We begin this month with Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher. Variously described as a ‘cult classic’ and ‘a wickedly black-humour riff on the horrors of rehab and the hollows of Hollywood life…’, I don’t anticipate reading it in this lifetime despite it being a well-reviewed debut. And I’m not a Star Wars fan, so there’s no link lurking there. Instead, I’m going for a chain more suited to the season.
I’ll begin, not with postcards from the edge, but with Postcards from the Past by Marcia Willett. Marcia Willett has written numerous books, predominantly set in the West Country. Her books are easy reading, usually family dramas with a wide range of relatable characters and they can often fill the bill when I need a little escapism. This one is set in rural Cornwall and was mentioned recently by a lovely blogger. When I found it available in my library I was very tempted to request it immediately but I’ve resisted. I have so many books on the go right now. I’m thinking maybe this time next year, August 2022. This will be a summer read for next year.
Plenty of summery thoughts in my head now, so I’m shifting straight to a novella I’ve just finished, another recommendation from a lovely blogger. Summer by Edith Wharton begins in early June and ends in the late autumn: the passing seasons echoing the arc of the romantic flowering and fading of the heroine, Charity. I loved this book. It’s left me with plenty to think about and an eagerness to read my next Wharton.
“She had always thought of love as something confused and furtive, and he made it as bright and open as the summer air.”Summer, Edith Wharton
Let’s add a little more to the summer theme. Among other things, Wharton’s Summer can be described as a bildungsroman, a genre which can also be applied to a more recent classic, The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden. This I read in August 2019 and it became another favourite. Narrated by thirteen-year-old Cecil (a girl), it is among other things, the tale of her older sister, Joss’s, awakening to her effect on men – with tragic consequences.
“On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages.The Greengage Summer, Rumer Godden
Joss was perhaps unaware of her seductive skills but she knew that she wanted to paint. Whilst her younger siblings enjoy the freedom of the chateau and its grounds, Joss paints and learns alongside Monsieur Joubert, an artist. We follow this link into our next book, travelling south through France to where Arianna finds herself painting alongside others at an artists’ workshop in Drawing Lessons by Patricia Sands. This is another book I encountered thanks to a lovely blogger and one I downloaded and have intended to read for the past two summers. I shall be reading it this August.
… she has traveled to Arles to set up her easel in the same fields of poppies and sunflowers that inspired Van Gogh.From the blurb on Drawing Lessons
Van Gogh features in Drawing Lessons, as he does in Susan Fletcher’s Let Me tell You About a Man I Knew which I read last summer. Jeanne is not a painter herself but she comes to appreciate her own value through her tentative acquaintance with the troubled artist during his stay at her husband’s hospital in the south of France. A quiet novel, beautifully written, and another favourite.
“… she has been here for thirty years… every day and night feel the same… she used to think of other countries, force doors, wear yellow silk – but those days feel like a dream she had, and she hasn’t really thought of them but she’s thinking of them now.”Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew, Susan Fletcher
We stay with art for my final link, and another book which I finished last month, destined to become a favourite. Sarah Winman’s Still Life is riotous romp through the decades, set largely in Florence and studded with memorable, quirky characters. Just as art connected Jeanne and Van Gogh, so it connects Evelyn Skinner, a sixty-something art historian, with Ulysses, a young soldier whom she meets one evening in Tuscany as war draws to a close. Still Life covers many years and many seasons but its joy of heart and lightness of spirit means it will always be a summer book for me.
“Beautiful art opens our eyes to the beauty of the world, Ulysses. It repositions our sight and judgement. Captures forever that which is fleeting.”Still Life, Sarah Winman
So there we are. Links forged across France and into Italy; strengthened through art and artists; sprinkled with youth and experience; peppered with friendships and awakenings, and infused throughout with the sights, smells, sounds and memories of summer.