Penelope Lively’™s Consequences follows the lives of Lorna, her daughter, Molly and her granddaughter, Ruth. I like Penelope Lively’™s style of writing, richly emotional but still taut and concise. Although I think that it is more than a love story I think this quote from the book jacket is not a bad summary:

‘œAn enthralling examination of interweaving love and history, Consequences pinpoints the moments when three women in very different times find love.’

It starts in 1935 when two young people, Lorna and Matt meet quite by chance in St James’™s Park in London. They come from very different backgrounds but are instantly attracted to each other and despite opposition from Lorna’™s parents they get married and move to a cottage in deepest Somerset. As the title indicates the predominant theme of this book is how events follow on from chance meetings and how our lives are changed because of the decisions we make. For some time now I’™ve been interested in the Second World War period and although I wasn’™t alive then it seems to me as though this book captures the atmosphere of that period. There is a nostalgic feel to the settings, looking back to how things were and how the war inevitably changed people’™s lives and expectations.

Lorna and Matt had a daughter, Molly, then the war began and Matt was called up. I won’™t say too much as I don’™t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’™t read it. It’™s full of such quotable extracts, such as this in defining happiness Lorna realises that it is ‘œanother condition, of a different quality, a state of being that lifts you above ordinary existence, that pervades every moment, that confers immunity.’

The future is always the unknown: ‘œ ‘¦ you are always standing on the brink, in a place where you cannot see ahead, there is nothing certain except what lies behind. This should be terrifying, but somehow it is not.’

This message of hope pervades the book despite the tragedies and difficulties that happen. Life continues after the war, and the changes in society are reflected in the attitudes of people towards each other:

‘œThis was a bizarre new society in which class barriers were not broken down but subtly eroded ‘¦ You still placed a person by their voice ‘¦ but other things mattered too. Confidence, efficiency, sang-froid; selfishness, greed, shirking.’

People no longer knew where they were and where they belonged: ‘œThis was a world divided into them and us, with many subtle and significant sub-divisions.’

Molly grew up in this society and having gone through university, took a job as a librarian ‘œbecause someone had left a copy of the Evening Standard in the tube’ advertising the job and she thought why not? Thus setting in motion another train of events. In this section I particularly liked the descriptions of the library and of books (I used to be a librarian). Here are just a few examples:

‘œFiction is one strident lie ‘“ or rather, many competing lies; history is a long narrative of argument and reassessment; travel shouts of self-promotion; biography is just pushing a product. As for autobiography ‘¦’

‘œThat is the function of books: they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation. They take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return.’

‘œThe surface repose of a library is a cynical deception.’

Molly became a confident, determined and self-sufficient character, finding it exhilarating to cope with the challenges in life. For her work is the determining factor, being a wage earner. Molly refused to marry James, Ruth’™s father and Ruth enjoyed the James’™ presence in her life as ‘œa sort of benevolent patron on the fringes of everyday existence.’ For Molly, as she contemplated her life and the consequences of the choices she had made, Ruth’™s ‘œemphatic presence seemed to make sense of chance, of happenstance.’

Ruth was also an independent character, whose marriage to Peter failed and their children alternated between them in their two flats. She reflected:

‘œEvery conception is fortuitous, every birth. That said, Ruth always saw her own existence as perhaps peculiarly accidental, spun from the odd conjunction of two people whose meeting was an unlikely chance. ‘¦ Only now, in mid-life ‘“ for that was where she was, after all ‘“ did she see this background, and her very presence, as a distinctly precarious event. This put you in your place, somehow.’

The book ends with her search the cottage in Somerset where Matt and Lorna lived. I loved the description of her journey to the cottage in such simple and direct language which perfectly conveys the scenery. Once she left the motorways and main roads she was into the countryside lanes:

‘œYou burrowed into this landscape, she saw. The motorways rushed through it, and the A this and the B that, but as soon as you abandoned those dictatorial highways you had slipped off into another sphere. You were in the lanes, you were in narrow tunnels between high hedge banks, routes that also knew quite well what they were about and where they were going but that was their own immemorial business, and you were now in their domain. You went where they went and that was that.’

