are the stars out tonight?

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52 book challenge #4 - bachelor girl by betsy israel

subtitled 'the secret history of single women in the twentieth century', this is a social history of singletons. the author begins with the 'classic spinster' and works her way up to the carrie bradshaws and bridget joneses of the final few years of the last century.

each chapter deals with a different generation of single women, and the striking thing is how similar their ambitions are. even the boston thornbacks (unmarried women of twenty-six, who were obliged - if they didn't have any living family - to find a nice church-going family and live with them as a sort of unpaid housekeeper, not allowed to leave the property without the company of a male family member) strike a chord - a longing for freedom - that's not massively unfamiliar today.

there's a quiet desperation in the shocking behaviour of the flappers and the sixties' 'stews' - not desperation to find a man (as contemporary newspapers claimed), but a need to carve their own space in the world. and this is a theme that re-echoes through the book, which also deals with the single woman's career progression through the century (from the shopgirl to the secretary to the female mbas of the eighties) - of course, more than halfway through the century, married women were not expected to have careers at all.

it makes a fascinating read, full of little titbits to drop into, er, slightly dull conversations. like "the flapper was the first single woman ever to wear a wristwatch"; one way to get out of letting a man into your flat (circa 1953): "(to be said as she opens her apartment door and sees a suitcase, a prop she planted earlier) 'oh my, look! shhhh! she's here! my room mate! she's a stew! she just flew in from japan. oh, dear. i'm so sorry. we'll have to take a rain check on that nightcap, i think.'"; and so on.

there is, of course, one glaring omission - there is virtually no reference to the lesbian experience of singledom, which is presumably because it's outside the author's own experience. but it occasionally makes her seem a little - if not ignorant - naive. for instance, she writes "florence nightingale seems to have turned [marriage proposals] down weekly, pausing to consider just one man so exceptional, famed and, intelligent that only the most beautiful and brainy of the nightingale girls would do." which is all very interesting, but makes no mention of the current trend of claiming nightingale as a lesbian (though as israel does point out, that term would not have held its current meaning during her lifetime, being more commonly used to refer to cross-dressers of both sexes).

(also read this week elizabeth peters - the curse of the pharaohs, joseph conrad - the secret agent)

makeup: the breakdown

my life has been fairly content free of late, hence the relative silence over here. but... last week i had a makeover. my mum signed me up for it, so it wasn't entirely my fault.

i went along to the benefit counter at peter jones, with a certain amout of trepidation. i'm not a heavy makeup kind of a girl (which is actually why i like benefit), and previous encounters with the professional makeup artist have left me with distinctly orangy skin (because they never have a foundation that matches my freakishly pale complexion) and an alarmed look from the eyebrow pencil.

when i do wear makeup it's usually applied on the ten minute tube ride between shepherd's bush and oxford circus - on work experience last year, i perfected the art of putting my face on in the 4 minute journey between bank and waterloo on the waterloo and city line. so having someone spend forty-five minutes making me up came as some surprise. i didn't know it was really possible. but she spent about quarter of an hour just preparing my face for the make up (admittedly she was interrupted by sloanes wanting to buy half the product range on daddy's credit card every six minutes).

i was dubious at first... is that purple eyeshadow just a bit too, um, purple... does blue eyeliner make me look like i've just escaped from the nineteen-eighties... how many different kinds of blusher/highlighter can one girl wear at the same time (four: benetint, highbeam. hoola and georgia)... do my eyebrows look ridiculous...

but finally, after all was said and done, i did feel distinctly fabulous and well groomed (although my hair, which had been hidden under my cat hat on the way there, was letting me down a little). i went into oasis and bought an outfit i may never wear, purely because it was bargainous and ladylike (matching coat and skirt you see). and then met up with stu and went to see garden state which was lovely.

up all night

52 book challenge #3 - the time traveler's wife by audrey niffenegger

there have been very few books that i have stayed up all night to finish. kavalier and clay and the secret history being the two notable examples. the time traveler's wife can also be added to the list. and for my money, a novel that will keep you up until 4:30 in the morning (at which hour even the cat is wondering what exactly you're doing with the light on) is the best kind.

the time traveler's wife is a love story. the story of henry and claire, a couple who are fated to be together. whose shared history is confused by the fact that henry has a genetic condition (compared to epilepsy) that causes him to slip through time. thus when claire meets him for the first time, she is six and he is thirty-six, and when henry meets claire for the first time, she is twenty and he is twenty eight.

the title points both to claire's centrality to the text, and to her position in the relationship. she defines her life through her relationship with henry, but it is his absences, which are many, that have the most importance to her.

the novel takes us roughly chronologically through 'real time', ie claire's life, rather than time as henry sees it. allowing for some interesting, er, reverse dramatic irony - where henry knows what's coming up and the reader doesn't. this is an incredibly ambitious thing for the author to do, but she must have planned everything very carefully, so loose ends left from the beginning of the text are, incredibly, all tied up by the end.

henry works as a librarian, and the novel is laced with intertextual references (including violent femmes lyrics), the most apposite to me being possession by as byatt. both novels deal with the concept of a love that can never be entirely fulfilled, as well as challenging our perceptions of history - as something that .

one of the amazon reviewers writes "this book will get inside your head", and they're absolutely right. over the two nights i read this book, i had the most amazing dreams about time travel. and you and you and you...and you were there.

