This week 2…

Go me with the creative titles. Anyway, I have been mostly…

Reorganising my study… because I had a make do storage thing that was formerly a vegetable rack but was holding stationery and the printer. All of a sudden I couldn’t bear it any more. I don’t use the printer much (once a week for printing out my Greek homework so I can then decode my tutor’s cryptic comments and try to correct my myriad errors) but it does need to be accessible. I have searched and searched for non-horrible storage units and they are to be found if you want to spend £4,000 on a vintage steamer trunk. Don’t tell me about Argos and Wayfair and Dunelm. I try. I really do. I just can’t. Instead, I have shoved the printer under the armchair, discovered an old wicker basket that is just the right size for printer paper, and a second that now holds all the chargers. I’ve topped off the small pile of wicker baskets with a vase of dried lavender.

Reorganising my kitchen… because simultaneous with being unable to bear my study, I couldn’t bear some of my kitchen storage either. There is a ridiculous narrow cupboard that was wide enough for one bottle of wine but I’ve moved baking trays and cooling racks into it, and my wine rack into the spot previously used by the baking trays and now it all makes much more sense. Bonus points to me because the wine rack was formerly in the study, and now there’s room up there for the floor lamp I will need when it starts to get dark earlier.

Finding a handyman… as we all know by now, I am useless for all practical purposes. This means that the small household fixes start to pile up until I find someone who can do them. And lo! I have found someone to change my wall lights, fix the oven door, fix the light behind the mirror in the bathroom and lay new flooring in the dressing room. Also, he gave exactly the advice I wanted about my fridge, which was to get rid of it.

Still re-reading… because I’m still waiting for that Ava Lee book to arrive. I read The Lark, by E. Nesbitt, which has reminded me that I should explore more of her adult novels. And I re-read The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert Parker, which has reminded me to put more effort into finding the rest of the Spenser novels. But it’s a bit like constantly snacking and I need a proper, mental three-course meal. Oh gods, is it time to try Proust again?

This week…

I have been mostly:

Finding out… more about being INTJ. I’ve done various personality type questionnaires for employers over the years and I am officially: INTJ, High Red, or Blue depending on which methodology you prefer. They mostly all amount to the same thing but because lockdown has surprised even me with my near total lack of need for face to face engagement with Other People, I’ve been digging into the introvert stuff a bit more. So, yeah. All of it. This is totally helping me understand why some people claim to be introverts and then, after a mere day or two of their own company, are galloping off to be sociable. Amateurs. It’s also helping me understand why I feel like it’s so rare I meet people who are like me, and that’s because INTJ women are around 0.5% of the world’s population and therefore 99.5% of the world is fucking weird. Well, that’s how I read it.

Listening to… Junkyard Dogs by Craig Johnson. Which is Book 4 in the Walt Longmire series. I have the impression it’s a bit of a disjointed narrative, but that’s down to me listening to it before I go to sleep and missing bits. I’m getting slightly impatient with Walt’s lack of communication with Vick, but hey, if Evanovich can spin out the Steph/Ranger thing over a gazillion books in which he mostly rocks up and just says ‘Babe’, anything is possible.

Eating… randomly. I hate the grocery store and only shop every 2 weeks, so supplies were running low. I totally ran out of chocolate biscuits, for example, and had to cold turkey through the 9.30-10.30 biscuit slot in my working day. But I made stuffed peppers last night and have leftovers tonight, and then later I’m making blueberry cinnamon breakfasty things.

Watching… Fred Astaire movies. The BBC has a few available, and I’ve been watching them in bits at lunchtime. Every, single line is perfect when he dances and it makes me realise that even the professionals on Strictly can’t get close.

Reading… don’t remember. Anything? The problem is that I re-read my Ava Lee novels (Ian Hamilton) last weekend, then ordered the next two, but the fourth one has arrived before the third. And the next Ava Lee is what I want to read, so I’m just waiting. If you don’t know, Ava Lee is a Chinese-Canadian accountant who specialises in getting back vast amounts of people’s lost money, usually when it’s been lost in some kind of dodgy way. She is smart and pragmatically kick ass. Oh yes, I remember, I finished The Left Hand of Darkness, LeGuin is a genius, end of discussion. And I dipped into The Mabinogi (beautifully done by Faber poetry) and also into the second vol of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen trilogy for a bit of night time re-reading.

Wishing… that I did all my laundry when it was still sunny. Did I forget what country I live in? Oh, the irony of getting mint and lemonade in my grocery collection in order to make Pimms, when I spent today under a blanket. As it’s currently set to be wet or humid or both for the next 10 days, I dug out the electric dryer again. England at near mid-summer everyone, smelly laundry and wet cats.

Bank Holiday reading

It was such a relief to feel normal again when the migraine finally lifted. Friday I felt as tired as though I was convalescing after a long illness, but I was fully recovered on Saturday.  And so commenced the weekend’s reading.

The Complete Tales of Earthsea – Ursula LeGuin

I bought myself the 1000+ page hardback, with illustrations by Charles Vess and a ribbon marker. I read the whole thing through over Saturday and Sunday and while some was pleasingly familiar, the fifth and sixth volumes were completely new to me. I don’t remember how old I was when I first encountered the trilogy but I’ve always found them dark. The shadow that Ged unleashes when he tries to summon a spirit of the dead, the darkness of the Labyrinth, the misery of Ged and Lebannen’s journey to the Wall and struggle back to life. And yet, I read and re-read them in my teens and again in my 20s when Tehanu was published.

