Archive for the ‘1960s’ Category

Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw ~ 1968. This edition: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Hardcover. 311 pages.

This vintage “young adult” novel  is a gorgeous bildungsroman concerning the daughter of celebrities who is given a chance to temporarily reinvent herself as a nobody.

As a (once-upon-a-time) homeschooling parent I was already familiar with Eloise Jarvis McGraw from her often-recommended books for slightly younger readers such as The Golden Goblet and The Moorchild, and I generally liked her work.

But I’d never heard of her 1968 novel Greensleeves until bumping into my cyberfriend Jenny’s post, wherein she calls Greensleeves one of her favourite books ever, and goes on to review it in glowing terms.

I was immediately interested, as we share similar tastes in a number of genres, and set off on a quest for a long-out-of-print copy for myself. Rare indeed, this one was, with prices as expected, but I took a deep breath and went for it, and by golly, Jenny was right. This is a charmer.

So I’m going to cheat a bit here, and send you over to read what Jenny says, because she’s pretty convincing:

Jenny’s thoughts on Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Greensleeves

So if you’ve been and done what I said to do and have read Jenny’s post and then come back here to see what else I have to say, I’ll pad things out a bit.

Our heroine Shannon/Georgetta/Greensleeves is an utter mass of insecurities on the inside, though she presents exceedingly well on the outside, a state of affairs I am sure a lot of us can relate to, right? Even well beyond those brutal teenage years, when we’re trying to figure out who the heck we are, and how to find friends, and the complications of romantic love and the freight train of sexual feelings and how to be true to yourself when you don’t even know what that really means because life is so utterly complicated.

Yes? Of course. Yes.

So all of that aside, the story is absolutely entertaining, as Shannon reinvents herself and puts her new persona across with mixed results to a crowd of new acquaintances. She goes into her new world thinking one thing, finds herself rather mistaken, does a mental flip, and then despite her personal epiphany finds out that people are just going to do what they’re going to do regardless of well-intentioned meddling from outside forces. The only cage door you can open is your own, because the trickiest latch is on the inside, and sometimes the cage is where you need to be. And sometimes not.

Okay, that’s the message, which I seem to be stuck on this morning, despite my intentions of telling more about the actual story.

This is my third time reading this book, and it’s still pure pleasure. It belongs on the same shelf as I Capture the Castle, another of my cherished vintage “teen” reads which defies its ghettoization as a “young adult” book, whatever that is supposed to mean.

I mean, good is good, right? Whether “targetted” for a ten-year-old, sixteen-year-old or fifty-year-old. I don’t think we change all that much inside our heads, no matter what the externals do. Or so I am finding in my own case. Essentially I am the same person I was way-back-then, with of course layers of experience and what I like to think of as wisdom <insert smiley face here> tempering the highs and lows of my emotional range.

Greensleeves is sweet but not mawkish, thoughtful but not preachy, frequently very funny, and also a little bit heart-rending in places. It’s utterly relatable in its essentials, in a vintage sort of way. It is an absolute period piece, and I say that with an approving nod, because it captures elements of its era wonderfully well.

So, if this sort of thing appeals to you, you will be happy to hear that the novel has recently been republished (in 2015) and can now be found both new and used at exceeding reasonable prices. It’s part of the “Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush Rediscoveries” reprint series, with a foreword by the aforementioned Nancy Pearl, who I must confess I have zero familiarity with.

Obviously I’m way out of that loop, but here is what Wikipedia says about Nancy Pearl, and on the strength of that, and of her championship of Greensleeves (among other neglected books) I say “Hurray” for her!

Oh, yes. My rating. 9.5/10.

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The Little Girls by Elizabeth Bowen ~ 1964. This edition: The Reprint Society, 1966. Hardcover. 256 pages.

The verdict is in regarding me and Elizabeth Bowen.

I do believe she gets the nod.

Though I found The Little Girls rather hard going at times, I came out the other side of this sometimes confusingly complex novel a convert. I can see why she’s such a polarizing writer; people seem to either love her or find her needlessly convoluted.