You feel as though you’™ve travel through time and place in reading this book. Penelope Lively has a website with information about the other books she has written. I thought I’™d read most of them but I see there are some I haven’™t come across. More treasures to find and read!

Oh Yes – another Challenge – Soup’s On!

This Challenge is hosted by Ex Libris (Sharon). It runs from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009. Sharon writes: All you have to do is select six cookbooks to read (enough to give an overview of the book) and make at least one of the recipes. These can be any cookbooks of your choice – brand new ones, old stand-bys that you can’t live (or cook) without, or even heirlooms. You do not have to decide on the cookbooks ahead of time (unless you want to, of course).

I love cooking, that’s my reason for joining this challenge. I’m always buying and looking at cookbooks, and watching TV cookery programmes. I’ve only written a couple of posts on cooking, so this is a great way to write more. I’m not sure yet which books I’ll be writing about between now and the end of March next year but it could be these:

The Ration Book Diet by Mike Brown, Carol Harris and C J Jackson, because I bought it a few months ago, scan read it and thought oh yes I must cook some of these recipes, but haven’t done so yet. It’s full of information about the Second World War years in Britain, photos and cartoons from the Forties as well as beautiful modern photos.

The Good Food magazine 101 Meals For Two. This is a great little book and I’ve made a few of the recipes, but lots more to try out.

How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. She’s one of my favourite TV cooks and I love this book, even though it has no photos.

Great British Menu from the first TV show of that name. Extravagant ingredients, but fantastic food.

After Work, a WHSmith publication. Another favourite book with quick recipes that work.

The Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes. I’ve had this book for years; it’s full of information about cooking with cream, butter, game – trussing and plucking a pheasant, making raised pies, terrines and galantines and preserving food. I haven’t ventured much yet out of this book, but I’d love to have a go.

I’m looking forward to reading all the other reviews!

The Sunday Salon in the Snow

It’s the Sunday Salon in the snow here today. The snow is melting now, but when I woke up this morning my world had turned white. So I’ve put a picture of the view from the window in the header. It’s not a lot of snow, but enough to bother Lucy. She ventured outside and dashed back in.

She was at the top of the steps when I started to take the photo, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch her.

This week I finished reading Consequences – more about that later – and I read The Secret Garden. I’m still reading Eat, Pray, Love. I thought I had to return it to the library because someone else had reserved it but when I took it back they let me renew it.

I’m now reading the Pray section and am really glad that I never decided to go to an Ashram. For some years I too practised Yoga. I was very keen and trained to be a teacher, so I’m very interested in this section of the book. Elizabeth Gilbert certainly had a hard time, adjusting to the ways of the Ashram and struggled with the meditation. The schedule sounds gruelling – the day begins at 3.00am and ends at 9.00pm. There are hours of meditation and contemplation;before breakfast there is an hour of meditation, twenty-minute chanting of the first morning hymn and then the Gurigita, an excerpt from a holy ancient Yogic scripture is chanted. This is 182 verses long in Sanscrit and takes an hour and half to perform. Elizabeth writes

“Over the few weeks that I’ve been here, my feelings about the Gurugita have shifted from simple dislike to solid dread. I’ve started skipping it and doing other things with my morning that I think are much better for my spiritual growth, like writing in my journal or taking a shower, or calling my sister back in Pennsylvania and seeing how her kids are doing.”

This is one of the things I like about this book, she’s down to earth and open about her feelings. It also gives a balanced view. When I taught Yoga I was rather shocked by some people’s ideas and attitudes towards it. I was told by some Christians that by doing the Yoga postures you are worshipping “gods” or “evil spirits”. I like what Elizabeth says:

“While some of these practices tend to look rather Hindu in their derivation, Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism. True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion. You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Mohammad, Budda or Yahweh.”

Another quote:

“Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicate effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over he past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise. Only from that point of even-mindedness will the true nature of the world (and yourself) be revealed to you.”

Later today I’m hoping to read some more of Les Miserables but as I’ve started to read Revelation, C J Sansom’s latest book, I may continue with that. I’d also like to start reading Oliver Twist because I was watching I’d Do Anything last night – the search for Nancy and Oliver for the West End show. I haven’t read this and want to know how Dickens portrayed Nancy.

