Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Like all incurably addicted readers, keeping a handle on my "To Be Read" pile is always a challenge. Lately mine has taken to galloping away from me about the house. This has not been helped by the fact that we gave away our biggest bookshelf (via Freecycle, that wonderful site). The bookshelf had two extensions to the main section, which we had to take off when we moved to this house three years ago. Unfortunately, the new study just cannot contain a bookshelf of this scope, so for ages I've had books double-parked on every shelf. Finally, we've accepted defeat and have asked a carpenter to build us a new unit especially for the space. In the meantime, since the original bookshelf is now gone, we have mountains of books piled in the study and laundry. Ultimately, of course, a new shelf will not really solve the problem that I have too many books! The eternal dilemma. . .

Recently, instead of having one or two books on the go, I've had five or six. . . or ten (I keep finding juicy sounding titles on other people's blogs, plus there's my "work" reading for the book I'm writing). I've decided this is probably too many as I am in danger of losing the atmosphere and character of each story. Yesterday I finished two love stories (don't groan, it is more encouraging than it sounds).

I picked up Peter Millar's FINDING HOPE AGAIN: Journeying Through Sorrow and Beyond from a second-hand sale last month as I was moseying home. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I had a big feeling sad blip last month when I wasn't coping too well with the loss of our baby. This book fell into my lap at a highly opportune moment. A good half of the book is about finding hope in other people and situations - I found this the weakest aspect but, to be fair, possibly because I wasn't in the mood. But Millar's reflections on finding his wife dying on their bathroom floor, struggling through the days, weeks, months, years that followed is really moving. It is, essentially, one long love song to his wife, to whom he was married for twenty-seven years. I suspect that you won't enjoy it if you are not practicing some sort of faith, as this is how Millar makes sense of his world. I found the sections on grief particularly strong, and helpful to me at this time.

On a lighter note, MARIANA by Monica Dickens started off slowly, but finally succeeded in running away with me (I stopped reading all the other distractions for a bit and just focussed on her for a day). Written in 1940, set in immediately pre-WW2 England, the period detail is superb. Dickens captures the agonies of teenage feelings perfectly (attachment to family homes, holidays and full of adolescent angst). There are some really funny moments:
In spite of the fact that she paraphrased 'Much have I travelled in the realms of gold' as 'I have made several expeditions to the gold-mine district,' and had to write a French essay on trees without knowing the word for leaf, Mary passed the entrance examination for St. Martin's High School.
She cried when she left Manton House, not because she minded, but because it was the thing to do. Miss Cardew kissed her in the hothouse temperature of the study and told her always to remember the School motto: 'Faint not nor fear,' to which Mary only just stopped herself from replying automatically: 'Half-time is near, then comes the biscuits and ginger beer.' (p.91)
A really sweet poignancy crops up from time to time. For example, I liked:
'Look here, it will be three minutes in a sec. and I haven't got any more money - I'm in a box.'
'Does it smell?'
'Yes. But that's not the point. I haven't said what I wanted to.'
'What, darling?'
'Pip, pip, pip,' said the telephone.
'I love you.' His voice was cut off and Mary went out of the box and walked through the corridor lounge, smiling a foolish, secret smile to herself. All along the gauntlet of armchairs, from behind the camouflage of knitting-needles and library books, peered the old eyes that never missed a thing. (p.331)
There are some exquisitely foreboding moments about the impending war, like this one from Mary's honeymoon:
When was it that it had first begun to matter when The Times came three days late? When had they first begun to puzzle out the news in the Roma, to try and get Daventry on the proprietor's wireless, crackling through storms in the Alps? Mary had not been bothering about the world. Her only worry up till now had been whether or not her shoulders were going to peel. From one day to another it seemed there was a crisis, and the English people in the hotel actually spoke to one another. . . It seemed impossible to think that anything really was the matter, when the sea off the Amalfi Coast was bluer than it had ever been, and the purple bougainvillaea was draped like a panoply over the terrace wall. (pp.368-369)
There is a slightly dreary period in the middle when not much happens (which is the point, and I hasten to add does not equate to dreary writing, rather beautifully paced contrast), but fills out into quite a fast pace - a wonderfully enjoyable read overall.

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