Monday, 28 January 2013

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding: Readalong

Right, books at the ready!  I've re-read Cheerful Weather for the Wedding ahead of seeing the new film (which I'll be doing in one week's time, at The Phoenix in Oxford, which has a one-night-only screening) and I'm opening up this post for discussion.  It won't be one of my usual reviews, because I've actually already reviewed the novel (novella?) here, but more of a hub for conversation about it.

But I'll give you a quick overview of my thoughts on re-reading Cheerful Weather for the Wedding.  It might be worth popping over and reading my thoughts in 2009, if you'd be so kind... basically I loved every moment, particularly the hilarious secondary characters.  Most memorable were mad Nellie (who spouts irrelevant conversations she has had with the plumber, while addressing the tea-tray) and brothers Tom and Robert, who come to a contretemps over the latter's unorthodox emerald socks.  (I'm assuming that everyone knows the basic plot by this point - Dolly is uncertainly preparing for her wedding to Owen, with a houseful of eccentrics helping and hindering her - and a bottle of rum within reach.)

This time around, I found the novella a little less amusing, but mostly because I already knew where all my favourite bits were coming.  It is testament to Strachey's humour that Nellie, Tom, and Robert have remained firmly fixed in my mind, down to their individual lines ("Put your head in a bag" still makes me grin) but inevitably surreal moments of humour heavily rely upon novelty.  Her cast of near-grotesques were still a delight, but not quite as much the second time around.

This, however, left me more able to appreciate other aspects to Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (and not just that sublime cover - I kept closing the book just to stare at it for a bit longer.)  I'd appreciated Strachey as a comic writer, but hadn't really noticed how gorgeous some of her other writing is.  Her propensity to describe every character's eyes when they arrive on the scene was slightly unnerving, but depictions of buildings and countryside were really lovely, and contrasted well with the surreal descriptions of people.  I couldn't resist this excerpt...
Dolly's white-enamelled Edwardian bedroom jutted out over the kitchen garden, in a sort of little turret.  It was at the top of the house, and reached by a steep and narrow stairway.  Coming in at the bedroom door, one might easily imagine one's self to be up in the air in a balloon, or else inside a lighthouse.  One saw only dazzling white light coming in at the big windows on all sides, and through the bow window directly opposite the door shone the pale blue sea-bay of Malton.

This morning the countryside, through each and all of the big windows, was bright golden in the sunlight.  On the sides of a little hill quite close, beyond the railway cutting, grew a thick hazel copse.  To-day, with the sun shining through its bare branches, this seemed to be not trees at all, but merely folds of something diaphanous floating along the surface of the hillside - a flock of brown vapours, here dark, there light - lit up in the sunshine.

And all over the countryside this morning the bare copses looked like these brown gossamer scarves; they billowed over the hillsides, here opalescent, there obscure - according to the sunlight and shadow among their bronze and gauzy foldings.
It can't just be me who wants to move in immediately?  But I couldn't leave you without a moment of Strachey's wonderfully wicked humour...
"How are your lectures going?" asked Kitty of Joseph, a kind of desperate intenseness in her voice and face.  This was her style of the moment with the male sex.
And now over to you!  If you post a review of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding during the week, please pop a link in the comments (I'll probably do a round-up later in the week) but I'd also like this to be a place for discussion - do reply to each other's comments, and I'll join in, and it'll be FUN.  I won't post for another two or three days, to give everyone a chance to see this.


Here are some questions to start things going:

  • Did you enjoy the novel, for starters!?
  • What do you think Julia Strachey was trying to achieve - what sort of book was she trying to write?
  • Why do you think Strachey made it so short?  Would it have worked as a longer novel?
  • Who were your favourite characters?
  • If you're re-reading, how did you opinion change this time?
  • How do you think it will translate to cinema?


43 comments:

  1. Like you, I had a slightly different experience rereading this but I still loved it. Tom and Robert remain favourites, of course, and I also still adore Kitty, who is so awfully, awkwardly, horribly seventeen. I did find that I had even less sympathy for Dolly and Joseph this time around (meaning none whatsoever). Last time I felt sorry for Owen and rather fond of him because of his dullness; now I can see the stupidity beyond the dullness, extinguishing my sympathy for the final member of the love triangle.

