Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Virago Epilogue

Hands up if you thought yesterday's post was my last one for Virago Reading Week.  The sun is shining today which is something to grab on to and squeeze every last ray out of so R suggested a leisurely drive.  You know, take in the scenery of every dirty salt-covered vehicle whizzing by on the highway.  It was worth it though as our destination was Nostalgia Books in Port Credit.

The gentleman who owns the shop is a lovely man and even though I haven't been there for quite awhile he remembered me.  Well, I am an incessant talker and hard to forget.  Anyway...look what I found!  The fabulous reviews this week have had me really intrigued, such as when Thomas wrote about, All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville-WestThen Book Group of One wrote about my latest author crush, Elizabeth Taylor, and her book, Palladian, which I knew nothing about but was very interested in.  The back cover of William by E.H. Young tempted me with this line...'novels of provincial life in which her precise and truthful portrayals of relationships and social conventions are enhanced by a subtle humour.'  Yes please!

Wishing David well, I was backing out of the shop when what to my wandering eye should appear but another Elizabeth Taylor!  "You horrible man!" I said as he laughed.  How could he let me pay for three Viragos and not tell me about another one only an arm's length away?  The movie Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont was lovely and I can only imagine the book will be even more so.

And there you have it, this is well and truly my last post of this reading challenge but as for the conversation, long may it continue.  Thank you to Carolyn and Rachel for bringing everyone together and thank you to everyone who provided a fun-filled education for me this past week!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

It's Not Over Yet!

There is nothing like a week of Virago show-and-tell to stir up the urge for a good rummage around a second-hand bookshop.  Not wanting to venture very far due to some light snowfall I stopped in at a shop not too far is usually quite a tip.  I was pleasantly surprised to find it under new management and very neat and tidy, meaning there was a path to walk through and no books teetering high up on shelves.

I found a copy of Monica Dickens, One Pair of Hands, which is brilliant and a VMC that is new to me.  Has anyone read The Loved and Envied or anything else by Enid Bagnold?

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Way Things Are by E.M.Delafield

Virago Reading Week has been chock full of intriguing posts, fabulous reviews and the opportunity to discover a few blogs new to me.  I really hope we can do it all again next year as it has helped me forget about the freezing temperatures and doldrums of January.

My Virago pick for this week was the fabulous The Way Things Are by E.M. Delafield.  Published in 1927, I had stunning images of the art deco movement in my head whenever descriptions of lively young ladies about London were mentioned.  But the story of Laura Temple and her husband, Alfred, could not be more paradoxical to anything shiny and stylish.

Laura passes each day much like the one before it.  Making sure the kitchen-maid and nursery-maid are performing their duties, shopping even though the family income is stretched beyond their budget and that her boys are learning all the right manners.  Her husband, Alfred, could not be more boring with his main preoccupation being the 'vegetable kingdom'.

Her two young sons, Edward and the much-adored Johnnie, ensure that Laura wears a path back and forth to the nursery with one complaint or another.  The Times is a shield used by Alfred each evening to avoid any emotional connection with his wife.  Things sound rather grim don't they.

The Temple boys take dance class with the Bakewell children, Cynthia and Theodore.  The hilariously pompous, Mrs Bakewell, makes sure her children are highlighted in all aspects and the best at every venture.  The maternal sparring over children's abilities is drawn on brilliantly by Delafield and amazingly some things never change.

The Kingsley-Browne family have the most ridiculous daughter in, Bebee (mockingly called Bay-Bay by Laura).  Marching to her own tune and breaking hearts along the way, she attaches herself to AB Onslow, who just so happens to already have a wife.  In farcical scenes they despair over ways to remove her from their home which she has firmly ensconced herself in.  I would have simply thrown her vampy red lipstick and silky gowns out the back door!

The most poignant storyline though is that Laura has fallen in love with Duke (short for Marmaduke) Ayland and he with her.  His dark eyes look at her in a way she hasn't recognized in years and she is enthralled.  Herein lies the moral struggle, does she abandon her marriage and children for the passion she has never known or continue to be a dutiful wife?  Her younger sister, Christine, has an idea that something is going on but refers to things only hypothetically and a medical student named, Losh, is somewhat helpful with discussions on sexual frustration.  Laura reminds him that she lives in the country and examining your libido just really isn't done.  And there I will leave you to wonder which path Laura chooses.

