Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – The Literary Column -O is for Loneliness by Jessica Norrie


In celebration of the imminent release of Jessica Norrie’s new release in July, I will be sharing her literary column posts again every fortnight over the summer. More about The Magic Carpet later in the post.

Jessica Norrie explores Loneliness in fiction and also in recently published articles on the subject in leading business and science journals. When you have read the article, Jessica would love to have your views on the subject.

O is for Loneliness

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1405259930l/18774964.jpgI thought I knew why my daughter gave me A Man called Ove for my birthday. I recognised this grumpy middle aged man who drives the computer shop assistant mad with his poor understanding, and grumbles about neighbourhood litter and other people’s driving.

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1334848488l/13486632.jpgI was amused, then slightly hurt. Ove is less appealing than The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window, or Harold Fry who took a break from his mundane marriage to rescue an ideal from his youth.

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1335816092l/13227454.jpg But by chapter 4, I realised my daughter hadn’t intended a dig at me. For Ove (pronounced Oovah in the audiobook) is less lucky than I am. Rather than write spoilers, I’ll omit the details of his family life. Suffice it to say, he’s lonely. “Ove heard his younger colleagues all laughing together.” Even when his misfortunes mirror a friend’s, they increase his isolation. “Sorrow is unreliable… When people don’t share it there’s a good chance it will drive them apart instead.” Ove’s loneliness is partly his own fault and partly from circumstances beyond his control, but whatever we think of his character, we have to pity him. My partner found the book too sad to finish, and for me the many moments of comedy came as much needed relief.

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1493724347l/31434883.jpgThe relief didn’t last. My next read was the current UK bestseller,.Eleanor Oliphant is Completely fine Eleanor is younger than Ove, but even more alone. After work on Friday, she picks up two bottles of vodka to keep her company until Monday morning. Not that her relationship with her colleagues is great: “They hate me, but they don’t actually wish me dead.” Eleanor is highly intelligent (perhaps too intelligent, analysing and disapproving where others would sail past) with huge reserves of general knowledge and some limited self knowledge too: “I do not light up a room when I walk into it. No one longs to see me or to hear my voice. I do not feel sorry for myself, not in the least. These are simply statements of fact.”

She is formal and courteous, but doesn’t pick up social signals, so she dresses wrongly (Velcro shoes, and she’s at least forty years too young for the useful “shopper” she trundles about with). She’s clearly intended to be “an outsider … seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way”, as Mark Haddon blogged about his hero Christopher when explaining  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time wasn’t a portrait of someone with Asperger’s.

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1479863624l/1618.jpg In Eleanor’s case other factors have played the most disturbing and abusive part in forming her character – although her world view, which is sympathetically portrayed, suggests she may have some kind of high functioning special need too.

Eleanor is not a grim Scandi noir heroine, she’s younger than Ove, and the comedy is less black – there are numerous very funny episodes (the beauty treatments! The terrible music venue!) mixed in almost equal parts with the sadness. There was some sentimentality, some triteness, but without them this would have been a much grimmer book. On Google I found several descriptions of Eleanor as “delightful”. I wouldn’t go that far, and I’m not convinced she has a bright future, but having dug her such a deep hole, her author Gail Honeyman does provide a rope ladder, and I closed the book hoping she would keep her footing.

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1501020342l/34836959.jpgThird present, third lonely protagonist! Isabel, née Archer, is the heroine of John Banville’s Mrs Osmond (It’s a sequel to The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James but you don’t have to have read the latter.) I struggled with this at first, as I’m not convinced Banville has much empathy with female characters. (In the second half when we meet Mr Osmond, Banville is much more sure footed.) But my attention held when I was reminded of Eleanor Oliphant’s narration: “There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar”. This is echoed in Isabel of whom Banville says : “her presence here in the world was a sort of phantom, a ghastly revenant”.

