Thursday, August 9, 2007

Wild Mary and her Curious successor. . .

Is there any better summer reading experience than to giggle your way through a book? The novels of Mary Wesley have become my new guilty pleasure - God, they are funny. The things that come out of her characters' mouths! Her novels first beckoned when I saw a British adapation of The Camomile Lawn on DVD, based on her novel about the adventures of five cousins during the Second World War (great cast by the way including Jennifer Ehle, Claire Bloom, Toby Stephens and Tara Fitzgerald). Then Vintage U.K. started re-issuing her works with these beautiful new covers. Then I read a wonderful biography called Wild Mary by Patrick Marnham and fell in love with this feisty woman who lived life to the full and seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. The chapters on how she deals with the sudden fame of becoming a bestselling writer in her seventies and eighties, are just so life-affirming and have you cheering her on. Even the blurbs on the backs of her novels make me giggle as in this description of a ten-year old girl from A Sensible Life: "She was a thin, lonely child with huge eyes and an extensive vocabulary of French foul language. " And she's a writer who excels in writing first chapters that absolutely draw you into the story. I just finished An Imaginative Experience which begins with a woman pressing the emergency button to stop a train so she can jump off and pick up a sheep who has fallen on his back. Two male passengers watching become obsessed with finding out more about her. I started laughing and then when I learned what prompted the woman's action I felt utterly devastated. It's this wonderful, seamless blend of comedy and tragedy that joyfully characterizes her work. I also highly recommend her first novel Jumping the Queue about a woman intent on committing suicide until everything goes horribly, comically wrong. Great pet goose in that one.
And if you are already a Mary Wesley fan and are looking for a writer with a similar style and sensibility, look no further than Gerard Woodward. His trilogy about the Jones family that begins with August ( a novel that recounts the summer vacations to the same place in Wales over a number of years), continues with the Booker shortlisted I'll Go to Bed at Noon, and finishes with the recent A Curious Earth (which has one of the best concluding chapters I've ever read - utterly satisfying in how it ties up loose ends coupled with a completely unexpected punch of black humour in the last ten pages) is heartwrenchingly funny and poignant. Hmmm. it's only in posting this blog that I've noticed the similarity in jacket treatment to Mary Wesley. Now that can't be a coincidence...
May both authors long continue to have legs!

2 comments:

theresa kishkan said...

Oh, I agree entirely about Mary Wesley. She is a delight. I loved Harnessing Peacocks too. And will look for Wild Mary because I understand from a friend in England who knew MW slightly that she was as original as her books.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am a Chldren's book buyer for an independent book chain in Northern California. I have been reading all of Mary Wesley's novels at least once a year since somewhere around 1995. I absolutely adore ner work and am quite bereft that she will never write again. It's only recently that I discovered the biography about her and cannot wait to get my hands on it. I did recently manage to procure a copy of Part of the Scenery which is more pictorial of the West Country but adds bits and pieces of autobiographical insight. So glad to see there are other people out there who get so much enjoyment from her books. I find much of the same enjoyment in reading Alan Bennett (The Uncommon Reader) and Penelope Lively (especially Consequences, and Passing On). Cheers to you!--Marci Johnson