Unlikely Friends


Before I move on to the two NEW books that I bought last week I should first clear up previous reading. I think I mentioned that my “baby sister” is doing an MA in creative writing. Someone suggested that her writing was similar in vein to the writing of Anita Shreve and so I did my sisterly duty of rounding up almost all AS’s works and dipping into them before handing them over in the interest of Literature.

Light on Snow was a huge success. I understand that it is one of, if not the latest of her works. At a pinch it could slide into my category of “Unlikely Friends”. Completely overbalanced by the death of his wife and baby, a father takes his surviving child to live at the extreme edge of a small town far away from his former life as an architect in the big city. A single event and the arrival of one person turn their lives upside down again. Replete from a good read I sat down to tuck into another of AS’s offerings. I managed to finish that course but by the time I started on the third I couldn’t be bothered. There wasn’t anything that really grabbed me. Remembering why I had started on this Shreve Fest I couldn’t even begin to imagine how someone could compare my sister’s writing to this.

Other people wax lyrical about Shreve’s writing so don’t be put off by me. I can be very perverse. I persevered with the infamous Pinkerton’s Sister when all around me were abandoning ship at a rate of knots.

These links will give you an idea what others thought:



After my failed Shreve Fest I picked up “Instances of the Number Three” instances1.jpg by Salley Vickers, possibly best known for “Miss Garnett’s Angel”. This is a book which can wear the tag “unlikely friends” with pride. Who would imagine that the death of a man would bring his wife and mistress together? This is not the only unlikely friendship in this book. You will have to read it to discover more. Peter’s widow, Bridget has had a lifelong love affair with literature, especially Shakespeare, and especially Hamlet which was a delightful coincidence because “my little darling” was desperately revising good old H as I read IofNT. John Donne gets more than a passing mention too.

Whether intentional or not, the velcro effect quite often occurs in the transition from one book to the next. Bridget & Frances meet Zahin who claims to have known Peter. He is an exotic flower in this otherwise typically English setting. My geography was never that good and I could easly have assumed that Zahin, from Iran was the same character as Cherif who arrives on Miss Webster’s doorstep one dark night, straight from North Africa, in “Miss Webster and Cherif” by Patricia Duncker. Are these characters angels sent from another dimension to help those in need? Even the young woman in Light on Snow could be considered so as she opens up the previously locked lives of the father and daughter.

These books set me thinking about unlikely friends.

Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse in “Miss Pettigree Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson which we can look forward to in its film version soon.

Flowers for Mrs Harris by Paul Gallico, in which a London charwoman could be seen perhaps more like a discreet Fairy Godmother than an angel.

What book would you award the tag of “unlikely friends”?


Spending Saturday




What can be more pleasant than spending Saturday with your daughter? Not a lot except that I would probably be better off financially. I am usually so good about looking in “proper” bookshops but not buying. My philosophy is that if I am “meant” to read a book it will find its way into a charity shop and throw itself at me as I cast my eye along the shelves. But this Saturday I was led astray. Being seventeen my little darling doesn’t share my taste in books. These days her reading matter is likely to be found in the self-help or psychology sections of Borders, our most convenient Book Bazaar. At her age I had a penchant for John Wyndham so maybe all teenagers gravitate to towards tales of “nasty” things.


So what tempted me? Please see above. I fell for a book cover and the promise of a nun. The cover of the book has a graphic quality and a bit of a pre-war feel to it. “Pelagia & The White Bulldog” by Boris Akunin is actually translated from Russian and the first page has a list of Dramatis Personae so I wonder if reading it is going to be as confusing as when I tried to tackle “War and Peace” and fell foul of everyone having at least three names. I really thought this looked promising but it had bad reviews but I don’t care because at least it will enable me to tag another book with the words “nun” and “convent” and anyway the book looks good, feels good and smells good.


