Thursday, 20 April 2017




It's always interesting to see new Persephone titles, but I can't see either of these two latest books becoming anybody's favourite. I remembered that I'd bought an old copy of Earth and High Heaven some time ago, stuck it on a pile where it got buried and never got around to reading it - so last week I dug it out. Published in 1944, it was the first Canadian book to reach number one on the NY Times best-seller list.
I got off to a good start but my interest in Erika Drake - daughter of a prosperous, WASP-y Montreal family - and her lover Marc Reiser, a Jewish lawyer, was soon flagging. (Not least because Gwethalyn Graham is so repetitive: if she makes a point once she drums it home again and again and as a reader, I began to feel a bit hectored - bad editing maybe, but it made me lose sympathy with her characters.) Erika and Marc meet at a party at her parents' home where her father cuts Marc dead as soon as he realises that he is Jewish. Trouble is, I couldn't help visualising them as illustrations from an old-fashioned women's magazine serial ... Defiant Love - Trembling Passion (but no sex, please, we're middle-class Canadians!) - the handsome hero who could have stepped out of a Mills&Boon romance and the tearful heroine in evening dress, knocking back martinis. Honestly, you couldn't meet a more irritating pair. Erika, in her late 20s, with a good job on a newspaper, has to meet her lover on street corners because seemingly it would kill her parents if she were to do the obvious thing and leave home ... I mean, this is the 1940s, not the 1840s! She's a drip, he's a prig and it doesn't help the novel that you can't help feeling that - in 20 years time - she's going to be worn out from treading on eggshells around a husband who will be quiveringly on the alert to take offence. (Even Marc's far more likeable brother tells him that he needs 'a swift kick in the pants.')
As for Erika's rather incestuous relationship with her possessive father - who treats her more like a wife - and the way her mother colludes with this ... eeuurggh. There's more going on here than kneejerk anti-Semitism and it's clear that her father is always going to have a problem with any man who lays hands on his daughter - never mind whether he's socially acceptable at the country club.
Oh, dear - poor Erika. Perhaps another dry martini and a 'prescription of stuff' to make her sleep ...



But at least I managed to finish Earth and High Heaven. Effi Briest is already a Penguin classic so I'm not sure I see the point of republishing it as a Persephone; unless perhaps a different translation makes it  more readable? I found the Penguin edition in the library, made it to p95 and I doubt that I'll ever care enough to finish it. The introduction compares Effi with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina ... but I'm afraid if a train came along now, I'd be tempted give this winsome child-bride a good shove.
One of the best tragic novels of the 19th century? Socially-ambitious Effi is married at 16 to a dull Prussian baron - my sympathies are entirely with the baron - and by p95, she's still behaving herself, though there's a caddish major whose intentions are clearly dishonourable. I don't feel there's going to be any surprises if I plod through to the end.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017



Grabbing a book for a weekend at the seaside, I nearly left this behind ... wasn't I carrying enough without reaching for a hefty hardback! So glad I didn't because A Gentleman in Moscow turned out to be the perfect holiday read and, away from online distractions, I'm now two-thirds of the way through. Maybe it's true that a life without luxury can be the richest of all because all I've done over Easter is read, reacquaint myself with beach friends and eat hot cross buns. Perhaps with a sigh for the warm, sticky, gorgeously scented hot cross buns that came from the baker at the top of the road when I was a child - because Tesco's finest are a grim travesty of what a hot cross bun should be. And as for M&S carrot and mascarpone buns ... well, I'll try anything once if they're reduced to 10p but not again.

The gentleman in Moscow would have had some philosophical insight into man's compulsion to tweak a good bun to death. Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in an attic of Moscow's grand Hotel Metropol in 1922 and as the years pass (I've got as far as 1946) the hotel's lobby, restaurants and backstairs hideaways become his world. As I'm reading, I'm shooting the movie in my mind - it's a Soviet Grand Budapest Hotel where the labels have been removed from 100,000 bottles in the wine cellar to render them equal. Immensely charming, definitely recommended - and I'm going to feel utterly bereft when I finish.

