Hey there, Georgy Girl! #1965Club

My second contribution to the #1965Club is the novella Georgy Girl by Margaret Forster. I must have read it in my teens, and I probably saw the film as well at some point, but I had no idea that the song by The Seekers was written specially for that film.

It is the book that was most mentioned in the obituaries of Margaret Forster in 2016, the book by which she will be most remembered, although she wrote more than 25 novels, as well as well-regarded memoirs and biographies. Georgy Girl was one of her first novels and became an instant bestseller, perhaps because it captured the mood of London’s Swinging Sixties so well.

George is a young working class girl who has had the privilege of a middle-class upbringing. Her parents work for a wealthy childless gentleman who has brought her up as his own daughter, sent her to a posh boarding school and even to a finishing school in Switzerland. Yet, despite her background (or perhaps because of it, because she doesn’t quite fit in anywhere), she lacks self-confidence. She is playful and fun, but quite naive and doesn’t know how to conform. Furthermore, she feels gauche and ugly, and is inclined to bouts of self-pity.

She didn’t see how she could ever stop looking like a caricature. It was something to do with her face being too long and big and her damned hair being the way it was.

Yet her small acts of rebellion, such as a dramatic haircut, do not end well. She earns her living giving dance lessons to children and shares a flat with the pretty but selfish Meredith, who takes advantage of George’s motherly instincts. Described as a ‘warm-hearted ugly duckling’ by reviewers of the book at the time, it is clear that, despite her lack of self-esteem, George has a special charm of her own, since both Meredith’s boyfriend Jos and her ‘uncle’ James fall for her. There might be some wish fulfilment at work here, but one with a very unusual twist: Cinderella looks more like an ugly stepsister, yet she gets her prince… or at least a mutually beneficial but essentially loveless contract.

Lynn Redgrave as Georgy Girl.

It was just the dawn of the sexual revolution and Women’s Lib, so George’s pragmatic approach to life and love, her refusal to give up on her principles for the sake of a man and her frank admission of her carnal desires, must have been quite revolutionary at the time. Certainly the ménage à trois that George, Jos and Meredith engage in must have ruffled feathers at the time, as would the cynical calculations about George’s future. I have no doubt there were plenty of others marrying older men for money and security rather than love, but it wasn’t necessarily as explicit.

Although the book could be interpreted as a bit of fun, it did leave me with a slightly nasty aftertaste. George is presented to us as a survivor, we are encouraged to root for her throughout the book, yet at the end she is still in bondage, although in bonds of her own choosing. Yet, to what extent were her choices limited because of her sex, her class and the age she lived in?

The #1965Club: Ion Vinea

Hosted by two of my favourite book bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambles, and with the participation of so many other readers whom I love ‘chatting to’ online, how could I not take part in this week of celebration of literature published in 1965!

Young Vinea

But I have to admit that I haven’t made it easy for myself. In the Wikipedia list of books pubished in 1965 I came across a Romanian one that I’d never heard of: Ion Vinea’s Lunatecii (The Lunatics). I was unable to find a copy of it in time, but I discovered that there was a radio play adaptation of it dating from 1991, so I listened to as many of the episodes as I could find… in a way, this is my first audiobook!

I mainly knew of Ion Vinea as a poet and translator (of Shakespeare, for example) and it turns out that this is how the Communist censorship wanted him to be remembered. He had been a very active and well-respected figure of the interwar literary scene in Romania, a modernist poet and friend of Tristan Tzara’s, worked on the same paper as Mihail Sebastian, met F. Scott Fitzgerald in Paris, and had a somewhat ambiguous relationship with the Nazis during the Second World War (disenchanted with both the right-wing and left-wing parties at the time). After the war, however, he was suspected of being a British spy, had to go underground for a while and worked as a plasterer and porter. When one of his close friends fled the country, he and his (ex-)wife Henriette Yvonne Stahl were repeatedly questioned and tortured by the secret police. So the novel was only published after his death, in 1965, when there was a relaxation of censorship, from materials gathered together carefully by Stahl out of the hundreds of pages that he had produced over the 30+ years that he had been working on the novel.

Vinea (holding the dog) with his Symbolist friends, including Tristan Tzara (first on the left).

The novel is firmly set in the late 1920s and was apparently inspired by Tender Is the Night. In many ways, it is the swansong of a lost generation and shows aristocracy and intelligentsia in decline, without them even realising it. But it is also a psychological novel, the story of a disappointed and failing man.

