22 December 2013

Beautiful and Scary


We are in the midst of an ice storm here in Burlington, as is much of the surrounding Greater Toronto Area spreading right out towards the eastern provinces.  Pictured above is my cherished Korean Lilac which has me steadily wearing a path to the front door for checking on it.  I should probably be more concerned about the English Oak that stands taller than the house and is close enough to do some damage should it fall.

Male pride and testosterone made sure my husband left the house for work this morning despite warnings from the constabulary to stay off of the roads.  Heaven forbid another colleague snort that his commute was twice as far but he still made it in.  I like to tease that as long as my husband's insurance policy is paid up he can do what he likes but wouldn't that be an awful set of parting words should the worse happen?

Putting the kettle on and settling onto the sofa with my electric blanket I thought about the atmospheric day ahead.  There was something reassuring about being housebound during a time of year when rushing about is the order of the day.  Then a few beeps and flickers happened all at once and The Heiress and I stood staring at each other with only the sound of freezing rain and birds chirping at the feeder in the background.  I'm not sure whether it was more ridiculous or frightening that my first thought was to grab the laptop and settle in.  No electricity...no wifi....no laptop; ugh.  My next truly frightening thought was that my electric blanket (so lovely for melting into while blissfully reading in a lazy stupor) was to remain stone cold.  I will adapt, I will adapt, I will, I will....

Thank heavens I've gone to bed over the past four nights watching episodes of Tudor Monastery Farm on my iPod.  Creating a roaring blaze in the fireplace is usually a task my husband claims as his own but thanks to Ruth Goodman and her flint I was more than educated.  Ever resourceful, I poured some tea into my second-best teapot and placed it inside the mouth of the fireplace, cuddled up to the grill full of fiery logs.  Then a phone call was placed to my elderly neighbours inviting them over should they feel the chill but their son was on his way to collect them.

With the ottoman pulled up close to the heat of the fire I read the last few pages of Jambusters by Julie Summers about the Women's Institute and began an Elizabeth Bowen book.  The thought that Armageddon couldn't be far behind a day without a hot pot of tea, hot buttered toast, and a useless electric blanket made me realize how ridiculous it is to eke out my favourite author's books.  Funnily enough, the thought of my laundry day turning into a big dud didn't worry me in the slightest!

Just when I was feeling like a comrade-in-arms with those ladies from the WI during World War II, ready to haul water and prepare dinner in a haybox, the stove beeped, the lamp came on and my electric blanket's red light shone like a beacon.  The Heiress called while out on a walk.  A woman down the street is on the verge of tears as a tree from her front lawn is blocking the road and all around is the sound of sirens, most likely rushing to car accidents.  Today is both beautiful and scary.

1 December 2013

The Boat by L. P. Hartley

'...the party at the Rectory would initiate Timothy into exactly the kind of social life he liked - the society of rather staid, elderly people of set manners and habits, who kept engagements and to whom he would appear almost young...'

The outbreak of World War II has brought forty-nine year old Timothy Casson back to England from his beloved Venice.  Thankfully his livelihood as a journalist writing stories about Britain for The Broadside can only be enhanced by his change of address.  Upton-On-Swirrel, within viewing distance of the Welsh hills, offers the attraction of a river running through the village; just the thing for a keen oarsman with a boat.  Locking into a five-year lease at the Old Rectory, Timothy's next challenge is dealing with the hired help, Beatrice and Effie, who seem to regularly grumble and complain and when not doing that they weep into their aprons.  Frankly, it would seem that the servants just about forget that they are the employees and not the other way around.  Their antics are far from frustrating though and had me smiling almost every time a situation wasn't to their liking.  Mr Wimbush is the perpetually filthy gardener but also the closest thing to a sounding board, or friend, Timothy has at the moment.

As you would expect from a book over four hundred and fifty pages there are plenty of sub-stories to enjoy.  Except for the fleeting appearance of two young evacuees and the occasional visit from the local air raid patrol about a crack in the black-out curtains you would barely know a war was being waged.  The attraction with this book has little to do with plot but everything to do with characterization and relationships, something Hartley pulls off with stellar success.  I'm not sure how much of Timothy Casson is Hartley himself (issues with servants certainly plagued him) but there is barely a sentiment left unexplored.   From his feelings of vulnerability as a new arrival in the village or lonely bachelor seeking the attention of the beautiful Miss Cross...or more apt 'Miss Double-Cross' I felt sympathy for Timothy's plight.  And he had it bad for that minxstress...

'The lilt of her voice traced a pattern on the air; it stopped like a painter's pencil in midstroke, leaving her innocent, almost babyish face softened by a sweetness strangely at variance with her words.  The power of her beauty stole over Timothy bringing a delicious quickening of every sense; and at the same time the intimate moral comfort of having found an ally warmed those places in his heart in which love grows and courage springs...'

I loved the way the writing brimmed with richness.  It felt as though Hartley had all the time in the world to write this book and I took my time reading it.  Unlike some other chunky novels that have you itching to move on after three hundred pages, The Boat is like sinking into a nice hot bath.  I even went back and read over again the first fifty pages which initially failed to grab hold.  Perhaps it was the swift appearance of letters from Timothy's somewhat eccentric and politcally-minded friends, Tyrone and Magda, that threw me before I had a grasp on just who everyone was.

This paragraph is just me being a bit self-indulgent but the Rector's wife, Mrs Purbright, and her relationship with Timothy was such an intriguing one.  A favourite passage in the book has the Rector commenting on his wife's appearance and I simply want to have it handy to enjoy once again...

'He saw the pearls, the rings, the bracelets, and the brooches, the lavender silk dress with its lilac fringes - all the concrete reminders, which she so seldom wore, that the money had been Mrs. Purbright's.  She wore them so seldom that they did not seem to belong to her, yet they made their effect, in the dim light she glimmered like a stained-glass window.'

So where does the boat come into it all?  Senior members of the village who were willing to sacrifice life and limb during World War I steadfastly hang on to the belief that their river is solely for the occupation of fishing.  The risk that a pleasure craft may scare off a food source or source of entertainment is not to be trifled with.  Raising the ire of those you seek to become friendly with would hardly be a wise move.  But should the belief system of one section of a community override another?  On a much larger scale isn't that how Hitler came to have such a frightening grasp over a nation?  There were many, many times when I felt L. P. Hartley was exercising metaphor in certain situations and wished that Harriett Gilbert from her BBC 4 Open Book podcast could stop by and chat it all out with me.  Anyway, Timothy Casson comes to a conclusion about the whole situation towards the end of the book but with disastrous result.

The Boat is an excellent novel for those who enjoy village settings and interesting characters.  The added attraction of a bit of 'upstairs/downstairs' will surely be the icing on the cake.  This is the third novel I've read by this author and each one has left its mark.  The Hireling is my favourite but The Boat is certainly hot on its heels.