I had no intention of reading this book because it was going to be pretentious, patronising drivel by someone much admired in the field of lit’rature, who would make it clear in every paragraph that she was slumming by writing a kids’ fantasy.
I loved it.
I had been, with most of the rest of the reading world, gobsmacked by Winterson’s first novel, ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT. You’ve read it, right? It was also made into a very effective (and affecting) TV miniseries*. And while it is about an adopted girl who may be rather like Winterson herself growing up gay in an English Bible belt town with a ferocious mother, I entirely agree with Winterson’s comment about this, ‘I’ve never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers.’** ORANGES is just a fabulous novel about growing up not belonging to your family or your society or your world.
I’ve read some of Winterson’s other books but I’m about a hundred years out of date in my liking for literature. As a modern reader I tend toward the genre end. But Winterson is a witty and powerful writer so I’ve kind of kept an eye on her. There was a fairly substantial hoohah when TANGLEWRECK came out, and I thought, nah, it’ll just make me crazy. But I kept frelling tripping over references to it. Too many of the writers and critics I like liked it—in the edition I ended up with there’s a quote on the front from Jacqueline Wilson***—and I could feel myself becoming ensnared, rather like the heroine and her friend Gabriel in the evil machinations of Abel Darkwater and Regalia Mason.
And then on one of Fiona’s and my yarn expeditions we spent some time at an old-books store. I’m sure I mentioned it at the time. Well, one of the books I bought was . . . TANGLEWRECK. I didn’t mean to! But it was sitting face out on its shelf, all shiny and new, and obviously having belonged (briefly) to someone who didn’t appreciate it! It was waiting for me! †
Here. Read Chapter One, The Time Tornado, and see if you don’t immediately want to read the rest of it:†† http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tanglewreck-Jeanette-Winterson/dp/0747580758/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1362011579&sr=1-1#_
And there’s a scene near the end that I wish I had written. This happens a lot less often than you might think. There are lots of Great Books I wish in a sort of admiring, mostly intellectual way, that I’d written. There are not that many books that get me close in, through the secret back entrance, grab me by the heart and squeeze. This scene is one of those. But Winterson thought of it first. Ah well.
* * *
* Wiki says Winterson herself did the adaptation. It was also extremely well cast.
** I am so grateful Wiki happens to cite that quote. I was wondering how the doolally I was going to persuade Google to find it for me.
*** ‘A fantastic book, a big wonderful story. It’s got everything’
† It was also rather less than half price. Never underestimate the draw of a bargain.
†† Here also is a very good review, I mean not merely positive but persuasive, although in case anyone else has the same reaction I will add for your reassurance that I thought the rabbit named Bigamy was a sure sign of the tweeness I feared http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/jul/02/booksforchildrenandteenagers.jeanettewinterson
Here also is a review of the more-or-less sequel which I clearly have to read. I haven’t done so yet because the Creature Sawn in Two will give me nightmares.
Just so you don’t start thinking I only read cranky nonfiction. . . .
I raved about George’s first novel, LOOKS, when it came out a couple of years or so ago. This one is every bit as good, similar in that it turns a cold sharp eye on the dynamics of high school and the frequently screwed up lives of high school students, but admirably different in the particular aspects of dysfunction, cluelessless, idealism, betrayal and hope that George makes her story out of this time.
Also, it’s funny. And . . . it has some of the hottest kissing scenes in it I have ever read.* Oh, and . . . ? They’re girl on girl.
I hope I’ve now got your attention.
It’s told in alternating viewpoints, Jesse and Emily. It begins with Jesse:
Jesse is in the sophomore hall girls’ bathroom, the farthest stall from the door, one huge, scuffed fisherman’s boot propped up on the toilet seat so she can balance her backpack on her knee and rifle through it. She’s looking for the masking tape that she totally, totally put in here this morning, she’s positive, she has a perfect picture-memory of swiping it out of the designated masking-tape cubby in her mother’s rolltop desk in the den and dropping it into her backpack, the big pocket, right here she totally put it here where it is where is it the bell’s about to ring—
The plan is to wait until the pep rally is called and then paper the entire school with the latest draft of her manifesto. . . .