This failure of a man is Lucu Silion who, when the novel opens, is an elegant, successful man in his early 30s, who enjoyed an early success after publishing his first (history) book and was considered a heavy-hitting intellectual. However, he is starting to slip a little: unable to repeat his early success, working in a dead-end administrative job, not sure what he wants to do next professionally (his mother suggests the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but he nips that in the bud with a passionate discourse about hypocrisy and corruption in the civil service). His mother is domineering but cold and admits that she never wanted to have him, yet he still trusts her enough to admit to her that he feels haunted by his own interal demons.

Sure enough, those demons show up. He is at first merely pleasantly successful with the ladies (Vinea himself was a notorious womaniser), but then finds himself torn between mysterious Laura, who seems to be suffering from an incurable disease, and demanding Ana, obsessed by marriage, whom he can’t quite let go. As you might expect, all this shilly-shallying between the two women does not end well, and he treats both of them rather badly. He does get his come-uppance, however, and in the final scene, we find him lonely and neglected, washed-out and abandoned by society and his friends, following a rapid descent into poverty, alcoholism, and vagrancy.

An older Vinea.

It’s hard to judge the quality of the writing from a radio play version, but the plot, such as it is, seems to be fairly simplistic. The inner turmoil seems to be the driving factor here, and it all feels a little Richard Yates to me. Although the bulk of Vinea’s novel had been written by the time Yates’ Revolutionary Road appeared, I wonder if he was familiar with it at all and perhaps slightly influenced by it?

So a bit of an obscure and unusual one for my first 1965 read. The next one, by way of contrast, is relatively easy to find and very much a product of the 1960s.

Happy Easter Book Haul

The book haul was the best part, but still only a part of my lovely afternoon in London yesterday. I went to watch Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre and, like most of the people there, I went because it starred Tom Hiddleston. But I got so much more from the play, which is about adultery and friendship and, of course, betrayal (although it did feel very ‘Hampstead set complaining about their woes’). Hiddleston not only cuts a dashing figure in a well-cut suit, but is very good as a man whose world is coming apart, and nevertheless tries to stay aloof and in control. There was an enormous (and remarkably well-behaved) queue afterwards to get autographs and take selfies with him (which I watched from a distance with anthropological detachment). I was more impressed with the very minimal staging and subtle lighting effects, which really pared down this production to the dialogue and the universal feeling of hurt.

This one’s a bit blurry, but I wanted to share the lovely tote bag with The Future of Books Is Feminist.

It was a summery day, Piccadilly Circus was full of tourists, so I decided to take a little walk and search for the bookshop The Second Shelf, which I’d supported via Kickstarter before it opened. You’ll have heard other book bloggers raving about it, and sure enough, I met Eric of Lonesome Reader fame there, who fortunately looks exactly the way he does in his videos and his Twitter profile picture.

I was shown Sylvia Plath’s purse with her lucky coin still inside, a three-volume early edition of Sense and Sensibility that belonged to Jane Austen’s friend and confidante Martha Lloyd and so many other treasures. At the more affordable level, I did not leave the shop unscathed, despite my hitherto reasonably well-enforced book-buying ban (I had a slip-up at the British Library, but that was the only time I bought books since January).

I could not resist a pristine Folio edition of the Ripley trilogy (yes, there were two novels published later, cashing in on the popularity of the series, but these are the original three). I still think Patricia Highsmith is one of the top writers of psychological thrillers ever. I’m also a fan of Stevie Smith and May Sarton, and you don’t often find them nowadays, especially not uncollected writings (including short stories and essays) and letters. Last, but not least, I am a huge fan of ballet and Allison Devers (the bookshop owner) has done such a fantastic job of tracing four volumes of this little mini-series of ballets (published in 1945), introduced and retold by Marion Robertson and Sandy Posner, with illustrations by Joyce Millen. You not only have obvious suspects such as Swan Lake and Giselle, but also two that are rarely performed nowadays: Petrouchka and La Boutique Fantasque.

I have to admit that this visit – and the thought that such a bookstore exists – has made me happier than I’ve ever been over the past 2-4 months. I’ve been without the boys this Easter holiday, but instead of focusing on what I am missing, I am having great fun reading all day! Books are my therapy, my indulgence, my luxury, my necessity. Have a lovely Easter break, everyone!

Traditional Romanian Easter Eggs, from Lumea Satului.