Here’s the abuse too: Isabel “had got out of the way of being treated pleasantly, in the ordinary human fashion…for years and years, she had crouched inside herself, holding her breath and ever on the watch, like a child hiding in a cupboard from a capriciously cruel parent.” Eleanor doesn’t understand she’s wanted unless she’s given an overtly warm welcome when visiting her few acquaintances. The more polished Isabel has more friends, but repeatedly doesn’t know what to say to them, why she’s visiting them, or what they can do for her. “…her hidden troubles, clamouring within her for the attention of those who were close to her -but who were they?” She feels closest to her maid, Staines, but Staines refuses her timid overtures because of their different social standing. Right to the end, Isabel rejects friendship by being overly critical of the people offering it, condemning herself to more of the loneliness that she hadn’t, initially, colluded with as Ove and Eleanor do.

https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1502148606l/264.jpgWhy have loneliness narratives hit such a nerve? As we hunch over smart phones using emoticons to express our feelings, are we drawn for catharsis to protagonists articulating their isolation on our behalf? Society doesn’t understand them, they don’t understand society – does this express our own lack of connection? The UK government appointed a Minister for Loneliness in January 2018. The New York Times disagreed there was a “loneliness epidemic” but expressed concern about “social disconnection”The Harvard Business Review had loneliness as a cover story last November, and The New Scientist  flagged it up back in December 2014.

But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. I should stiffen my British upper lip, and move on. These stories simply continue a tradition stretching back from Hamlet to the Girl on a Train, via Jane Eyre and Pip Pirrip. The hero/heroine is lonely, or has some other mountain to climb. S/he sets out; scrambles over the foothills; things get worse; hero/heroine perseveres; companions, health and wealth are threatened or lost en route; eventually hero/heroine arrives at a place of comfort (or occasionally doesn’t). That’s all there is to any work of fiction, and I just need to get out more.

Your thoughts are welcome!

©Jessica Norrie February 2018

My thanks to Jessica for putting the spotlight onto an issue that clearly has prompted literary exploration over the centuries and continues to be an issue today. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

The Magic Carpet – Jessica’s new release.

Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?

Head over and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2

Also by Jessica Norrie in English and German

One of the many reviews for the book

Roses are Amber VINE VOICE 4.0 out of 5 stars Literary Fiction 

The Infinity Pool is a piece of literary fiction set on an island where a camp exists called Serendipity, where men and women can go to relax, regenerate and find themselves in fairly basic and primitive surroundings. The camp offers holistic therapies, fresh food and the chance to meet like-minded individuals.

The story opens with an attack on a key member of Serendipity, it then turns back almost a year. Adrian is a known womaniser and searching for a fresh injection of life he befriends a young local girl. Island villagers already dislike visitors to the Serendipity camp, they find them intrusive and disrespectful of their local culture and customs. There is often an undercurrent of trouble waiting to erupt between the campers and the villagers.

When the camp re-opens the following year, the leader fails to turn up. Magda, the camp’s head housekeeper makes sure the camp continues to run as best she can, but some returning campers are disappointed by the absence and the camp’s atmosphere degenerates without their leader. Relationships with the villagers heat up and become violent.

You won’t find cosy characters here, many were selfish and awkward showing how they didn’t mix well with the locals. There are several storylines vying for attention, and the ending wasn’t what I expected at all. This book is quite different from lots of mainstream dramas, but will draw its own audience of readers.

Read the reviews buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jessica-Norrie/e/B01CEUZF26

and on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Pool-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B011RA8QZW

Find more reviews on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3270629.Jessica_Norrie

About Jessica Norrie

Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught adults and children, co-authored a textbook and ran teacher training. In 2008 came the idea for “The Infinity Pool”, which appeared in 2015 (and in German in 2018). Her second novel “The Magic Carpet”, inspired by teaching language and creativity in multicultural schools, is published on July 22nd, and she is working on a third. She also spends time blogging, singing soprano, walking in the forest and trying to move out of London.

Connect to Jessica

Blog: https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.norrie.12
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessica_norrie

I know Jessica would love your feedback on the post and it would be great if you could share. thanks Sally

Advertisements

Smorgasbord Posts from My Archives – The Literary Column with Jessica Norrie – Reading from the very start


In celebration of the imminent release of Jessica Norrie’s new book on July 22nd, I will be sharing her literary column posts again every fortnight over the summer. More about The Magic Carpet later in the post.

