At the end of 2010 when I had finally sent my collection of short stories, A Patchwork of Perspectives, to the printers I thought I would try and catch up on my reading. I set myself a small challenge of two books a week for a couple of months. Not hard. After all when in full possession of my reading brain I have always managed two or more a week. However I had not realised just how much writing had eaten up my time and it has been a struggle to maintain the challenge. But hey sometimes we fail – no great deal.
I have changed the original list a little, I had two book group selections to read which were not on the list and had to be included. I also wandered away because I felt like reading something different and on a couple of occasions I was lent books which of course take priority as well. But over the next few months I shall report and comment on those I have read.
I am a new recruit to the writings of Joanne Harris and, although I regret not having discovered her earlier, I am so enjoying my Harris-fest now. I have to confess that Chocolat still hasn’t been read but, it will, it will. I was introduced to her via one of the reading groups I belong to who had chosen Lollipop Shoes. I loved it and immediately went shopping for more. This last month I have read two more books of hers: Five Quarters of the Orange and Gentlemen & Players.
Such a contrast between them it could be hard to say they were by the same author, except for the beautiful writing. Five Quarters of the Orange is nearer to Lollipop Shoes in the sensuous feel of it all, the mouth-watering foods, the slight feyness. I wondered if food was always her thing, if the magical always demanded to be included. It would not have mattered but such a rich diet would have to be firmly paced if indigestion wasn’t to be the outcome.
However quite another diet came with Gentlemen & Players. More austere, plainer, less cream and certainly no chocolate! The same complete characterizations, the same deft juggling of events. Twists all through to keep the reader guessing, these were harder to decipher than the two before mentioned books. It was a ‘midnight – oh can’t leave it now – oh no 1.30! but only a few pages more’ type of book.
All three books I have read so far deal with altered pasts, new identities, secrets and damaged minds. They deal with histories. Five Quarters of the Orange stretches back from the present to the Second World War and a series of events that occurred then. Gentlemen & Players has a history more recent dealing with only thirteen years, and the Lollipop Shoes only four years. However, the damage done to people, brooded upon, acted upon have the same destructiveness, no matter how long the period. All three also deal with adult and child perspectives on events, on the mismatches children can make and their consequences but also on the misunderstandings of adults and their equally devastating consequences.
The first two are firmly a part of a French environment, small country town (Five Quarters of the Orange) and big city (Lollipop Shoes) landscapes and populations. That she has a great delight in food shows in her descriptions of the smells, tastes and colours of foodstuffs as well as in the way she describes her characters in these terms; in the snippets of recipes and cooking methods which blend so well into the narrative and from the mouth-wateringly sensual descriptions of the food and eating. The third (Gentlemen & Players) is so English one can smell the crumpets toasting by the open fire. All are as believable as each other.
I look forward indeed to her back list.