Thursday, 21 April 2011

Cross-Channel reading


Travelling and reading: two great passions that often give pleasure together. Yesterday I travelled through France on the high-speed train from Avignon to Paris, and then on north through the Eurotunnel with a good book: almost flying in both dimensions, as the TGV train seems to float above the ground at up to 300 miles an hour, and the narrative drive is so true and exhilarating in Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog.

This is the fourth of her semi-detective Jackson Brodie books, and each one has become more daring, more convoluted and gloriously coincidental, yet always with a strong internal logic. The writing is sly and allusive, offering glinting shards of insight into characters in few words.

Tilly the ageing actress, still wounded by her old friend’s success, has just one of the novel’s interweaving perspectives. Her faltering work in a northern TV drama is poignantly drawn, as is her failing memory, and denial of a creeping kleptomaniac tendency: 

"Recently she’d noticed all these objects suddenly appearing in her bag – key rings, pencil sharpeners, knives and forks, coasters. She had no idea how they got there. Yesterday she had found a cup and a saucer! The emphasis on cutlery and cups suggested she was trying to put together a complete place-setting."
    
Haven’t finished it yet, but I know it will be this good all the way through. Like Jackson Brodie, you can rely on Kate Atkinson. Neither will let you down.

My arrival back in Kent offered a fine symmetry to the day. All the way through France I’d been, in literary terms, immersed in a very British landscape of Yorkshire tea rooms, ruined abbeys and maddening shopping centres. But waiting for me at home here was another book, this time set in Provence.

Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard is a memoir by Ruth Phillips. Ruth is a professional ‘cellist, and the wife of the painter Julian Merrow-Smith, whose work I’ve featured before here. The book was a pre-publication review copy with a plain cover, but something about it was so right – the feel, the design and typeface - that I just dumped my bags by the front door and started reading immediately. (I think quite a few of you will understand…)

I sat down on the stairs, and was instantly pulled right back to the south of France. Because Ruth Phillips can write. I mean, she can really write; there’s a quality about her words you can recognise instantly. Here’s the Introduction:

"On February 16, 2005, Julian Merrow-Smith painted an oyster. It was 12 by 14 centimetres, about the size of a postcard. A year and 362 small paintings later, an article about the painter and his project appeared in the New York Times."

See what I mean? And a few pages in, she describes the village near Mont Ventoux where they settled in Provence and he established a studio.

"Crillon was a dreamy place perched high above vineyards, olive groves and cherry orchards, with a honey-coloured stone arch, cobbled streets, a well and a church spire. (…) Out of season, vineyards turned to rows of gnarled fists. Woodsmoke and the smell of stewing boar filled the air."

It may be the combination of her musicality and visual sense further developed by living with a painter and acting as his de facto studio assistant, that has distilled this lovely prose. Either way, the effect is quite magical, and I will return to it with a full review at a later date.

So how’s that for a good reading day? Two books: one not finished, one barely started, yet satisfaction all round. And both authors, one renowned, one still to be published, providing the very definition of travelling hopefully. 

The main picture is Monsieur Chauvet’s Orchard by Julian Merrow-Smith.

29 comments:

kellyhashway said...

Hi, Deborah! I've been here many times before, but I'm popping in for the blog hop. Have a great day!

Jennifer O. said...

Both books sound interesting...I love the tree painting.

I don't know how people start and finish a book in a day, write a review for it and still have time to do other things.... If I finish one book in a day it's at the exclusion of everything else....

Anyhow, happy reading:)

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

That sounds like such a wonderful day. We're going on vacation in May. Now I can't wait to bring a good book with me ;)

Lauracea said...

I think the blossom on the cover would draw me to the book. They both sound fascinating. Have a great time in the UK and say "hello" from me.

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

Reading a good book can really make time fly, even on the French high speed rails.
Sam

~dawn said...