To have begun Chapter One, you will have read through the front matter, which begins:
THE NOLAW MANIFESTO
Queer kids, Revolutionaries,
Rapunzels Trapped in their Towers
Trolls Trapped under Their Bridges,
Animals Abused by Their Masters
National Organization to Liberate
I’d vote for that.**
* * *
* And I mean kissing. Not graphic, not relentlessly iterated body-part sex, not soft (or for that matter hard) porn—kissing.
** I’d like to say that I wish I’d known Jesse in high school, but we would never have said a word to each other. Sigh.
Our own Jodi Meadows’ second* book is out today:
And she’s doing signings and appearances, possibly at a bookstore near you**:
And if you keep scrolling down this page there is an amazing list of guest blogs, interviews and so on available Out There by the merest tap of a finger.
Now here’s the HarperTeen page:
. . . where you can apparently read the whole book on line for free?? This does seem to be legit. Maybe it’s in honour of publication day or something, and large dubiously smiling men will knock on your door in a few more days and say, Ahem, a computer at this residence read the entire ASUNDER on line for free, and we feel that the person with the finger on the clicking button will have found this so stimulating an experience that he/she/it/you will volunteer the purchase price to the Jodi’s Ferrets and Yarn Fund.
Anyway. There’s a new book out. By someone we all know. Champagne all around.***
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* Second published book ever and second in a trilogy I might add. Some people are born brave. Apparently.
** Because she is a good girl and wants to make her publisher happy. Hey, I toured when I was her age. Some of us then stop. Some of us figure it out and, believing it sells books, keep on doing it. I respect these people. But you’ll find me in a bell tower.^
^ Tonight, for example, when there was a Tour of the Ancient Building Including A Demonstration of Method Bell Ringing open evening at Forza and it was SOOOOO BOOOOOORING oh my sainted aunt. Maybe there is something to be said for touring. At least during dull moments you’re probably near bookshelves. I got a lot of knitting done tonight. I would rather have been plugged in to Pooka listening to some book being read out loud instead of unavoidably listening to our poor chosen-victim lead ringer giving the same blerg about ringing and the history of ringing for the 1,000,000,000th time to the 1,000,000,000th group of visitors, but I had to be ready to spring to my feet and ring plain frelling hunt for the 1,000,000,000th time. Arrrgh.
*** ‘I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.’
—Madame Bollinger, who was clearly a strong supporter of the family business.
Also: cranky hellgoddess. NOT IN A GOOD MOOD. Tonight is the third night in a row that I’ve missed ringing on account of the drabble thribble quadruple blasted weather. Monday night I probably wouldn’t have made anyway because of the (ongoing) drama of The Wall. Last night . . . remember that Fustian invited me to ring in their next practise-night quarter peal attempt? That was last night. And I cancelled because of the weather. The sleet-snow started early afternoon and just went on. And on. As it happens it went snowy-icy-melty all day and well into the night and when I took my troika out at mmph o’clock the slush tended to have ice under it but the bare ground was bare. I probably would have been fine, driving to Fustian, carefully avoiding slushy patches, but worrying about it would not have done my stamina or my concentration any good—and if I made it there and successfully rang a quarter I might well have gone off the road coming home from no greater provocation than the frelling ME. So it’s just as well I stayed home. BUT I’M NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT.
Today it started snow-sleeting again late this afternoon, pretty much the moment I went out with the hellhounds—who instantly went into We don’t waaaaaaaaant to mode, which doesn’t do anything good for my temper. So I didn’t go to the abbey tonight either, and while, again, between dubious weather and the ME it was the right decision . . . I AM NOT IN A JOLLY CHIRPY HO HO HO MOOD.
So. Book recs for nights off. And cranky nonfiction suits my mood, although I’m indulging in a little pun-fulness about ‘cranky’ which can mean IRRITABLE as well as eccentric. Anyway.
