Monday, 29 September 2008

Veggie Books: The Weeping Women Hotel

I've always been the kind of person who abides by rules.

I get the shivers when I think I might be trespassing. On a trip to Salzburg, Hubby took a wrong turn and we ended up driving along the riverbank, much to the disgust of the locals, who gesticulated at us a lot until we had reversed very slowly back on to the main road. I crouched behind the dashboard and cried.

So I feel liberated by proxy when somebody breaks rules. I always cheer for the one who sticks two fingers up at authority, and I really enjoy the rare moment when they don't get punished for it.

Alexei Sayle books break the rules. Nothing expected happens, but the events feel right. The characters are never quite beyond two dimensions, but you end up really caring about them. And the writing never quite obeys all those made-up rules that other writers try so hard to follow.

The figs are a case in point.

The Weeping Women Hotel is the place where women go when there is nowhere left to go. They get on a train to anywhere, and when they get off, that is the hotel next door. Women stay for as long as they need, maybe forever. The book starts with the arrival of Harriet to the hotel, and her first breakfast. She says she doesn't want breakfast, but the receptionist tells her she does. Breakfast is the specialty of the place.

...First there was a row of brown ceramic jugs, elegantly hand-written labels before them on the stiff white-linened table describing the contents of each: there was orange, mango, melon, peach and pear juice, and all of them seemed on inspection to be freshly squeezed. Then there were the platters of cheeses, sliced ham, fresh figs. Further along were lidded dishes with a little paraffin flame burning beneath each: these were labelled 'bacon', 'sausages', 'scrambled eggs', 'wild field mushrooms' and 'today's special - huevos rancheros con chorizo'. There were piles of toast wrapped in thin creamy linen and freshly baked baguettes, pots of thick home-made jams, slabs of farmhouse butter.

This is obviously not your usual British hotel. But alongside the sense of threat there is the realisation that you really want to stay in a strange hotel that offers figs and other such delicacies for breakfast. You want to learn a martial arts that involves jumping out of the same tree every day. You want to take out membership to the Muscle Bitch gym at Pointless Park.

It's warm, and funny, and very weird. And figs for breakfast are the least of it.


Alis said...

Well, aren't people surprising. Seriously did not have you pegged as a rule-follower...
That aside, must investigate these figs...

Aliya Whiteley said...

Can't help it, Alis. I only live a wild and free existence on the page.