Two re-reads first. Toast by Nigel Slater I read again after watching the TV version. I found that the ending of the book had been changed quite a lot for dramatic effect. Far from just running away after his father died, Nigel stayed at home before going to catering college. On this reading I noticed that he twice mentions Malcolm Saville as a favourite childhood author. Reading My Father’s Fortune sent me back to Michael Frayn’s Spies, which I found just as gripping on a second reading. The first time I read it, I didn’t clock the similarities to The Go-Between. Blind.
A lovely Christmas present from kind ramblingfancy was The Book of Stillmeadow by Gladys Taber. I am completely lacking in the pioneer spirit. I like mains drainage, electricity and a broadband connection. So, reading this true story about how Gladys Taber’s family lived on forty acres of land in Connecticut, growing their own food and breeding dogs, I would have the occasional seditious thought, reminded of Kingsley Amis saying (in The Green Man, I think) that farming is ‘like a lifetime of washing up, out of doors.’ The book was first published in 1948 and is very much post-war, with worries about the terrible things which have already happened and fears for a future which contains the atom bomb. The solution seems to be that everyone should live in the country, be as self sufficient as possible and look after their neighbours. This is rather disingenuous considering that Taber had to go to ‘the city’ to earn money to help keep Stillmeadow going. For my taste, there are too many dogs in the book. I would not care to settle myself down in the garden with a book only to be leapt on by a dozen cocker spaniels. Then there’s the disgusting food they ate. Roasts and crocks of beans: OK . Oyster stew, piles of whipped cream with all puddings (shades of the Chalet School) and everything creamed which could be, in a manner familiar to readers of Lake Wobegon Days: I felt sick just reading about it. I think I’d prefer the cuisine of the southern states to that of the north.
In spite of these quibbles and my teasing in a previous post, this is a very beguiling book, just the thing for people wanting a quiet read about the countryside, housekeeping, gardening and nice people. In places I was reminded of one of my favourite films, Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House, which stars Cary Grant. Taber mentions the book herself. Book? I didn't know there was one.
At the market, a while ago, I picked up some romantic novels which I bought for their nice period dustwrappers. Looking for something light to read I remembered Zoë in the Cazalet Chronicles borrowing books by Ruby M Ayres from the library for her mother. I wondered what they were like and so read Love Without Wings. This is from the dustwrapper:
Ruby M Ayres
the secret of her success
‘I write about ordinary people; I don’t go in for lords and ladies. And people rather like reading about themselves.’
Nearly 8,500,000 copies of her books have been sold.
Can that many readers be wrong? I found the book much better than I expected and just as good as one by D E Stevenson, whose reputation is now so much higher than Ayres’. The story is set in an English village soon after the war (published 1953) where forty year old spinster Dorcas is best friends with an older man she’s always assumed to be a bachelor. An old friend dies, begging Dorcas to look after her daughter Bobbie, who has been brought up in France. Beautiful, frivolous and selfish, Bobbie disrupts the quiet household yet everybody likes her. Two love affairs and a few misunderstandings but the ending is never really in doubt.
Staying with books I own but hadn’t read, I got quickly through Fatal Remedies, another Brunetti book by Donna Leon. In this one, clever Paola, who you’d think would have more sense, behaves like an idiot and causes a great deal of trouble for the good inspector. The charm of these books is in the walks through Venice; looking in the shop windows, popping into a bar, buying brioches at half past five in the morning. So civilised.