Valley set'." That meant to me, that the book was about Idina and Kenya... well... Kenya doesn't even get a look in until 130 pages after lugubrious family history and the destruction of her first marriage, that really she just gave up on in my opinion. Plus, once Idina gets to Kenya, she has a tendency to leave it quite rapidly again. It's only in her 3rd and 4th into 5th marriages that she actually spends any length of time there. Those sections of the book I found interesting. It was how the members of this little community lived and interacted that fascinated me. How they all got together at house parties and lived for the races in Nairobi. So, at least I did get some of what I expected to get in this book, but it was too little too late. These passages where not able to redeem themselves for the history of Idina's father's affairs, or her mother's political fervor. Some probably view it as backstory. I view it as too much exposition and not enough of what I wanted.
Yet all issues pale to that which angered me and put a fire in my belly that just wouldn't quit. Inaccuracies abounded in this book. If one or more facts is glaringly, obviously, 100% wrong wrong wrong... how can we take anything the author says at face value. The first error, which she later repeated, proving that it wasn't a typo, was about the political affiliations of one Oswald Mosley. For those who don't know, Oswald Mosley was the founder of the Blackshirts... those same Blackshirts that where parodied by Nancy Mitford in Wigs on the Green. The Blackshirts are Fascists. Who does Frances Osborne say Oswald Mosley's affliations lie with? The Communists. Because Communists and Fascists are the same right? NO! They HATE each other. Google Oswald Mosley and you will get quite a few politically incorrect jokes that Mosley said about Communists. In fact, Diana Mitford, sister of Nancy and Jessica, eventually married Oswald, after being his mistress for quite some time, and Diana's Fascisim led to a prolonged silence between her and Jessica, because Jessica was a Communist.
If this error wasn't enough, Osborne goes on to say that in Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, the one with a character based on Idina, that when the fictional Bolter arrives to visit her daughter Fanny at the end of the book that Fanny is delivering her 1st child... not her 3rd, which is actually the case... but her first. These errors indicate a problem that might run deeper in the book. These are just two errors that I, who is not an afficianado of Africa or the Happy Valley set picked up on. Where there are two glaring errors, there are probably more. So how can I believe ANYTHING this author says? It shouldn't be shelved in biographies, but in fiction... Osborn in fact could conceivably make the book far more readable if she where to do this... historical fiction, not biography. Gaw... at least one good thing came out of this book, and that's The Ashford Affair. ...more
In the late twenties, Kenya became known for it's "Happy Valley." A place of paradise and pleasure, where you could start your life over a make a fortune in coffee or dairy. But to those who settled there before the first world war, it was an entirely different world. In 1913 Elspeth Huxley's family moved to Thika to start a coffee plantation. They had heard there where fortunes to be made... only coffee takes at least five years to bring in any crop, and that's if everything goes right. With insects that would make anyone's skin crawl, to fighting amongst their workers who belonged to waring tribes, to curses and black magic, life is far harder than any of them would have expected. Yet the friendships they make with their workers, who are loyal in their own way, and with their fellow settlers, leads to an interesting and diverse community that Elspeth grows up in.
The beauty of Africa, while harsh, still is inspiring. Elspeth sadly reminiscences that the days when the plains would be covered with a plethora of game and where there were some areas in which you were probably the first human ever to set foot was soon to end. The settlers would change the landscape forever, but luckily, there was an inquisitive little five year old who saw Thika for the magical world it was and forever preserved it in these pages.
A few years back I was driving back with a friend through southern Missouri from another friends wedding in Arkansas when I spied a billboard for the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Mansfield. As you can imagine, he was a bit dismayed by the fact that he now had to go on a tour of Laura's Rocky Ridge Farm. Before the house tour, which hand some interesting carpentry thanks to Laura's husband Almonso, there was a nice museum to wander through. In one of the cases with pride of place was Laura's own guns, which she used often to kill small game. That's when it struck me, the reality of Laura's life versus her books. Thankfully I was not the other two tourists who where having issues coming to gripes with the fact that the tv show was pure fiction, while Laura's books where, not fiction, but her interpretation of her life.
