As I Lay Dying

Mat, Tess, and Poppy returned to their home at Upper Dicker late this afternoon.

Afterwards, I finished reading William Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’. The book was first published in New York in 1930 by Jonathon Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc. My Folio Society Edition of 2011 is enhanced by William Gay’s knowledgeable and insightful introduction, and by the evocative illustrations of Katherine Hardy.

Fifteen different narrators are the device by which the author tells the tale of an eventful burial trip. They alternate with each other in presenting chapters varying in length from one line to a mere handful of pages. We enter the hearts and minds of a stubbornly independent poor rural family as the individuals relate their thoughts and observations in most credible uneducated vernacular. The protagonists, despite a certain amount of stupidity, usually retain their dignity.

Practical, sometimes wry, common sense is expressed by characters outside the bizarre-thinking family whose determined isolation does not work to their advantage. The trip has different meanings to different members of the Bundren Family who are too proud to accept help from anyone. The story is a compelling one of which I will not reveal details.

The front board bears a giant fish

caught by the youngest son.

The mother of the family appears on the frontispiece,

and other full page illustrations appear at intervals.

Despite the title, this was not an unenjoyable book to read at the holiday period.

This evening, Becky, Ian, Jackie, and I dined on the Culinary Queen’s splendid beef in red wine, creamy mashed potatoes, mashed swede, crisp carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, followed by Christmas pudding and custard, with which I drank El Zumbido Granacha 2018 and Becky and Ian drank Wairauru Cove 2018. These delights were consumed on our knees while watching Rocketman, the marvellous biopic of Elton John played by Taron Egerton

The Siege Of Krishnapur

In the afternoon of this day of steady rainfall Paul and Margery visited to deliver the painting by John Jones that Paul has now framed. We had an enjoyable conversation over tea and mince pies, and are very pleased with both the picture and the framing.

During the rest of the day I finished reading J.G.Farrell’s historical novel ‘The Siege Of Krishnapur’. Originally published by George Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1n 1973, mine is the Folio Society edition of 2008 with an excellent and insightful introduction by Hilary Mantel and evocative illustrations by Francis Mosley.

Without revealing anything of the story I can say that the clearly impeccably and aimlessly researched work takes us into the period of the Raj, its customs, its class divisions, and its beliefs. The pace of the narrative reflects the ebb and flow of action and reflection of such an event. There is dramatic action and there dull, energy-sapping periods. All the senses are so well engaged. Sickness and death are rife. We see how people are revealed in their true colours – some rising to the occasion, others failing or turning it to their own advantage. Barriers between the sexes are broken down.

The boards are embossed with this design by the artist which also runs across the spine.

 

Mr Mosley, especially with his chosen palette, has captured the essence of the time and place.

As, this evening, we left home to meet Elizabeth at The Wheel Inn, Jackie photographed arboreal fingers reaching for the full moon draped in dramatic clouds.

The staff at the community pub, having reserved a friendly table,

had placed us beside the log fire. Jackie also produced these two photographs.

Elizabeth and I both enjoyed crispy duck with ginger salad starters.

My main course consisted of oven baked hake wrapped in parma ham, lobster sauce, sautéed potatoes and asparagus. The ladies were both delighted with their roast turkey with all the trimmings. Jackie finished with Christmas pudding, and I chose Eton mess. Both were very good. Jackie and Elizabeth  both drank Warsteiner and I drank Ringwood’s Best.

The Evolution Of A Room

Today was hot enough for us to open doors and windows.

One of these was the stable door. It is my fond imagining that a horse was once kept in what became the garage, which we converted to

a utility room leading to a library, fronted by

a boarded trellis bearing clematises, solanum, nasturtiums, petunias, geraniums, etc.

I do hope this accurately describes the evolution of a room.

A few days ago I had taken my copy of J.L. Carr’s short novel, ‘A Month in the Country’ from my library, and I finished reading it this afternoon. Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize for 1980, the book is a many faceted gem. Two men are linked by the fact of having survived Passchendaele and each having accepted commissions to uncover secrets of a medieval church. I will try not to reveal too much, but can say that in economical, well-placed, prose encompassing just 121 pages of my Folio Society copy of 1999 the author speaks of heaven and hell; of judgement, redemption, and damnation; of joy and pain; of culture and spirituality; of time and eternity; all with a slowly seething undercurrent of suppressed sexuality. It wasn’t heterosexual love to which Lord Alfred Douglas referred as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, yet there are other reasons for fear of revealing feelings.

Ronald Blythe’s perceptive and informative introduction reflects the author’s style.

Ian Stephen’s detailed illustrations are true to the text.

The front and back boards are each printed with a copy of the artist’s engraving for the frontispiece.

Here are the rest.

Early this evening we took a brief trip into the forest.

From Pound Lane near Thorney Hill we watched ponies paddling in Whitten Pond, alongside which a young woman played ball with a pair of dogs.

On our return we dined on a second helping of Mr Chan’s excellent Chinese Take Away with which we both drank Tsing Tao beer.

I Held One Back

Last night I finished reading:

One of Trollope’s shorter works, this deals with familiar themes concerning the status of women; socio-economic inequalities; intrigue and romantic entanglements. It is a tragic love story breaching differences in fortune, in social class, in geography, and in religion. As usual the prose flows along smoothly to the tale’s surprising, if inevitable, conclusion.

