Tuesday, 9 June 2020

What I'm reading: Funny and sad and a bit disturbing

David Sedaris: NAKED

An earlier set of recollections than the David Sedaris book I read last year, this is a memoir covering his boyhood in North Carolina and some time he spent 'on the road'. Needy and nerdy, he suffered from OCD and competed aggressively with his siblings for their parents’ attention. His mom once congratu-lated herself on having six unmarried children: “I’ve taken the money we saved on weddings and am using it to build my daughters a whorehouse.” Wish my mother had been so acerbic!

Sedaris grew up gay in a town and a time where ‘faggots’ were easy bait for bullies. He worked as a volunteer in a local mental hospital and met an equal number of weirdos and psychos hitchhiking or riding Greyhound buses. Dropping out of college, he spent a summer fruit-picking and fruit-packing. One of his co-workers was a major-league dumbass: “I’d tried to straighten him out, but there’s only so much you can do for a person who thinks Auschwitz is a brand of beer."

David Sedaris 
Hard to believe from an early life like this that Sedaris, now in his sixties, matured into a noted broadcaster and essayist. There are pleasing echoes of Truman Capote in his fluent prose and even his life style. Naked (the title is from a chapter in which he moves into a nudist trailer camp: weirdos in the buff!) is funny and sad and a bit disturbing. Keep an ear out for the author’s occasional monologues on Radio 4 – like our 'National Treasure' Alan Bennett, he’s a joy to listen to as well as a joy to read.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

What I'm reading: Romance with Hardy echoes


It’s 1917. In Oxford-shire’s Chiltern Hills beautiful young Ellen Quainton has been brought up in the austere Primitive Methodist faith. Grieving for a fiancĂ© lost on the Western Front, she is wooed by Sam Loveridge, one of a group of gypsies helping to bring in the harvest. Sam has an ill-tempered wife who has failed to give him any children.

Ellen recklessly surrenders to seduction by the hand-some gypsy. Romany culture is as hide-bound as the “Prims” and Sam is forced to serve jail-time for another man’s crime. In prison he is brutally flogged, but then befriends a parson who teaches him to read and write. Meanwhile, in the Chilterns, an elderly widower rescues Ellen from the shame of pregnancy, but her heart has been lost to Sam, who knows he will look for her after his release.

Passion and tragedy are combined by Katie Hutton into a rich powerful saga. The author is a writer of substance: this fateful love affair brings echoes of Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. The Gypsy Bride has a fine pedigree; romance readers will find it deeply absorbing. And a sequel is promised next year!