I loved this story for its perfect blend of humour, reality, conflict and compassion and highly recommend it.

Special thanks to Carolyn and Rachel for an entertaining and memorable reading challenge!  I am going to spend my spare time over the next couple of days catching up with everyone's reviews and articles.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Deacon's Virago Adventure

When Carolyn put out a call to show off your Viragos, I had an idea.  It sounded like a good one at the time.  Sweaty damp patches and a border collie now wary of aprons is a shot of one of my favourite Viragos!  Ta da!

The Virago Book of Food: The Joy of Eating, is full of sumptuous quotes from literary works through the ages by some of the best.  Please do look for it at your the meantime, I need a rest.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pudding & Pajamas

While I happily breeze along with The Way Things Are by E.M. Delafield for Virago Reading Week, two things had me picking up my pen to make notes.  The first item was a pudding called, Junket. 

A milk-based dessert, made with sweetened milk and rennet, the digestive enzyme which curdles milk.  Rennet comes from the lining of a cow's stomach apparently, which is a detail I could have done without.  Chilled before serving, it is often served with a sprinkling of nutmeg on top.  The popularity of this pudding goes quite far back and in medieval times was a food for the nobility.  By the mid-twentieth century it was more popular as something eaten by children with stomach upset.  If you have given this pudding a try what's it like?

In another scene it's time for bed and Laura has her boys get into their Viyella pj's.  Out came my pen and handy notebook again.  Viyella is a blend of wool and cotton first blended in 1893 in England, developed by James and Robert Sissons of Williams Hollins & Company.  According to Wikipedia, 'One 1920 advertisement called it "a guaranteed unshrinkable fine wool flannel" for women who wanted both "daintiness" and "protectiveness".  It won't protect you from headache if you have to look at your man in that ghastly plaid every night!

Back to my book...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Virago Reading Week

E.M. Delafield created a turning point in my life...literally. 

The classics built a strong foundation for my love of English literature and the silky swish of a long dress.  There were brief forays into the world of crime novels and chick-lit but if I read one more book about a blonde twenty-something in a publishing office I was going to scream!  I was searching for something but I didn't know what.

Three years ago, The Heiress was about to move into a townhouse near her university.  Five young men had vacated and five young ladies were taking residence...I was armed with a bucket, rubber gloves and lots of cleaning supplies, LOTS. 

Once we were in Waterloo, our first stop was a plaza so The Heiress could hand out some resumes.  One of the businesses was a Chapters and well, you might as well have a look around once you're there, right?  Sitting on a display was an adorable book covered in pink roses.  Who was this Cath Kidston woman who designed the print?  Flipping to the first page, hilarious writing about the planting of bulbs and a Lady B coming to visit had me digging for my wallet.

Back in the car I began to flip through the pages and laughing out loud.  'Listen to this!' I said a few times.  The Heiress and R begged me to stop.  So my book was tucked back into its bag but I had a big smile on my face and was ready to tackle the scariest kitchen and bathroom disasters you've ever seen.

Back at home and relaxing with The Diary of a Provincial Lady, I knew that this was the type of story that I had been searching for through the years.  Witty, intelligent with an atmosphere rich in period detail and sensibilities I had found my reading nirvana.  But where would I find more like it?

Through my research I discovered the enriching world of book blogs.  StuckInABook, dovegreyreader and Random Jottings were my first introduction and favourites.  A short note to Simon was sent and he replied telling me about a wonderful bookshop by the name of Persephone.  I had never ordered a book on-line before *snort* so the search began in second-hand bookshops.  My first trip out resulted in my copy of The Way Things Are and due to loads of catching up in this blissful era of authors, it has been languishing on my shelves ever since.  When Virago Reading Week was announced I knew exactly which book would be my choice.

Thanks Carolyn and Rachel for the creation of a brilliant reading week!  Click on the links should you be interested in joining in.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Small Diversion from Housework

I've been meaning to post the progress made on my Tangled Yoke cardigan.  The '18 rows of hell' that is the cabling on the yoke coupled with Christmas had me tucking it away for a month but I am back on track.  Holding my breath as I follow the chart of a myriad of cable symbols, I can barely stand to look once near the end of a row.  One stitch too many or too few means ripping back the whole row.  When it works out there is a huge sigh of relief.  Two rows of this is all I can stand in one sitting so it is slow going.  When I want to relax with some knitting I work on these socks....