Another of my favourite tags for books is “spinster” and that is how I will be tagging “Miss Webster and Cherif” by Patricia Duncker, along with the word “friendship”. This work of fiction was much better received by the critics. I only hope it will live up to my initial expectations. Oh, and in case you are wondering, my little darling bought “My Friend Leonard” by James Frey. It’s the sequel to a book all about someone in a drug rehab centre and is as equally deserving of the tag “friendship” as is my book.


Anne’s Labyrinth


If you want to add some atmosphere while reading this entry may I suggest that you listen to the music from the film by opening another web browser and listening here.

Before it won all the awards I decided I wanted to go and see Pan’s Labyrinth but in my usual “all talk and no do” way I missed it when it was on very briefly at our local cinema. My sister, the Anne in the title of this blog entry is much more of a doer and of course found somewhere with about six seats that was showing the film although she had missed the initial showing. She raved about it so much that when I knew she was bringing her tribe to stay over the Bank Holiday weekend I decided to buy the DVD and watch it with her.

The film is set just after the Spanish Civil War and cleverly intertwines real life with fantasy. I always have difficulty trying to introduce someone to a film without giving away the plot so I will do my usual thing of not saying anything. A friend of mine once said that she would rather watch paint dry than watch a film that I recommended. She complained that I don’t care about plot as long as the film looks good. This film certainly does look good, in a grim way. It is almost monochrome in colouring. All the joy of life has been sucked away and everything is pervaded with grey. We see events through the eyes of a young girl. Her father is dead, her mother has remarried and is now heavily pregnant by her new husband, a captain in the army.

Ofelia is a girl who loves books, especially fairy tales and it is into these that she escapes to deal with her unhappiness at her new situation. You may have as much trouble as Ofelia in distinguishing between the two worlds.

Where I blog

Stuck-in-a-Book has been musing about where people sit when they blog. Well this is where I am, in the left-hand house, in the middle upstairs room. It’s not a room of my own, it’s just where the computer happens to be. I don’t actually sit at the window but my right eye glances out of it now and again.To my left is the door onto the landing at the top of the stairs and behind me are about 10+ years of my my husband’s company’s “books”. At the back of the house I have attempted to take over my eldest son’s room as a room of my own but it is proving harder than climbing Mount Everest.

B*ll*cks to Alton Towers


My usual morning surf around the web and I stumbled across this book. I think this is the hardback cover and I love all that the Morris Minor Traveller implies. It appears to be a best seller but I have have never heard of it and not because I have have been spending too much time at Alton Towers or our local version, Chessington World of Adventures or to the west of us, Thorpe Park and Legoland. When I was a child I was taken a few times to Chessington, when it was a zoo and when our eldest was about three we took him there to marvel at elephants and giraffes and other smaller curiosities. We usually steer clear of theme parks, especially on holiday which for the last million years we have taken in Cornwall.


There is however one exception. Just outside Liskeard, an area where my mother-in-law’s family originated from, is a village called Dobwalls.We dragged the children around churchyards and went looking for old family homes with only vague memories of a young child (my mother-in-law) to guide us. The children, all under ten were amazingly patient and when we saw that there was a place with a sit-on model railway we decided they needed a reward. Dobwalls has several different scaled-down steam railways and the remainder of the park (if you ignore the go-kart area) is given over to giant climbing frames and all-weather tepees in the pine forest. The climing frame area is like something out of a surreal nightmare for me. Tunnels and high-level walkways connect one area to the other and I have to admit we lost our youngest on several occasions as you would never be left behind by the boys and could climb with the best of them. Dobwalls has over the years become a bit more commercialised but we always tried to ignore those sides of the place and massaged our puritan sensibilities by suggesting that the place brought much-needed employment to the local population who after all were probably distantly related to the other half.


Over on Stuck-in-a-Book Simon asks us to think of a book that only a handful of people know about, their RMH volume. Back here I’m wondering what secret days out people are keeping to themselves, their very own BTAT (Bollocks to Alton Towers) place.