Insiders/ Outsiders: Summary of Recent Reading

Lots and lots of honeypots! And by honeypots I do NOT mean the seedy lap-dancing bar in my home town, but the many good and thought-provoking books I’ve managed to read now that I no longer spend my evenings blogging, reviewing, marketing and so on. Now that we have been given a slight reprieve of sentence for the deadline for exiting the EU, I have time to continue reading and reviewing books for my #EU27Project separately. The ones I briefly describe below are on top of those reads.

Jim Crace: Harvest

My son bought this book out his own pocket money, because one of the colleges we visited had it as a set text for A Level literature. He hasn’t read it yet and, to be honest, I’m not sure he will like it, as he still struggles to handle the ‘slow bits’ of books such as 1984 or Dracula. And this book, although it has no shortage of ‘events’, is far more about the atmosphere and characterisation, hence full of ‘slow’ bits. I enjoyed it though, so eloquent and well-written, with the timeless quality and rhythm of poetry, describing the death of a way of life… and showing that any nostalgia is probably misplaced. The theme of ‘us vs. them’, the aversion to outsiders (some of it entirely justified) is subtly but powerfully done.

The Good Immigrant (edited by Nikesh Shukla)

One of those books that should be required reading in schools and libraries, to make people aware of true stories about (and, above all, by) immigrants rather than skewed media reports. An American edition has just been published, but the original version had to be crowdfunded, as publishers would not touch this project at first. Not all of the contributions are of high artistic merit, but they don’t need to be: they are eyewitness accounts, polemical essays, thinking out loud and trying to make sense of things. One reservation I had: it would have been nice to have had contributions from Roma, Polish, Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants, who have their own stories of discrimination to tell, showing that it goes beyond race and is sometimes harder to pin down or confront because of that. Or am I just biased?

Zahia Rahmani: Muslim, transl. Matt Reeck

Well, if you want to read the story of a person who is never quite at home in any culture, then this slim volume is perfect for you. The author (and the narrator in the novel) are from the Kabyle-speaking, nomadic minority population in Algeria. The narrator protests that they’ve been dumped and labelled together with all of the Muslims in North Africa and have had Arabic forced on them. Her father supported the French army during the Algerian war, so after independence the family are forced to flee to France for refuge, and instead find themselves unwelcome. A lyrical, disquieting prose poem of a novel, moving between past and present, France and the Algerian desert, prison camp and imaginary places.

Helen Dunmore: Exposure

A well-known refugee trope appears in this book: Lili is the daughter of a Jewish family who had to flee Germany during the Second World War, now settled in England and married to the rather naive and hapless Simon, who is working for British Intelligence. It is the height of the Cold War and double agents are being uncovered with alarming regularity, so when Simon is asked to cover up an irregularity for his boss and former lover Giles, he is the one who gets accused of spying. A novel that focuses much more on the consequences of major world events and accusations on ordinary people and families, rather than a spy thriller, mercilessly excoriating the snobbery and small-mindedness of the so-called Golden Age of Little England that so many still aspire to.

The next three books I read are not so much about migration or being accepted into the community. But they still fit in the insiders/outsiders theme, because they are about family. Who gets accepted into a family? And how does love manifest itself in a family? Can love survive at a distance? Are we forever marked by the loved ones who got away?

The German language version was quickly vetoed by English publishers.

Monique Schwitter: One Another, transl. Tess Lewis

Schwitter is a Swiss actor and writer, and her novel moves swiftly between Switzerland, Austria and Germany, as her narrator, a married writer with two children, discovers via a Google search that her first great love has died. This makes her reassess her own life, and remember all of the men she encountered and loved, however briefly, and however you might define love, including her own unreliable husband. Just how much are we shaped by the people we encounter in our lives, especially those we love?

Helga Flatland: A Modern Family, transl. Rosie Hedger

A Norwegian family with grown children and grandchildren are all gathered in Rome to celebrate a seventieth birthday. Instead, it turns out that the beloved parents are planning to get divorced. This shock news shatters all the comfortable assumptions of past and present lives and forces the three siblings to rethink their own family ties and ways of loving. It all seems so normal and civilised on the surface, but it’s all about close observation and what is left unsaid.

