31 May 2011

Book Lust GIVEAWAY

     
I have written about Nancy Pearl on many an occasion, even as far back as 2006. That was before I considered myself a book blogger.  For those who haven't perused her first Book Lust book you are missing a wonderful guide for what to read next. Granted, many of us have more than we could possibly need in our TBR piles, but Pearl helps one get beyond our normal comfort zones. Or if nothing else, I know we all like a list so you can page through it and check off the ones you have read.

I found a clean, used copy of this for 50 cents at a book sale and couldn't pass it up even though I already own it. So I am going to give it away. Unfortunately, I am going to have to limit it the giveaway to North America. The US Postal System's rate structure is killer when sending things abroad. (I nearly bankrupted us sending out those Anita Brookner copies.) The UK system must have cheaper options or I doubt that The Book Depository could exist.

So if you reside in North America and want a crack at this book, just leave a comment below by June 10th saying you want to be entered into the giveaway.

29 May 2011

Sunday Painting: Nudes on the Beach by Josep Togores

    
Nothing but the title links Iris Murdoch's novel The Sandcastle, which I just reviewed yesterday, to this beach scene.

Nudes on the Beach [Desnudos en la Playa] (1922)
Josep Togores (1893-1970)
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
 

28 May 2011

Book Review: The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch

   
Published in 1957, The Sandcastle is the third of Iris Murdoch's 27 novels. For those who have yet to dip their literary toes into Murdoch's work, I think her novels from the 1950s are a great place to start. I find most of her work is pretty accessible but these early works gently ease one into the sometimes cerebral world of Mudoch's fiction. Contrary to my intentions, I have probably now scared more than a few of you off. You shouldn't be.

At the risk of gross oversimplification, I think it is fair to say that most of Murdoch's novels are really just soap operas. Sure, they may delve into politics, religion, philosophy, morals and any number of other deep thoughts, but they are at heart soap operas. And I mean this in a good way. Lots of English folk running around having affairs or near affairs with other English folk. These are the kind of affairs that, while physically consummated, most times seem to be driven much more by intellectual stimulation than physical. Some of her later work in the 70s takes on a real who's shagging who kind of vibe. These earliest novels deal with many of the same issues but the affairs are undertaken with far more seriousness, or in a reflection of the more rigid moral standards of the time in which they were written, don't happen at all.

The Sandcastle (finally he gets around to the book at hand) takes place at a "sound and reputable public school of the second class". Bill Mor, a senior master at the school, and his wife Nan have a less than ideal marriage. Both seem bored and at odds about their future ambitions for themselves and their family. Their two teenage children seem equally alienated from family affection. This is the kind of family that Americans like to look at and think, "tsk, tsk, those English". You know the kind of family where a handshake between father and son seems like a gross public display of affection. (No doubt you in England have an equally reductive stereotype of American families that you fall back on when you feel intellectually lazy.) So all this goes along as one would expect until the famous young painter Rain Carter comes to campus to paint a portrait of the former headmaster. And let me just say stuff happens. Rain and Bill...well I'm not saying...and then the son who appears to have more than a mancrush on one of his father's friends not to mention a Maurice-ian relationship with his best pal Jimmy Carde does something that is really scandalous, but isn't necessarily what you think it might be...but it is wife Nan who ends up defining the outcome in an unexpected way. (Her manuever at the end reminded me a bit of Dorothy Whipple's short story called The Handbag.)

Hard to say if any of the characters will ever get what they want and be happy, but most readers will. So for those of you sitting on the fence about Murdoch, do you really want to continue to be that person. The one who has never read anything by Dame Iris? Grab one of these novels from the 1950s and if it helps, think of them as really smart chick-lit. Remember how saucey Kate Winslet...I mean the young Iris Murdoch was in the movie Iris? Well art imitates life.

