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So while on holiday I finally got around to reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.
Now, this was always going to be a bit of a big deal because I had so enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I read before starting this blog and have never reviewed here – suffice to say (as I’m sure I already have) that I became heavily emotionally involved with that novel to the point of almost disgracing myself by crying on public transport over the ending.
And I suspect that’s why I waited until this came out in paperback and even after I bought it didn’t leap into reading it immediately, concerned as I was that I might hate it. But thankfully I didn’t (though I get the impression that some other readers were disappointed in it.)
In terms of plot, this is really a story about two sets of twins, Edie and Elspeth, and Edie’s daughters Valentina and Julia. Elspeth dies at the beginning of the novel, never having reconciled with her sister after an estrangement lasting 20 years, and leaves her flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery to her American nieces, with the proviso that Edie never goes there and that her papers are removed by her neighbour and lover Robert. The only fly in the ointment is that Elspeth comes back as a ghost.
Will her presence become known to the other inhabitants? Will the big secret she has been hiding come out? Will there be unintended consequences?
Well, yes, of course there will.
I took absolutely ages to read this, not because I wasn’t enjoying it or didn’t want to know what was going to happen, but possibly just because it was not sufficiently light for a holiday read. I was determined not to set is aside, though, as whenever I did pick it up I enjoyed reading it. It’s fair to say that I didn’t connect with it the way I did with TTTW but I enjoyed the story, though I found Valentina and Julia really annoying at times and was in many ways more interested in Robert, Martin (another neighbour, one with OCD who compiles crosswords), the setting and the practical problems around corporeality in ghosts. I’m ashamed to say that I have lived in London for over 20 years and never once been to any of the great cemeteries, though the pull of both Highgate and Kensal Green is now very strong.
The big secret didn’t really come as a huge revelation; I had already wondered if it was going to be along the lines that it eventually turned out to be (grammatically awful way of expressing it, but I’m sure you know what I mean), although I didn’t get the details exactly right. I also found the ending a little abrupt.
But I have to say that I enjoyed it, and may even pick it up again in the future as, now that I know the story, I’m sure there are nuances that I missed on the first read.
If I had been participating in Carl’s RIP V challenge I would certainly have tried to claim this as my second read.
Dryburgh Abbey is the prettiest of the four border abbeys (the others being Kelso, Melrose and Jedburgh); it’s an incredibly peaceful setting and if you have to be stuck in the ground somewhere I can’t think of anywhere more beautiful.
Sir Walter Scott certainly thought so as this is where his tomb is, and I paid him a visit as I always do when we are here.
Tomorrow we start our tw0-stage drive home and I probably won’t have internet access so no posts until I’m back in London. By then I may even have finished reading the book I’ve slowly been working my way through all the time we have been in Scotland…..
But that didn’t stop us from tanking up the coast to revisit Tantallon Castle, an imposing and remarkable structure with a long and fascinating history only finally put to an end by Oliver Cromwell.
I glared at the Book God as a representative of the English, though of course my lot were often no better.
It was bracing so we didn’t stay long, and after a pleasant drive back to where we are staying and a few restorative cups of Earl Grey we were ready for anything. Anything, in this case, was me catching up with blogs and e-mails and the Book God having his afternoon nap.
It’s tough, but someone has to do it……
So today was a bit of a respite from the touristy stuff; having spent a chunk of yesterday in the car heading from South Ayrshire to Peebles, it was good to do something different, and a shopping spree was in order.
No pictures of me actually doing any shopping - not pretty at the best of times – but nice things purchased, including shoes (of course), shirts for the Book God, a few small things for home, some foody things we can’t get in London (well not without great planning and major expeditions) and a lime green merino wool scarf (of which I am already inordinately fond).
But the fun part was visiting The Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells, a really fabulous bookshop featured in Cornflower Books a while ago. Really lovely shop and excellent cafe (especially loved the cupcakes). So if you are in the area you really must visit.
Now relaxing after the rigours of the day.
Wonder what’s for dinner……..
On Sunday we had a lovely drive through (once again) glorious autumnal sunshine, which involved driving up and down the Electric Brae in Ayrshire which is an optical illusion which makes you think you are going uphill when in fact you are going downhill. Despite my childhood memories, and understanding of how it’s all supposed to work and a willing driver in the shape of the Book God, we failed miserably in trying to achieve the correct effect. Pathetic really.