I absolutely didn’t know that LeGuin was doing something new with fantasy when she wrote A Wizard of Earthsea, and I definitely didn’t appreciate Tehanu. Like thousands of other readers, perhaps, I wanted more stories of the heroic mage. This encounter had all the joy of familiarity, but I appreciated the continuation of Tenar’s story and I realised she is the heroine of The Tombs of Atuan. I had thought Ged saved her, but first and then last, she has to save him.

LeGuin wrote what eventually turned into six volumes over the course of 33 years, from 1968 to 2001. It’s a master work of world building, dismantling and rebuilding that also deliberately redefines some of the tropes of fantasy as it goes. I loved reading it and that was 20 or so hours very well spent.

1984 – George Orwell

Why did I do this to myself? Why? But, unsurprisingly, 1984 has come up in conversation a couple of times recently and seemed due a re-read. Ugh. Contemporary parallels oozed unpleasantly off the pages: fabrication of news, doublethink, Newspeak, the existence of a (probably fake) state-sponsored enemy. The Two Minute Hate is just the obverse of a 1 Minute Clap for the NHS or whoever is in favour this week. Don’t forget to dob your neighbours in if they don’t clap!

I was also reminded of one of the narratives in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which I now can’t find on the shelves but in which I’m pretty sure there’s a fake rebel group, created by the government as a focus for any malcontents.

What’s more worrying is that I don’t believe Trump is intelligent enough to pick up any novel and use it like a playbook. But Johnson could, and apparently is, and if you aren’t genuinely scared then you aren’t paying attention.

Red, White and Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston

I needed a mental sorbet after 1984, so I bounced over to this again. And it did the trick nicely. It’s a great romance, the twist being that the eventually happy couple are the first son of the (female) US President and a handsome UK prince. So, not modelled on any of our actual princes.

Invitation to the Waltz – Rosamond Lehmann

Trawling through Backlisted Podcast’s backlist, I found an episode on The Weather in the Streets, also by Rosamond Lehmann. So I listened, and it discussed both books and I was reminded of how after I first encountered Lehmann I gradually tracked down all her novels. Invitation to the Waltz was her second novel and it tells a very simple story of one young girl’s preparation to attend a dance. I’ve never read anything else as good on the awkwardness and misery of attending a social event and it just not working for you.(Which is still my experience of all parties or group events where there are a lot of new people and is why I desperately avoid them.)

Olivia Curtis is 17 on the day with which the book opens, an unfinished, naive girl who is somewhat in the shadow of her more savvy older sister, Kate. Kate has wafted effortlessly through her preparations for the dance, from making herself a beautiful dress to manicuring her nails, and once arrived she is fortuitously introduced to the man she most wants to meet.

Olivia has simply not figured it out. The local dressmaker has botched her dress so it’s badly cut and ill-fitting, and various unfortunate partners are found for her so that she at least gets a few dances. She suffers a series of difficult conversations, because she has no idea what to say and isn’t pretty enough to be charmingly gauche. Her only positive interaction is when she escapes onto the terrace and meets Rollo Spencer, glamorous, older son of the house.

It’s not a coming of age story, because Olivia is just starting on that journey. But it’s a beautifully drawn family story, it’s insightful about class distinctions and the relationship between the sisters as well. Lehmann was hugely successful and critically acclaimed in her day: my copy is a US first edition and includes  a review that compares her with Tarkington (clearly still well enough known at the time not to need his full name). This novel is an accomplishment of literary legerdemain.

The Weather in the Streets – Rosamond Lehmann

Which picks up Olivia’s story some 10 years later, by which time she has drifted apart from an unsatisfactory husband. On the train home from London to see her father, who is suffering from pneumonia, she meets Rollo Spencer again. He is married, seemingly unhappily, and they quickly embark on an affair. The books charts the course of that affair, the dark restaurants and borrowed rooms, not-quite-successful weekends away and one bitter occasion when Olivia goes to Rollo’s home.

Of course Rollo maintains that he’s not sleeping with his wife. And, of course, he is, so the affair is fractured when he leaves Olivia in Austria on the pretext that he’s been called home on business. In fact, his wife is pregnant but Olivia doesn’t find that out until what seems to be the definitive break point.

The discussion on Backlisted concluded that Rollo and Olivia are kind to each other, and that Rollo isn’t a cad. They are for the most part, kind to each other. But while the narrative switches from first person to third person for Olivia, it’s always third person for Rollo. Olivia hides nothing from the reader, but Rollo is hiding some of the facts from both Olivia and the reader.  When the revelations come, they cast a different light on stages of the affair and on Rollo’s past and present behaviour, and motivations.

The quote on the cover of my Virago Modern Classic edition is Carmen Callill saying ‘The Weather in the Streets was our Bridget Jones’s Diary‘. I was a big fan of Bridget and maybe the quote serves to make the book seem friendlier, but… no. That is to overstate Bridget Jones and underplay Lehmann.