“Clementine Churchill”, by Sonia Purnell

160504_123706_COLLAGE-1For years, I have had a biography of Winston Churchill on my reading list. Odd then, that I should have started reading one about his wife instead. Or perhaps not so odd. I have seen endless numbers of documentaries about the Second World War, and that was, after all, when Churchill the man had his finest hour. His wife is never mentioned in these accounts, so when a friend recommended it to me, I became curious. Continue reading “Clementine Churchill”, by Sonia Purnell

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“Food in England”, by Dorothy Hartley

I just found this amazing film about a book and a woman I am dying to dive into further – once I got my next exams nailed, that is – and I have to share it with you. The film is presented by Lucy Worsley, is of slightly crappy technical quality, but no matter, I enjoyed it anyway.

The book has, apparently, never been out of print since it came out in 1954, and – to my great joy – it is also on Kindle. You can also find an article by Lucy Worsley on Hartley in the Guardian, and enjoy some of her smashing illustrations with the help of old Google.

I am definitely going to try cooking a whole three-course meal in a pot, as they do on the canalboat. That is just my kind of cooking, it makes me giddy just to think of it. Though I may, like Lucy, pass on the brawn (which is traditional Christmas food in Sweden, but never on my table…).

I hope you come to like Hartley, too. In a way, very English, but also, not far removed from how cooking would have been done all over Europe in the times she researched. The more I go into traditional cooking from the corners of the world where I feel a certain right of domicile, like Slavish cooking, Swedish cooking, German cooking, I see so much connection, also to the English cooking I have come to love.

“Hotel du Lac”, by Anita Brookner

20160325_171600I have had this book on my list for some time. I read Brookner´s short novel “At the Hairdressers” last September, and liked her tone. Two weeks ago, she died, and I decided to get her Booker-prize winning novel “Hotel du Lac” from 1984 and have enjoyed it over the last few days. It is truly beautifully written, not tiringly long, and has quite a bit of humour in it, too.

The protagonist of this story, Edith, is being whisked off to the airport by an angry friend, told to keep away for some time, to atone for what I thought for more than half the book was being “the other woman” to a respectably married man. But no, she has actually run away from a wedding to another respectable man, whom she did not love. This seemed like her last chance at marriage, being more than a bit plain (everyone says to Edith she looks like Virginia Woolf, and I never heard Woolf being considered a great beauty) and fast approaching the age of 40.

Also like Woolf, Edith is an author, but of romance literature, and she really believes in true love. As she makes herself at home at the Swiss hotel of her exile, she befriends a group of women there, all representing different ways to relate to men and themselves. The whole novel is a kind of disputation on the matter of true love, and what seems to be Brookner´s conclusion is that only the truly self-absorbed, brutal, and greedy can live out the romantic dream, as exemplified by Mrs Pusey, who performs her life on a self-erected pedistal. Edith is again offered a marriage of convenience, by a man who urges her to become more selfish, because, he argues, only selfishness and a refusal to be touched by anyone can lead to any lasting happiness. Any deep emotion for another can only lead to disappointment and grief, not to mention public shame. So she get´s another chance at marriage to a wealthy and respectable man she does not love, but without the illusion of love being offered.

‘You are a lady, Edith. They are rather out of fashion these days, as you may have noticed. As my wife, you will do very well. Unmarried, I’m afraid you will soon look a bit of a fool.’

Charming proposal, don´t you think? I will not tell you what she does, but I´m not sure I sympathise entirely. Brookner really cuts a two-sided sword through Edith´s dilemma: she can either marry for comfort, respectability, and any selfish happiness she can buy, or she can go on leading a ridiculous life, waiting for her lover to call whenever he pleases.

As someone who has been more or less married (we did it the usual European way: moved in together for the love and married to protect the money when it was clear that it was lasting) for 25 years, I can say that every good and long-lasting, love-based marriage has elements of what Brookner scorns. Sometimes one has to look out for number one, as they say. You don´t want to change someone you love, even if that would make them suit you better, but suffering is not the answer, because who wants to be married to someone who suffers? In Edith´s case, her tragedy is that she can´t stop loving a man who does not love her.

Brookner never married herself, and what I read of her seems to indicate that she lived a lonely life that she wished had been different. Perhaps Edith´s choice is very much her own. It´s an odd world-view, though, for a mature woman to have, a kind of take-it-or-leave-it attitude that I might have sympathised with more as a dramatic teenager, when you think you will neeever love again after every breakup (no, I actually never believed that; I was always level-headed about love). In a way, Edith is a 39-year old teenager, and she paints herself into a corner where she actually does look a fool, as her suitor points out.

