Wednesday 25 September 2013

A Year Of Magical Thinking

I read about 'A Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion over on Brainpickings (in fact their sidebar features a picture of her that feels to me like the epitome of cool understated elegance); it is a memoir of the year following the sudden death of her husband John and her reflections on grief. Back at the beginning of the year I read and reviewed 'A Widow's Story' by Joyce Carol Oates and this one has many strong similarities to it. Both dwell extensively on the feeling that there must be something they could do to rewind time and undo whatever it was that caused this terrible event, or that if they believe hard enough the person will come back. Both have a strong sense of being to blame, that it was some omission or bad decision on their part that led to the death. Joan's grief in the immediate aftermath is somewhat subsumed beneath her daughter's illness, subsequent brain surgery and lengthy recovery, and it is not until nearly the end of the year and she finally receives the autopsy and hospital notes that she becomes preoccupied with the minutiae of the events surrounding the moments of his death. 

"I fretted over a study from Vanderbilt demonstrating that erythromycin quintupled the risk of cardiac arrest if taken in conjunction with common heart medications. I fretted over a study on statins, and the 30 to 40 percent jump in the risk of heart attack for patients who stopped taking them.
As I recall this I realise how open we are to the persistent message that we can avert death.
And to its punitive correlation, the message that if death catches us we have only ourselves to blame." (p.206)

While such memoirs feel as if they could potentially be slightly mawkish this one also avoids it by the utter lack of self-pity. Her daughter's illness forces her to keep going, to rely on others for support and to focus on the outside world. But the book meanders back and forth from her current reality to her history with John and gives an intimate portrait of their relationship. The things she has lost:

"On the flight to LaGuardia I remember thinking that the most beautiful things I had ever seen had all been from airplanes. The way the American west opens up. The way in which, on a polar flight across the Arctic, the islands in the sea give way imperceptibly to lakes on the land. The sea between Greece and Cyprus in the morning. The Alps on the way to Milan. I saw all those things with John.
How could I go back to Paris without him, how could i go back to Milan, Honolulu, Bogota?
I couldn't even go to Boston." (p.181)

"I could not count the number of times during the average day when something would come up and I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response. I read something in the paper that I would normally have read to him. I notice some change in the neighbourhood that would interest him: Ralph Lauren has expanded into more space between Seventy-first and Seventy-second Street, say, or the empty space where the Madison Avenue Bookshop used to be has finally been leased. I recall coming in from Central Park one morning in mid-August with urgent news to report: the deep summer green had faded overnight from the trees, the season is already changing." (p.194)

"We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and the meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself." (p.189)

What makes the book readable and engaging is that it is both a personal story of loss and grief and a reflection on the way these are the things that give life meaning. This account is less visceral than 'A Widow's Story', she hardly mentions her own suffering, but it is there between the lines, more subtly, in  the repetition of things that her husband said, how she traces though her adult life charting the path they took together, references back to events that were significant and the quiet incidental conversations that make up a relationship. 

Thursday 19 September 2013

Eleanor and Park

Lovely, lovely and more lovely. I sat before work today, dawdling over my breakfast, and finished 'Eleanor and Park' by Rainbow Rowell. This is another book that I read about on someone's blog and added to my library request list. It was partly for Creature because the two characters bond over a shared enjoyment of comic books, but once I had read the first couple of chapters I was so taken with it. 

Eleanor appears on the school bus and in a moment of pity Park moves over and gives her a seat; so begins a beautiful friendship, that blossoms into something neither expected. Park is an oddball 'Asian kid' who lives life keeping his head down in the hope that no one will notice him, just on the periphery of the 'back of the bus' gang. Eleanor, with her wild red curls and a somewhat eccentric dress sense, has just been accepted back into the bosom of her family. Her mother is trapped in a horrible abusive relationship with a man who seems to delight in exercising his power over the family, and who had unceremoniously kicked Eleanor out over a year previously. The uneasy peace in the family home is punctuated by drunken screaming rows, tantrums and gunshots. I tried very hard not to judge the mother, having read a long article just recently about how abusive people control and manipulate others, but I did spend a lot of the book angry with her for failing to protect her children. 