27 May 2011

Seen on the Subway

  
It has been several weeks (months?) since I last did a Seen on the Subway post. The only reason I haven't done one sooner is that I haven't really noticed anything interesting in anyone's hands lately. Admittedly I haven't been looking as much--too into my own reading material--but more than that I have just seen a lot of bestseller type stuff and what would be more boring than me telling you that I saw someone on the Metro reading a bestseller.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Reader: Late 30s/early 40s man in one of those grey suits that has kind of a green tinge to it with a non-descript green tie. His work ID lanyard was from the University of Florida. I actually saw this gentleman twice on successive days. Both times I saw him on the bus in my neighborhood going to the Metro station in the morning. But the second day I also saw later in my commute after I had changed from one train to another. Turns out we both got off at the same stop.

The Book: Rather than say anything about this classic novel that everyone is sure to already know, I will comment on the particular edition the man was reading. He had this very cool edition seen in the photo here, and coincidentally the exact same edition I have at home. But wait! Then when I saw him again the next day I noticed he was reading a different book and I thought "Hmm, this guy likes to mix it up." On closer inspection, however, although he was reading a different book, it was the same title. For some reason he had another edition of The Sun Also Rises. He went from the edition shown here to something with a rather plain blue cover. I almost broke my rule of not speaking to my subject to ask him why he switched editions. The only thing I can think of is that given the unimpressive plain cover of the edition he was reading on day two, is that it probably was an annotated/academic edition.

The Verdict: I own the book and I generally like Hemingway so I will definitely read this one.


The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

The Reader: A twenty-something pocket gay at the end of a work day with his bow tie untied, slouching way down in his seat. (For those unfamiliar with the term "pocket gay", it was coined by Jack on Will and Grace when Jack referred to a rather diminutive guy (not just short, but petite) with whom Will had a date. Since then I have used the term to refer to any well groomed man of similar stature--whether they appear to be gay or not.)  The clip below has terrible quality video but still funny when Jack explains.

The Book: Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is one of my favorite books of all times. And I enjoyed the film Bright Young Things based on Waugh's Vile Bodies. But in general I am not a big fan of his more satirical stuff. A little too whimsical and chaotic for me. This one, however, is billed as an Anglo-American tragedy, so maybe it will be more my thing. Still it is hard to picture Evelyn Waugh (or any Englishman for that matter) in Los Angeles.

The Verdict: This rather short novel was in the stack of books I was going to attack last weekend when I was going to have My Own Private Readathon. Since that never happened I am going to try and make this weekend (a long one at that) a reading weekend so I will probably get to this one soon.

26 May 2011

When I think about it, my job is really kind of cool

  
For the most part I don't talk about my job much on My Porch. This is partly because I have one of those jobs where only authorized individuals are allowed to talk to the press. And while My Porch isn't the press, it is available to the public and as such I don't want to get into trouble for speaking out of turn.


The Preserves Room
But let me just say this much. I work on a historic preservation project related to an abandoned insane asylum. Some of what I do requires me to do research including going through great old photographs that make this asylum look downright quaint by contemporary standards. The idyllic campus-like setting and the wonderful old buildings are a far cry from what passes for mental hospitals today. I know this is a romantic view of what must have been a less than happy place. In addition to the unhappy nature inherent in a mental hospital, there was also chronic overcrowding and funding shortages. It was also a time when epileptics, TB patients and other sane folks were kept in insane asylums.

The history of this particular asylum connects it to a famous reformer, a president, more than one presidential assassin, a 20th-century literary figure, the U.S. Civil War, and advances (sometimes quite scary ones) in mental health care.

For much of its history, this institution grew and produced its own food. Patients helped tend the orchards and grew food crops. There was also henneries, piggeries, and a dairy herd.

And just today I came across this very cool picture of the "Preserves Room" you see above. How cool is that photo? I am not sure if you can see in this image, but the jars in the foreground are quinces and the some of the smaller jars are currant jelly.
Bakery in 1915 (the ovens are still there)

Greenhouses and crops

Patient room (this would have been for a less disturbed patient)

Patient day room

Patient day room

Chapel

Hydrotherapy Room

24 May 2011

I'm nuts (in May) about Nuts in May (and other early Mike Leigh films)

Most of you probably know writer, director, actor Mike Leigh from his films Vera Drake and Secrets and Lies or his most recent Another Year (which I have yet to see). But his films that were made for the British televsion series Plays for Today in the 1970s are wonderful in their own dismally funny way. Seemingly made on a shoestring, they often deal with class issues and feature quirky, rather depressing, sometimes hilarious characters.

