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The Cousins

This post is again way beyond its original stated timelines, and I can only apologize, especially to you Jane and plead mercy on account of extremely overwhelming work pressure and preparation of a certification exam! Moving on, about two years ago, Jane introduced me to the world of Margaret Kennedy, an author hereto unknown to me and whose works I absolutely fell in love with from the very start. I loved her Lucy Carmichael and The Feast and The Wild Swans and so many more! Naturally when Jane decided to host the Margaret Kennedy Day, I was not going to pass it up! And though I am really really late in posting about it, I thought as always, better late than never!


I was originally planning to read the Ladies of Lyndon for the event, however a last minute mix up at the library, propelled me to make another selection and I read Red Sky at the Morning! Set in the backdrop of early years of 20th century and ending in post World War 1 England, the novel follows the lives of the two sets of cousins – The Forbishers and The Crownes. Their mother’s were siblings and both had married poet. After Mr. Crowns involvement in a a murder scandal and fleeing from the country, the Crowne twins – William and Emily who had already lost their mother, were brought under the guardianship of their aunt, Catherine Forbisher, now a widow with two children, Trevor and Charlotte. The four children grow up together enjoying the same amusements and under the same care of the concerned, well-meaning albeit strict parent! They played together, fought together and made plans for the future! They had the company of Philip Luttrel, a neighbor and the Rector and their uncle Bobby who had been disowned by Catherine temporarily, on account of his staying with a married woman. he met in India , whom he latter married and who became their aunt Lisa. World War I interrupted their idyllic childhood and the Forbisher’s and Crownes returned for the war, determined to lead their lives in the best way they thought possible. Trevor moved to London in order to became a poet, the twins also took up an establishment in  London and William began to work on a play. Soon they developed a glittering social life, but the ties of past cannot be broken and will come back to extract a price on all!

As always, there is a lot to be admired in the this book! Margret Kennedy captures the childhood and the post World War 1 era marvelously. You can so picture the brilliant countryside in spring as well the glittering parties of London, especially the gentle mockery of the London social and theater scene . You can see the grotesque Monk Hall and you can see Emily’s bedroom in London….the word pictures are completely clear and absolutely delightful. There are very human relations that come through in the book – the love among cousins and the natural jealousy that transpires when one does better than the other and yet the feeling of a clanship when an outsider tries to close in. There are some lovely moments of bonding and wonderful evolution of characters, especially Catherine Forbishers. There are some superb  characters  and I cannot stress enough on the brilliant way the character of Catherine Forsbisher was drawn. There some maginificent, kind and empathetic characters in the ensemble that take your breath away – you cannot help but be touched by the self denying kindness of Mandy Hacbukett and be moved by Bobby’s devotion to Lisa or  his insights into human nature. Philip is another vivid character, somewhat of a cross between George Knightly and Colonel Brandon.But as a Margaret Kennedy work, it falls short! Not all characters completely evolve and come together, especially William’s. By page 100, you more or less know that there is tragedy in the air and are now just waiting for the axe to fall and when it does, you are not surprised that it fell, but rather that it manner it was done seemed altogether difficult to understand and extremely abrupt! In fact the book is filled with hurried tie ups of plot lines that should have been given more time to evolve and find a natural closure and as a result, the reading is jerky and at times tries your patience as points are driven in until you are ready to scream and some points are blink and miss! It is however a good read and we ought to read it once, if nothing else for the some of the wonderful characterizations and for an insight into an era long gone!

Sorting the Farm & the Family

Do you think your current mood affects the reading of the book? I have always used books as an escape from the more mundane reality. In books, I have lost myself and let go of my angst, anger, worries etc. They are my single source of wisdom, entertainment and getaway, all rolled into one. However, I have realized that there are some extenuating circumstances that may effect the reading of the book and may impact how you interpret and like the book! To get to specifics, instead of meandering across the literature -philosophy globe, I recently re-read Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm. It was lying around and in a idle moment I picked it up and started re-reading. I had previously read in 2013 and had not really caught what the hullabaloo was about. I was unable to catch the jokes or the parody and on finishing the book, was not particularly satisfied or even happy. However in hindsight I realize that the timing was all wrong – while books provide a wonderful break from reality, some realities are too harsh to just turn away from. I had read the book 2013, just a couple of weeks after being ignominiously dumped practically at the alter, in favor of someone else and life, especially for the last quarter of that year had become a blur, where I can hardly recollect anything, let alone make discerning judgement about books! Fast forward 3 years down the line, I am again back to being sane and rational and a good time as any to think about Cold Comfort Farm!

