I hate not having a book to read – in fact I’ll read anything, the car manual if I’m stuck waiting for someone with nothing at hand with which to entertain myself.
I’d caught up on reading the back issues of The Spectator which arrived while we were away, so it was time to find some more novels. I ducked into Whitcoulls yesterday and picked up three bargains for $10 each – Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” (Hardy’s one of my favourites, along with Nabakov); non-fiction by Jeremy Seal called “The Wreck at Sharpnose Point”, described by the Daily Mail as “delightful and original …an exhilarating combination of detective story, travel writing, personal memoir and creative fiction”; and one I started to read last night called “In The Vine Country” by two Victorian ladies called Edith Oenone Somerville and Martin Ross. They lived together in County Cork in the late 19th, early 20th centuries, and travelled a great deal in Europe. In this book, they travel to the Medoc country.
Don’t you just adore it when a book opens with a delicious first line. “It was our first day’s cub-hunting, and things had been going against us from the outset.” As the first chapter progresses, we learn that these two gentlewoman have been commanded to go to the vineyards of the Medoc in time for the vintage. They are trepidatious: “What did we know of Chateau Lafite or Mouton Rothschild, except that a glass and a half of the former had once compelled my second cousin to untimely slumber at dessert?”
I love it. This has the air of PG Wodehouse about it. “When on a foggy morning we drove away from home, the dank air was heavy with the prognostications that we should return as bottle-nosed dipsomaniacs..”
They cross to England by boat, and there’s a great line: “There are happily few things in the world that are as bad as they are expected to be, but a bad crossing is worse than the combined efforts of imagination and remembrance can make it.”
“In the pale morning, as we endured that last long hour before Euston is reached, we read in headachy snatches a pamphlet that we had been lent about the wines of the Medoc, and our souls sank at the prospect of expounding the laws of fermentation to readers who would be as oppressively bored by it as we ourselves. But our first day in London routed this hobgoblin: we were to enjoy ourselves; we were to taste claret if we wished, or talk bad French to the makers of it if it amused us; but to improve other people’s minds by figures and able disquisitions on viticulture and the treatment of phylloxera was not, we heard with thanksgiving, to be our mission.”
This book certainly looks like it will live up to the cover description as “a true gem…mistresses of ironic wit and precise observation, this is Somerville and Ross at their most genial and open.”
A vintage classic indeed, and for just $10. I shall keep you posted.