From The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir . . .

Every now and again I take down this book and browse through it. I don’t know why I do that because it only makes me cross. As misery loves company I thought I’d share it with you ladies! Fellas are welcome to join in . . .

If widowed, woman was expected to accept at once a new master. In the “chansons de geste” we see Charlemagne marrying in a group, all the widows of his barons killed in Spain; and many epic poems tell of king or baron disposing tyrannically of girls and widows. Wives were beaten, chastised, dragged by the hair. The knight was not interested in women; his horse seemed much more valuable to him. In the “chansons de geste” young women always made the advances, but once they were married, a one-sided fidelity was demanded of them. Girls were brought up rudely, with rough physical exercises and without modesty or much education. When grown up, they hunted wild beasts, made difficult pilgrimages, defended the fief when the master was abroad. Some of these chatelaines were avaricious, perfidious, cruel, tyrannical , like the men; grim tales of their violence have come down to us. But all such were exceptions; ordinarily the chatelaine passed her days in spinning, saying her prayers, waiting on her husband, and dying of boredom.

This was written about the middle ages of course, and so much has changed for women. Recently I watched a thriller about a detective who happened to be a woman. She was taken captive by the villain and tied to a chair, and it occurred to me, as it had done many times before, women are powerless in the presence of aggressive men. They will always be stronger than us, and we will always get pregnant.

I don’t want to be giving out about men; I have lovely men in my life, but facts are facts. Anyone want to discuss this subject, or to disagree with me?

Some wonderful prose from The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

I can’t resist sharing my delight in the prose of Tom Wolfe. The description of this party goes on for several pages and is so totally and completely entertaining I can’t put the book down. Oh, the X-rays and the Lemon Tarts! I’d be annoyed on behalf of these women only I’m quite sure it’s all true. I hope you enjoy these few excerpts.

“All the men and women in this hall were arranged in clusters, conversational bouquets, so to speak. There were no solitary figures, no strays . . . There were no men under thirty-five and precious few under forty. The women came in two varieties. First there were women in their late thirties and in their forties and older (women ‘of a certain age’), all of them skin and bones (starved to near perfection). To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers. This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirs on the bias were too extreme. They were social X-rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman’s own brain. Second there were the so-called Lemon Tarts. These were women in their twenties or early thirties, mostly blondes (the Lemon in the Tarts), who were the second, third, or fourth wives or live-in girlfriends of men over forty or fifty or sixty (or seventy), the sort of women men refer to, quite without thinking, as girls. This season the Tart was able to flaunt the natural advantages of youth by showing her legs from well above the knee and emphasizing her round bottom (something no X-ray had).”

“A blazing bony little woman popped out from amid all the clusters in the entry gallery and came towards them. She was an X-ray with a teased blond pageboy and many tiny grinning teeth. Her emaciated body was inserted into a black-and-red dress with ferocious puffed shoulders, a very narrow waist, and a long skirt. Her face was wide and round – but without an ounce of flesh on it . . . Her clavicle stuck out so far Sherman had the feeling he could reach out and up the two big bones. He could see lamplight through her ribcage.”

“There she was, standing over near the fireplace, laughing so hard – her new party laugh – laughing so hard her hair was bouncing. She was making a new sound, hock hock hock hock hock hock hock. She was listening to a barrel-chested old man with receding gray hair and no neck. The third member of the bouquet, a woman, elegant, slim, and fortyish, was not nearly so amused. She stood like a marble angel. Sherman made his way through the hive, past the knees of some people sitting down on a huge round Oriental hassock, toward the fireplace. He had to push his way through a flotilla of puffed gowns and boiling faces . . . “

What do you think? Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – some thoughts . . .

I saw the movie of this book a long time ago, and recently took a notion to read it. Something must have sparked it off, perhaps something I read here on WordPress. If so, thanks to whoever it was. I’m enjoying it so much, and will write a proper review when I’m finished. I should say here, that it’s a non-fiction book about an antiques dealer, but it reads like fiction.