The Little House Books had presented a a sort of glorious golden childhood of living in sod houses and tapping maple syrup. Right about now you might be wondering why I'm going on about Laura Ingalls Wilder in a book review for Elspeth Huxley, but the truth is that Huxley's book, The Flame Trees of Thika, is Little House without the softened edges. They are both fictionalized but at the heart is the truth of their upbringing. Unlike Little House, you are not spared details about ticks and ants and dead animals and goat sacrifices. You will get terrified of what could happen to your pets in Africa. You will not be thinking, oh, how lovely to life in a sod house, no, you will be thinking, dear lord, I am so glad someone didn't have to heat up a needle and use it to extract an egg sack from under my toe nails. Because that is what Kenya was for Elspeth.
Now, I'm not saying that Kenya isn't Elspeth's her version of heaven and paradise combined, it's just that she doesn't stint on the whole picture, the good and the bad. This is what makes it such a great read. You are not just contained only in her little world of house and hearth, but all the characters in her life. Because of the farm needing so many workers, you get a glimpse of tribal life and the strong differences between the Kikuyu and the Masai. How the natives should never be underestimated in their cunning, a story about the Masai stealing cattle but shipping it via railway under the "true" owners name is one example. I say "true" owner, because Elspeth digs deep into the mindset of the Africans, and how their definition of property is far more fluid than Europeans.
Elspeth, growing up around these people, has a way of not condemning them for being different, but being able to see both sides. She understands why her parents and other settlers would be annoyed, but she sees that, through the natives eyes, that they aren't to blame, it's how they live. This is so refreshing. She is more an anthropologist, seeing everyone for what they are, versus the typical British Imperialist's view of do as I say, live as I do, that is the only way. In fact, by the time I got to the end of the book all the characters had become my friends so deeply that I didn't want to leave them, even if World War I was starting. Thankfully I see there is a sequel!
Now I must sidetrack everything to do a little review of this edition. This edition was released with a new introduction in the late 80s after the success of the BBC miniseries. Sadly it is long out of print, which baffles me. The book is far more beautiful then the little paperback one you can currently get. There are luscious illustrations by the Kenyan artist Frances Pelizzoli. Not only do they bring Kenya alive, but they so sync with the story. Their placement in the text is perfect and they are so accurate to the story. Nothing annoys me more then when a book is illustrated and the illustrations don't go with the text. The point of illustrations is to illuminate and expand your connection with the text. The most recent grievous perpetrator of this was in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, where Dave McKean, a frequent collaborator with Neil, has Bod dressed in clothes before Silas gives him clothes. Um, yeah, not meshing together and pulling me out of the book. Whereas Pelizzoli just dragged me further in the world of Elspeth.
Though I have a feeling this edition was more for admiring then reading. The paper stock is glossy, so it's hard to read in some lighting situations because the pages reflect the light. Also, the font is so small and the lines so long per page, it's easy to lose you place and makes it far longer to read. I'm a fast reader and I struggled with the book just for this reason. So, your paperback copy you have sitting on your shelf will serve you better for the daily readings, but if you ever see a copy of this at your local used bookstore, pick it up for your coffee table, it's beautiful and, well, it's about coffee too, so thematic with your table. A win win situation. ...more
While Deborah has always been considered the horse and hounds sister of the Mitfords, but involving chickens, I think that she has a secret... that deWhile Deborah has always been considered the horse and hounds sister of the Mitfords, but involving chickens, I think that she has a secret... that despite her protestations ("[m]y father would not have wasted time reading - a trait I have inherited from him") that she is actually quite well read and loves to write. Despite Home to Roost being a very slim volume, it clearly shows that the writer is well educated, a fact we know is not due to her upbringing, and adept at pulling out the right literary quote at the right time, traits that I wouldn't lay at people who aren't readers. The little essays in this beautiful book (there are adorable illustrations) run the gamut from book reviews (see she does admit to read a little!) and her awkward book signings to family history and how one looks in a tiara. So there is a little something for everyone you might say.
