Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

43. The Fortnight in September
by R.C. Sherriff
fiction, 1931
finished, 9/17/09

The endpapers:
from 'Dahlias' a 1931 design for a dress silk by Madeleine Lawrence

I am not a 'good old days' sort of person and I'm not awfully nostalgic; but as I turned the pages of The Fortnight in September I saw that truly something special has been lost forever. Mr. Stevens gets two weeks vacation a year, and every year he and his family have gone to the same place, the sea at Bogner, where Mr. and Mrs. Stevens went on their wedding trip. The whole book is an almost minute by minute travelogue of this annual September vacation.

Nowadays we are, as a rule, much more of a traveled, worldly society. When families go to Africa or Switzerland or Costa Rica, how could they possibly be satisfied with a two week trip to Bogner? Are we spoiled? Perhaps. We expect lovely hotel rooms with cushy robes and down pillows. Teenagers go off alone on an exchange program to some faraway land. College students spend a semester or a year in another country. This would have been unimaginable to the Stevens family. And yet, reading this book I felt that they looked forward to and enjoyed those two weeks a year in a way that none of us can possibly conceive of. I'm not saying one way or another is better; just that these older vacations and the newer vacations are as different as travel by horse and by car. As Joni Mitchell wrote, 'there's something lost, but something gained, in living every day.'

The Fortnight in September captures not only a place and time, but a society that shall never come again. 'How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, after they've seen Paree?' Exactly. Yet this way of life was common to the early 1930s, and even later. My childhood vacations were to the seashore a couple hours away. I went to Canada but only because my father came from there, and we visited relatives. I went to Washington, D.C. with a friend's family one week in April; and to California when my father was a delegate to the Democratic convention in 1960. Occasionally my parents went further afield when my father won trips through selling cars in his Pontiac dealership, though I didn't go. But that's it. No Europe, no Asia, not even out west in my own country. People tended to stay closer to home. I don't recall ever longing to go far away.

It was only when I was in college that I began to go on big trips. Two months in England and Europe, and later another month in England when we got married. We brought our kids over there for a month. We went to visit relatives in Texas and Arkansas and Florida; we visited friends in San Francisco; we spent some summer weeks on Prince Edward Island, Canada. And we did have wonderful times; times that are remembered fondly and spoken of often. But oh, how different from the Stevens family. Not only do they go to the same place, they also stay in the same lodgings, a place called 'Seaview,' which has gotten shabbier as the proprietors age (and one dies).

When I finished the book, I told Tom it had become one of my top favorite books of all time. I loved it beyond words. It is a social document, it is a character study, it is descriptive, it is honest, and it is really perfect. Yes, I do mean it.

The author shows us how delightful Mr. Stevens is with his planning and his almost childlike excitement, but he doesn't fail to note that Mrs. Stevens is not thrilled with the vacation, and has never been except for the very first trip on her honeymoon.

...the coming of the children had made the fortnight a burden - sometimes a nightmare. At home the children were hers: they loved her: came to her in everything. At Bognor, somehow they drew away from her - became different. If she paddled [in the water] they laughed at her: saying she looked so funny. They never laughed at her at home.

The children are now twenty, seventeen, and ten. The older two both have jobs, yet still live at home. There has been a smidgen of concern on the parents' part that they might go off without the family this year, but that doesn't happen. And this year Mrs. Stevens looks toward the trip a bit more favorably because those 'children' have more separate lives at home, and she hopes the trip will 'bind' the family together.

I love the way Mr. Stevens looks at the special days in a year.

... he had the gift of establishing domestic "Occasions," which do so much to strengthen the links of a home.

Something almost in the nature of a ritual surrounded these special days: a ritual that bound the family together in thought and deed.

Christmas Eve: Whit Monday: August Bank Holiday and family birthdays were painted with letters of carefree, flamboyant scarlet. New Year's Eve, and Going Away Eve had titles of a more delicate, meditative red: the former because of its wistful plea to strengthen fading hopes, the latter because it heralded the yearly release of emotions which Mr. Stevens neither wished nor sought to analyse and understand.