In Nuts in May, uber anal and officious Keith and his talkative wife Candice Marie go for a 10-day tenting holiday and run into issues with other campers who don't share their ordered view of the world.



In the next clip, I love the way Keith feels the need to explain who is singing each line of their song about going to the zoo.


This next clip isn't very good quality but it hilariously shows just how precise Keith can be.


Alison Steadman (who was married to Leigh at the time) not only played Candice Marie, but she also plays Beverly in Abigail's Party. Does anyone else see shades of a Catherine Tate character in this?




Finally, the following clip is from Hard Labour, the film that first got me interested in these early films. You see a youngish Liz Smith from Vicar of Dibley fame playing an overworked char woman. With a lazy, boorish husband, bitchy daughter, and snotty employer.

I just got a Whipple

  
Happiness is finding a Whipple for sale online for only 99 cents plus shipping. I have no idea what my edition of Because of the Lockwoods will look like, but I would love it if it had endpapers like the ones Rachel shared on her blog. I know it doesn't have the dust jacket.

Photo from Book Snob


22 May 2011

Sunday Painting: Woman Ironing by Edgar Degas

    
Remember how I said I was going to have my own private readathon? I even inspired Simon S to do the same. Well, in my case the best laid reading plans always go awry. I forgot that I had to give a tour for my job on Saturday which took up half the day. Then we had some people stop by to see if they wanted to buy an old desk of ours. Then I had an urge to mow the lawn. And then I just didn't feel like reading much.  I have been watching the early films of Mike Leigh instead. I am going to blog about these at some point because they are weirdly fascinating. I am getting some reading in--I am in the middle of The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch--but definitely not the weekend of reading I had planned. With any luck I will be able to dedicate next weekend to my readathon.

Appropriately the subject of this week's Sunday Painting doesn't have time to read either (although my guess is that she works far harder than I have to).

Woman Ironing (begun c. 1876, completed c. 1887)
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
National Gallery of Art, Washington

19 May 2011

Am I wrong to want to read this?

  
  
When I read James Frey's A Million Little Pieces I did so before the whole flap about the "truthiness" of it and Oprah's spectacular, although somewhat self-serving, smack down of Frey in January 2006. As I watched the two-part interview that Oprah just did with Frey as she wraps up the 25th and final season of her show, there was a bit of context that I really wished that she had explored. I remember when I watched the famous smack down, I wasn't all that concerned with Frey's transgressions. All I could think at the time was how much I wish that Oprah or someone, anyone, in the media, had held the Bush Administration under the same bright lights of truth. By January 2006 even fair-minded Bush supporters realized that he and his henchman had lied, lied, lied to the American people and the world about Iraq. Yet those who sent thousands to die in a war against the wrong enemy get off scott free, while poor James Frey has to take an on-air beating. Don't get me wrong, he deserved the verbal beating but the lying administration deserved worse. It is kind of like all of the malfeasance wrought by Wall Street over the dedcades and yet Martha Stewart is the one to go to prison. How about the entire leadership at Goldman Sachs. Why don't they get a smack down?

But I digress.

Frey has a new book out that imagines Jesus coming back to earth. I like the premise and I like the creative (and provactive) book design.

I think I might actually buy it.

17 May 2011

Book Review: A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth

   
What a great find. Knowing nothing about A Kind of Intimacy or its author Jenn Ashworth, I picked this one up at the Border's closeout for 60% off. I actually picked up a few Europa Editions that day just because they have interesting covers and are well made books. So I guess it is icing on the cake that I really liked the novel itself.

In the early (and I mean early) pages I found myself rooting for Annie as she leaves her past behind and pledges to get a fresh new start in life. I love the opening scene where she kicks her old couch a few times as she prepares to leave her old house for good. I had such a hopeful feeling for Annie and her future. When she arrives in her new neighborhood I bristled at the insensitivity of her new neighbor who mistakes her for a char woman and can't get it through his head that she is single--that there is no husband and no child still to arrive.