    I still think the story reads like a play, perhaps because we get so little insight into what the characters are thinking and feeling. We read about their surroundings (giving us a good idea of what the sets should look like) and know what they say (there's the dialogue covered) but there is very little to the story beyond that. I think it would be easy to transfer to the stage and should therefore transfer well to film too...but everything I hear about the film makes me think it will be awful. The shortness of the book, the determined focus on the day of the wedding - and not on the relationship between Joseph and Dolly the preceded it - is what gives the story its sharpness and scope for humour. It does not need to be sympathetic, to treat anyone tenderly. We do not need to have a hero or heroine to identify with. In a film, I worry that producers might feel that is necessary, which would completely change the tone of the story. I don't want them to be likeable! I want them to be frantic and upset and hysterical because of the stress of the wedding day. That is where the humour comes from, that is why I love this book.

    Can't wait to see how the discussion progresses!

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    1. Great thoughts, Claire!
      I found it hard to feel anything for Owen - he was so blank on the page, and barely there. But excellent point about sympathies - I think that's one of the things that slightly hampered the film adaptation of Elizabeth Taylor's Angel, because they were keen to make her slightly understandable/lovable, whereas the strength of the novel was the complete absence of this.

      It does feel a bit like a play, now you mention it - not so much as someone like Ivy Compton-Burnett, but definitely in the outline.

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  2. My post is up about the book --
    http://webereading.com/2013/01/cheerful-is-in-eye-of-beholder.html

    I actually ended up answering many of these exact questions on my post. Strange! But yes, this was my first time reading the book and I really did enjoy it. I had so many levels in such a short story, from the lightheartedness (a.k.a. drunkeness) of Lob to the romantic tragedy of the end. Robert was my absolute favorite with his emerald socks.

    I really like what Claire has said about it reading like a play. I didn't think of it that way but now I definitely see it. I thought the length was perfect to keep the reader in the wedding day. Even though other times were mentioned, the fact is that the day had momentum and was moving forward as planned. And I think this is why I also can't see it working well as a movie. By filling in the backstory with the things that Strachey only hints about, it changes the focus to a relationship that is, in youthful time, ancient history.

    I'll be back to chat again in the morning!

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    1. I agree about the length - 'momentum' is a great word for it; if we'd had flashbacks and aftermath, or even a lot of considered thought, it would have slowed down the hysterical madness of the whole thing. I do hope the film retains it.

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  3. Well, my review is here:

    http://kaggsysbookishramblings.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/group-read-cheerful-weather-for-the-wedding-by-julia-strachey/

    and I didn't really respond as well to the book as I expected. Very interested in what Claire says about a play - I hadn't thought of that, but it does explain a lot.

    Thinking more about the novel(la), I think I would have liked it more had it been developed more. It's just too frantic, the characters are mainly awful and in some ways it seems a waste of a potentially good longer novel. Her writing of place and nature, as you pinpoint, is excellent, but this doesn't for me carry through to her characters. In the end, I didn't much care what happened to them - which may be my failing, not the book! I think what I'm trying to say is that feel that the book is a bit of a missed opportunity!

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    1. How interesting, given what I've just written in reply to Kristen! It was the frantic nature of the novella that I loved - but it's intriguing that you saw the ghost of a longer, more thorough novel, whereas I was pleased about how stripped down it was.

      What do you think might have been added/changed to sustain a full-length novel?

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    2. I just would have enjoyed deeper characterisation and background - her nature descriptions were so lovely, I would have liked to see that quality of writing carried over to the people she was writing about so they were more developed. If she had allowed herself more space to elaborate on characterisation, I think the whole thing would have felt less jagged and frenzied and would have been a much stronger novel - and there would have been more chance to appreciate Strachey's writing which was so beautiful in places.

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  4. Hello all,
    Here's my review http://reading19001950.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/cheerful-weather-for-the-wedding-by-julia-stratchey-1932/
    I very much agree with Kaggsy's comments!

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    1. For people with similar taste, Erica, we seem never to agree about books!

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  5. I think this may have been the first Persephone I read. I am tempted to go pick it up and re-read it but I am a quarter of the way into Armadale right now and don't want to lose momentum.

    I am not sure it ocurred to me before now, but the pose of the model in the painting on the cover of this reminds me a tiny bit of that very famous painting of Lytton Strachey reading in bed.

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    1. Excellent point re:Strachey iconography! Had not noticed that before.

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  6. I think because of the dialogue it will translate on screen, because there's so much of it, but it will be interesting to see how Dolly's thoughts are expressed. It does work as a short book because of the way Strachey managed to include everything important in that short space whilst giving the reader a firm idea of the characters and their wants etc. As a longer novel it might have got boring quickly unless the time frame was lengthened - and that it all takes place during that short time is surely one of its strengths.

