Tag-Archive for ◊ Country Life.In ◊

• Sunday, February 03rd, 2008

Paul Scott was born in the north London suburb of Southgate in 1920, from a Yorkshire commercial artist father and a South London mother Frances Mark, a former shop clerk. He was the younger of two sons.

Paul Scott was educated in Winchmore Hill Collegiate, a private school where his education was abruptly ended at the age of 16 due to his father’s business being in financial difficulty. He decided to make a career in accountancy.

Paul Scott was conscripted to the army in 1940, and in 1941 was married in Torquay to Nancy Edith Avery called Penny. He was sent to India in 1943 as an officer cadet and ended the war as captain in the Indian Army Service Corps.

After completing his duty in India, he went back to live in London with his family. His two daughters, Carol and Sally were born in 1947 and 1948.

In 1950 Paul Scott became a director while working for the literary agent Pearn Pollinger and Higham and from 1960 onwards he dedicated himself full time to writing. His books were not recognised until quite late and he died in 1978 in hospital in London from colon cancer.

Paul Scott wrote several novels:
Johnnie Sahib in 1952.
The Alien Sky in 1953.
A Male Child in 1956.
Mark of The Warrior in 1958.
Chinese Love Pavilion in 1960.
Birds of Paradise in 1962.
The Bender in 1963.
The Corrida at San Feliu in 1964.
The Raj Quartet:
1. The Jewel in the Crown in 1966.
2. The Day of the Scorpion in 1968.
3. The Towers of Silence in 1971.
4. A Division of the Spoils in 1974.

The Raj Quartet was made into a television series under the name of “The Jewel In The Crown”.

Staying On in 1977 won the Booker Prize award and was made into a film in 1979 by Granada television. He also wrote reviews for The Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman, and Country Life.

In 1976 and 1977 he was “visiting professor” at University of Tulsa in Oklahoma U.S.A.

Staying On is a sequel to The Raj Quartet set in the Anglo-Indian frame several years after India gained its independence in 1947.

The two main characters are Tusker and Lucy Smalley, a retired ageing British couple, mentioned briefly in The Raj Quartet novels. Married for forty years and living an uncommunicative marriage, they decide to Stay On in a small bungalow in the hills of Pankot, a small town in India. Despite being deprived of their colonial status and despite the changing times in India and the seediness of the place, they opt to stay rather than return home to England due to financial need. “I knew the pension would go further in India than in England” Tusker says to his wife.

The novel is set in 1972. It narrates the present and the past with funny, sometimes sad and sometimes touching style, the poignant silent loyalty and the resentful trust and reliance between the ageing couple (Tusker and Lucy).

The story starts with Tusker’s death. All the events in the book are a flashback till the end when the author brings back Tusker’s death in order to re-knot the beginning with the end.

Throughout the book Tusker is painted as a selfish, inconsiderate, grumpy character, but by the end and before his death, he reveals his soft, hidden, endearing side, which makes his departing deeply moving.

Nothing much appears to happen in the book, but the story is still engrossing due to the vivid description of the characters and the bittersweet subject.

Tusker and Lucy have seen better days during the time of the Raj, but those days are over and now they have to lead a modest life, “hang on”, swallow their pride, and endure the grotesque Mrs Bhoolabhoy’s bad temper. “ ‘Oh, Mrs Bhoolabhoy, Lucy began, we’re expecting a guest on Wednesday. I wonder if you’d kindly book a room-‘ ‘I have already told Colonel Smalley I can’t be bothered with that… I have other things to deal with. All I want to know is about the shears.’ ‘Shears?’ ‘Shears. Shears. Shears!’ Mrs Bhoolabhoy raised her arms and made motions. Snick-snick. Shears!’ she shouted… I will not have my property taken off the premises…She waddled away, leaving behind her a trail of sandalwood perfume which,to Lucy, was like the pungent smell of her own smouldering outraged dignity.”

Ibrahim, the Smalley’s manservant is etched in a funny light hearted way. His conversation with the mali gardener, Joseph, is hilarious : “’Ibrahim,’ Joseph said,’what happens if you are pushed by both Sahib and Memsahib ? ‘Given push, not pushed. Get idiom right.’ ‘what happens if you are given push by Sahib and Memsahib at one and the same time?’ Ibrahim looked at him thoughtfully. He said.’Suddenly you are a philosopher as well as a gardener? You are entering realm of metaphysics ? Joseph Einstein is it ? Versed in the theory of time and relativity? Haven’t I just made it plain that Sahib and Memsahib are always at logger-heads and that sometimes they do not even know what time of day it is, even in Pankot ?”