Yet, like her most literary of sisters, Nancy and Jessica, it's not the slightly turgid and formulaic book reviews or weird ramblings about motorways that capture your interest, it's her own experiences and the history of her husband's family that not only sparkle with wit and insight but draw you completely into her world. I think it's because this is what she loves to write, plain and simple. Sure, she'll write the other stuff if asked or if the mood suits her, but really she'd rather tell you about a party at Chatsworth House during the height of Queen Victoria's reign. In fact, this family history I think is what lured her into being a writer, especially if you take note that her earliest writings where all on Chatsworth. It's her love of Chatsworth and it's history that make a simple story about a post office closing something more. A post office isn't a post office, it's the beating heart of a community, which anyone who is a fan of Lark Rise to Candleford will agree. Therefore the closing of the Edensor post office was a poignant story.
Because of this diverse range of topics, Home to Roost has a very uneven feel until about half way through the book. What happens half way is that Deborah shifts the book right into that which she writes best, her own life. It becomes a diary, and oh what a diary. The three pieces on the Kennedys is amazing. While the Mitfords where kind of the lay royalty of England, the Kennedys where the same for America. To find out that not only that they had this connection, but that the families where joined by Kit Kennedy's marriage to Debo's brother-in-law was fascinating. Too bad that ended in the tragedy which made Deborah the Duchess of Devonshire... yet that this intimacy between the families continued long after the tragedy is what drives these little vignettes. That Deborah was there for not only the inauguration but then the funeral, brought a sad reality to it. For me, JFK was always someone of the past and a part of history, but Deborah made him more real, more human. Also, it didn't hurt that she thought he was an all round swell guy.
Though hands down there was one article, for sheer humor, that made the book for me. Being raised in the art world and then being an artist myself, who at one point was considering going to get a Masters Degree at Christie's Auction House, I know the vagaries of naming art work and the inherent humor. Debo herself mercilessly skewered and made fun of these naming conventions in the short piece "Auction Catalogues." I was howling with laughter and her thinking of how the names where created by the compiler of the catalog. "The figures in rural scenes are always Peasants or Cottagers. If the female peasants have got pots on their heads they will be In an Italianate Landscape. Any water in the way puts them into A River Landscape. If you can see for miles, start with An Extensive Landscape." Deborah views the modern "untitled" art as a wise move, to avoid these lenghty and downright odd conventions. Go Debo! I am heartily glad that there is still one Mitford out there we can count on for some barbing! Where would we be without a Mitford?...more
Jessica Mitford is a self admitted muckraker, once she found out what the label meant, she heartily agreed and called herself such from then on and waJessica Mitford is a self admitted muckraker, once she found out what the label meant, she heartily agreed and called herself such from then on and was happy to see that each new dictionary had a nicer take on the word as it became more commonly used. In 1957 she published her first expose, which, as she was willing to admit, was rather dull and fell flat. Yet that is the charm of this book. Jessica views this book as a kind of "how to" for the muckraker to be. She details her techniques and theories of friendlies and unfriendlies and then after you read a given article of hers, she has a little commentary on how she felt the article worked or didn't work, and in some cases, the far reaching consequences of that article. Therefore, without any hesitation, she republishes some very slip shod work, and she agrees that it is such. Yet how are we to learn if we don't see her mistakes along the way.
For Jessica there where many mistakes, even later in her career there are articles that fall dreadfully flat, while others sparkle with her wit and wisdom. To say this is an uneven book would be an understatement. For me, being a worshiper of her autobiography Hons and Rebels, it was interesting reading Jessica's writing over a twenty year period and seeing how she was able to find her voice. Her first articles are so stiff and uninviting. Plain facts infused with no Mitford wit. Yet, if you look at the articles that fail versus succeed, you can see a pattern. The stories she was more involved in have a great depth and a personal feel, like a diary. Jessica's style not only lends itself to this way of writing, but it feels as if she was made for writing memoirs and autobiographies. You feel as if you are gossiping over tea as she is telling you about going to the extravagant Maine Chance Resort run by Elizabeth Arden, not reading an article in McCall's. Or as she tells you how important life long enemies are and that Liberace was really excited to hear her ideas about his role in the adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. These stories make the book enchanting to read. Though it's not all tea and biscuits with the Hon.
