Friday, 18 April 2014

P is for Philander (this is an A to Z post)

He offered to walk back with her from the beach. The party was still in full swing behind them but once they rounded the corner of the path and were surrounded by trees, the lights and music and chatter faded. She felt awkward, alone with this man she had only just met. He had flirted with her all evening and surrounded by others it had felt innocent and harmless, but now it made her self-conscious. She kept up a lively stream of talk about her plans for the rest of the holiday, all the while feeling aware of his gaze. She stopped at her cabin and smiled politely, starting to say goodnight. His fingertips reached up and stroked her arm very lightly and he took a step towards her. Suddenly a small creature dropped from the tree beside them landing on his shoulder, and scuttled away into the undergrowth. He shrieked and jumped away.
"What the hell was that?"
"Just a possum," she laughed, going inside and closing the door.

(Alternative meaning of Philander)
(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Two sides to every story (also not an A to Z post)

Julie took me out for lunch and bought me a couple of books at the Oxfam bookshop for my birthday and 'Sweetness' by Torgny Lindgren was one of them.  I took it to work yesterday as I was doing an afternoon shift just dealing with returned packets, supervising the collections and locking up, so there was a bit of 'down' time. It is a brief 138 pages so I woke up this morning and finished it. It was an interesting contrast to 'The Luminaries' with its vast cast and complex interactions; 'Sweetness' has just Hadar and Olof, brothers, and an unnamed woman visitor. Hadar is dying of cancer, Olof is dying from heart disease, and each is determined to outlive the other. Their animosity seems to be rooted deep in their childhood and it has been the thing that sustained them through the years of their lives. 

When she finds herself briefly trapped by a snowfall the woman becomes a go between, caring for both brothers and gradually learning their story. On the first morning when she sees the smoke from Olof's cottage Hadar announces:

" 'My brother. Olof. If it weren't for him, I'd have been dead long ago.'
She glanced round at him quickly. What did he look like when he actually uttered a few words that on the face of it were full of warmth.
'I'm not going to make the bastard happy by dying before him,' he went on. 'That's what keeps me alive, and I'll never let him get the upper hand.'
There was quite a lot of smoke pouring out of the chimney down there, black smoke rising defiantly against the blinding snow." (p.15)

and this sets the tone for the entire book. They are the proverbial chalk and cheese; Hadar wasting away with his cancer and Olof grown grossly huge after a lifetime of consuming only sugar. They both look out of their windows at the other's cottage and wait for the smoke to cease. 

The whole book is beautifully written, spare and full of very black humour. The woman does not try to draw them out, she remains to a certain extend quite removed, her mind often occupied with thoughts about her own writing and her frequently repeated intention to leave soon. It is almost her indifference that makes them more forthcoming. They have lived inside their hatred for so long they both just assume she will take their part, but equally do not seem to resent her attentions to the other. It is a case of mutual hostility become the closest of interdependence. She does not appear to become fond of them, it is more a curious fascination that keeps her there. And I found myself more curious about her because we learn nothing much about her. 
There is not much in the way of lyrical descriptions of the environment or the snow or the coming spring, just the routines of survival, lighting the fire, eating, sleeping. In fact in places it is ... there must be a word for the opposite of lyrical, but I'm not sure what. I will avoid the description of pus extraction and give you this instead:

"But, when the day came, he would sit in the sauna that he had build with the wood dismantled from Olof's house and sweat out all the uncleanness and all the odours - that was the only natural and fitting way for a man, a man was made to sweat and as long as a man was doing heavy work and sweating he never needed to wash. If the sweat of his own life had been collected in a hollow in the ground, it would have made a sizeable lake - no, not a lake, a marsh, a muddy tarn, a bottomless quagmire. Because men's sweat, he would have her know, was not thin and watery; no - it was like gruel or limewash, it was strong and rich in ingredients; it did not run freely and easily but had to be squeezed out through the pores like mushy peas through a strainer." (p.48)