Reading from the very start

What is the beginning?

Before I wrote fiction and blogged, I was a translator, teacher and teacher trainer, with students ranging from 3 – 80+. I learned if a child learns young enough to appreciate different points of view through reading stories, the habit ebbs and flows but is never quite lost, with huge repercussions for how their lives develop.

Non-fiction can be told as stories too. The beginnings are usually clear, the plotting goes all over the place, the ends may be murky, but there’s always a story in there somewhere. It may be obvious – Henry VIII and his six wives, Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Ghandhi. Sometimes the story has to be disinterred, for example if it concerns people who were illiterate themselves or whose words weren’t thought important enough to record. But it’s always there.

The only time kids understand the world is when they read.”  Katherine Rundell, quoted in the Guardian. I think only is arguable but I’d happily substitute best or clearest. Never underestimate the power of even the simplest text to enable the process.

So what’s the first book I remember reading? Stand by for nostalgia!

Ant and Bee, by Angela Banner, was first published 1950. Perhaps it was the 13cm x 10cm format, just right for little hands, or the key words printed in red, or the clear illustrations pointing out exactly what those strange curly symbols signified – anyway, I loved the Ant and Bee books and gave them to my own children. Such simple examples of making sense of the world. Sadly, in my 1991 Ant and Bee: an alphabetical story, “G” is for “gun”. But the illustration, a toy cannon, is unthreatening, and more recent editions may have changed, as many illustrated alphabets did post the Dunblane school massacre.

I had picture books in various formats. Huge flat Babar books with curly script only my father could decipher. A wonderful story, now lost, illustrated in pinks and oranges, introduced me to the world of sultans, domes, minarets, and travelling on a magic carpet. Please comment if you can identify what this was! The Giant Alexander lived more prosaically in Maldon, Essex. Alexander was created by Frank Herrmann, a publisher who also brought the Dick Bruna Miffy books to the UK. I discovered that at Seven Stories, website of the UK National Centre for Children’s Books.

It’s invaluable to begin young to meet “other” cultures. Research proves reading fiction improves empathy, starting with children’s fiction. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s pioneer childhood was completely unlike my urban, sophisticated home but with her I found common ground – and adventure!

On chilly nights when I hug the radiators, there’s nothing like re reading The Long Winter to put my shivers in perspective. (I’m aware of debate over Ingalls’ depiction of native Americans and will return to that another time. As a child, I got another viewpoint from Scott O’Dell’s Islands of the Blue Dolphins.)

First edition Wikipedia.

My children, in their 20s, are the Harry Potter generation. I tell our story of one HarryPotter publication day here.

The J K Rowling of my childhood was Joan Aiken, whose heroine Dido Twite opened my eyes to child neglect, poverty, danger on the London streets, and inequality. What a strong female role model! Malorie Blackman and Jacqueline Wilson deal with such themes more realistically, but Aiken’s treatment within raucously exciting stories set in an imaginary historical period is unbeatable. Her words from the Joan Aiken blog sum her up:

“From the beginning of the human race, stories have been used…as magic instruments… (for) helping people to come to terms with the fact that they continually have to face insoluble problems and unbearable realities.”

Anyone a decade or so older than me may feel similarly about Narnia (there are contemporary questions about Narnian values, and I was surprised to find how racist much Babar looks now. But they remain ripping good yarns which I’d like to see edited for modern audiences).

There are a surprising number of orphan stories – I, Juan de Pareja  taught me about art and had a black slave hero. Janet Hitchman described foster homes and Barnardo’s organisations in The King of the Barbareens. Children have the right to loving, comfortable homes. Such children become confident adults. But if we want them to be caring adults too, they should have books like these. Hitchman was born in 1919: a century later too many children are still homeless or orphaned. We still need stories relevant to them: to help them feel valued, to reflect their lives and record the injustice they suffer, and to point the way forward.