After this particular reading experience, I have to agree with the convolution-critics, but the end result is a rather compelling thing. Memorable in the longer term, I suspect it will be. And definitely one to re-read, if only to come to it with a questing eye to all of the clues the author provides in relation to its nebulous ending.

Dinah Piggott, a comfortably well-off widow in late middle-age, has embarked upon a project to assemble a collection of objects representing the people of her nowaday, to be sealed up in a cave at the bottom of her garden with a view to eventual discovery by a future race, once this one has vanished. Her friends and family are on the whole cooperative in each donating the requested twelve expressive objects, though Dinah has just come to the realization that her amassing collection contains a discouraging number of duplicates: strings of artificial pearls and pairs of nail scissors (some broken) are conspicuous by their frequency.

No matter, she is firm in her resolve to create her message to the future, though when she is confronted with the logistics of actually sealing the cave up and not being able to mull over the objects, she is taken aback by her own feeling of reluctance to let it all go into the dark, never to be seen (by her) again. Which triggers another train of thought, related to the time capsule concept.

Fifty years ago, Dinah – “Dicey” –  was an 11-year-old schoolgirl at St. Agatha’s, and she and her two closest cronies – accomplices? – had, at Dinah’s instigation, buried (in dead of night) a coffer containing a secret personal object from each of them, a collection of animal bones, and a letter in an invented language written in its creator’s blood.

Now Dinah has had a sudden compulsion to reach back into the past, to find her two friends, to engineer a reunion, and to disinter that long-buried coffer together, as a way to recapture the close companionship of their shared youth.

Dinah posts a series of deliberately provocative newspaper advertisements (…”if alive but in hiding, the two should know they have nothing to fear from Dicey, who continues to guard their secret…”) in five different newspapers which have readership throughout England, hoping for a bite.

And yes, indeed, both old friends respond, though with caution rather than full-out enthusiasm. For fifty years have passed since their shared school days; the Great War and the Hitler War have taken place in the meantime, with subsequent societal reorderings. The headstrong and occasionally wicked “little girls” of 1914 are now sedate older women with certain positions to uphold in their respectable social circles. Whatever they were then has not carried through to the now.

Or has it?

The centrepiece of this multi-layered novel is a flashback sequence to those schooldays, when clumsy, imaginative Diana(Dinah/Dicey), talented and indulged dancer Sheila(Sheikie), and academically gifted Clare(Mumbo), were a triumvirate to be watched with slightly horrified caution by their elders as well as their peers.

Dinah was something of the ringleader in schoolgirl exploits, though the others were hardly follow-blindly types; all contributed something vital to their partnership, and none were afraid to bluntly dismiss anything that approached each girl’s definition of “nonsense”.

This is not a gentle tale, though there are episodes of great tenderness. Dinah, for all of her apparent aggressiveness of character, surprises us by the amount of dedicated love she inspires in those she in turn holds dear, though we don’t find this out until the final episode, after an unwitnessed and undescribed near-tragic mishap befalls one of the key characters.

The novel’s ending is ambiguous, though I chose to interpret it as hopeful. Peace, if not entirely made, is seen as becoming ultimately possible between those of our characters most at odds.

The Litte Girls, for all its challenges to the reader – that sentence structure! – is brilliantly written, frequently humorous, occasionally off-putting, and ultimately deeply poignant. Great gaps are left here and there in the narrative, causing the reader a certain amount of discomfort as one struggles to realign the narrative, but it does all fall into place as episode builds upon episode, and those disparate clues I referred to early on show their importance to the whole.

Ah, yes, and there is a garden, wherein some key scenes take place. It is Dinah’s, and it is one of our clues to her particular character. (This passage also serves as an example of Bowen’s writing style. See if you can get through it all in one go, without backing up here and there to try to find where you’ve strayed outside the lines!)

