So last weekend I read a cheesy novel and it was chocolate and wine for the soul. This weekend I enjoyed a positive soul feast, after a week which was, to say the very least, slightly manic and stressed.
The starter for this feast was Daughters-in-Law, the new Joanna Trollope novel. I enjoyed this classic Trollope, which was one her best, on the train down to see TOH this weekend. The story is one which revolves around a family in Suffolk (Tractorland) who have three sons all of whom are married. It is a plot which deals with in-laws and with aging and most importantly with the independance of adult children. I say it is classic Trollope for several reasons (i) there are the range of relationships you would expect, (ii) there is subtle detail and (iii) there is middle-class rural living aswell as suburban life involved. After the disappointment of her previous book this was pure joy; I would say it is her best book possibly, certainly one to rival The Choir and The Rectors wife if not exceed them. On a personal note I really liked the way that my knowledge of the Suffolk Coast and the area around Ipswich station meant I could visualise, and in the case of one reference to fish and chips on the beach almost smell, the settings. I loved it.
Then on Saturday I enjoyed the main course – tickets for which had been purchased for my birthday a couple of months ago. I got to see Sir Derek Jacobi playing Lear . It was just so amazing I can’t describe the joy I felt watching it. It wasn’t just Jacobi, the whole cast were fantastic – The Fool particularly. This was an excellent bit of theatre which just energised you through the pure beauty of the way the tragedy was performed.
Then for desert I got to watch Another Year. This was a film I had missed at the cinema last year but had heard lots about – it’s now out on DVD. Mike Leigh films are utterley British and this was no exception. In many ways with its laughter and tragedy intermingled it was/ is a modern version of Shakespeare. The complexity of humanity and relationships were again shown through this. It also provides an interesting study in how to care without feeding “needy” personalities.
For coffee, on the train home from TOH, I read the latest Mike Gayle- The Importance of Being a Bachelor- which is now out in paperback. It’s bloke lit, except it’s not. This is firmly unisex stuff and I would guess the guys who read it are rather metrosexual. It follows the familiar territory of Gayle books in many ways and whilst not my favourite by a long shot was still an enjoyable read. The only thing that truly got me though was the ending, particularly in relation to tying up the loose ends of one of the sub-plots……it was rushed, incomplete and had I been after a soul snack rather than a rounding off to a rich weekend feast it would have been unsatisfying. That said, you get the usual Gayle happy ending after enjoying another round of nights out in bars, friends getting complicated and family home reminicences. Basically, as with Trollope you gets what you pays for and ever since Turning Thirty we’ve liked the formular.
So there you go…a feast which left the previous weeks report writing, assignment amending, teaching, chapter writing, LPT assignment writing and generally rushing around like a blue arse fly in a jar a distant memory. This soul feast left me feeling very much revived and ready to face another, less manic, week. It also left me thankful for the arts and the way creativity can and does refresh. Finally it left me with a slightly clearer understanding of what it means to be English (and that is specifically English not British). Each of these courses were very English reflections on relationships and life from different angles. English family life, as with any other culture and perhaps more so than many, is difficult, complicated, dysfunctional, funny, distant yet intimate and tragic all in one. Each one of these pieces of art looked at this in different ways.