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    1. Yes - the other examples of longer single-day narratives are things like Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, and (heaven help us) Ian McEwan's Saturday - which are trying to do very different things, aren't they?

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  7. I was quite excited when I ordered the book and I had great expectations, but now I must confess that I am not interested enough to finish it. More than anything I find the drama-like structure distracting, hopping as it does from one scene to the next. I love going to the theatre but reading plays bores me. However from what I've read, the characters are exquisitely sketched, sometimes in one or just a few short pointed comments, and a filmmaker can surely make the most of that and of the pace at which the story develops.

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    1. Oh dear! But you're right, the hopping from scene to scene could work well for a film (although not on the stage)

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  8. Oh dear, I thought this was horrible. Why is it funny that this woman had two children by one man and had to hide them and now is going to marry someone else and presumably both be miserable? What happened to the children? Why did their mother abandon convention one day and embrace it the next? I didn’t find it funny, I thought it was shocking in its lack of engagement with other human beings. And now I’m even more depressed because I’m clearly not a sophisticated sort of person.

    The only way I can magine this working as a film is a kind of Tim Burton's Corpse bride cartoon. Anything else is going to look like someone tried to do an angst makeover on PG Wodehouse.

    All the same, I was attracted by the colours: orange powder in a pink box, a face as yellow as an apricot, a young man sitting still as a green statue, black ink splashed on a wedding dress. But I haven't the faintest idea what Strachey thought she was doing. I wouldn't mind finding out though.

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    1. This reminds me of my response to The Sea, The Sea - I just couldn't get past the fact that it made no sense, and nobody acted consistently - whereas those who love Iris Murdoch told me that it didn't matter for her books. In the same way, I think the way Strachey draws hysterical scenes and near-grotesque characters means that treating them realistically doesn't quite work - so in a novel by, say, Elizabeth Taylor, the miserable marriage and (possible!) children would be heartbreaking - but here I found it just part of a mad tapestry that shouldn't be taken so seriously. But if one responds differently, as I did to Murdoch, then I can see how it wouldn't work at all!

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    2. Thanks, Simon, I begin to see how it might work. I'd really like to see what she was aiming to do. I've never read any Iris Murdoch - friends said she wouldn't be my cup of tea and they may be right - but I'm curious enough now to try her out.

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  9. It was my first Persephone book and I really enjoyed it. I agree with Kaggsy saying that it’s a portrait of a messed up family, but I can’t help liking it. I love some of the ‘messed up’ conversations and I found them really funny. I really like Evelyn (although I think she is quite sane compared to others) and the part, when she explains what “a beautiful day” means for Mrs. Thatcham.
    “’Can you, or can you not, see across to the Malton Downs?’- that is the only question.” I think the whole paragraph is brilliant.
    I enjoyed the part of the book before the wedding more than the second part. I wouldn’t mind extra 50 pages of ‘getting ready for the wedding’ stuff (i.e. changing socks, looking for a ring, getting drunk;). I’m not sure about the film. I found the trailer really boring, while the book seems to be quite vivid. I agree with Claire that “Cheerful weather for the wedding” would make a good play.
    Another thing, I’m aware that being foreigner I didn’t get everything. I probably laughed when most of you didn’t and when you did, I didn’t find it funny. But I still enjoyed the book and I’m so glad I’ve learnt about it. Thank you, Simon.

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    1. Oh, the Malton Downs bit was a joy, wasn't it! I'm so glad you liked it, Agnieszka.

      Your last bit - about reading it as a non-English reader - is interesting. Your response seems, to me, like you had exactly the right sensibility (that Strachey was hoping the reader would have, anyway) and I'd have thought it was a very British, cynical one. But clearly it's wider than that - or your mind is becoming British ;)

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  10. I recently read this for the first time. I liked it, but didn’t love it. Well, wait, I loved the brothers fighting over the green socks; that bit made me laugh out loud.

    I didn’t find the characters unlikable necessarily; I found them very real and I thought the book was very sad (in a good way, if that makes sense). The length is perfect, just a snapshot of one chaotic day. There are enough hints for me to imagine the surrounding story somehow.

    I do wonder how this will translate to screen. There is so much inner life…how will that come across?

