Monday, May 20, 2013

On reading old books and being far away

I don't think I've read a book written in the last thirty years for two months now. I can't even think what the last one would have been. Oh, yes I can. A few Mills and Boon Moderns last week, because it's comforting to read romance novels when it's too wet to go out. But mostly there's been a lot of Jane Austen and the Brontes and Wodehouse and Neville Shute. The Shutes are particularly enthralling as the characters are Brits who come out to Australia and go back to London on slow boats or bunny-hop through Asia or the States to get here. Letters are send by air mail and take a week, or by sea mail and take months. The odd telegram is sent too, but you get the impression that they were terribly expensive.

These days I don't review books so I read what I like, which is the best way to do things, I think. So I wander over the Italian Alps with Emily St Aubert, not much caring that I should be "keeping up with the industry". I'll be in the mood for new releases soon I'm sure. But why am I liking these old books so much? I think it must be because I'm far from home. If a man who's lost his legs in WWII can't find a Naval Wren and chases her all over the world for years only to discover she's opted out with a bottle of sleeping pills the day before he finds her (thanks for the laughs, Neville Shute), I can't really be sad for being twenty-two hours or a Skype call from home.

I'm not a melancholy, homesick person, and I like being out of my comfort zone. I needed to be out of my comfort zone. What self-respecting writer hasn't moved to another country? Read their autobiographies in the back of their books: "Hazel has lived in Vladivostok, Tangiers and briefly in Yemen, which makes her pretty cool and smug, don't you know. No wonder she's written a bestseller based on her experiences and has a proper grip on metaphors."

But when your brother gets engaged and everyone's there at the party but you, in the house you used to live in, you might like to read a few comforting old books where they didn't even have Skype and shed a few untimely tears into your boyfriend's jacket on the main street. It was lovely to know that three of my dear friends, Shona, Megan and Ben, where there to represent me and drink plenty of champagne in my stead.

In a serendipitous booking, last night Tim and I went to see Alan Davies in a stand up show in an Islington theatre. Just love him. Tim was in tears at one point and I couldn't stop cough-laughing. (Back-to-back spring colds. Worth the extra coughs.) Cheered me up no end. Today I'm reading Rosamunde Pilcher novels from the 1970s, and this one's set in London. I'm sure it'll end up in Scotland at some point because what Pilcher novel doesn't? It opens with a girl getting a letter from Ibiza a month late saying her mother is dying. So Melbourne isn't very far away after all.

Stiff upper lip and all that. Spirit of the blitz. What ho and pip pip.


  1. I am so pleased you are reading and enjoying Neville Shute - lovely books and he was an aeronautical engineer to boot!!! I think my favourite is probably "A far Country", set variously in London, country Victoria and Leicester - s love story with a happy ending (so many of Shute's love stories end badly).

  2. I am so glad that you got to skype in to the party! I am also proud to represent on your behalf, I drank nearly two bottles of Champagne ate way, way too much food! I did what I could! Miss you!