On each side, the path was overflowed by a crowded border. Mauve, puce and cream-pink stock, double, were the most fragrant and most crushingly heavy: more pungent was the blue-bronze straggling profusion of catmint. Magnificently gladioli staggered this way and that – she was an exuberant, loving, confused and not tidy gardener; staking and tying were not her forte. Roses were on enough into their second blooming to be squandering petals over cushions of pansies. Flowers in woolwork or bright chalk, all shades of almost every colour, zinnias competed with one another. And everywhere along the serpentine walk where anything else grew not, dahlias grew: some dwarf, some giant, some corollas like blazons, some close-fluted, some velvet, some porcelain or satin, some darkening, some burning like flame or biting like acid into the faint dusk now being given off by the evening earth.

Gorgeous, yes?

An auspicious way to start of 2018’s reading year.

The personal rating: 8.5/10

 

 

 

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The Removers by Donald Hamilton ~ 1961. This edition: Fawcett Gold Medal Books, 1963. Paperback. 176 pages.

Sometimes pictures are the best shortcut. Here we are then, with all you really need to know.

Oh, you didn’t really think I’d let this go without writing something more, did you?

I’ll keep it ultra-brief.

Think period piece, Cold War era kill-or-be-killed action fiction.

Beautiful women, in various shades of dangerous, dot our hero’s personal landscape.

Russian spies (or are they?), drug dealers, and an atomic sub-plot.

Helm drives an old pickup truck; his current love interest a ladylike shiny-new Mercedes ragtop; his ex-wife’s new man a sweet green Jaguar. Vroom vroom.

Blood flows, lots and often.

Matt Helm adds some interesting scars to his vast collection.

And you’ll never look at an Afghan hound the same way again.

In other words, good manly entertainment, clipping along in top gear speed.

My rating, you ask?

10/10.

Because it was so much better than I expected it to be. (My expectations were admittedly quite low.) Turns out that I couldn’t put it down.

Number three in a series of something like twenty-three. Or is it twenty-seven? Hang on. Twenty-seven. Thank you, Wikipedia.

Next stop, ABE, for the two preceding books, because these build on each other in good serial fiction fashion.

 

 

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season-of-the-briar-h-f-brinsmead-1965-001Season of the Briar by H.F. Brinsmead ~ 1965. This edition: Oxford University Press, 1965. Illustrated by William Papas. Hardcover. 202 pages.

My rating: 3.5/10

Brutal rating, isn’t it?

I put it this low because I truly believe that even with full allowances given for Season of the Briar being aimed at a teenage audience, this highly capable author could do exponentially better. (Anyone else know and admire Pastures of the Blue Crane, written a mere year before this one?)

I had such high hopes for this novel, and there are bits and pieces which are wonderful, but the plot imploded early on and what might have been a fantastic “finding oneself” story got all improbable boy’s-own-adventure, with a highly manufactured dramatic fantasia about a young hiker lost in the Tasmanian wilderness, and her supernaturally tinged rescue.

Quickie overview:

Four young men find summer work on an Australian weed-spraying crew which is sent to Tasmania. They encounter and re-encounter a group of hikers heading for the alpine area surrounding as-yet-undammed Lake Pedder, and, when one of the hikers gets lost during a sudden change in the mountain weather, several of the weed sprayers decide to assist in her rescue, with mixed results.

Before the hiker goes astray, the spray crew has reached a hidden valley peopled by eccentric Euro-Tasmanian old-timers who are so desperately caricatured as to irretrievably shake this particular reader’s faith in the probability of the tale, even before the rescue mission episode. Even the beautifully written descriptions of the glories of the Tasmanian wilderness (Stunning Lake Pedder! An endless pink granite sand beach! ) weren’t enough to woo me back.

Laboriously comical pen and ink illustrations by William Papas detract rather than add to the overall effect.

To be fair, there are a number of good things going on with this book. Such as a certain amount of bildungsroman-style character development, and a believable depiction of the evolution of the relationship of a group of people thrust into close companionship 24/7 and subjected to some truly challenging work and living conditions. One of Brinsmead’s sons worked on a similar spray crew, and the versimilitude of this aspect of the tale has obviously come from some personal familiarity with the enterprise.

