Monday, April 26, 2010

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

'There was the unforgettable holiday when Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie went to Canada.  The Radlett children would rush for the newspapers every day hoping to see that their parents' ship had gone down with all aboard; they yearned to be total orphans - especially Linda, who saw herself as Katie in 'What Katie Did', the reins of the household gathered into small but capable hands. 

Fanny is the narrator, a cousin to the six Radlett children and whose mother is known as The Bolter.  She's raised alongside this blue-eyed bunch who are thinly veiled as the Mitfords themselves, at Alconleigh, their upper-class English estate.  In fact, in the beginning I had a bit of trouble separating fact from fiction having read some of The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters.

The girls dream of their future husbands and of course at least one is in love with the Prince of Wales.  Their imaginative play reminded me of my own childhood, a time before digital devices.  Huddled in the Hons cupboard...'We had a tape measure and competed as to the largeness of our eyes, the smallness of wrists, ankles, waist and neck, length of legs and fingers, and so on.  Linda always won.

As the girls form attachments, it is Linda's story that we follow.  Marrying into a German family against her family's wishes and then giving birth to a daughter she is painfully indifferent about (although we do find out her reasoning later) is only the beginning of her foray into womanhood.  Realizing that she is bored beyond belief, a handsome Communist named Christian easily turns her head and another marriage is unwisely entered into.  Of course it all ends in tears and Linda finds herself sitting on her suitcase at a railway station with no money and a very wet hankie.  Enter the worldly and wealthy Fabrice, who can't stand to see a woman cry and offers a shoulder to cry on, then lunch, then dinner and a hotel.  Oh what's another affair now that she's already had two husbands?  But will a gorgeous flat in Paris and trunks full of haute couture bring Linda happiness and contentment?

Meanwhile, back at Alconleigh, Davey Warbeck, who is engaged to The Bolter is absolutely hysterical as a health-crazed house guest.  'The fact is, dear, that if Mrs Beecher were a Borgia she could hardly be more successful - all that sausage mince is poison, Sadie.  I wouldn't complain if it were merely nasty, or insufficient, or too starchy, one expects that in the war, but actual poison does, I feel, call for comment.  Look at the menus this week - Monday, poison pie; Tuesday, poison burger steak; Wednesday, Cornish poison-'.

There are desperate moments when the extended family rallies at Alconleigh, preparing for a German invasion during World War II.  Rations are tight, the house is freezing, some of the sisters are expecting babies and suicide is mentioned should the Germans actually show up.  The Pursuit of Love was published in 1945 so the dialogue is most likely all too real.  At this point, I was well and truly captivated by this family and then all too soon, it was over and I was unprepared for the ending.  I actually sat there and looked for more pages, not wanting to believe that this was the end!

Due to the fact that I seem to manage only one book every couple of weeks, I've decided to start my Persephone Reading Week early with Richmal Crompton's, Family Roundabout.  I'm very much looking forward to getting back to the second story by Mitford included in my book, Love in a Cold Climate.  Can there ever be too much Mitford?  I think not!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Heiress is back and other things

This morning I had the luxury of finishing The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford while reclining in bed with a pot of tea on a tray.  The photo featured to the left fits my image of Linda's room in Paris, rotary phone and all, but more about that another day.

The Heiress came home from school Thursday night, dropped off her bags and sat for a bit to chat.  I noticed that her shoes stayed on.  After the appropriate amount of time had passed she asked if she could borrow the van.  There are three groups of friends to see when The Heiress is home: camp friends, childhood friends and a certain group of young men that love nothing more than to plot mischievous things to do.  One evening, they took a bucket of golf balls to the top of a very steep road and dumped them just to see what would happen.  Another time there was a bowling ball dropped from the roof of a two storey building...just to see what would happen (it broke).  Needless to say,  I worry when she steps out with these young men. 

