Last weekend I went to Suffolk. Granny and I pulled the dusty garden chairs out of the summerhouse, lay in the afternoon haze which held the last dregs of the sun, and fell asleep. My grandparents’ summerhouse has a very distinctive smell and is the closest I have got to being back in the womb. This is probably because as a baby I was put here to sleep in my huge Silver Cross perambulator (one cannot simply call it a “pram”) with a Snoopy mobile dangling from the ceiling. The smell is sharp, welcoming, old, beige, spidery, safe.
My grandparent’s house is where I feel safest in the world. My bedroom is at the very top of the house, a little single camp-bed in a room with sloping ceilings and curling posters of Venice on the walls. The parquet in the hall where I spent hours sliding in my socks. The floor seemed so much bigger then; I never knew if I would reach the other side to crash into the glass panels of the kitchen door. On the other side I could see ripples of Pippa, the dog, watching me: a vague vanilla smudge with a black smear for a nose.
Granny is quite determined to stay put, and I am selfishly pleased and relieved. This house is where I grew up, and where, when I come to visit, I grow down.
Normally I make the most of the journey to Suffolk by curling up on a train with a book, but I was driving this time, which involved swearing at the sat nav, gesturing irately at a man who was driving while on his phone, and stubbornly refusing to refuel at Tesco (thus driving the next 20 miles fuelled by sweat and hope). However these are the books I would like to share with you.
The Child’s Child by Barbara Vine. I look forward to her books (and Ruth Rendell’s!) like I look forward to a big glass of cold water after a hot walk. Sinister, devastating, and with an unusual ending I wasn’t expecting.
Until You’re Mine by Samantha Heyes. I started enjoying this, then it got silly. Then suddenly there was a twist that took my breath away and made me do an “oh” out loud. Like a very dull porn film.
The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. This book made me feel really uncomfortable; I don’t know why. Perhaps the issue of Holocaust forgiveness entwined with the story of a rather unpleasant woman who spends most of her time baking just didn’t work for me – the dough didn’t rise, I suppose.
Transatlantic by Colum McCann. Sparse, beautiful writing tracing a letter down the decades from the USA, to Ireland, and back again.
The White Princess by Philippa Gregory. Another historical bodice-ripper, but like her or loathe her Gregory does bring the War of the Roses to life in dazzling technicolour. This is the story of Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII.
The Bees by Laline Paull. My granny asked me to explain this to her and I simply couldn’t. I could only say “It’s about – bees”, and open my hands because I didn’t have the words to explain how wonderful it is. Hopefully I’ll do a bit better using the written word. It is about a colony of bees, and how they live. I started hating it because I thought it was some utopian parable, and kept going to put it down and pick up something else, and then thought – just one more page. Suddenly, I was hooked by honey and Flora, the unexpected little heroine. I have always adored bees, but will never look at them in the same way again.
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. It was quite funny, but I wasn’t rolling in the aisles as I expected (and perhaps I could have done with). There’s humour, but a bit of icy contempt behind the humour, which leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste.
The Telltale Heart by Jill Dawson. Jill Dawson is, along with Lesley Glaister, one of our greatest unsung authors. This is the story of Patrick who receives a heart transplant, and his donor, and his donor’s ancestors. It’s just gentle and gorgeous. Devour! (named of course after Edgar Allan Poe’s tale)
I am currently on England’s Lane by Joseph Connolly, and if you don’t mind, I’d rather get back to it. No I haven’t done any writing yet, which I’m ashamed of. I keep meaning to, and then start cleaning. More recently, I’ve had episodes of being “too fat” to write, and last night’s attempt peaked with a complete meltdown over my lost Pilates socks (I found them eventually). So I need to be more disciplined. I know. I’m still thinking about it. I still want to do it. I think I just have to stop making excuses and see if I can still do it. If I can’t, hell, who’s going to know?! Its not like I’m going to post it up on here and say “So… what do you all think”?
Read The Bees and then come back to this page and look in the bee’s eyes. They will look quite different.