I have to confess that I am seduced by book covers. I look at them and they draw me in – perhaps I am a little frivolous! Today is the first day of summer and I wish I still had these books to read on lazy summer days. My daughter recently bought a hammock for the garden. Already it is in hot demand – it is a wonderful place to hibernate with a book and cup of tea.
Alas, November was ridiculously busy, so I could only dream of such activity – it simply did not happen. However, I managed to read all three of these books – mostly at night. I still awaken at curiously odd hours in the night, so I put the light on and read and read until my active brain decides to call it quits. It can take a while. These books have been marvellous company:
Watercolours by Adrienne Ferreira is about a small boy who is a talented artist, his rookie teacher and a river that courses its way through the country town where they live.
Novi has been named after a silkworm and is an enigma to his friends and the town, however, it is through his paintings that we get to know him and understand his deep fear of the river which he is convinced murdered his beloved grandfather during a flood.
There are some delightful characters and as the story unfolds we learn the unspoken history of a past which is revealed through Novi’s paintings and the narrator. There are some quirky moments. A light, easy book to read that captures life in a country town with its prejudices and secrets.
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons was written in 1932 and recently republished with a fascinating introduction by Lynne Truss. Cold Comfort Farm is in the marshy part of England’s south-east, not far from London – filled with a household of utterly eccentric characters such as Aunt Ada Doom who in her youth “saw something nasty in the woodshed”. This event has shaped her life and the lives all the Starkadder family who live at Cold Comfort Farm. The central character is Flora Poste and the opening paragraph gives us a taste of her character and what we might expect:
“The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occurred in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living.”
It is a parody and I found myself giggling uncontrollably often – at Flora and how she makes herself at home at Cold Comfort Farm with her distant relatives and turns the place upside down. Even the cows are amusing – Feckless, Graceless, Aimless and Pointless and the bull Big Business. Flora changes the lives of the Starkadder family for ever and in ways unimaginable. When I finished this book, I returned to the beginning to start reading all over again.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford This book is set in Seattle both during World War 2 and 1986 – the story moves from one time to the other. The main character is Henry whose parents are Chinese migrants, who speak little English who long for their son to be all things American so they forbid him from speaking to them in Mandarin. Henry meets Keiko an American born Japanese girl when they are both eleven and at an all American primary school. They have both won scholarships to attend but are the only Asian students. They are both expected to work in the kitchen at lunch time where a friendship develops as together they are bullied and mocked by their fellow classmates.
When Pearl Harbour is bombed, all the Japanese residents are rounded up and taken to live in camps miles away. This really happened and it is fascinating to read this story to glimpse into what that was like for Henry and Keiko and her family.
In 1986, an old Hotel that has been boarded up since the war is opened and its contents discovered – the belongings of hundreds of Japanese families who never returned to reclaim their lost possessions. Henry is now a father and his past is locked inside and never spoken about. It is a bitter sweet story – sad, but also hopeful as Henry is able to share his past with his own son and not repeat the pattern of the difficult and fraught relationship he had with his own father.
If you have not read any of these books – you are in for a treat! I am off to the hammock.