The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford

I am in the midst of creating a book list and the topic I have chosen is “Girls on the Loose.” This is perhaps not a well known genre but it is one that I particularly enjoy. I was thinking of books I like, that were memorable and engaging reads. My list, to begin with, looked liked this:

  • Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
  • Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate
  • Two Under the Indian Sun
  • The Flame Trees of Thika, The Mottled Lizard, Love Among the Daughters

These books all seem to connect together for me. They are memoirs, they are humourous, they all take place in the early 20th century, they all involve girls that are enjoying the adventures of girlhood. In my head, I called them girls on the loose. They are irrepressible, getting into scraps, enjoying life, and ignoring the boundaries. (Interestingly, all of them involve girls and young women who go on to be authors.) The more I thought about girls on the loose the more books I identified, both fiction and non-fiction, with characters young and old. (Miss Jane Marple you are not fooling anyone! She is most clearly a girl on the loose).

All this is long a way round to an introduction but this is the appeal to me of The Pursuit of Love – the irreverent humour, the sense of nostalgia, irrepressible youth. The satire has bite but it has heart too. Linda is really just a typical girl. She is so silly, so desperately in love with love, but she is still tender and insightful. The people who truly love her love her for a reason. And the family are a riot!

Of course, it’s hard to talk about The Pursuit of Love without mentioning Love in a Cold Climate. It is not a true sequel but a companion piece. There is an excellent miniseries, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate – the older one, with Judi Dench as Aunt Sadie – that meshes the two together quite wonderfully, because they are concurrent. You really have to read them both to really get a taste for the time and the people, and Mitford. Love in a Cold Climate is a little more biting, a little more glittering. But you can appreciate that Mitford is taking on her whole class in it, not just her family or the times. So here are The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate side by side, if anyone is looking for a true girl on the loose experience.

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The Philharmonic Gets Dressed – Karla Kuskin, illustrations by Marc Simont

The title gives you a very good idea what this book is about – the members of an orchestra prepare for a performance and this includes getting dressed; also, showering, washing, drying, powdering, shaving, doing their hair, putting on underwear and socks, struggling into stockings, snapping suspenders into place, putting on earrings, tying ties, and generally making oneself presentable. It’s a children’s  picture book and it’s delightful. I think this is my favourite scene:

 

When they have finished washing, they dry. They use big towels and little towels and a lot of dusting powder. All the men shave except three, who have beards. Two trim. Then, when one hundred and five people are showered and bathed, shaved and toweled, dusted and dry, they put on their underwear.
When they have finished washing, they dry. They use big towels and little towels and a lot of dusting powder. All the men shave except three, who have beards. Two trim. Then, when one hundred and five people are showered and bathed, shaved and toweled, dusted and dry, they put on their underwear.

The pictures are so well done; I think they must have been based on real people, a real orchestra. You can track people from scene to scene. How does each get ready? What does each wear? You get a feel for their personalities, and eventually, if you are observant, you will be able to figure out which instrument each one plays. And when the story brings all these very different people together in the end, they make beautiful music. (Sigh. I think I can hear the first notes.) What a delightful way to learn about an orchestra.

It is such a neat perspective and the partnership of author and illustrator work so well together. Apparently, they also did The Dallas Titans Got to Bed. I want to read it too!

Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton

Cry, the Beloved Country was published in 1948. I think its a classic.

Cry, the Beloved Country is a novel of South Africa (not to be confused with Cry Freedom). I think it is one of the best portraits of apartheid that there is; it is incredibly real. Interestingly it was published the same year apartheid came into law. The characters feels uncomfortably realistic – blunt, plain, ordinary. Lives are torn apart. It is sad – how could it be otherwise? – but it is not without hope. There is so much compassion for humanity in the writing. I find the  book incredibly evocative and moving. 

I’m not going to go on very long because I’ve realized that it’s been long enough that I don’t remember the story clearly. But I still clearly remember what I felt when I read it.

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him no loved the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, not stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire…. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.” 

 

The Decider & To The Hilt – Dick Francis

Today is a double bill because I really like Dick Francis. His novels were some of the first mysteries and/or thrillers I ever read. I got The Decider in my stocking one Christmas (I think it might have been grade 9) and I was hooked. Of all his books that I’ve read The Decider and To the Hilt are my favourites. I decided I just couldn’t leave out one and talk about the other. I need to do them both, together.

Let me practice a little RA. What do I like about these books?

  1. Danger – They always get beaten up! I don’t love people getting beaten up but the physical danger is always part of plot. In whatever situation the character is in, the danger is real. They putting their safety on the line.
  2.  Amateur sleuth – I am a fan of the amateur sleuth, perhaps because it makes it a little more relevant to me. Also, because the amateur doesn’t risk danger or sleuth because it’s just another day on the job; they do it because something is a stake and they’ve chosen to take the risk.
  3. Horses – The draw is not the horses per say but the horse world. It always interests me to see the different ways in which Francis can develop a story around the horse world. There are so many different roles and perspectives; he always manages to draw on something new.
  4. British – It does help that the stories are British because I love the UK. It’s also interesting to see how the horse world (see above) incorporates the upper and lower classes in Great Britain. Class is the perennial British issue.

Talking about this all has prompted to think that I haven’t read these books in a long time. (I have read both at least twice.) When some time opens up in the reading schedule, I think I am going to make these a priority…