Monday, 28 July 2008

Escapism from the midsummer heat.

There are times when you really want nothing more than to climb into a whole different world for a while and get away from your normal life. OBVIOUSLY books are the answer - every book on your bookshelf is a door which opens somewhere else. I always thought the perfect analogy was the Wood Between The Worlds in The Magician's Nephew; a forest full of pools which, jumped into, take you to another world a million miles and years away. It also has to be fiction - I love my comics, and there are superb series I read over and over again (Sandman and The Invisibles for starters) but written prose has the advantage that your mind provides the faces and places, which is all part of the self-hypnosis of escapism. Being greedy, and (as I may have mentioned) an addict, sometimes one book isn't enough and I need a trilogy (His Dark Materials re-reads very well, especially now there are Lyra's Oxford and Once Upon A Time In The North to flesh it out, and Lewis's The Cosmic Trilogy). Worse, sometimes I need more, a bigger series, although by the time a series gets that large the pickings are lean. I have to leave a sizeable gap between re-reads of The Chronicles Of Narnia and The Dark Tower as I know them too well. Occasionally I toy with the woefully underappreciated Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard, whose drossy TV adaptation ruined it. I did read the entire Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett - mock me as a tweedy old bat if you want (it'd be inaccurate, for a start, on at least two counts, and the "old" is debatable too) but it managed to be historically accurate, fascinatingly detailed, and gripping. Also the joy of it being a series meant that, like The Sopranos, a small and seemingly unimportant story line that seemed to peter out in book 2 became a major plot point in book 4. Not sure why the Renaissance appealed more than the Napoleonic wars... but there it is. Also it had far more in the way of female characters (the book series, not the Renaissance). I keep being recommended the Patrick O'Brian series, which would keep me going for a fair while, but I have to admit that two things put me off - one is the relentless blokedom they seem to encourage (war, ships, all-male camaraderie, rum, Napoleon, etc) and the other is Russell Crowe. I apologise to any fans thereof (therewhom?) but if I'm going to invest time and imaginative energy on a whole new world I don't want to be tripping through it hand-in-hand with a tiny-eyed soap-dodger with anger management issues. But let other pens dwell etc etc. So there we have it - I need some large-scale escapism. Please don't suggest Proust or Anthony Powell - otherwise I'm open to suggestions. Hurry before I melt...

Monday, 21 July 2008

An Ethical Diversion

I may have expressed my pathological love for the unparallelled genius of Nabokov before (hey, who hasn't?) so I can only describe what follows as deeply subjective...
I recently read that an unpublished novel (that he emphatically wanted destroyed) is to be published by his son. Hmmm, a tricky ethical question. I can't think of anything I want more, under normal circumstances, than a new novel by an author I love - especially if I was no longer expecting them to write one. When an author dies, Robertson Davies as a prime example, your first thought (because readers are addicts, and their first thought is always of their addiction) is "Oh no! No more new things to read!" and then, belatedly and guiltily, "How awful for their family, of course..." HOWEVER, and this is a big however, the finest authors are their own harshest critics, and Nabokov more than most; one can only assume if he wanted it destroyed he didn't feel it was of a quality worth publishing. On the other hand, a second-rate Nabokov would still be a million times better than a million other authors at their best. As always, the addiction wins out and, unable to boycott it on principle, I know I'll be the first in the queue to read it. The only consolation is that if it does turn out to be less good than the books published in his lifetime, I can tell myself he knew that would be the case...

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Short one - it is, after all, Saturday...

Recently, admittedly under the influence of Day Nurse (the pathetically puny little sister of La Fée Verte) misread the word "price" as "prince"... which resulted in the interesting phrase "What's that got to do with the prince of fish??" - Herewith I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the prince of fish. Not Mr Fishwife, although he quite fancies a trident for posing round the beach bars with on holiday.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Green Fairy

Of course I have developed a nasty cold immediately after returning from a week off. It's one of those ones that yo-yos from your nose to your throat, then back again, so one day you're sneezing wetly all over your distressed colleagues and the next you're hacking away like a faulty cement-mixer. I should point out here that despite my relatively sedentary lifestyle, hatred of exercise, ineptitude for sports and generally unhealthy demeanour (I cite once again the smoking, and the fact that it's only Thursday and I am mildly hungover), I am very rarely ill. It is one of the unexplained joys of my life that not only is this the case, but also that the resolutely fit, healthy, nonsmoking, gym-member Mr Fishwife is a martyr to every sneeze and stomach bug going. Life is a strange and wonderful thing, n'est-ce pas? AAAAAAnyway - so here I am, bunged and raspy, and while I could kid myself I sound throaty and alluring like Lauren Bacall, the truth is I sound more like someone failing to start a chainsaw in a steel wheelie-bin.

