30 June 2011


It is Paris in July EVE!! And to celebrate this exciting event I will be talking about the first half of Gigi and the Cat by the wonderful Collette, a book I erroneously thought was all one story, imagining a kind of Holly Golightly-esque frenchy figure, living in some Parisian garret with her pet cat.

Well, I was completely wrong! This book is in fact two short stories, and it turned out that Gigi wasn't half as mind-blowing as I expected and that The Cat, on the other hand, was utterly captivating - I will say more about that when I officially kick off Paris in July tomorrow evening.

These short stories should be dealt with separately purely because they are just completely different animals *pardon the pun*, both in style and in substance. Gilberte, or Gigi, as she is affectionately known by her loved ones, lives in a small apartment with her Grandmother and glamorous yet somewhat distant Mother Andrée, who earns her living performing in the theatre as an opera singer. However, I really don't feel this trio of women living in a such an unconventional set-up in early twentieth century Paris were exploited as fully as they could have been. Colette's writing is always so beautiful and evocative both in the original French and in translation and, herein lies one of my problems with short stories, there could have have been so much more to tell here! The blurb on the back promises the story of a young woman who is in the process of being groomed to become a courtesan; to harness her powerful sexuality and discover the finer things in life. Her glamorous Aunt 'Alicia' is an amazing character and, yet again, I needed MORE from her. I could have sat down beside Gigi for hours on end to be taught how to use my knife and fork correctly and how to apply my lipstick neatly. Not enough happens and I wonder (although I haven't seen any of the adaptations of this tale for cinema, theatre etc) whether the creators of these alternative versions recognised the potential and were as desperate to develop it as I was.

This is a very stylish story. Utterly delicious and I want more please.

NB:  I've just realised that I mentioned a link to Beyoncé's performance at Glastonbury in my last post. I now realise how silly this is as I'm sure you're all capable of typing the words into Youtube yourselves, however...since I mentioned it...

26 June 2011


Wow...well... I was fully prepared to write a review on the lovely little book by Paul Gallico I recently finished; a very innocent story about a little boy who, after a terrible accident, finds himself transformed into a great white cat. However, I am completely distracted by Beyoncé's NOT so innocent gyrating at Glastonbury. LIVE. Ladies and gents, this is history in the making because she is the first woman in history to headline Glasto. Bravo to her! **I'll include a video once they're up on Youtube because it is a truly awesome performance**

So....on a slightly gentler note..I adore Paul Gallico. I had Jennie sitting on my shelf for years when I was a teenager and never got round to it. I then, in my twenties, read Flowers for Mrs Harris, which is just the most wonderful tale of a simple char lady who saves up and travels to Paris to buy herself a Dior dress after she sees one hanging in her employer's wardrobe. Heart-warming really does seem to be the order of the day for Gallico. This is an inventive tale from someone who clearly has an intimate knowledge of these wonderful, magical creatures, whose fierce independence and love of kindly human beings has certainly made me some special friends throughout my life.

Peter, a privileged but essentially very lonely little boy living in a leafy suburb of London, adores cats but isn't allowed to have one of his very own. One day, rushing across the road to stroke a cute little kitten, he is struck by a car and suddenly finds himself lying on a hospital bed, looking down at his brand new fluffy white paws. Following a terrifying dash through London in his confusion he meets Jennie, an enigmatic little cat who, after hearing his story, proceeds to teach him how to survive in the cat world.

They really do have a royal little adventure together, sometimes comforting and familiar, sometimes uncertain and uncomfortable. This is a perfect read for anyone of any age and to be introduced to your youngsters immediately, especially if you are a family with an affinity with cats. He hits the nail right on the head and this book made me want to both laugh and cry in equal measure. I had strong feelings about the end, but won't share them with you today because this is a book not to be spoiled by some loose-tongued blogger.

Without further ado, a bit of advice for all you catlets out there, in the words of Jennie herself:

'When in doubt - wash!'

23 June 2011

Béatrice Dalle and a Bloodthirsty Butcher

Whilst I collect my thoughts on my latest, heartwarming read Jennie by Paul Gallico, here's a little snippet of some of the cult films I'll be focusing on for our Paris in July; 37°2 le matin (Betty Blue) and Delicatessen:

I can't wait to revisit these films!

20 June 2011

The perfect dinner party

After a few musings on who I like to share my bookish thoughts with outside the blogging world (amounting to very few people as it happens ... apart from The Rocks of course :-)) I got thinking about that age old question of who, if you could choose from anyone in the world or in history, would you invite to your ULTIMATE dinner party. Here are my top five and the reasons why:

1. Frida Kahlo - Mexican artist, communist, (feminist?) and all around heroine of mine. Her art is amazing and her life was even more so.