The article, "St Peter, Don't You Call Me" is one that sticks out because it was what would become the basis for her famous book, The American Way of Death. At this point I will admit that I have not read this yet, seeing as funerary exposes are not exactly "my thing." Yet, seeing as it was written by Jessica Mitford, I will admit that I will eventually get to it, it's waiting on my shelf for me even now. The article though is so stiff and boring that I wondered, would the book that came from this article be like this. Later though she includes three more articles about what has happened since the first article spurred the book and therefore changed her life. These articles, written five years later, have more of her conversational style that I love. Which makes me wonder... was her style still developing during the time of the article and therefore the book will be fabulous, unlike the article, or was it just the freedom of being done with the book that let her sink back into her witty patter? Because, if I could get more stories about Pet Cemeteries and directors running wild in funeral parlors, sign me up.
One thing that nagged me though was once she was known for The American Way of Death she wouldn't shut up about it. It didn't feel like she was inflating her ego... but that she was riding the books coattails was very evident. Her teaching and anything she was to speak on was all "The American Way of..." I felt a little sorry for her that this book had so become synonymous with her name that they became inseparable. Yet she didn't seem to mind. I think I might have minded a little... or at least stopped harping on about it. Though she went on to do several other big exposes, from the deathly dull expose on the Famous Writers School, to prisons and policies existing in California Universities, to me it was the little stories that I loved best. The rude treatment at a restaurant, the little things that lend a similar feel of Helene Hanff to them, who is another author whom I adore. Though, in the end, it was of course the article on Egypt that kept me way up until the wee hours. While she thought it a failure of an article because she didn't rake any muck, I felt it wonderful, because it was just what I loved about this book, a little diary about an English woman in Egypt immune to the Eyptomania as she called it, which sadly, I think she would diagnose me as having. ...more
I find it ironic that the most solipsistic book I have EVER read uses the word so many times. I would hate to know Jonathan Lethem, a man who is suchI find it ironic that the most solipsistic book I have EVER read uses the word so many times. I would hate to know Jonathan Lethem, a man who is such a self centered pretentious ass that a book about the Talking Heads became a book about himself... though if I ever meet him, he's paying me back for buying this book, which deserves no stars and no reviews written because it would waste even more of my time....more
Gerald Durrell, the famous naturalist, zookeeper, and conservationist, recounts when at the age of ten his family moved to the island of Corfu becauseGerald Durrell, the famous naturalist, zookeeper, and conservationist, recounts when at the age of ten his family moved to the island of Corfu because they couldn't deal with yet another cold and damp English winter. Gerry and his three siblings, Lawrence, Leslie, and Margo, all fall for the island in different ways. For Gerry it's the abundance of creatures that he can capture and observe, many making their way into the family residence and causing quite a kerfuffle. With the help of their self appointed guardian, Spiro, they start to view Corfu as their true home, even if they have to move house several times to accommodate Larry's parties or in order to escape more relatives. One thing is clear, if they could they would never leave.
Before the explosion of British television shows onto our screens in recent years Masterpiece Theatre was where you got your Brit fix and, inevitably, added books to your reading list. Almost ten years ago I was transfixed by the Sunday late night showings of Masterpiece Theatre. This is how I discovered some of my favorite shows, from Bleak House to He Knew He Was Right. On the lighter side I discovered My Family and Other Animals. It stared Matthew Goode from He Knew He Was Right as the only Durrell I had heard of at that time, Lawrence. The movie was funny and exotic, and even if the music occasionally grated on you, there was something magical about it. At about the same time Peguin was re-releasing several of Gerry's books with gorgeous new covers by Mick Wiggins, so needless to say they all came to join my library, and have sat waiting for me having the time to read them even since.
I recently added a second book club to my monthly activities, yes, what can I say, I'm a sucker for reading and love to have someone to talk to about a book once I finish. At my mother's suggestion for post holiday blahs My Family and Other Animals was chosen as a respite from reality and the dreary nonfiction suggestions of other members of our group. The book does provide a lovely escape to warm climates and happier carefree days that one needs to be reminded of during the bleakness of a Wisconsin winter. But at our discussion I felt as if I was the only one who was transported to another place and time. Everyone was hung up on little nonessentials, like where the Durrells got their money and why a friendship with an older father figure was encouraged for Gerry. They were unable to escape their reality for a moment and inhabit another place and time.