This novel has been filmed, and after seeing a few clips on youtube, I have managed to find a copy in Germany. I am really looking forward to this!

The Richard Jury series, by Martha Grimes

I find that I am neglecting the blog. There is simply not enough time anymore. Or perhaps it is a lack of energy, I don´t know. I do sketch, or doodle, but in a private, diary-kind-of-way that I´m not keen to share. Perhaps spring will change all that, or perhaps I´m growing out of the blog and into the very active sketching communities I have found on Facebook, which I recently joined.

20160304_113046I still have a bit of a reflex to blog what I am reading, and over the last weeks I have read myself to sleep with three more in the Richard Jury series: “The Deer Leap”, where mystery writer Polly Pread – a woman much adored by Melrose Plant, but she treats him ill indeed, being infatuated with his friend Jury (and only putting up with poor Plant because of it, I gather) – falls on a corpse and thus starts an adventure that ends miserably; “I am the only running footman” where another old friend, Commander Macalvie in Devon, helps Jury and Plant catch a serial killer with a disturbed mind; and “The Five Bells and Bladebone” (these titles are all names of pubs and the creativity seems endless…) where Jury is faced with a disturbing riddle of mistaken identity that might not be solved, at least not without a DNA-test, something that apparently was unheard of in 1987.

I find the quality of these books varying quite a bit. Sometimes Grimes is really inspired and seems to like the characters a lot, other times the writing is rather dull, and the plot too. Still, I like it. It is funny at times and like before, she has children involved in every plot. A young, childlike woman moves in next door to Jury, he takes a liking to her and supports her in an almost fatherly, or big-brotherly, way. Also, the woman he loves (and politely ignores, as she seems to be perpetually engaged – but never marries – an Italian count) is always there in the background, having glasses of sherry and bickering with Plant at the local pub of Long Piddleton, where the very first murder in the series took place. Jury´s relationship with Plant has evolved into a brotherly affection and they seem to take it for granted that any vacation Jury has should be spent with Plant (who is mostly idle, in a gentlemanly way) at his estate in Northamptonshire.

As always, highly recommended!

“The House Without A Key” by Earl Derr Biggers (1925)

I read about this one in our Swedish newspaper; it is being re-published in Swedish now (“Huset som saknade nyckel“), and the review was so favourable I had to read it at once. Of course, I chose to read it in English. I was not disappointed, this really is a wonderful novel, or at least, a wonderful whodunit. The drama that took place in my mind´s eye was very much like an old Hollywood movie from the 30´s or 40´s, the way they looked, the way they talked.

I kept thinking John Quincy looked and sounded like a young James Stewart.
I kept thinking John Quincy looked and sounded like a young James Stewart.

The main character in this piece is initially stuck-up Boston brahmin John Quincy Winterslip, come to Honolulu to fetch his aunt Minerva, who seems uninclined to return home after what should have been a relatively short visit at his cousins, the “wild and crazy”, western Winterslips whose reputations are not endearing them much to the Boston aristocrats. He is nearly 30 years old, but refered to as “the boy” all through the book, which really focuses as much on John Quincy´s developing character as it does on who killed his cousin, a businessman with secrets to hide. John Quincy has started to thaw already when we meet him in San Francisco, a city he falls in love with as readily as a girl he meets on a ferry there, and who, coincidentally, is a native of Honolulu. Nor is John Quincy a fool (this was a great relief to me), he doesn´t make an ass of himself even in the company of the best detective on the islands: Charlie Chan.

“You know,” remarked John Quincy, “I´d like to work with you on this case, if you´ll let me.” “I have only delight,” Chan answered. “You arrive from Boston, a city most cultivated, where much more English words are put to employment than are accustomed here. I thrill when you speak. Greatest privilege for me, I would say.””

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Warner Oland as Charlie Chan.

Charlie Chan is hardly a household name in Sweden, in spite of him being played some 15 times by Swedish actor Warner Oland. Oland was born in Bjurholm, Ångermanland, as Johan Verner Ölund, and emigrated at 13. It is kind of funny that his greatest role was as a Chinese detective, and if you like to see what that looked and sounded like, you can find several of the films easily enough on youtube. I watched “Charlie Chan in London” and had to smile at the distinct Swedish accent he has at times. The Charlie Chan in the book doesn´t look much like Oland at all, but no matter.

