Thursday 31 October 2013

All the world's a stage

Creature and I started reading 'The Rehearsal' by Eleanor Catton when mum first sent it for her several years ago, but then it was abandoned on her bookshelf. I picked it out for the Read-a-thon partly because her most recent offering had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (which it has since won). This is such a clever book because it constantly subverts what the reader thinks they know about the story and the people in it. Scenes are played, but then the people in them appear to 'step out of character' and be someone else, who is merely playing the role. We are following one story, but then are following the people who are telling that story, but then even that telling becomes unreliable, and then, because some of the story takes place in a drama school there are all sorts of other performances being rehearsed and acted out. And then there is this enigmatic saxophone teacher (unnamed) who acts a little like god, watching over the whole performance, trying to extract the 'truth' from some of the main players, but also trying to interfere and influence events and characters. Life is all about playing roles, and we all play different parts depending on the situation and the people we are with. People talk about the idea that you can only be 'the real you' with close friends and we tell our children to 'be themselves' when trying to make friends. The language of pretence and acting is all around us in our daily lives. This book really makes you think about how much of human behaviour is just playing a role. I liked it because nothing was straightforward or quite the way it appeared, that it felt like the reader is being taken for a ride, but you don't really mind because the view is fascinating.

Lots of quotes coming up just to give examples of why it was such an interesting read. Here Isolde and Julia are at a concert with the saxophone teacher, and Isolde is getting a closer look at the girl that the others in her year talk about:

"Her cardigan is buttoned with gold dome buttons and is unravelling slightly at the hem, giving her a careless scholarly look that makes Isolde feel young and clumsy and naive. She is wearing a silver turquoise ring on her ink-stained nail-bitten fingers, and tight-knit fishnet stockings underneath her skirt. Isolde drinks it all in and then feels oddly disappointed, looking at this newer, more complete version of Julia who is a whole person and not just an idea of a person. She feels jealous and excluded and even betrayed, as if Julia has no right to exist beyond Isolde's experience of her." (p.142)

And this one that follows a few pages later, and both of which touch on the idea of self-knowledge, and the individual's perception of reality and how we never know if what we perceive is 'real':

"Isolde thinks how strange it is, that every person in the auditorium is locked in their own private experience of the music, alone with their thoughts, alone with their enjoyment or distaste, and shivering at the vast feeling of intimacy that this solitude affords, already impatient for the interval when they can compare their experience with their neighbour's and discover with relief that they are the same. Am I hearing the same thing they are hearing? Isolde wonders half-heartedly, but she is distracted from pursuing the thought any further, turning her attention instead to watch an elderly woman in the stalls flounder noisily in her handbag for a tissue or mint." (p.144)

The main thrust of the story is about an affair between a male teacher and an older pupil, Isolde's sister Victoria, but partly it uses the idea of sexual experience as some kind of symbolic crossing point from youth into adulthood:

"Isolde hasn't yet learned to drive and Julia's offer makes her feel young and inexperienced and graceless, as if she is being forced to reveal that she can't read or that she is still afraid of the dark. The older girl seems impossibly mature to Isolde, like Victoria's friends always seem impossibly mature, powdered and scented and full of secrets and private laughter, contemptuous of little Issie for all that she does not yet know." (p.150)

There are many conversations between the saxophone teacher and the mother's of her pupils (always the mothers), who want to know something about their daughters that they think she will know, so we have this lovely observation on the nature of how unfathomable teenager are to their parents:

"The saxophone teacher doesn't speak for a moment, just so Mrs De Gregorio feels uncomfortable and wishes she hadn't spoken so freely. Then she says, 'But how can you ever know?' She is more brooding now and less abrupt. 'How can you ever get to the kernel of truth behind it all? You could watch her. But you have to remember there are two kinds of watching: either she will know she is being watched, or she will not. If she knows she is being watched, her behaviour will change under observation until what you are seeing is so utterly transformed it becomes a thing intended only for observation, and all realities are lost. And if she doesn't know she is being watched, what you are seeing is something unprimed, something unfit for performance, something crude and unrefined that you will try and refine yourself: you will try and give it a meaning that it does not inherently possess, and in doing this you will press your daughter into some mould that misunderstands her. So, you see, neither picture is what you might call true. They are distortions.' " (p.153-4)

