Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Love in Idleness

Please visit Barrie Summy
for a complete listing
of this month's book reviews

Frank Cadogan Cowper, Titania Sleeps in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1928)

Summer is lying heavily on us right now, and the oppressive heat does seem to stir up all sorts of mischief and mayhem. I long to retreat to Cowper's shaded wood, but instead I must find my refreshment in the pages of novels.

I rarely read (or do anything else, for that matter) with much method . . . instead, I tend to flit from book to book as fancy dictates.

But I was so entranced by Hearts and Minds last month that I immediately resolved to read all of Amanda Craig's novels -- in the order that they were written. It was the easiest of tasks, as they are just the sort of fiction that I like best: well-written, intelligent, and peopled by interesting, complex characters.

Craig has a penchant for unlikeable protagonists, and there is something slightly sharp and sour in most of her novels. She tells a fast-paced, often episodic, story in a manner which reminds me of Jilly Cooper (but more highbrow). Like Cooper, she links the novels together with recurring characters. Now that I am well-acquainted with her fictional universe, I can't wait to see whose story will be continued.

As the briefest of synopses, and in chronological order:

Foreign Bodies -- the coming-partially-to-age story of a young woman who flees from England to Italy to learn about love and art

A Private Place - an unlikely romance is a catalyst for adolescent anarchy in a "progressive" English boarding school

A Vicious Circle - love and ambition in the fiercely cynical world of London journalism

In a Dark Wood - a middle-aged actor, dissolute and newly divorced, learns more than he bargains for when he starts delving into his past

Love in Idleness - when family and friends go on holiday together in Tuscany, romance and confusion ensues -- a la A Midsummer Night's Dream

As happenstance would have it, I started reading Love in Idleness -- the last of my stash of Craig novels -- at the height of the summer solstice. Descriptions of languorous summer days and the sensual Italian landscape seemed as appropriate as Insalata Caprese for lunch.

If you've ever shared a holiday home, you will readily recognize some of the inevitable conflicts: differences in expectations and budgets, clashing parenting styles, and perceived inequalities in sharing the work-load. Into this prosaic mix, Craig introduces love and lust and a few otherworldly elements.

In some sense, we always abandon our workaday selves when we go on vacation. Being in a less defined, less restrained environment allows for all sorts of possibilities. Like Shakespeare before her, Craig understands that love is transformative, too . . . and that sometimes we suffer from delusions and, yes, make asses of ourselves. If you know the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream, you will enjoy finding the parallels between characters and plot, but it is certainly not necessary for an appreciation of this delightful story.

At the moment, as so many of us are packing and preparing for our summer holidays, we are also casting about for the perfect summer book. Love in Idleness manages to ooze heat, and yet it is as light and bubbly as a glass of good Prosecco.

So now I've been to Italy, but does anyone have a good suggestion for Spain?


PG said...

I think I would rather pull my fingernails out than share a holiday home with anyone, but I will definitely be hunting out Amanda Craig at our library; I'm sure I've read one or two of hers already.

David Cranmer said...

"... flit from book to book as fancy dictates" is very much me these days. I tend to find one's world is only further enriched by trying different genres and it enhances my own writing as well.

And I'm off to check out Mr. Cowper's other work. I do remember his Vanity but little else. Titania is incredible.

Sarah Laurence said...

I heard about the record heat in England. Reading in the shade sounds like a good scheme to stay cool.

I’m impressed by your quest to read all of the works by a current novelist. Love in Idleness sounds especially interesting, with its Shakespeare link. You are so good about matching your reading to your setting, making for a fun post.

As for Spain reading, I’m guessing you’ve already read Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls? If not, pack it with a box of tissues. One of his best novels. I read it in high school and must reread it.

I love those poppies below.

Kathy Holmes said...

I do love books that take me away to a new location when I can't get away myself. One of the best books I was "Oriental Hotel" and it took me from England to India to Thailand.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh no! More book temptations! I am a reading fool this summer! Having discovered Behind The Scenes At The Museum recently...where had I been???...I am now reading all of Kate Atkinson and am completely besotted with her books! But I shall have to add Amanda to my list!!

Happy Holiday Reading!

rxBambi said...

I love reading your sound so... so.. British? I would love to just sit and listen to you flit from book to book as fancy dictates. In your garden. With tea and scones.
When can I come and visit?
On another note, I haven't read and of Craigs books, but I'll check her out. Thanks.

spudballoo said...