Then on Monday, again in wonderful weather, we drove to Wigtown (which I visited last year) and then on to Whithorn, where we visited the Priory and learned all about St Ninian and the oldest Christian settlement in Scotland.
And today, we tootled up the coast in the fog and mist to the part of Ayrshire where my ancestors came from, and visited Dundonald Castle, which is imposing and impressive.
And this evening it’s packing before we drive over to the Tweed Valley tomorrow for the last part of our holiday….
So, this time last year I was at the Mull of Galloway trying and failing to make my way to the lighthouse through rain and howling winds.
Today, in glorious autumn sunshine, not only did we make it but we climbed all 115 steps to the very top. I managed to go into the lantern part but decided against walking out onto the balcony (which I’m sure has a proper name that makes it sound more like a working bit of the lighthouse but am too lazy to look it up). Bottled it in true afraid-of-heights fashion. It was very windy again, I might have been blown all the way to Northern Ireland. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
But I don’t care because I made it to the top without succumbing to a heart attack and have a certificate to prove it!
It’s a fabulous building in a wonderful setting, awash with great art and full of stuff of great interest, whether it’s a throwback to the Great Bess of Hardwick (who has featured here a lot over the past few days) or Mitford-related stuff (another area of great interest to me and a reminder of another pile of books yet to be read waiting for me at home)
I probably now deserve an award for the most use of the word “great” in a paragraph but I’m too tired and lazy to think of alternatives; it takes a lot out of an old girl to walk around a stately pile like this one.
Another lovely sunny day to wander around the grounds. Resisted the temptation to pop over to the last day of the Attic Sale; a set of Victorian pokers and fire tongs would have looked lovely chez Bride, but alas, almost certainly out of my price range…..
The Fleet Street Murders is third in the Charles Lenox mystery series set in the 1860s. He’s a sort of mid-nineteenth century Lord Peter Wimsey, I suppose (and I’m not the first to have suggested this at all), with detection as more than a hobby but less than a profession (given his aristocratic position).
So, in this one Lenox is standing for Parliament while his friends are in some distress and his love life is wobbling. At the same time two journalists have been murdered in London and he is torn between his duty to his potential constituents and his desire to solve the crime.
As with the others I found this an enjoyable and easy read. The author is American, and there were the occasional usage of words that wouldn’t trip off a Londoner’s tongue now (sidewalk? cookies? (well, maybe these days the latter might be heard) ) let alone in the mid-Victorian period (and I’m happy for any Captain Pedantics out there to set me straight if I’ve got that wrong) but these were only very mildly irritating. His lady love is still too good to be true, though maybe marriage will sort that out. Mystery was pretty satisfying but the best bits for me were all to do with his political campaign.
So, good holiday read and I will certainy look out for the fourth in the series.
Or Hardwick Halls I should say, there being the Old Hall (a ruin) and the New Hall (famous Elizabethan pile with its own rhyme – “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”). The picture shows the latter as seen from the top of the former.
Now, I have to declare that when it comes to the English part of our holiday this was the trip I was most looking forward to, because of my deep love of all things 16th century, which if you’ve been reading this blog over the years you will know all too well. Plus it was the home of Bess of Hardwick, a formidable woman who after marrying and surviving four husbands, being custodian of Mary Queen of Scots for part of her English imprisonment, and living to a ripe old age, tried to set up her grand-daughter Arabella Stuart as a potential heir for Elizabeth I. Didn’t work but darned good try. I have a couple of books about her which I meant to read before I came away but I ran out of time; I will be tucking into them when I get back because if I was interested before I am absolutely fascinated now.
The New Hall is magnificent, full of wonderful portraits including two of Arabella (about whom I also have a book, must find that as well).
General consensus is that Arabella had a sad life, a phrase repeated by several of the very nice National Trust people willing to chat about the various rooms we wandered through.
So, very pleased with what has been a beautifully sunny day, ideal for this sort of visit.
I was still able to get in touch with my inner Cavalier and marvel at the wall paintings, paneling, fireplaces and lantern which make this such an interesting and fabulous place; I love castles of all types, but always enjoy most those that are intact and restored.
Followed this up with a trip to Sutton Scarsdale which sadly is a ruin, even though featured in detail in Country Life as recently as 1919. Depressing.
Now concentrating on ministering to my ailments before another trip tomorrow.