Last night after dinner, The Heiress went out for tea with a camp friend and came back at 10 pm.  She came in to the family room and said 'Hello', she still had her shoes on.  She left the room for a minute and I said to R 'I bet she asks for the car keys'.  The Heiress came back into the room and asked for the car keys.  My most fervent hope is that she was out with school friends and not conducting any more experiments in physics.  Perhaps I'll go the 'ignorance is bliss' route.

And to the lovely Miss M, who still had an exam to write when The Heiress left for home, I hope things went well!  Recently, The Heiress presented me with a Keep Calm and Carry On mug not knowing that I already had one.  Miss M admonished her saying 'Well, if you read your mother's blog then you would have known that.'  Bless.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Knitting a Shrug

A shrug is the perfect garment for keeping you warm on cool summer evenings or in air-conditioned offices. I first spied this pattern on Kate's list of projects on her Ravelry page. We here in blogland know her as makedoandread but she's also a talented knitter.

The pattern is by Laura Chau. Based on her clever design and clear instructions, I will definitely be looking out for more projects by her. Knit all in one piece, this is an ideal project for travelling and it gave me an opportunity to use my new addi Click interchangeable needles! The wool is Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran and with a touch of cashmere, very soft.
It was off the needles Friday evening so I wore it to work on Saturday. Prompting only one comment from a library customer asking how I had managed to shrink my sweater. I kindly suggested that he ask his wife to explain 'the shrug' once he got home. He seemed perplexed that she would know anything about it...some men! I digress.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Their Finest Hour and a Half

I've spent many happy hours with this book and a cup of tea over the past few weeks. So rich in detail that I savoured every page, was sorry when it ended and felt sad to remove it from the 'Currently Reading' section of my sidebar. There are several storylines with a lively cast of characters and even a very lovable dog. My favourite was the story of Edith Beadmore, working as a wardrobe assistant at Madame Tussuad's. She rents a room in a house and after yet another round of air-raid sirens, she calmly smooths her bed covers before making her way to the Anderson shelter. Their neighbourhood takes a hit and Edith ends up knocked to the ground in the garden, her mouth full of dirt. A few doors down she witnesses '...the Raleighs' bathroom was shamelessly displayed, a used towel abandoned on the lino, the wallpaper blotched with damp, while in the next room a pink-quilted double bed protruded over the broken floorboards like a vulgar tongue.' Edith experiences two more bombings and the way that Evans writes about that moment between the shrill soaring of a bomb and the moment of impact will have you holding your breath. There is also a relationship in store for Edith that I found completely fascinating to watch develop but enough about that, you'll have to read the book. Catrin Cole is a young copywriter who is drafted by the Ministry of Information to write 'the voice of women' in propaganda films. The storylines were campy and delightful and how can you not smile when reading about So-Bee-Fee gravy browning? Serendipity presents itself in the form of twins, Lily and Rose Stirling, whose story about the rescue of 54 soldiers stranded in Dunkirk produces Catrin's greatest chance for exposure. A film is created with the storyline being hugely exaggerated but hey, if it boosts the country's morale then what's the harm? Enter Ambrose Hilliard, an aging movie star from the twenties, who can't accept that his days of being the handsome lead are over. There are many wonderful peripheral characters in this book. I melted at Cerberus, the dog who is adopted begrudgingly by Ambrose. Even he can't escape the makeup chair when he has to step in as understudy for another dog and has So-Bee-Fee gravy browning and shoe polish applied to the white bit on his nose. Due to rationing he had to eat whatever came his way, sirens and bombs an ever present source of terror but what a trooper! I loved reading about the minutiae of life around London, rationing, the Tube, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, St Paul's and St Pancras not to mention the meals made with mock this and that. The mince pies made with grated parsnip lacked that festive appeal though I must say. Since discovering books by Mollie Panter-Downes, Marghanita Laski and Dorothy Whipple I do believe that stories about this era are best when written by people from this era. But Lissa Evans has done a fantastic job of coming quite close and to stand behind the aforementioned ladies in this genre is nothing to sneeze at. I loved this book and with the rich detail I know that a second reading will only add to its pleasure.