2. Stephen Fry - British actor, author and King of comedy. Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry. 

3. Richard Burton - British explorer, artist, spy, sexual deviant, you name it, this man most probably did it. Viewed with a great deal of suspicion by his peers ... just my kind of guy.

4. Josephine Baker - American dancer, singer and civil rights activist, this special lady captured my imagination when we used to visit her old château in the South of France. 

5. Jimi Hendrix - Just achingly cool ... need I say more?

Who will you be inviting to dinner this Friday?

18 June 2011

A bit of Latin magic

As much as I enjoyed delving into the deep, murky world of Victorian England I definitely needed a break before picking up something new. I therefore decided to go for something on literally the opposite end of the scale. Short, exotic and quirky.

I say quirky, I suppose to the Mexican / Argentinian / Chilean eye there may be nothing quirky at all about these stories that seem so completely fantastical and upside down to my British brain, however well-acquainted I am with literary modes such as magical realism and the works of the big names such as Gabriel García Marquez. In Oxfam a couple of weeks ago a colourful copy of The Penguin Book of Latin American Short Stories caught my eye. I don't often buy selections of short stories as I usually like to delve into novels and get a bit more involved in the story rather than be cut off half way through (as I used to feel). However, I have to say that my opinions may be about to alter radically as there are some brilliant snippets of work by some very well known authors in this book and, given the mind boggling nature of some of them, their brevity suits me just fine.

You really do have to be in the mood for this kind of thing, so I decided to read just one section of tales from The River Plate (tales from Argentina and Uruguay). Some I just didn't get, and a couple really made me glad I persevered.  Here were my favourites (that I actually understood! Doh!):

The Dead Man by Horacio Quiroga - three pages of existential musings by an author who was completely preoccupied with the subject of death. One day, a man working hard in his banana plantation decides to have a rest before returning to his home for dinner. In an accident that is shocking for being so freak and taking place in such an ordinary situation, he slips on a strip of bark and suddenly finds himself lying on the hard ground with his machete sticking fatally out of his side. What follows is a series of musings that this man has on his own untimely demise as his horse stands guard nearby and his son calls him to dinner. Not depressing, merely very thought-provoking.

The Idol by Adolfo Bioy Casares - I'm beginning to realise that part of the beauty of short stories is that you can hop through time and space every ten pages or so and explore a completely different story/idea which keeps things interesting. This morsel introduces us to a rather natty interior designer-come-antiques dealer chap who is tasked with redecorating a wealthy friend's apartment and seeking out interesting pieces for him. On a trip to Europe he acquires a Celtic idol; a carving of a dog with no eyes that he promptly installs in his friends apartment when he gets back to Buenos Aires. The arrival of a girl he meets whilst over in France then marks the beginning of strange events, as the relationship between her and the stone idol appears to be inextricably linked and the men are drawn to her helplessly as if under a spell. Intriguing.

Good stories, you'll need to pay attention though, because you can't skim read these if you want any chance of understanding them!

16 June 2011

Mmmm tasty!

What a lovely gift for a rainy, work-slammed week courtesy of one rather tasty blogger; Ellen Harger at My Mother Stuttered. She's brilliant and bless her for giving me such a yummy cake! Check out her first post, explaining the inspired name of her blog.

Now, the deal of this award is that I have to share 7 random facts about myself with you (brace yourselves because this could get pretty dull).....

1. I HATE cucumber (HATE it)

2. I LOVE hoummos (to the point where it may be a bit of a problem. At one point I was buying a pot a day and devouring it with half a baguette!)

3. I have played the classical guitar since I was 14. Then I went to University and discovered the evils of alcohol which means I don't play now like I should. My brother is now busy crafting me back into a super hot guitarista. 

4. I speak four languages. One fluently (French) and three really badly (English, Spanish and Portuguese) Even though I am, in fact, English.

ummmm 5. Paris is my favourite place in the whole wide world. Fact.

6. I've always hated maths and even though I could figure it out I will even use a calculator to add 2 + 2 together. No joke.

7. Although I love my sweet cakey award, thinking of 7 interesting things is making me feel highly unimaginative! Heh heh.

Oh..I know ... 7. I'm scared of the dentist. Never was when I was a little girl but now I'm really scared. Especially when he brings out the 'mirror of shame' to show me how rubbish I am at brushing my teeth. Boo.


And here now (rule 2) are 15 ACE bloggers who deserve this award and don't (I think) yet have it- for being creative, funny, interesting, supportive and a million more things  (please check out these blogs because they're my absolute faves) ...


