The diary of a provincial Lady

 

 

The Diary of a Provincial Lady

 

Title: The Diary of a Provincial Lady

Author: E.M. Delafield

Publisher: Virago Press

ISBN: 978-1-84408-522-4

172 pages.

The unnamed protagonist is a married woman living in the countryside, who recounts the life of the upper class in the years between the wars, in the form of a diary. A rather uncommunicative husband, demanding young children, little household dramas and obnoxious neighbours form her daily routine. But there is no obstacle in life that she can´t overcome with a generous dose of aplomb and brazenness.

The first thing that caught my attention was the beautiful flowery cover. And a few pages in I realised that flowers were something the heroine and myself have in common. To be more precise, a shared incompetence for even the most basic gardening. All the hustle and bustle with the bulbs she is trying to grow, reminded me all too well of my countless attempts to grow anything green. Needless to say, no success. Ever. The differences in lifestyle and social class prevent us from having much more in common. Still, I found myself giggling and nodding in recognition throughout the book.

Delafield crafted a mother-wife-modern woman heroine with a sharp eye for detail and able to produce witty descriptions stripped from romantic elements. Without any aspiration of profound social criticism we are presented with what we could call a diary of manners. However, at times we can find some interesting observations about different subjects. Her disregard towards the house staff wasn´t a surprise in a book of this nature, but still, I found it a bit shocking. Despite maids and cooks struggling to make a decent living, she´s constantly preoccupied about the family’s financial situation.

(Note: Financial situation very low indeed, and must positively take steps to send assortment of old clothes to second-hand dealer for disposal.Am struck by false air of opulence with which I don fur coat, withe gloves, and new shoes – one very painful – and get into the car. Irony of life thus exemplified.)    

Social life and keeping up appearances seems to put her into the most trying, and sometimes mortifying, situations.

(Query: Is not a common hate one of the strongest links in human nature? Answer, most regrettably, in the affirmative.)  

“Am sorry to note that abuse and condemnation of a common acquaintance often constitutes very strong bond of union between otherwise uncongenial spirits.”        

Although she is adamant not to be perceived as a conventional mother, her children are in her mind at all times.

“(Unavoidable Query presents itself here: Would a verdict of Justifiable Homicide delivered against their mother affect future careers of children unfavourably?)”

There is no denying the book feels dated at times,  but the observations on the roles of women are still relevant today.

“Both children take immense interest in story of highly undesirable Person who wins fortune, fame, and beautiful Princess by means of lies, violence, and treachery. Feel sure that this must have disastrous effect on both in years to come.”

“Query, mainly rhetorical: Why are nonprofessional women, if married and with children, so frequently referred to as “leisured”? Answer comes there none.”

I´m pretty sure my mind will go back to it following my next social faux pas. More common ground with Delafield´s heroine.

Have you read The Diary of a Provincial Lady or any novels written in the style of diaries?

I´m off – Jean Echenoz

I´m offTitle: I´m off

Author: Jean Echenoz

Publisher: The Harvill Press

ISBN: 1-86046-810-1

Paperback, 169

I´m off,” Ferrer said, “I´m leaving you. I´m leaving you everything, but      I´m going.

Ferrer, a refined and cultured owner of a Parisian art gallery, leaves his wife on the opening sentence of this story and embarks on a trip to retrieve some Inuit art in the Arctic. Soon after his return, the Arctic pieces are stolen, Ferrer´s health, financial security and personal life start to go down fast.

There are elements of  a thriller but it´s not a nail-biting mystery. It is not a novel about sex despite the protagonist´s crave for casual relationships. There are scenes describing the South of France and Northern Spain but yet is not a road trip story. Ferrer´s life is crumbling but there isn´t self pity or tormented anguish. It offers a satire of the art world but it isn´t an essay on beauty or the futility of art either. What´s important here is the journey, not the destination.

None of the characters are likable, to be honest. Except the rather peculiar narrator. I haven´t very often found a narrator who unashamedly expresses his opinion and found these parts of the book amusing.The female characters of the story are if anything, a little bit clichéd.

Echenoz has crafted a fast-paced novel of intrigue, vanity and amorous affairs and has deftly melted different genres. The language is sharp and witty. I´m glad I finally got my self to read it.