Paul Scott chose India as a rich and colourful frame work for his books, because since the time he was posted there, he fell in love with the country and wanted to convey his enthusiasm to English people, in particular for those who heard about this vast country but never visited it nor interested themselves in discovering its varied cultures.

In 1972 referring to his whole career to date, Paul Scott told his audience during his British council tour of India : “My proper answer to the question,’why do you, as a modern English novelist of serious pretensions, bother to write about the time-expired subject of the British Raj?’ is, must be, if my novels are novels at all, because the last days of the British Raj are the metaphor I have presently chosen to illustrate my view of life.”

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• Saturday, March 03rd, 2007

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham, England. She grew up in Solihull, in the English West Midlands, and attended St. Martin’s school from the age of 7 until she was 16, and then joined the 6th form at Solihull School. She studied for a B.A. degree in English at the University of York and then went touring for a year to Australia and New Zealand. Back in England she attended the University of East Anglia and attained an M.A. in their Creative Writing Course. She now lives in Warwickshire.

“Eve Green” was first published in 2004 and it is Susan Fletcher’s first novel. It won the Whitbread First Novel 2004 award.

“Eve Green” is the memoirs of 29 year old Evangeline, who is pregnant for the first time and travels back in time to her childhood when she was just eight years old. She reflects on her mother’s sudden death, her move to her grandparents’farm in Wales, in a remote, small countryside village where people gossip as well as interfere in everybody’s affairs. Especially with so many secrets, betrayal and lies abounding.

The eight year old child, overwhelmed with grief and loss, finds it hard to adapt from Birmingham city life to country life in Pencarreg, Wales.

The author gradually unfolds the story of Eve’s first Welsh summer. Her infatuation with Daniel, the farm help 16 years her senior who represents the missing father figure.

Her friendship with Billy Macklin, a disfigured man excluded from the whole community for being insane, but who is in fact kind-hearted and sensitive. (Read page 260).

It is through Billy Macklin that Eve will discover the truth about her parents’ romantic, mysterious love story which helps Eve resolve her identity problem by discovering the identity of her father and what he was guilty of. This was one of her quests for discovering her family’s dark secret.

There is also the mystery of Rosemary Hughe’s abduction, not forgetting Billy Macklin’s disappearance after the barn fire. Nor Kieran, Eve’s Irish father, who was never seen again after leaving the village, mysteries which will remain unravelled.

The novel does not have an orderly ending. Susan Fletcher says in her interview: “I didn’t want a tidy ending. It would have felt false, to me… it is really up to the reader to decide what happened to Billy, for example, or where Rosie may now be. I feel too that the book becomes more personal that way.” Indeed, unsolved mysteries can be a very up-to-date way of writing a plot. The complete opposite of an Agatha Christie or a Conan Doyle.

In “Eve Green” the Welsh countryside is described in all its breathtaking beauty, which illustrates how the author must love it: “I was keen to set the book in rural Wales. It is this wild, lonesome landscape that first led me to want to write.”

Like an artist painting so Susan Fletcher paints with words. The book is written with a great deal of feeling. The pages are rich, almost too rich, with the description of the Welsh countryside and the small details of everyday country life with its goosip, animosity and mysteries.

In an interview Susan Fletcher reveals that she thrives on descriptive prose but has to be careful not to overdo it. She says the only similarity between her and Evangeline is the red hair and the love of the countryside. Otherwise the book is entirely fictional: “I knew very little when I began to write “Eve Green”. I had no plot, no list of characters, I wasn’t sure of my themes. But I knew I didn’t want my debut novel to be autobiographical. Eve bears a slight resemblance to me, but otherwise this story is hers.”

Susan Fletcher describes her characters in great detail, which makes them alive enough for us to want to piece the story together to have a full picture of the puzzle. As Eve will be doing throughout the novel, painting the souvenirs of lost loved-ones in a touchingly exquisite simplicity.

The style is lyrical, the scenes are evocative and captivating, which helps to create a novel close to poetry. The description of the characters, of the verdant Welsh valleysor even the reminiscence, reveals the author’s evident love for poetry: “Whilst working on “Eve Green” perhaps the greatest inspiration came from poetry, not from prose.” She adds: “I love a good, poetic novel, and I love description. That’s my real passion.”

A good book from a young, promising story teller.