Saturday, 15 April 2017



So sad about the fire at beautiful Parnham House. I had friends who lived nearby and we spent many lovely afternoons here. I always longed for the pretty bedroom with the fresco of spring flowers.

Thursday, 13 April 2017



Four centuries of the most gorgeous tulips at Ham House yesterday - and the wisteria is simply breath-taking. This spring is happening so fast. Bluebells and cow parsley in the woods already. I left them growing as I have jugs of lilac in every room.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017



Everybody who's read it seems to be delighted with Ysenda Maxtone-Graham's book about girls' boarding schools - and so was I. (Much livelier than her Real Mrs Miniver whose company I tired of long before the end.) There's lots of bracing Malory Towers fun - but it's also rather sad when you read about homesick girls and unpopular girls who didn't fit in and were bad at games. And even though I was at a girls' day school - at the tail end of this period - gosh, did it bring back memories of foul  school food (we'd have thought a turkey twizzler was heaven!) and nuns and their stupid rules and, most of all, the aching boredom. By the early 70s it was assumed that most of us would go to university - but if you didn't, the options were nursing (I don't remember anybody setting their sights on being a doctor which was probably just as well given the abysmal science teaching), teacher training college or the civil service. At least we got out by 4pm. The day I danced down the street and thought, 'I'm never going back,' still glows in my memory.
This was a lovely book to read, no bigger than my hand - almost like a school hymn book. And at least my tweedy, twin-setted teachers were mostly kind. Reading reviews of this book, it seems that girls got off lightly.

Sunday, 9 April 2017





I did a sleepover once at the Science Museum - never again! - but I could happily move into the Fashion Museum for the duration of the Josef Frank exhibition. I came away yesterday with serious fabric envy ... Wouldn't you just love this Italian Dinner fabric with all the ingredients for a fabulous summer dinner - lobster, mussels and squid, garlic, aubergines, tomatoes?



This one looks so fresh - and there was another tulip print that I coveted, too. Who knew that Swedes buy 1 million tulips a day? Well, for all I know, we do, too - not this week, I've got pink roses and lilies and some peachy coloured pinks that now I look at them need chucking out. Dead supermarket flowers ... so not Swedish! 


This Manhattan print is fun but I'd prefer a London version. Very Don and Betty Draper. On a Saturday afternoon, I was the only person in the exhibition after two other ladies left - and heaven, there  were signs inviting you to sit on the chairs. (Would they have noticed if I'd tried to escape with that chaise-longue?) 
I vaguely recall visiting the Svenskt-Tenn shop in Stockholm some years ago. (And blanching at the prices!) But I don't remember this simply gorgeous tea-shop.

Friday, 7 April 2017



I suppose a novel about the making of a morale-boosting wartime film about Dunkirk was crying out to be made into a movie. I have to confess that I have only the vaguest recollection of reading this a few years ago and that last night I enjoyed the movie version rather more. But why has Their Finest Hour and a Half - quite a clever title - been changed to Their Finest (their finest what?) ... well, maybe because an hour and a half would have been plenty, thanks very much, and the two hours running time had me longing to shout, 'Cut!' Ironic,  as the scriptwriter character - played by Gemma Arterton - is told several times that her scripts are too long and to lose the half that isn't important ... if only they'd taken their own advice! I enjoyed it but I was fidgeting by the end. So 3.5* from me, which is better than the 2*from the chap in the Guardian. (This is so not a man's film!) It did have the feel of a rather good BBC Boxing Day drama.
Their Finest.jpg


















What I absolutely loved was the set design and all the period detail ... the bombsites and old-fashioned typewriters and 1940s knitwear and John Craske-style embroideries in the pub. Bill Nighy is wonderful  as ever doing what he always does as the vain, flaky old has-been. Incidentally, this is a film made by women - female director and screenplay/book/artdirection/setdecorating/musical score all by women. The story is loosely inspired by the work of Diana Morgan at Ealing Studios.

Next week's movie - in case you need to time to brace yourselves! - is The Handmaiden, a Japanese/Korean take on Sarah Waters' Fingersmith ... Well, I'll report back and I'll let you know! 4* from the Guardian for a 'lurid, lesbian pot-boiler.'