Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Salad days
Last year it was lettuce, and shortly afterwards, spinach. Now it's tomatoes, or at least three varieties, that can kill us, with outbreaks of tomato-induced salmonella poisoning reported in 17 states.
What is it about this country and salad veg?
Is it a conspiracy perpetrated by fast-food/aerosol cheese/doughnut entrepreneurs to stop anyone eating anything fresh and healthy? Like the petrol companies and the car manufacturers — or so the story goes — bought out all the public transport systems in Los Angeles early last century to keep the city totally reliant on cars?:: This book, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell, was a totally absorbing, excellent read. I don't know what it is about this young Scottish writer that so entrances me, but she really does get it. It's cool, considered writing with plenty of depth, great characters — all with some sort of flaw that makes them real, and nothing predictable about any of it.
Iris, a young Scottish woman, discovers she has an elderly great-aunt, Esme, of whom she has never heard. Esme has spent over 60 years in a mental hospital after ... well, read the novel and find out.
Here's an example of MO'F's immaculate style. Esme is standing in the sea, in the shallows, looking back at Iris on the beach:
This girl is remarkable to her. She is a marvel.
From all her family — her and Kitty and Hugo and all the other babies and her parents — from all of them, there is only this girl. She is the only one left. They have all narrowed down to this black-haired girl sitting on the sand, who has no idea that her hands and her eyes and the tilt of her head and the fall of her hair belong to Esme's mother. We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in this world as anagrams of our antecedents.

Now, I'm a slow reader. But I read this in two days. Could not stop, even to sleep. Beautiful. Do let me know what you think if you read it or already have.

:: I didn't manage to post yesterday because of some mysterious mishap with our wireless modem thing. Clearly now fixed.

I lost only 200 g (0.4 lb) from the previous Monday, so that's nothing to brag about. However, I am now down to the weight I had been for over a decade. So getting a few more kilos off will be a real thrill. There are only four weeks until Lily and I go to England, so I'll probably not make the 10-kilo loss I was hoping for, but I'll be well on my way, and dead chuffed.


Anonymous said...

I am really looking forward to reading this, on your reccomendation.

Your opening comments reminded me of the old movie "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". (I love old movies, especially those known as 'bad').

Fairlie said...

Ahhh! So that explains the preoccupation with all things tomato (especially 'bad tomato') when I looked at the top 100 google search terms yesterday!

That book does sound good. If I didn't alreday have about 25 to be read on my piles, I'd consider adding it!

Anonymous said...

I have NEVER heard of a food poisoning outbreak caused by lettuce! It seems the most innocuous of the salads...

Evie said...

I read The Disappearance of Esme Lennox last year and liked it so much that I read her entire back catalog. Memory, identity, love and relationships are themes that obviously interest O'Farrell as they are all explored in each of her books.

Lesley said...

Evie: I totally agree. Her descriptions of loss, and grief, in 'After You'd Gone' had me sobbing — it was so beautifully written, and she's in tune with the emotions of her characters to such an extent that they seem so alive, and their experiences real. She writes books you really live through.