I don’t think I’ll manage all this but I’m always wanting to read more.

One last photo showing mysterious tracks round the bird feeder on the front lawn.

Not really mysterious – I think it was one of the two wood pigeons who regularly pay a visit.

Read More! Not Today!

Yesterday I thought I’™d write about Consequences by Penelope Lively. Then I had a good idea (not!) ‘“ I’d write it as an expandable post, as I’™ve seen this feature on other blogs. The idea is that you display a small amount of the post at the beginning and then users who want to read the rest of the post can click on a link like “Read More” to see the full text. I looked in Blogger Help and there is an article explaining how to do this.

Well, I can’™t get it to work and I’™ve wasted most of yesterday afternoon, and a big chunk out of today trying to get it to work and it just won’™t. I’™m getting quite frustrated with Blogger. It puts spaces in my posts where I don’™t want them or moves paragraphs together when I want them apart. I write the post in Word first, but inserting photos in the post is a nightmare ‘“ it’™s so difficult to make them go where I want them and then the spacing has gone wild again.

So the Consequence is that there is no post on Consequences today. Maybe another day.

Booking Through Thursday “Lit-Ra-Chur”

Today’s question from Booking Through Thursday is:

When somebody mentions ‘œliterature,’ what’™s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
Do you read ‘œliterature’ (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

The first thing I think of is of course books and reading. I don’™t think of any particular author or period or type of book ‘“ I just think books! A more considered thought is more complex. I may be reminded of school and English Literature lessons. These were a mixture of pain and pleasure. Pain because sometimes I got so bored with analysis of the texts that I came to dislike them, particularly Shakespeare; pleasure because I really loved the stories and the way they were written, I just wanted to read more and more. I suppose that is the measure of ‘œliterature’. I used to hate those questions such as ‘œdefine literature, culture etc, etc’; over-analysis can kill a book.

I also think of a course I took on ‘œLiterature in the Modern World’, which covered the twentieth century before 1990 and considered what comprises the ‘˜canon’™, the novel, poetry and drama and ‘˜literary theory’™. It was Literature in English, not English Literature and opened up a whole new world of reading to me, including Terry Eagleton’™s writings on literary theory. In considering what is meant by ‘˜fine writing’™ he wrote, ‘œValue-judgements would certainly seem to have a lot to do with what is judged literature and what isn’™t ‘¦’. My thoughts are who is making the value-judgement and why should we take any notice anyway? My English teacher at school once told me I should be less sceptical – sorry, I still am.

I have A Dictionary of Literary Terms by Martin Gray (I bought this for the course). This defines literature as

‘œA vague, all-inclusive term for poetry, novels, drama, short stories, prose: anything written, in fact, with an apparently artistic purpose, rather than to merely communicate information; or anything written and examined as if it had an artistic purpose.’™ Literature’™ also an evaluative word: to say that a novel not is ‘˜not literature’™ is to imply that it is badly written, or has for some other reason failed to achieve the status of art.’

We’™re back to the value-judgement again and there is much disagreement over what is accepted as being worthy of being read.

Anyway, I do enjoy reading books by Dickens, Tolstoy, and the rest, just so long as I don’™t have to subject them to minute analysis and literary criticism. I prefer to watch Shakespeare’™s plays rather than read them, in fact I prefer to watch any drama rather than reading a play, because after all they were written to be performed.

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

I read this book way back in January. It’™s the third book on the theme of illusion that I’™ve read. I wrote about the other two The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster here and The Illusionist by Jennifer Johnston here. They’™re all good reads, although quite different books in different styles.

