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review 2017-05-01 11:49
The Odditorium: The Tricksters, Eccentrics, Deviants and Inventors Whose Obsessions Changed the World
The Odditorium: The Tricksters, Eccentrics, Deviants and Inventors Whose Obsessions Changed the World - Jo Keeling,David Bramwell

This one should have been a 5 star, but I knocked 1/2 star off for some shocking editing blunders and another 1/2 star for occasionally crossing the line from humorous commentary into editorialising.  And really cheap, newsprint type paper stock. 

 

Otherwise it is an excellent read; most of the people profiled were unknown to me, so there was a lot of new information.  Those I'd heard of before were shown here from a different perspective, giving me a more rounded view of them.

 

The book is divided by types:  Tricksters and Subversives, Creative Mavericks, Wild at Heart, etc. with 8-10 people profiled under each.  The emphasis is on profile; these are not comprehensive by any stretch, but each chapter ends with suggestions for further exploration of each person via books, excursions, movies, etc..  I can't think of any of them that I didn't find fascinating in their own way and quite a few of them got the "read out loud" treatment.

 

If you like off-the-beaten-path knowledge and see this one out in the wild, check it out - it's worth a read.

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review 2014-11-21 17:30
One of my favourite comfort reads
Out of Love - Victoria Clayton

I first read Out of Love at university, curled up in my duvet with a packet of Pringles.  Those were the days!  Since then it's always been a go-to comfort read.

 

The story follows Daisy as she meets up with her old schoolfriend, Min, makes up the quarrel that led to 15 years' worth of estrangement, and goes to stay at Min's rambling pile in Yorkshire.  

 

On the face of it Daisy's life is wonderful.  She has a convenable career as an academic in Cambridge, an independent income and a fast car.  But as she begins to assimilate herself into Min's family life, she realises there's something missing.  Something that might well be Min's beloved husband, the gruff and enigmatic Robert.

 

A different writer might have turned this set-up into a suspense, but Clayton instead uses her premise to meditate on the nature of love, friendship and forgiveness.

 

The novel begins with Daisy's and Min's coincidental meeting at a college reunion, and then tells the story of their intense friendship and quarrel in flashback.  I love the portrayal of childhood; the loneliness of Daisy's, and the loving household that grounded Min's.  Daisy keeps Min, vague and disorganised, out of trouble; Min's generosity gives Daisy a taste of family.  This dynamic is replayed in their later relationship, after they have met up again.  

 

There are several things that make this novel for me but probably the single most important element is the cast of well-realised supporting characters.  There are harsh schoolmistresses, priapic gardeners, hot tanned South African men, clean-skinned, floppy-haired Oxford academics, gossiping shopkeepers, pot-smoking teenagers, Wildean schoolmasters, and two nymphomaniac mothers of different social class.  My favourite is Mrs Butter, the housekeeper Daisy finds for Min, who has a sad history and who ends up selling her prescription drugs to kids in the school playground - and who remains an intensely sympathetic character.  She has her reasons. 

 

I also adore the way Daisy sets about sorting out Min's house and family when Min burns her arm and asks Daisy to stay on a bit to help out so that she can finish the academic preface she is writing.  List after list, task after task, from organising regular deliveries of dog food to cooking every meal (using Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, of which I thoroughly approve) and rearranging furniture to bring the house back to something approaching its former state.  As a fellow manager of human beings, I cheer Daisy's bossiness on with all my heart.

 

There are a few things I don't like about this book.  Perhaps some of the minor characters are a little stereotypical, and the attitudes some of the characters display towards homosexuality are uncomfortable.  The story's time period (1950s to perhaps early 1970s) may go some way towards explaining that.  A vein of snobbishness runs through the book, with many of the characters lower down the social scale seen as silly, stupid, or dishonest.  (this is true of more of Clayton's work, too.)

 

Overall, though, the charm of the book carries me through every time.  

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review 2014-03-29 10:39
How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics by Valerie Poore
How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics - Valerie Poore

Review

How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics

Author:  Valerie Poore

Published:  January 8, 2014

Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

 

This is without a doubt one of my favourite books - it is a real charmer, and I loved it.

 

There is a whole host of truly wonderful characters and supporting characters that helped shape this story and paint it in bright multi-coloured layers, and they all had me laughing out loud at their antics.

 

Maisie, our heroine, armed with a hard-earned university degree decides to rather try her hand at farming instead, and sets out to do so with hilarious consequences.  Her eccentric mother, who lives in a world of her own thinks nothing of wearing her ancient wedding dress to help mend fences on the farm or to wear her moth eaten cocktail dresses or ball gowns around the house.  I adored her.

 

Maisie’s photographer boyfriend started off as quite a bland character, but he is proof that if you hang around people who are eccentric, or even just slightly eccentric, it may just rub off on you.  He is as clueless as Maisie is about farming and doesn’t show much interest, but between the two of them they came up with the most bizarre of all schemes involving runaway sheep. So funny :)

 

What is a farm without animals?  This farm had the best animals ever.  There is Emily, the ewe, who was constantly scheming and leading everyone else astray, to Wellington the charming little ram ......... who rammed, and Miss Gee, the goose who terrorises everyone – there was enough craziness on this farm to keep you entertained forever.

 

This was an excellent read, and is one of those books that will stay with me for a very long time.  Great characters, and great story.  I loved it.

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