Although the story is peppered with friends and family members the focus is on Eleanor and Park, with sections swapping back and forth between their two perspectives on the developing relationship. It is lovely because it is such a wonderful portrayal of teenage insecurities and the knots that people tie themselves in when they like someone but don't want to be vulnerable to the pain of rejection. He begins by lending her comic books when he catches her reading over his shoulder:

"They still didn't talk on the bus, but it had become a less confrontational silence. Almost friendly (but not quite).
Park would have to talk to her today - to tell her that he didn't have anything to give her. He'd overslept, than forgotten to grab the stack of comics he'd set out for her the night before. He hadn't even had time to eat breakfast or brush his teeth, which made him self-conscious, knowing he was going to be sitting so close to her.
But when she got on the bus and handed him yesterday's comics, all Park did was shrug. She looked away. They both looked down.
She was wearing that ugly necktie again. Today it was tied around her wrist. Her arms and wrists were scattered with freckles, layers of them in different shades of gold and pink, even on the back of her hands. Little-boy hands, his mom would call them, with short-short nails and ragged cuticles.
She stared down at the books in her lap. Maybe she thought he was mad at her. He stared at her books, too - covered in ink and Art Nouveau doodles." (p.43)

Then it starts to get very intense and sensual, like when you are attracted to someone you are hyper-aware of them and their physical presence. It is lovely because you can't help but sympathise with them and their predicament. You want to reassure them but the story has presented us with such a vivid picture of both that you understand the tiny baby steps they take towards each other:

"Holding Eleanor's hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete and completely alive.
As soon as he had touched her, he wondered how he'd gone this long without doing it. He rubbed his thumb through her palm and up her fingers, and was aware of her every breath.
Park had held hands with girls before. Girls at Skateland. A girl at the ninth grade dance last year. (They'd kissed while they waited for her dad to pick them up.) He'd even held Tina's hand, back when they 'went' together in the sixth grade.
And always, before, it had been fine. not much different from holding Josh's hand when they were little kids crossing the street. Or holding his grandma's hand when she took him to church. Maybe a little sweatier, a little more awkward.
Or maybe, he thought now, he just didn't recognise all those other girls. The way a computer drive will spit out a disk if it doesn't recognise the formatting.
When he touched Eleanor's hand, he recognised her. He knew." (p.72-3)

And little touches like this, that lets you know that here is a writer who really understand her characters:

"She saw him after seventh hour in a place she'd never seen him before, carrying a microscope down the hall on the third floor. It was at least twice as nice as seeing him somewhere she expected him to be." (p.163-4)

There is an early reference in their English class to 'Romeo and Juliet'. Eleanor is scathing of the idea that they fall in love, but the scene feels like it's being set; we have our two protagonists, from very much opposite sides of the fence, a social gulf rather than a family feud (and he even arrives at her bedroom window at one point). Even though she has to lie to her mother, Park's house becomes a safe space for Eleanor to escape her increasingly unpleasant home life, but you can't help but know that their carefully constructed deception is going to come crashing down around them. She gives us crises, she gives us moments of bliss, she gives us unlikely characters stepping into the breach, she gives us a dramatic rescue ... this book just has it all. Perfect comfort reading for the middle aged and cynical. I loved it.

Throttled by the apron strings

'When we were bad' by Charlotte Mendelson has been a most entertaining, if infuriating, listen. It tells the story of the Rubin family: Claudia the matriarch, a much admired rabbi, Norman her devoted husband, who has been secretly writing a book that will potentially be more successful than his wife's upcoming publication,  and their four adult offspring, Leo, Frances, Simeon and Emily, who can't seem to disentangle themselves from their mothers' apron strings. 

The book opens with Leo's wedding, from which he absconds with his lover, leaving not just the bride in the lurch but his mother in a profound state of flustered embarrassment. It is quite a momentous moment for Leo as everything in his life up to this point appears to have been orchestrated and controlled by his mother. Things nearly fall apart for him and his lady love as she challenges his loyalty to his family by pushing him for a show of commitment. Frances' life meanwhile is a sham of motherhood, not coping with her own new offspring and failing utterly to establish a rapport with her husband's two daughters, and nobody seems to notice until it is all too late. Simeon sits smoking dope in the background, clinging desperately to his teenage rebellion because he can't be bothered to go out into the real world. Emily just flaps around insisting everyone has to rally round and support their mother. While working all the hours god sends, to provide for the needs of her family, Claudia is so wrapped up with her own concerns and achievements that she does not realise what is happening to her family. Though they all live this slightly claustrophobic life, with all four of the children still in their parental home, and there is lots of heartfelt concern for each other, none of them seem able to talk about anything important. They are all keeping secrets from each other and pretending like nothing is going on. None of them are very likeable, being so wrapped up in themselves, but that is part of the appeal of the book. You get to laugh and think smugly to yourself that at least your family is not as dysfunctional as this one. As the plot rushes us madly towards all important the family passover seder and the publication of both Norman and Claudia's books you can see that the shit is about to hit the fan.

