Review: Beyond the Vicarage, Noel Streatfeild

HaHA.  A while ago I read the first two volumes of Streatfeild’s slightly-fictionalized autobiography, and I could not get the third one.  I believe I rather fatalistically said the library didn’t have it and it was out of print and I’d never ever find out what happened to Noel Streatfeild.  Obvious nonsense because of course we know she became a classic writer of children’s books.  But anyway the public library here shocked me by having the third book, and I read it on Sunday after church.

I dunno.  My feelings were mixed.  I liked reading about Streatfeild’s becoming a writer.  At first when she decided to settle down and write for a living, she was always getting calls and dashing off to meet friends and do jolly things; so she decided to stay in her nightdress every morning so that she couldn’t go out even if she wanted to, until she’d finished her writing for the day.  And I was, as ever, intrigued by Streatfeild’s depiction of the changing role of class in British society during the World Wars.  Vicky’s mother could be said to be living in reduced circumstances after the death of her husband, but she persists in thinking of herself as “carriage people”.  There is this squirm-inducing scene when Vicky’s mother is living in lodgings kept by two women who were once a cook and a housemaid, and Mrs. Strangeway treats them as if they are her hired help.  “So funny,” she tells Victoria, “they like to be called Miss Baines and Miss Cook….I’m afraid I’m always forgetting about the ‘Miss’ and wanting to call them just Baines and Cook.”  Oh, and she refers to Vicky as “Miss Vicky” when she’s talking to them.  Yup, she does.

HOWEVER.  This book felt like a collection of anecdotes – not always good ones – the kind of autobiography people write when they do not really know what sort of a story they are telling.  Streatfeild talks about her service during the war, her initial disinterest in writing for children, and it’s not that any one of these aspects is uninteresting in itself.  But there’s no underlying order to them.  Streatfeild is intent on remarking on every single thing her past self did that she now realizes was immature, ignorant, self-indulgent, or otherwise unworthy of praise, and that gets old, as well.  Altogether, not her best effort.

On to happier things!

World War II.  Not actually happy at all, but bear with me.  When I was at the university library for the first time the other day, I checked out one of Juliet Gardiner’s books.  I think I read about her for the first time at Elaine’s blog, and since I am mad for social histories, and mad for Britain during World War II, I got out Gardiner’s Wartime.  Y’ALL.  This book is amazing.  I may not review it for ages and ages because it’s massively thick.  It’s so thick that if it were a sandwich, I wouldn’t be able to take a bite out of it.  But it’s wonderful!  She’s drawn from dozens of different accounts, so that you can see every event through numerous eyes.  I am not even two chapters in, and I already have the biggest book-crush on Juliet Gardiner.

Review: Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert

Not a reflection on the quality of Committed, but just something I thought of when I started reading it:  I feel like the premise of the book could be tweaked a bit to make it into an obnoxious little romantic comedy starring one of those actresses that do “quirky” roles.  Elizabeth Gilbert, successful journalist and bestselling author, never wants to get married again!  Until a US immigration officer gives her a deadline: Get married in the next year or be an exile forever!  If this were a movie, she would spend the year meeting wildly unsuitable guys and ignoring her bland but adorable next-door-neighbor/coworker/classmate, before finally realizing that her heart’s desire was in her own backyard.

That’s not really the plot though.  Gilbert is in a serious long-term relationship with Felipe from Eat Pray Love, and neither of them wants marriage.  Felipe gets told by immigration he can’t keep coming back into the country for ninety days and then leaving, ninety days and then leaving, and if he wants to stay, he should just marry Liz Gilbert.  And then she spends the year reading all about marriage.

I find this endearing because I expect that’s exactly what I would do.  In fact that’s what I do do.  When I feel suspicious of something, I go a-hunting for things to read about it.  In a-hunting down the facts in the case of De Profundis, I discovered Oscar Wilde was a screaming over-dramatizer.  In a-hunting down the facts about the oral polio vaccine, I discovered the only correlation between it and AIDS was geographical (like, the places that had medical facilities giving out the oral polio vaccine were the same places where AIDS was getting diagnosed more frequently).  In a-hunting down the facts about free speech as it applies to corporations – I am still looking into that actually.  It is very complicated and makes me feel stupid but I will persist because if Justice Stevens (my favorite Justice, y’all, because he is old and extremely brilliant and he wears a bow-tie) feels it is worth a ninety-page dissent, then I suspect it is worth a ninety-page dissent.

(Yes, I have a favorite Supreme Court Justice.  DEAL WITH IT.)

(That last thing, DEAL WITH IT, that was a Better Off Ted reference.  Any of y’all watch Better Off Ted?  Will anyone besides me miss it when it inevitably gets cancelled?)

Gilbert writes about speaking to wives in other countries, as well as to the wives in her own family, about their experiences of marriage.  She writes about the strain on her relationship with Felipe as a result of their being in limbo.  (She wants to travel to Cambodia, and he wants to settle somewhere and have a coffeepot.  I am totally with him.)  Although this book is not as full of action as Eat Pray Love, Gilbert’s wry wit is still in evidence.  She’s a little bit crazy, but she knows that she is crazy, and in what ways, which is nearly as good as not being crazy in the first place.  Plus? She doesn’t talk trash about her family.  Hurrah!

If I had one complaint, it would be that there is not enough of Gilbert talking to people.  She is good at capturing voices, just like John Berendt, and she should do it more frequently.  Indeed all the time.  If I were in charge of the world, that’s what would happen.

Read for the Women Unbound Challenge.

Other reviews:

Confessions of a Book Hoarder
Book Addiction

Let me know if I missed yours!