DRY STORE ROOM No. 1, The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey, was a big deal over here a few years ago—one of those surprise best-sellers. It does what it says on the tin: it’s a picaresque behind-the-scenes at the London Natural History Museum, where Fortey worked for 35 years, retiring as senior palaeontologist. It was published in 2008 and I read it a couple of years later because, well, because I like cranky nonfiction, and I like cranky natural-history nonfiction, and because I was frelling well overwhelmed with recommendations for the flapdoodling thing. This usually puts me off but a quick browse through it at the bookshop brought me round swiftly. If you like Fortey’s particular brand of dry, wry Britishness and mad (British) anecdote you will fall for this book in a big way. Merrilee says that despite publishers hanging up gigantic sample wodges of their own books on their own sites us mere humble bloggers are still stuck with quoting only snippets, so let me try to find you a few sample snippets of what I mean. He is discussing evolution, which he says is no longer a ‘theory’ any more than that the Earth goes round the sun is a ‘theory’, and whether you like it or not . . . ‘personally I like being fourth cousin to a mushroom, and having a bonobo as my closest living relative. It makes me feel a real part of the world’. Describing truffles he says: ‘The edible properties of the truffle are not matched by their aesthetic ones, for most truffles look like some kind of knobbly animal excreta, which have been passed with not a little discomfort.’ In the wake of finding ‘ . . . earlier evidence of human occupation, up to seven hundred thousand years old . . . on the coast . . . of Suffolk. This is at present the earliest occurrence of humans north of the Alps. . . . The Suffolk coast in winter is frequented by two kinds of people, both of whose sanity might be questioned by the population at large: onshore fishermen and palaeontologists. What they have in common is oilskins, an infinite capacity for hope and a certain camaraderie. . . .’ And so on. Possibly even more riveting are his descriptions of colleagues. I’m amazed he got away with it. But it makes for stay-up-late, miss-your-stop-on-the-tube reading.
Ah—here is a legitimate excerpt, and about wild museum folk rather than pickled specimens too. Read it. If you like it, read the book. Have fun.
I. Er. Rang. A quarter peal tonight. Er.**
Those of you with ridiculously good memories who should be using them to remember something else may recollect that Thursday is one of my handbell evenings. I’ve been celebrating sending SHADOWS in (again) by being reeeeeeeaaaaaallllllly tired*** and I did not look forward with any enthusiasm to handbells tonight. However I didn’t have any good reason to cancel so I let the boys in when they arrived and tried not to moan. In hindsight I’m wondering if they’d been plotting behind my back, because we plunged immediately into a really long touch of our standard bob minor, and usually there’s some faffing around first and finding out if Robin has done any homework on Kent or Cambridge or St Clements (no).
Anyway, we crashed and burned. Colin and Niall had one of those conversations over my head about what went wrong and then we did it again. This time it went on and on and ON AND ON AND ON AND ON. And on. And on. And on. I’ve been ringing the 3-4 (bells) mostly—I like the 3-4, I don’t know why, I just do—and I was ringing them tonight. I had to be hauled protesting through a few of the calls, but haulage was successful†, and we kept on. And on. And then Niall finally said ‘that’s all’ and we got to STOP and he and Colin were grinning at each other.
Your first quarter on the 3-4, said Niall, still grinning.
Quarter? I said. That was a quarter? I thought we were just ringing more Really Really Really Long Touches.††
Quarter, confirmed Colin.
Oh. Um. Well, cool. I’ve been looking forward to my first quarter on the 3-4. I guess I thought I’d know it was coming, although the majority of my (few) handbell quarters with Niall and Colin have been accidents—or at least surprises to me.†††
So I felt more cheerful‡ as I went off to frelling Muddles frelling practise for the frelling concert I’m not (frelling) singing in. I’m still going to rehearsal on the notion that I can use the repertoire . . . it was the merest accident that I knew the Canticle de Jean Racine that we sang for the funeral, that got me back into the Muddles again, because I have pretty much zip choral repertoire. But I slouched up to our musical director during the tea break and asked sullenly when he’d like me to stop coming to rehearsal, since at least the last fortnight or so ought to be the away team only. You don’t have to stop coming to rehearsals, he said. Come along and practise your repertoire. Happy to have you.