Lavinia Braniste: Interior Zero

The very title of this Romanian novel is interesting: it’s the extension number of the narrator, Cristina, who is working well below her abilities as a receptionist at a construction firm. But it also refers to her inner emptiness, how she tries to make the most of a life that doesn’t offer her any great satisfaction and very little hope. Her job is boring, her colleagues annoying and her boss is ruthlessly desperate to make her mark in a man’s world. Cristina has a long-distance, on-off lukewarm relationship with a former classmate. Her rented flat is dingy and her landlord keeps all his junk and pickled vegetables on her balcony. Her mother has been working abroad in Spain for many years now and feels guilty about having left her daughter alone during her formative years, so she sends her money and Spanish delicacies, not realising that her daughter doesn’t like tinned octopus. Unsentimental, refreshingly clear-eyed and slightly self-deprecating, this is the voice of the millenial generation in Romania – but has great similarities with millenial voices elsewhere (Sophie Divry or Sally Rooney, to name but two). If any publisher would be interested in having this translated into English, I hereby offer my services! (It has been translated into German and has been quite a success there.)

OK, I suppose the last one does qualify for #EU27Project read (and Muslim is translated from French, so technically that one does too). But I plan to get around to writing a few dedicated reviews for books from EU countries which have not yet appeared in my reading.

#SixDegrees April 2019: From How to Be Both

I’m still on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I could not resist joining in this month’s Six Degrees of Separation a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked from one book to the next to form a total of six. The reason why I particularly wanted to take part this month is because Ali Smith’s How to Be Both is the starting point and it’s a book that I’ve been really curious about (I like outrageously experimental ideas) but somehow still haven’t read.

I have read one other book that relies on a dual narrative, however, and is very experimental (although not in the publishing format) and that is Michèle Roberts’ Flesh and Blood, which makes the reader work to piece together the two halves of the story of a broken relationship between mother and child, like doing up a zip.

From here it’s just a small step to Michèle Roberts’ memoirs Paper Houses, which I greatly enjoyed, and not just because I had the good fortune to meet the author and attend one of her workshops. This has everything that I ever dreamt of in my teens: living, working and loving in London in the 1970s, being part of the Spare Rib collective, marching and protesting, being an ardent feminist and also a lover of men, a thoughtful, introverted writer and also a sociable global nomad.

Political protests form the link to my next book. One that I’ve not read but am very interested in, if only I could find it in a library: The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton, set in Cairo in 2011. The government is crumbling; the people are in open revolt; and two members of the political underground, Mariam and Khalil, are determined to change the world as the meaning of revolution evolves in front of them.

Another revolution, another city links to my next choice: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, which was the blight of my Year 7 English. It wasn’t so much the story itself that annoyed me but having to analyse it to death in a class that couldn’t care less about the whole matter.

One book that we also had to read at school in Year 8 or 9 was The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, which definitely appealed more to all of us. A science fiction/horror classic. Now that I look back on the reading choices at our English school (Lord of the Flies was another), I can see that they were quite conservative and very UK-centred, although we were supposedly an international school.

My final choice, however, is a bit more international and was the book we read in our French class: Vipère au poing, that ‘cheery’ family drama by Hervé Bazin. Good choice from our French teacher, because it’s a vivid, shocking, often funny book of teenage rebellion. The evil mother Folcoche made such a strong impression on me that I’ve never quite forgotten her or the book.

So my literary association journey this month was mainly based around London and Paris, Britain and France, with a stopover in Cairo. Also, a predominance of the colours red and green in terms of covers. Where will your literary chain take you?

Julia Boyd: Travellers in the Third Reich

What a fascinating book this is! The author draws on a comprehensive collection of mainly American and English (but also French, Chinese and other) sources, often unpublished materials, to describe the rise of Fascism in Germany from 1920 until its collapse at the end of WW2. You get a full caleidoscope of experiences here: from political leaders and celebrity artists and musicians, to students and Quakers, holidaymakers and even children on school trips.

Almost everyone is familiar with the broad outlines of historical progression towards Fascism (although perhaps not as well as they should be, hence history repeating itself today). What surprised me about this book is how enamoured many ordinary and perfectly decent foreign travellers were with Nazi Germany. Of course we do have the benefit of hindsight now, and perhaps some things were not obvious at the time unless you went looking for them really hard. Also, the Germans were very enthusiastic about greeting tourists warmly right until the eve of the war (they badly needed the money). And yet… the dangers and threats were minimised and the ugly reality was ignored for far too long.