It is altogether a beautifully played out family saga, taking us from one person's drama to another, tying them all neatly together with the interrelationships between the four siblings and their parents. Sometimes it takes a crisis to stir things up and force the family to confront their stifled existence and face up to what they really want from life. A good lesson for all of us maybe.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

A mountain of hexipuffs

A heap... a load, a mass, a stack, a mound, an accumulation, a stockpile, an agglomeration? I am searching for an appropriate collective noun for hexipuffs. There are now officially 'a lot'. Two hundred and seventy nine to be precise. I cleaned and tidied the living room this morning and gathered yarn from under the little tables and kept finding hexipuffs in amongst it, and so decided to do an update on the count. There are also sixty three for the 'Baby Beekeeper' project. We have been doing them in fits and starts, abandoning them completely for weeks at a time and then adding a dozen.  
My current favourites have been these, done with something fluffy striped with pink silk.
Thinking about how lovely they felt when creature and I laid them out on the floor I think maybe I've found the right word ... how about a squidginess of hexipuffs?

Sunday 15 September 2013

Dead Dog Poems

The Manchester Literature Festival doesn't officially start until the 7th of October but I volunteered for one of the preview events last night, at Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, where Don Paterson and Paul Muldoon were reading for an audience made up of festival goers and students who had been attending the 3rd British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference. The evening became something of a homage to Seamus Heaney, who died just a fortnight ago and had been scheduled to be reading last night. Both poets read from his work as well as their own and spoke about the influence he had had on them personally and on poetry in general. A gentle touch of self-deprecation was the order of the evening, genuinely presenting Heaney as the master and their own humble offerings as attempts to live up to the example he set. The world of poetry is obviously small and both men had plainly lost a friend. 

I find that I didn't really get around to reviewing Don Paterson's Rain that mum bought for me several years ago, I will try and rectify that soon. He was a lovely reader, very chatty in style and shuffling through his papers as if he were picking his choices spontaneously. He seemed to feel that his style was a little depressing, making several references to his penchant for dead dog poems, but on the whole I found him the more entertaining of the two. I particularly loved when he talked about having 'googled' himself and found the vast array of people determined to destroy his carefully constructed reputation, and he read us a poem which set out all the various criticisms of his poetry that had appeared online. It appears that poetry reviewers can be as pretentious as some poets.
Here he is reading Rain. On watching it again I realise how typical it is of how he read, as if he just happened to be reading a poem and someone came along to listen, not that he is reading to anyone. Every time I go to a poetry reading (and it's been a few now) it remind me how much this is an auditory medium, that listening is a whole other layer of experience over merely reading poetry. 

I confess to knowing nothing of Paul Muldoon, who described himself as a wanderer; having a tendency to wander the stage while reading rather than some kind of poetic style. Neither did I have a pen and paper to write notes so I was only left with an impression that I would need to give his poems more attention in print to appreciate them; several times he reached the end of a poem when I was expecting more so I was left with a feeling of having missed the point. He was much more methodical and had his selection properly scheduled with sheets and books arranged in order for the reading, and I felt a little as if he were hiding behind his mop of grey hair.
This video shows him noticeably more relaxed and humorous.

All in all a great start to this year's events. My first event of the festival proper is Patrick Ness. (Warning, don't go to youtube and start watching poetry videos, it could swallow up the rest of your day.)

Thursday 12 September 2013

New Finnish Grammar

'New Finnish Grammar' by Diego Marani was a random library find, picked for the incredibly unappealing title; it is so unpromising it felt like the author was challenging you to pick it up and read it. (I also came across this interesting article, written by Judith Landry, the translator, about working on this book.) It is only a short novel (yes, not a Finnish grammar) but had taken me quite some time to get through. It is about Finnish though, and the role of language in our sense of identity. 