It is also about the closed world of adolescence, and the power relationships between groups, and the way they all pass judgement on each other's lives and recognise the inequalities between them. I liked this one:

"The repeated validations become their mantra, and soon the richer girls come to believe the things they are compelled by shame to say. They come to believe that their needs are simply keener, more specialised, more urgent than the needs of the girls who queue outside the chippy and tuck the greasy package down their shirt for the walk home. They do not regard themselves as privileged and fortunate. They regard themselves as people whose needs are aptly and deservedly met, and if you were to call them wealthy they would raise their eyebrows and blink, and say, 'Well, it's not like we're starving or anything, but we're definitely not rich.' " (p.233)

Then towards the end the saxophone teacher sums it all up quite neatly for us, after all the trauma and stress and anxiety that the girls and their parents and their teachers go through over the affair and the random death of another girl:

"The saxophone teacher suddenly feels weary. She sits down. 'Mrs Bly,' she says, 'remember that these years of your daughter's life are only the rehearsal for everything that comes after. Remember that it's in her best interests for everything to go wrong. It's in her best interests to slip up now, while she's still safe in the Green Room with the shrouded furniture and the rows of faceless polystyrene heads and the cracked and dusty mirrors and the old newspapers scudding across the floor. Don't wait until she's out in the savage white light of the floods, where everyone can see. Let her practice everything in a safe environment, with a helmet and kneepads and packed lunches, and you at the end of the hall with the door cracked open a dark half-inch in case anyone cries out in the long hours of the night.' " (p.244)

But the last word falls to Julia, who, in an excellent performance, breaks down all the barriers and calls the adults on their small minded hypocrisy. This, I find, has something very theatrical about it, it has the ring of the final speech of Romeo and Juliet where we are warned to learn the lessons of the story; take heed:

" 'We learned that everything in the world divides in two: good and evil, male and female, truth and falsehood, child and adult, pleasure and pain. We learned that the counsellor possessed a map, a map that would make everything make sense. A key. Like in a theatre programme where you have the actors' names on one side and the list of characters on the other - some neat division that divides the illusive from the real. We learned that there is a distinction - between the performance and the performer, the reality and the lie. We learned there is no middle ground.'
Julia surveys her audience.
'Only those who watch,' she says, 'and those who suffer being watched.'
The others don't dare to rustle.
'But the counsellor lied,' Julia says. 'You lied. You lied about the pain of it, the unsimple mess of it, immeasurably more thorny and wrecked and raw than you could ever remember, with the gauze veil of every year that passes settling over your eyes, thicker and thicker until even your own childhood dissolves into the mist.' " (p.309-10)

Friday 25 October 2013

Cabbage strudel recipes

I was promised an "irresistible treat for any woman who reads it" but I'm afraid that Nora Ephron's 'I feel bad about my neck' left me feeling a bit meh. It is a collection of essays that have all previously been published in various magazines and newspapers, gathered together here under the vague subtitle of 'thoughts on being a woman'.  It serves to remind me how far I sometimes am from being a real woman.