The Lighthouse – Alison Moore

The Lighthouse

Title: The Lighthouse

Author: Alison Moore

Publisher: Salt

ISBN: 978-1-97773-17-4

Paperback, 184.

On the outer deck of a North Sea ferry stands Futh, a middle-aged and newly separated man, on his way to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.

After an inexplicably hostile encounter with a hotel landlord, Futh sets out along the Rhine. As he contemplates an earlier trip to Germany and the things he has done in his life, he does not foresee the potentially devastating consequences of things not done.

When you step into the Lighthouse you are entering someone´s most intimate self. One feels like an indiscreet visitor in the life of the protagonist and we are allowed to slowly wander  through his most treasured memories. As soon as we start reading, we are surrounded by a sensation of sadness and hopelessness that accompanies the reader to the very last page.

As strange as it may seem, Futh is the name chosen for the main character and despite the uniqueness of it, he is portrayed as invisible and insignificant to everyone around him.His life has been deeply scarred by his mother´s decision to leave him behind when he was a young child and that fact will define his entire existence. He obsessively remembers every single detail of the time spent with her, especially her perfume. Scents play a crucial part in this story and I enjoyed the beautiful and meticulous description of them and the memories they stand for.

On the first night of his trip, Futh stays at a hotel and will have a strange encounter with both the landlord and landlady. Two people whose lives are a spiral of frustration and self harm. And once again, there is a scent that acts as a reminder of time past. Whether that past brought any happiness to them is unclear.

Alison Moore has put together an array of characters at the brink of a breakdown and we can guess a fatal ending to their lives.

There is not a Lighthouse for them, no tower to guide them through their lives no matter how adverse the conditions are. The depiction of loneliness and the effect that rejection and abandonment  has on us, is brutal.

This is a  short book, written using a direct language but each of its short chapters weighted heavily on me. It exudes pessimism and dwells upon pain, so much so, that it becomes a bit suffocating at times.

Would I recommend it? There are very interesting concepts in it but you really have to be in the mood for some gloomy reading.

 

 

Monthly Round Up

Not a very prolific month book wise but still I managed to get through 4 books and have a clearer idea on my Reading Europe challenge.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair.A young writer, Marcus Goldman, finds himself involved in the investigation of a crime committed 30 years ago. The main suspect, Harry Quebert, was Marcus´mentor at university and his best friend. The victim, Nola Kellergan, was a young girl of 15 and at the time of her disappearance was having a relationship with Harry, then aged 34.Convinced of his friend´s innocence, Marcus will try his best to clear his name and solve the crime.

La verdad sobre el caso Harry Quebert

Author: Joël Dicker / Publisher: Alfaguara

How not to write a novel. Whether you are planning to write a novel or not, this book is insightful, hilarious and brilliant. It focuses on the 200 most common mistakes that unpublished authors make. The examples provided are as imaginative as they are sarcastic, so if you have a problem with sarcasm you may not enjoy it as much as I did. I loved everything about it, and I think I have already recommended it to every reader I know.

How not to write a novel

Author: Sandra Newman & Howard Mittelmark / Publisher: Penguin Books / ISBN: 978-0-141-03854-4 / Paperback, 258 pages.

Fear and trembling.This short story is the account of a young woman´s experience working for a company in Japan where she endures humiliation after humiliation. Having been written by the so-called l’enfant terrible ‘ des Lettres belges de langue française, I wasn´t expecting to left so indifferent.

Amélie Nothomb

Author: Amélie Nothomb / Publisher: Faber and Faber / ISBN: 978-0-571-23389-2
Paperback, 132 pages

I´m off. Ferrer is the owner of art gallery, who leaves his wife on the opening sentence of the novel. From then, there is a trip to the Arctic, stolen art and fast deterioration in his health, financial situation and amorous affairs. An intriguing fast paced novel of  midlife crisis. A witty portrait of vanity, urban Paris, the unpredictability of life and a satire of the art world.

I´m off

Author: Jean Echenoz / Publisher: The Harvill Press / ISBN: 1-86046-810-1 /
Paperback, 169 pages