Monday, 27 December 2010

Yet more snow reading

Well, it was a panic buy.  It was a few days before Christmas and I was determined to buy some NEW books.  Not re-issues of the favourites (which is what I normally end up doing) and it was freezing cold. Bone achingly cold.  The sort of cold that you only go out in if you have to (lack of chocolate or the dog looking so pleadingly at you that you give in. Of course, then there is the joy in knowing that you have deserved the spiced rum tea that you are going to have when you return.) Anyway, so there I was, muffled up to my neck in many layers of very unflattering winter wear in front of the Waterstones 3 for 2 table.  Cold hands and cold feet were troubling me, as well as the fact that I didn't see any books that I really REALLY wanted, but then, 3 for 2 is pretty irresistible, isn't it?  Though I do draw the line at practically anything set in Australia or that has soldiers in it.  Yes, I know... but I can't help it.  I was enviously thinking of last year when I was in Argentina for the whole of Christmas, or my friend who was off on the Nile this year and wishing that it wasn't so damn cold, when this jumped out to me.  The cover alone in the sorry state I was in made me glow.  So, overcoming my book blindness I grabbed two others and joined the queue.
Now, I am aware that Ian McEwan has legions of fans, but I'm not really one of them, his books have always been a bit so-so for me.  But I buckled down with the spiced tea and concentrated.  For t'is about a prize winning physicist, Michael Beard.  Physics.  PHYSICS. 
Now I should tell you at this point that I was allowed to go to the library during maths at grammar school (highly illegal I suspect, and would never be allowed now) but back in the days it was probably just a whole lot easier than having a 'disruptive influence' in the bottom stream of a maths class.  I never even got to physics. Or algebra.  Or Chemistry - though there was an incident of a small explosion that even now I shall gloss over.
So, my heart wasn't really in it, but I persevered - mainly thanks to the hideous weather outside and the Foursquare spiced rum in black earl grey - I urge you try it... And I'm so glad I did. There are two incidents in the book that had me spluttering with laughter into my tea cup.  Our hero Michael Beard (small, podgy, six times married, greedy and with a good line in self deception) is on the back of a skidoo in the arctic attending a global warming conference and he is in desperate need of a wee.  I shan't say any more, but it had me roaring with laughter.  Oh, that and an incident on a train with a stranger and a bag of crisps.

His worlds collide and involve an accidental death, journeys to the Arctic Circle and New Mexico, an unwanted (by him) pregnancy of his girlfriend and yes, there IS quite a bit of physics thrown in.  But even I could grasp it.  Funny and thoughtful and wry and provoking.  Do give it a go.
Now, I'm going to put the kettle on again.  Spiced tea anyone?

Friday, 17 December 2010

All This and Heaven Too.

Well, of course I had to buy a new edition.  Amazon one click is about to bankrupt me.  It's a fact.  I will end up begging for gin and gruel, in Newgate.  Wearing a thin shawl and playing cards amongst the likes of Forever Amber and Angelique.  You see?  I have succumbed to the age old fantasy that we all are prone to around this time of year,  when we all get a bit Christmassy of going all 17th Century.  Or Victorian.  I have no idea why.  I blame it on Dickens I suppose. Snow and roast goose, Tiny Tim and cobbled streets, horse drawn carriages and bonnets.  It seems impossible to enjoy the present without looking wistfully back to different times.
My Christmas book is All This and Heaven Too by Rachel Field.  It's a cracker. (sorry)  But it is.  A dense book certainly, but what else are you going to do in front of a roaring fire, dark early evenings and roasted chestnuts?  Well, OK, huddled under a throw with the central heating on full whack?
It's a true story, as well.  Which always gets a nod of approval from me.
In 1841 Henriette Desportes is returning home to Paris after a spell as a governess in England.  Her next job is as governess to the Duc and Duchess de Praslin.  Oh dear.  If I say that the aristocratic couple have nine children, the wife is a highly strung, fleshy Corsican with a lot of money, the adored only child of her indulgent father - the sort that lounges around in tight violet silk, staring moodily out of the window whilst writing beseeching love letters to her tall, fair handsome husband, who frankly, has had enough of her - you can see just where this is going.
The Christmas chapters, where Paris is blanketed in snow, and Henriette takes a carriage to her impoverished academic friends in the Marais, clutching a basket laden with oranges, the colour of which glow in the dark enclosed dusk of the carriage, a pineapple and bon-bons along with a fine bottle of brandy is enough to have you rushing to make yourself a hot toddy. The Duc hands Henriette a small token of his appreciation of her devotion to his children.  The bauble is a crystal snow ball from the Faubourg St Honore and from then on, forever more, when Henriette sees snow, that is her memory.  Being inside a snug carriage, her cold hands tucked inside her new fur muff, a new dress of plum silk, and the handsome Duc beside her.
But... It's not a bodice ripper.  A murder, the toppling of the French throne, infamous actresses, a spell inside the infamous conciergerie and a hop across the Atlantic to a very churchified America is all in store for you.
Unwrap it slowly, for it's a present to treasure.
Happy Christmas.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow reading

There is a good six inches of snow covering Brighton right now.  It won't last, of course, but it has turned us all into Narnia lovers merrily tobogganing (naked in some cases, check out Matt Whistler's Merry Christmas on YouTube) or grumpy old people muttering about how Germany, Switzerland and Canada doesn't grind to a halt for a few inches of the white stuff.  Me?  I veer wildly between the two camps.  But it did make me grab from the shelves Mrs Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman. I can't work out when it was first published, but at least 50 years ago, I would think, and looking on Amazon I see that it has been re-printed and it can be bought at the bargain price of £4.50.  There is also a dim memory I have of a black and white film. My copy tells me that it was 10s 6d net.  Bless.
I fell in love with 'Mike' when I first read it, I guess I was about 12.  Gosh.  What a man.  Tall, blue eyes, handsome and no messing about.  He was a Mountie.  This was before Monty Python when Mounties became a bit of a joke, along with lumberjacks.  His beat covered thousands of square miles of untamed wilderness way back when men were men and women married young and had children.  End of.  He was priest, doctor, magistrate and horrifyingly - dentist to all his charges. (The scene where he pulls a bad tooth from a man in agony and they both have to drink whisky to fortify themselves may well be one the factors that has me squirming every time in in the dentist chair)
But really, it's a love story.  Kathy, a young Irish-American girl is sent to the alarmingly empty spaces of Alberta where she meets Mike.  Married almost immediately she sets out to discover life in the wilds of that wild country.  Snow and ice for six months of the year.  Mosquitoes for the rest.  Floods, outbreaks of diphtheria, bears, wolves and 'redskins' are all grist to the mill.  And I will never forget the scene of a forest fire where women and children along with cattle and wild forest animals seek sanctuary in the icy river.
Of course, Mike seems a bit heavy handed now, the language is dated but - oh - the descriptions of snowy wastelands, vast icy mountains and silent snow bedazzled forests are wonderful.  Now, if you'll excuse me I have some hot chocolate to make, with perhaps just a dash of rum in it.  To keep out the cold, you understand.