Once upon a time I was a bit of a hoarder. It’s a habit I picked up from my mum, who was a refugee from 1950s China. One of my friends summed it up quite well, by pointing out that when you don’t have much, you find it difficult to let go of what you do have. Although it has to be said that my mum has been clearing out a lot recently, as she has had a few family members to stay recently and run out of space to put them.
These days, years of living in a small house later and I’m pretty much cured from hoarding, but it’s odd to see your old life with current eyes when you go back home, as I did this weekend, and your daughter says, “Why do all those books have weird covers on them?”
This is something my mum used to do with all books, cover them with stiff calendar paper from the last year – we always had several calendars around the house advertising various Chinese restaurants, given by enthusiastic proprietors to my grandma, who is still a much loved figure in the Cantonese community in London.
I explained that there was not so much “stuff” produced even back in the 1980s and therefore everything had a greater value. We still have shelves of my childhood books at my parents’ house, and I remembered how valuable books were, not so much in a monetary sense, but how I treasured all the stories and characters in them as a window onto a life which I didn’t have.
Also at the weekend, Lovely Daughter #2 espied something that had been unearthed from the most recent clear out and went, “What’s that?!”
“I made him when I was in Year 2!” I said.
“But what is it?”
“Do you mean you can’t tell it’s a dinosaur???”
LD looked at it doubtfully.
“Why’s it got holes all over it?”
“Look we were allowed to put textures on them… you’re going to ask me next why it’s purple, aren’t you?”
Apart from a bit of nostalgia over books, I am not attached to objects from my childhood. But I was pleased that we’d kept Diny, I think because I have very fond memories of my Year 2 teacher. She was the type of teacher I responded to best, the no-nonsense type who have us lots and lots of work to keep us busy and occupied, but also thought up brilliant ideas for our projects, like the time we transformed the whole classroom into a space station.
I spent a very relaxing weekend eating chocolate and being cooked for. I also read Marian Keyes’ This Charming Man.
The story itself is told from the points of view of four different women who have all been involved in various ways with the eponymous Charming Man, politician Paddy de Courcy.
Keyes does a great job of making the women sound very different from each other, but unfortunately there was great variation in how gripping each story was. Funnily enough, the most compelling and dramatic story to begin with, that of the troubled Marnie, ended up the weakest for me and I skipped most of it in the end, as nothing really seemed to happen in her life. While the weakest storyline at the beginning was that of Paddy’s ex, Lola, who spent a good 100+ pages moping around the west of Ireland. This story ended up as the strongest one, because she had the most distinctive voice.
I’m always up for a good bit of chick lit if it’s well done. Top things I look for are: humour (I particularly enjoyed the running joke about the Kildare bypass), feisty women’s voices and unapologetic celebration of women as sexual beings, something I had cause to think about yesterday when I read this post. But at the same time as enjoying that lightness of touch, I also need the book to be about something, which this book, in choosing the themes of domestic violence and transvestitism certainly is.
It’s a good book, but not without its flaws. The most obvious of which is that it is 820 pages long, which is an overindulgence when you add up the amount of action and laughs there are. There weren’t many surprises, which was fine, as to me that showed consistency in character portrayals, and after all I was not expecting a thriller when I picked this up. But then again, I hadn’t expected it to be so funny either. Much shorter would have meant a better ratio of pages to jokes and I would have been much more impressed.
When I got home from visiting my parents, it was cold, so I lit a fire using the old school reports my mum had found while clearing up as kindling. This, strangely enough, was not because they were bad. I used to love getting school reports and seeing how well I’d done. But these days I’m uncomfortable about how much I needed affirmation and approval I needed as a child and how long it took me to become someone who trusted in my own values. So off they went into the fire without a second look and I have no regrets at all.