Thursday, 19 July 2012

Holiday reading

I've recently read a number of pleasant books, not regarded (yet) as great literature, but good reading all the same. The first of these was Rosie Thomas' The Kashmir Shawl, a story set in two different times and different generations of women on whom Kashmir has an effect. Mair, while clearing out her mother's home after her death, finds a package containing a beautiful shawl , a photograph and a lock of dark hair. This eventually leads her to travel to Kashmir, the origin of the shawl, and where her grandmother Nerys and her husband led remarkable lives as missionaries during the late 1930's and the war years.  The somewhat stultifying and socially rigid lives of the last of British raj are well described, as is the beauty of Kashmir itself. Mountainous parts of the world figure as the background to peoples lives, with Mair and her grandmother growing up in north Wales, spending an important part of their lives in Kashmir, and for Mair finding herself in the Bernese Oberland at the end. I've read several of Rosie Thomas's novels  and have always enjoyed her writing.
Another writer whose stories are consistently enjoyable is Libby Purves, and whose broadcasting and journalism I also enjoy. Her novel Love Songs and lies, picked up in the library, was up to standard. The story of Sally and her housemates in Oxford in the 1970's, and how Sally, a vicar's daughter, falls for the only male housemate, graduate student Max Bellinger. The ramifications of Sally's relationship with Max and the rest of his somewhat difficult family are the basis of the story, which follows Sally and her housemates from Oxford into various careers, motherhood, and marriages. The story is told by Sally looking back from middle age to her younger days, which  has the effect of distancing everything, including Sally's own emotions, and possibly making for a gentler read, despite some of the shock in the story.
I had enjoyed Natasha Solomons first novel, Mr Rosenblum's List, so looked forward to reading her second, The Novel in the Viola. Elise Landau, daughter of artistic Austrian Jewish parents, but with no special gifts of her own, is sent to England in 1938, as a housemaid, in order to escape the coming threat of war. She is sent to Tyneford, an Elizabethan manor house near the Dorset coast. Elise eventually settles into the life of a housemaid, until the son of the house, Kit, returns from Cambridge and is obviously attracted to her, despite being regarded as an obvious 'catch' by the young ladies of the neighbourhood. War eventually intervenes, to the detriment of Kit and Elise's relationship, as well as to Tyneford itself. This novel is again written from the point of view of looking back over life long afterwards. The descriptions of the beauty of the house and surrounding countryside and coast are delicious and make you feel the warmth of the summer sun, the breeze and salt air of the beach, as well as the varying interiors of Tyneford House itself.
Jean Auel's The Land of Painted Caves is a long read and continues the story of Ayla, the prehistoric women first met as a girl in The Clan of the Cave Bear. I enjoyed reading the series, which has taken the author a long time to produce, although did find some parts of this last book a little repetitive in places. I started reading the series when they were first published, in the 1980's, and although haven't reread any, can still remember enough to be able to make sense of the last book. Jean Auel does give lots of background as reminders, so catching up with books read decades earlier is not too hard.

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