My childhood books sound grim and worthy! But they weren’t – that’s the point about good children’s and YA literature. It mixes lessons with magic (The Little White Horse) (The Little White Horse); craft and tradition (Miss Happiness and Miss Flower) history (The Witch of Blackbird Pond) ), science fiction (The Master) or crime with spare, menacing dialogue (a bleak Scottish story I can visualise but no longer find). Some haven’t stood the test of time – Pamela Brown’s The Swish of the Curtain, Noel Streatfield’s Gemma – but I remember them better than the adult fiction I’ve been reading for the intervening four decades.

For children to understand this world, we must show them others – historical, imaginary, allegorical, funny. It’s even more important, in these days of staying in for fear of traffic, pollution and paedophiles.

It’s humanly possible for your childhood reading to be adrift of mine by 45 years either way.

I’d love to hear which stories formed you. Thank you for reading!

© Jessica Norrie 2018

My thanks to Jessica for this wonderful post that enables us to travel back in time to enjoy her most treasured reads. Stories that have stood the test of time.

The Magic Carpet

Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?

Pre-order the book for July 22nd: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2

Also by Jessica Norrie in English and German

One of the many reviews for the book

Roses are Amber VINE VOICE 4.0 out of 5 stars Literary Fiction 

The Infinity Pool is a piece of literary fiction set on an island where a camp exists called Serendipity, where men and women can go to relax, regenerate and find themselves in fairly basic and primitive surroundings. The camp offers holistic therapies, fresh food and the chance to meet like-minded individuals.

The story opens with an attack on a key member of Serendipity, it then turns back almost a year. Adrian is a known womaniser and searching for a fresh injection of life he befriends a young local girl. Island villagers already dislike visitors to the Serendipity camp, they find them intrusive and disrespectful of their local culture and customs. There is often an undercurrent of trouble waiting to erupt between the campers and the villagers.

When the camp re-opens the following year, the leader fails to turn up. Magda, the camp’s head housekeeper makes sure the camp continues to run as best she can, but some returning campers are disappointed by the absence and the camp’s atmosphere degenerates without their leader. Relationships with the villagers heat up and become violent.

You won’t find cosy characters here, many were selfish and awkward showing how they didn’t mix well with the locals. There are several storylines vying for attention, and the ending wasn’t what I expected at all. This book is quite different from lots of mainstream dramas, but will draw its own audience of readers.

Read the reviews buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jessica-Norrie/e/B01CEUZF26

and on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Pool-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B011RA8QZW

Find more reviews on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3270629.Jessica_Norrie

About Jessica Norrie

Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught adults and children, co-authored a textbook and ran teacher training. In 2008 came the idea for “The Infinity Pool”, which appeared in 2015 (and in German in 2018). Her second novel “The Magic Carpet”, inspired by teaching language and creativity in multicultural schools, is published on July 22nd, and she is working on a third. She also spends time blogging, singing soprano, walking in the forest and trying to move out of London.

Connect to Jessica

Blog: https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.norrie.12
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessica_norrie

I know Jessica would love your feedback on the post and it would be great if you could share. thanks Sally

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New book on the Shelves Pre-order July 22nd – The Magic Carpet by Jessica Norrie


Delighted to share the news of Jessica Norrie’s new book that is on pre-order for July 22nd. The Magic Carpet.

About The Magic Carpet

Outer London, September 2016, and neighbouring eight-year-olds have homework: prepare a traditional story to perform with their families at a school festival. But Nathan’s father thinks his son would be better off doing sums; Sky’s mother’s enthusiasm is as fleeting as her bank balance, and there’s a threatening shadow hanging over poor Alka’s family. Only Mandeep’s fragile grandmother and new girl Xoriyo really understand the magical powers of storytelling. As national events and individual challenges jostle for the adults’ attention, can these two bring everyone together to ensure the show will go on?