In about 300 pages, the Stevens family gets ready to go, travels to Bognor, enjoys its sights and sounds and smells. The book ends when they depart for home. The reader spends the fortnight with them, experiencing every smallest event right alongside them. Nothing hugely dramatic happens, but there are interior changes that the family members feel and the author takes note of. The characters take time to think about their lives at home. Whether we travel near or far on our vacations, the main thing they offer is a break in routine, and a kind of re-creation of ourselves. This is what makes the book just as current today as it was almost eighty years ago.

But on holiday it is the reversing of normal habits that does one so much good.

Dick and Mary had thrown aside their hats and got their canvas shoes on, while Ernie, after some opposition from his mother, had peeled off his stockings, and now sat on the steps, bare legged and bright eyed.

He felt radiantly happy: as young and as light as a schoolboy.

There was nothing, at home in Corunna Road, to compare with this delicious hour of idleness. In the evenings at home there was the washing up to do - the breakfast to set, and all those unexpected little things that conspire in a home to keep you on your feet.

The reader in 2009 is all too aware of what is coming on the world scene in 1931. This dear family doesn't know that in a very few years both their sons will most likely be in the war. The family vacation will never be the same, and most likely will never happen again. There will be war work and air raids and sorrow and loss. But the Stevens family does not know this, which gives the book a different poignancy and meaning.

This book is another gem from Persephone Books, and my favorite so far.

Bognor Pier in the 1930s

Tuesday, September 29, 2009



4 squares unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Melt butter and chocolate over low heat.
Beat eggs well.
Add sugar and vanilla.
Add butter/chocolate mixture and mix well.
Add flour.
Add nuts (if desired).
Spread in greased 9x13 inch pan.
Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Cool in pan; cut into squares.

I used a 7x11 pan and brownies seemed to come out fine. These are really wonderful brownies. Well, I'm not sure there is a bad brownie.

Teaser Tuesdays/September 29

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!).
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Here are a few more than two sentences from Dan Brown's brand new book - The Lost Symbol. You may click on the picture for a closer view. It is the first page of chapter 42; page 169. Whew! What an adventure I have been on with Mr. Langdon. Addendum: I ended up quitting the book halfway through. It was fine. It was a good thriller. But I found I just lost interest.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Short Story Monday/The Sisters by James Joyce

After reading JoAnn's short story choice last Monday, I decided to read this first story in James Joyce's Dubliners. It is only a few pages and deals with the death of a priest. I finished reading thinking I just didn't get it. I had so many questions. Where are the boy's parents? Why is he living with his aunt and uncle, and who is 'Old Cotter' who seems to live with them? A paying boarder perhaps? The few pages were so dark, so dismal that I could barely get through them. Apparently some 'incident' with a broken chalice occurred in the late priest's life causing him to lose his mind, but it was very unclear to me. I didn't like it at all, and it reminded me that I have read other short stories by Joyce in years past and I came away feeling much the same; wanting sunlight and fresh air, and very, very glad I didn't live within those pages. This was his first published work, in 1904, and was later revised and collected in Dubliners ten years later. You may read other Short Story Monday reviews here.

James Joyce in 1904.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gladys Taber's Apple Dessert

If Gladys Taber were alive today, I bet you anything she would have a blog. And if she did, I would leave a comment asking her about this particular recipe. Today is the first time I've made it, and I was surprised there was no butter. I want to know if I copied it wrong or if she didn't include it. If I had a copy handy of My Own Cook Book, I could check. But even if I found out there wasn't butter, I would still add it.

Apple Dessert

Mix together:
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Peel and cut into small pieces, 5 apples. [I think you can add more if you wish, depending on size - I used 7]
Add to dry mixture, along with 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts. [I used walnuts]

Stir in 1/2 cup melted butter and mix well.

Put in greased 9x13 pan, and bake at 375º for about half an hour.

Gladys had written after adding the apples and nuts: stir with a fork or wooden spoon until the juice from the apples has just moistened the mixture. This leads me to think she didn't use butter since butter would be the moistener.

