A couple of very short reviews starting with The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke.
I've been reading this book for what seems like ages so some of it is a bit of a blur. My main impression is that it was a bit patchy in quality. Some of the stories didn't take my fancy at all. On Lickerish Hill was cleverly written in the style of an uneducated woman but it was basically just a retelling of the traditional fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin, and as such was very much not my thing. Antickes and Frets, a story about Mary Queen of Scots, and John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner I also found rather unsatisfying.
On the other hand, the title story, The Ladies of Grace Adieu was a good solid tale connected I believe to Susanna Clarke's huge novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Mrs. Mabb a story of a fiancé stolen magically away, Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower and Tom Brightwood or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresbury were all top notch stories and very enjoyable. I really love the idea of a Regency England where magic actually exists and if this anthology has taught me anything it's that it's high time I made an attempt on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell: I'm almost sure I'll love it. I think I might line it up for 2009.
Okay well, confession time... I have a guilty pleasure and that guilty pleasure is the poetry of Pam Ayres. It's all to do with my sense of humour, I know that. What she writes is very true to life and very funny and if she's performing her poems on TV I can guarantee to be in fits within moments. I just can't help it. Anyway, I picked up this little volume, With These Hands, in the library and it's an anthology of some of her poetry and monologues which I actually had never read before. The monologues are little gems that concern such 1950s and 60s nostalgia as knitted bathing suits, the joys of suet puddings, holidays in a caravan, gyms and the middle-aged and keeping chickens.
Here's one of my favourite poems from the collection, especially for those of us addicted to The Antiques Roadshow and Bargain Hunt.
I loved an antique dealer
I loved him heart and soul
Although he was bow-fronted
And his legs were cabriole.
His eyes they were cross-banded
And his surface was distressed
But he was nicely moulded
With a sturdy little chest.
But on examination
There were several things he lacked.
I found him dummy-fronted
And I found him spindle-backed.
So I sent him off to auction
And I've had a note from there
To say he's on a pedestal
And I'm now off to investigate cds and dvds because I've just discovered that there are loads available by Pam Ayres.