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    1. How intriguing that you found the characters very real - when I thought the opposite! And still liked it - most people here have either thought them grotesques, or hated the callousness if they thought them real. Thanks for adding to the spectrum!

      I shall report back on the film in due course...

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  11. My two cents worth: http://bookforgetter.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/redux-cheerful-weather-for-wedding.html

    I enjoyed it even more the second time around, though I am still baffled at how it will work on the big screen - there is so much about smells and colours and suffocating amid the household flowers going on - I hope it's not going to be lost in a big prance through pretty - but open - English meadows! Everyone is so trapped by expectations and what they must do to conform, I thought: even down to the right socks (loved the socks but even that is sort of menacing with the violence that accompanies it - is there perhaps quite a theme of bullying through the novella?).

    It is such a miserable but wonderful book.

    Finally: I hope the tortoise gets a decent role in the film.

    Oh, and extra finally: here are my cats assisting in the #cheerfulreadalong: George (https://twitter.com/skiourophile/status/295702863768846336) and Roger (https://twitter.com/skiourophile/status/296145475269185536).

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    1. Lovely review, Vicki, I really liked it.

      The trailer does look as if it might be meadows and rivers! In fact, it looks absolutely beautiful - but possibly not quite the feel of the book... I shall reserve judgement until I see it!

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  12. It wasn't what I expected - much more brittle and cynical and, dare I say, tragic in a frenetic sort of "we don't know these people so we don't really need to care too deeply" way. I found myself appalled at the disclosure near the end - the babies left in Albania. And the ghastly under-response of those hearing the disclosure. It shocked me, in a readerly sort of way. Definitely did not see *that* coming!

    I have no idea what the author was aiming for. Satire, I rather think. And she succeeded if so.

    If this were a longer novel I think it would lose some of its clarity - it's all very much about instense blasts of personality and emotion. We need to figure out each character immediately, and I was intrigued to realize that I did just that - I have a perfect picture of each character from their brief appearances, which must mean that they are brilliantly well drawn in very few words.

    Favourite character, hmmm... I rather wonder about Owen. He's almostr invisible, isn't he? Does he *know* what he's getting in to marrying Dolly? Are they indeed a team, and has there been full disclosure? I suspect not!

    I'm about to re-read it before I write a proper review.

    There were some things I really liked and enjoyed - the detail of the physical descriptions of the people, places, and particularily the weather - an apt double-entendre sort of title, don't you think? - was most painterly, in an exaggerated sort of way.

    I think it would translate well to film, in the right hands. Very vivid and dramatic.

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    1. Thanks for this! I never visualise characters in books, but I definitely agree about the quick, perfect introductions of characters. Except Owen, significantly...

      I look forward to your full review!

      And the disclosure - so many questions! I assumed he was telling the truth when I read it, and didn't much care, but now people have thrown open the idea of lies, I'm very conflicted...

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  13. Ermmm - just a further thought - I had rather assumed the bit about Albania to be Joseph winding up Mrs. Thatcham so I am going to have to go back and re-read to see what I make of this....

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    1. I am very conflicted about this now! I'd assumed it was the truth, and now I don't know... it just came out of nowhere, didn't it?

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    2. Yes it did, and there was Mrs. Thatcham's comment about Dolly not being out there very long (will have to go back and check that one again) and it just seemed rather unlikely bearing in mind Dolly's youth and past and the fact that there was no hint of anything like that anywhere else in the story. I shall have another look after work and see what I think!

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    3. I've been thinking about this and have two theories - 1)she went to Albania after transgressing, just in case there were any repercussions or 2)she went as a fire-break to get her away from Joseph who clearly wouldn't be a good match. I think Joseph is suggesting (rather nastily) that it might have been a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire and how would Mrs Thatcham ever know what Dolly did once out of sight...

      (I rather like this game. :))

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    4. Yes, I’d also thought it came quite unexpectedly. I hope Joseph only said it to annoy Mrs Thatcham otherwise the book gets too serious. But I don’t know... in Poland we say: “There is the truth in vodka” in other words: “Drunk people don’t lie” and Joseph was quite drunk. Nevertheless I want to believe he was lying about the children. Maybe Strachey wanted to confuse us? Or maybe she added the Albania bit without thinking about it too much and now she is enjoying herself watching us from above? ;)

      And yes, I like this game too ;)

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    5. I love all these ideas! My initial thought was Alex's first theory - that she scurried away to have her babies quietly (and twins are, of course, often premature - so it would need less time - but I suppose she'd have looked enormous earlier!) But I'm coming round to Agnieszka's idea of Strachey just throwing it in to laugh at the confusion of her readers!