12 June 2011

The Crimson Petal and the White

I woke up with a heavy head this morning after having several obscure, vivid dreams. This came, unsurprisingly, the night after finishing The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber, a book that, as I explained in my previous post, completely escaped my attention until the BBC aired their superb adaptation for television a couple of months ago, and aren't I glad that it captured my attention. Although, through sheer greediness, I have been ready for the last couple of days to move on and pick up something new (I suppose I'm used to only taking a week or so to read a book nowadays...) closing this huge volume for the final time was quite sad, leaving behind a veritable cast of characters whose stories you will find yourself simply dying to carry on with...it did really feel like waking up from one, long, very sordid, very vivid dream.

Our 'Crimson Petal' Sugar is a heroine in the truest sense of the word. Born into the most unfortunate and least innocent of circumstances you would think her destined for a life of pure debauchery and misfortune. But oh no. Sugar is smart, sassy, attractive and, above all, strong, both inside and out. She captivated me throughout, watching her rise from the streets right into the arms of a man, perfumier William Rackham, who would be rather inconsequential were it not be for the opportunities that he lays out for his new found confidante that allow her to drag herself out of the squalor of her Mother's bawdy house.

Even William's unfortunate wife, our 'White Petal' Agnes Rackham, although weak both mentally and physically, leaves the male characters in this book in the dark as her lonely story of a spoilt and severely unstable woman, still a child in many ways, leaves the reader feeling both deeply frustrated and saddened as those around her fail to identify what treatment will ultimately help her to recover. (I am put in mind of a 'mad wife in the attic' type scenario à la Jayne Eyre, although Agnes only hurts herself...) For me, the women, even those not in the foreground like Sugar, really stole the show. The book is so lengthy that it truly does take on 'epic' proportions as Faber is given the room to explore every street and alley, every home and every brothel and we come to know characters such as the pious and loveable Henry Rackham, Henry's brother, an avid admirer of another strong woman, Emmeline Fox, who works tirelessly in the streets of London for 'The Rescue Society' a group of women dedicated to helping 'fallen women' find alternative employment and safety, at the cost of her own fragile health.

This novel makes you feel like a time traveller,  an adventurer exploring the depths of Victorian society. Faber has a no-holds barred approach which is simply perfect for the (initial) subject matter. I have heard many reviews bound around the term 'Dickensian' - as though this is something Charles Dickens would have written had he been living in the 21st century. Perhaps. Although I think it's risky to make such sweeping comparisons. I loved this story so much that I would rather let it be judged on its own merits rather than over shadowing it with such comments. It is a thoroughly modern book (only complimented by the thoroughly modern adaptation for the small screen.) Naturally, people do tend to focus on the sex but this isn't, in my opinion, what this book is about. It is about strong women and one woman's journey from an abusive and squalid past to a brighter future (one she fundamentally constructs for herself, wrapping those she needs to manipulate around her little finger). The dirty details are present for a reason. They are titillating yes but they lend the novel the hard hitting and necessary realism that is sorely needed, lest anyone try and romanticise Sugar's story. I want to hold back from discussing the plot at all costs, as I would rather you all go out and buy this immediately and discover it for yourselves. However, what I can say is that the story makes a complete about-turn in the end, and what did, at first, seem to be a novel that would spend 800 pages in the deepest darkest realms of humanity ends up quite poignantly causing the reader to reflect on the importance of innocence.

Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.

Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danaë to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.
Alfred Tennyson,  1847 

10/10 Go and read this immediately! I myself will promptly be purchasing The Apple, where Faber treats those of us who just can't get enough to further tales of the Crimson Petal characters, both before and after the main story...oo excitement! 

8 June 2011

The Fall and Rise of Sugar

'Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you've read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether.'

'When I first caught your eye and you decided to come with me, you were probably thinking you would simply arrive and make yourself at home. Now that you're actually here, the air is bitterly cold, and you find yourself being led into complete darkness, stumbling on uneven ground, recognising nothing. Looking left and right, blinking against an icy wind, you realise you have entered an unknown street of unlit houses full of unknown people.' 

Now, aren't you sucked in? 

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber is, quite simply, a fabulous book. (It is a very long one, at over 800 pages, hence the reason I am still reading it, but this shouldn't put you off.)

I have to admit that I was, as hopefully now many more people will be, introduced to the story of Sugar, the delightfully enigmatic and quick-witted prostitute, by the excellent (though of course slightly abridged, as TV often has to be) BBC drama with Romola Garai that was aired back in April. We follow Sugar as she wades through the filth and grime of 19th century London and uses her charm and savvy to forge a path for herself towards the much coveted wealth and freedom that many of her own clients claim as their birthright. The narrative is unique and intense (as shown in the passage above) literally dragging you right into this dirty, dangerous world and this dirty, dangerous job ... forcing you to stalk the inhabitants of these slums as they about their daily business ... within a hair's breadth of the back of their grubby, disease-ridden necks......