Set during the Second World War it concerns a man who awakes to find himself on a ship but he has been badly injured and utterly lost his memory, to the point where he does not even know how to talk. He is taken under the wing of Doctor Friari, who writes small parts of this tale, filling in the gaps of the story that Sampo tells. Based on the flimsy evidence of a name in the jacket he was wearing the doctor convinces him he must be finnish and having begun the process of teaching him to speak again he arranges for him to travel back to Finland (the doctor himself is finnish and so thinks he is aiding a compatriot). Once there he is 'adopted' by Olof Koskela, the chaplain at the hospital, who sets about systematically instructing him:

"In Finnish to know is tietaa and tie means road, or way. Because of us Finns knowledge is a road, a path leading us out of the woods, into the sunlight, and the person who knew the way in the olden times was the magician, the shaman who drugged himself with magic mushrooms and could see beyond the woods, beyond the real world. It is of course true that is more than one path to knowledge, indeed there are many. In the Finnish language the noun is hard to lay hands on, hidden as it is behind the endless declensions of its fifteen cases and only rarely caught unawares in the nominative." (p.56)

Along with his struggle with the strange permutations of Finnish the main theme of the book is the war and the ongoing battle for control of Finland between German and Russian forces. The bleakness of the atmosphere only worsened by the finnish winter with it's endless darkness and cold; I love this bit with "fear oozed into the city", the book is full of such lovely watery and icy metaphors:

"Dusk came early at that time of year. The snow was not enough to light up the empty city, barred and bolted as it was, with all the windows dark. the main monuments, caged in by wooden beams, were reminiscent of the catafalques of some forgotten religion. The buildings in the  city centre were empty, the ministries and government offices deserted, having been transferred to underground premises out of town. Although it was not yet at war, Helsinki was a city in a state of siege; the only people in its streets were hurried civilians and drunken soldiers. Fear oozed into the city from the frozen bay, lapping at the streets and squares. Death entered it with the trainloads of refugees, and spread throughout the smoke-filled lairs where the few remaining inhabitants had taken refuge." (p.60)

Sampo tries to absorb a sense of 'finnishness', he is trying to establish a new identity for himself and create a sense of belonging by re-learning his language. But it is not like simply learning a foreign language, it is more like a child, making sense of the whole idea of language, spoken words themselves are alien to him. In a way the author is trying to make the reader think more abstractly about words, why they are, why grammar happens and what purpose it serves, how language imparts meaning. When you learn to speak as a baby all these ideas are irrelevant, but for Sampo they are part of what he is trying to understand. His sense of isolation and loneliness are tempered by sitting with soldiers in the bars and singing along with patriotic songs, getting a sense of emotion from them even when he cannot understand the words themselves:

"I copies out the words of the Porilaisten marssi, barely understanding them, as though they were the ingredients of some secret spell, and now they struck me as more magical than ever. Of all the words I'd written in that notebook, it was the ones that had made the soldiers cry that most intrigued me. That they had to do with war was plain as a pikestaff. Some of them were quite long, full of repeated vowels, with umlauts like helmets and aitches like slung arms. Others, much shorter, chopped off by apostrophes, seemed to be waving their stumps in the direction of the empty line. Certain capital letters referred to places where famous battles had taken place, although I could not recognise them. I saw the word for flag, and it did indeed seem to flutter, making a snapping sound as it left one's lips." (p.84)

He forges a friendship with a young nurse, Ilma, but his feeling of dislocation is so overwhelming he does not trust himself to become attached to her. She is the only person who seems to understand what is missing for him, but she, like the chaplain, tries to get him to focus on the present and the future rather than the past. The war separates them and although she writes letters he is unable to answer her, as if the langauge he has learned is still so alien it is inadequate for expressing his feelings:

"For me, my childhood is an old photo I always carry with me, just a close-up of when I was a gap-toothed ten-year-old little girl. But the dress I'm wearing in that faded photograph, the rather hazy background with our big old country house, they are a mine of memories that leap out to greet me every time I look at it. I understand how painful such a lack of memories must be, how awful it must be to have nothing but emptiness behind you." (p.117)

In the end there is Doctor Friari's comment about all he had achieved in his struggle to learn Finnish, it kind of sums the problem up, that it could not become part of him or give him any sense of identity, because as it turns out it was never his language:

"All in all, it might indeed be said that that man had learned, or perhaps constructed his own personal version of the Finnish language, a language all his own, handworked and roughly cut, where each word needed correcting, filing down, before it could come into complete possession of its meaning." (p.160)

Sampo is something of a blank slate, you have sympathy for him and his plight, and his steely determination to forge something for himself is quite admirable, but he remains an enigma. In the end his hopeless situation is swallowed up by the far greater one of history, which has the casting vote on how things turn out for everyone. A book with much to say about the importance of language to human identity. Along the way I learned a bit of Finnish history, folklore and a bit about grammar, but I'm pretty sure that learning Finnish is not something I plan to tackle in the near future.

