travel with me from SAHM to working mum….
I love holidays…don’t we all? Apart from the obvious: sun, sea, sand and cocktails, it is the chance to get on with some serious reading. I don’t mean the reading of serious books, more attacking those books which have been piling up on the bedside table over the previous months. The acquisition of a kindle with 3G connectivity has meant that, even in Mexico, I’ve been connected to a huge bookshop of reading material, very useful when you make it through the pile, and very light.
Have you ever noticed how your choice of holiday reading is often linked? Year after year I find my books are on a similar subject or theme, or mention a specific place. My brain probably manufactures these links as a result of being in a relaxed, holiday mode free from the pressures of practical organisation. But they are still there.
This year was no exception. I took a mixture of real books and pre-downloaded virtual books and, again, I found links, but in a way that seemed to taunt me in my sun lounger. The link was writing and achieving your dreams, subjects I often group together. I took ‘A Week in December’ – Sebastian Faulks, ‘The Paris Wife’ – Paula McLain, ‘The Help’ – Kathryn Stockett, ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ – SJ Watson, ‘Mum on the Run’ – Fiona Gibson, ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ – Deborah Moggach.
In the Faulks’ novel there is a character called R. Tranter. He is a writer/journalist/reviewer who makes his living by trashing other writers. His speciality is the scornful review and he has a huge chip on his shoulder towards people with privileged upbringings. He is also writing a biography about his favourite, obscure Victorian novelist. I shared his impotence in wanting to make himself heard.
‘The Paris Wife’ is about Ernest Hemingway’s life in Paris and his first marriage. It is a wonderfully written novel where reality and invention have been melted together to create a fascinating account of the private life of this major author. My knowledge of Hemingway previous to this reading was restricted to knowing that he wrote ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ and that it was about the civil war in Spain. I hadn’t read it. This will be corrected. The fictionalised descriptions of Hemingway’s discussions with Gertrude Stein and F Scott Fitzgerald (both of whom I have read) and other creative types of 1920’s Paris regarding his paired down non-expository style were fascinating. They reminded me of my creative writing teacher who always says: show, don’t tell. ‘The Sun Also Rises’, central to the novel, is now on my virtual nightstand.
The bravery of the women in ‘The Help’, who are prepared to risk their lives in order to write the truth of their situation was impressive and not fully captured in the recent film. The saccharine reproduction of this story fails to show the horror of the casual prejudice and everyday violence that all of the black characters have witnessed. This means that Skeeter’s naivety is underplayed, as are the risks that Minnie and Aibileen are taking. As a writer I admire Skeeter’s determination; and her own courage in turning her back on her bullying childhood friend cannot be under-estimated.
The next story is also about a woman who risks her own life simply by writing down her own story. ‘Before I Go to Sleep’ has also been made into a film which I haven’t seen. It is a crime story, but the detective is an amnesiac who has to re-learn her own history (herstory) every day. She discovers that she has achieved her childhood dream of writing a novel, but the man she believes to be her husband is denying it. It is only through the intervention of a persistent doctor that the reality of her predicament is revealed. Her writing saves her.
My other choices: ‘Mum on the Run’ and ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ both deal with people who were trying to regain elements of themselves. They both reminded me that, no matter how far along the path of life we walk, there is still time to take a different route.