cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)
I am currently reading A Notable Woman: the romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield, and enjoying them hugely. They start in 1926 when Jean is 15; I am at present in 1942, and probably about a third of the way through the book. I am avoiding reading the blurb, the introduction and any reviews, because I don't want to know what happens until I get there! (I found out about the book from a rec on-line, which I stopped reading as soon as it sounded interesting enough to pursue. This is my standard method but does lead to problems as I picked up another book recently which I thought was a version of Pride and Prejudice in which the Bennet sisters are drafted into the Napoleonic Wars; alas, this turns out to be a literary flourish on the part of the reviewer and the book is set in a rather shaky fictional fantasy world with a similar level of technology plus magic, and the protagonist is not Austenish in the least)

Ahem. Jean is educated, privileged, literary; prone to analysis and emotional flourishes, mad about cats, brilliant at details; I feel for her even when her actions infuriate. Where I am she is 32 and still single, but has finally lost her virginity with the latest of a series of fairly hopeless men she entangles herself with (but then again, how do they look from someone else's perspective?). It is refreshing to be vividly reminded how much people haven't changed, and how much some things have.

Jean aged 24: "I've got to get to know Colin. I've got to cut this nonsense out of me. Since those drinks with him this evening I've been in a flat stupor. Perhaps I shouldn't have had gin on top of poached egg and tea."

The war details are fascinating; she kept a separate diary for a while for the Mass Observation project, and Garfield uses bits of both, but she is not someone who separates things. The rumour that Hess has come secretly to Britain to arrange for peace is in the same day as a description of how she is learning some of the practicalities of love-making, douches and pessaries etc (from a married female friend and the new boyfriend, who tends to get himself so worked up quoting DH Lawrence that he can't actually consummate the relationship. In 1939, before war is declared, she writes of her char telling her about a Jewish friend sent to a concentration camp; in 1940 her First Aid unit are put into a gas-filled cell as a drill to check the effectiveness of their gas masks: "a harmless experience". Friends are killed, the bombing draws closer(she is living in a rural cottage near the coast), the rationing gets increasingly limited. She is concerned about her cats when the milk ration drops from 1/2 pint a day to 2 pints a week, but particularly concerned about access to cigarettes and the depth of her need for them. ("F. [boyfriend] tells me it indicates a craving for sex. I would really (at the moment) rather have the cigarettes.")

It is 700 pages long and I keep putting in tiny bookmarks. Recommended.

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cyphomandra: fractured brooding landscape (Default)
cyphomandra

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