Brinsmead was an articulate and passionate naturalist and conservationist, and this comes through loud and clear in her written appreciation of the southern hemisphere wild country as depicted here. At first I found her approving view of the liberal application of herbicides to portions of this wilderness quite troubling, but it soon clicked that she was all about getting rid of exotic flora in order to preserve the native stuff, and, along with that, to improve the state of agriculture in the region.

It’s a very 1960s’ sort of teen/young adult-market story, and I should probably modify that rating to reflect its period, but, as I have said already, Season of the Briar disappointed me in how it so closely missed being something more than what it turned out to be.

P.S. – I still think highly of Hesba Fay Brinsmead! A fascinating, deeply earnest personality as well as a more than decent writer. I have a growing collection of her novels and memoirs; Season of the Briar is something of an anomaly compared to the others I’ve read.

 

 

 

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Well, this is a shock. Just got the word that Leonard Cohen has checked out and moved on. Thought this week was rotten already; it just got exponentially worse.

Rest in peace, our man of poetry and song.

sleeping

Two Went to Sleep

 

Two went to sleep

almost every night

one dreamed of mud

one dreamed of Asia

visiting a zeppelin

visiting Nijinsky

Two went to sleep

one dreamed of ribs

one dreamed of senators

Two went to sleep

two travellers

The long marriage

in the dark

The sleep was old

the travellers were old

one dreamed of oranges

one dreamed of Carthage

Two friends asleep

years locked in travel

Good night my darling

as the dreams waved goodbye

one travelled lightly

one walked through water

visiting a chess game

visiting a booth

always returning

to wait out the day

One carried matches

one climbed a beehive

one sold an earphone

one shot a German

Two went to sleep

every sleep went together

wandering away

from an operating table

one dreamed of grass

one dreamed of spokes

one bargained nicely

one was a snowman

one counted medicine

one tasted pencils

one was a child

one was a traitor

visiting heavy industry

visiting the family

Two went to sleep

none could foretell

one went with baskets

one took a ledger

one night happy

one night in terror

Love could not bind them

Fear could not either

they went unconnected

they never knew where

always returning

to wait out the day

parting with kissing

parting with yawns

visiting Death till

they wore out their welcome

visiting Death till

the right disguise worked

 

Leonard Cohen ~ 1964

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2-an-aspidistra-in-babylon-h-e-bates-1960An Aspidistra in Babylon by H.E. Bates ~ 1960. This edition: Penguin, 1964. Paperback. 191 pages.

My rating: 9/10.

This man could write. His stories read absolutely effortlessly.

So, what have we here, behind that curious title?

Four brief novellas, all about – universal theme! – the human desire to be loved. And, very much to the point in these four tales, the human tendency to allow that desire to cloud one’s better judgement.

The cover drawing by Robin Jacques rewards closer examination; the background detail utterly accurate of its time and place, an English seaside garrison/resort of the 1920s. Note the white chalk cliffs, upper right. It both intrigues and misleads with its depiction of the singing woman, blowsily out on the town.  She’s actually a side character of the title novella, a casually promiscuous hotel chambermaid who serves to rescue the “real” heroine from her youthful folly.

Occasionally this collection is touted as “comic” by booksellers who haven’t actually read the works within, for though not without a delicate balance of ironic humour, these are not funny stories in the accepted sense.

Prosaically tragic might be a better description, as long as it doesn’t put you off reading them. (Well, they’re not all tragic; some do come out on the optimistic side.)

Paradoxically, I myself find Bates’ sometimes-dark scenarios rather comforting, pointing out as they do that all of us are emotionally fallible in certain circumstances, and that most of us survive our lapses, coming out the other side older in spirit but wiser in mind, to alter an appropriate cliché.

The first two novellas are the best, in my opinion, but all four are worth reading for the sheer pleasure of how H.E. Bates puts together his words. He is very strong on description, something which I thoroughly enjoy, but which may be a bit of a deterrent to those of you with no patience for detailed scene setting. Give these a go anyway, I say.

