Monday, 29 August 2011

Summer in the Auvergne

Back in the Vallee du Mars, in the heart of the Cantal department, the last few days have been exceptionally hot and sunny, too hot to do much work, except read in the shade with a cool drink to hand..
I first read D E Stevenson's Miss Buncle's Book more decades ago than I can remember, along with as many other of her titles as I could lay my hands on ( not too difficult as I then worked in a public library, but some titles were only available in  the large print version) They were easy to read, with interesting characters and plots, a readable style of writing, perfect at the end of a long day dealing with the foibles of the assumably literate public. This title is fairly typical of D E Stevenson's style, with Barbara Buncle, a single woman whose income, derived from dividends, is dwindling rapidly. Barbara discusses various means of raising money and decides to write a book. The subject she chooses is life in a village, which is where she lives. Happily a publisher for the book is quickly found, and the book published, under a pseudonym, to mixed reviews. The reading public fall in love with Copperfield, as the book is titled, and it becomes a best -seller. However, Barbara's fellow villagers have somewhat different views and would like the book withdrawn from publication. The shifts and turns they make to try and find out the name of the author are highly entertaining.
I hadn't read any Dorothy Whipple, until tempted by an offer from Persephone Books of a collection of her short stories ( along with three other titles, including the one mentioned above).I can see why she was a  popular author and still is. Her writing is sensitive yet concise, her characters ordinary people faced with some of the difficulties life throws at us all from time to time, and they all try to do what is right for them as individuals or family. Some of the stories in this collection are almost novella length, while others just a few pages, all have their own individual impact. I'll be looking for more of her tiles, as they are excellent reading.
I first read another title from a similar era, Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, when I was studying for my Open University degree in the 1970's. What a difference another 35 or so years of living bring to a book, and reading it because I wanted to, not because I had to. I now don't remember if I enjoyed it at the time, but this re-read was very enjoyable.
Clarissa Dalloway, married to Richard a Member of Parliament and mother to Elizabeth, goes through her day, planning for her party to be held in the evening. The lives of her friends and acquaintances, Peter a former lover who wanted to  marry her and has just returned from India; the people Clarissa sees in the park as she walks through, Rezia and Septimus, he a war veteran suffering from what we now call post -traumatic stress and his wife, who he met and married in Italy. There are many other intertwined lives and emotions described, but I think what struck me on this re-read was how fresh it still seemed. The emotions evoked are those felt by almost all human beings and the descriptions of people and places still vivid in my mind, so lucid and elegant is the prose.

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