Archive | April 24, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Wow! This book is brilliant! You know when you read a totally original tale, told in a totally original way? This is one such book. It is brilliantly disquieting.

Does the central character, Ursula, relive her life? Or is she suffering some psychic phenomena? Or is this about the author’s control of her characters’ fates? Or is this about the creative process and constructing and manipulating a narrative? Or is it about our, the reader’s, desire for a story with a happy ending? And are happy endings possible? After all everyone has to die. Each liberation from an unhappy fate for Ursula causes a different life to be led but other traumas occur. And even though we know all is made up, we still feel for the characters and empathise and care more for some. (Why doesn’t the evil brother ever suffer?)

Despite the changes to events, the characters remain true to their nature, and the relationships endure. And some little twists or items repeat in different versions of the story, such as the golden cigarette case.

But it is not just the tale or the themes. Atkinson has a wonderful turn of phrase. I love this to describe the slow, languid summer: “It was beautifully hot and time treacled forward.” The image created from turning treacle into a verb is so sensual and gives the physical sense of how summers seem so long when you are young. And the recurring motif when darkness that comes to Ursula as she dies, (“Darkness fell” ends many chapters), even grows weary to the author, “Darkness, and so on.” concludes one reiteration of the Armistice to WWI.

The details of the blitz and pre-WWII upper middle class domestic life and the countryside are so vivid and add to the realness of the novel. I love reading something and feeling that the author is writing with researched authority and accuracy. I love learning from reading novels, not just about the human condition, or themes, but also historical details. Funnily enough, the idea of reading vs studying literature is raised by Ursula and her mother.

Read this review by Alex Clark in The Guardian. She covers the themes and strands of this book so well.

(And can you tell that it is holidays for me? Time to read and travel. Things that make up a gorgeous life for me!)

20130424-210645.jpg

Rumpole’s Return, Rumpole for the Defence and Rumpole’s Return by John Mortimer

The Trials of Rumpole and Rumpole for the Defence are short stories. If you watched the TV show you know the character – a slightly grumpy but quick-witted and good-hearted barrister. Crime shows have always been popular but this series was less about solving crime and more about how Rumpole defended his client.

Each chapter is like watching an episode of the series. You can hear Leo McKern’s voice so closely has Rumpole become Leo. Or Leo him?

Unlike the other two, Rumpole’s Return is a novel. And involves more detective work. But again it is Rumpole’s character that is the key. As the sole female barrister in their chambers says, Rumpole is the true radical as he never sells out and is never obsequious.

These books were perfect entertainment and great to dip in and out of while on holidays. I am inspired to watch the series again on DVD and I will definitely read more.

20130424-143149.jpg

Decluttering while on holidays. Can it be done?

I spent a week away, and dropped my exercise routine, but kept up with good sleep hygiene, drinking water (heaps and heaps of water, I was in a desert with the temperature in the high 30s after all) and decluttering.

How could I declutter when I was on holidays?

Well, with good planning. I packed my bag with things to use and then not bring home.

I knew I would be walking on rough ground and red soil. So I packed old sand shoes which I was planning on decluttering anyway. At the end of the week away, they were not pretty. The red soil was very stubborn but for some reason the laces stayed white. Go figure. The sole of one came away. So I felt no guilt at disposing of these and I didn’t have to worry about ruining my good runners.

20130423-213624.jpg

I took a much loved handbag. It was very pretty and for some people it might have life left in it. But I own enough handbags, and at my age and with my job using a bag that is worn and scruffy just doesn’t look good. A friend suggested I replace the straps, which were quite worn, but the piping was also wearing away. So I donated this bag to a charity shop at the end of my week.

20130423-214147.jpg But before I did so, I carefully removed the decorative piece on the front. It will make a great scarf clasp.

You know I have a problem with book clutter so I took four second-hand books. These were given to me by someone who had “rescued” them from someone else. One was boring and I couldn’t do more than skim through it. It has also been donated and may find a reader more interested in the topic.

20130423-214757.jpg
Three books were great. I will review them shortly. Two of these fell apart while I was reading them. So when I had finished, they ended up in the bin. More reasons to not hang onto paperbacks – the paper yellows, the glue loses its hold and the spine perishes. One book still has life and it too was given to someone else to read.

20130423-215051.jpg
I wear old T-shirts and shorts as PJs. I took a pair that really are at their use-by date, with holes about to appear in the well-worn material. At the end of the week, they were washed and donated to a handyman to use as rags, which even man who likes to tinker on engines needs. Thus lightening my load and recycling the items. You know I like to avoid putting things into landfill if I can possibly do so!

20130423-215737.jpg

A week away and I have decluttered 8 items from my house! Pretty good, don’t you think? Even better, I bought no useless tat or souvenirs and resisted the temptation to collect the little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion.

So remember, with good planning and by not purchasing “stuff”, your luggage can actually come back lighter.