"Language's prescriptive baggage comes into being less to facilitate its comprehension, than to prevent foreigner's access to it. Each language barricades itself behind the hard won knowledge of its grammar, like a secret sect behind its mumbo jumbo. But language is not a religion in which one can believe or not believe. Language is a natural phenomenon, peculiar to all humanity. Humanity stupidly divided it up into a plurality of grammars, each claiming to be the 'right' one, to reflect the clarity of thought of a whole people. Thus each people learns the rules of its own grammar, deluding itself that it is these same rules that will resolve life's mysteries." (p.131)

Saturday 7 September 2013

It must be jelly

The blackberry season is upon us once again, and it is another bumper crop this year. The entire length of the Fallowfield Loop from St Werburgh's Road tram stop to Wellington Road is lined with brambles, and, although I have a freezer full already, Julie, Creature, the Babe and I all went out picking on Thursday morning. 
I have never tried making jelly before so decided to try a little experiment. There are lots of recipes online, only Delia was suggesting you cook the fruit and the sugar together before straining the mixtures, so I went with tradition. The basic method is cook your blackberries and chopped apples together, about half an hour until completely pulpy. The apples don't need to be peeled as you are removing the fruit pulp. I used 3lb of blackberries and 4 apples (picked up from the lawn). Some recipes added water, mine had a bit from having been recently washed but that was all (The second batch I added half a pint, so we will wait and see whether it sets as well). Then strain the mixture (no particular need to wait for it to go cold) either in a jelly bag, or whatever you have to hand really; this is an old muslin cloth left over from the baby years. I tied it up and suspended it from the kitchen cabinet door handle and left it to drip overnight.
The other advice is *not* to squeeze the bag to get extra juice out. Bugger that for a lark, what a waste, and anyway we're not entering any village fete competitions. So we ended up with two pints. Add 1lb of sugar for each pint of juice and bring gently to the boil. Boil for 15-20 minutes, then test for the set (put a spoonful on a chilled plate and push your finger through it, you should get a crinkly skin on the surface.)
Here is Creature helping out with the jelly making .... oh darn, I missed again.
It was quite a lot of work to only get four jars, but it is very yummy. I have a second batch of fruit dripping as I write. 
Update 8/9/13 - I noticed on last year's jam post I had a picture of my new Doc Martens, and so I decided I would add an annual update on how they are standing up to the ravages of time. I did give them a bit of a polish before the photo but you can see that they are pretty much unchanged, some creasing of the leather but as yet unscuffed, and they have been worn consistently the entire year.
 The soles have fared equally well and are showing very little sign of wear. 

Thursday 5 September 2013

Darkness falling

Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life' was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction this year and I had been on the library waiting list for it for several months. I'll try, but be aware that this will probably give stuff away about the events of the book, though I think that the premise, that the main character keep dying and starting again, lets you know it's not going to be a straightforward run through someone's life (and actually in the opening scene she shoots Hitler, which gave me all sorts of misleading ideas about the plot).

I wonder if it is true that everyone would love a second chance at life, to get right whatever they felt they had done wrong, to change their own history, even if only a little. Sometimes I am not so sure. Ursula seems to get just that, and not just a second chance but chance after chance, for a life after life; each time the darkness falls she finds herself back at the beginning. To begin with it seems to be the vagaries of fate that govern her goings and re-comings; several childhood accidents and three bouts of the flu however see Ursula beginning to get some inkling that her experience is less than ordinary (what, after all, would be the point of a redo if you weren't aware that you could change things). She begins to have weird premonitions of doom that lead her to take some pretty drastic measures to save herself (and little brother Teddy) from the 1918 epidemic. It is almost as if she is old and wise before her time; she finds herself knowing things she shouldn't and experiences it as a kind of déjà vu. Once she has weathered the storms of early childhood life settles down somewhat and trundles on through the teenage years and into the twenties. Her life takes a variety of routes through World War Two, on one occasion she is married to a German and in others battling air raids on the home front.  Maybe it is just a game that every writer likes to play; do you believe in destiny, are things meant to happen a certain way, what if I make my character do this, what if they do that, how might things work out if they had stood up to their mother or simply walked home from the station at a different time. It is a nice balance of her life sometimes being driven by external forces, the accidents for example, or then the war, but at other times it is her own conscious deliberate choices that govern events.

