Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Postcard from Marseillan 4: Holiday Reading Delights

In my job as a writer I read books all the time – but however they are defined by the pleasure principle they mostly – whether fiction or fact – are associated with ‘work’.
But here on holiday I join with D, and S, in reading and relaxing and generally sharing tastes and inspirations with my fellow travellers, I arrived with Miranda Seymour’s evocative Robert Graves biography half finished in my Kindle.  (D and S, who came by car, brought their pile of hard- and paperbacks.)
Up to press S. has read the fivebooks, courtesy of his Kindle, and D I come a close second, havng read three books each.
Having finished reading the Robert Graves book I paused for thought..
I had thought I knew about Robert Graves from my rounded and grounded research for more than one novel involving World War One, I had joined him in saying Goodbye to All That and as a feminist I had naturally rather sided in the eccentric ideas in his The White Goddess,
But as I finished reading the book on the long balcony I knew I had enhanced my understanding of this prodigiously talented, inspired, energetic, magisterial, charismatic, sexually repressed character who acted into older age like a mischievous boy; who glorified women and at the same time unknowingly used and repressed them. Of course he met his egotistical equal in Laura Riding. The term folie a deux was made for those two.
I relished this great informative read – which, on reflection, I might not have finished had I not been on holiday here.
I moved on to a novel that D. had just finished – a Irène by Paul le Maitre - a book recommended for reading in France by her Stoke Newington  bookseller. This is a gruesome thriller whose apparent central character is Camille, a highly likeable detective. This novel is very graphic. I had to close my eyes now and then to the description of much bloody mayhem but the novel is such a good and clever read (translated by Frank Wynne) that it’s worth it, The other main character is a shadowy serial killer obsessed with the crime novel genre – reflecting I think the high focus of the writer her Pierre le Maitre who, in the end, plays a rather neat trick on the writer.
But after that it was like a drink of cool water to move onto On the Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanch and her god-daughter Georgia de Chamberet. Compared with Irène it’s a light, easy read. It is packed with anecdotes of a Bohemian working and personal life of an artist and writer against the backdrop of the great war-and-peace dramas of the 20th Century. She blossomed in the ‘artistic melting pot that was London between the wars.’  In her high octane life names like Marlene Dietrich, Cecil Beaton and Vivien Leigh flit casually across the pages of this remarkable memoir.
Appropriately subtitled A Bohemian Life and a bit random in presentation, this is a memoir of a free spirit who shoots through the years like a meteor obeying her impulses and driven by a fascination for the exotic East, even before she travelled that far.
In her childhood and youth Lesley Blanch lived the grandly impoverished life that the British upper classes seemed to embrace so well in those days,
There were shortages of butter and sugar. Face cream was scarce so I nourished my face with lard and then washed it off; otherwise it went rancid and smelled. We didn’t have hot water so I bathed in Piggy’s house,
[…] My mother had been quite well off, but the money trickled away gradually. The Fabergés the traveller had given me were sold. I left the Slade in 1924: I had to earn my living double quick!
The most affecting part of this autobiography is her graphic account of her unusual childhood, as the child of a strange, devoted couple who, encumbered with grand Victorian certainties, had trickled down to the mundanities of life in Chiswick at the start of the Twentieth Century.
This memoir was put together when Lesley Blanch was well into her old age, with the editorial support of Georgia de Chamberet. She lived and worked on until she was 103.
Very reassuring. There’s hope for me yet!
Happy holiday reading.
Wish you were here.


At Our Front Gate 

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