They settle into a routine together, occasionally she tries to instigate some kind of contact between them but they resist her. At other times she tells each of them what she knows they want to hear and allows them to play out their own version of events. The reader realises after a while that she won't leave before the end:

"She saw the snowplough drive past, but showed no sign of agitation. Having fetched the newspaper from the box at the roadside she sat down at the table to read it. When Hadar saw what she was doing, he said, 'No, we shouldn't read the paper, we should steer clear of disasters and distress. We should live as quiet a life as lichen. We can use the paper to light the stove.'" (p.54)


Monkey socks for Fibre Arts Friday (not an A to Z post)

After finishing the Monkey jumper a few weeks ago I used some of the remaining yarn to knit Monkey a pair of socks to match. They were done to the Violet Green Waving Not Drowning pattern, not that I had a copy but it is one of Julie's favourites (and she's having a sock knitting year) so she simply told me the four row pattern repeat, it's so simple but looks very effective. I thought I had made them long enough to come over the top of her DM's but never mind. And here she is wearing them *on the wrong feet* :-) I recently discovered a pattern for a bow tie online and so she has been doing some sewing (don't ask me to explain, she just wanted a bow tie ok) and now has quite an extensive collection; this one goes quite nicely with the jumper I thought.
Joining in again with Fibre Arts Friday, pop over and admire some other creations.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for Orchid

wiki commons
Dan stood admiring the roses, long stemmed and deep blood red. Too romantic he felt, and he didn't want to give her the wrong impression this early in the relationship. Lilies maybe; but some people are allergic and isn't the pollen really staining, not worth the risk. Chrysanthemums are what you buy your grannie when she's in hospital, and those coloured carnations are just so artificial. He contemplated the boxed orchids, delicate and exquisite. Expensive too, he thought, it could give just the right impression. He pulled out his wallet and the florist smiled expectantly.
"I'll have two bunches of daffodils thanks."

(Word for today's flash fiction A to Z supplied by my sister Claire when we were on the phone last night.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Nonchalant

Leaning awkwardly sideways he looked in the rear view mirror, fidgeted with his tie and ran his fingers over the already immaculate haircut. He walked across the car park gripping the newly purchased briefcase a touch too tight and trying very hard to breathe slowly and evenly. A curt woman at the reception desk greeted him and directed him to the lift.The journey to the sixth floor seemed interminable and the mirrored walls served only to make him feel observed and self conscious rather than alleviating the claustrophobia. On arrival a second, slightly older, but equally officious receptionist told him to take a seat. He perched on the edge of a pristine and very expensive leather armchair opposite the person who he assumed was his competition for the position. Surreptitiously he wiped the sweat from his palms and observed her. The woman was reading a magazine and smiling to herself, amused by the contents of the article. A cup of coffee was perched somewhat precariously on the arm of the chair and she paused in her reading to take a sip. The door opened behind him and they both looked up.
"Ms Ridley, won't you come in," said the man.
She folded the magazine and replaced it in her bag. She unfolded herself from the chair and glanced down at him as she walked past. There was pity in her eyes.

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

M is for Monopoly

"No," she said, grasping her staff more firmly and jutting out her chin, a fierce look in her eyes. 
He looked up at her, plaintive and contrite.
"But, your majesty, without it I will surely die."
His body slumped over and his head lolled almost comically to one side.
"But you are a mere peasant," she replied haughtily, "what does it matter to me?"
"I'm begging you, if not for me, at least spare the life of my baby," and he held out a tightly wrapped bundle. "Be merciful."
She stalked across and stood over him, seeming to consider his plight. The sound of music drifted across the grass and her head turned instinctively to it.
She smiled and crouched down to where he lay, planting a kiss delicately on his forehead.
"There, you are cured. Can we go for ice-cream now?"

