Saturday, 19 May 2012

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

At the Oxford Literary Festival last month Anne Tyler was asked which of her own novels she prefers. She said that Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is her favourite because of all her novels it most closely represents what she intended when she started it.  She also said that she was particularly fond of the character Ezra, and hinted that he may have re-surfaced in a disguised format in some of her other novels.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant begins with the dying Pearl reflecting back over her life, her courtship and marriage, her three children and her strength in raising them alone when her husband leaves the family home.  Pearl is a tough woman.  When the children were young she was not averse to violence and verbal abuse, but she bought home the bacon and the children survived and flourished.

Well not flourished exactly.  Cody, insanely jealous of Ezra since childhood, steals his girlfriend, marries her and wildly speculates that his son may be Ezra's.  Cody is the kind of person who not only has to win at Monopoly but is not happy unless everyone else is thousands of pounds in debt. Jenny trains as a doctor and after an unfortunate first marriage produces a large extended family.  Ezra takes over a local restaurant which he names The Homesick Restaurant and his dishes are somewhat experimental.  While Cody and Jenny have a fractious relationship with their mother, Ezra is genuinely sweet-natured and gets on with everybody
The recurring motif of the novel is Ezra attempting to get the whole family to eat together in The Homesick Restaurant without somebody bursting into tears or storming out.  You will have to read it to discover whether he ever manages it.  A fabulous novel, but oh so sad.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

More Mitford

As the Mitford industry continues to churn out memoirs, biographies and volumes of letters Nancy Mitford's great novel Love in a Cold Climate is sometimes over-shadowed. As Jane Smiley puts it in her excellent 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel:
There is much more to her work, technically and substantively, than meets the eye, but if only the reader can stop wallowing in pleasure long enough to notice it.
Relayed by the clear-sighted and adorable Fanny we share her agonies about being house guest at Hampton, acutely aware of her uncontrollable hair and ill-fitting tweed skirt and fending off questions about her infamous mother the Bolter. We share her delight in the luxuries of Hampton, the copies of the Tatler in the long gallery, Cooper's Oxford (marmalade) in the breakfast room and the fashionable Mrs Chaddesley Corbett with her diamond clips and scandalous gossip. And of course, we share her love of the Alconleigh crowd; mad Uncle Matthew, hyperchondriac Davey and outrageous Jassy and Victoria. I re-read Love in a Cold Climate every five years or so and, as with the best novels, I read more into it each time.

This time I was struck by the sadness of Polly and her strained relationship with her mother, Lady Montdore. I'm very fond of my copy with its frozen rose on the cover, but I love some of the vintage editions on pinterest.