An Aspidistra in Babylon

An eighteen-year-old girl lives with her widowed mother in the boarding house they keep in a small coastal city. The nearby cliffs house a large army garrison; the constant ebb and flow and of soldiers, sailors on shore leave, and their hangers-on and followers leads Christine’s mother to shudderingly label the place as “Babylon”, and she warns her as-yet naïve daughter against it.

Christine herself finds the warning unnecessary, for she hasn’t yet had any meaningful encounters with the roistering Babylonians.

As to the men, the soldiers and all the rest, I simply didn’t exist for them. This is not entirely surprising, however, since I was clearly infinitely and terribly dull myself. The best description of myself that I can think of is to say that I was as dull as one of the many aspidistras that cluttered up the rooms, the hallway and even the dining-tables of our little boarding-house. I was just that – a female aspidistra and nothing more.

A female aspidistra, perhaps, but one with a luscious body under those shapeless frocks and black woolen stockings. A body which catches the eye of the dissolute Captain Blaine, who shows up on the doorstep in quest of a room for his wealthy aunt, and gazes upon Christine’s hidden charms with an experienced and lascivious eye. Not only her virginity but her very moral sense is soon to be in danger of worldly corruption…

A Month by the Lake

Holiday makers staying at an Italian lake resort mingle peacefully, middle-aged but still active and attractive Miss Bentley finding herself mildly drawn to slightly older, determinedly suave, and rather handsome Major Wilshaw.

To Miss Bentley the most remarkable feature about Major Wilshaw were his small flat pink ears. They were not only exceptionally small for a man who was thickish, upright, and rather tall. They were very delicately, very intricately fashioned. Nothing in the entire human body, Miss Bentley would tell herself, had quite the same fascinating quality as ears. All the attraction of mood and response and character and emotion lay, of course, in the mouth and eyes: everybody knew that. But ears were, Miss Bentley thought, far more wonderful. Ears were unchanging and undying. They remained, in some strange way, uncoarsened, undepraved, unwrinkled and unaged by time. In the ears of the aged you could see the flesh of youth; in a sense they were immortal and never grew old.

Major Wilshaw isn’t particularly taken with Miss Bentley in a sexual sort of way. Though he enjoys her company and her tart turn of phrase, he considers her past her prime, decidedly on the shelf, whereas he is still very much in the romantic running.

When a young English governess enters the picture, very cool and collected and confident in her sexual powers, an unexpected and silent rivalry erupts between the two women. Major Wilshaw, suddenly very aware of the very different qualities of each, turns first this way and then that.

Which will prove the strongest draw? Warmly ripe age? Cooly beautiful youth?

And do either of the woman actually want Major Wilshaw, or is he merely symbolic in his maleness of the prize which society insists all women are incomplete without?

A Prospect of Orchards

Many years ago I belonged to a young men’s club where I used to play chess, read magazines and also box quite frequently, though not very seriously, with a man named Arthur Templeton. We must have been, I think, eighteen or nineteen at the time.

Templeton was a shortish leaden-footed man with weak brown eyes whose responses were those of a duck with its legs tied. His jaw was babyish, smooth and hairless, like a pale pink egg. I had taken up boxing because once, at school, in a playful scuffle, a young ox of a farmer’s son had struck me on the chest with a blow of such short-armed ferocity that I was convinced my heart had stopped beating. Soon afterwards I found a friendly ex-policeman who gave me lessons, taught me that the essential art of the game lay in footwork and in a maxim of six short words: hit, stop, jab, and get away. Presently I was practising these principles on Arthur Templeton, to whose pink hairless jaw I sent so many unresisted straight lefts that it became intolerably embarrassing – so embarrassing indeed that I presently became profoundly sorry for him and gave up boxing altogether.

Losing track of Templeton as life goes on, the narrator is surprised to run into him on a train many years later.

Templeton is still of a pale pink unresisting type. He now gentleman-farms in a haphazard sort of way, raising pigs and attempting to create a new kind of pear-like apple, while his bossy wife Valerie is the loud leader of the local arts community, going in for amateur orchestras and the like.

