RobAroundBooks has a post on his five reading rules which help get the most out of the teetering TBR pile that most of us have. One of his rules is to make the most of every opportunity to read. This reminded me of one of my favourite film moments: Leslie Caron reading whilst doing ballet in An American In Paris . This is not something, sadly, that I am able to replicate though I did gamely have a go at the splits (without the book) after last watching the film. Needless to say that, pushing 40 and over 20 years after I last tried I couldn't do them, and actually I was just relieved to have received no permanent injury from the attempt!
Anyway, here's the lovely Leslie Caron. For the impatient, the reading bit starts about 1m30s into the clip. I love the way she idles against the pillar with one foot above her head...
BTW, I couldn't find an embedable clip with the proper soundtrack unfortunately.
Gosh I don't think I have a font size big enough to do justice to just how lovely this book is. Bereaved and depressed, Nina leaves her family in the UK and goes home to Malta. Having become pregnant out of wedlock years earlier her Maltese family have cut her off. She goes to make peace with, quite literally, the ghosts of her past.
The basic mechanics of plot are quite simple so this review is confined to the sumptuous interiors: of Nina, of Malta, of the Maltese houses and churches, and of the ghosts that haunt Nina. Nor am going to quote anything as this book is a meal not a snack.
In Like Bees to Honey Caroline Smailes has written a sweet and emotional book that manages never to be sentimental or cloying, and when your themes are death, redemption, love, homecomings and food, that's quite a trick to pull off. It is beautifully written with luscious descriptions of food and buildings, mixed with fluttering ribbons of Maltese speech, and layered with the psychological detritus of letters and memoir and flights of fancy. Throughout there is word and syllable level repetition that gives the otherwise limpid narrative a reassuringly solid and material form balancing dark and light as beautifully aurally as the twists and turns of the narrative balance thematically. Every page is quite the most gorgeous experience.
This is the kind of book that makes you want to rush out and buy eight copies to wrap in tissue and ribbon and place on plates as place setting at Christmas. It is that gorgeous. The food would probably go cold though. Enjoy!
You can visit Caroline Smailes' website here and her twitter profile here.
In a few weeks it will be time for the 4th international Skipton Puppet Festival. This is a wonderful weekend of art, drama and fun. The paid-for shows are mainly aimed at family audiences though there are some adult shows in the evening too, and throughout the weekend Skipton town centre is buzzing with free shows and events from the Friday onwards. The atmosphere last time was amazing.
There are 70 performances in 8 venues over 3 days, various workshops, an exhibition of exquisitely carved puppets and for the first time a Community Parade. The performers come from all over the UK as well as France, Finland, Hungary and Germany. The puppet exhibition is in the Town Hall which is also home to a Shakespeare First Folio. The free shows include the traditional Punch and Judy as well as the more avant-garde.
If you are anywhere near Yorkshire on the weekend of 23rd-25th September then you should book yourself some shows (many shows sell out in advance), borrow a child if you have to, or just come and sample the atmosphere. The workshops are £1 and the ticketed shows are mainly £5 (though there are some at £2.50) which together with all the free shows means that it is a really value for money day out.
You can download the festival programme and find a booking form here and follow them on twitter here.
So what have I been reading whilst up to my eyes in work and rampaging 7 year old girls on their school holidays? First up is the delightful Nimrod's Shadow . Part of the Fiction Uncovered promotion, which is how I spotted it, it is a satifyingly enigmatic read. The time slip narrative moves between the Edwardian and present day and begins in realistic enough fashion before tumbling you into flights of melodramatic maddness. Chris Palling pulled off the trick of making the historical part seem solid and real and modern part ethreal and elusive. Taking the "now" and defamiliarising it to such an extent brings the Edwardian artist closer to us in a way now ammount of realistic historically accurate writing could have done on its own. The lovely story, delightful dog, and fantastic narrtive fireworks, all mean this has gone straight to my re-read pile.
Passion by Jude Morgan was even better than the wonderful The Taste of Sorrow. Like The Taste of Sorrow it is a multifaceated fictional treatment of intertwining literary lives, in this case Lady Caroline Lamb, Augusta Leigh, Mary Shelley and Fanny Brawne, the WAGS of the Romantics, so to speak. Like the Bronte inspired novel Morgan again amazes with his ability to keep so many complex characters both real and different. Caro Lamb is rendered Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know through a wonderful and increasingly rambling and self-deluded first person narrative. Fanny Brawne is as strong pert and 'minx' like as you could hope and her relationship with the doomed Keats is nonetheless tragic for knowing what will happen in the end. I willed Keats to live as I always do but as poor Fanny discovers will alone is never enough. Mary Shelley suffers long and hard and I got lots of enjoyment from disliking Shelley. Augusta Leigh, Byron's half sister and possible lover, was the one I knew least about, but she was perhaps my favourite by the end.
Despite the huge undertaking of creating realistic psychological portraits of four extremely different women Morgan further excels himself with strong supporting cast: the poets themselves are beautifully drawn, William Godwin is neatly knocked off his Radical pedestal, Annabella Milbanke is not so much a portrait as a chilling self-focused carving in marble. Most delightful of all are the childhoods of the four women, where the earlier Romantic poet showed the "Growth of a Poet's Mind" from his childhood environment in The Prelude, Morgan shows how the women of these later poets were equally formed by their early lives. Utterly enchanting from start to finish I have not the teeniest quibble with a single syllable of Passion.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Conan Doyle was also one of my summer reads. Rather a murky misty atmosphere and hardly a beach book but apt for the damp and chilly place yorkshire has been over the last month. Spending time with Mr Holmes is always a pleasure despite the many and varied faults and I enjoyed this immensely. The dog, needless to say, is less engaging than little Nimrod above. I read it in Leopard's Collected Editions with an introduction and an afterword by John Fowles. I am not knocked-out by Fowles' fiction but his critiques here were spot on. Amazon's page say in the "Product Description" that the introduction is by Trevor McDonald. Ignore them they know nothing!
It's been so long since I blogged that I had almost forgotten my login details. The school holidays plus being away plus the annual stock take have taken their toll on my time and I haven't even been reading blogs never mind writing my own posts. I daren't turn my blog reader on; it will be swamped. Daughter is back at school on Monday however, the stock take is finished, and so I hope I will be much more sociable from now on. I will try to catch up with all my blogging friends' posts over the next week, and I apologise for my lack of responses in the comments below.
It hasn't been all work. I have been reading this. I have also been watching this in preparation for going here next month.