She also included an egg and wrote to add it and mix as well as possible. So perhaps the egg would take the place of butter. I chose to leave it out, as I do in an apple buckle recipe. I just don't like the way it looks or tastes with an egg in there.

She also wrote: this is a good alternative to apple pie and hungry guests are sure to take a second helping.

Well, yes! And not just guests! This is a great dessert.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Sally/September 26

Sally: a brief journey; an excursion or trip.

Hop in this great old car, and we'll sally forth to some interesting places I've come across this week. More about what the Saturday Sally idea is here; and for other Sallies you may look on the sidebar under Letter Topics.

The first two entries in this week's Saturday Sally make me cry, 'oh, to be in England.'

I came upon this wonderful site at Reading Matters. I only wish I lived over there so I could go to the exhibit on my favorite writer, P.G. Wodehouse. I must make do with this absolutely wonderful audio slideshow. If any of my British blogging friends visits G. Heywood Hill LTD, please do post about it, okay? (she pleaded)


How I'd love to see P.D. James in person.

My third sally brings me much closer to my home. It is a musical visit with Cheryl Wheeler. Finally there is a video of her singing her most wonderful, When Fall Comes To New England. I posted the words to this song two years ago, and will put them here too, so you may follow along.

When Fall Comes To New England

Words And Music by
Cheryl Wheeler

When fall comes to New England
The sun slants in so fine
And the air's so clear
You can almost hear the grapes grow on the vine

The nights are sharp with starlight
And the days are cool and clean
And in the blue sky over head
The northern geese fly south instead
And leaves are Irish Setter red
When fall comes to New England

When fall comes to New England
And the wind blows off the sea
Swallows fly in a perfect sky
And the world was meant to be

When the acorns line the walkways
Then winter can't be far
From yellow leaves a blue jay calls
Grandmothers walk out in their shawls
And chipmunks run the old stone walls
When fall comes to New England

The frost is on the pumpkin
The squash is off the vine
And winter warnings race across the sky
The squirrels are on to something
And they're working overtime
The foxes blink and stare and so do I

'Cause when fall comes to New England
Oh I can't turn away
From fading light on flying wings
And late good-byes a robin sings
And then another thousand things
When fall comes to New England

Thursday, September 24, 2009

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940)

Oh, I dearly love this man, this writer. I've spent a fair bit of my life reading his books, reading about him, and reading about his wife, Zelda. Whatever may be told about him, the important thing to me is that at least one of his books was a sublime work of genius. I don't know if there has been anything written to top The Great Gatsby. I've read it several times, and each reading shows me something new. How very few people in the history of the world have done one perfect thing. Well, Mr. F. did with this book. Here is quite an interesting site.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apple Crisp

This is the very first apple crisp I ever made, from one of my very first, and much loved, cookbooks: The Tassajara Bread Book. There's another recipe from this cookbook here. Sooty made a good book stand as I snapped the picture.

Apple Crisp

Peel (if desired), core, and slice apples enough to fill the bottom of a 9x13 greased pan.
Sprinkle with the juice of one lemon.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg.
Mix together 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup sugar (calls for brown, but I just use sugar in the raw).
Cut in 1/2 cup soft butter.
Sprinkle this mixture on apples.

Bake in preheated 375º F. oven for about 45 minutes.
You may serve plain or with whipped cream or ice cream.
Such a simple little dish, but so very delicious and just the ticket for the first full day of autumn.

Quote du jour/Faith Baldwin

Autumn burned brightly, a running flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees.
Faith Baldwin (1893-1978)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Today's poem - September, 1815 by William Wordsworth

September, 1815
by William Wordsworth

While not a leaf seems faded; while the fields,
With ripening harvest prodigally fair,
In brightest sunshine bask; this nipping air,
Sent from some distant clime where Winter wields
His icy scimitar, a foretaste yields
Of bitter change, and bids the flowers beware;
And whispers to the silent birds, "Prepare
Against the threatening foe your trustiest shields."
For me, who under kindlier laws belong
To Nature's tuneful quire, this rustling dry
Through leaves yet green, and yon crystalline sky,
Announce a season potent to renew,
'Mid frost and snow, the instinctive joys of song,
And nobler cares than listless summer knew.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday Sally/September 19

Sally: a brief journey; an excursion or trip.

