Yesterday I finished another Mary McCarthy: A Charmed Life. The book has a sense of impending sadness and desperate hopelessnesss running through it; reading it is like watching dark storm clouds gathering overhead. The way McCarthy builds this momentum is impressive. It is so gradual as to really only be noticeable in the last couple of chapters but the final paragraph is still a hell of a shock. The ending is like a mighty crack of thunder and it left me sad, shaken and pensive.
McCarthy is a fantastic writer. She is Richard Yates as a feminist with a social conscience. Several times I almost forgot what I was reading and thought it was something by Yates. I suppose it is the language they use coming from a similar geography and time period. Yet while Yates seems to write the same morose, self-pitying story in each of his novels, McCarthy's work manages to illuminate richer and more diverse characters while simultaneously developing themes (for example: double standards between the genders) worthy of further exploration.
Moving backwards through time, the penultimate book I finished was Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig. It's a crime novel and the mystery at its heart is a tangle of half truths and rumours surrounding the Stone of Destiny that was stolen from Scotland by the English army in the 13th century. The theory that the stone placed in Westminster Abbey was a fake sets off a hunt for the true stone. There is a lot of drama, a bit of violence and a couple of car chases. An engaging story, but my main quibble would be that far too much time is spent in reference to events in a previous novel by the author. They could have been dealt with less cryptically in order to provide some back-story for the characters. It got a bit tiresome after a while and seemed irrelevant. But it was like a fly buzzing - a very minor irritation that didn't matter overall or seriously mar my enjoyment.
And finally: Backwards In High Heels; The Impossible Art Of Being Female (Tania Kindersley and Sarah Vine). It has taken me about a year to read this book. Although it becomes a bit prosey and autocratic in places, for the most part is was a comforting, calming, delicious delight. It isn't really designed to be read in a single stretch but I did read it all in order, albeit with several rather long hiati (hiatuses?) between sessions. It was funny and sweet and generally quite astute. It also has a few recipes in the back and the one I tried the other day was delicious.
Speaking of recipes, I am browsing my way very slowly through a few cookbooks while reading other stuff. The two that keep ending up in the bedroom are The Cook And The Gardener (Amanda Hesser) and The Country Cookbook (Belinda Jeffrey). These two books are a lovely, soothing type of read. They are both in the format of a year long journal about food and cooking. Interspersed with the recipes is an almost-story of the surrounding environment, changing seasons and further musings about food.
Last night I adapted Jeffrey's "Slow-Cooked Red Capsicums and Tomatoes" by adding some ling fish, preserved lemon and black olives. I've cooked one or two things from Hesser's book as well, including a great thyme, leek and goats cheese combo which has practically become my signature dish so I know that these books are useful as well as pretty. Just like me!