You know I've read at least one A Craig but I can't for the life of me remember which one. I'm RUBBISH, as soon as I've read something the characters flee out of my head. I will add her most recent to my reading list though.

Hmm, Spain. Well I hated For Whom the Bell Tolls! I can't think of any other novels set in Spain, that can't be right though.

Essential holiday reading for British girls brought up in the 70s is 'The Tent, the Bucket and me' by Emma Kennedy. I laughed out loud on the train today twice. But it's very perculiarly British and you need to have been born late 60s/early 70s to get the best out of it!


Alyssa Goodnight said...

Beautiful review! All of these books sound like the type I would enjoy...I remember loving Midsummer Night's Dream.

I wish I had a recommendation for Spain...

Barrie said...

Have you read anything by Elinor Lipman? Although none of her books takes place in Spain!!, I think you'd really like her books. The Inn at Lake Devine. The Ladies' Man. The Pursuit of Alice Thrift. I haven't read her latest, The Family Man, which came out in May. Hmm....maybe for my next month's review?! ANYWAY, I loved your review. Amanda Craig sounds right up my alley. I'm very chatty this evening and am leaving rambling, long comments all over the place!! Thanks again, Bee.

A Cuban In London said...

I loved the carefree tone of these reviews so much. The language was lush and rich and I can see that you enjoyed those literary works in the same way someone enjoys a chocolate ice-cream in these sweltering temperatures down to the last very drop.

Many thanks for introducing a new author to me.

Greetings from London.

Bee said...

PG - I think that you might like In a Dark Wood. It uses fairy tales in an interesting way to tie in to the plot. Holiday home shares are definitely a fine art!

David - Sometimes Google searches are so rewarding. Emory University has a database of Shakespeare references/art which I've looked at before. I really liked the mood and colors of the Cowper as well.

Sarah - I wonder if I will be able to read much on this biking holiday? We aren't used to action holidays. I did indeed read For Whom the Bell Tolls many years ago. Why do we all read Hemingway in our early 20s?

Kathy - I haven't heard of that one; thanks for the tip!

Pamela Terry - I read (and loved) that book many years ago, but for some reason have not read any other Atkinson. Must remedy that. It was fun, actually, to read an entire body of work in one go. I might try that again.

rxBambi - Well, you can come and visit in August when we are having Blog Camp 1.5 at my house! I hope it cools down, though, because it is too hot to sit in the garden right now.

spudballoo - Thanks for the suggestion on the Emma Kennedy book. I tend to like "peculiarly British" things and that era is perfect for me. Born in '67.

Alyssa - Oh well. I hope that you will try an Amanda Craig novel anyway.

Barrie - I do like Elinor Lipman and I have a book of hers (the Alice Thrift one) that I haven't read it. Good vacation reading and already on my shelf!

A Cuban in London - It's sweltering hot here in my attic study and now you are making me crave ice cream . . . and I think that I will give into that craving!

Anne said...

Well, it appears that I need to head to my local bookstore and look for some Amanda Craig. Thanks for the recommendation! This sounds like just the sort of thing that I could use as a summer reading idea.

I'm afraid I don't have any ideas for good Spain reading, except perhaps some Hemingway, but I do hope you find something--and stay cool in the process!

Elizabeth said...

Have you thought of "As I Walked out One Midsummer Morning " by Laurie Lee?
You probably should read "Cider with Rosie" first.
The latter is a totally magic book. So glad people are loving Kate Atkinson's "Behind the Scenes..."

Yvonne Anderson said...

Oh, I adore finding out about different novelists. I rarely read fiction as it's always all about business, but one thing I am doing this year is reading more fiction because I love it!

Kelly H-Y said...

I can't wait to read some of your recommendations!

Jenny Woolf said...

I'll check out Amanda Craig, although my reading time right now is taken up with work related matters. (Summer holidays? What are they? But then I am a freelance).

My recommendation for holiday reading is "Selina Penaluna" by Jan Page. I think it's officially classified as a Young Adult book which leads me to wonder how they decide these things. It may be that they just don't think that grown up women like books like this, but it's fabulously well written, brilliantly plotted and wonderfully characterised. It's it's about a girl who thinks she is a mermaid and a tragedy which is played out in Cornwall of the 1940s and of today.

(I'm still there by the sea's edge, mentally, not quite as good as actually going there I suppose but the best I can do)

Love your photos of roses! I am going to reorganise my blogroll and put your blog on it - have been neglecting it all lately.