Hop in this great old car, and we'll sally forth to some interesting places I've come across this week. More about what this Saturday Sally idea is here; and for other Sallies you may look on the sidebar under Letter Topics.

Let's see, how did I come across this first place? I saw a bit of one of my favorite movies the other day on the Independent Film Channel - The Winter Guest. Have you seen it? 1997 film starring Phyllida Law and her daughter, Emma Thompson. I went searching to find out more about Phyllida Law, who I think is one of the best actresses of our time, and came upon this great, great exhibit of photographs of older women. Many you will probably recognize like Vanessa Redgrave, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Harriet Walter, who is behind this project. You may also see Mary Quant, whom I just listed the other day in the Kinks 'Where Are They Now' post.

There has been a lot of press lately about Vera Lynn, the famous singer whose recording of We'll Meet Again was the song in the hearts of all soldiers and those who missed them during the Second World War. At 92 years old, she is the oldest person to have an album, her new, 'We'll Meet Again, the Very Best of Vera Lynn', at the top of the British album charts. It contains 49 songs! And it probably won't surprise you to know that I've bought it. A couple of my all-time favorite songs are there: A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and The White Cliffs of Dover. Here is a video of her singing to the troops. It made me cry to hear those boys singing right along with her. I wonder how many of our fathers or grandfathers saw just such a performance all those years ago.

For the third stop, how can I pass up a mention of the new Dan Brown book? Sarah Weinman has a lot of interesting things to say here. I had called the library and was put on a long list when I decided to buy it from my local independent bookstore instead. The first crop of books had sold out but they expect another shipment today. They'll call me. All other reading will be put on hold.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

At this moment

It's been ages since I've done an 'at this moment.' You may find out more about what it is at the very first posting, and the others may be found under Letter Topics on the sidebar. If you are so inclined, please join me in this little exercise in awareness.

At half past noon in the middle of September.

What I saw: the view from my rocking chair as I looked up from my current book, A Fortnight in September.

What I heard: the humming of the dishwasher and the dryer.

What I smelled: just the slightest waft of wood smoke from the woodstove. We've been burning it for a few days now.

What I tasted: the cheesecake with strawberries I just ate.

What I felt: the warmth of the woodstove.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A little research project for a day in mid-September

Keith Waterhouse, author of 'Billy Liar' dies, age 80

Sep 04 2009

Author, playwright and Fleet Street legend Keith Waterhouse has died "quietly in his sleep" at the age of 80. Waterhouse made his screenwriting debut on the 1961 film Whistle Down The Wind, but remains best known for his 1959 novel Billy Liar (which was made into a critically acclaimed film starring Tom Courtenay in 1963). Among a generation of British adults who grew up in the 1980s, he should also be remembered for his TV adaptation of the Worzel Gummidge books by Barbara Euphan Todd.

Reading this immediately brought to mind a song by The Kinks - Where Are They Now, from Preservation, Act 1, 1973.

Here we are, 36 years since the song came out, and these names and words are even more lost in the mists of time. So I did a little research.

First I'll show the lyrics; then I'll give links to all the references; and then offer a you tube of the song. Sadly, it isn't a live performance, but at least you get to hear the words and music, and you can even sing along while reading the lyrics if you wish.

Where Are They Now
written by Ray Davies

I'll sing a song about some people you might know
They made front pages in the news not long ago
But now they're just part of the crowd
And I wonder where they all are now.

Where have all the Swinging Londoners gone?
Ossie Clark and Mary Quant
And what of Christine Keeler,
John Stephen and Alvaro,
Where on earth did they all go?
Mr. Fish and Mr. Chow,
Yeah, I wonder where they all are now.

Where are all the Teddy Boys now?
Where are all the Teddy Boys now?
The Brill Cream boys with D.A.s,
Drainpipes and blue suedes,
Beatniks with long pullovers on,
And coffee bars and Ban the Bomb,
Yeah, where have all the Teddy Boys gone?
I hope that Arthur Seaton is alright.
I hope that Charlie Bubbles had a very pleasant flight,
And Jimmy Porter's learned to laugh and smile,
And Joe Lampton's learned to live a life of style.