The first one did make me laugh because I have mused elsewhere on the subject of how your neck is the part of you that gives your age away, and she does tackle the ageing process with a suitable good humour and distain. But it went downhill from there; handbags leave me cold and the long chapter on 'Maintenance' left me merely bemused. I have never blow-dried my hair, let alone dyed it, had a manicure or pedicure, threaded or otherwise removed facial hair or spent money on miraculous anti-ageing creams. I found the diatribe about cooking boring, but was more understanding of her falling in love with her Manhattan apartment. What I did like was how matter of factly the men in her life arrived and departed, and how the stories were about her as a human being, not her job, or her marriages, nor even about her children, though they are all mentioned in passing. I think the one I did like was 'Rapture', about falling in love with books (in fact many of them are about love in its many and various forms) and the importance of a good sofa:

"I did most of my reading as a child on my bed or on a rattan sofa in the sunroom of the house I grew up in. Here's a strange thing: Whenever i read a book I love, I start to remember all the other books that have sent me into rapture, and I can remember where I was living and the couch I was sitting on when I read them. After college, living in Greenwich Village, I sat on my brand-new wide-wale corduroy couch and read The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, the extraordinary novel that changed my life and the lives of so many other young women in the 1960's. I have the paperback copy I read at the time, and it's dog-eared, epiphany after epiphany marked so that I could easily refer back to them. Does anyone read The Golden Notebook nowadays?" (p.183)

and later, after getting carried away by Smiley's People:
"But meanwhile, my purple couch is lost in the divorce and I buy a new couch, a wonderful squishy thing covered in warm, cozy fabric, with arms you can lie back on and cushions you can sink into, depending on whether you want to read sitting up or lying down." (p.185)

Towards the end a brief piece entitled 'What I wish I'd known' gives a variety of both vague and very specific advice for life; never forget "You can order more than one dessert." The book had been sitting on the arm of the sofa and the library requested it back so I confess I skim read most of it this afternoon; probably a quiet afternoon's light entertainment if that is your kind of thing.

Thursday 24 October 2013

My Name is Asher Lev

'My Name is Asher Lev' by Chaim Potok
Apparently (according to wiki) Chaim Potok's book 'The Chosen' sold 3,400,000 copies. I read it many years ago, probably when in the sixth form and it is one of the few books from that period that left an abiding impression on me. I requested this from the library after reading a review recently. This book was quite hard work to read, stylistically it is very straightforward but it demands that you think about the characters quite a lot and that you work to understand their motivations and intentions. It is a book about relationships and principles; the story of Asher's growing up is, to some extent, merely a vehicle to examine the ideas that drive the relationships. 

Told in the first person the story follows Asher through his childhood, a rather lonely one I felt, though he never expresses it as such, when he discovers a passion for drawing, through the deep depression and eventual recovery of his mother, through a rift with his father over his desire to paint and a long uneasy peace when he rejects his father's authority in favour of a mentor, Jacob Kahn. Having recently done a MOOC on social psychology it was interesting to find that the main characters are all suffering from cognitive dissonance; they hold two beliefs that are in conflict with each other. Asher wants to be a good son, he wants to be a good Jew, but he also wants to be an artist, not just 'wants', is driven to be, which is completely at odds with the other wants. His father is a devout orthodox Hasidic Jew who wants to be a good father, who loves his son, but his traditions dictate that certain things are not permitted, one of which is his son's obsession with art and painting. It is the father's inability to reconcile his faith with his love for his son that creates the conflict within the story. Eventually the Rebbe intercedes on Asher's behalf and arranges for him to work with Jacob Kahn, and because of his respect for the Rebbe Asher's father agrees. I found myself liking the Rebbe; he has a position of respect and authority over the community, people defer to him in decisions, even significant ones about their lives. At times I found very strange, but he has the element of being removed and somewhat objective, and he is benevolent and wise and humane and does not abuse the trust placed in him. Part of the conflict is also about the conflict of attitude; whether the individual is more significant than the community, how the needs of the many might outweigh the rights of a person to decide their own destiny. It is a very difficult thing to grasp when your society is based on the cult of the individual and the right to decide the course of your own life, the idea that another person might know better is alien, and yet for this community the Rebbe is considered to know better, to be in a position to make a choice for you: Asher's mother wants to go to university to study and continue the work of her brother, but she will not do so without the agreement of the Rebbe. And so Asher grows up, he tries to study hard at school to keep his father happy, but is often distracted by drawing, spending long hours at the museums and art galleries and making his mother anxious by his absences. He grows, he studies, he paints, he and his father regard each other across a gulf of misunderstanding. Jacob Kahn and his agent provide Asher with a route into the art world but mostly he teaches himself by studying great works of art and drawing, drawing, drawing. His parents go to live and work in Europe and he goes to live with an uncle who allows him the freedom to paint without feeling he is betraying anyone. Nothing much happens for large chunks of the book except there remains this brooding cloud hanging over the father/son relationship. You hope that with success will come reconciliation, and there is a hint of pride, but when Asher paints the pain and suffering of his family the final betrayal is a step too far.

