Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Watery Part of the World - Michael Parker

Here's an odd one.  My, I found it difficult to read - it hops about in time a bit, and whilst I usually enjoy that kind of novel, this one took some sticking to; and to be honest, at first  I only wanted to read it because it is set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and having been there on holiday a few years ago, this one captured my interest.

But read it I did, and found it rather unsettling, but also haunting and beautiful.  The book starts with the shipwreck and survival of Theodosia Burr, daughter of a former US vice president, Aaron Burr.  She is on her way to meet him in New York when the ship is taken by pirates, and she is the only person left alive. She's eventually rescued by someone in the pay of the pirate captain, Daniels, who's land HQ is at Nags Head on the Outer Banks.  Her rescuer eventually frees her from Daniels, and takes her, secretly, to a small island further down the Banks.  There they live for some years, eventually becoming lovers, she bearing him several children.  That's the historic part of the book.

In the present, two sisters, descendants of Theodosia are the last two white people on the same island, together with a black couple, who they have known all their lives.  How eventually they are all gone from the island is really the entire heart of the book.

I said at the beginning that I found it difficult to read.  Well, I had to concentrate a little more than usual, although that didn't make it a bad read.  Not at all, it was certainly worth the time spent.  You can use Google Earth to look at this part of the world - and if you type in Nags Head Outer Banks North Carolina you will find yourself looking at the Outer Banks, and you will understand the title of the book.  Scroll down a little until you find Morehead, on the mainland, and between those two points the book is set.

By the way, Aaron Burr existed.  His daughter Theodosia also, and she was lost at sea (or not, if you choose to stick with the fiction of the book!).

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles

I am a little bit in love with a Russian. Never thought that would happen until I met Count Alexander Rostov. He is the star of this wonderful novel, and from 1922 until the early 1950s, Count Rostov is living in the Hotel Metropole, in the middle of Moscow, under indefinite house arrest, deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by the Bolsheviks.

 In those thirty odd years, he meets two children many years apart and loves them both. He is seduced by a beautiful woman and loves her too. He makes good friends of the Maitre'D and the Chef of the finest restaurant in Moscow, he becomes the head waiter in that restaurant, he is kind, well mannered, and known by all. Visitors to the hotel become friends too, over the years, and his life is rich, even though he has lost almost everything. But he has not, of course lost much at all if you omit the loss of liberty. For in loosing so much, he gains so much more.

A couple of years ago I read Towles' first book, Rules of Civility, which I liked at the time, but now cannot remember a thing about.  This, on the other hand, I am unlikely ever to forget.  I cannot thank  enough the friend who recommended this to me after she had read it.  She said she loved the Count's company, and on the strength of that I acquired this beautiful read, one that will stay with me, There are heroes and villains too, in this book.  you will find little bits of real history inserted into the pages, which, if you are interested makes the tale even better embroidered.  If you are not, it doesn't matter a jot!

Just Imagine.  The life of an aristocrat who somehow was not killed during the Bolshevik revolution which resulted in the death of the last Czar and his family;  imagine going from a life of luxury where you lived for a time in a whole luxurious suite in the Hotel Metropole to a tiny attic room in the same hotel.  Imagine your days, confined but not imprisoned.  How the Count managed this was by realising that possessions are not everything, but friends are.  And by the way, towards the end, a little frisson of excitement makes a perfect ending.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Large Skipper sighted in my garden!

Highslide JS Photo © Peter Eeles

I found one of these little fellas on my washing yesterday in the sunshine, and sent a message to my butterfly expert, "Ian of Weymouth" asking what had I seen?  because if you look closely you will see that the formation of the wings is unusual, sitting on top of each other rather than one below the other.  He sat for about ten minutes at eye level on a white pillowcase - what a joy to be able to observe him.  I went back several times to have another look because ancient as I am, I had never ever seen one before!

So.  He is a Large Skipper, genus Ochlodes, family Hesperiidae 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Thousand Days in Venice - Marlena de Blasi


This is not a guidebook to Venice.  It is a memoir of a woman who fell in love with the city whilst falling in love with a Venetian who spotted her one day in a coffee shop and left her messages to "meet me tomorrow" etc.  The difference here is that she (a non-Italian speaker) was already middle-aged, with a golden career in America, two grown children and a nice home - and he? a non-English speaking bank manager of a small branch, same job for 30 years, no excitement, no family, an apartment he bathed and slept in and no chance of change.

Suddenly, for both of them, there was a chance of a new life, a total change in everything, and for her a change of country too.  He seemed a rather morose man, and certainly full of the Italian trait of knowing that things cannot be changed; if it takes three months to arrange to pay a bill, then it takes three months.  And into his life comes this woman who is desperate to understand this, desperate to make him (and herself) happy, and in reading it, your hope that they will succeed.

The descriptions of places and people made me smile and laugh, and read bits out to the hubs so that I could enjoy them all over again.  The way the smoking civil servant inhaled smoke into her nose as well as her mouth and exhaled just a tiny puff at the end;  the old fruit seller who, in the winter, set a fire in a coal scuttle to keep herself warm, and roasted apples in the embers of that fire, and so many more things.  A delight to read even though I wanted to shake the Italian, who was not only morose but dictatorial.... until I realised that he didn't know what joy was, really, until he met her.