The opening sentences of The Magician’™s Assistant introduce the illusion: ‘œParsifal is dead. That is the end of the story’ – it’™s an illusion, because of course this is only the beginning of the story and Parsifal pervades the book. Parsifal was a magician and Sabine had been his assistant for twenty years. She and Parsifal had been married for less than a year when he died suddenly of an aneurysm, leaving her alone in their large house in Los Angeles, apart from a large white rabbit, called Rabbit, who was retired from the stage as he was too big to be pulled out of a hat. To her surprise she discovered that he wasn’™t who she had believed him to be. He had told her he had left home when he was seventeen and that his family was dead. But his mother Kitty Fetters and sisters, Bertie and Kitty contacted her after his death. They knew he had become a magician as they had seen him on the Johnny Carson Show ‘“ indeed they watched a recording of it most nights, entranced by his fame. They had no idea of his life, that he was gay, or that he had married Sabine. When Kitty and Bertie visit Sabine and invite her back to their home in Alliance, Nebraska, the truth is gradually revealed.

Interspersed with the action are Sabine’™s dream sequences with Phan, Parsifal’™s lover. Sabine thinks of these as contact with Parsifal and Phan and learns about their lives at the same time as during the day she is learning about his past family life. There is an out-of-world feel to these sequences, calming Sabine’™s turmoil and confusion, which I liked. There is a lot in this book about identity, what and who a person actually is; about how the world is in fact illusory; and the importance of family. Sabine’™s family life as the only child of Jewish parents who adore her forms a contrast with Parsifal’™s but even here all is not what it seems.

After Parsifal’™s death Sabine is lost, lonely and inconsolable and it is through Parsifal’™s family and in particular through Kitty his sister, who she sees as a representation of him that she begins to cope with her loss. The scenes in Alliance form a complete contrast to life in LA, where everything seems perfect. None of the Kitty’™s family has had life easy, they all have problems. I found the sequences with Kitty’™s sons some of the most realistic in the book; the two teenagers came to life for me. If I have a criticism of the book it is of the ending. It all seems a bit too tidy, a bit ‘œarranged’. But I did enjoy it ‘“ it’™s a moving story about love, and grief and family.

Also reviewed by Gautami Tripathy at the Reading Room

Reading Notes for April

I’™ve been sorting out my books ‘“ the fiction, that is. I had arranged it an a-z author order, but it had got rather out of hand as I haven’™t got enough bookcases. They are double shelved and because it’™s a bit difficult to get to the back whenever I bought a new book I’™d tried to slot it in to the right place but it had all got higgledy-piggledy. So, I decided to separate the books I haven’™t read yet and put them in a separate bookcase. I really shouldn’™t buy any more books for a while, now I can actually see how many unread books I own. I’m planning to restrict my reading in April to these books – well that’s my aim, but as I really like to read what I want when I want, this could all be changed.

The books listed below are all books that fit into various reading Challenges. For the Celebrate the Author Challenge I’m going to choose a book by Ian Rankin, whose birthday it is on 28 April, ‘“ I have four to choose from:

The Black Book
The Hanging Garden
Resurrection Men
A Good Hanging and Other Stories

For the Chunkster Challenge I’™ve just started to read C J Sansom’™s Revolution. It’™s 546 pages long, so it easily meets the criteria of being 450 pages. I’™ve only had this book a few days, but I’™m bringing it forward over other to-be-read books, as I’™m an avid fan of Sansom’™s books.

For the Heart of the Child Challenge I’™m reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. I still have the copy I had as a child, now yellowing and a bit battered, but still in one piece. In the description at the front of the book the editor writes: ‘œGirls like it most, and between the ages of nine and fourteen ‘“ and, be warned, keep your copy carefully. You will want to go back and read it over and over again.’

I’™m also reading Victor Hugo’™s Les Miserables. I suppose could add this in to the Chunkster Challenge, as it’™s 1200 pages without counting the appendices. There’™s a blog Introducing the Parisian Underworld where we can discuss the book and there’™s no time limit on this!

For the Once Upon a Time Challenge I’d like to get on with reading Dante’™s The Divine Comedy or at least The Descent into Hell.

Then there is Our Longest Days, real diaries from the Second World War period, that I’™m itching to read. I have started that too.

It will be a miracle if I actually stick to any reading plan, but at least these books are all ones I already own. Now if I could stop myself going to the library and borrowing more books that would be good, but yesterday I returned two books and borrowed yet another one ‘“ at least it was only one.