I'm an ardent fan of memoirs! I'll reply later with my own feedback - thanks for sharing!
~d

MuMuGB said...

Hi Deborah! You really are my opposite: while I am in France you are going back to your home country!

Deborah Swift said...

Beautiful pictures. My cellist and art freak friend will enjoy the book you recommended - thanks!

Janel said...

I loved the excerpts from both of these books. The place setting line made me giggle. Off to add these to my wish list . . .

Olga said...

Thank you for your book recommendations. I love reading anything about France. I think my admiration for the history of that country explains it. Also "classical education":)

Cathy K said...

Yipee! Another coveted memoir to add to my ever growing list. At this rate I won't have time for my own life!

Richard said...

Comment pourrais-je rester insensible aux photos que tu nous montres? C'est la Provence que j'aime, et le premier tableau me ravit.
Merci Deborah!

James Kiester said...

You see, that's what I can't do. I can't start reading one book until I've finished reading a previous book. To go back and forth between books would keep me from fully getting into either one. If you enjoyed both though, that's great.

Sweet Life Garden said...

Hi Deborah, Thank you for stopping by my site. So happy to have found you too! Your blog is so beautiful! i would love to keep in touch! Jill

Kenya D. Williamson said...

Thank you for the recommendations, Deborah. I hope you enjoy your travels!

Forest Dream Weaver said...

The painting is beautiful even in this small image I can imagine being there with the sunshine and flowers.This is a book I want to read,thanks for the introduction Deborah.

Having a studio assistant seems like a splendid idea!!!

Have a lovely weekend!

Tiny Library said...

Travelling whilst reading is the best way to travel. I much prefer trains to planes too. Hope you enjoy your weeekend :)

Valerie Nieman said...

Stopping by on the blog hop, thanks for bringing me back to Provence on a rainy day.

Judy said...

Thanks for your book recommendations. France is an interesting country.

Catherine said...

A good book and beautiful scenery. What a nice day. Blessings, Catherine
Thank you for stopping by my blog.

Karen said...

Thank you for stopping by and visiting Release Notes. After reading your post, I'm ready to pack and head to France!

Leovi said...

I have not read anything by Kate Atkinson, I will note if I find in Spanish. I love painting by Julian Merrow-Smith, Greetings

joanny said...

Love the painting by Julian Merrow -Smith, and you did a fine editorial of the two books. enjoy your week-end.

Lovely post always fine quality I find here, very much appreciated.

joanny

litlove said...

You can even make travelling on a train sound like a delicious experience! I have the Kate Atkinson to read (and I love her - she is as reliably brilliant as you say). And the memoir sounds delightful and evocative. What serendipity, to ease the transition between two places by holding them in your mind through reading!

Julie Farrar said...

Bonjour, Deborah. I'm hopping over from the bloggers ball and like what I see. I love France (one of my favorite blog topics) and I'll be in Burgundy and Loire this summer. I'm looking forward to reading more on your site.

vanessafrance said...

Travelling by train is far more civilised than by air and provides plenty of opportunity for catching up with reading. Alas, getting from SW France up to the north is slower since our TGV goes by a roundabout route.
Thanks for your descriptions of both books, which I must look out for.

Julie Mautner said...

Hi Deborah, I look forward to reading your book. And Ruth's book. In fact, I've just posted my own little story about it on my site ProvencePost.com. Seriously, is there anything that girl can't do?? Meanwhile your blog looks great and I look forward to reading more! Best Wishes...

Mel said...

Sly and allusive for Kate Atkinson's writing is right! It is reassuring to know that her books keep delivering and become even more intriguing by the sounds of things. I also enjoyed reading the excerpts from the Ruth Phillips memoir; beautiful description.

Spangle said...

I have read 'Started Early, Took My Dog' and I wasn't disappointed. Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite writers. I admire her ability to combine wit, intrigue and her own quirky style, to spin different threads of story together.

I can't watch for her next novel.

A great post!

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