The summer holidays are officially over. I am back in Paris, where the temperature has dropped by ten degrees in the past two days, and the new school term is starting next week. Usually I view the going-back-to-school rush from afar, using it as an excuse to buy stationery and sniff the autumn-scented air appreciatively, while serenely sitting back for a further few weeks till the beginning of the university term in October. This year, I am in the thick of it, for I am starting a new job on Monday: after hearing nothing throughout the summer, I have finally been informed that I have obtained a position as English teacher in a junior high school outside of Paris. Relief and panic commingle in my mind as I struggle to come to terms with this latest change in my life. I have three short days left in which to prepare my classes, update my wardrobe (WHAT does a high school teacher wear? Jeans and cashmere? Pearls and a Peter Pan collar? a MaxMara suit? none of which I possess, by the way, except for the pearls), and mentally get used to the idea of facing a roomful of unruly children who don’t give a damn about me or my subject.
When panic threatens to overcome me, I force myself to look beyond the foot-long list of errands I still have left to run, and to focus on things that are outside the framework of school and teaching. The still eye at the centre of the storm, so to speak. Things to look forward to: the concert tickets I bought a few days ago to go and hear Mozart’s Requiem and the Russian pianist Andreï Korobeinikov at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in October; the children’s book I have started to write; and a lovely list of new books to delve into.
This biography of Colette has been on my reading list ever since I read this fantastic review of it back in March, and my parents most obligingly gave it to me for my birthday ten days ago. I may be almost fifteen years behind the times, but at least now the book is mine and I can read it at my leisure!
This was my parents’ second – and unexpected! – gift to me. To those who know me, my passion for gardens will come as no surprise, and I have already mentioned my interest in the Pre-Raphaelites at least once. Combine the two, and you’ve got yourself a winner! I haven’t had a chance yet to do more than leaf through this beautifully illustrated book, but I look forward to many contented hours on the sofa this winter.
My youngest brother also loves books and it has become traditional for me to place an order with him every year for my birthday. Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s 1995 gorgeous adaptation of The Horseman on the Roof, starring Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez, is one of my favourite movies, and I decided it was time to see if the book lived up to it. My mother cannot quite fathom what I see in the story of a cholera epidemic, but… France in 1832 (the heyday of George Sand, Alfred de Musset, Victor Hugo, Delacroix, Chopin, and so many others)? An idealistic young Italian captain of the Hussars, fighting for the unification of his country and on the run from Austrian spies and murderers? An encounter with the beautiful, headstrong marquise Pauline de Théus (who also happens to be married), for whose sake he braves the very worst of the cholera epidemic? I’m sorry, but what more could a girl want, except to finally meet Angelo for herself?!
Yes, it was time for another Mary Stewart (how on earth am I supposed to resist those beautiful new Hodder and Stoughton book jackets?). It was also time to order some more books on Abebooks. You do the math.
Janet Watts’ obituary of Nina Bawden, who died on 22nd August, reignited my interest in this writer, whom I have only recently discovered. So I decided now was as good a time as any to get a taste of her work, and placed an order for The Witch’s Daughter, one of Bawden’s novels for children. Set on a Scottish island, it tells the story of Perdita, whose mother islanders believe was a witch who died cursing the sea, and by extension, all those who depend on it for their livelihood. When a naturalist and his two children arrive on the island for the summer holidays, they befriend Perdita and together embark on an adventure involving orchids, caves, crimes, and treasure. Enid Blyton with a botanical twist…
Back in June, Simon of Stuck in a Book reviewed Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek (and was unduly critical, if you ask me – but his mother put him in his place next day, never fear!) and somehow the discussion veered away from pirates and turned to anti-heroes: male protagonists characterized by unpleasantness or even downright cruelty who yet somehow manage to inspire undying love and devotion in their female counterparts (Heathcliff, we’re pointing a finger at you!). I made a reference to Richard Grenvile, the very Heathcliff-like protagonist of Daphne du Maurier’s The King’s General. Simon immediately vowed he’d never read the book… while I, of course, decided the reverse. I want to see if Richard Grenvile is just as abominable – and just as romantic – as when I first read about him in high school.
© Florence Berlioz 2012