Though in fairness to my other book clubbers, the book does have an unevenness to it that almost inhibits you being able to engage with it for quite a few chapters. The problem is that Durrell doesn't quite grasp how to balance his family and his "other" animals. He struggles to reconcile the two and therefore much of the beginning of the book is two parallel narratives, that of his family and that of his animals. Durrell had actually written five previous books but they all dealt with his expeditions and his trips collecting animals. These books were popular, but it wasn't until My Family and Other Animals that he wrote a book that became an instant classic. By adding in the eccentricities of his family the reader has someone to relate to versus just observations of the natural world.
And while Durrell's observations of Corfu can at times leave you breathless with it's beauty, it needs the juxtaposition of something relatable for us readers. And my, his family is relatable. From the vain sister, to his two brothers, either concerned with artistry or how much he can kill in a day with his guns, everyone can find something or someone in his family to sympathize and relate to. In fact the turning point for me in the book is when Durrell moves from just observing the animals to treating them as members of his family in their own right. While Larry might bemoan the anthropomorphism of the animals in their household, it is this very thing that made the book click and took it from mediocre to nearly marvelous. The animals being treated as humans, as family, is only one of the reasons the book starts to succeed, it's the interaction between these newly "human" animals and Durrell's very human family that result in comic gold.
While everything from random birds to reptiles in the tub are sources of amusement, to me the two magpies that Durrell "rescued" result in some of the best moments in the book. Thanks to Spiro they become known as the magenpies and they develop a rather strong hatred of Larry. They spend most of their time flying around the house, indoors and out, but they long to see Larry's room. Much like my cat when he was a kitten, it's wherever they aren't supposed to go that they long to. Needless to say they destroy Larry's room when given the chance. But it's their life in the cage attached to the house that brings their personalities into true focus when they use their knack for imitation to taunt and tease all the family. Then there are the family dogs, Roger, Widdle, Puke and the bitch Dodo, whose going into heat sends the house into chaos, especially during a big dinner party. Marx Brothers levels of chaos ensue.
But as you close the covers of the book you are left with one question. What is the truth? Because if you look into the Durrell's lives, things don't quite add up. Larry was married during this time, so where was his wife? How much of this is autobiographical and how much is conflation to make the book more humorous and fun? Could anyone really remember things in such detail from when they were ten when writing it twenty years on? But, does it really matter? The truth is we make ourselves out of the stories we tell every day. I think Durrell said it best: "It was a wonderful story, and might well be true. Even if it wasn't true, it was the sort of thing that should happen."...more
The Mitford sisters were the most dynamic family in England during the 20th century. They were front and center for world events, two of them even being so reviled in their own country that they were the subject of public scorn and debate in the houses of parliament. Despite a slightly unconventional upbringing with no medical care, little schooling, and constantly moving houses due to monetary issues, all six of the sisters would leave their mark on the world. Nancy as a great author, Pamela as a loving aunt, Diana as a notorious fascist married to Oswald Mosley and imprisoned with him, Unity who was in Hitler's inner circle and tried to kill herself when WWII was declared, Jessica who became the red sheep of the family with her Communist leanings as well as a noted journalist, and then Deborah, the Duchess of Devonshire.
Such a clash of personalities and all in one family couldn't help capture the attention of the world. But this book explores not just the public image, but all the horrors of their lives; the marriages (7), the divorces (3), the children (14), the miscarriages (7+), the stillbirths (3), the lost children (2), the abortions (2), the deaths in the war (2), the attempted suicides (2), Cancer (2), the list goes on and on; because once you look into a person's life, you realize the sadness that is masked by the joie de vivre and the sparkling wit.
Very rarely have I experience this phenomena, but I am reading a book and I start to notice things, really just little things, but soon they gain momentum. The text is uneven, but obviously skewed purposefully. One section is lavished with attention, the littlest details are lingered on, while other sections are rushed through like an oncoming train, speeding past important details to get back to that other subject. The more you read the more obvious it becomes that the author doesn't love what they are writing. Why would you write something that you didn't love? Yes, I could go into contracts and all that here, but I won't. Instead, perhaps it's because there is one small aspect that they are fascinated with and were sadly saddled with the rest. They are not writing the book they want to write, and it shows.
