19 September 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1877 -1962

In Switzerland we had a vile tempered cook named Marguerite.  Her one idea, after being generally disagreeable, was to earn enough to own a small chalet on some high peak where she could cater to mountain climbers.  While she was certainly not born with a silver spoon in her mouth - although it was large enough to accommodate several - I am convinced she arrived with a cooking spoon in her hand.  If she attained her ideal, many a climber will feel it worth while to scale a perilous peak to reach her kitchen.

The Joy of Cooking

13 September 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

A book written by Sarah Waters is something to look forward to and I have been counting down the days until the release of her latest.  Due to construction I was sent to work at another branch of the library for one week and had to play with the pick-up location of my hold so it would find its way to me.  Once I knew the book was in transit I went through the courier bins like a squirrel looking for a long-buried nut.  You should have seen my face when I spotted the shiny new copy - oh joy, oh bliss!  Since The Paying Guests is hot off the press I won't share much in the way of plot but did want to share just a teensy bit of the atmosphere and to sing its praises.

It's 1922 and all begins innocently enough with Frances Wray and her mother watching the clock in anticipation of the arrival of new lodgers to their home just outside of London.  Mr Wray has died leaving a trail of debt and his two male heirs were killed while serving in World War I.  The lure of employment at the munitions factory has cost the ladies their domestic help further widening the gaping hole in this family.  Rather than sell up, Mrs Wray and Frances decide to let the upstairs of their home but this means upheaval and they are quite anxious about what will happen to their quiet way of life.  

The Barbers are a young married couple, respectable enough, but it's the little things that soon show a relaxed nature which make Mrs Wray stiffen slightly, such as Leonard's bare feet in her kitchen as he makes his way to the yard for the WC or music and visitors well into the evening.  Lilian's rather bohemian decorating style is cause for concern that the rooms now look...'like something from a Piccadilly backstreet'...but what can they do?  Frances and her mother need the income.

Part one of the book depicts the blending of these four people within the confines of the terraced house they now share and class structure is deftly portrayed.  Anyone who has stayed with an acquaintance knows exactly how it feels to be welcome but still feel a bit in the way.  Once again, as in The Little Stranger, not only does the house feature as a character but the staircase carries an overwhelming presence.  The weight of a foot on the tread or the speed of a stride is carefully calculated by the listener to anticipate mood...or warn of approach.

Sarah Waters exhibits great patience in the lead-up to some rather heart-pounding incidents in the second part of this book.  Just when I was thinking 'okay, Sarah, what do you have up your sleeve?' she literally made me feel ill with the tension and detail of one crime, perhaps two, depending on your view of things.  Over the course of two nights, while I read in the dark, the wind was howling, whipping the curtains around my head, exquisitely ramping up the atmosphere.  You know the feeling when you wake up from a bad dream, think it was real, and then sigh with relief when you realize there is nothing to fear?  Well, I felt like that the morning after as the writing is so vivid that I felt right there in the house, in the midst of things, and it was more than a bit unsettling.

You won't be able to put down The Paying Guests once you get started so clear your social calendar.  Don't read this book on the bus or train unless you have someone to remind you that your stop is up next.  Steel yourself, you are in for the ride of your life...well, as far as reading goes...and I hope you have a strong stomach because you are going to need it.  This book WILL leave a mark.


12 September 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1909 - 92

During the Second World War, Comyns moved to the country to escape the Blitz.  There she wrote her first book, Sisters by a River, based on her Warwickshire childhood.  Her publisher chose not to correct her spelling and punctuation and even added to her eccentric mistakes.

Our kitchen had a dusty hot cross bun hanging from the ceiling, every good Friday they put up a new one, the old one turned into a kind of mummy, there were hams hanging up too and a side of bacon, Palmer cured the pigs in the saddle room in a large zinc trough, the maids said you mustn't watch him if you had a period or the hams would get bewitched and go all wrong, Mammy said this too.  There were three kitchens altogether, all leading out of each other, they had stone floors with wells in the middle, they used to have their meals in the hot cross bun kitchen because there was a huge Eagle range there which heated the water and did the cooking, once a rat fell down the chimney right into the porrage, I've never eaten any since because it always seems to smell ratty.
  We liked having tea with the maids, they gave us biscuits floating in our cups of tea and they always eat heaps of vinegar, after tea they used to sing, songs about dark eyed lovers, they always sounded like hymns.

Sisters by a River

7 September 2014

A Perfect Woman by L. P. Hartley

I remember standing in a bookshop last year and holding two L. P. Hartley novels in my hand.  They were reprints and hot off the press, beautifully crisp and pristine.  Reading the synopsis of both I decided to buy The Boat and leave A Perfect Woman behind.  I should have bought both titles as it seems there is no such thing as a bad novel by this author.  It was Harriet's recent enthusiastic review that made me rush this book to the top of my tbr list and her praise was well-placed.

Published in 1955, this is a story about the Eastwood family and how a chance meeting on a train with a bestselling author, Alec Goodrich, takes their pedestrian lives off course.  The fact that Alec is sitting in first-class with a third-class ticket says something about the man and his wallet.  When he finds out that Harold Eastwood is just the man to help him keep more of his earnings from the tax department, Alec is keen to foster a business deal.