After the death of her parents, 19 year old Flora Poste, discovers that she is left penniless by her father and while she was very well educated in schools that lay stress on intellectual development and sports, she is not qualified for any job that could help her earn her living. She comes up with an innovative solution to resolve her dilemma; she decides to write to her relatives, asking them for a home, she could share and once she is at their home, she would organize their life in a manner best suited for them. She finally resolves on living with her relatives the Starkadders, who reside in the distant Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex. On arriving at the farm, Flora realizes that there are a host of people who need her intervention – Amos, the patriarch who is also a brim and hell fire preacher, his wife Judith, who is the actual cousin to Flora and who has a unhealthy passion for her own son Seth; Seth, who lounges about claiming to be the Don Juan of the neighborhood with a secret passion for films; Ruben, his older brother who only wants to take charge of the farm; Elfine, their sister, an intellectual and nature loving girl, in love with local squire and finally Ado Doom, the formidable aunt of Flora Poste and the ruling mad matriarch of the Starkadders, who controls the lives and finances of the entire Starkadder family and their extended farm hands. There is much to be done and Flora sets about sorting everyone’s life out with daring and imagination and in the process, discover what she really wants out of life!

What can I say about the book, except to say I was a complete nincompoop to have missed all the joy, humor and plotting of this mind-blowing work! In Flora Poste,  the author had created an extremely sensible and unapologetic heroine, a mix between Austen’s Emma and Elizabeth, with sense a great dose of sense of humor and complete irreverence to all that is considered holy and sacrosanct! Flora Poste goes about her plan with complete aplomb, without turning a hair as newer challenges are thrown over and over her projects. You have to love her for her sheer guts, if nothing else.The rest of the ensemble does justice to the book and in creating characters like Seth, Ruben and Mr. Mybug, Ms. Gibbons created a very obvious love out loud parody to all rural novels from Hardy to Lawrence. They are funny and yet very believable characters adding a layer of fun and warmth to a already wonderful plot! The plot lines around sukebinds and woodsheds is yet another witty take off on the standard rural novels! I loved that the plot was set in some future with flying cars and phones where you could see the person you were talking to and Anglo- Nicarguan wars; without stepping into the relm of science fiction, the author with these minor touches, creates an atmosphere which is a lot like what life was in 1930s and yet very different! Finally, a big hats off to Gibbon’s humor; enough cannot be said about her brilliant wit and scathing sarcasm. I loved the way she kept denouncing intelligence among women, through Flora, all the while using all kinds of literary references and common sense based actions to show the acute and scintillating brilliance of Flora and show casing the double standards that society expect from women.

I cannot rant enough about this book and I cannot even begin to compare with the heaps of praises that this book has justly received. The only thing I can say is….please go read the book if you have not done so already! And DO NOT read it during a life crisis; it is perfect as time away from minor irritants and daily nuisances!


About Summers and Reading

I am seeing many posts around the internet, celebrating Summer! Reading and Summer seems a most conducive combination; reminds of my summer vacation from schools, with 2 and a half month of bliss, reading and eating! Unfortunately, as  a Project Leader, I do not get summer vacations and more importantly, the concept of an idyllic summer with bright, cheerful days and quite balmy nights is dispelled in my part of the word and instead replaced by unceasing, pounding heat,  that makes one feel like one is being slowly baked in one’s skin in the very middle of a vast furnace, with the earth and the sun belching out fire! Temperatures have hit 51ºC or 123º F and there is no respite in sight….monsoons when they come, if they come, will be hailed as Godsend by most, especially the farmers of this country, struggling with heat and drought!

Realities are harsh and books as usual provide a consolation from all that is mundane and distressing! Therefore without further ado, lets plunge into June Bookish Plans! As most are aware, for May, I had dispelled all reading plans because I had tremendous catching up to do; thankfully, I am almost caught up with all, but there are still some items that need to be finished, but hopefully should finish soon! I venture towards June again finally with a reading plan!

My Read Alongs continue on track as planned – I am hoping to finish the Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien Read Along with Cleo as I had planned in June. I should also make some progress in the ever challenging The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser which I am reading with O, Cleo, Jean, Ruth and some other readers; I am going really slow with this one as it takes up quite a bit of time to truly understand and absorb the various levels of intellectual gymnastics that Mr. Spenser had laid out for his readers! The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens read along is also in the plans and its an effort to really read it in piecemeal fashion, considering I am enjoying it tremendously! I have added another to my overspilleth list with Hamlette’s Jane Eyre Read Along. I have increasingly developed a great love for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and the cold of England is very bracing psychologically, sitting in the stewing pot! Among the reading challenges, where I am really truly behind is my 12 Month Classics Reading Challenge – I am still to finish Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis for May and I have for June themed A British classic,  Dombay and Son’s by Charles Dickens. I am also somewhat struggling to catch up on my Reading England project, and for this  I am reading The Darling Buds of May by  by H. E. Bates covering Kent. Finally for my Women’s Classic Literature Event, I am reading a modern and albeit a relatively lesser known classic  by Katherine Ann Porter  – Ship of Fools. In a stand alone event, I am also reading The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy as part of Margaret Kennedy Day hosted by Jane, who had two years ago introduced me to brilliance of Margaret Kennedy’s works!

That is all I have planned for June; like I said I have had to play catch up and am still struggling to complete everything that is outstanding. This is also the first time I am giving the Classic Club spin a miss – I have yet to finish Death comes to Archbishop by Willa Cather which was my last Spin Read and also my Women’s Literature Reading Event for April and it is only fair that I venture into another Spin only after I had finished the previous one!

That’s the plan then! Wishing you all a fabulous and less heat generating summer and a scintillating brilliant reading time!

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