And then you start to realize that something is a little off about Annie--that is until you realize that there is A LOT that is off about Annie. This might be kind of spoilery, but I don't think it will ruin the suspense created in the book. Annie is a total whack job. She is delusional and a pathological liar. I will leave it up to you to find out if her story is a tragedy or a triumph. I don't want to give too much away.

I was absolutely drawn into Annie's story and couldn't wait to see what happened next. There were moments when I was absolutely squirming in embarassment as Annie is about to get caught in a lie. But like all pathological liars she brilliantly deflects scrutiny, at least for a while. There was suspsense, and humor, and more than a little hmm...kinkiness. Its dark, its disturbing, but eminently readable.

This is a fantastic book. And a debut novel to boot.

15 May 2011

My Own Private Idaho

  
The headline to this post was going to be "My Own Private Readathon" but I couldn't resist typing "My Own Private Idaho". I haven't seen that film since it first came out back in 1991. I don't remember a lot about it except that both Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix were in a film with a gayish theme.

So what does this have to do with a readathon? Nothing. But c'mon weren't they cute?

I've decided that next weekend is going to be an all weekend readathon for me. I am not going to stay up all night or anything crazy like that. I just want to focus on reading. With the cavalcade of guests and home improvements since mid-March, I just want to put my feet up and do nothing but read.

Sunday Painting: Chester Dale by Diego Rivera

   
A few weeks ago I went to the National Gallery of Art here in Washington. It is truly spectacular in so many ways. In addition to the beautiful buildings and amazing collection, the NGA benefits from the fact that it is not as popular with visitors (I am guessing) as the Smithsonian is. And likewise it is far less congested than the Met in NYC or the Nat Gal in London. It makes for a wonderful experience.

Anyhoo, my office is a mere four minute walk from the the NGA but I hadn't been there for some time. I took a look at the Canaletto exhibit but had more fun perusing the permanent collection. Sad for me and my Sunday Painting feature is the fact that the NGA, like so many other museums around the world, no longer has the acres and acres postcards that it used to. This is especially annoying for me as I tend to like works that aren't necessarily the most popular. So the chances of finding postcards of the pieces that I like the most is getting slimmer and slimmer. I guess I need to combat this with the digital camera and paper and pencil for writing down names to look up later online.

One of the exhibits they currently have going on is highlights of The Chester Dale Collection, a collection of about 300 hundred works mainly from the 19th and 20th centuries.  There are many marquee paintings in this collection, but the one I was quite taken with was this portrait of the tycoon painted by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Would you have guessed that this was a Rivera? I sure didn't.

Chester Dale, 1945
Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
National Gallery of Art, Washington

13 May 2011

Book Review: They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

      
Aaaaargh!

My review of They Were Sisters disappeared in the Great Blogger Annoyance of 2011. If Blogger gets around to restoring things that were lost during their "fix" you will get to read the review. But I am not sure I have the mental energy to recreate it.

I will leave you with two thoughts from the lost review:

1. This is the kind of book that makes you miss your train stop.

2. I think this is now my favorite Whipple.

Persephone just noted today on Facebook that the film of They Were Sisters is now out on DVD. Huzzah.

09 May 2011

Book Review: The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

  

I know it has been said before here and elsewhere, but where in the world would we be without Persephone? After finishing The Thin Man, I felt a real reading funk coming on. Worse then nothing jumping out at me, I began to think about playing solitaire on the computer. I knew I needed to find something that was sure to please. And what pleases me more reliably than Persephone? I almost picked a Whipple, the ultimate sure thing, but then I spotted this Sherriff sitting on the shelf. I thoroughly enjoyed his apocalyptic novel The Hopkins Manuscript so I was curious to see what Sherriff would have to say about a family taking their holiday by the seaside.

I have read other blogger reviews of The Fortnight in September here and there over the past year or so, and the one theme in those reviews that sticks in my mind is that nothing much happens in the novel. It is true that The Fortnight in September is not plot driven, but the chronicle of the Stevens family's two-week holiday is wonderfully wrought, with lots of humor and poignancy.