I have never before been so drawn in to the atmosphere of a book. Even when I’m not reading, I feel like I’m in Savannah. Here are a few words:

‘There was ample evidence in the records of the historical society that in Savannah’s palmier days it had been a cosmopolitan city and its citizens an unusually worldly sort. Mayor Richard Arnold, the man who had sweet-talked General Sherman in and out of town during the Civil War, was typical of the breed. He was a physician, a scholar, an epicure, a connoisseur of fine wines, and a gentleman who took his social obligations seriously. He wrote in one letter, “Yesterday, I entertained the Hon. Howell Cobb at a sociable dinner party. We sat down at 3 o’clock and got up at half-past nine.” Mayor Arnold’s six-and-a-half-hour dinner lent weight to what I had been told about Savannah’s fondness for parties, and it put me in mind of the genteel merriment going on nonstop in the town-house down the street from me at 16 East Jones Street.

My casual surveillance of the house paid off one day at noontime. A car drew up to the curb and screeched to a jolting stop. At the wheel was a neatly dressed elderly lady with white hair as neat as pie crust. She had made no attempt to parallel park but had instead pulled into the space front end first as if tethering a horse to a hitching post. She got out and marched to the front door, took a ball-peen hammer out of her purse and methodically smashed all the little panes of glass around the door. Then she put the hammer back in her purse and walked back to her car. The incident didn’t seem to make any difference to the people in the house. The piano went right on playing, and the voices went right on laughing. The panes of glass were replaced, but not until several days later.’

Does that give any idea of the very strong flavour of this book? I seem to be totally subsumed into Savannah!

From “May Toal” in We All Die in the End.

I was discussing domestic abuse with some friends recently, on the dreaded Zoom – I’m really not comfortable with it. I never know when to speak up and I miss looking straight at people, and reading body language as well. Anyway, I suffered domestic violence myself, as did an awful lot of women I know, which is probably why it appears in more than one of my stories. So, I thought I’d post a short passage from May Toal here.

‘”It was just the same as usual, Henry, that priest that’s visiting, Monroe, he’s called. Isn’t that gas? Do you think he’s related to Marilyn? He gave the sermon, better than the usual oul stuff, love your neighbour and all that. There’s nothing to tell, Henry, not a thing, unless you want to know what the neighbours were wearing.”

            Oh, but she had plenty to say for herself, lickity spit, lickity spit, galloping on. Henry slapped her hard; he felt the sting on his palm and she stumbled, reaching out a hand to the sink.

            “By God!” Henry caught her by the arm.

 “I’m going to find out what you’re doing with my money.”

            He shook her until the permed curls hopped and jumped and tears splashed from her eyes. Behind them the potatoes boiled up and water hissed on the ring. Henry’s fingers bit deep.

            “I went to the church, May. What do you say to that? I went to say a prayer alongside my wife, but my wife wasn’t there. And I phoned my wife but I got no answer. What’s up with you now? Speak up, woman! You had plenty to say a minute ago.”

            He grabbed the wiry curls.

            “Ah, don`t. Ah, don`t!” May cried out.

            “I went there in the storm,” he said into her ear, “to bring you home so you could make my dinner and not be whinging about getting wet.”            

Henry could feel the heat in his chest burning hotter and hotter. He forced May to her knees, still with his fist in her hair and he never even saw her arm swing up with the saucepan. It cracked against his head and he swayed there with his arms loose.

“Jesus . . .  ” he said.

            When the second blow landed he fell against the table and slid onto a chair. He stared with dopey eyes at May. She’d gone mad, was all he could think.

            “Now! Now! Now! Now!” she said. “I’ll tell you where I’ve been if you want to know, not that I could go far on the bit of money you dole out to me.”

            She laughed suddenly.

            “And did you wait there long? I can just see you lurking around and squinting up your oul face. Well, I was in Dinnie’s, Henry. Me and your Irene, yes, your sister – we go to talks in the ladies’ club, and after that we go to the pub, and after that we get fish and chips and go down to the harbour, and we sit on the wall and eat them. So now you know what the collection’s for. It’s for me! But you can stuff it up your arse in future because I’m going back to the Civil Service and I won’t need your oul money. The girls are gone now and I don’t have to be here all the time to cook you steak for your dinner and wash your dirty clothes.”‘

Star of the Sea | An unforgettable book

Who would ever forget the names Scarlett O’Hara, Heathcliff, Tom Joad, Yossarian? For me, Pius Mulvey joins the list. I was reading through Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea, published in 2002. It’s on my TBR again list. When I first read the book, I carried it around with me. I was totally absorbed. I read it during meals, standing at bus stops. If I was watching television I read it during the ads. I literally could not put it down.