The most obvious example I have is the book Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem. This book is part of the 33 1/3 series that has an author cover an album track by track. Lethem did the Talking Heads album "Fear of Music." You can see that he loves this band, but you get the distinct impression that this isn't the album he wanted to write on. What happened with Fear of Music is that, aside from being the worst book I've ever read, is that there was this imbalance, like in The Sisters, where you could feel the author's discontent and it resulted in your discontent, which eventually escalated into rage, and then you and your book club are coining the phrase "rage reading" to signify how the book made you feel as you pushed through to the bitter end.
An unhappy author leads to an unhappy reader. Letham loves Talking Heads but didn't love the album he was saddled with, much like Mary S. Lovell loves Unity Mitford, while the remaining five sisters she couldn't care less about. Look at it this way, for 200 pages occupying 10 years of the 20th century, roughly 40% of the book, Unity is front and center. This book covers 106 years but 40% is in the war years. Yes, a lot did happen to the Mitfords during this time... but still... this leads to decades of Jessica and Nancy's lives being glossed over and we hardly know what Pamela was up to! If this book was equal in weight Unity should have only occupied about 16% of it. In simpler terms, Mary S. Lovell really needed to just write a biography on Unity and not have disguised it as a biography on "The Sisters." Therefore right from the start, the author was not the ideal candidate to write this book because she didn't have a love of the subject.
A lack of love can lead to many problems. Mainly you wouldn't care if you fudged the details, got some things wrong, moved space and time, because if it wasn't about that one slightly deranged Nazi loving Mitford, what does it matter right? Well, to us readers who wanted to read about the Mitfords, it matters a lot. Also it brings into question the whole idea of accuracy. If I can find errors in this book, big, obvious glaring errors, how can I trust anything that she is telling me? The first warning signal was when the author said that the Mrs. Simpson affair with the King was all the newspapers were talking about. NO! People might have been talking about it, but out of loyalty to King and country the story didn't break in the newspapers till literally DAYS before the abdication, not months, not early in the year, I believe the author hints at February, but DAYS before it happened, in DECEMBER! So right there, anything that she says might be a lie or wrong.
The author also distorts facts into her favor. She's loosey-goosey with dates having things timeslip to when it suits her. In the chapter about the year 1938 she has moved events that happened in 1937 to better fit her narrative (just check the footnotes to see what I'm talking about). Past, present, and future apparently can all happen when Mary S. Lovell decrees it. Borrow a bit from the future, add bit from the past and viola, this certain year was made a little more interesting, but a lot more inaccurate. Not to mention her other foibles of how she refers to herself in the footnotes... pick first or third person, stop switching it up already! Or that she assumes you know every minor celeb from the day, you know what they say about assuming... only, you're the ass Mary, not me.
So, I'm guessing by now I've pretty much turned you off reading this book, so my work here is done. The Sisters is a flat, skewed history that lacks the sparkling wit and vivacity of any of these amazing sisters. Yes, I might have learned a few new things about them, but I don't know if I can trust the source at all so it's really all hearsay. But then again, reading up on the Mitfords, they had a tendency to mythologize their own lives, so can anything we learn about them be the whole truth? Well, one thing is certain, you're not going to get any sort of truth in this book. And for such a literary family, it's a sin to pick up secondary source materials. If you want to know more about them read Nancy's books, pick up Decca's or Diana's autobiographies, choose from the vast books of Debo's. Why bother with anything else when you can get a first hand account? Sure they might be trying to make themselves look better or exaggerating a story for laughs... but it's how they would have wanted you to know about them, not through some hack writer, but through their own words... which Mary S. Lovell borrows freely to pad her book, which makes her own writing appear even more wane....more
Helene Hanff is such a quintessential New Yorker that when the BBC wanted someone to present a little five minute piece on New York once a month on thHelene Hanff is such a quintessential New Yorker that when the BBC wanted someone to present a little five minute piece on New York once a month on the Woman's Hour they looked to Helene. In the minds of the British, Helene IS New York. Plus, they have taken her to heart ever since 84, Charing Cross Road. So logically, when a publishing house in New York was looking for someone to write captions to accompany pictures taken of New York they too looked to Helene to provide her sharp wit to their venture. Whatever happened of the original venture is not mentioned in the book. There may or may not have been a book that resulted from her three months of writing. But instead we get the play by play diary of Helene and her best friend Patsy, a born New Yorker, who both quickly realize that, while living almost their whole lives in New York, they aren't in touch with the New York tourists who'd be buying this book would be. So the two of them set out to "write that down."