      I don't think we have an equivalent expression in English, Agnieszka, but people use the Latin 'in vino veritas'

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    6. Wow, I think you're right about Joseph winding up Mrs T. and it totally changes the way I feel about the book. (I'm sitting here re-reading it now) He shifts, doesn't he? From "a child" to "it was twins" and then he's clearly so stirred up he's not thinking straight at all, just raving with misery.

      My favourite quote this week isn't one of Strachey's at all but was written in Chasing Bawa's review: "Mrs. Thatcham’s ghastliness kept taut, shattered by Joseph and then rebuilt in a flash ..." This really is the most illuminating thing I've read about this story, I suddenly saw the dynamics of it. It's been a very illuminating week so far!

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  14. Hi all,
    I went about the book in a different manner: I first watched the film and then read the book. I must admit I prefer the book, and I appreciate the cynicism throughout it. This is the reality in most cases, and I did not like that the film tried to put everyone under a kind light. I did not favour the majority of characters in the book, but I enjoyed their relationship during this one day. Great food for thought!

    http://talethreecities.blogspot.be/2013/01/cheerful-weather-for-wedding-by-j.html

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    1. As I commented on your post, I'm worried if the film has removed the cynicism - it's the central ingredient, but so difficult to convey on film.

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  15. I had the opposite reaction to you, Simon! It's the first book in a long time that I've read in which I felt that rereading it deepened my understanding in a favourable way. I feel like I've uncovered a gem and am looking foward to rereading it again as I don't think I fully understand it yet. I'm still unsure about the whole Albania thing too...

    http://chasingbawa.com/2013/01/29/cheerful-weather-for-the-wedding-by-julia-strachey/

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  16. I've very much enjoyed seeing everyone's response to such a small, yet divisive text! I'm on the side of the underwhelmed, though I didn't outright hate it I didn't connect with it or really appreciate the humour.

    I'm not at all sure that Strachey had an final message she wanted to leave us with, other than it's a shame that Dolly's options are limited, her family is ghastly and she seems to be entirely without good friends or useful counsel.

    http://alexinleeds.com/2013/01/25/review-cheerful-weather-for-the-wedding-by-julia-strachey/

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  18. How interesting to read all the comments so far, I too had assumed the whole twins-in-Albania outburst was a lie as there'd been no hint beforehand, and I couldn't see how it would be possible given the timescales and constraints in Dolly's life. I read it as Joseph rallying far too late in the day and attempting some sort of protest at Dolly's marriage and the tyranny of Mrs Thatcham.

    My review is here

    http://claire-thinking.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/cheerful-weather-for-wedding.html

    (sorry for previous deletion, I wanted to amend my link!)

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    1. Oh, I am glad it wasn't just me that read it that way! My initial reaction was a shocked "wha.....?" then I thought it just wasn't possible and as you say it was Joseph developing some backbone a bit too late!

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  19. I read it a couple years ago I think done right it would work at cinema ,all the best stu

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  20. I've just posted about this here http://desperatereader.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/cheerful-weather-for-wedding-julia.html

    but to add to the debate about the babies... I'm sure that Joseph is making these up, as the elderly aunt points out - it would have been quick work as she was only in Albania for 5 weeks. It's a curious passage because I think it takes the sting out of the rest of Joseph's attack on Mrs Thatcham - the babies are so unlikely that it makes it easy to dismiss the whole of his rant as nonsense. Had he stopped just before, or even declared they'd been lovers it would surely have been harder for her to shake it off?

    I still think this book is a bit patchy but a second read has been rewarding so thank you Simon.

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  21. Totally late to the party, Simon. My life has been beyond hectic lately - a predicatable and temporary situation caused by the juxtaposition of both the start of the nursery year (plant nursery, that is - I operate a small perennial nursery), and my teenage daughter's dance festival/competition season. I'm in high speed mode, flitting here and there and trying to keep it all under control - I'm definitely reading in my spare moments, and am loving the book recommendations I find on Stuck-in-a-Book and other marvelous blogs, but solitary time to sit and develop decent book postings is in short supply.

    So - just in case anyone is still interested - here's my small contribution to the "Cheerful Weather" discussion.

    http://leavesandpages.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/review-cheerful-weather-for-the-wedding-by-julia-strachey/

    Ciao!

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