Written in 1931, it is a bit of a snapshot social history of a suburban London family barely over the cusp of the middle class. In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Stevens there is 20-year old Mary, 17-year old Dick and little Ernie who is maybe a good seven years younger than Dick. (I don't recall if his age is mentioned.) The family has been going on their holiday to the same house in Bognor for 20 years and are first encountered as they prepare for their annual trip.

It is in these opening chapters that I felt a kindred spirit in Mr. Stevens. He is nothing if not organized and detail oriented. These can be good qualities but they can also go too far. It shouldn't be surprising to my regular readers that my own mild OCD can be both bane and boon. Sometimes wanting everything in its place means missed opportunities and unnecessary stress. Thankfully for me, I have taken great steps in learning how to weed out what I should be worried about and what I shouldn't worry about. (Thankfully for Mr. Stevens and the social and gender mores of his time, his family never question or challenge his need to have everything in its place.) Like Mr. Stevens, my mind will go into overdrive thinking of all the things that could go wrong and all the things that need to happen to ensure that nothing does. That fact that I can find humor in these passages rather than stressing out is testament to what a little therapy can do.

I tend to get a little nervous on travel days. I have no fears of flying or anything like that, but I do worry about all the little things--most completely out of my control--that could wreak havoc on my travel plans. I also share Mr. Stevens inability to trust information given by just about anyone. When facing down the challenge of getting from one platform to another at Clapham Junction:
Mr. Stevens did not like relying upon the word of one ticket collector and always preferred to take a consensus opinion from as many officials as possible.
And in another passage that could have been lifted right out of my brain, Mr. Stevens contemplates the crowd on the platform:
The crowd was certainly a big one: much bigger than last year, and Mr. Stevens could not help feeling a little worried...With a smile to his wife he added "some are bound to be for another train,"--but in his heart of hearts he was afraid they were all for theirs.
Although this kind of worry has happened many times in my life, I remember very clearly a time in 1989 when I was headed to the Tate Gallery. When I got off the Tube (at Pimlico?) I was convinced that everyone getting off the train was also headed to the Tate and that I needed to hurry to beat the crowd. Of course what really happened is that no one who got off that train headed to the Tate. Not to mention that the Tate is a big place and could have handled a whole train load of visitors without much impact on my experience.
On a less worrisome, but no less obsessive note, I also share a trait with Ernie, the youngest of the Stevens children. His way to puzzle out a situation rarely includes asking someone who may know the answer. Rather he lets his imagination fill in the blanks. While his father spends his time worrying about the potential for things to go wrong, Ernie wonders about the ticket agent at the station:
For years he had wondered how they got the man through that tiny opening from which he served the tickets. Was he pushed in as a baby--or built in at a later period of his life?


He had received a shock of disappointment when the romance he had built round this wistful prisoner was shattered by Dick, who one day pointed out the very ordinary side door. The Railway Company had dropped a little in his estimation.
Once the Stevens family arrive in Bognor they all start to decompress with the worst of their worries eventually falling away. During the course of the holiday, each of the family, with the possible exception of Ernie, work through a personal issue or two on their own. For those of us who are used to social, educational, and economic mobility in our own lives, it is sometimes hard to fathom what it would have been like to have our life opportunities as limited as they were for the Stevens'. Yet there is something comforting about their limited world view. Maybe I am romanticizing their lives a little too much, but I think there is some perspective to be gained by appreciating the small pleasures in life. Mrs. Stevens doesn't like the seaside much. She goes along because her family enjoys it. But she does look forward to those two weeks when she can have a quiet hour to herself each evening as she sips her "medicinal" sherry--something she would never do the other 50 weeks of the year. And Mr. Stevens doesn't have much hope of advancing beyond being a clerk but at least he has those two weeks where he can breathe in the fresh sea air and go on long solitary rambles in the nearby countryside. When I think about all that I have had the opportunity to do in my 41 years, the Stevens' life could seem quite depressing. But then I think about how excited I get each day to spend time with John and truly enjoy our life together and I realize that despite all my yearning for more, I really do appreciate the small things in life. Of course it is always good to be reminded of that.