This divinely squishy wool was bought at Purl Soho in New York, one day I hope to get there myself.  It was a gift for looking after my neighbour's cats while they were visiting the Big Apple.  My request was to please find some sock wool in a lovely shade, nothing vulgar, which made Suzanne both laugh and panic.  What is vulgar to one person may not be so to another.  Appropriately named 'Squishy', this kettle-dyed Unzula product is truly the softest I have ever knit with.  This simple rib and cable pattern is going to let the wool do all of the talking and I can't wait to wear them.  Now I had better get back to my Cinderella duties...

Edit: substituted previous photo of cardigan, the colour just wasn't right.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

'He knew that, while he was away, women friends of Laura's and their children had come and gone continually, for a few weeks, three months, a year or so.  They had eaten light snacks off trays, used the telephone practically without paying for it, shared the work, and night and day filled the air with the dull, frivolous yatter which passes for female conversation.'

Stephen Marshall has returned home after the war to discover that his wife, Laura, has let things slide a bit.  And really, how is a middle-class household to run smoothly when your staff has up and left to support the war effort?  His domain is not the only thing that has lost its shine, his wife seems to have aged while he was away.  Her hair has begun to go grey.

In a movie, the happy reunion of a family after years of separation would be dramatic and sweeping.  The reality was quite different in many cases and the restoring of social order wasn't always easy.  The independence experienced by Laura dissolves away when she is chided by her husband for letting things go.  At the same time, her mother, Mrs Herriot, states that her daughter is working too hard.  A situation brought on my Laura's foolhardy decision to marry a man less wealthy than hoped for.  Thoughts of wanting more for herself are pushed aside for errands and social calls, this is Laura fulfilling her duty just as Stephen has fulfilled his in the war.

While it would be easy to focus on the friction, Panter-Downes writes lyrically about flowers and bees in the neglected garden, cakes and biscuits in the pantry and the green English countryside.  Ten year-old, Victoria, stuffing herself with delicious home-cooked fare at her friend's house is heartwarming and of course, those cups of tea, wonderful.  The fertility of the women in the village is grounds for speculation whether the men are home or away.

What was, what is and what may be are ruminated over and dreamt about.  At the end of this one fine day, Stephen and Laura separately come to a conclusion about how they will embrace tomorrow.  In what I know is an unpopular opinion, I can't say that I really cared.  The writing is sublime, the characters very real...I just couldn't resist wanting to shake them.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Zingy Harvest

Way back in June, I was intrigued by the idea of growing a citrus plant.  So I brought home an Improved Meyer Lemon from the nursery.  You can click here to see it when the fruit was small and green.

Watching these small orbs begin to ripen was thrilling!  Despite being tempted to leave the fruit to cheer up the room I couldn't resist putting at least some of them to use.  For something quite small they certainly pack a lot of juice and made the kitchen smell like summer.

My Lemon Drizzle cake turned out moist and oh so zingy.  I couldn't have been more proud.  My thoughts are already branching out...perhaps Key Lime pie next January?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Porn

Thanks to Persephone Books and my favourite book bloggers I desperately needed a new bookcase. 

It hasn't been easy finding one which would work as furniture and not cost a fortune.

Last weekend we found just what we were looking for and better still, it was half-price due to a few teensy marks that I will cover with a furniture pencil.

 Flinging off my coat and scarf I got down to work bringing armloads of books from my crowded shelves in our spare room.  R left the house, I barely noticed.

I emailed a photo to The Heiress introducing the newest member of our family.  Yes, I was that excited.

 Anyone need a cigarette?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

An Icy Reception...

A tad sinister and not at all welcoming but still quite beautiful.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

'I shall miss you, Christine, and I wanted to ask you what you'd like for a present.'
   'Not one of those books.  Not the kind that you have.'
   'Well then, what? I'm going into Flintmarket tomorrow.  What about a cardigan?'
   'I'd rather have the money.'  Christine was implacable.

It would seem that lately my enjoyment from characters has come from insolent children.  First, Dora and Isobel in Blaming and now ten year-old, Christine Gipping.

When Cornflower recently announced The Bookshop as her book for January I dove right in.  Most importantly because I have never read anything by Penelope Fitzgerald and honestly, I keep mixing up her up with the other in Lively.  It was a chance to set things straight.

Things were against poor Florence Green from the beginning.  Wanting to open a bookshop in the abandoned 'Old House' should have been an eagerly anticipated event in Hardborough but such was not the case.  Violet Gamart had other plans for the building in the form of an arts centre and many villagers had an opinion either way.

