“Are you going away somewhere nice?” my little flock ask when they hear I’m having the week off after Easter. “Yes, my bed and my reclining chair,” I reply. I mean, who has the energy after Holy Week to even pack a bag, let alone go on a journey that involves concentration of any kind? The post-Easter break is for gentle housework to restore the rectory to the kind of place where you fling open the door and say “Come in!” rather than hastily kicking piles of pew sheets, damp towels, some stations of the cross and a few pounds of nails out of the way.
It is a week of gentle housework which has to be done in stages because there is so much, a week for reading trashy novels that don’t require much in the way of brain cells, of catching up on all those programmes that have been recorded and are taking up all the space on your thingummy, and restocking the fridge and cupboards with food that make meals rather than snacks. It is a week of buying belated birthday cards for all the people you’ve missed in the past few weeks. It is a week of replacing guillotines, glorious staplers, and overheating laminators back to their rightful places in the study. (I’ve still got a way to go on that front.)
But what did you read, Ruth, I hear you cry? Well thank you for asking. I read My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young. This was bought last year I think when every magazine and book programme seemed to be raving about it. And I do like a WW1 story. ‘Birdsong for the new millennium’ it said on the back. Not quite, I’d say, but it was a nice and gentle read. There was a bit of Upstairs Downstairs about it – you know, poor boy taken under the wing of wealthy bohemian family and falls in love with the daughter. Then there is the war stuff when he signs up and quickly rises through the ranks. Well, he is the hero after all. Alongside their story is the story of another couple but I think I missed the importance of them at the beginning and got a bit fed up with their whining. But all in all, it was a good read, heartwarming story, and not quite the ‘masterpiece’ I’d been led to believe. 3 stars.
Next was Girl Reading by Katie Ward. Now this one was delicious. It was recommended by the TV Book Club 2012 and it worked for me. Really it is a series of short stories, and I am not a huge fan of the short story. They always leave me wanting more. But in this case, there was a link between the stories in that they were all telling the story of a girl in a painting who is reading. The first painting is The Annunciation by Simone Martini in 1333 and then is followed by six other portraits, six artists, six women reading. (The pic opposite is the second girl – in Pieter Janssens Elinga’s Woman Reading, 1668.) It is incredibly clever and unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is almost meditative in style because there is no speech, as such, but any speech is written in with the text, if that makes sense. The book could do with prints of the paintings and photos in the cover as I had to go and look them up, but then some of them are in the imagination of the author so I stopped worrying about the picture and just immersed myself in the scene she sets. The last chapter is set in the future and is just as evocative as the others. If you love art, you’ll love this book. I have often stood in an art gallery and wondered about the story behind the painting. If you have too, then this is a book that will thrill you to bits. I read it almost too quickly so it will stay on the shelf to be re-read in the future, more slowly and savouring every word. 5 stars.
Finally I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because everyone seems to be talking about it. It is fantasy, a genre I’m not terribly familiar with, but I couldn’t put it down. Is it written for teenage girls? Who cares? It is a great story and would make a wonderful book group book because of the themes therein: loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, love, and martyrdom. Again it is set in the future, where young people from each sector are selected annually to fight to the death. I know this has already been made into a movie and can see that it would work really well visually. Knowing that it is the first part of a trilogy still surprised me at the end because so much was left unsaid, so I’m going to have to read the other two now. Highly recommended for young people and adults alike. 4.5 stars.