Everything I know about love – Dolly Alderton

First of all, this is a great book to read. I’m in my early 50s, so this is not my era at all, but I was so powerfully reminded of my late teens, early 20s, when it was OK to be crazy, over the top, excessive. Not that I went as far as Dolly does. I don’t think many people go as far as Dolly does.

So there’s lots of fun – Dolly is lots of fun, she’s an instant party, everybody expects her to be wild and crazy and over-the-top hedonistic, but there’s sadness, too. She becomes a victim of her own craziness. That bit is interesting, too. She takes responsibility for her actions, she never blames anybody else – she’s been through therapy, so I guess some of that comes from that period of self examination – but I can’t help thinking she’s a little too hard on herself. She obviously inspires love and loyalty in her close, long-standing friendship group, and that was the bit that gave me hope all the way through the book.

Dolly, of course, makes it through, and is standing on the far shore of that chaos, looking back as she writes. It’s fascinating to watch her grow. I liked the lists of things she’d learned, and the way they change as she matures and becomes more experienced.

At first there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of love in this book. There was plenty of sex, plenty of good times, plenty of fun, but not a lot of love. By the end Dolly – and the reader – realise that the love has always been there, but it’s the quiet, continuing love of her friends that has been the underlying foundation for her life.

I wondered about giving this to my teenage daughter, maybe with the idea that she could read it and realise she didn’t have to go through all that chaos to learn what love is all about, but maybe we all have to go through a bit of that (but not as much as Dolly, please!) and learn it for ourselves. 

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The Orchard – Anne Frasier

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Just to prove I don’t just read fantasy, here is a book completely rooted in the real world. It’s a fascinating read. It’s a memoir, a love story, a scream at the state of modern farming, and it’s about apples.

I have an orchard myself. A small, domestic orchard, unsprayed, hand pruned, full of old, local varieties. I’ve read quite a few books about orchards, but they’ve all been English orchards, and the books have all been about connecting with a traditional way of life. The orchard is a romantic place, full of romantic people doing romantic things with apples.

This is a completely different book. A girl with a car crash life meets a boy with a messed up back story, and they fall in love. They move into a shack on his parents’ farm. They are both emotionally abused by their parents – he’s held too tightly, she’s pushed away – but somehow they work together. Anne Frasier uses flashbacks to tell the story of her childhood and adolescence. She shows us a world of rural poverty, where farmers put themselves and their families at risk to keep their farms going, because the farm is the most important thing of all. There’s a cloud of pesticide floating through this book, permeating the pages the way it permeates everything on the farm. The thing that keeps the farm alive creates the tragedy that is killing the farm.

It’s one of those books that makes you feel you can relax back. Not that it’s an easy subject, it’s more that Anne Frasier’s writing style makes you feel you are in a safe pair of hands. Whatever happens, her writing is going to carry you through in utter belief that this is real. Nothing is going to jar and break the spell.

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The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

Well, this is a great read. I really enjoyed it. Lots of layers of intrigue to unravel. First of all, the setting is great. It’s an area I know – I used to live in Oxenhope – and this really took me back to the moors. It’s set just across the valley from Haworth, which seems entirely appropriate for this gothick twister. It reminded me a little of Wuthering Heights – and, bizarrely, of the Secret Garden – in the way the landscape becomes a character in its own right. The atmosphere is well drawn, and the secluded house the main part of the story is set in is vividly described. The heroine is strong and thoughtful, with a mysterious birth story, and manages to sort her own life out, with the support of exactly the right man. The villain has his own tragedy, and complications. There are duplicitous servants, complex plots and, and, and….it’s definitely well worth a read. The Vanishing

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The Valley at the Centre of the World – Malachy Tallack

 

I love this book. I’m trying to work out what it is about it that is so compelling. I think it’s the detailing of lives, and the creation of a world where a dead lamb is as important as a prodigal mother returning. The hard manual work of the crofter is presented in great detail, the difficulty and the satisfaction of living so close to the soil. It doesn’t feel like a work of fiction, it feels like these are real people living real, messy, more or less happy or unhappy lives. There are so many stories, one of the characters comments, and this is a collection, a weaving together of a number of stories into one coherent narrative. The landscape here shapes the people, forcing them to be self-reliant, but they are not separate from the world. The world intrudes, changes things, people come here and are changed by their experience of the place.

 

The whole book just leads you in, and on, and reads so smoothly and so naturally. I don’t know how you would classify it. It’s not a page-turner, but it’s gently addictive.

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Fat Girls Don’t Dance – Maria Ferguson

I went out last night, which is a complicated thing to do midweek, what with the hectic social and sporting timetable the kids have developed, and the fact that my husband works too  hard and too long. I wasn’t even mad keen on going. It was an event organised by Apples and Snakes,   and compered by Briony, who organised the Open Mouth evening I attend. I went to support her, and to support spoken word in the area in general. It was billed as spoken word and dance, and I was expecting something pale, and drooping, and intense.

What I got was Maria Ferguson, who is sharp, funny, smart, warm, and just a little bit dangerous. And classically trained. She’s great. She writes with a scalpel, she moves beautifully – just the way she moved her hands as she spoke was awesome – and she can really, really sing. She made me laugh, and she kept me on the edge of my seat, not quite sure what was going to come next. Not bad, for a one woman show, in a freezing cold ex-chapel in North Devon.

Her show is called Fat Girls Don’t Dance.   And she has a book, of the same name.  Look out for her. She’s funny. And she doesn’t droop at all.

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The Wicked Cometh – Lorna Carlin

Oh, yummy! This is a glorious gothick extravaganza, featuring mistaken identities, forbidden love (of many kinds), two feisty heroines in big frocks (or not, as occasion demands), and the stinking, dangerous, foul, criminal haunted slums of London. It wrong-footed me a couple of times, which is always good, and I loved the final untangling of the sordid web.

I think I particularly liked the portrayal of the London slums, and the sheer desperation of life there. It really shows you how easy it would have been to sink without trace, if just a couple of things went wrong (being orphaned and friendless is never a great start in life, but at least we have some kind of a welfare state now that just might notice you). Hester crawls her way back out of the mire, using her own native wit to do so, and she’s fabulous.

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Sexual harassment.

Yes, I’m getting on the bandwagon. I’m allowed. Everyone else is.

What gets me, right, is these men who say “as the father of daughters…”. The people who say “there are parents out there who have the right to expect that their daughters can work in a safe environment”. All those people who say ” what if it was your daughter… sister…wife…mother…”

Because it seems like women are only to be respected if they belong to some man or other. Or men can only be expected to respect women if they happen to respect the women they “own”. It’s not language that suggests that women should be respected because they are human beings, because they deserve respect in their own right. It’s language that suggests that they only get respect because men permit it.

As the owner of a dog, I understand that you shouldn’t leave them alone for weeks at a time.

As the owner of a horse, I understand that you should drive slowly when you go past them on the road.

As the owner of a woman, I understand that you shouldn’t grab them by the pussy.

That’s what I’m hearing.

What I’d like to hear is:

As a human being, I understand that you shouldn’t seek to degrade or abuse other human beings. Simple as that.

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