Where or When



I was so caught up in and entranced by “Light on Snow” (see previous post) that despite now having a stack of Shreve’s from which to choose I couldn’t find one that called to me. I read the first few paragraphs of each, flipped to the middle, flipped to the back but, like the person desperate for sleep who tosses and turns all night rather than lying quietly, I just wouldn’t allow myself to settle. Eventually I was so exhausted that I just grabbed the nearest volume and began.


“Where or When” is a very different book from “Light on Snow” though we do see parts of the book through the eyes of children. Two middle-aged people who knew each other for barely a week as children, renew their acquaintance and the inevitable happens. It is the way that Shreve writes that draws me to her. She has an eye for small details, her characters are sensitive to the play of light on the landscape, the subtle colours of their world, she makes the ordinary extraordinary.


Though plot is important I don’t feel that it is the driving force in her books. Have you ever been to a church fete and had a go on one of those “machines” that are just a wriggly thick wire attached to a battery? You have to manoeuver a metal ring with a wooden handle from one end of the “wire” to the other without allowing contact to be made. If your hand slips a buzzer rings and carries on ringing till you manage to break the connection. Sometimes you are so shocked by the contact that the buzzer sounds continuously as you drag the ring back to the beginning. But things can never be the same, the peace and quiet has been broken by that momentary (or lingering) contact. Whilst the buzzer is sounding you are unaware of anything else, unaware of what was happening before and should have happened afterwards. Everything has changed.

Start of a Shrevefest?


My baby sister is doing an MA in creative writing. Currently she is supposed to be looking at the work of Anita Shreve as people have suggested that their writing has common elements and styles. This set me off on a treasure hunt around the charity shops in my lunchtimes to see if I could gather her some research material. I hit the jackpot and almost dislocated my shoulder carrying home my booty.

My sister and her tribe are heading south to stay with us over the Bank Holiday next week so I will be parting with this newly acquired stack in just under a week. Nothing for it but to get stuck in. Light on Snow bobbed its way to the surface and so I began and I couldn’t put it down. I even resorted to reading in bed before I went to sleep, something I NEVER do. Then yesterday morning, instead of reading DGR, HD and SiaB, something amounting to a cardinal sin as far as I am concerned, at 6 am I made myself a drink and crept back to bed to read. I was at work before anyone else as usual but instead of shuffling papers and attempting to prioritise tasks whilst the computers did their early morning calisthenics, I READ, all the time with one ear cocked for the sound of footsteps at the front door. I didn’t go for a walk at lunchtime, I READ and finally finished Light on Snow.


My problem is that I think I may have started with AS’s best book. I have glanced at pages of the others and they don’t sing out to me the way this one did. A seemingly ordinary book that starts:



Beyond the window of my father’s shop, midwinter light skims the snow. My father stands, straightening his back.

‘How was school?’ he asks.


‘Good,’ I say.


He puts his sander down and reaches for his jacket on a hook. I run my hand along the surface of the table. The wood is floury with dust, but satin underneath.


‘You ready?’ he asks.


‘I’m ready,’ I say.


My father and I leave his workshop in the barn and walk out into the cold. The air, dry and still, hurts my nose as I breathe. We lace up our snowshoes and bang them hard against the crust. A rust color is on the bark, and the sun is making purple shadows behind the trees. From time to time the light sends up a sheen of pocked glass.


Nothing prepares you for the rest of the book that works like a two-ply yarn. Each strand can exist on its own but when combined the two have an incredible strength. The two stories intertwine in a way that some might feel is too contrived at times. Surely events and occurrences ARE more meaningful because of what we ourselves have experienced. Incidents that would pass by another cause us to have eyes filled with tears and to react to others in a particular way. Our experiences give us the skills needed in a particular situation. Our presence in a place, at a particular time can, and quite often does, make a difference. We can be responsible for causing someone else to take a different path, not necessarily a better path, just different.

Most of the time we see events through the eyes of a twelve year old girl, share her acceptance of her way of life. If this book only causes us to momentarily think about how our behaviour and actions influence the way a child has to live then it will be reason enough for it to have been written.

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