(also read this week: patricia cornwell - the body farm, er, that's it... pathetic, must try harder)

not such a dud, after all

52 book challenge #2 - the dud avocado by elaine dundy

i came to read the dud avocado through a series of coincidences. the first was overhearing a conversation between my aunt and my mother on boxing day about novels they had loved in their youth - this being one, i capture the castle being another. the second being that i came across a rather attractive second-hand penguin books edition from 1961 whilst strolling along the south bank with gina last week.

and so it was that i encountered sally jay gorce (i'm not sure how to pronounce her name, is it gorch, gorse, gorchee?), heroine of the dud avocado, and role model to the female youth of the fifties and sixties. and what a role model! when we first meet the eighteen-year-old sally jay, she is living in paris, about to break it off with her - much older - italian lover in favour of an american actor she met in summer stock. oh and she's wearing an evening gown because she can't get at her laundry. and it fairly bowls along from there.

this is a novel in the 'american in paris' genre, along similar lines to hemingway's a moveable feast, though rather less po faced than papa. it chronicles sally jay's adventures on the ex-pat social scene, as an actress, as an artist's muse, as someone who is trying to get as far away from something she can't really understand anyway.

to my aunt - who could have been a proto-sally jay, having moved to rome from dartford in the fifties - and my mother, sally jay's freedom - to live where she wants, to sleep with who ever she wants, to make her own decisions - must have been inspiring. ultimately, however, the novel offers a fairly conventional ending - which in the context of the rather daring novel is all the more unexpected!

(also read this week: julian fellows - snobs, charles portis - true grit, kathleen tessaro - elegance)


i can cross one of those resolutions off already. i have actually managed to find a job. not, admittedly, in gerbilism, but still, a nice, interesting, fairly well-paid job near where i live.

i've decided to think of this year as being a bit like a gap year. i'm taking a job which isn't wholly related to what i want to do eventually, but which will pay the bills and keep me occupied while i save up some money to maybe go abroad, or something. i'm only on a six month contract, you see, so at the end of that, i can decide what i want to do.

i'm going to buy a ukulele tomorrow. i've only got one week left of underemployment, i want to make the most of it.

resolution #9

i wasn't going to make resolutions this year, i'd decided that i made myself feel guilty enough about not doing the things i'd put as 'tasks' in my phone, without having the whole added horror of making resolutions at the beginning of the year which inevitably never come to fruition.

but because i'm a virgoan (would-be) over-achiever, i have not only made resolutions (27, so far), but i have joined an online community, which is all about achieving them.

one of them (read a book a week and write about it) was inspired by archel, who's taking part in the fifty book challenge. thus i have donned my beautiful "reading is sexy" t-shirt (courtesy of gina) to crack on with the first book of the year.

just to lay down some rules - i probably read more than one book a week, but i will pick the one i'm least embarrassed about and tell you all about it; i'll post on a sunday if i can; i'm on my way to starting up a bookgroup with him, and books read for that don't count for this.

since this is technically a theme post project, i thought it should really have a catchy name like egoweefs did (what do you mean egoweefs wasn't catchy?), but i really can't think of anything, except the 52 book challenge. if you can think of a better name, leave it in the comments, and i might use it.

ah look at all the lonely people

52 book challenge - #1 eleanor rigby by douglas coupland

i am a pretty fast reader, but i really sped through this one, with the result that it's still slightly hazy in my mind. that's not to say that i don't know what happened, but more that i can't necessarily pick out themes and importances in it. basically, as the title suggests, this a book about loneliness (ah look at all the lonely people etc etc).

the life of the lead character, liz, is empty - her condo is devoid of family photos, her idea of fun is watching sad films while taking painkillers that make them even sadder - until the devastatingly handsome son she gave up for adoption as a teenager comes back into her life. he has been bounced from foster home to foster home, he's been taking drugs and hallucinating vengeful gods. oh, and he's dying.

so far so coupland. the frustrating thing about this novel is that it doesn't really add much to topics dealt with in miss wyoming (things falling from the sky), girlfriend in a coma (the impression of oncoming apocalypse), all families are psychotic (morbid illness), and hey nostradamus (dealing with the death of a loved one). perhaps that was why i read it so quickly - it did all feel rather like ground that had been covered before.

that said, coupland is an interesting writer, and his unmistakeably crisp style is still a good read. i don't feel that reading eleanor rigby was a waste of time, but three hours isn't very long anyway.

oh yes, one more annoying thing - the first part of the novel is set in 1997, and coupland has jeremy make a joke about the proliferation of "web logs". which, given that in 1999, there were only 23 (according to rebecca blood is a rather annoying anachronism. or maybe i'm just being geeky.

(also read this week: elizabeth peters - the crocodile on the sandbank, alexander mccall smith - the girl who married a lion, judith flanders - the victorian house)

stranger things have happened

weirdly enough i appear i the january edition of tatler. to those of you who don't know (which i hope will be the majority, really), tatler is a magazine for blue bloods by blue bloods. thus this issue contains such gems as lord freddie windsor discussing how much he likes listening to rage against the machine's killing in the name of, whilst shooting birds.

the very strangest thing about my being in there (as unnamed bartender) is that due to our schooling, my brother and i have existed just on the periphery of this scene. in fact, i went to nursery school with freddie windsor's sister lady gabriella. flicking through the magazine there are familiar names, and even the odd familiar face.

what amazes me is that despite generations of (probable) inbreeding, these people still manage to exist, even flourish. and if the idea seems outlandish to me, then what must it be like for everyone else?

in other news, i spent my new year babysitting a sick child. and was handsomely compensated for it. hooray.