The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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May 8, 2016

Mothering Sunday

It's only a coincidence that I read the last few pages of this book in the morning on Mother's Day (I'm wishing you a happy one! In addition to celebrating with my mom, I'm always included in the festivities by virtue of being a Godmother. That means a lot to me.)  Graham Swift is an author I'm not at all familar with (though I've heard of him and his books), and it might have been the inevitable hints about Downton Abbey in connection with this one that drew me in, though you might not guess that from looking at the cover. :)}

This is a small book, only 177 pages, but one that can't (or shouldn't be} read quickly, because there is so much you might miss. The story takes place on one day, a Sunday morning and early afternoon at the end of March {'it wasn't June but it was like a day in June'}. It's Mothering Sunday, a tradition that is already 'receding,' in 1924, a day when people in service were given the day off so they could visit their mothers, and a day when 'given their common predicament — which only occurred once a year and only for a portion of the day,' the owners of three neighboring country houses 'were all to meet at Henley and so deal with the temporary bother of having no servants.'

In the opening scene, we meet Paul Sherringham, the only one of five sons in two neighboring families not lost in World War I. He is in his bedroom, naked, with 'his secret friend,' who turns out to be {and this is first suggested brilliantly} Jane Fairchild, the other family's maid.  They have been secret lovers for seven years, meeting in the bushes and in the garden shed, but on this morning, after the Nivens and the Sherringhams have gone off to lunch, Paul has gallantly driven his family's two servants to the train station and then summoned Jane, for the first time, into his empty house and his bedroom. He is to be married in two weeks, and a few hours later, he dresses slowly, in unexpectedly fine clothes, to meet his fiancee, leaving Jane to lock the front door and leave the key under a carved stone pineapple when she is ready {there is no hurry} to leave.

Throughout the morning, there are teasings of who Jane will become {'And later, much later in her life, she would say in interviews...'}, a goodly amount of upstairs/downstairs {'Milly will take the First Bicycle and leave it at the station for her return. And you, Jane...'}, a lot about libraries {'The library at Upleigh was remarkably similar. There was the same dominant wall of books that looked as though they had never been read. There were the same small white or black busts -- as if from a central warehouse -- of men with heavy brows and beards and toga-draped shoulders.'} and the books that Jane borrows from Mr. Niven, and a Major Spoiler that you would miss if you blinked.

In some ways, the writing reminded me a just little of Mrs. Dalloway, with everything that happens, and everything that happens before and after, unfolding on a single day; with  repetitions and layers, and forward and backward glances, and the secret meanings in everyday things (an orchid, a stain on the bedsheets, a framed photograph}.  I admired {and liked!} it very much, and I think I'd like to explore others of his books. Have you read any of them?


Lisa said...

Our pastor mentioned the old traditional Mothering Sunday in his homily today. But he wandered off on another train of thought before he actually explained what it was!

I haven't read anything by Graham Swift, and this sounds interesting.

JoAnn said...

I haven't read Graham Swift, but am very close to the top of the library hold list for this one. It sounds wonderful!

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