So . . . what else can go right?‡‡
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* Here’s Catherine’s, finally. And yes I did check with her first about posting it.^ Thank you CathyR^^ for both finding the listing and, crucially, leading the Harass Catherine’s Conductor into Posting Her FIRST QP for Pity’s Sake Operation http://www.bb.ringingworld.co.uk/view.php?id=272669
^ Paranoia Is My Middle Name. But this is really just Doing Unto Others as I Would Be Done to.
^^ And speaking of bell ringing, book recs and cranky nonfiction, CathyR also posted a rec for Roland Blythe’s Akenfield:
I agree. I adored it. I can’t remember now if I read it first while I was still a clueless American Anglophile who worshipped all things really, really English+ but when I read it (possibly again) shortly after I moved over here it blew me away. It’s a wonderful book. Do read it.++ It would have showed up in my book recs here sooner or later.+++
+ Clotted cream, scones, proper sausages, proper tea in a pot, hard cider . . . the public footpath system, especially old roads worn deep into the ground—some of the banks of these around here are over my head—from hundreds of years of hard use by feet, hooves and wheels, thatched roofs, the so-called cottage-garden style of gardening with lots of roses, METHOD BELL RINGING. . . .
++ Has anyone read the sequel? I’m sure I don’t want to hear about SUVs and the internet in Akenfield. But I’m curious.
+++ There will doubtless be other cranky nonfiction about Englishness, and more general Britishness, but living here has changed my perspective. My fantasies about living in Britain used to be about equally divided between England and Scotland. They’re all Scotland any more because I don’t live there. As I’ve told you before, this is home, and I’m planning on dying here (eventually) and having my cremated ashes dug into someone’s garden, but however much you love home, it also makes you crazy, like your family and friends and critters and rose-bushes do. All right, I admit I’m more easily made crazy than some.
** I was going to say ‘it must be something in the air’ but Catherine’s is from November.
*** And there’s nothing more frustrating than going to bed to read and falling asleep.
† I said later over tea and chocolate cake that since I still have to think about what I do when a call is made, when I fall apart is usually because my attention had wandered and I hadn’t noticed the treble was coming into lead (in standard methods EVERYTHING HAPPENS when the treble leads). If there is no call then I can fumble through the basic line. If there’s a call when I’m not expecting it and haven’t reminded myself where I am and where I’ll be going when the treble leads AAAAAAAAUGH.
†† Technically a quarter peal is a really, really, really long touch. A full peal is a REALLY REALLY REALLY long touch.^
^ I was complaining about the length of the touch we’d already rung before we started the long touch that did become a quarter, and Colin looked thoughtful for a moment and said yes, you probably rang a total of about 2200 changes tonight . . . see, you could ring a full peal.+ No. Wrong. 2200 isn’t quite half a full peal.++
+ Colin is full-peal mad. Quarters don’t count to Colin. He rings them to humour us plebs.
++ Furthermore tonight I would have lost all feeling in my arms before then which would lead to dropping the bells. It’s VERY COLD and I am wearing three t shirts under my heavy wool jumper. This is fine unless you need to bend your arms quickly and repeatedly, as for ringing handbells. I couldn’t figure out why my hands were going numb till I finally realised it was because I normally hold my arms at a 90° angle and then ring up, narrowing the angle still more. And my extra layers of shirt were cutting off my circulation. So I had to open the angle out by ringing farther down, which was VERY CONFUSING and it’s amazing I only needed to be hauled through a few calls.
††† There was the infamous first one when I was on the trebles and every time we came to the end of a plain course—with only six bells your opportunities for messing up the pattern are (mathematically) limited, so you do have to ring a plain course occasionally—they’d yell DON’T STOP at me as we came into rounds.
‡ It helped make up for the fact that last night at tower practise at the abbey I got ONE proper go on a rope. ONE. I’m not going to learn anything that way.
‡‡ Well . . . I have this list. . . .