Monthly Archives: November 2015

An unlikely love story

She – Mary Horton – a 43 year old straight-laced spinster with two houses but no space for love or friendship.

He – Tim Melville – a 25 year old young man with Greek God looks and the brain of a child.

Tim by Colleen McCullough has to be one of the most unlikely love-stories. In this debut novel McCullough crafts her characters with meticulous care and so much love that you cannot but be moved.

tim

Writing about a character such as Tim is a challenging task because you have so much to say you don’t know where to start. You desperately want your readers to feel about him just as you do and you struggle to find words to say it all and worry, wondering if you will ever do it justice.

I am going to try, though.

Mary spots Tim first at her neighbour’s house where he’s part of a construction crew and is entranced by his stunning looks. Later, she calls him over to help her with her garden and then at her beach house. Thus starts a relationship that has friendship, affection and love put together in an inextricable, heartwarming mix.

For a casual observer there is nothing right with the relationship. The two are no match in physical appearance, mental capabilities, financial or social status. They bond on a purely emotional level.

When I started out reading the book, to me Mary seemed the sole ‘giver’ in the relationship. What could a mentally challenged boy offer a self-made, confident, affluent, educated woman? The only thing missing in her life, perhaps to an outsider, would be the love of family and friends but not to Mary. She fills her life with work, an extensive personal library of good books and good music. Mary Horton is satisfied, even pleased, with the way she has built her life.

Then along comes Tim. His heart winning innocence makes you love him and want to take care of him. He worms his way into Mary’s heart picking away at her defenses, setting her at ease, urging her to loosen up and awakening her dead heart without even being aware of it. He brings colour to her home as to her life. Her feelings for him change from pity to protectiveness to love.

He becomes an integral part of her life as she becomes his.

A word about Tim – he has been brought up to successfully handle his day-to-day life. He can travel on the bus on his own and earn his living as a construction worker. He is aware that he isn’t the ‘full-quid’, as he puts it. He has a naturally sunny disposition and the only thing that upsets him is when he cannot understand a joke or a remark – the feeling of being shut out because of his impaired brain. With Mary he never feels that.

In the end I think this was as equal a relationship as it can get. When Mary’s boss who’s the closest thing she has for a friend, suggests she marry him her response is, “How can I possibly marry a mentally retarded boy young enough to be my son? It’s criminal… I’m a sour, ugly old maid, no fit partner for Tim.” She doesn’t mince her words or spare her feelings.

His reply puts their relationship in perspective:

“…. I defy anyone to explain what one person sees in another…. Whatever you think you are, Tim thinks you are something quite different and much more desirable. You said you didn’t know what on earth he saw in you, that whatever it was you couldn’t see it yourself. Be grateful for that!”

Those were my absolute favourite lines.

Nope, this isn’t a story of romantic love but it most definitely is a love-story. To find someone to love you more than you do yourself – if that’s not love, what is?

PS: The book was made into a film starring Mel Gibson and Piper Laurie. I remember watching bits of it long ago and didn’t quite like it because the Tim I’d made up in my mind was way more handsome and younger too.

PPS: Read the book also for a host of wonderfully etched supporting characters and beautiful descriptions of Australia.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday. Do drop by and take a look at what others have come up with the letter T.

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When the Help need help

You’ve read ‘Gone With the Wind’? That’s rhetorical, right? You have. So you must remember the wonderful relationship between Scarlett O hara and Mammy. Mammy is the loveable help – the one who dresses Scarlett, pulls her up for each tiny breach of etiquette and is always at hand to keep her dignity intact.

Did you ever wonder if Mammy had a life outside of Tara and the O hara’s? Yeah, nor did I. Mammy is smart and responsible and funny and yet her whole life revolves around Scarlett and her family. There is barely any ‘Mammy’ in Mammy.

Here’s a book that explores all of that, The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It tells the story of ‘Black maids who raised white children’ in Jackson Mississippi of the 60s. At the heart of the book is Skeeter or Eugene Phelan. All though she belongs to the ‘other side’ of the divide, it falls to her to tell the stories of these women.

skeeter

Skeeter’s story

Skeeter is an aspiring journalist. Fresh back from college she finds her maid of many years Constantine, has quit and gone. The absence bothers Skeeter even as she busies herself sending across job applications. She is offered work at the local paper. “Miss Myrna’s weekly cleaning advice column”, the job on offer, is a far cry from her dream but it’s a start and Skeeter is proud to be working.

Being a rich white man’s daughter, she hasn’t ever done any cleaning in all her life nor does she intend to learn. So she seeks advice from her friend’s maid Aibileen, offering to split her salary. During the conversation Aibileen mentions that Constantine had been fired (not quit as Skeeter was given to believe) and that starts off Skeeter on a journey into the lives of these women.

