Saturday, 29 August 2015

Mrs Mac Suggests: What to read in SEPTEMBER

I was just thinking about depression.  An awful affliction - some of my friends suffer badly.  Then I wondered how many of us dismiss any kind of mental illness because you can't see it?  My parents both worked in a mental hospital (as they used to be called) in the 1950s and 60s, and by osmosis I suppose I found out more about these conditions by listening to my parents' conversations about work.  Anyway, this led me on to something to read in September.....

..... and so I am suggesting that you find a book about mental illness of any kind.

The book that came to my mind is a fiction but based on the real breakdown suffered by the author.  I read this first when I was in my teens, and again in my thirties.... rather old fashioned now (written in the 1940s), and the practices of electric shock treatment and cold water baths are, thank goodness, no longer used.  But that book made me again aware of how mental illness was and still is looked upon, but rather more importantly, how the sufferer feels whilst all this is going on.  The book is still available and is:

The Snake Pit - Mary Jane Ward

Waltzing Through Flaws - Paula Sharp

If you enjoy North American fiction, that isn't about murder or mayhem, but gives you a window onto a parallel world similar, but not the same as Europe, you are like me.  And this book is a glimpse through that window and into the world of the late 1970s, when the  pro-lifers were just beginning to campaign.  I certainly knew nothing about that subject then, although I know a lot more now. So this will give you an idea of how that whole thing took off, and how some people got more tied up in it than perhaps was good for them.

Penny, whose life as an eight/nine year old is described here, has an older fourteen year old sister Mahalia.  Mahalia has met and become enthralled by, a pro-lifer called Isabel, well known in their small town as a church woman who can be relied on to look after children if babysitters are scarce; a woman who always attempts to do the Christian thing and take food to people who are without; who will always tell unmarried mothers to be that abortion is not the only way out.  Heart of gold?  Mmmm - I found her very spooky,  personally, and whilst Mahalia was quickly enthralled, Penny's views were rather like mine.  But she was just someone on the edge of their lives until that Summer when the girls' mother had to admit that she was an alcoholic, and her fiance (she was widowed) and brother were going to take her off for a few weeks to dry out.

Marguerite, the girls' mother, asks Isobel if she will move in whilst the adults are away and take care of the girls.  She agrees, and in a short time Penny's life has changed.  Her sister accompanies Isobel on visits to poor families, she helps distribute anti-abortion literature, and she begins to act like Isobel.  Meanwhile, Penny finds that her mother has been writing regularly, but the letters are withheld as the contents are "not suitable" for the children.

Enough of the story.  Paula Sharp?  Who is she?  What a find!  I had never heard of her before acquiring this excellent read, but would certainly read more if they came across my radar.  She tells a child's story, but not in a childish way, although one that most would recognise.  The book is divided into three sections, each headed by the name of one of the lead characters.  Those sections are divided into chapters and I had no trouble in knowing where I was.  It was a page turner in the way that thrillers are.  A sense of doom lurked somewhere just over the next page, and every time the chattering womens' church group got together, I had to grit my teeth!

A good read.  Worth finding.

Friday, 21 August 2015

My Cleaner - Maggie Gee

This is a book about many things,  but mostly it's about children - how we treat them, how we rear them; and about the clash of cultures, either those of other countries, or indeed, those who are different to you even though they are family.  Vanessa divorced her husband (although she never really let him go - handy for DIY) when her son Justin was small.  But then, of course, she had to work to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.  And she had to write (two fiction, and a series as co-author about Pilates and the like).  This meant that she had to employ a cleaner who was actually fulfilling the dual role of cleaner and Nanny.  She was Mary Tendo.  When Justin was 12, she went back to Uganda and got herself a good job as Linen supervisor in a hotel and got on with her life.
At 22, Justin is obviously suffering from severe depression, not washing, walking about naked, and spending most of his time in bed eating sweets.  Vanessa cannot do anything with him and frankly, she doesn't have time, so when Justin says one day, out of the blue "I want Mary"; it takes a while before she realises what he means.  She can't do anything with him, but his former nanny might be able to.  So she pays for Mary to come back to England to see if she can rouse Justin from his stupor.  She really doesn't understand depression, and as he has an MA he should really pull himself together and get a good job.

So Mary arrives, and the culture clash begins.

