Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Gertrude in the Kitchen, Harold Harvey
A worrying week - and I know I shouldn't be sweating the small stuff but after five days without internet or a phone, there were times when I thought it was going to be Mrs Miniver RIP and that I was locked out of my own blog ... and, of course, suddenly I started feeling much fonder of the old thing and realised I'd miss her. It also made me realise how much time I fritter online because with no television, blogs, work, emails, it has been like living in the 19th century ... and I've done masses of reading. (I was going to cheer myself up and make a cake - but no, the recipe I wanted was online!)
So I was so pleased that I had this book at the top of my pile - and that it was absolutely the right kind of soothing escape into someone else's domestic life instead of my own. (And so pleased to be enjoying EH Young as much as usual after a disappointing time with The Vicar's Daughter.)
Why isn't EH Young better known today? I think this is one of the best novels I have ever read about the nuances of a marriage that's frayed around the edges. Celia married just before WW1 - her husband is a not very successful architect designing mean little villas that she despises - and they're living on a middle-class shoestring. The marriage works - they jog along together, quite good friends - but Celia hates sex and any physical contact with her pudgy, damply sweating husband (how she longs for the deep peace of a single bed) and fantasises about a very mild little fling she had briefly during the war. This seems overwhelmingly sad, the way she's allowed this daydream to become the central relationship of her life. But there are other marriages in Celia's immediate circle ... there's her well-heeled sister, May, whose husband fantasises about escape;  her snobbish, interfering sister-in-law Julia; a friend who has a secret tragedy. By the end of the novel, you feel you know them all intimately, their strengths and shortcomings and the self-deceptions that keep these marriages going but also stop them from becming anything finer.
Oh, don't listen to me rambling on ... find a copy in a charity shop. (Mine was in the library reserve and hadn't been stamped out since 1990 when it was republished by Virago.)

8 comments:

Veronica Cooke said...

I wish I could find one in a charity shop, Mary! I have a collection of Viragos and I just keep finding the same old ones in the charity shops - it's rare to find one I haven't already got, but I'll keep on looking.

This book sounds brilliant and I have several of this author's books (including 'The Vicar's Daughter') but have yet to read any of them.

My current reading strategy is to read all the books that are lying on top of the rows of books on my shelves. The idea behind this is that I'll end up with neat bookshelves again but of course that will only work if I don't buy any more books...

I'm currently reading 'Freedom' by Jonathan Franzen and very much enjoying it - I've had it for years!

Enjoy your week

Veronica

Mary said...

You can buy it for pennies on Amazon, Veronica - but maybe you should make a dent on those bookshelves! I completely understand about the double parking/books precariously balanced on top ... nothing for it but a bigger house! The one in-one out system would have to be applied far more rigorously than I can manage. But do dip into EH Young. Apart from being lukewarm about The Vicar's Daughter, I've loved every one.

Cosy Books said...

I love that your library would hang on to a book for that long without circulating. My library would have discarded it by 1991 if no one had signed it out. A complete travesty, if you ask me.

Mary said...

Not my local, Darlene - which is dismal, stark white and lots of computers - but there's a distant branch that seems to hang on to the old titles that we like. I imagine one bespectacled librarian with good taste - and hope she's not retiring soon! I bet they have proper library shelves too! let's hope they never 'modernise' which takes all the cosiness out of a library.

Toffeeapple said...

What a coincidence, I have just re-read all but one of my E H Young books (I could not face Jenny Wren again) and am of the opinion that I liked Celia the best. I also love the painting of Gertrude in the Kitchen. I have just taken delivery of a Persephone Classic, 'Kitchen Essays' and the cover has a picture which I immediately recognised as being painted by Harold Harvey who did Gertrude's image!

Mary said...

I think there's more layers to Celia than any of the others, Toffeeapple. I think I slightly spoiled Jenny Wren because I read The Curate's Wife first and it should have been the other way round. Still haven't read The Misses Mallett - I must have seen dozens of copies in Oxfam before I knew how good she was, now I'm on the lookout of course they've disappeared!

Toffeeapple said...

Mary, I usually get my 'old' books from Abe or Awesome books, they are cheap (about £2.59) and usually in Virago Modern Classics design.

Mary said...

Yes, Abebooks are brilliant - but there's something about the thrill of the hunt when you find one on a charity shop! I've just found a cookery book after I've been after for ages - in a 10p rummage bin. Must have been old-fashioned even when it was printed and I'm thrilled with it.