Thursday, 27 January 2011

Veggie Books: Good Behaviour



I'm back into reading again. Just before Christmas I was really sick of books, being in the throes of finishing one myself. But now the urge to read the pile that accumulated on my bedside table has kicked in and I'm making progress through it.

I'm not sure Jack Vance needs an antidote, but if he did it might well be Molly Keane's Good Behaviour, written in 1981 although it feels like a much older book, and reprinted under the Virago Modern Classics Imprint. The little icon on the spine for VMC is a bitten apple. Good one. Veggiebox approval there.

It's a book with no time for pleasantries. Aroon St Charles is a pretty unlikeable character. She gets accused of killing her mother in the first chapter, but by the end of the novel we can understand what's made her the way she is, and I loved the honesty of the unspoken pressures at work on her. It's such a sharp, painful book, too clear in its depiction of straitjacketed upper class family life for the moments of great humour to do more than lift it temporarily out of despair.

I think people might describe my own books the same way, perhaps, if I'm really lucky. So obviously this kind of style would appeal to me. Don't pay any attention to the awful pink dress on the cover. It's not a fluffy book. It's brilliant.

Here's a fruity bit where Aroon is spending the last days of summer with her brother Hubert and his best friend Richard (whom she is in love with) before the boys leave for University. They've just been dancing to the gramophone after dinner:

With Richard, with the music, with the pallor in the windows and the darkness in the room, my happiness was restored to me, sounder, more assured than it had been in the morning. I took it with me to bed. Next morning, when I woke, I could almost look at it, it was so real.

In those last days the boys kept me with them continually. Each day of early September was more perfect than the last. Grapes were ripe in the battered vinery - those muscatels Mummie knew how to thin and prune. Butterflies - fritillaries, peacocks - spread their wings on scabious, sedum, and buddleia, waiting heavily, happily for death to come. We sat among them, eating grapes, the sun on our backs.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Veggie Books: Lyonesse

I finished the mighty tome of Lyonesse novels, and yes, I admit it, Jack Vance is brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the female characters who weren't in the least bit keen on being saved by anybody. Madouc in particular reminded me of The Paper Bag Princess*. She's going on her own quests and is going to get her own answers. I loved her, and the final book in the trilogy in particular.

There's really no element that's weak about the books. I didn't always follow where the characters were off to, geographically speaking, but I think that's a personal fault of mine. I'm really rubbish at computing that kind of information, but it didn't stop my enjoyment of the novels. The dialogue and the descriptive writing are also excellent throughout. How unusual it is to find a fantasy trilogy that's not falling down somewherew in the writing. How terrible it is to have to say that. How come we're happy to accept lazy writing in fantasy, with all those stereotypical relationships and long-winded paragraphs? Hm. Anyhoo, that's for another discussion. What I'm really interested in is, of course, the vegetable situation.

I pleased to report there are lots of vegetables to choose from. And fruit. And bread and meat, and ale. The food is nicely covered throughout, and most of the time ended up making me hungry. Like the section below, where the innkeeper Dildahl is trying to get his guests to eat the fish on the menu because he can then charge an exorbitant price for it:

'I can offer a succulent pie of crayfish tails, or a brace of fine brown trout, at their prime, sizzling in butter and vinegar.'

Harbig scanned the board. 'They are not written on the menu. How are the prices? Fair, or so I expect, with the whole lake at your doorstep?'

'When it comes to fish, we are at our best! What of two dozen pilchard, with lemons and sorrel?'

'Toothsome, no doubt, but price, man! What of the price?'

'Oh ha ha, I am not certain; it varies with the catch.'

Harbig dubiously eyed the menu. 'Lentil soup might be tasty.'

'Soup is off,' said Dildahl. 'What of a plate of splendid salmon roe, with capers and butter, and a salad of cress and parsley?'


And so continues the negotiations, but Dildahl will find these two guests are not as innocent to his thieving ways as they seem. Enjoyably, this is only the smallest of asides and not at all important to the main plot, but it gives the whole thing colour and flavour. Get it? The vegetables add the flavour. Heh.


*Thanks Alis for introducing the Munchie and me to The Paper Bag Princess! I recommend it for the parents of all little girls who develop alarming Disney fixations.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Toy Story Sucks

I think Pixar are amazing. I can watch A Bug's Life any time, and Wall-E was awesome. Finding Nemo has begun to grate just recently due to over-exposure (it became the Munchie's obsession briefly, but now she's fixated on spooky castles, thankfully, which is making a pleasant change.) but it's still a wonderful film. I'm prepared to admit that.

I just blooming hate Toy Story.

This feeling has been exacerbated by Toy Story 3, which I thought was awful. The dialogue is witty, the animation is perfect, and the voices are brilliant. But I can't get over the fact that it doesn't represent how a child relates to their toys. Children torture their toys. That's what they do. They throw them around and put things in their eyes and draw on them. They don't fondly say goodbye to them before they go to college. Do they? Or is this just me?

I remember pulling the head off my ballerina Sindy, and giving her a haircut, and dressing her up in Action Man clothes and throwing her down the stairs. But I don't think I was particularly aggressive as a child. I also gave her cuddles and stuff, but the good went with the bad. I didn't treat her like a person. I was trying things out on her, and that included being mean.

Kids should be mean to toys. They shouldn't be concerned as to whether that toy has feelings. They shouldn't have to be nice to toys just in case they are actually somehow alive.

I've taken this too seriously, haven't I? Well, I don't like the prescriptive element of Toy Story. Nice children don't blow up their toys, huh? I think they do. In fact, I think it's healthy to do so. So there.

And Toy Story 3 had a rubbish storyline too. It just rehashed Toy Story 2 with a smelly bear thrown in. *pokes out tongue*