Maggie Gee went to Uganda after receiving a commission from the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and then a grant from the Society of Authors helped with further African travel.  At the beginning of the book there is a half page of thanks, well worth reading.  She has given Mary her own voice, and although I have never been to Uganda, and am unlikely to do so, I quickly understood that like every country, it has its own sense of humour, sense of irony, and way of behaving.  I loved Mary, ploughing on regardless because it was important to get Justin better, save the money she was paid by Vanessa for doing so, and get back to Uganda to a nice life  with her lover Charles. There is sadness in everyone's life, Mary has been divorced by her Muslim husband, she has lost her own son, probably.  Vanessa's background is a closed book, for when she left her own village, she left everyone in it behind too.
Mary can be naughty, Vanessa can be spiteful, Jason is a big baby.  But there are reasons for all of this, and as the story progresses, secrets are revealed and questions answered.  Mary's voice is wonderful.  Vanessa wants a good slap, and Jason?  Well..... there is a reason for Jason's depression.  All will be revealed as you read on.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tommy's War - The Diaries of a wartime nobody - Thomas Livingstone

Guest Review by Mr Mac 

Mrs Mac bought this book for me, as she did many of the others I have on my shelves ready to read.  This one was special, because I am a Glaswegian, and so was Thomas Livingstone, the "Tommy" of the title.  Although written long before I was born, there are many similarities in the way Tommy lived, and the way I was brought up.  His descriptions of tenement living are so similar to my memories that it all came alive for me.  Tommy’s health kept him from call-up to the front, so his job as a shipping clerk made him party to information that the general public had no knowledge of.

In a more priviledged position job-wise than manual workers at that time, it afforded him a slightly bigger and nicer apartment in his tenement block.  Considering the conditions of those tenement dwellers at that time - with washing, drying, cooking, and a coal fire for heat all mostly in one room, ill-health was rife, and Tommy and his little family did well to have a good space for themselves.

Tommy and his wife Agnes and son (wee Tommy) come alive in the pages of the diaries not least because he illustrated his pages with little sketches about his family and the war going on outside.  His style is short but sweet  - the entry for Thursday 8 November 1917 is a perfect example of home and war news in a few words!:

     Agnes doing a lot of knitting this weather.  Italy still advancing backwards.

Considering that these 20 or so diaries with their charming little coloured illustrations were put into a sale and purchased for £300, we are lucky to have them.  I found  this a great picture of how the city functioned and the people lived during WW1.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy - Rachel Joyce

Product Details

A couple of years ago I read and enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the story of a man who when hearing that a former work colleague was dying in a hospice in the north east of England, decided to walk the whole way to see her.  Rachel Joyce says she didn't mean to write another book about Harold, or indeed a book about Queenie Hennessy, but somehow the book came to her fully formed and it had to be done.

Queenie Hennessy is a woman with a past.  Whenever there has been a problem, she has simply up sticks and run.  And when she is forty, she finds herself in Devon, working at a brewery, and in love with a shabby man who dresses in fawn/beige and is not an exciting man at all.  And she can't tell him for fear of hurting him, his wife, his son. When a tragedy strikes Harold Fry's family, Queenie runs again.  She takes a train all the way to Newcastle and eventually finds herself living in a beach side wooden bungalow, with a sea garden.... until she finds a lump in her jaw. We meet her just after she has sent the first letter to Harold - the letter that urged him to make his marathon walk in the earlier book.  She's now in a hospice, for the lump was serious and now her life is nearing it's end.  Harold has answered her letter with a short note - "wait for me", and she is trying to do just that.

But there are things that happened a long time ago in Devon that affected her, Harold, and Harold's son David and she must tell Harold all of this.  She cannot be sure she will be alive when Harold eventually arrives...... and in any case the cancer proved so aggressive that she really cannot speak to make herself understood.  So when a nun with a typewriter offers to transcribe Queenie's shorthand notes into a letter for Harold, it's the answer to a prayer.

It seems so simple, doesn't it?  A dying woman telling another woman about her life.  But it is so wonderfully written, with other larger than life characters in the hospice sharing her (and their) last journey.  It is a "couldn't put it down book".  It is a book that left me smiling with a tear in my eye.  I think for anyone who loves a tale well told, and who has not read this or Harold Fry.... the two together would make a wonderful gift.  Rachel Joyce has the skill to observe and relate the whims of complex human nature so well, and with seeming little effort.   And, dare I say this? this is a better book than Harold Fry, although I loved them both.

Don't read the last page, please, until you get there.  And do read Rachel Joyce's letter to you, the reader, when you have finished the book. 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

You know what a CEO* is, right?

