Wednesday 9 May 2007

50 Books...

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 Book
s 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 m
anages 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.


  1. Simon it's great to see that you love MD. I enjoyed OPoF even more, maybe because my sister was about to start her training at Barts where they still had weird hats that they had to iron, starch and make around a 7 inch saucepan or tupperware container! I don't suppose nursing life is anything like that these days and I'm sure they don't even know what hospital corners are.
    I have a special fodness for MD's Thursday afternoons as the main characters are Stephen & Ruth, just like hubby and me. All together now...."aaah"!

  2. Ooh yes and look out for "Kate & Emma" a bit more gritty than MDs other stuff.

  3. Thanks for the welcome Simon and the cartoon. Looks like there is another book that I must put on my things to read list.

  4. Simon - I, too, have this original Penguin and first read this book when Iwas about 12. Simnply loved it and it has been on my shelves ever since. I reread them both last year. I enjoyed Mariana which Persephone published but her other novels I found rather disappointing. These two, however, remain firm favourites

  5. I have this book and hope to read it soon. I am nearly finished with Mariana. I think it is also somewhat autobiographical. She must have had an interesting life. In Mariana--Mary, the heroine--goes to drama school, learns dressmaking in Paris, and now happens to be a sort of chauffeur. It has that same gentle humor. I will have to give Delafield a try if she writes in a similar manner!

  6. I'm almost done with One Pair of Hands. I picked it up at a yard sale and I am LOVING it. It IS laugh out loud funny and I can relate to her so much. Her mediocraty (sp?) and and seeminly selective scatter brainedness. Anyway, came across your blog and figured I'd put my two cents in. I can't wait to read more MD books. Jenny

  7. I agree that One Pair of Hands is a top notch book. I have also enjoyed My Turn to Make the Tea and Mariana. I didn't like her book The Listeners so much - I guess it dealt with a more gritty issue. I have a few more of hers in my TBR pile and am looking forward to seeing what they are like.

  8. This is one of my favorite books as well. :) Happy to see others who have loved her books as much as I have.


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