From the Statue of Liberty to the newly opened Ellis Island. From the Cloisters to the newly constructed World Trade Center, they troll through the island of Manhattan to see what the tourists would go to see, even if they are both terrified of heights and 107 stories is really up there. Intermingled with their experiences are little bits of history that Helene has picked up over the years, such as the fact that Wall Street really did have a wall, and that the cathedral of St. John the Divine is a combination of American know-how and European elegance, and every neighborhood thinks their deli is the best. It's also an interesting glimpse into Helene's opinions, her views on corrupt early industrialists who left gorgeous houses from the Morgan Library to The Frick. Also, Helene really dislikes anything happening to central park and her rage against The Met's expansions is a big theme.
This book is so interesting in that, for someone who has spent time in New York, you can see how much remains, but, especially with September 11th now 10 years in our past, something that is such a big feature of this book and of New York is now gone. I can't help but wonder what Helene would make of the changes that have happened to New York in the 15 years since her death. I'm sure her pride in New York would never waiver and she would have been in the forefront of commentators. I can't really see this book appealing to tourists though. It's such an intimate portrait. She goes to the great sites and attractions, but her writing style is of one who lives there and knows the terrain. Constantly referencing streets or subway stops, while repetitive at times, won't help a tourist, it was more confusing than anything, with the map at the back a kind of joke. It is the perfect gift for someone who loves the city and wants a kindred spirit to go on a journey with. ...more
Helene Hanff holds a special place in the heart of book lovers for her love affair with the Marks and Co bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road which sheHelene Hanff holds a special place in the heart of book lovers for her love affair with the Marks and Co bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road which she chronicled in the book of the same name. That slim volume is possibly one of the most popular books about books ever written. So popular there was even a movie adaptation with Anthony Hopkins. You bring Anthony Hopkins in and you know it will be a classic. In the book she passingly mentions getting her education through a man she nicknames "Q." Q is known to others as the Cambridge professor, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, and doesn't have anything to do with James Bond. I wondered a bit about how a poor girl from Philly was educated by this elusive Q. Well, lucky for us 84, Charing Cross Road was only one of a few autobiographies Helene wrote. Q's Legacy starts with that first day she realized that she couldn't afford college anymore and found his books on a shelf at the public library. She instantly found a kinship with this man an ocean away and knew that he would teach her all she ever wanted to learn. Through him she became a writer, after a failed attempt at acting and play writing.
Helene was always living hand to mouth, writing whatever she could to make a buck. When 84, Charing Cross Road unexpectedly became a huge hit she didn't know what to do with herself. She wasn't such a celebrity that she couldn't answer her own fan mail, but still, it opened doors she never thought would open. While she doesn't repeat herself with ground covered in 84, Charing Cross Road or her triumphant trip to London as a result of the book which she documented in the sublime sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, she adds so many more stories that where possible because of her book. Helene talks about the joy of going to England to see her book become a movie for the BBC and how she got to go to television center and watch her life come alive. She also recounts her trip to England for the opening of the stage adaptation that was a hit in England and a bomb in America. But it's not just the trips, it's the characters that people her life, the way she sees the world. Every time she said that she had a book that she hated writing so badly and chucked it down the incinerator my heart skipped a beat. If only the world had more of her books not less! She was too harsh a critique and because of that we are left with only a few slim volumes of a writer who has the most distinct and original voice I've ever read. So go out a buy this book before it becomes out of print, like so many of her wonderful books ironically are.