Harold's wife, Isabel, was destined for a splendid marriage with a successful man.  At least that was the plan her parents had mapped out for her.  When she fell in love with a meek tax accountant and could not be persuaded to hold out for someone better the wedding went ahead.  It is also a safe assertion that Isabel enjoyed being able to trump her overbearing mother for the first time in her life.  Feeling quite certain that she can shape and mold Harold into a better sort of man, Isabel eventually realizes that over the years it is her husband and his mother who have changed her.  Instead of becoming a woman of influence and queen of her own domain, she is now beholden to her mother-in-law...even when it comes to the naming of her children, Jeremy and Janice.

Harold and Isabel's young offspring are beams of light in this novel and Hartley must have retained a perfectly pitched sense of childhood to portray them so brilliantly.  Jeremy is the eldest and hyper-alert to situations as eldest children so often are.  He's also practical to a fault whereas Janice is definitely the romantic...

'No, Janice, you mustn't!''But I will, I want to!''But I tell you he doesn't want to see her!  He knows how her eyes open and shut - it's the weight inside her head!  The weight is attached to the back of the eyeballs, and the eyes work on a pivot - ''I don't care how they work, and nor does he.  He wants to hold her in his arms because he loves her!''How can he love her, silly!  He's only seen her once!''That's why he want to see her again, so that he can go on loving her!  Why do you want to see the same old motorcar so many times?  Because you love it!''No, because it's real and a doll isn't!  It's only pretending to be real!  Grown-up people never pretend, except when they are talking to us.'

Jeremy is not quite right on that score as there is plenty of pretending going on between the adults.  When Harold introduces Alec to Isabel she is quite taken with this man of words.  Alec, on the other hand, is quite taken with Irma, the Austrian barmaid at Harold's local.  When Alec asks Harold to find out more about the dark-haired beauty, with an entertaining command of the English language, things don't quite go to plan.  A  relationship roundabout is soon established that is both entertaining and heartbreaking in turns.  The plot takes a slight turn towards the edgy side with an abundance of secrets, lies, dalliances, and mystery.  Once the dust settles the result leaves some unexpected changes in the wake of so many entanglements.  And may I say that sex scenes without every single detail being shared in technicolour can be every bit as titillating.

There is plenty of story left to tell so don't leave this book behind if you spot it on a shelf somewhere.  If you're still not convinced then click here to read the review that reeled me in!

5 September 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1708 - 70


 To make Catchup to keep twenty Years.

Take a gallon of strong stale beer, one pound of anchovies washed from the pickle, a pound of shalots peeled, half an ounce of mace, half an ounce of cloves, a quarter of an ounce of whole pepper, three or four large races of ginger, two quarts of the large mushroom-flaps rubbed to pieces; cover all this close, and let it simmer till it is half wasted, then strain it through a flannel bag; let it stand till it is quite cold, then bottle it.  You may carry it to the Indies.  A spoonful of this is to a pound of fresh butter melted makes a fine fish-sauce, or in the room of gravy sauce.  The stronger and staler the beer is, the better the catchup will be.

The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy

3 September 2014

Radio Drama

Is anyone listening to Home Front, a radio drama set in Great War Britain?

This entertaining series highlights facts from the era set against the backdrop of village life in Folkestone.  Each broadcast matches that day's date with events from one hundred years ago and will run for four years.  This listener is hooked and there are enough aristocratic accents and maids scrubbing collars to keep fans of Downton happy until the next series!

Where are Jimmy and Sam, what will Kitty do, and as for the vicar....well!  My poor dog had to keep looking over his shoulder during our walk this morning to make sure I was still there as his companion was too immersed to utter a single 'good boy'.

The podcast hasn't been running long so you can catch up and many thanks to Mary for bringing this show to my attention.

29 August 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1801 - 66

March 1843

Oh, I must tell you, for my uncle's benefit, a domestic catastrophe that occurred last week!  One day, after dinner, I heard Helen lighting the fire, which had gone out, in the room above, with perfectly unexampled vengeance; every stroke of the poker seemed an individual effort of concentrated rage.  What ails the creature now? I said to myself.  Who has incurred her sudden displeasure? or is it the red herring she had for dinner which has disagreed with her stomach? (for in the morning, you much know, when I was ordering the dinner, she had asked, might she have a red herring? 'her heart had been set upon it a good while back:' and, of course, so modest a petition received an unhesitating affirmative).  On her return to the subterranean, the same hubbub wild arose from below, which had just been trying my nerves from above; and when she brought up the tea-tray, she clanked it on the lobby-table, as if she were minded to demolish the whole concern at one fell stroke.  I looked into her face inquiringly as she entered the room, and seeing it black as midnight (morally, that is), I said very coolly, ' A little less noise, if you please; you are getting rather loud upon us.'  She cast up her eyes with the look of a martyr at the stake, as much as to say, 'Well, if I must be quiet, I must; but you little know my wrongs.' By-and-by Geraldine went to the kitchen for some reason; she is oftener in the kitchen in one day that I am in a month, but that is irrelevant.  'Where is the cat?' said she to Helen; 'I have not seen her all night.'  She takes a wonderful, most superfluous charge of the cat, as of everything else in this establishment.  'The cat!' said Helen grimly, 'I have all but killed her.'  'How?' said Geraldine.  'With the besom,' replied the other.  'Why? for goodness' sake.'  'Why?' repeated Helen, bursting out into new rage; 'why indeed?  Because she ate my red herring!  I set it all ready on the end of the dresser, and she ran away with it, and ate it every morsel to the tail - such an unheard of thing for the brute to do.  Oh, if I could have got hold of her, she should not have got off with her life!'  'And have you had no dinner?' asked Geraldine.  'Oh yes, I had mutton enough, but I had just set my heart on a red herring.'  Which was the most derserving of having a besom taken to her, the cat or the woman?