What I loved about the story: the relationship between Asher and Reb Krinsky, a man who arrives in their community from Russia and who befriends Asher. The relationship between Asher and Jacob Kahn, a true meeting of talents, and he gives help and support unstintingly, without jealousy, recognising what they share in their passion for art rather than begrudging his youth and prodigy status. I loved Asher because he accept the conflict he is living with, accepts the talent that drives him to paint but does not reject his faith or his traditions, he somehow finds a way to accommodate them.  
What I did not love about the story: the character of Asher's mother. It seems almost clichéd that this kind of male writer writes women like this. She is frail and delicate, and beautiful, idolised by her son and a representative of what are proper feminine qualities. While her husband works and acts because he believes it is the right thing to do for his faith and his community she works and acts in response to his work and actions, to support him, not as an agent in her own right. She stands between her husband and her son trying not to take sides in their conflict, suffering for each of them while they deal with their anger and resentment. She is a there as a foil for her husband and son; the image, repeated throughout the book, of her waiting at the window for either of them to come home is somehow symbolic of the story. The 'Brooklyn Crucifixion' that Asher paints, based on his mother at the window, sums up the story in one image. Potok says that Asher is the character he most identifies with and was himself a painter as well as a writer, and he created for real a painting of how he imagined the crucifixion painting might have looked. 
(picture credit Chaim Potok website)

Getting Lost

'A Field Guide to Getting Lost' by Rebecca Solnit was a most peculiar book, another one I think from the stable of Brainpickings. It said lots of interesting things, I have a whole list of quotes to give you, and yet it didn't say very much at all as a conclusion, I am just left feeling 'what the hell was that supposed to be about'. It is, as it says in the title, about lostness and belonging, and how pervasive the one is and how elusive the other. Maybe if I launch into the quotes it will come back to me why I persisted with reading.

On walking at the Great Salt Lake when the water level dropped:

"I walked across ground that was sometimes ribbed sand, sometimes smooth, that sometimes caved in underfoot, as though there were pockets of air underneath, that sometimes squelched so that my footprints were surrounded by paler sand where the water had been pressed away by my weight. With that long line of footprints unfurling behind me, I couldn't get literally lost but I lost track of time, becoming lost in that other way that isn't about dislocation but about the immersion where everything else falls away." (p.35-6)

This links tenuously to the next:
"the word 'track' in Tibetan: shul, a mark that remains after that which made it has passed by - a footprint, for example. In other contexts, shul is used to describe the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All of these are shul: the impression of something that used to be there. A path is a shul because it is an impression in the ground left by the regular tread of feet, which has kept it clear of obstructions and maintained it for the use of others. As a shul, emptiness can be compared to impression of something that used to be there. In this case, such an impression is formed by the indentations, hollows, marks and scars left by the turbulence of selfish cravings." (p.50-51)

Interesting snippets and family stories meander, seemingly aimlessly, through chapters, interspersed with her own travels and vague philosophical musings. Here she visits an aunt shortly before her death:
"The river we had been flowing flowed into the sea, becoming broad and tranquil at its mouth, and the afternoon light lit it to silver, the same silver of the sea. I looked and two things that had been stories seemed fact at that moment: the belief of many coastal tribes that the souls of the dead go west over the sea, and the description of death as the point at which the river enters the sea. I had driven my aunt to her death, or as it seemed in that luminousness, still like the moment after a peal of thunder, both of us to meet death. The forest we had come from seemed darker in this cool blaze of water and light, and we had entered the colourless, radiant landscape of death. charged with something as vital as life, too majestic to be terrifying, transfigured into another world." (p.61)