Pre-order the book for July 22nd: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2

And on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Carpet-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B07TXZP2S2

Also by Jessica Norrie in English and German

One of the many reviews for the book

Roses are Amber VINE VOICE 4.0 out of 5 stars Literary Fiction 

The Infinity Pool is a piece of literary fiction set on an island where a camp exists called Serendipity, where men and women can go to relax, regenerate and find themselves in fairly basic and primitive surroundings. The camp offers holistic therapies, fresh food and the chance to meet like-minded individuals.

The story opens with an attack on a key member of Serendipity, it then turns back almost a year. Adrian is a known womaniser and searching for a fresh injection of life he befriends a young local girl. Island villagers already dislike visitors to the Serendipity camp, they find them intrusive and disrespectful of their local culture and customs. There is often an undercurrent of trouble waiting to erupt between the campers and the villagers.

When the camp re-opens the following year, the leader fails to turn up. Magda, the camp’s head housekeeper makes sure the camp continues to run as best she can, but some returning campers are disappointed by the absence and the camp’s atmosphere degenerates without their leader. Relationships with the villagers heat up and become violent.

You won’t find cosy characters here, many were selfish and awkward showing how they didn’t mix well with the locals. There are several storylines vying for attention, and the ending wasn’t what I expected at all. This book is quite different from lots of mainstream dramas, but will draw its own audience of readers.

Read the reviews buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jessica-Norrie/e/B01CEUZF26

and on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Pool-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B011RA8QZW

Find more reviews on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3270629.Jessica_Norrie

About Jessica Norrie

Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught adults and children, co-authored a textbook and ran teacher training. In 2008 came the idea for “The Infinity Pool”, which appeared in 2015 (and in German in 2018). Her second novel “The Magic Carpet”, inspired by teaching language and creativity in multicultural schools, is published on July 22nd, and she is working on a third. She also spends time blogging, singing soprano, walking in the forest and trying to move out of London.

Connect to Jessica

Blog: https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.norrie.12
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessica_norrie

Please help share the news of Jessica’s new book and give it a great send off.. Thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Jessica Norrie’s Literary Column – A Spell for Spring


Jessica Norrie’s Literary Column – A Spell for Spring

By meteorological standards worldwide, we Brits have nothing to complain about – we haven’t suffered the sort of prairie temperatures Laura Ingalls Wilder described in The Long Winter, or the snow Dr. Zhivago tramped through between poignant wife Tonya, lover Lara, Tsarists and Bolsheviks. There was a shortage of winter clothing; some of the partisans went about half dressed. It was decided to kill off all the camp dogs and people with experience as furriers were set to making dog-skin jackets, to be worn with the fur side out…typhus again became endemic at the onset of the cold weather.

Nonetheless, Brits were fed up last weekend. Beautiful photos of pure white drifts were two a penny on Facebook last time the “Beast from the East” paid a visit, but this time there was only grumbling. My writing course at Jane Austen’s house was cancelled, and with it my subject for this week’s Smorgasbord post. With luck spring will have sprung by the time Sally publishes this replacement. I think I’ll help it along with an incantation of literary quotes and novel titles.

I loved Yukio Mishima in my more intense days, hanging on to a yellowing  Spring Snow until the whole volume curled in on itself. The snow in the title annoys me, but in  Japanese Literature cherry blossom is never far away: hung in huge clusters from the black austerity of the branches like a mass of white seashells spread over a reef… And with almost invisible subtlety, the star-shaped centre of each blossom was marked with pink in tiny, sharp strokes, like the stitches holding a button in placeThe Spring Cleaning Murders, cosy crime by Dorothy Cannell, is less poetic, more practical. Soap flakes appeal to me more than snowflakes, although here at Sloven Towers we don’t clean until autumn. To be fair, the snowflakes are small today. If I screw up my eyes I can pretend they’re clouds of midges (every season has its perils).

In the Springtime of the Year by Susan Hill is a beautiful, evocative novel of a young suddenly widowed woman’s loss, grief and hope of rebirth. Hill foreshadows the changing seasons and the weather echoes her despair and hope, the story starting in August, harking back to the previous springtime disaster and forward to possible new life. The text is almost as poetic as Shakespeare, writing of a flower associated with death:

A violet in the youth of primy nature,
Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute;
No more. (Hamlet, Act I Scene III)

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, is one I haven’t read. It’s an agonised cry from 1962 about how humans damage their environment. Over fifty years later with our dying bees and our plastic riddled oceans, clearly everyone should have taken more note.