The more the memory of the book bounces around in my head the more I appreciate what R.C. Sherriff pulled off in The Fortnight in September. Although it is a charming tale of a family on holiday it has so many more layers to appreciate: brilliantly, but quietly quirky and likable characters, a fascinating look into days long past, and a rather touching exploration of life's priorities. Even among Persephone fans I think this one deserves more attention.

08 May 2011

Book Review: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammet

 
I don't normally read much in the way of mysteries or crime fiction. I tend to find them a little too rat-a-tat-tat from one plot point to another. Granted, sometimes that kind of formula can be rather comforting to my linear way of thinking, but not too often. What I never find comforting, however, is that so many (most?) crime fiction is about murder. I am not so squeamish that I can't abide reading about murder or other morally repugnant events, but most mysteries treat murder so nonchalantly it makes me wonder a bit.

Knowing that The Thin Man is a bit of a classic, I satisfied my desire to own a classic green Penguin by picking this up when we were in London in November. The book is the first written by Hammet starring the husband and wife team of Nick and Nora Charles. A dynamic duo who don't let a page go by without having a cocktail. The book reads like an old black and white Hollywood film which is why I put the film version at the top of my Netflix queue. You know the kind of thing, speakeasies, gangsters, dames, and people named Studsey. The thing that attracted me was less the "glamour" of this world than the now archaic way of communicating--both verbally and technologically--and the effort to gather information. This was not the world of crime databases and Internet searches but rather good old fashioned gum shoe detective work. And don't even think about civil liberties. Search warrant? Who needs it?

Although I did enjoy reading The Thin Man, I was a bit surprised that the many twists and turns melted down in the final five or so pages to a denouement that only barely tracked with the action of the preceding 178 pages. It is not that one should be able to predict the outcome of a detective story, but I certainly would have appreciated seeing Nick make some of the connections along the way rather than having everything miraculously explained all at once in the final minutes like some live action version of Scooby-Doo.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein: for those that like this kind of thing, this is the kind of thing they will like.

Sunday Painting: Flower Beds in Holland by van Gogh

    
Although tulip season is over already here in DC, this seemed like an appropriate painting for Mother's Day.

Flower Beds in Holland, c.1883
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
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06 May 2011

Heaven: The Last Copy Fiction Depository


     
This article about the Montana Last Copy Fiction Depository makes me want to go to Billings and sneak into the basement of the library.  This is the place where they send last copies of fiction that no one wants to check out. You know, those books that we LOVE to read. The article even mentions Elizabeth von Arnim's Elizabeth and her German Garden.

Like most great things in the world, this one might disappear.

05 May 2011

IABD: Guest Review of The Bay of Angels

  
72 days and counting...

...for those of you planning on reading an Anita Brookner novel before International Anita Brookner Day on July 16th.

A few weeks ago I published a review of Anita Brookner's Incidents in the Rue Laugier by Erich Mayer, father of Brookner scholar Peta Mayer. Now I have the pleasure of posting a review of Brookner's The Bay of Angels by Peta's mother Wendy Mayer. As with her husband's contribution, Wendy's review puts my own pedestrian reviews to shame.


The Bay of Angels is Anita Brookners’s twentieth novel; it was published in 2001, twenty years after her first novel. If it had not been written by Brookner, it would have likely been simply identified as a ‘coming of age’ novel, or an exploration of the ‘generation gap’ rather than the tender, thoughtful evocation of a warm and close relationship between a mother and daughter. As the narrator, it is the daughter’s voice that charts the experience of growth and change in their lives.

In The Choice of Hercules, British philosopher A. C. Grayling discusses the notion of friendship between a parent and child:

Friendship is the ultimate aim of parenting too, for the mark of success here must ultimately be to produce independent adults capable of managing themselves in life.  A mark of success in this would be the development of genuine friendship between parent and grown-up offspring.