I’m copying this information from Amazon, a little about the author, and a little from a review and a few lines about the book.

The Writer: Joseph O’Connor was born in Dublin. His books include eight previous novels: Cowboys and Indians (Whitbread Prize shortlist), DesperadoesThe SalesmanInishowenStar of the Sea (American Library Association Award, Irish Post Award for Fiction, France’s Prix Millepages, Italy’s Premio Acerbi, Prix Madeleine Zepter for European novel of the year), Redemption Falls, Ghost Light (Dublin One City One Book Novel 2011) and The Thrill of it All. His fiction has been translated into forty languages.

The Story: In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by injustice and natural disaster, the Star of the Sea sets sail for New York. On board are hundreds of fleeing refugees. Among them are a maidservant with a devastating secret, bankrupt Lord Merridith and his family, an aspiring novelist and a maker of revolutionary ballads, all braving the Atlantic in search of a new home. Each is connected more deeply than they can possibly know.

From a Review: “I have also never wanted to read a book more than once. Until I first picked up The Star Of The Sea. I have read it four times now over the years and I know I will read it again and again. I love this book. Beautifully written. Exciting characters / plot. I get something new from it every time I read it. This book will last me my lifetime. Thank you Joseph O’Connor!”

Here is the opening paragraph where we meet Pius Mulvey:

“All night long he would walk the ship, from brow to stern, from dusk until quarterlight, that sticklike limping man from Connemara with the dropping shoulders and ash-coloured clothes.”

Joseph O’Connor is a prolific writer and has written many non-fiction books as well as novels. There is one called “Inside the Head of the Irish Male” which made me laugh out loud so often I was afraid to read it on the bus!

Northanger Abbey | A Short Review.

I thought I had read all of Jane Austen’s novels but realised recently that I had missed Northanger Abbey and promptly downloaded it to my kindle. I wish I hadn’t; I can’t think of one good thing to say about this book. Can it possibly have been written by the same hand that gave us Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility etc?

This book was completed in 1803, the first of Austin’s novels to be completed but it wasn’t published until after she died. You might think from this that I dislike classics; nothing could be more wrong. I love the classics, especially the ones I studied at school – contrary to the experience of many people.

So, I began to read with anticipation only to be terribly disappointed. The writing is extremely wordy, vague, intricate and boring.. It’s like reading in a fog:

Compliments on good looks now passed; and, after observing how time had slipped away since they were last together, how little they had thought of meeting in Bath, and what a pleasure it was to see an old friend, they proceeded to make enquiries and give intelligence as to their families, sisters, and cousins, talking both together, far more ready to give than to receive information, and each hearing very little of what the other said. Mrs. Thorpe, however, had one great advantage as a talker, over Mrs. Allen, in a family of children . . . “

A lot of words saying nothing at all, even allowing for the utterly different style of writing in the 19th century.

Northanger Abbey itself doesn’t appear in the book until 66% has been read already (according to kindle), and is a peculiar sort of Abbey. I could get no idea of its shape and size. At this point some gothic nonsense is inserted and lasts for a couple of chapters. Some parts of the house would appear to be out of bounds, and peculiar furniture appears in Catherine’s bedroom with secret doors and drawers which give her an uneasy feeling. However this is all soon forgotten – with no explanation for the strange furniture – and returns to the main love story which is so uninteresting that the reader could not care less whether there was a happy ending or not.

The heroine is young, an idealist, and, sometimes, innocent to the point of imbecility. The hero does nothing heroic; he is just there for Catherine to fall in love with. There are a couple of female characters who could have been developed into interesting people to read about but it never happened. They remained as puppets. As this was Austen’s first book, perhaps she was simply trying out various ideas and never meant for it to be published. It reads like a very long first draft, with a little of this and that. The only thing the book does is give us an idea of society, the mores, the morals, the intricacies of class distinction, the manners and the dress code. An essay would have done that job very well.