Such sad springs! Will searching by month be happier? Molly Keane wrote of Anglo-Irish sisters April, May and baby June (aged 64) in  Time After Time. June walks around their crumbling property: To her left the white cherry blossoms flowered smokily in the half darkness. On her right a grove of laurel and rhododendron hid the lean old house and its troubles. In the close shelter she heard the dive and chuckle of a bird, surprised out of its sleep. But even spring can’t disguise the troubles of this dysfunctional family, comically and viciously told. Manure, old and fresh, fumed peacefully in the cold air, much like the family itself.

Can you smell the March Violets? This fast paced crime noir, set in Nazi Berlin, seems unlikely to contain much about delicate wildflowers although Philip Kerr is always worth reading. Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 with March, her sequel to Little Women, but I’m discounting it too because that was their surname, not the month. The story involves the father. As so often, the promise of spring in March is misleading.

April Twilights, a collection of poetry by Willa Cather, led me on to The Song of the Lark, the second of her Nebraska prairie novels. The story is set in July, but this lovely preface may help our spell:

On uplands
At morning
The world was young, the winds were free;
A garden fair,
In that blue desert air,
Its guest invited me to be.

Next, let’s next visit Italy in The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim, one of my mother’s favourite writers. Goodreads calls it: A recipe for happiness: four women, one medieval Italian castle, plenty of wisteria, and solitude as needed. Von Arnim fills our incantation with singing birds, blossom, and sunlight that massages without scorching – it’s a joy to browse the covers of the alternative editions. Don’t get too lulled: we’re off to Albanian vendettas and violence in Broken April, Ismail Kadare’s title echoing  One Spoilt Spring by Hungarian Beata Bishop, recommended here. I’d never heard of Kadare, but I respect the choices of his publisher, Vintage. Having started this post with a flippant search for titles containing April, I’ve reaped a fruitful if contrasting harvest!

Frost in May by Antonia White is too close to snow for comfort, so I’m ignoring it, along with Seven Days in May, fiction by Kim Izzo about the sinking of the Lusitania. We won’t find many daffodils and catkins at sea, so I’ll fly back to land.

 

Lark Rise to Candleford is an English classic by Flora Thompson chronicling a year among poor rural families. She’s a Laura Ingalls Wilder for the UK and like her, becomes more anodyne in the television version. The white tails of rabbits bobbed in and out of the hedgerows; stoats crossed the road in front of the children’s feet – swift, silent , stealthy creatures which made them shudder, and once they even saw a fox curled up asleep in the ditch beneath thick overhanging ivy. (Note “they even saw a fox”- foxes turn up day and night in every urban street today – but we see fewer stoats.) Traditionally every year the  London Times letters page receives news of the first cuckoo. The Cuckoo’s Calling is of course Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling’s take on detective fiction. What is it about spring and crime? Does spring have a sinister side – in snow criminals can’t cover their tracks but thaw and foliage offer more opportunities for concealment, mayhem and murder?

Lots of titles feature spring flowers. L M Alcott features again. Her Under the Lilacs, according to Goodreads, contains “hidden lessons about life, death and faith” – as spring after winter does.

Alexandre Dumas in The Black Tulip and Deborah Moggach found Tulip Fever a good subject for fiction. Dumas returns with La Dame aux Camélias (she may carry camellias but her name is Marguerite), and Martine Bailey’s well researched servant girl has An Appetite for Violets. I have happy childhood memories of candied violets, and the prettiness of the cover should help our spring burst into life.

My titles stopped in May, when the Ingalls family were just emerging from their ordeal. And as they sang, the fear and suffering of the long winter seemed to rise like a dark cloud and float away on the music. Spring had come. the sun was shining warm, the winds were soft, and the green grass growing.