I'll leave off with recounting an interesting story of how I found out our lives intersect. On August 13th, 1978, she finally got to pay her regards to Q. She was invited by the widow of his biographer to come to Cambridge while she was there for the opening of the play and to visit Q's study. It was still as it always had been, preserved in memoriam. This was the day where she walked where her mentor walked. The whole book, perhaps her whole life had been building to afternoon tea in Q's study. Half a world away I was born. I say that makes August the 13th 1978 a rather significant date for the two of us....more
Daphne Du Maurier had a somewhat typical childhood with a-typical interludes. She was taught at home with her two sisters, was finished in Paris, and spent her spare time outdoors with her dogs or indoors reading. A-typically she was the daughter of a famous actor and was surrounded by playwrights and authors and other actors growing up. Therefore a flair for the dramatic was in her blood, and while she made up stories and kept a journal, it wasn't until she was a little older that she contemplated being a writer. She wanted a way to make a living that WAS NOT acting. Retiring and loving solitude over parties, when she finally started to venture to Cornwall her path in life was clear. Her path was to live in Cornwall and write... she just had to make that happen.
I don't want to make a sweeping generalization here, but it seems to me that all female British authors of a certain generation have 97% the same stories of their upbringing in print. This past year I read a lot about the Mitfords and their upbringing. A LOT. Daphne Du Maurier's upbringing could slot right in there easy as can be. I've never really thought overly much on the class system of England, but it can not be denied that people went in sets and you'd see the same group over and over again at parties and shoots. This leads to a sameness of experience in those certain classes. A certain Britishness that carries on as they finish their children in Paris, take jaunts for health treatments, Switzerland or Italy, visit Germany and hopefully not befriend too many people who will become or are Nazis, and then a nice family vacation spot to get away from it all and live the outdoor life.
The more you read these biographies, the more you gloss over. Ah yes, they are now in Paris and sneaking out, the right of passage of British schoolgirls abroad, which movie will they see? Who will they kiss? Oh naughty they kissed a relative in secret. Now they are outdoorsy, to the hunt! I'm of two minds here. I find it reassuring that there was such a set way of life. So if I was dropped in a time machine during this epoch I'd be all set. At the same time how boring would life be? I mean reading Myself When Young felt like I was reading something I'd already read a long time ago and couldn't quite remember all the details because I'd heard it too many times and had started to consciously block it. What would you talk about with people who all had the exact same life experiences as you? The things that make life interesting are our differences not our similarities. Yes, our similarities might be what bring us together, but they aren't what keep us together. And they aren't what kept me reading this book.
Where Du Maurier differs from her peers is totally in creep value. While she doesn't mention her father much in this book, most likely because she exhausted the topic in his biography she wrote of him, little hints give you the willies. He's overprotective, overemotional, and why is she comparing how he kisses to another kiss she gets? You can see why the incest rumors started. Yet her father is nowhere near as creepy as her cousin Geoffrey. Geoffrey is responsible for her "sexual awakening" at fourteen, when he was in his thirties! Nothing "happens" till they are both older, but eww. Gag me with a spoon. You shouldn't be getting up to hanky panky with people related to you by blood. Especially people who are basically pedophiles, look to her cousins and J.M. Barrie for more proof! Though all this just seems to be water off a ducks back to Daphne as she says her family has a Borgia vibe. Ok, why not just start killing each other then. Please, it would be a relief to what you are getting up to.
But maybe all this human interaction didn't matter to Daphne and that's why it is water off her back. She never got on very well with others and is more at home in nature and with animals, so people can just bog off. Or the cynic could say her experiences with her family drove her from seeking solace with humans and she found comfort in nature. Either way you look at it it's her connection to nature, and to Cornwall in particular, that makes her work resonate. She understood the world around her and this translated into her writing. When you read her work, you are walking towards Menabilly, down that long and twisty three mile drive. You hear the crash of the surf and the cry of the gulls and the screams of the men as the ship goes down. The world around you is so present in her writing that you can't help but feel like you are there with her by your side.
And it's her writing that is when her life really begins. For pages and pages it's the same old story, but once she writes, and I mean really writes, sequestering herself away that, well, in one regard the book fails and in another the book succeeds. It fails because it's a headlong rush to the end and her marriage and the end of this book, but in another regard it's success because everything else falls away and it's just her words on the page that matter now. The stories bursting to come out that have become classics that I, among many other, have adored throughout the years. Who cares if this book is cut short, it was so that the other books could come into the word. She really had a calling to write, but until she found that connection to nature she was bottled up. She was more concerned with curfews and jaunts to Paris then finally setting about making a career for herself. Yet she did make it a career. She stopped faffing about and an author was there all along. ...more