Where are all the angry young men now?
Where are all the angry young men now?
Barstow and Osborne, Waterhouse and Sillitoe,
Where on earth did they all go?
And where are all the protest songs?
Yeah, where have all the angry young men gone?

I wonder what became of all the Rockers and the Mods.
I hope they are making it and they've all got steady jobs,
Oh but rock and roll still lives on,
Yeah, rock and roll still lives on.

Swinging Londoners

Ossie Clark

Mary Quant

Christine Keeler

John Stephen

Alvaro (I wasn't familiar with the name, but this seems to be the answer)

Mr. Fish and Mr. Chow (scroll down a bit to find Mr Chow)

Teddy Boys

The Brill Cream boys with D.A.s

Drainpipes and blue suedes

Beatniks with long pullovers on

And coffee bars

Ban the Bomb

I hope that Arthur Seaton is alright:
character in Alan Sillitoe's first novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

I hope that Charlie Bubbles had a very pleasant flight - 1967 movie

And Jimmy Porter's learned to laugh and smile:
character in John Osborne's Look Back in Anger

And Joe Lampton's learned to live a life of style:
character in 1965 movie Life at the Top

Where are all the angry young men now? Here's an interesting piece written a few years back.
all authors:
Stan Barstow
John Osborne
Keith Waterhouse
Alan Sillitoe

And where are all the protest songs?

Rockers and the Mods

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Robert Benchley

September 15, 1889 – November 21, 1945

Today is the birthday of one of my very favorite humorists, Robert Benchley. He was born 120 years ago today in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is one of those rare people whose looks, voice, and work combine in the most perfect of ways. I simply adore him. You may read lots and lots of information about him here. Both his son, Nathaniel, and his grandson, Peter, were writers. Like Robert, they each died young.

As well as being a writer, he was also a movie star! Turner Classic Movies is featuring a few of the films today in celebration of the great man. He was in full length feature films, and in delightful, hilarious little short films. Here is an example if you haven't yet made his acquaintance.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Short Story Monday/Sanctuary by Agatha Christie

For my first Short Story Monday choice, I thought I'd read one by Agatha Christie, since it is her birthday week. It is the last story in my copy of Miss Marple, the Complete Short Stories. It was originally in a collection called Double Sin and Other Stories, which is happily still available.

I read this at wikipedia:

Sanctuary: serialised in the weekly newspaper supplement This Week magazine in two instalments from September 12 to September 19, 1954 under the title Murder at the Vicarage (not to be confused with the novel of the same name) with illustrations by Robert Fawcett.

Agatha Christie at about the time this story was published.

I really enjoyed Sanctuary. Every sentence, every word is important and necessary to the tale. The gist is that a vicar's wife finds a dying man in the church. He has been shot and soon dies after saying three words: sanctuary; a word that sounded like the vicar's name, Julian; and please. There is a mystery here, and it just so happens that the vicar's wife is Miss Jane Marple's favorite godchild, who possesses quite good powers of observation and detection herself.

There are wonderful descriptions which tell so much in a few words:

her battered felt hat

it was unheated except at service times

a small, mean. pursed-up mouth

crime in Chipping Cleghorn again... you don't lack for sensation here, do you, Mrs. Harmon?

From the first sentence, I was completely absorbed in the story. It was interesting, and the mystery was cleverly solved. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saturday Sally/September 12

Sally: a brief journey; an excursion or trip.

Today's Saturday Sally finds me traveling in a few different directions.

One is to the site of a relatively new-to-me search engine called bing. There is a different photograph every day. Within each photo are little hidden squares, found by running your cursor over the picture. You may click these squares to find out more information about that day's subject.

The second stop is a great idea for a blog. It is Dear Literary Ladies. Readers and writers will love this.