I recommend this whole-heartedly if you want some easy, relaxing reading that isn´t annoyingly dumb. This is charming, full of quick dialogue and energy, and not terribly easy to figure out. Biggers also manage to convey a very vivid impression of Honolulu and Waikiki beach, as I guess it would have been in the 1920´s. There are five more novels about Charlie Chan and I am definitely keeping them in mind for later.

RIP Bodil Malmsten

From an article in Dagens Nyheter on Bodil Malmsten´s latest (last, as it happened) collection of poems (my translation):

“The broken contact. If you have had a running connection with someone, who belonged with you, having lots of mutual references, having impulses to send texts. And suddenly there is no one in the recieving end. No one to send a text back. That is death, that you never answer ever again. Of course, you can sit there on a gravestone and pretend to talk to someone, but that´s not really my cup of tea.

[interviewer:] It´s a sort of amputation of oneself. There are parts of one that only exists in…

… that relationship. Exactly so. If it is a relationship that was very strong, where you have been interlaced with the other, then it is really like that. At the moment you loose them, it´s an amputation.”

“Den avbrutna kontakten. Om man haft en -löpande kontakt med någon, som hört ihop med en själv, en massa gemensamma referenser, impulsen att skicka ett sms. Och plötsligt finns det ingen mottagare. Ingen som skickar tillbaka. Det är det som är döden, att du aldrig svarar igen. Det är klart att man kan sitta där på en gravsten och låtsas prata med någon, men det är inte riktigt min påse.

[intervjuaren:] Det är en sorts amputation av en del av en själv. Man har delar som bara existerar i…

– …i det förhållandet. Exakt, så är det. Om det är en relation som varit väldigt stark, där man tvinnats ihop, då är det verkligen så. I det ögonblick där man förlorar den, är det en amputation.”

At least one of her books has been translated to English, “The price of water in Finistère”. She was also a long-time blogger.

“Jerusalem Inn”, by Martha Grimes

20151229_203806Actually, I managed to get through three in the series about Superintendent Richard Jury and his friend, the ex-earl Melrose Plant. I started with “The Dirty Duck” around Lucia (the 13th), where a crazy murderer starts disposing of American tourists in picturesque Stratford-upon-Avon. This was not the most inspired of stories, the most memorable part of it being, perhaps, that Jury´s love interest from the first book, Vivien, shows up all made over (sexy in that blatant 80´s way, or so I interpreted it), with an Italian fiancé; a count, no less.

Jerusalem Inn” takes place during Christmas, which was very fitting, and this was a really fun one. Jury meets a woman by accident; they immediately feel at ease with each other and notice they look so alike they could be brother and sister. They plan a date, but she does not make it. Jury spends the rest of the story trying to find out who killed her. The theme is family, the longing for and love of children (Jury´s own biological clock is definitely ticking). Of course, Vivien shows up here too, being a bit ambivalent about the Italian fiancé and charmingly disheveled again; Jury is frustratingly passive. There is a vicar on the early pages talking about psychoanalysis and a crib plays a big part in the story. As in every book, there are children which Jury connects to with ease. I think the way she writes children is probably one of the things I like best about Grimes´stories.

The last in the row is “Help the Poor Struggler“. Here, children are the victims, and on the team this time is a half-American Chief Superintendent Macalvie, who has his own theories about the murders. I didn´t enjoy this one as much, as there was little progress in the story about Jury himself; I´d really like to see that one come along a bit further. I certainly can´t find any fault with the story though, I couldn´t figure out who´d done it. It´s not literature with a big L, this, but a very enjoyable mystery series!

War Poems

Darkness of winter is upon us and the mum-in-law is sleeping very badly, if at all, worrying about what is happening in the world, about terrorists being arrested only a few miles away from what used to feel like a safe corner of the world. I have a bit of a headace myself, and decide to take the Sunday off, looking at the photos from this summer, which I have intended to blog. I start with Salisbury, and find this plaque from Salisbury Cathedral, which caught my eye; I recognized the name of the war poet who died so terribly young.

IMGP9135 (2)The plaque says: “In proud and unfading memory of Edward Wyndham Tennant, 4th Batt. Grenadier Guards, eldest son of Lord and Lady Glenconner, who passed to the fuller life in the battle of the Somme 22nd of September 1916 Aged 19 years. He gave his earthly life to such matter as he set great store by: the honor of his country and his home. And over his portrait, it says: “When things were at their worst he would go up and down in the trenches cheering the men, when danger was greatest, his smile was loveliest.”

