My January Reads: Wildean Works, Italian Trains and Deirdre Barlow!

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ITALIAN WAYS BY TIM PARKS

English writer and translator, Tim Parks, has lived in Italy since the early 1980s. During that time he has travelled extensively throughout his adoptive country on its varying and often baffling rail network. This book is a collection of extraordinary encounters with ordinary Italians, ticket systems, gypsies, prostitutes, immigrants and priests as he journeys from Verona and Milano in the north down to the southern parts of Sicily all by train. He brilliantly captures what makes Italian life distinctive through amusing scenes and detail and tries to make sense of their behaviour and their trains on our behalf, interpreting Italian Ways in both senses. I enjoyed the book as I felt like his travel companion throughout and as someone who plans on spending a lot of time in Italy, it proved both interesting and funny 6/10

DEIRDRE – A LIFE ON CORONATION STREET BY GLENDA YOUNG

The slaps, the glasses, the affairs, the chain belts, the hairdos (and don’ts) and the enduring love between Deirdre and Ken Barlow. This book has it all for huge Corrie fans like myself who miss the actress Anne Kirkbride and her cobbles character Deirdre who both sadly passed away last year. The photos, scripts and scenes are great reminders of her best bits; the break ups and make ups of her numerous flings and the hilarious exchanges with rogue daughter Tracey and with the wicked tongue of her mother Blanche. 200+ pages of pure Corrie joy! 10/10

OSCAR WILDE – THE COLLECTED WORKS

Coming in at 1000+ pages this volume was no mean feat for an uninspiring yet busy January but I enjoyed almost all of it. I’ve always been a Wilde fan – led to him of course by my idol Morrissey – and have challenged myself to really get to know his work better this year. The Picture Of Dorian Gray is naturally the highlight but I was also particularly fond of his other stories; The Canterville Ghost, Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, The Sphinx Without A Secret etc. I’d read The Happy Prince and Other Tales (including The Selfish Giant) previously and found them to be just as delightful all over again. I admit to struggling with his essays and poetry but loved above all else the plays of Oscar Wilde. Witty and evocative, pushing boundaries for their time and even now in places. I know I will read Lady Windemere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest again and again. A beautifully presented book with a contents of absolute, true and declared genius within 9.5/10

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The Land Where Lemons Grow

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THE LAND WHERE LEMONS GROW

BY HELEN ATTLEE

This time last month I was in sunny Italy travelling the Amalfi coast and marvelling at the beautiful scenery. I adored the bright pink purple Rhododendrons that spilled from rocks and clung to roadsides and the lemon grove terraces perched precariously above them overlooking the sea.

Then, I had not been home more than a few days when I saw this book reviewed and missing all of the above as much as I did, I purchased it straight away. So glad I did! Helen Attlee’s book is a sensuous exploration of citrus fruit in Italy, a fusion of history, horticulture and travelogue that made me yearn for an immediate return.

Her writing is vivid and cheerful, elegant and charming and it is both an academic and anecdotal account of the story behind the plants we so lovingly eat, drink and smell.

From those Amalfi lemons that have been grown on those terraces since the 12th century to the blood oranges that thrive in the shadow of Mount Etna, we follow the citrus scent all over Italy and learn about the vast differences in tastes and techniques.

Perfumes, Limoncello, battle weapons, tarts – citrus can seemingly offer the lot. The fruits first arrived in Italy in AD70 in the form of citrons brought by Jews fleeing Jerusalem and settling in Calabria. Then Arabs brought sour oranges when they invaded Sicily in AD831, and particularly interesting for me was reading how in the 19th century Bergamot began to be used not just as an antiseptic but to flavour Earl Grey tea (my favourite!).

As I read each page I could feel the sun on my back (even when I wasn’t in the garden or down at the beach!), smell the oranges on the trees and taste the lemon tart (with a little glass of limoncello to serve) – bliss!

A completely gorgeous book for fans of Italian food, gardens and history.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9/10

Notes on the author – Helen Attlee:

  • Author of four books about Italian gardens
  • A fellow of the Royal Literary Fund
  • Worked in Italy for 30 years

Penguin Little Black Classic No.71: Il Duro

Il Duro

IL DURO BY D.H LAWRENCE

I really enjoyed these four personal accounts of Lawrence’s sun-drenched experiences in early 20th Century Italy. Once again, the Penguin Little Black Classics format offering the perfect “in” for an author I had never really got round to reading.

Three of the stories – The Spinner and The Monks, Il Duro and John – are taken from Twilight in Italy, which was first published in 1916. The last story,The Florence Museum, is taken from Etruscan Places, which was first published sixteen years later.

The Spinner and The Monks stood out most for me. I adored his description of the old woman as she sat at her wheel in the sun. “Her face was like a sun-worn stone,” and “pieces of hair, like dirty snow, quite short, stuck out over her ears.”

I’m fond of Italy and his writing appealed to me so I would definitely seek to read more of experiences of the country.

 SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 6/10

 Notes on the author – D.H Lawrence:

  • Born 1885 Eastwood, England. Died 1930 Vence, France
  • The D.H stands for David Herbert
  • Best known works : Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers and Women In Love

Just the (Italian) job this summer

BEAUTIFUL RUINS BY JESS WALTER

BEAUTIFUL RUINS

Italian coastline! Glamorous movie stars! Romance! Everything you need from fantastically written, modern, summer fiction can be found right here in Jess Walter’s exquisite, rich story, Beautiful Ruins. In his book he takes us to the coast of Italy and to Rome, with brief stop offs in Idaho, England and Scotland before concluding half a century later in Hollywood.

Set mostly in a remote Italian fishing port in 1962, we meet Pasquale, a young man with big dreams but only a small forgotten hotel (amusingly called The Hotel Adequate View) to show for them. A beautiful young American actress mistakenly comes to his hotel (from the movie set of Cleopatra with Burton and Taylor) to hide from the world, convinced she is dying. Fate, circumstance and a langauge barrier seek to block a promising romance between the actress and the unassuming hotellier as she faces up to the real cause of her illness and he questions everything that has gone before. From there a fabulous tale unfurls featuring flawed characters, crazy romance and scenic landscapes spanning  fifty years and two continents. Continue reading