My last sally for this week is a visit to a blog which highlights the old mysteries. It is called Classic Mysteries, and you may listen to once-a-week podcasts of reviews.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Agatha Christie books and short stories

Jane Marple

A Pocket Full of Rye, 1953 - Jane Marple
4:50 from Paddington, 1957 (didn't review) 

A Caribbean Mystery, 1964 - Jane Marple
At Bertram's Hotel, 1965 - Jane Marple

Hercule Poirot

Poirot's Early Cases, 1974 - short stories
I gave up on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I just didn't like it.
The Big Four, 1927 
Dumb Witness, 1937 
Evil Under the Sun, 1941 (didn't review) 
The Hollow, 1946 

Non-series books

Short Stories and Novellas in alphabetical order

Dead Man's Mirror - novella, 1937 - Hercule Poirot

The Case of the Missing Will, 1924 - Hercule Poirot

The Tuesday Night Club, 1932 - Jane Marple

Sanctuary, 1954 - Jane Marple

Wasps' Nest, 1929 - Hercule Poirot

In which we meet Hercule Poirot: first appearance of the great detective.

A little bookkeeping

Today I'm going to do a post with all the Agatha Christie books I've read so I can put it on the sidebar under Book Reports. I'd like to have a designated place where I can keep track of which ones I've read, since joining the Agatha Christie reading challenge.

Library Loot/September 9

Hosted by Eva at A Striped Armchair and Marg at Reading Adventures.

I simply don't know how or why I could borrow books from the library when I am reading two right now, and am planning to read another this month for the Cornflower book group, but there you are. Four books. Four books I am exceedingly eager to read.

I read a John O'Hara story and wrote about it a while back. Since his name came up on the Mad Men booklist, I thought it would be fun to read some more by him.

I heard a 2003 interview with the late Nuala O'Faolain on Canadian radio which made me want to read her book.

I'm very much looking forward to the next-for-me Isabel Dalhousie book by Alexander McCall Smith. [note: in two libraries I've visited, his books are catalogued under 'M' not 'S.' His name is not hyphenated, so I don't understand. It is also listed this way on the fantastic fiction site.]

Years ago I read A Far Cry From Kensington, and was prompted to read it again after seeing the title on Nancy Pearl's 'Summer's Best Books' list.

Addendum: I ended up bringing them all back unread. The lesson here is to take one book out at a time from the library. I had only started one of the books, and decided to buy it: The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I didn't open to a random page, but here are two 'teaser' sentences of such beauty I just had to share them.

The man on his holidays becomes the man he might have been, the man he could have been, had things worked out a little differently. All men are equal on their holidays: all are free to dream their castles without thought of expense, or skill of architect.

The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff
pages 24-25

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

42. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding
by Julia Strachey
fiction, 1932
finished, 9/2/09

When I first began Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, I read it slowly, absorbing the very descriptive prose.

The mirror was rusted over with tiny specks by the hundred, and also the quicksilver at the back had become blackened in the course of ages, so that the drawing-room, as reflected in its corpse-like face, seemed forever swimming in an eerie, dead-looking, metallic twilight, such as is never experienced in the actual world outside.

Sunlight fell in dazzling oblongs through the windows upon the faded wistaria on the cretonne sofas and arm chairs, and lit up the brass Indian tray on trestle legs piled up with magazines and library books. The yellow brilliance was reflected back from the white-and-brown Serbian embroidery hanging on the end of the piano, and from the silver photograph frames, and Moorish paper-knives.

Great stuff, don't you agree?

I didn't enjoy myself so much while within the pages, but now that I've been away from it for a few days, and as I sat down to write, I began to think more highly of the book. It deals most aptly with the stresses and strains of a wedding day. These are particularly acute when some of the extended family members are actually staying at the bride's home. We all bring our own thoughts and memories and emotions to a wedding, as we do to a funeral. In a few words, Julia Strachey conveys much about each character.

The younger sister of the bride who says about herself:

You must think me a kind of great clumsy block-headed rhinoceros in my bridesmaid's frock, I know!

The mother of the bride is ridiculed behind her back by a friend of her daughter's. That same mother makes mistakes and blames others for them. Two younger cousins bicker about socks. An old suitor is miserable. The bride herself is dulling her feelings with rum; and why not? She has been engaged only a month, and is going to embark to South America with her older husband, leaving this home and her family. She says to her old friend:

You will faithfully promise to come out and stay with us; won't you?... I could not possibly exist there for long without you.