Why? In the case of Britain, it started off with them feeling sorry for the Germans and the harsh conditions of the Versailles Treaty, which led to grinding poverty and near-starvation in the years immediately after WW1. Besides, the English and Americans have traditionally felt more affinity with the Germans and their culture than with the French. They forgot all that France had suffered at the hands of the Germans in the First World War and saw that they were being overcharged and cheated in France, while in Germany the towns were cleaner, the people more diligent and disciplined, and the plumbing worked.

Vintage poster for Dutch audiences: Germany, land of music

They also loved German literature, music, art and very soon started admiring the ‘splendid physique and sense of purpose’ of the vigorous young people rising from the ashes of the war. The German love of uniforms and marching was perceived as an endearing foible rather than something to worry about (after all, one had been or rather still was an Empire oneself) – and those uniforms were so goddamn sexy, weren’t they? As for Jews or gypsies or Communists, well, one didn’t like them very much anyone, so why should they meddle in a country’s internal affairs? Instead of squabbling over such minor issues as a few Jews or disaffected radicals, Britons and Americans should be standing shoulder to shoulder with their Anglo-Saxon German brothers, ready to fight the common enemy – communism.

Even thoughtful people empathised with the German’s envy of the Jews.

A people that has suffered and is bitterly poor sees a race that climbs and flourishes upon the ruin of its own fortunes. Small wonder if envy does stir in its heart and it snarls accusations of profiteering against all who belong to this race.

Even John Maynard Keynes, friend to Einstein and banker Carl Melchior, said:

Yet if I lived there, I felt I might turn anti-Semitic for the poor Prussian is too slow and heavy on his legs for the other kind of Jews, the ones who are not imps but serving devils

And the new doctrine was giving people what they wanted: instead of messy complexity, uncertainty and only gradual improvements, it provided simple, clear answers and scapegoats. It gave the people a sense of direction, a feeling (or illusion) that they were going somewhere. Many people did not like Hitler but were seduced by the message:

It was buoyant, exciting and alive. It was not patronising. It broke down social barriers, provided pageantry and stimulus. It was, in a nutshell, a new gospel. Furthermore… the police are quite charming.

The book is so well written, with both a chronological and a thematic narrative flow, that it felt like I was reading a novel at times. Ultimately, however, it chilled me to see how easy it is to flatter and seduce people with lies, simplistic promises and unrealistic solutions (sunlit uplands and sovereignty) and how the ‘powerful or dominant nations’ of the world will support each other against the cries of desperation of the weak and powerless. As someone who has grown up with daily blasts of propaganda, who has seen doublespeak in action every single day of my childhood – and had to learn to use it myself – this was a very powerful reminder that we need to learn more from the past and condone less of what is happening in the present.

March Madness

This is not quite a return to blogging, as I don’t think I have the peace of mind to do it systematically. It’s more of a summary of a crazy month, and a note to self about future things. A reminder that future things still exist, even though it might be hard to remember them when you are stuck in the morass of present-day sludge.

Cultural Events

The fun (and far too small) exhibition ‘Cats on the Page at the British Library confirmed that I really do know my moggies, literary and otherwise. I was born to be a cat lover, beats me why I waited so many years to get my first pet cat! (And she is an absolute pet…)

I also went to see a play that was billed as ‘optimistic and loving’ by a friend who clearly thought I needed some therapy. This was Gently Down the Stream at the Park Theatre, starring Jonathan Hyde as an aging American pianist living in London, who has played with all the greats in the past. He meets and falls in love with young lawyer Rufus (Ben Allen), who is fascinated by the past but represents the new generation of gay men, who have never had to be ashamed of their feelings. It was sweet, romantic, but rather melancholy, so not quite the boost of optimism that my friend had planned.

Once again, I made the most of my Mubi subscription and watched lots of films (particularly suitable when you are hiding under your bedclothes at the weekend), but realised that most of them are depressing as hell: Brothers of the Night, about young Roma men from Bulgaria hustling for money in Vienna, while all the while despising the men who buy their bodies, the heart-rending Iranian film A Separation directed by Asghar Farhadi, the classic noir Laura (with Gene Tierney as a beautiful blank canvas for men to project their fantasies on) and, in the cinema Can You Ever Forgive Me? – which is a comedy tinged with quite a lot of sadness and loneliness. Or is it just me finding the dark side of everything at the moment?

