9. One Pair of Hands - Monica Dickens
First of all, apologies for what is probably the worst piece of photo-editing you've seen this week. I felt I should get both hands into a picture celebrating 'One Pair of Hands', and couldn't fathom how to do this without one hand on the camera. So I took two photographs, and spliced them together. Lucky you pop in for bookish natter, and not computer expertise, isn't it? Oh, and this is the first time I've appeared in one of the blog entries, so deduce what you can of my character from my hands. Probably - just - that I bite my nails. And am not married.
Enough of that - you might have noticed Monica Dickens' book creep up from my 'what shall I read next?' post, to my 'what I am now reading' post - and has now joined the acclaimed ranks of the 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About. It's reminded me how much I can enjoy reading, for fun rather than for deadlines. Dickens is related to that Dickens (great-granddaughter, according to the blurb) and is just as funny, though in rather a different way - the novel is Dickens' first (1939) and documents her time spent as a cook/maid in various households, through a year and a half. She came from a wealthy family, but became rather disillusioned, and thought she'd see what life was like on 'the other side of the green baize door'.
Well, I'm sure it wasn't nearly as funny as this novel (/autobiography?) is - Dickens' style of writing is intrinsically comic, in a gentle way, though with laugh-out-loud moments. Very similar to Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady in stylistic respects - if you enjoyed the former, you'll love this. In amongst what must have been tedium, Dickens chronicles some hilarious events (the first dinner she cooks, especially the lobster cocktail...) and has a wealth of engagingly odd secondary characters. All of them, in fact - just on the right side of absurdity. Look out for E. L. Robbins, the vacuum cleaner salesman; Polly, the maid who runs around with her apron over her head, if spoken to sharply; inept young wife Mrs. Randall, and The Walrus, a builder in the same house.
This could have been a dozen novels, but Dickens makes the brave decision to put all her experiences into one - which means it's impossible to get tired of any situation (in both senses of the word). The Times comments on the back: "Riotously amusing as the book is in parts, Miss Dickens also manages to make it a social document." Well, how like The Times. But I can't say they're wrong - having seen the Servant Problem from the Provincial Lady's point of view, Dickens' is a fascinating comparison. Must use self-discipline to prevent myself immediatly reading One Pair of Feet, about her time as a nurse. It's looking at me from the shelf...
Onto something entirely different. A good friend from my old village has just joined the blogging community - do go on over and give her a hearty welcome. It's always lovely to know people are reading, and that's all the more true when one first dips a toe into the blogging water... She's called Apprentice Brick Counter... I'll let you discover why.