Hence the illustration - the wonder that is Night Nurse. Let those boozehound saddos of the Belle Epoque rave about absinthe, the one true path is L’Infirmière Verte. I took a hefty slug last night before going to bed and slept like a hibernating grizzly. Admittedly I still haven't fully woken up yet, and am expecting to do so just before bedtime tonight, thus starting the whole sorry saga off again, but who cares...

Monday, 14 July 2008

Normal Service, or nearest offer.

I'm probably the only person I know who comes back from any holiday actually paler than before I went. I could offer all sorts of explanations (mostly, and correctly, to do with my lavish use of factor 1000 sunscreen) but I prefer to think of it as an "anti-tan" - the hotter the place I go to, the more the sun bleaches me. Possibly, by my own argument, if I spent a week or two in the Arctic Circle over winter I might develop a tan. Stranger things have happened.
Not hugely pale this time, as most of my sun exposure took place in northern France (see sidebar ONE MORE TIME before I take it down with a sigh of regret) and was just a fleeting but celebratory weekend's worth before returning to rainy Blighty. After which I spent a blissful week doing precisely nil, apart from visiting family and reading books* and stuffing my face with the food we had brought back from Rouen**. Am now back at work - and will write something worth reading in a day or two.

* "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" by Stieg Larsson - a housebrick of a Swedish crime thriller but very, very worth reading. Dark, complex, and scary.
"When Will There Be Good News" by Kate Atkinson - one of the perks of working in a bookshop is the availability of proof copies. This is a sequel to her two previous Jackson Brodie novels and worth waiting for.
"Ten-Second Staircase" by Christopher Fowler - I got cross with him a few years ago for rewriting his mad lunatic-genius novel "Darkest Day" (now unavailable) into a rather more ho-hum format to fit the Waterstones-friendly crime series cliché- but this was original, and a goodie.

**walnut bread, garlic sausage, smoked sausage, goat's cheese, ham, duck confit, brief pause while I let belt out a notch or two, Roquefort, purée de marrons, unsalted butter, further brief pause while I lie down.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Copycat meme.. damn, I'm idle.

Just about to go on holiday (see sidebar and loathe me insanely). My mind is so occupied with this that I have been unable to come up with a post for today. Here is a meme I have nicked unashamedly off Reluctant Blogger and Rol. I apologise for the paucity of my ideas and will blog fulsomely when I get back...

1) What were you doing 10 years ago?
I was working for Air France. I had IBS and had failed to connect it to the fact that my job was simultaneously tedious and stressful. I loved my colleagues, I loved (LOVED) the cheap/free air travel, but I was definitely heading for the door.

2) Name 5 things on your to-do list today
Get some dinner stuff in on the way home. Pack. Remember to dig out the automatic cat feeder. Find/pack my passport. Don't forget sun-cream this time!

3) Name 5 things you would do if you became a billionaire
Pay off the mortgages of all my friends/family.
Buy all sites that Tesco's/Sainsbury's would consider developing and rent them cheaply to small local businesses.
Endow a school for affordable hit-men.
Replace everything in my wardrobe with the same thing in cashmere.
Buy Lindisfarne Castle and live in it.

4) Name 5 places you have lived
Montreal, Oxford, Durham, Avignon, London. All, coincidentally, cities on rivers. Couldn't live anywhere dry now.

5) Name 5 of your bad habits
Not knowing that that really WAS one glass too many.
Being a truly crap (lazy, sporadic, uncommunicative) correspondent.

6) name 5 jobs you've had
Hotel maid (Avignon)
Barmaid (everywhere)
Hearing-aid mender (London)
Concorde charter agent (London)
Bookseller (best move I ever made).

7) How did you come up with the title of your blog?
I fel it sums up, in one sentence, the general tone of la vie chez Fishwife.