Usually, the very idea of living in a village fills me with delight but Fitzgerald paints a slightly off-putting picture.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows your business!  Florence presses ahead with the bookshop and opens to a lukewarm reception.  Wondering what villagers would think of the book, Lolita, she writes a letter to the reclusive, Mr Brundish, a long-time resident, to ask for his review and opinion.  '...Some critics say that it is pretentious, dull, florid and repulsive; others call it a masterpiece.'

The introduction of delightfully precocious, Christine, lit up the storyline for me.  I couldn't wait to see just what sort of quip Fitzgerald would have her deliver next.  This young lady's quick wit and no-nonsense attitude more than made up for her waif-like appearance and almost transparent skin.  When Florence seeks her out to inquire about her helping out at the bookshop she asks...'What about your other sister?'
   'She likes to stay at home and mind Margaret and Peter - that's the little ones.  That was a waste giving them those names, it never came to anything between him and the Princess.'   Lines like that make me laugh and have me admiring the author who surely has a great sense of humour.

At just over one hundred pages The Bookshop is a quick read and is also very reminiscent of a Persephone-type story if you are a fan.  My copy from the library is an edition from Everyman's Library and also contains The Gate of Angels and The Blue Flower which I've read is another fine story.  My reading has taken me on to another book but I'll be back.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fun with Deacon

The back garden had a layer of fresh, unspoilt snow yesterday.  We can't have that now can we!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor

It's official.  Elizabeth Taylor is one of my favourite authors.  Blaming is my third venture and while I am tempted to say it is my favourite it could possibly be that I have settled into her writing style.

The story begins with Amy and Nick on holiday in Istanbul.  They are middle-aged and middle-class.  Their vacation spot enthralls Nick much more than his wife which leads to bickering.  Add to that an American tourist named Martha, who has attached herself to the couple and you have a storm brewing.

Despite being written in the mid-seventies, there is an earlier feel to the story such as when Nick initiates an early night by saying 'Your bed, I think,' he said.  'I always think that's more polite.'

It's no secret that Nick dies while on holiday.  The ever-present Martha imposes her assistance.  Visits to the family home and a string of correspondence creates a bond which provides each woman with someone to talk to during difficult times.  But Martha is brash, unkempt and more bohemian than Amy is comfortable with and eventually she wishes the contact would cease.

There are two granddaughters by Amy's son, James and his wife, Maggie.  Dora and Isobel irritated me in the beginning with their insolent behaviour and manipulative ways.  But in that subtle way of Taylor's, she had me absolutely charmed and laughing at their antics by the end of the book.  I was thrilled to read in the afterword by Taylor's daughter, Joanna, that some of their lines were taken from things she had said as a child to her mother.

A relationship with the family doctor and close friend, Gareth Lloyd, blossoms and a tragic twist towards the end of the book made me gasp.  Many of the characters experience blame due to a variety of reasons making the title a perfect one.  I did not want this story to end and it was poignant to read that Taylor wrote with determination to finish before dying of cancer.  As I wrote earlier, she died before this book was published and selfishly, I am quite ticked when talented authors are taken too soon.

There really was nothing else for it, despite a personal challenge to read from my shelves I promptly ordered two more books by this truly sublime author.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Book and a Confession

Waking up this morning I was full of resolve in my personal challenge to read from my shelves for as long as possible this year.  Once The Heiress was packed up and driven back to school today, a blog post declaring my intent was going to be written.

The only thing I have to declare at this moment is that I AM WEAK!

This was not an indiscriminate purchase, plucked from a shelf out of's a Folio Society publication for goodness sake!  Costing the same as a mere paperback there was really nothing to think about.   More Pick of Punch will add another layer of knowledge to my education in 20th century authors and is full of just the sort of humour I adore.  Flipping through the pages I spied snippets by EM Delafield, PG Wodehouse, Graham Greene, Kingsley Amis, Antonia White and even a bit of Diary of a Nobody.  Off to the cash register!

I'm not planning to don a hair shirt or anything and there are no feelings of guilt, I just wanted to share my folly.  But just for fun, as of right now, I am going to see how far into 2011 I can go without adding to my bookshelves.  It's not that they are groaning, it's to see how disciplined I can be in enjoying the books I already own.

Is anyone entertaining the same idea?