Today we booked our car in for a clean and valet.  I firmly believe in paying for good service if you can afford to do that, for you're keeping someone in a job.  The young man who came out with the diary found that they had a space at 12.30 on Friday next, and we booked that.  He took our phone number and name, and confirmed that we were having the "number 3" valet.  And then he added....."sadly, it will not be me that does the job on Friday.  Freda, our CEO will be valetting your car".

As this little business is a two man band, forgive us for smiling all the way home in the car!

*CEO - Chief Executive Officer (well, you can't blame them for looking to better things, can you?!!)

Monday, 10 August 2015

Zeitoun - Dave Eggers

Today I am going to say very little about a book that shook me up.  I am going to add a link to another blog where the book is reviewed at length, and where a follow-up explains what happened to the Zeiton family afterwards.

The book is non-fiction, and tells the story of Zeitoun, a Syrian-American and his family, a businessman living in New Orleans.  It starts with the approach of Hurricane Katrina;  continues with the devastation of parts of the city, and ends with a worrying last chapter, when his wife is obviously going through a breakdown whilst trying to come to terms with what had happened.  I believe that despite what  has happened since, this is a book worth reading.  A book which shows all too simply how society breaks down in an emergency, especially when ordinary people want to do their bit but are not always able, and especially when a uniform suddenly makes you a god who must be obeyed.

If you can bear it, read it, please - but do go to this blog and read the review and the afterwards.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Bed and Breakfast Tales - 6

We had two girls for the night; on holiday around the UK all the way from Texas and South Carolina.  Just the one night - but what fun when people want to talk and laugh.  One of them described her mother, who had brought up children of her own, and often fed other members of her family cooking on two microwaves.  I couldn't quite get my head round this at all - no cooker?  family meals?  Yup!  She was so frightened of gas and electricity as cooking mediums that she just used the microwaves.... and her daughter has no idea about cooking at all and so will carry the microwave tradition (and had to Google how to boil water when she left home for college........ yes, honestly).

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Ten O'clock Horses - Laurie Graham

Laurie Graham is a wonderful writer - she sees things most people have forgotten or don't even notice.  This is one of those short novels (300+ pages) that don't have thrills and spills and murder and mayhem, but it does have sex, two deaths, and a wonderfully legubrious painter and decorator Ron.  
Ron, who at only 38, has a wife with thick legs, a home he hates, two daughters; one of whom at 15 may be off the rails already, having been caught "doing it" with a van driver at home in her own bedroom, a mother who never wanted or loved him and a father who isn't as dippy as he first appears.

It's 1962.  Ron wants to speak Italian, wants to be an artist, wants to find out about things, and on Friday night looks forward to a bit of "whatsitsname" when his wife allows him to lift up her nightie and lays like a sack of potatoes until he's finished.  He wants not to be with his wife, and spends most of his time when not at work in his shed, practicing the Italian, teaching himself to draw.  At work every one of the blokes talks about sex.  If they are or if they aren't getting any, or is anyone else getting it and what they would do if they got it.  And Ron is an unhappy bunny.  Until one day, in a posh house, doing some painting and decorating for cash in hand, he meets his younger daughter's dance teacher, and in giving him a rudimentary lesson in the quckstep she becomes his dream woman - especially when she gets him up against the living room wall, and.......  Well.  You'd have to read it to appreciate it.

 I loved this book.  The descriptions of everyday happenings, or even once in a while happenings are superb - like Christmas day where the food is described so well I could see it, and have certainly eaten most of it  when I was growing up.  Again one of those books that made me laugh, and also brought tears to my eyes, and ultimately made me realise that life is what you make it.  Pity Ron can't see that.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

I'm only a little blog.... but I've passed 30,000 "looks"!

Whoopeeeee!  30,000 times somebody or other has taken the time to have a look at my posts.  Not a high figure in the scheme of things especially when I find that some professional bloggers have that kind of viewing figure per month!  But then I don't make money, I don't show you how to convert a couple of IKEA Billy bookcases into some kind of magical built in cupboard for the dining room;  I'm just me, Mrs Mac, pontificating on books I like and hope you will too; the garden;  tales of BandB; and with the occasional rant thrown in ......

Thank you my friends and viewers and here's to the next 30,000 looks!

Early One Morning - Virginia Baily

I was attracted to this novel purely by the cover (as I suppose this is meant to happen!) and it has very little about the contents on the b...