I've read Cheerful Weather for the Wedding described as a black comedy, and I suppose that's so, but it is also a pretty darn accurate portrayal of a wedding day. Maybe not every wedding day, but certainly many. We are often not at our best when emotions run so high. Our worst traits easily come to the surface. I think perhaps what I thought of as lack of enjoyment was really discomfort - the same feeling I would have had if I'd been amongst these people. That's high acclaim for a writer if she can make the reader feel like she is there, inside the book; not participating but certainly picking up the atmosphere.

Tom and I have never for a moment regretted not having a big wedding. We went to England. We lived in a London hotel for fifteen days to satisfy a residency requirement, and went to a registry office in South Kensington, where, in a lovely little room with stained glass windows, and a local photographer and the hotel owner as witnesses, we became a married couple. No stress, no anxiety, no details. Perfect.

The cover, a 1932 painting by Harold Knight called Girl Reading, may just be one of my favorite paintings in the world. I love every detail. The eyes that remind me of the Stephen girls [Virginia Stephen Woolf and Vanessa Stephen Bell], the folds of the clothes, the faint look of ennui in her expression, the view out the window.

The endpapers are :

taken from a 1932 design for a printed dress fabric by Madeleine Lawrence for the Silver Studio © MoDA, Middlesex University

The book was first published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press.

Other reviews in no particular order (you may click the numbers):


I'm sure there are many others, and if you've written about it please leave me a comment with the link, and I'll post it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Today's poem - September by John Updike

by John Updike

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

Today's pictures/Late morning light in early September

Thursday, September 3, 2009

An April Shroud by Reginald Hill

41. An April Shroud - fourth in the Dalziel & Pascoe series
by Reginald Hill
mystery, 1975
finished, 8/31/09

I'll admit it. My name is Nan, and I am powerless over the Dalziel & Pascoe series by Reginald Hill. You may have noticed that I had the Persephone Reading Week Challenge on my sidebar for a while. It began August 24, and I was thrilled to begin Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. I was quite sure I'd finish in a week, and have something to post for this special week of reading. But the only thing is that I had recently gotten the fourth D & P book in the mail. It didn't just call to me from the shelf, it shouted. I couldn't ignore it. So then I thought, okay, I'll read Cheerful Weather downstairs and An April Shroud upstairs. And that didn't work either because I began bringing April downstairs in the morning. Pretty soon, I put aside Cheerful Weather until I could finish this 1975 mystery.

For most of the story, I didn't really know what was going on, but then again, neither did Andy Dalziel. I just went along for the ride, sitting beside him, with 'nowt' to offer. It begins with Peter Pascoe's wedding. As he and Ellie go off on their honeymoon, Dalziel has decided to take some vacation time.

It was supposed to do him good, to rid him of the irritability and fatigue which had begun to dominate his working life in the last few months.

There are incredible rains and his car gets stuck. He is picked up by a punt which is part of a watery funeral procession. He ends up at the Fielding house, and quickly becomes absorbed in the daily life. These people are all a little 'out there.' No one seems very sad about the recent death - not the wife, not the children, not the father of the man. Why is that? And Mr. Dalziel finds a dead rat in the freezer. Who would do that?

Lots of details, lots of characters, interesting mystery, and the bonus of getting to know Andy Dalziel better. He is a character like no other I've ever met in mysteries. As I've said, I love these books, and I love these Felony & Mayhem editions. This is the last one in sequence that they offer, so I've ordered the next two from online used bookstores. Last night I began A Fortnight in September, but today the fifth in the Dalziel & Pascoe series, A Pinch of Snuff, arrived and I've already begun to read it. Uh-oh, I see history repeating itself.

There is a wonderful post on the publisher here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Today's picture/dead tree

You might ask, why on earth is she showing a dead tree? Well, first off, I think it is rather beautiful - sort of like vertical driftwood, and second, you may go here to see why it is a good idea to keep a tree around after it has died.