Occasionally she seems to capture for me something subtle about the human condition and just drop it randomly into the book:
"Even in the everyday world of the present, an anxiety to survive manifests itself in cars and clothes for far more rugged occasions than those at hand, as though to express some sense of the toughness of things and of readiness to face them. But the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There, what's called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next." 
And this, about the nature of adulthood:
"I had been on my own since I turned seventeen, and that early independence made me old: I was never sure anyone would pick up the pieces if I fell apart, and I thought of consequences. The young live absolutely in the present, but a present of drama and recklessness, of acting on urges and running with the pack. They bring the fearlessness of children to acts with adult consequences, and when something goes wrong they experience the shame or the pain as an eternal present too. Adulthood is made up of a prudent anticipation and a philosophical memory that makes you navigate more slowly and steadily." (p.108-9)

But really it was the lovely almost poetic turns of phrase that made the book so readable:
"Once I loved a man who was a lot like the desert, and before that I loved the desert. It wan't particular things but the space between them, that abundance of absence, that is the desert's invitation. There the geology that underlies lusher landscapes is exposed to the eye, and this gives it a skeletal elegance, just as it's harsh conditions - the vast distances between water, the many dangers, the extremes of heat and cold - keep you in mind of your mortality.
With other men you get to know their families, with this unhurried man who seemed like a desert hermit, animals seemed to fill that place, and they were always around his home. Solitude in the city is about the lack of other people or rather their distance beyond a door or wall, but in remote places it isn't an absence but the presence of something else, a kind of humming silence in which solitude seems as natural to your species as to any other, words strange rocks you may or many not turn over." (p.129-131)

Sorry if the review is a bit vague, it is not easy to pin down the essence of the book. In an era that seems obsessed with 'finding yourself' it is quite refreshing to encounter someone relishing the notion of 'lost', not fighting but embracing. Solnit trawls through cultures and history to find for the reader stories about lostness and intermingles them very effectively with her own stories, thoroughly engaging and thought provoking. 

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Wuthering Heights and all that

October is nearly over, the Read-a-thon has come and gone, the Literature Festival has come and gone, and NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us. I went to a lot of interesting events during the literature festival but Catherine O'Flynn's event at Waterstones on Saturday was my favourite; I reviewed her first novel 'What Was Lost' back in 2009 and treated myself to a signed copy of her new book 'Mr Lynch's Holiday'. She was a lovely unassuming woman who made you feel that ordinary people are capable of good writing and you don't have to be some kind of driven 'creative' type to make a living at it.

I didn't strictly finish 'Wuthering Heights' during the read-a-thon, I read the last few pages after I got back from an afternoon festival event. I am not sure what to write about a book that has no doubt been analysed to death. It was not what I expected, though I don't know what I did expect. It was gripping in the way that only really nasty characters can make a book; it was following a litany of people who's only pleasure in life was the manipulation and control of others. I did like the way that the tale is related by a servant, so you get a very particular view of the characters, because of course she was close and intimate with their lives in some ways and yet kept at a remove in others. Because of course it is partly about social boundaries, like the one that divided Cathy and Heathcliff, although I felt it was less a commentary on the position of women than Austen manages. I liked it much better than Jane Austen because the emotions are more real and there is less of the tedious formal politeness that blights the lives in Pride and Prejudice. I pulled out this one quote, just because it encapsulated for me the whole thing about their relationship. I definitely did not find Heathcliff very loveable or romantic but it helps you appreciate what he meant to Cathy:

"I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries, and I have watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary." (p.81)

I have been doing various bits and pieces. This is a pattern called Corinna which I have been working on for a while out of some lambswool/silk from Kingcraig fabrics. It is sort of a replacement for my lovely yellow cable jumper that I managed to shrink just very slightly, enough to make it less of a pleasure to wear ... such is life.

