Books often tend to languish on my night table, but none so long as M.J. Farrell's (Molly Keane) Mad Puppetstown. Through no fault of its own by the way. It just seems every time I think about picking it up to read I get sidetracked right away. Several years ago I read, though didn't write about, Two Days in Aragon. It was a novel I was hugely impressed by, so much so I decided to go back to the beginning of her work and start reading her novels in order. I managed her first three without a hitch: The Knight of the Cheerful Countenance, Young Entry and Taking Chances, but then things came to a screeching halt. Just general busyness and other books demanding my attention, and then you know how it goes. There are books you "mean to read" but just don't seem to get around to them as quickly as you'd like.
At the rate I'm reading her books it's going to take me a good decade to finish the rest, and the whole idea behind this project was to see how Keane developed as a writer. I almost feel as though I need to go back to the beginning to make it all fresh in my mind again (though I think I had better not do so), but happily I can just revisit my posts. Mad Puppetstown is actually quite an appealing story, so I'm giving myself permission to just go and read and not worry about what other books are already in progress (and that I should direct my attention towards first). And with St. Patrick's Day having just passed, what better time to think about Irish Literature than right now, right?
Puppetstown is the name of a country house where an extended family happily lives in the early 1900s. It's the typical sort of country life that you expect in one of Keane's novels--carefree and idyllic where the children grow up with few worries and taking part in many happy adventures. But the "little, bitter, forgotten war in Ireland" will infringe on the house's inhabitants scattering them to England. The main character is Easter, who at the beginning of the story is only eight. She lives with her father and cousins and various aunts and household servants.
I thought I'd share a couple of teasers to get the ball rolling. First something to set the scene.
"People drove about in dog-carts and pony traps. Invitations were issued to tea."
"Tea parties mattered too."
"Women who powdered their faces were fast. Women who painted them--bad."
"Hunting, low wages, feather boas, nipped in habit coats, curly bowlers, bunches of violets, black furs and purple hats were very much in vogue."
"A book called Three Weeks was both enjoyed and abused."
"Champagne was a frequent drink. Women never drank whisky."
And something about Easter, too.
"She wore blue serge sailor suits nearly all the year round, with a flat square collar ornamented by three rows of white tape and a white anchor on her chest. She wore long brown stockings and black or brown laced boots. In the winter months she wore a round blue cap with H.M.S. Victory written on it in gold letters, and in the summer months a white straw hat that sat on the very top of her head and was held in place below her chin by a very much bitten piece of elastic. The hat had H.M.S. Dreadnought written in gold on its blue ribbon--by way of variety, perhaps. She wore, too, a white cotton petticoat made of stoutly embroidered calico beneath her blue box-pleated skirt."
"Easter's clothes were chosen for her by her aunt, and did not, in those far-away days, appear nearly so horribly grotesque as they sound now."
That last bit elicited a good chuckle out of me. I think I'm going to like this story very much. Must just try and stay on task. I'm not focusing very well on my reading--am here and there with my books lately. I guess I must have spring fever but there isn't much sign of spring out there sadly. Best to just keep my nose in a book for the time being. Specifically Mad Puppetstown.