Given that the action takes place alternately in England and Ireland, the choice of the sensitive, and insightful Irish novelist and poet, Maeve Binchy to write the excellent introduction was most apt.

The generous quantity of Elisa Trimby’s drawings are faithful to the text. In particular she manages effectively to convey the emotions of her subjects. I was impressed with the appropriate flattening of perspective enabling her to depict a good depth of field.

In order not to give away the dénouement I have held back the last of the illustrations.

Much of this morning was devoid of Internet connection, which rather delayed my drafting of this review; and my listening to the England v. Sri Lanka men’s World Cup Cricket match.

In order to calm my nerves took a stroll round the garden.

The first two images of these day lilies are of those purchased from https://www.polliesdaylilies.co.uk which, containing our national collection, is situated very near to us.

These penstemons adorn Margery’s Bed.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb sausages in red wine; crisp new potatoes, carrots, and broccoli, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Pinot Noir.

Less Is More

Today the weather was cold and wet. For Jackie this meant continuing her planting between frequent showers. For me it meant ironing and finishing reading Muriel Spark’s classic gem, ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’. Even the World Cup cricket match between South Africa and the West Indies was rained off.

The short novel tells the story of a progressive, idiosyncratic, and rebellious teacher at odds with the ethos and management of a traditional girls’ school of the 1930s. Her style is spare, insightful, and elegantly simple. Ms Spark favours lean, lucid, language, lightly telling her tale. In case there is anyone who has neither read the book nor, like me, seen the 1969 film starring Maggie Smith, I will reveal no more of the story.

My copy is the 1998 Folio Society version with illustrations by the late Beryl Cook. The cloth-bound covers feature a design by Peter Forster.

Despite being a great fan of the artist and her particular comic style I have my doubts about the choice of her to illustrate this work. Miss Brodie is as romantic as she is zany, as ultimately tragic as she is stimulating.

The last pair of these illustrations is what in a different kind of publication may be termed a centrefold.

Cook has, of course captured the exuberantly comic nature of the book, but, I think, neither the author’s lightness of touch nor her sensitivity to her characters.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s spicy pasta arrabbiata and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The American Senator

Earlier in the week I finished reading

and awaited a day of dull weather to feature it in a post. Today was such a day.

The eponymous character plays very little part in Trollope’s story, but he is a device used by the author to criticise English cultural aspects including, The Law, Parliament, social inequality and customs including fox hunting. Given that Trollope was apparently a passionate fox hunter one can only imagine which of the senator’s views are also those of Anthony Trollope. The position of women as chattels of their husbands and of the lower, equally unenfranchised classes; the destruction caused by fox hunting; the sale of positions in the army and in the church in Victorian times are all subject of Senator Gotobed’s criticism. As usual I will not spoil the story, but to say that the tangles of love and the scheming related to its matches, largely by women, feature largely. At more than 500 pages the novel may seem daunting, but I found it a remarkably easy read. The descriptive prose flows apparently effortlessly. The dialogue is clear, and the insight into human nature admirable. Possibly because the work was originally published in regular instalments the chapters are short, averaging 6 pages. I found this a helpful aid to bedtime reading in that when I was falling asleep it was not too difficult to reach the end of each one. I enjoyed the book.

Louis Auchincloss’s introduction is thorough and helpful.

The elegant drawings of Shirley Tourret faithfully portray details of the text and of the period.

This afternoon Danni, her friend Vivien, and Ella visited. We had an enjoyable conversation and passed a laughing baby around.

This evening Jackie and I dined on starters of tempura prawns on a bed of cucumber, spring onion, and lettuce strips coated in sweet chilli sauce followed by creamy fish pie, mashed potato and swede; firm carrots and cauliflower. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Merlot Bonarda.

Stories

I spent this entire afternoon reading and listening to rain pattering on the windows.

Over several years some decades ago I was rash enough to collect Anthony Trollope’s entire oeuvre as presented by the Folio Society. It is the sheer volume of this work that prompts me to consider this enterprise rash. I doubt that I will ever finish reading all the books.

Like any other Victorian novelist in the age before blogging and television soaps, Trollope wrote at considerable length for the avid readers of his serialised instalments.

In order to try to catch up with my reading of this author, picked up again with a volume of stories, of a shorter length than the other books. I finished reading it today. This is

encased in

boards bound by cloth imprinted with this elegant design.

The contents are ‘The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne; La Mere Bauche; Father Giles of Ballymoy; The Spotted Dog; and ‘Alice Dugdale’.

The apparently effortless prose flows along with excellent description, insightful characterisation, and well-placed dialogue. Trollope has a sound understanding of human nature and of his times. Without giving away any detail I can say that he deals will betrothal, match-making, scheming parents, gossip, and social standing. One apparent ghost story is ultimately humorous. Endings are not always happy, and there is one heart-rending tragedy. Most tales are set in England; there is one in France, and one in Ireland.

John Hampden’s well written introduction is informative about the author.

Regular readers will understand that I am enamoured of Joan Hassall’s careful wood engravings. Each story has a title page vignette; an introductory illustration; and, with one exception, a tailpiece.

Here they all are.

For our dinner this evening Jackie produced a fusion of her own savoury rice and succulent ratatouille; Tesco’s aromatic won ton and spring rolls; and Lidl’s lean meaty rack of ribs in barbecue sauce. The Culinary Queen drank more of the Sauvignon Blanc, and I finished the Garnacha.