Thursday, September 9, 2010

Comfort reading

Last month, the wise and witty British novelist India Knight used Twitter to crowd-sourced an amazing collection of comfort reads.

I have long decried the lack of availability of Aga saga, imported or domestic, from American publishers and booksellers and am constantly looking for anything which bumps into the genre, so the list was absolute manna.

Okay, well, I HAD read most of the books. But there were a few I hadn't seen, which sent me scrambling to order:

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson. I hadn't run up on any Stevenson in YEARS, adn never this one. This one is a fantasy we all hope will play out -- a quiet spinster pens an anonymous tell-all which sends ripples of speculation about its authorship throughout the community. This and the sequel (Miss Buncle, Married) both crossed the $25 limit for foxed and brittle paperbacks, but they were well worth it. If you are an aficionado of E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady, these will enthrall you.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. Dundy chronicles the European adventures of Sally Jay Gorse, living the expatriate dream in 1950s Paris, complete with DDT bombs for the bedbugs. I suppose it was the mild licentiousness which made this book the "cult" classic it appears to be. Vaguely reminiscent of Breakfast at Tiffany's, another book where a young woman's sexual activity is explored a decade before free love drew more attention. I particularly enjoyed Sally Jay's attempts to obtain a replacement for her lost passport, having had that experience at a foreign embassy myself.

Hens Dancing by Rafaella Barker. Two pages in, I was convinced I had read this book. Well, I had read one of Barker's books about a divorcee named Venetia with a baby daughter she called The Beauty. Turns out, I had read the second book, Summertime, published two years later as well as, I can now categorically say, the rest of Barker. Not sure how I missed this one. Maybe it was the image of poultry in terpsichorean splendor evoked by that title that put me off. But it's a gorgeous pastoral diary of a woman struggling with three children with a rather attractive builder disrupting the rural idyll. Fans of early Katie Fforde will love it.

The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates. I suppose this book attempts humor, but it's of a particularly coarse kind. When the fumbling tax assessor turns up, he's foisted upon Mariette, the oldest, already-pregnant daughter of a messy, hungry farming family. Give me the Grundys from the Archers any day. And there are four more of them, and a movie with Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But I thank India, and her more than 22,000 followers, for the exceptional effort, and know her My Life on a Plate would definitely make my own list of comfort reads any day.

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