Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

I’ve had a couple of Peirene novels sitting looking at me for quite some time and have been intrigued by the TLS claim that these are ‘two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting’. I also wanted to take part in Read Indies month, hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy and so it seemed sensible to give it a go.

As it turns out Portrait of the Mother by Friedrich Christian Delius (translated by Jamie Bulloch) was the perfect book to read in one go as it follows a young German women as she walks across Rome on a January afternoon in 1943, from her lodgings to a Bach concert at Rome’s Lutheran church, all told in one sentence.

It’s a walk that takes her just over an hour and through her internal monologue we get a fabulously detailed look at Rome, the paintings, sculptures, empty shops and people. But we also learn about her upbringing and her families lives, her new husband fighting in North Africa and how she feels as an outsider even though she’s amongst allies.

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A Film for February: Wings of Desire

I wonder if angels really do live among us? That’s the premise of this ethereal romantic fantasy directed by Wim Wenders and set in pre-unification Berlin. Henri Alekan famously filmed with an old silk stocking covering the lens to give a sepia tone to the black and white of the angels world.

The angels are pre -history and immortal, their role is to observe and record. They move around the city watching, listening and comparing notes, bringing comfort to those in distress. The pacing is languorous and meditative, picking up snatches of conversations and thoughts as if we’re listening to a radio being tuned, but the roving aerial and ground level shots show a desolate city bound by the wall. A hard edge that’s mirrored by the lyrical, poetic dialogue and the post punk Nick Cave music.

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Sense and Sensibility

‘The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.’

I love that opening line, the words can’t be read quickly, they seem to have a slow authority that tell us what to expect. That this is a family drama, about an old family and it hints that change is afoot. We know straight away to settle in and allow ourselves to be wrapped up in their story.

The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne are forced to leave Norland, their family home when their father dies and their brother John inherits the estate. They take up a cottage in Devonshire with their mother and younger sister Margaret and it’s from here that they must navigate their way to matrimony and happiness whilst avoiding the stumbling blocks of Lucy Steele and Willoughby.

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Frankenstein

At the end of the 18th century Robert Walton is a young man inspired to travel by reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and writes home to tell his sister about his adventures. But on July 31st a strange thing happens when they become stranded by ice and fog and see a man of gigantic stature on a sledge guided by dogs. The next day they find another sledge being driven by an emaciated man and take him on board. Over the following days as his health improves Victor Frankenstein tells Robert the story of his life so far.

This prosaic structure is so wonderfully everyday and sets the story so firmly on home ground that it adds a chilling factor to an already frightening and exciting tale that at its heart is about abandonment and loneliness.

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Fell Murder

Cradled in the valley of the River Lune, the tiny village of Garthmere is set amongst a ‘chequered carpet of farm land’, fields of pale gold, the fells clothed in heather dipping into the Yorkshire Dales and in the distance the blue hills of the Lake District. Above the village where the sun captures the old stone of the farm buildings is medieval Garthmere Hall where the Garth family have lived for centuries. Old irascible Robert Garth, his daughter Marion, Charles recently back from Malaya and Malcolm a would be poet are helped on the farm by Elizabeth Meldon their land girl; the only member of the family missing is Richard who left for Canada 25 years ago and hasn’t been back since – or has he?

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