**Shiver** This is just a brilliant book, possibly coming up closely next to Kafka on the Shore for Literary Relish's book of the year (so far.) It is also a beautiful object. The front cover is lovely to look at and all of the pages were so pristine and white and perfect and the font so lovely when it arrived that I did have a bit of a moment when this landed on my doorstep.  Although it is essentially what lies inside a book that really counts, being able to pick up something that, before you read it, is in itself a lovely object, is a pleasure indeed. (I am of course referring to the book before I opened it/dropped it in the bath/shoved it in my handbag/smeared chocolate brownie on the spine, etc - post Lucy-trauma)

I will be finishing this book and reviewing in full shortly.... 

5 June 2011

Paris in July - take one

I've been checking out some of the inspired posts for Paris in July, particularly Only Orangery who has set up some veeery tasty things to get stuck into - for whatever may float your Gallic boat. I myself am beginning to realise how many wonderful things I have sitting on my shelves to discover, and indeed, to revisit; particularly the fantastic snatches of France's legendary cinematic tradition that I have collected over the years. The bf is in for a month of subtitle reading as we sit down to classics such as Betty Blue, Delicatessen and La Haine. I'm also wondering whether to venture into HMV next weekend and check out the deals they usually have on foreign films, I started collecting years and years ago and haven't added to the pile for a very long time...

Béatrice Dalle - trop sexy 

Book-wise I'm thinking that a nice balance between books in French/books set in France may be a good balance and introduce a more interesting and varied group of authors. The bf has just finished The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain, and although he complained that it was a 'girlie book' after the first ten pages (partially because he had just finished reading about the British photo-journalist Nick Danziger sneaking over borders into war-torn countries - bit of a stark contrast) in the end he was rather affected and touched by Hadley Richardson's relationship with Ernest Hemingway, making me even keener to get on and read it. Among my French books (really should brush up on the ol'lingo before I begin!) I have La Cousine Bette by Balzac and Nana by Emile Zola.  Both fictional portraits of very different, yet seemingly fascinating women.  I also fancy revisitinThérèse Raquin by Zola; a tormented yet deeply sensual woman whose story really inspired me when I discovered the book during my teenage years. 

All complex women...have you noticed? Perhaps I can break the mold with a little French music. I have also only just discovered Spotify this weekend. (I know, I know, I'm sure I must be living in an alternate universe or something..) How amazing! All that music...as obscure as you like...for free!  As well as your cheesetastic Café-de-Paris-type-fare I'm also feeling a bit of MC Solar and Zebda coming on. Yoyoyo! I'm also flicking through the photographs from our time in Paris for un peu d'inspiration and will really try my very best to bring a bit of gay Pareee to rainy Manchester, for one month at least... *sigh* 

1 June 2011

Organised chaos

I am trying to get a bit fitter at the moment and am therefore forcing myself to walk the four miles home from work every day (not as strenuous or as time-consuming as it sounds trust me!) However, the only way I can persuade myself to walk the same long road home day in day out is by catching up on the latest Guardian books podcasts on the way, which are usually excellent and really do inspire some interesting inner monologues of the bookish variety for me later on in the evening. In one of the latest installments, a passing comment by American author Anne Fadiman about the joyfully haphazard state of certain second hand bookshops got me thinking about book buying habits and about an exchange I'd had with my Mum on our last charity shop binge together.

'Oooo! Here's a nice copy of Birdsong!' I cried, finding it wedged between Memoirs of a Geisha and some obscure book of poetry by an unheard of English author.  'Oooo! Here's another copy and it's even nicer!' I called two minutes later, finding it shoved in between a Paulo Coelho bestseller and Ainsley Harriot's latest cookbook ... 

I completely understand and advocate alphabetisation and all other manner of organisation and cleanliness in, say, a library or your average chainy bookstore because when I go into such places I usually know exactly what I'm after. However, like Anne, I find that the utmost joy can be had in those dusty little forgotten back rooms of charity shops that have never seen any form of organisation in their short lives...it inspires me. What could I possibly happen upon next? A bit of Jilly Cooper/Marianne Keyes oooorr an absolute gem of a first edition by an author you simply weren't expecting to come across?

Oooh the excitement .. Now the vital question is will the last little bit of spending money left till pay day stretch to two, or three or five new/old books plucked out of this chaos ??