This quote gives a nice flavour of the inter-war years and the slightly chatty style the book takes on sometimes, and yet also hinting at the peculiarities of Ursula's life:

" 'Sweet Sixteen,' Hugh said, kissing her affectionately. 'Happy birthday, little bear. You future's all ahead of you.' Ursula still harboured the feeling that some of her future was also behind her but she had learned not to voice such things. They had gone up to London for afternoon tea at The Berkeley (it was half term), but Pamela had recently twisted her ankle in a hockey match and Sylvie was recovering from an attack of pleurisy that had seen her spend a night in the cottage hospital ('I suspect I have my mother's lungs,' a remark that Teddy found funny every time he thought about it.) And Jimmy was only just over a bout of the tonsillitis he was prone to. 'Going down like flies,' Mrs Glover said, beating butter into sugar for the cake. 'Who's next, I wonder?' " (p.175)

I liked this brief exposition of Sylvie (Ursula's mother); having come across as slightly avant-garde to begin with, breastfeeding her babies and not having a nanny, she becomes gradually more conservative in the face of her daughter who fails to have the correct womanly aspirations:

"Maurice turned up on a Saturday morning, this time with only Howie in tow and no sign of Gilbert, who had been sent down for 'an indiscretion'. When Pamela asked, 'What indiscretion?' Sylvie said that it was the definition of an indiscretion that you didn't speak of it afterwards." (p.184)

Ursula swiftly becomes the victim of an indiscretion which takes her down a particularly unpleasant path and I found myself feeling quite relieved when the darkness fell. It was an interesting example of how small circumstances can contrive to shape everything about the future, and also about the social pressures of the period. 

Big chunks of the book concern World War Two, an era that Atkinson writes about beautifully, the whole atmosphere and sense that life was short and cheap, death becoming a routine part of their daily existence, it almost seems to highlight the fact of Ursula's continued survival. 
A couple of lovely touches, to sum up the petty privations:

"She ate the egg while reading a copy of yesterday's Times, given to her by Mr Hobb in the post room when he had finished with it, a little daily ritual they had acquired. The paper's newly shrunk dimensions made it seem ridiculous somehow, as if the news itself was less important. Although really it was wasn't it?" (p.139)

" 'And, oh, I don't know,' Miss Woolf said quietly to her as she made tea, 'it's just the general sense of dirtiness, as if one will never be clean again, as if poor old London will never be clean again. Everything is so awfully shabby, you know?' " (p.386)

But the focus of the story is her family and their home at Fox Corner, and it is thoughts of that and her quite idyllic childhood that she comes back to at times of need:

"Stroking her damp hair, she talked in a low voice to her about another world. She told her about the bluebells in spring in the woods near Fox Corner, about the flowers that grew in the meadow beyond the copse - flax and larkspur, buttercups, corn poppies, red campion and ox-eye daisies. She told her about the smell of new-mown grass from an English summer lawn, the scent of Sylvie's roses, the sour-sweet taste of the apples in the orchard. She talked of the oak trees in the lane, and the yews in the graveyard and the beech in the garden at Fox Corner. She talked about the foxes, the rabbits, the pheasants, the hares, the cows and the big plough horses. About the sun beaming his friendly rays on the fields of corn and fields of green. the bright song of the blackbird, the lyrical lark and the soft coo of the wood pigeons, the hoot of the owl in the dark. 'Take this,' she said, putting the pill in Frieda's mouth, 'I got it from the chemist, it will help you sleep.' " (p.347)

So, as I mentioned, the book opens with her shooting Hitler, and at another point in the book she finds herself living with Eva at the Berghof, so you are given the impression that there is some kind of 'higher purpose' to Ursula's situation. In a way it reminded me of 11/22/63 where Jake goes back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination, so I was waiting for events to take a more dramatic turn. Does Ursula have a purpose to her re-lived life, something that she is supposed to do? Well, you'll have to read and find out.