Okay, I am waaaaay behind the times, but my husband and I have only just exchanged Valentine’s missives (his complete with authentic letterbox noise), and I figure today’s the day that many of you will be heading out for dinner a deux (or staying in – these are lean times). Which means I am actually on schedule. (It’s my logic and I’m sticking with it.)
Persuasion – Jane Austen
I could of course have opted for Pride and Prejudice. But I felt that was the obvious choice: you know that’s the wittiest rendering of sexual chemistry ever, right? Persuasion, Austen’s last completed novel, is less ‘light and bright and sparkling’, but more moving. Anne Elliot has, at 27, resigned herself to life as a spinster, catering to the whims of her vain, abominably selfish father and sister. Eight years earlier, on well-meant but ill-begotten advice, she rejected the love of dashing sailor, Frederick Wentworth. Now, with her ‘bloom’ (there is a lot about bloom in this novel – you might do well to prepare yourself for that) gone, Wentworth – now an eligible Captain – is back and in the market for marriage. There are no prizes for guessing how it ends, but for love lost and found, for skewering wit and dazzling prose, for the swoon-inducing plea, “You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope… A word, a look, will be enough…”, Austen has no equal
The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro and The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
The unifying theme here (oh yes, we are speaking of themes, we’re that unafraid of the highbrow) is loving when all hope of reciprocal love has gone. It’s also about unspoken eroticism which is never acted upon. (Surprisingly sexy in these days of more-is-more and can’t-wait-won’t-wait) It’s a little like that scene in Love, Actually when Andrew Lincoln’s character tells Keira Knightley’s character (outside her Notting Hill mews house that she would NEVER have been able to afford in the real world) that she is basically perfect and that his wasted heart will love her, without agenda, until the end of time. Think that and then add genius writing and impeccable observation of character and the societies in which they live. Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence and Stevens in Remains of the Day are men who Do The Right Thing at all times. Even if that means doing The Thing which renders them less than happy. Perhaps forever. Now, go forth and read (do something crazy like take them out of your local library) and if you don’t weep like a small child when Stevens says, “Indeed – why should I not admit it? – in that moment, my heart was breaking” comes back to me and I’ll examine you to ascertain whether or not your heart is a cold little stone.
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson
Not only the most charming love story you will ever read, but quite possibly the most joyous, life-affirming book you’ll come across this year, I’ll wager. It is a cocktail in literary form. Timid, shy, definition of mousey, governess Miss Pettigrew is sent to the wrong address by her employment agency. Here she finds the gorgeous singer, Miss LaFosse and is whisked into 24 hours in her dazzling world of nightclubs, champagne, frocks and boyfriends. You will feel happier when you finish reading it than you did before you started: what better recommendation could there be? (And you can buy it from the wonderful Persephone Books).
Images: The Sleepless Reader, Amazon, Wikipedia, Persephone