(Words for my flash fiction A to Z supplied spontaneously by Monkey.)
(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

The Luminaries (not an A to Z post)

'The Luminaries' by Eleanor Catton. Wow and more wow. And so not what I expected. I only just read 'The Rehearsal' about six months ago and it is a very avant garde novel. When I read that her second, 'The Luminaries', had first been shortlisted and then won the Booker I added myself to the queue of people waiting to borrow it from the library. I had not read anything about the story so I had no preconceptions about it. It has everything really; it has history, it has intrigue, it has murder and disappearances, it has stolen gold and it has young love. And what a wonderful cast of characters, and all of them important to the plot, not just there to fill the background. And moral ambiguity, not that you can't tell the goodies from the baddies, just that everyone is really human, with both strengths and weaknesses. The only thing I didn't really get were the lunar and astrological references, I was not sure quite what relevance they had, to the story or anything.
Hokitika 1870
Set in the (presumably) (but apparently notfictional town of Hokitika in New Zealand during the latter half of the nineteenth century we are introduced to a group of twelve men who are meeting to discuss the death of one local man and the disappearance of another. A new arrival in the form of Walter Moody happens upon their gathering and by a circuitous route ends up being told the entire story. This takes up the first 300 pages or so. I confess I was a bit daunted by the size of the book and dawdled through this first part, then realising that it had to go back to the library I have read the last 500 pages in just a few days (and please excuse the rushed review as it is now overdue). I think this was a good thing because it is the kind of book that benefits from full immersion; it is full of atmosphere and historical detail. It wasn't until I wrote out this first quote that I realised how apposite it is, because it involves a simile that conjures up an image that we might not be familiar with, but which the characters in the book would know very well:

"The report from the small gun was hollow, even unremarkable - like the cracking of a topsail far above a deck. It seemed an echo of itself, as if the real shot had fired somewhere much further away." (p.160)

The second quote similarly creates an image (one that I very much sympathise with because I feel the same) but that is again something not familiar in everyday modern life:

" 'I've been busy,' said Balfour, eyeing the candle a second time - for ever since he was a boy he had not been able to sit before a candle without wanting to touch it, to sweep his index finger through the flame until it blackened, to mould the soft edges where the wax was warm, to dip his fingertip into the pool of molten he sat and then withdraw it, swiftly, so that the tallow formed a yellow cap over the pad of his finger which blanched and constricted as it cooled." (p.196)

What is really wonderful about the book though is the complexity of the plot. It is simply a darn good story, well written and well put together. It twists and turns and, like the men in the 'fellowship', we get dribs and drabs of information, some by deliberate and often furtive enquiries, but some come across by accident in the course of life in a small and intimate community. Everybody knows each other and each other's business. The social and political attitudes of the time are very vividly represented. The feeling of being far from home is a theme for many characters and much of the language refers to going back when a suitable fortune has been made. The influence of the gold is everywhere, in the forefront of everyone's interactions. In Anna, Lydia and Margaret we have three women who are victims of the harsh life that exists in this outpost of the empire, all of whom have reacted in different ways to the restrictions of their gender. I was concerned that the 'whore' thing might be a bit clich├ęd, but Anna is a very real character and all the men's opinions and reactions to her are cogent with their respective personalities. It just occurred to me that it was interesting to so enjoy a book that was much more focussed on male characters because so many books that I read are by and about women.

Final quote comes from Moody, and I kind of liked it because it sums up the process of reading the book. Having followed through several months the book then cycles around on itself to the backstory of the main players, though one vital event was left unexplained, but I don't begrudge it.

" 'All that is impertinent is not only immaterial; it is, in many cases, deliberately misleading. Gentlemen,' (though this collective address sat oddly, considering the mixed company in the room) 'I contend that there are no whole truths, there are only pertinent truths - and pertinence, you must agree, it always a matter of perspective. I do not believe that any one of you had perjured himself in any way tonight, but your perspectives are very many, and you will forgive me if I do not take your tale for something whole." (p.282)

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