As the narrator observes the Templeton ménage through a number of visits, his sympathy for his long-ago boxing partner grows as he realizes the man’s deep loneliness. He watches as a second woman now enters Arthur Templeton’s life. For a while it looks as though the feeble striver will at last take a step forward in confidence, and, presumably, happiness.

But can anyone ever change how one’s fundamental psychology, and what type of lover one attracts?

The Grapes of Paradise

On leave from his Vancouver banking firm, Harry Rockley travels the South Pacific, fetching up at Tahiti, which immediately repels him with its unexpectedly grim and sordid industrial decay, and its hostile natural features.

(H)e went back to the hotel, stripped off, put on his swimming trunks and went down to the sea. The beach of
black sand, such as there was of it, looked like a foundry yard. The lagoon of black water illuminated by the flares of mysterious midnight fishing-boats had become a stretch of tidal junk-yard, one foot deep, filled with countless black clusters of sea-birds and lengths of what looked like yellow intestine.

At the end of fifty yards of jetty  sprouted a lump of coral rock. On the rock a French girl with a figure as flat as a boy’s and legs like white peeled sticks sat staring down into forty feet of dark blue water from which rose shadowy mountains of rust-brown coral, murderous as steel.

‘I’m glad you came,’ she said. ‘If there’s someone watching, the sharks don’t follow me.’

Harry decides against swimming, and returns to the hotel bar, where he starts drinking, and doesn’t stop for weeks, until on a whim he tags along on a schooner travelling to a nearby island. There he finds something more closely approximating the South Seas paradise of his former expectations, including a single-minded native girl who throws herself at him in wanton desire.

But love isn’t always reciprocated, and shunned would-be lovers may prove dangerous to trifle with, especially when the elemental sea and its creatures become part of the set of Harry’s idyll-turned-nightmare…

*******

Oh, yes. Here's a little bonus for those of you who, like me, were a bit hazy on what the heck an aspidistra actually looks like. I suspect they are still very much around, but I couldn't pull up a mental picture to go with the name. Now I can.

Oh, yes. Here’s a little bonus for those of you who, like me, were a bit hazy on what the heck an aspidistra actually looks like. I suspect they are still very much around, but I couldn’t pull up a mental picture to go with the name. So there we are!

 

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Here’s another excellent travel memoir from Lorna Whishaw, re-posted from October 2012 specially for my long-distance friend Susan. One to search out once you’ve gone with Lorna to Alaska!

Mexico Unknown by Lorna Whishaw ~ 1962. This edition: Hammond and Hammond, 1962. Hardcover. 256 pages.

My rating: 9.5/10 for sheer admiration of the cheek of this mid-20th-century intrepid traveller, plus for the extreme readability of her prose. If even half of this is true – and apparently, it all is, with some allowances for dramatic presentation – Lorna Whishaw gets my nod for the “Forge Ahead Regardless and Don’t Make a Fuss” award. Shaking my head and smiling, thinking of her adventures – in this case not an exaggeration of term. She loses .5 for not telling more. Infuriating book, because it’s such a teaser.

Lorna Whishaw only wrote two books – this one plus the earlier (published in 1958)  As Far as You’ll Take Me . She barely lifted the veil on her fascinating life and many travels. Probably too busy living to sit down and write about most of it!

I did find record of a third piece of Lorna’s writing, her Master’s Thesis for the University of British Columbia Department of Creative Writing, a 1212 page (really? possibly a pagination misprint) work titled Blue Kootenay, published 1985. Most intriguing. I wonder what the possibilities of somehow accessing that one are? I’m thinking fairly slim.

*****

Of my own free will I would not choose to live in Mexico, any more than I would take up residence at the bottom of a tropical sea, because I do not belong there, because I am not wanted there, and because Mexico can get along very well without me. But because through the Will of God I live in Mexico, I shall write of it, of day-by-day living in a land of vast beauty, of violence, and savage extremes, where the struggle of maintaining life is more terrible than death; a land which is trampled by the tourist with sightless eyes.

