Saturday, 23 August 2008

Holiday reading

Having taken several books away with me to France in July, I didn't read all of them, partly because staying in a house which needs work doing to it means that reading takes second place to that, and also the valley we stay in is an excellent place for walks, although the weather was a bit too hot for us to go climbing up the hills at first. However a change in the weather to cooler and damper meant we managed to fit in some nice walks. I did mange some reading such as Ian McEwan's Atonement, which had been sitting on my bedside table for a few months, waiting to be read, also Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood. These are both novels about in part, growing up, although in different times, places and by different people. I found I enjoyed Norwegian Wood more than Atonement ( I don't usually compare books in that way) as I wanted to keep reading about Toru Watanabe making his way through university, struggling to understand why his best friend committed suicide at the age of 17, and to build relationships with two contrasting young women. I found keeping going with Atonement slightly harder work, but still an enjoyable read.

I have had Sarah Dunant's In the Company of the Courtesan for some while now, took it away with me and enjoyed being transported to Renaissance Venice and reading the story of life as a high class courtesan of that period and place - Venice is evoked very clearly, especially as I have visited it a couple of times. Renaissance history and novels set in that period are among my favourite reads and this read reached all my expectations for it.

Sue Gee's Bedtime Reading was a totally diffferent reading experience, starting out with two friends returning home after visiting a book festival. One hads been recently widowed, the other is still married to a university professor. Although life seems calm and pleasant at the outset, the kicks in the teeth for both friends are soon revealed, and how they and their families cope or don't. In many ways a reassuring read, although that may seem a strange comment in the light of some of the events described, but people do cope with the difficulties of life, one way or another.
My final holiday read was Vanora Bennett's Portrait of an Unknown Woman. The setting is Henry VIII's England, at the time he falls in love with Anne Boleyn, and the story is about the life of one of Thomas More's adopted daughters, Meg Giggs and her relationships with Thomas More, her eventual husband John Clements and the painter Hans Holbein the Younger. For a first novel, this is very accomplished and certainly made me want to follow this writer. Very well researched, but the research does not hinder the storytelling. Being a fan of historical fiction, but also a fairly picky one - the writing must be excellent, I loved this book.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

In the Vallee du Mars

Here in deepest Auvergne, in the Vallee du Mars, or du Falfoux, which ever takes your fancy, life seems very busy this month. Most of the houses are now occupied and open, and being filled with families coming from Paris or Lille or wherever the previous generations had migrated to for work and/or education. The weather is glorious at the moment, with long hot sunny days, but not as unbearably hot as further south. If we go for a walk, much of it is shaded by trees ( which also somewhat restrict the views of the landscape). However, above the trees, the views are far-reaching, across valleys and depending on how high we get, across mountain tops too. Despite the apparent busyness of the residents, the atmosphere is calm and relaxing. There are Sunday evening Marche du Pays, where you can buy grilled saucisse, aligot and other local specialities, including local wines, which are more the 'vins de table' quality, but drinkable. They are really an excuse for a get-together in the village, to chat, exchange news, meet new relaives or friends of the family and so-on. We've been here for some weeks now, managed to set up a sometimes shaky internet connection, done lots of work clearing the garden and some work inside the house. Nearly time to go home and have a rest!

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