Thursday, 26 May 2016


The only other book by Hans Fallada that I've read is Alone in Berlin, written just before his death in 1947 and based on the true story of a couple who were executed for distributing anti-Nazi material during the war. His own life sounds unremittingly grim.
Little Man, What Now? is an earlier work from 1932, written just before the Nazis came to power. A best-seller, it was turned into a Hollywood film that I can't track down.
Sonny and his Lämmchen - his lambkin - are a young couple struggling through the economic crisis that saw the rise of Hitler.  (Forty-two per cent of German workers were unemployed.) Sonny is a little white-collar worker, a department-store shop-walker, clinging to respectability but his life is even more precarious than an industrial worker who has some solidarity with his comrades. Sonny gets his girl pregnant - he marries her - they're hard up but deliriously happy and so much in love that it doesn't seem to matter that she's a disastrously inept cook and they can't manage their money. The sums are never going to add up and when he loses one job, and then another - he lives in dread of not achieving his sales targets - the little family are on a downward spiral ...
As I read, I couldn't help thinking of Greenery Street, a 1925 novel about another young couple embarking on married life in Chelsea. But how different their worries are, unable to manage their servants or live within an income of £1000 a year. It's frothy, romantic and silly ... and how bored I got with Felicity, the silly wife who is so completely different from stoical Lämmchen.  But PG Wodehouse's comment holds good for both novels: 'It's the only possible way of writing a book, to take an ordinary couple and just tell the reader all about them.'

Saturday, 21 May 2016


My late-night Amazon habit has been greatly curbed so I was overdue for a lapse. And browsing through my incredibly long wishlist tonight - which is really only a memory jogger for all those largely unavailable out-of-print books that I've seen mentioned elsewhere - well, tonight I came upon a couple of bargains. A Marghanita Laski satire and an Elizabeth Jenkins, both 25p, and the latter turned out to have been reviewed by Darlene, which is probably why it ended up on my wishlist in the first place. Well, it had to be done, don't you agree, because I shouldn't think they'll  turn up in the Oxfam shop any time soon.


Tuesday, 17 May 2016


I have very much enjoyed the first book of Allan Massie's quartet of crime novels set in Vichy France, discovered thanks to Cornflower's husband, who galloped through all four in a week - much faster than I read these days, but I'm looking forward to the next in the series. This first book opens in 1940 with the collapse of France and a decent policeman, under orders to collaborate, finds himself increasingly unable to hold off from shabby compromise. Towards the end, seeing his son reading one of Simenon's novels, he wishes that things were as easy for him as for Maigret ... and he does remind me of Maigret, but this is a new order and there are no right choices - people still have to live and if he resigns from the force, or gets kicked out, worse bastards will take his place. Meanwhile, Massie captures all the atmosphere of France, bars and brasseries and slugs of Armagnac in one's coffee and lunches of partridge with red cabbage and a nice St-Emilion  - well, I do like books with food and it reminded me that the one and only time I ever visited Bordeaux was the only time I ever tasted lampreys. Highly recommended. The book, that is. The lampreys were interesting.

Sunday, 15 May 2016


Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet has been restored and re-released ... and when I went the other day it was like being transported back to being 13, when Leonard Whiting was my favourite Jackie magazine pin-up. (I googled him when I got home. Oh dear, he didn't age well. Don't do it, ladies. Preserve your memories.)
It does seem a little dated now, but it's still lovely - and wasn't Olivia Hussey simply beautiful! I remember feeling so swept away by the star-crossed lovers ...
This time I remembered with a pang that I'd seen it first time round with my mum, who was considerably younger than I am now - and that 40-odd years have flown by so fast.
To think that I'm middle-aged enough to be shocked that a 15-year-old was ever interviewed on a chat show dragging on a cigarette.

Saturday, 14 May 2016


Marsh Marigold Night, c 1915

I'm sure I wasn't the only one who had never heard of Nikolai Astrup; there isn't a single one of his paintings in any British collection, and most remain in Norway. But this exhibition - the first outside his homeland - was a complete delight. (Just one day left if you want to catch it. Sorry.)
Astrup was the sickly son of the Lutheran minister of Ålhus on the shore of a lake in remote western Norway and he grew up in the cold, damp, wooden parsonage looking out over this landscape; the window of his bedroom, where he was often confined to his bed,overlooked the graveyard where three of his siblings were buried in one week ... and yes, I thought of the Brontes, too.

The parsonage was condemned and partly demolished in 1907, but one wing remains today; it's now on my list of places I'd love to visit. 

Marsh marigolds grew on the floor of the valley, beautiful, but a sign of poverty and agricultural neglect. By 1918, the marsh marigolds had gone.

So many of Astrup's paintings look as if it's only just stopped raining.



Rhubarb, 1911
He grew 10 varieties of rhubarb, some edible, some poisonous. I made a strawberry and rhubarb crumble that evening when I got home.

March Atmosphere at Jølstravatnet (before 1908)

On the way home, I picked a big bunch of cow parsley, horse chestnut flowers and may blossom and dropped pollen all over the Tube carriage. I have jugs of lacy white flowers all over the house. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016



Surely they don't mean me?  But I guess I must be one of the 'conservative Brits' being mocked by French media ... 

However, I'm not outraged by France's most expensive period drama, which bizarrely was made in English to secure wider sales. Having seen the first two episodes of Versailles, I'm just bored ...  How can so much earnest sex be so achingly tedious?  Barely two minutes in and Louis was hard at it ... wasn't long before the mandatory wet chemise stepping out of yet another lake ... then there's the King's pretty brother Monsieur who wants to go to war in a frock. It's not preposterous enough to be amusing, it's just dull. I think I've given up on this one already. I'm just puzzled why the BBC didn't buy Scotland's biggest period drama instead? After all, it's now set in Versailles - just 60 years later. 

Friday, 6 May 2016

 I started out really enjoying Juliet Nicolson's biography of seven generations of the women in her family, not least for the lovely cover design by Cressida Bell. (If your respective grandmother and great-aunt were lovers, then I guess there's a book jacket in it somewhere down the line.)
It starts in 1830 with Juliet's great-great-grandmother Pepita, a Spanish flamenco dancer who caught the eye of (Old) Lionel Sackville-West, as opposed to his cousin (Young) Lionel who married Pepita's beautiful illegitimate daughter and inherited Knole. Then it flags a bit ... Famous Vita is disposed of quite quickly, as if to say heigh-ho, we've all been here before. It's impossible to care much about Juliet's spoiled, snobbish, alcoholic mother Philippa; she's simply a blow-in by marriage into this famous family - that was half her trouble. And by the last 100 pages, I'm afraid I was thinking, that's quite enough, thank you. But it did make me wonder about what it must be like living with this weight of too much ancestral information. I mean, which of us really wants to know about our parents' and grandparents' dysfunctional sex lives ...? Still, I admit that when I read my great-grandfather's diary it was a crushing disappointment to discover that he mostly wrote about Mass times and the weather.