I have heard Lorna Whishaw’s two memoirs referred to, in her B.C. BookWorld biographical entry*, as creative non-fiction, and I suspect that she distanced herself somewhat from her narratives by tweaking names and certain personal details, and in her portrayal of order of events. There is no question that she was a real person, that she did travel widely and adventureously and that she based her books solidly in fact.

Lorna Whishaw’s perspective is at once soberly analytical and deeply personal. I am finding her writing intelligent and vivid; Mexico Unknown in particular is a unique work which rewards the reader in multiple ways. Sincerely passionate, continually smile-provoking, and unusually thought-provoking. Plus she was just a damned good writer, and not one mite afraid to voice her opinions in print, though it appears she was capable of maintaining a tactful silence when required in her real life.

On October 4, the day of the sputnik, we left the sanitary tranquility of the American way of life, and in total ignorance of things Mexican we plunged into the uneasy atmosphere where anything goes, where yes and no are as high as the sky and as deep as hell, and where nothing you can conceive of is impossible.

The Mexican experience starts with the culture shock of the border towns, and then the physical shock of the amenity-less workers’ community of a struggling Sierra Madre mine. The first half of the book is a dramatic tale of love and death, corruption and betrayal, nobility of character and inner joy found in the most unlikely people.

The portraits of the Mexicans and the American and European mine foremen, technicians and investors are generously but ruthlessly drawn with an artist’s flair for capturing personality and mood in a few well chosen words. The physical descriptions of the land and people are as good as photographs; I find myself perfectly able to picture each face and scene; an unusually difficult authorial feat to pull off as well as Whishaw consistently does.

Disaster strikes La Fortuna Mine, and the scene abruptly changes to Mazatlan, where the suddenly unemployed and quite broke family reassess their situation. The geologist husband goes off with the last of the ready money to attend job interviews, while the wife and daughter camp on the deserted beaches, invisible to the lavish tourist enclaves just down the coast.

A new job is found in a silver mine in Zacatecas in central Mexico,

…a rolling land, arid and beautiful, a vast panorama of golden grass rimmed by oil blue mountains; of joshua trees, lovely in scant clumps, but frightening assembled as they are sometimes to cover the land…as they march to the horizon black with their myriads…

and a life of relative luxury is settled into; school for the daughter, and endless days of lounging by the swimming pool, gossiping with fellow expatriate wives, and riding out in the surrounding countryside.

On to Guadalajara and then Mexico City, where the family experiences the major July 28, 1958 earthquake, then the geologist goes on to Nicaragua, while the other two return briefly to Canada, where a new car, a British-built Ford Zephyr convertible, is purchased and driven from British Columbia through the U.S.A., through Mexico and, over a technically “non-existent” road through the jungle,  into central America. That trip is a saga all of its own, tacked on to this crowded tale as almost an afterthought.

The family is reunited yet again, only to discover that the Nicaragua job is being curtailed, and though by this time Canada is looking wonderfully attractive, Mexico is again the next destination…

And here I should end this story, but something happened on our drive to the mine on that black and silver night, that should be told. On the trail, lying insolent and beautiful under the headlights we saw two jaguars. Tony stopped the truck a few feet from them, and we watched in ecstasy as they rose and moved slowly away into the bush, throwing flaming glares towards us as they went.

‘Fancy’, Mary said. ‘Jaguars in driving distance from Canada.’

The End

*****

Fancy.

Indeed!

Did I saw “highly recommended” yet? I’m sure I did, but I’ll say it again. This is why I love used book stores, and glorious vintage books.

*****

* B.C. BookWorld, 1992:

Born in Riga, Latvia to British parents in the diplomatic corps, Lorna Whishaw grew up in England and came to B.C. in 1947. She has lived in many countries, including South Africa where she worked on behalf of the civil rights movement. She speaks six languages and has published two books of creative non-fiction, As Far as You’ll Take Me (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1958) and Mexico Unknown (London, 1962). With degrees in French, English and Philosophy, she has taught for East Kootenay Community College in Golden and Cranbrook. She lives in Windermere.

Lorna Whishaw died in 1999.

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