Has anyone else read this book recently? I would be very interested to hear someone else’s view.

An Excerpt from “Thelma” in We All Die in the End

“I wonder if I should wash . . . Thelma, do you think I should have a wash?”

            Thelma dithered beside the bed, moving from one wee foot to the other, waiting to heave Thomas to his feet. The top of his pyjamas hung open and his belly bulged over the bottoms. There was a line of sweat where the bulge began and another across the back of his neck when he bent to look at his feet.

            “Whatever you like, dear. The water’s hot.”

            “Well, I will then. I’ll have a nice wash and you can change the bed. I’m a bit sticky. One of the boys spilled beer . . .   “

            Thomas waved a hand near his pillow and then clutched Thelma’s arm. She braced herself and waited while he moved his heavy legs to the floor.

            “Up we go,” she said. “Upsy daisy.”

            Slowly, Thomas pushed his feet into his summer gutties and hauled himself up along Thelma’s, thin shoulder. She glanced at his jacket hung over the chair, pockets sagging a bit with change, good! Thomas’ hand was tight on her wrist and she fixed her eyes on the plump, pink fingers. She would prick him like a sausage . . . prick, prick, prick, all over, and his pink skin would burst open with wee pops and the yellow fat would ooze out, relieved and grateful.

            “I’ll have a piss first,” Thomas said.

            “Yes, and have a shower,” Thelma said. “You’ll feel the better of it.”

            Thomas nodded and shut the bathroom door. Thelma could hear him coughing, and then he was pissing and spitting and farting and coughing all at once – the whole bloody orchestra, as he said himself. When the toilet flushed she footered about with the socks in his drawer in case he changed his mind and came back but after a minute she heard the shower starting up.

            She shook his jacket and pushed her fingers quickly into the pockets. Heavy change – she left a couple of coins so he wouldn’t miss the jingle. In his trousers two fivers were stuck together. Thelma took one. She slid the money into one of her green boots with the fur and counted with a quick look. Fifty pounds all told – not bad. She ran her fingers and her eyes over it and then she carefully pulled up the zip. Now, she said to herself, Irene can’t say I’m not trying.

            A whole weekend away! Up the coast, that lovely, old hotel, and the lovely, soft, sandy beach, not covered in stones like ours! Oh, it’ll be great, it’ll be magic, magic! She leaned against the chest of drawers with her eyes shut tight and her arms folded, one wee ankle twisted around the other. She’d eat steak and chips and drink Prosecco . . .

            She opened her eyes. The bed! She tore the sheet off and pulled at the duvet cover. Crumbs, beer stains, the pillow-case grey from his head. She ran round and round the bed, smoothing and tugging and then she leapt when Thomas roared from the bathroom:

            “How long am I supposed to wait here?”

            He’d be dripping all over the place! Thelma left the pillow and skipped into the bathroom. Thomas was shivering; he dabbed at himself with a towel.

Soft Word

Sudden shocks of grief

Or joy unwind us

Push us into air so pure, so pure

We speak real words

Love other eyes

Take other hands

Wound in again

We wake up old too late, too late

Our spirits withered

Weathered, dead

Lips collapsed and clamped

The soft word seldom said.

From “MAY” in We All Die in the End

Henry didn’t move. He sat there with his fingers twitching and blood coming from his head. He couldn’t take in what May was saying.

            “You bloody men,” she said, “with your big swinging fists. We’ve been learning things, me and Irene. Did you know that men have to invent things so they can think they’re grown up? Rituals Henry, rituals. But not us, Henry. We’ve got periods!”

            May shouted the word at him.

            “And having babies, and yous have nothing! Did you know that? All over the world men invent things. They cut their faces and their willies and God knows what else to draw blood.”

            Henry half-lifted a hand against the spit from her mouth.

            “If men had periods,” May took a quick breath, “all the oul fellas would be running around the place with bloody sheets – my son is a man, my son is a man – but yous have nothing.”

            Henry tried to sit up straight, to get his head right. May was smiling fiercely at him. She swung up the pan again and he flinched.             “Now I’m going round to Irene’s,” she said, “for a cup of tea, or a drink if she has any for I think I need it.

Available from Amazon in paperback and ebook format.