Emm said...

:o) I'm really pedantic and often insist on reading author's books in the order that they were read. Amanda Craig seems to be one of those authors who divides readers into for-or-against camps. I really like your reviews though and I think she would reminds me of Margaret Atwood so perhaps I'll give her a try.

Cynthia said...

I think this sounds like the perfect summer read, thanks for sharing. Love your blog title, From the Desk of Bee Drunken-I see a heavy pollen loaded bee falling about your desk while on the way to a honey combed home. It's kind of a writer's metaphor for someone who loves to read and write, don't you think. I hope we get to know each other more. Won't you visit my Oasis Writing Link (OWL)blog? I'm a university professor/writer on a long summer break...

I love the casual feel of summmer 'idleness' here and the general mood of your blog. <3

Cyndy said...

Bee, just wanted to say hello and thank you for your posts. Came this way via Julochka (who has the best list of blogs to read) but also see so many familiar names in the comments. Feeling right at home.

Very nice to add the English country side to my daily tour around the world. You write about it as I have always pictured it: bliss. Thanks!

herhimnbryn said...

Hallo Bee, Thankyou for the reviews you introduce me to some wonderful authors.
I can't recommend a Spanish theme, but have recently begun re-reading all of Mary Wesley's books. If you like 'English' stories with wonderful characters (and have not already found her, I suspect you may well have done), these are the books for you

Delwyn said...

Hello Bee
this is an author i have not read so have put her on my list. I read Cider with Rosie many many moons ago and loved it...

Alexander McCall Smith might be light summer reading for you...

Happy Days

Reya Mellicker said...

When I read novels (can't tell you why I don't any longer) I often got hooked to a certain author. I almost always read every book ever written by the author du jour.

I think it was a bit obsessive!

Stay cool, Bee.

Phoenix said...

Thanks for the great reviews. I hope to pick up Craig soon.

Sarahlynn said...

How wonderful! I love reading books that coincide with where I am (location, season, emotion) and this sounds like a perfect summer vacation read. We just got back from a shared rental house vacation, actually.

Bee said...

Thanks for all of the feedback -- and hello to my new "friends." I'm still pondering possibilities for my vacation book bag . . .

Stephanie said...

I've never read this series...I am reading something quite heavy right, but very good and beautifully written...Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. As for Spain...have you read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron? Very good read!


Tessa said...

Wonderful post, Beth! I love Amanda Craig's novels - one I hadn't read was loaned to me just the other day by my daughter - In a Dark Wood - which I read in one sitting. Extremely well written, as always, it is a thoroughly gripping tale with a cast of her usual anomalous characters.

For a journey to Spain, I'd suggest Norman Lewis' excellent Voices of The Old Sea; The Beehive by Camilo Jose Cela and Paul Preston's Doves of War. And of course there is nothing like the irrepressible Elizabeth Luard to laugh (and cry) with - Family Life will take you to Spain as well as to the Languedoc...and back to England again.

Wildeve said...

Enjoyed this post, and the last one, very much. You have a way with words!

Jan said...

GReat juicy posting, Bee! Haven't blogged for a while but when I read stuff like this, I vow to be more diligent! Thankyou.

Celeste Maia said...

What a beautiful blog you have, I have been reading several of your past entries and I enjoy your writing and your themes and your beautiful photographs. I live in Madrid, but am in Portugal for the summer, talk about heat wave, Madrid is the heat wave, it is a furnace. Now I am by the sea and can finally sleep at night. A remarkable book that takes place in Barcelona and is intriguing and mysterious is "La Sombra Del Viento", by Zafron, it was translated into 200 languages. The English title would be "The Shadow Of The Wind". Well worth reading. Come visit "my"world if you have the time, I am a painter and children's book writer and illustrator.

Bee said...

Stephanie - I've had the The Shadow of the Wind for more than 2 years! I'm definitely going to bring it on this holiday, thanks.

Tessa - You are so well-read! I really enjoyed In a Dark Wood, too. It was one of my favorites of hers. Thanks for all of the good suggestions. I've commented more on your blog.

Wildeve - Thanks so much.

Jan - So good to see you! I suppose everyone needs blog breaks once in a while, but it's nice to feel one's enthusiasm return.

Celeste Maia - The Shadow of the Wind is now in my suitcase! Thanks so much for your visit.

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