And here is the cowl I knitted with some homespun yarn for my sister Claire's birthday, knit to this nice simple pattern. I was a bit iffy about the whole idea of a cowl but I really liked it once I had made it so might very well do another for myself; all the benefits of a scarf but none of the bother of the dangly bits getting in the way.
When we were at HESFES I bought this quilted jacket. The peachy colour did not really appeal so I transformed it with a dark red dye:
And finally just a quickie of Creature's birthday cake; she didn't want to be photographed with it as usual, but Tish and I were quite proud of our efforts here.

Sunday 13 October 2013

Shark bait

It is nearly 4am and we have both had a brief nap to ward off the droopy eyelids. We have been watched over by Bruce, Tish's remote control shark, who lurks in the dark corners of the living room, stalking unsuspecting visitors.
I am up to my fourth cup of tea:
Having taken a break from  'Wuthering Heights' I am up to page 134 of Eleanor Catton's 'The Rehearsal' and Creature has nearly finished 'Hitchhiker's Guide' and is about to discover the meaning of life.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Starburst balancing for beginners

The October Read-a-thon started at 1pm and it is gone 10pm and we don't really feel like we have read very much. It has been a long day and both Creaure and I had a little doze in the first hour of reading and then had to pop to the shop for snacks as we had not been very organised in advance, so all in all it's been a slow start. I have read 123 pages of 'Wuthering Heights' and Creature is on page 107 of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', plus a few chapters of 'The Hobbit' while making the lemon cake.

I had never noticed but Starburst wrappers have silly suggestions printed on them, one of which is 'balance a starburst on each of your fingers' ... it's surprisingly difficult:-)
Other books in our TBR pile for this evening:
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
Runaway by Alice Munro
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Hoping everyone else is having a great reading day.

Thursday 10 October 2013

'tis Read-a-thon time

OK, How I Live Now was a bit of a mixed bag as a film, if you're precious about the story you may find it irritating. We were more annoyed by the personality changes than any messing with the story line. Oh well. 

This Saturday we are doing that crazy thing again that is the Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. Back in April Creature and I tried and failed to stay up all night but we still got a lot of reading done. I have decided to read Wuthering Heights, I feel slightly ashamed to have never read it, but we are also planning to read aloud some of The Hobbit that I started ages ago. This time we will be starting the 24 hours a little later because we are going down to Tish's open day at work; she started this term as a teacher of Animal Management at the Northenden Campus of Manchester College. Good luck and happy reading to all the participants.

It is the twins birthday today so there will be cake for tea.
This is the famous 'Hedgehog Cake' (which is the only thing I know how to say in sign language), that I have been making since the children were very small. He is made by baking the cake mixture in a pyrex mixing bowl and then covering the entire thing in butter cream icing and chopped up chocolate buttons.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

The Great Gatsby

I have not read much 'classic' American literature and to be honest had a bit of a negative view of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I thought that The Great Gatsby was some kind of celebration of the 1920s extravagant, self-indulgent lifestyle of the super-wealthy, and it really didn't interest me. When the film came out it certainly was presented that way by the previews. Then I read a review and was surprised to find that the book was described as a critique of this affluent society, so I downloaded it from the audiobook library and found it an interesting and enjoyable listen, quite a change from my usual reading choices. 