Brookner’s novel covers this terrain, contrasting the varied approaches to life of the different generations, but as the responsibility for family decisions inevitably shift from the mother, Anne, to the daughter, Zoe, the need to express these differences becomes apparent. The opening pages review the calm pleasure of their early lives together after the mother’s premature widowhood. Zoe enjoys school, her friends and the atmosphere of calm in the flat they live in when she returns home. She is aware that her mother may be lonely, but they both share the pleasure of reading. The tranquility of the flat is occasionally disturbed by visits from ‘the girls’, women married to distant cousins of Zoe’s father. Zoe does not refer to Anne as anything other than ‘my mother’ until page twenty, reflecting how Zoe views Anne – her identity is delineated by her role as a mother.

The Bay of Angels explores the developments in the relationship between the women as they grow up and age. In doing so, Brookner draws out the different approaches to responsibility taken by individuals operating in diverse social environments. As an adult, Zoe’s horizons widen and change, but even while experiencing these differences, the bond between mother and daughter survives and remains strong.

Characteristically, Brookner also skilfully explores the impact of ostensible minutiae on people’s lives in The Bay of Angels. Nobody but Brookner could so effectively utilise an obsession with plastic shopping bags to communicate a sense of these women’s identities, of rushed dishevelment and disempowerment. She builds very real characters as she establishes the inner differences between people, their insecurities and embarrassments that form a part of everyone’s lives.

In The Bay of Angels, Brookner beautifully creates and explores the development of a genuine friendship between a parent and her adult offspring. Such a background provides Zoe with the tools to manage her own life satisfactorily. It is not a book about a prototypical ‘hocky mom’ and her progeny, but rather a description of the different pains and pleasures suffered and enjoyed during the lives both of her protagonists and her readers, and it thus brings to life Grayling’s ‘mark of success’ in parenting.

   



01 May 2011

Sunday Painting: A Centenary Portrait by John Wonnacott

   
This seemed an appropriate entry for my Sunday Painting feature this week. An absolutely gigantic portrait of the Royal Family painted in 2000 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Elizabeth the Queen Mother. I don't think I saw this in person, but I seemed to buy the postcard nevertheless. I am not sure if it shows in this image, but you can see lines on the postcard where the various canvases come together to make this 119 foot by 81 foot painting.

The Royal Family: A Centenary Portrait
Prince William of Wales; HM The Queen; HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother;
The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; Prince Henry of Wales; HRH The Prince of Wales
John Wonnacott (b. 1940)
National Portrait Gallery (London)

There is a lot I could say about the wedding this past week and all of the endless prattle pro and con that was everywhere. But I will limit myself to just a few observations. When Charles and Diana got married in 1981, I was in the early stages of my Anglophilia. As much as it may still rankle the old guard, I became a huge fan of the Royal Family mainly due to Diana's arrival on the scene. My enthusiasm knew no bounds. Thankfully Charles and Diana got married during the summer so I could get up at 3:00 am to watch the wedding and not have to worry about going to school.

So, flash forward to 2011. Although I am still fascinated by trappings of royalty, I am no longer the rabid fan I used to be. As a result I have paid very little attention to William and Kate over the years and I was still pretty ambivalent about them going into Friday's ceremony. But when I saw the moment when Kate took her place next to to William in the Abbey and he so clearly told her that she looked beautiful, I got a little teary. Unlike the foreshadowing stiffness of C&D, William and Kate looked so comfortable and happy with each other. Let's all cross our fingers.

Other thoughts:
  • I loved the maple trees that lined the nave of the Abbey.
  • Kate truly looked radiant and beautiful.
  • I think Harry might be starting his very own bald spot.
  • The Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie not only looked ridiculous, but they made the mistake of calling too much attention to themselves at someone else's wedding.
  • The music was a bit of a snooze. Too much Parry.
  • Were those three Paris Hilton clones Earl Spencer's daughters?
  • Prince Albert's fiancee was impeccably dressed.
  • Lady Sarah Chatto looked fantastic and her outfit (by Jasper Conran I think) made her look so much like her late mother, Princess Margaret.