Books Read

I probably didn’t do myself any favours by picking quite depressing books this month, although when I became aware of this tendency, I wove in some lighter reads. It frequently happens that a theme emerges once the month is over, a theme that I’m not really aware of whilst in the midst of it. This month, it has been biographies of famous writers. A couple of them qualify for the #EU27Project, which fortunately has had its deadline extended… just a teensy bit!

Mihail Sebastian: Women – a series of interrelated novellas about a Romanian man abroad and the women he meets, mostly in a romantic context but not only. This is early Sebastian and feels less accomplished than some of his later works, as well as demonstrating a certain amount of mysogyny, which is perhaps more typical of the time and culture, rather than of Sebastian himself (who doesn’t seem to display that in his diaries). Not his best work, but interesting to see his evolution.

Ersi Sotiropoulos: What’s Left of the Night – spend a few days in Paris in this fictionalised account of Cavafy’s awakening to his own sexuality and to his poetic inspiration. As you might know, I am a huge Cavafy fan, so this was an interesting riff, oozing with sensuality and strangeness (a bit like the poet himself).

David Peace: Patient X – Akutagawa Ryunosuke was one of the best Japanese short story writers of all time (the most prestigious literary prize in Japan is named after him). David Peace sticks quite close to Akutagawa’s life and literary influences in this book, but some of the references are quite subtle and not that well known to those outside Japan (the Kappas, for instance). So perhaps one for Japanophiles rather than the casual reader, or those who really like Peace’s fragmentary, rhythmical, hypnotic prose, which works quite well with Akutagawa’s troubled psyche.

Baudelaire: A Self Portrait (in letters, edited and translated by Lois & Francis Hyslop) – well, this one was a surprise! Another poet that I revered as a teenager, it turns out he must have been the most difficult son for a mother to love: constantly in debt, constantly asking for money, chiding his mother for having a life of her own (he hated the man she married after the death of his father), unwilling to ‘corrupt’ his art by getting a real job, falling prey to dodgy women (or so it must have seemed to his mother), prosecuted for indecent verse… And of course, no real success to boast of in his lifetime.

Tove Ditlevsen: Early Spring, transl. Tiina Nunnally – Danish poet, one of the most prolific and well-loved in her home country (although relatively unknown abroad) – this is her memoir of growing up in a poor working-class family in Copenhagen who does not quite appreciate her literary aspirations.

All quite worthy, as you can see, so, for fun:

Christopher Morley: Parnassus on Wheels – charming little book about books and romance and that it’s never too late to break free – what’s not to love? Found it hard to believe that this was written a hundred years ago, it still feels remarkably fresh, like a modern writer writing a novel set in the past.

Mavis Doriel Hay: Death on the Cherwell – another piece of escapism, because who doesn’t love a campus novel, a murder mystery set in Oxford and an excitable group of female undergraduates who try some sleuthing?

Rod Reynolds: Cold Desert Sky – escapism of a different sort, into the gritty world of 1950s Hollywood and Las Vegas (before the latter became the glitzy famous place it is now) – very Chandleresque but more in keeping with our present-day sensibilities

Julia Boyd: Travellers in the Third Reich – this turned out to be so interesting – an account of living through ‘interesting’ times without the advantage of retrospective wisdom. I’ll definitely write a proper review of this later.

Bits and Bobs

May is going to be my month of French revolution – or rather, one in particular – the Paris Commune. And, since it might be quite a mouthful to swallow 5 books on the same topic in just one month, I will embark on some of the reading in April. Plus continue with my #EU27Project. Can I just ask publishers and translators why they want only miserable, earnest, highly experimental books from Eastern Europe? They are making my head ache a little when they come in quick succession one after the other.

In other news, my older son has had a conditional offer for the sixth form of his choice and is going through more mock exams. My younger son’s hairline fracture is getting better, but he has to see a physio and do exercises. What with shepherding them to different schools, doctors, physio appointments and what not else, I’ve had a pretty unsettled time. Exacerbated by braying ultimatums and threats, uncertainty and panic, and offers that keep coming back unchanged, even if they’ve been voted down (that refers to both Brexit and my ex, by the way).

One piece of good news, however: my younger son has mastered the art of the chocolate fondant cake. After many, many attempts that were either too liquid or too hard, he finally created a perfect one. He now ambitiously plans to bake the Apple Rose Custard tart below. Just in time for Mother’s Day, I hope!

Update: the real-life product involved Mum’s close supervision for nearly 2 hours and came out looking like this. In other words, there’s no such things as unicorns. It was quite tasty, though!