Being written third person seemed to exaggerate for me the sense that you were an outsider looking in on the events in question. The narrator, a young man who finds himself living next door to Gatsby is never quite one of the 'ingroup' but seems somewhat set apart and becomes a confidant of the enigmatic Gatsby. I found it interesting that although America often likes to think of itself as 'classless', a meritocracy, unlike Britain who is so bound up with class consciousness and boundaries, you find that when it comes to the crunch the Tom Buchanan's of this story don't like the upstart nobody who tried for a while to pretend to be one of them. The story is all about the superficiality, both of their lives and of their relationships. I find on the wiki page that the characters are all based on real people but I am not sure how that affects the way you react to the story. I did not like Daisy (curiously coincidental that I read two books in a week where the main character had the same name) at all, she is shallow and selfish and unable to take responsibility, but maybe I am being harsh and she is just a product of her era and her upbringing. The person who you do like is Gatsby himself, he has something of the true shakespearian tragic hero about him, he makes the ultimate sacrifice for love, and you get the feeling that he paid the price gladly. I was not sure that he saw through the glitzy surface of the world that he was trying so hard to be part of, he had been hypnotised by it as much as anyone, and I am certain that Daisy would have ruined him anyway because he had romanticised her as much as he had the lifestyle. I can see this is the kind of book that a reader could come back to over and over because I am sure in listening that there were things I missed. I like the fact that a book written of its own era has an atmosphere and language that cannot be copied by someone trying to write backwards, the fact of the author being there and living it makes the telling more authentic. Certainly it was an eyeopener and I will perhaps add something else by Fitzgerald to the pile.

How I live now

Creature and I spent last Sunday re-reading 'How I Live Now' by Meg Rosoff in advance of going to see the film. This book has to be young adult fiction at its best, essentially because it removes adults from the equation and puts the characters in a situation where they are forced to make real decisions and face real consequences. Daisy is sent away by her father to stay with cousins in England, mainly so he can build a new life with his new wife and baby. Teenage resentment and rejection abounds, but she seems to settle in to the rural idyll quite quickly. We particularly liked the opening to chapter 6:

"I hardly saw Osbert that week because he went to school, unlike Isaac and Edmond and Piper, who were supposed to be Home Schooled, which as far as I could tell meant reading whatever books you happened to be interested in, and every once in a blue moon having Aunt Penn say Have you learned any geography? and them saying yes." (p.22)

and the whole of the first section before the war starts felt rather like an EO gathering, even the house seemed like some of the Youth Hostels we used to stay in, so the whole thing was a bit of a nostalgia trip really. Almost from nowhere Daisy and Edmond develop this overwhelming passionate love affair that is just as rapidly ripped apart by the arrival of enemy forces. Their relationship becomes somewhat symbolic of the weird situation they find themselves in, and Daisy sums it up quite well:

"The real truth is that the war didn't have much to do with it except that it provided a perfect limbo in which two people who were too young and too related could start kissing without any thing or anyone making us stop. There were no parents, no teachers, no schedules. There was nowhere to go and nothing to do that would remind us that this sort of thing didn't happen in the Real World. There no longer was any Real World." (p.45)

The whole war thing is very vague and sits in the background of the story, really it is just a means to create a surreal and dangerous situation that the characters are forced to navigate. We then follow Daisy and Piper and how they survive after their forced relocation and subsequent struggle to return home. The story becomes about the relationship between the two girls, one that forces Daisy out of her well of self-pity and gives her a reason to keep going. It contrasts interestingly with something like 'Hunger Games'; where Katniss was always strong, a fighter and a surviver, here we have Daisy who is a bit of a wet blanket and what Meg Rosoff gives us is her transformation into someone who is a fighter and a surviver. I did feel a little as if there was not enough real threat and danger in their return journey together, it was a bit too much of an afternoon walk through the english countryside, but what I do like is the fact that she doesn't tie the story up nice and neatly with a clichéd reunion scene. Not giving us all the information allows the reader to imagine what happened to Daisy in between. We are left a little in limbo, but then life is often like that. The story certainly has a lot of film potential, although it seems they have avoided the more challenging aspects of the Daisy/Edmond relationship. I am just hoping they have tackled the rest of the story accurately or Creature will be whispering annoyingly in my ear for the whole film.