Pretty words, but what wouldn´t he have been able to do in the world if he had lived? And what about all the other people who died in that war alone, about 10 million military deaths and 7 million civilian deaths. The numbers are impossible to comprehend.

Re-incarnation, by Edward Wyndham Tennant:

I too remember distant golden days
When even my soul was young; I see the sand
Whirl in a blinding pillar towards the band
Of orange sky-line ‘neath a turquoise blaze –
Some burnt-out sky spread o’er a glistening land)
– And slim brown jargoning men in blue and gold,
I know it all so well, I understand
The ecstasy of worship ages-old.
Hear the first truth: The great far-seeing soul
Is ever in the humblest husk; I see
How each succeeding section takes its toll
In fading cycles of old memory.
And each new life the next life shall control
Until perfection reach eternity.

(Ramparts, Ypres, July 1916) You find more of his poems here.

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We have been discussing the UN Child convention in class, and particularly this wording, in article 38, has upset quite a few: “States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest“. Considering that children are defined as those under 18, the convention does actually condone drafting children into armed forces. Of course, in actuality, many much younger children live as soldiers; perhaps for some, joining up is the best option for survival.

Tennant was a priviliged young man – some would say he was not much more than a child, particularly by today´s standards – but that didn´t protect him. I find it incomprehensible that humanity still can not solve it´s conflicts any other way.

The Anodyne Necklace, by Martha Grimes

I have noticed that sometimes even relaxing takes some discipline. I had been dreaming of putting my feet up, book in hand (a safe, non-toxic book), G&T at my side. I could have gone for a walk, could have gone for fika, could have done a lot of things. I turned them down and didn´t get dressed all day Sunday, which was the best!

20151101_201301Martha Grimes didn´t disappoint either. I am growing increasingly fond of Superintendent Jury (he got promoted) and his hanger on, the ex-earl of Caverness, Melrose Plant, who shamefully shows up whenever there is a tricky murder on Scotland Yard´s table. This time Jury has a bit of vacation planned at Plant´s estate, but gets called to a village near London to investigate the murder of a young woman, a stranger to the villagers, found in the woods with her fingers hacked off. Turns out, she is not the only young woman who has been attacked lately. Also, there has been a jewel theft in the village not too long ago. Are these incidents connected?

I couldn´t figure out who´d done it this time, I confess. Perhaps I was too busy admiring Grimes´s handiwork, the balance she strikes between realism and the very painful consquences of greed and violence, the humour of personality and situation, and developing the main characters into people one really cares about. There is always, so far, children in these stories, resourceful, independent and more or less neglected; always providing important clues to the puzzle. Also, I think she may have used herself as a minor character in this one.

“Prima Belladonna”, by J G Ballard

I can´t remember now why I bought J G Ballard´s “The complete Short stories, volume 1”, but I´m sure I had a good reason to. It´s been sitting on the Kindle for ages, and I have always had something I more wanted to read. Now that I have so little time, I find that short stories are a good thing, I can finish one in a couple of nights, and I decided earlier in the week to start with “Prima Belladonna”, which is the first story. I think now it was kind of odd; in the good ol´ 80´s I used to read quite a lot of short stories, sci-fi mostly, and I´d always read the shortest ones first, then the ones with the intriguing titles. Wouldn´t it have been more interesting to start with “Manhole 69” or “Chronopolis”? Or “The overloaded man”?

20151003_115853Anyway, this story is about a guy who has a shop where he sells singing flowers. Yes, odd. Not sure what is going on here, but on a normal morning he “was in the shop tuning up a Khan-Arachnid orchid with the UV lamp […] a difficult bloom, with a normal full range of twenty-four octaves, but unless it got a lot of exercise it tended to relapse into neurotic minor-key transpositions which were the devil to break.” Right.

Guy meets girl, with “a good deal of mutant in her, because she had a rich patina-golden skin and what looked like insects for eyes, but that didn´t bother either myself or any of my friends“. She is a singer, and it looks like she is actually more into the Arachnid than she is into the guy, and in the end, well, perhaps I shouldn´t spoil it for you. I´m not sure what happens, anyway.

According to Wikipedia, Ballard is a sci-fi writer, but thinking more about it, I do believe I bought the book on the merits of “Empire of the Sun”, which was filmed by Spielberg with a very young Christian Bale in the lead. I adore that film and have seen it several times. Now I wonder if the book is anything like it.

I´m not sure about this story, and I´m certainly going to continue reading Ballard, though perhaps not this minute. There are 40 or so stories in this collection, which may last me a while. Interesting, is what I´d like to say. Very interesting.