 

My next Smorgasbord column will be after Easter. Have a good one, and do comment with any titles I’ve missed to strengthen the spells and get us some sunshine.

©Jessica Norrie 2018

My thanks to Jessica for taking us from the depths of snow laden winter into the blossoms and warmth of late spring. Much to look forward to.

About Jessica Norrie

Jessica Norrie studied French literature at Sussex University, and trained as a teacher at Sheffield. Then she wandered into parenthood, told her now grown up children stories, and heard theirs. A qualified translator, she worked on an eclectic mix of material, from health reports on racehorses to harrowing refugee tales. She taught, full time, part time, adults, children, co-authored a text book and ran teacher training. In 2008 she was inspired with the idea for “The Infinity Pool” and it appeared as a fully fledged novel in 2015. Meanwhile she sings soprano and plays the piano, walks in the forest and enjoys living in and using London. She looks forward to writing more in the future.

Jessica Norrie

About the Book.

In this thoughtful novel set on a sun-baked island, Adrian Hartman, the charismatic director of the Serendipity holiday community, is responsible for ensuring the perfect mindful break, with personal growth and inner peace guaranteed. People return year after year to bare their souls. For some, Adrian IS Serendipity. But Adrian disappears, and with him goes the serenity of his staff and guests, who are bewildered without their leader. The hostility of the local villagers is beginning to boil over. Is their anger justified or are the visitors, each in a different way, just paranoid?

As romance turns sour and conflict threatens the stability of both communities, everyone has to find their own way to survive. This evocative story explores the decisions of adults who still need to come of age, the effect of well-intentioned tourism on a traditional community, and the real meaning of getting away from it all.

One of the recent reviews for the book

Well-written and acutely observed on 14 December 2017Jessica Norrie’s novel, set on a sun-drenched island somewhere in the Mediterranean, examines the personalities and pitfalls encountered on the sort of package holiday that offers holistic life-skills and self-improvement courses. While practising yoga and suchlike activities, guests at the Serendipity resort, together with staff and, from time to time, local villagers, confront social, personal and philosophical challenges.Norrie has a confident narrative voice and a shrewd and sympathetic view of human nature, which makes her account of the goings-on at Serendipity entertaining as well as thought-provoking.

The central character is absent for much of the book: this means that the reader builds up a picture of him through the thoughts and observations of other characters, like a photographic negative – he is defined by his impact on others. When he re-emerges in his own right, his condition is so altered that we learn about other people from their decidedly contrasting (and sometimes unattractive) reactions.

The prose is occasionally lyrical – as a swimmer emerges from a pool, “The water softly shifted to a forgiving stillness” – and consistently accessible. The author is very good on the strains inherent in a globalized culture. The gulf between Serendipity’s staff and guests on the one hand and the local community on the other sours into violence, which may not be entirely surprising since, as one of the resort’s denizens observes, “Our food and our water supply are better than theirs, so we don’t eat in their restaurants or buy their fruit, except in town where it’s so touristy; most of us don’t even try to speak their language; we don’t talk to them when they come to our bar; we expect them to put up with us sunbathing naked on the beach in front of their grandmothers – and then we go on about how beautiful the country is and how fascinating the local traditions are.”

The author also has a clear-eyed view of the reality beneath picturesque Mediterranean society. A young woman considers “meeting and marrying some local man and giving birth within the time honoured local conventions, kicking just a little against restrictions on her sex because that was what each new generation did, then in turn chivvying her own daughters and unconditionally adoring her sons.”

The Infinity Pool is a well-written and acutely observed examination of diverse lives.

Read some of the many excellent reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jessica-Norrie/e/B01CEUZF26

and on Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Infinity-Pool-Jessica-Norrie-ebook/dp/B011RA8QZW

Find more reviews on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3270629.Jessica_Norrie

Connect to Jessica

Blog: https://jessicanorrie.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessica.norrie.12
Twitter: https://twitter.com/jessica_norrie

 

My thanks again to Jessica Norrie and to you for dropping in.. your feedback is always welcome. Sally