A book is born. A book with stories from maids, stories so real they seem unreal. It isn’t easy. First, it has to be kept a secret. Then the maids have to be convinced to open their hearts to Skeeter. However, once they do stories come spilling out including Constantine’s tale and a family secret too. The privileged Skeeter becomes the voice of the exploited maids.

Why I love her

Skeeter is a journalist and a reader. She follows her heart. I love that about her. Check out this quote from her:

“I always order the banned books from a black market dealer in California, figuring if the State of Mississippi banned them, they must be good.”

She certainly isn’t a follower of rules.

When Skeeter writes to an editor for a job she receives a reply, a line of which reads:

“Write about what disturbs you particularly if it bothers no one else.”

A perfect brief for a budding writer. Skeeter goes out and does just that. She’s a rare person with strong sense of justice and an even stronger sense of empathy. Few have the courage to stand up against people they love – friends and family – specially when it doesn’t affect them. It becomes even more difficult when sticking out their neck might lead to the worst kind of ostracism. Hilly and Elizabeth are Skeeter’s childhood friends and yet Hilly turns out to be the main antagonist.

Oh and in case you were wondering – this is not a sad soppy tale of exploited overworked women. This is a story of brave women told with a lot of spirit and barely a dull moment.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday .  The letter of the week is ‘S’.

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R is for Reginald Jeeves

How many characters, even real ones, have the singular honour of having a search engine named after them? His name appears in the Oxford English Dictionary as a generic word for a valet/butler. Yeah, I know you’ve got it. Not much of a guess, is it? There really is just one Reginald Jeeves – but he’d much rather you just call him Jeeves.

He is the supercilious uber valet, (but he can also buttle with the best)  to the rather bird brained Bertie Wooster – both creations of the British humourist PG Wodehouse.

Where he came from

The character is based on a real life butler Eugene Robinson who actually helped Wodehouse out of trouble, once. Wodehouse employed him for research purposes. Most of you might know the name came from that of a popular Warwickshire cricketer Percy Jeeves. He and Wooster made their first proper appearance in 1916 in The Artistic Career of Corky.

Did you know?house-pictures-hugh-laurie-jeeves

  1. Jeeves’s first name was not revealed for 56 years till the penultimate novel in the series, Much Obliged, Jeeves. Bertie was apparently stunned to realize that Jeeves actually had a first name at all! But then that’s just so Bertie.
  2. Jeeves is a fish eater, which is what makes him so brainy, or so he says.
  3. Jeeves started off working at a girls’ school. He worked for over a dozen others before he and Wooster found each other.
  4. He has three aunts and an uncle and also a niece Mabel.
  5. He quotes from authors and poets like Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. He’s not above showing off his Latin too.

I love him because

– Of his oh-so-propah British ways

– He knows everything, everything. He cooks, cleans, sews, irons, mixes cocktails, makes the best antidote to hangover And he also knows all about horses, cars and women. He is bloody darned perfect at his job.

– He’s impeccably dressed, always!

– He is always in control and never forgets his manners. I mean never.

– He has a solution to the trickiest problem from avoiding an aunt to nipping a love-affair.

– He is a man of unshakeable principles. He once quit Bertie’s employment because Bertie wouldn’t give up playing the banjolele (an instrument which is a mixture of a banjo and a ukulele).

I wish he were mine.

(I do wonder if he would have survived in a household with a chaotic pair of twins. Just wondering…..)

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday the weekly alphabetical challenge where I get to reminisce about my favourite characters from books. Do drop by and take a look at what others have come up with for the letter R.

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The two Quasimodos

Two stories, two characters, two time periods – over a hundred years apart – a shared name – Quasimodo. Since they’re both quirky as can be here goes a two-in-one post for both these uglier than ugly creatures.

If you’re a lover of classics you’ll know the first one – Hugo’s Hunchback from his sad sad book Hunchback of Notre Dame. He’s the hunchbacked, deaf bell-ringer, half blinded by an ugly wart. So hideous is he, even as a newborn, that he is switched at birth with a little girl and abandoned by his parents. So starved is he for love that a single act of kindness by that same girl makes him fall in love with her. Thus starts a love story – one-sided, ill-fated and doomed. The lovely kind-hearted Esmerelda continues to be repulsed by Quasimodo’s ugliness even after he saves her life. He however never stops loving her. When she is executed he lies down beside her and starves to death holding onto her body.

One of my favourite quotes from the book

One of my favourite quotes from the book

Quasimodo’s story is heart wrenching.

On a related note there’s this dialogue from the film ‘The truth about cats and dogs’ (Which, by the way is a wonderful film) that says: You know how someone’s appearance can change the longer you know them? How a really attractive person, if you don’t like them, can become more and more ugly; whereas someone you might not have even have noticed… that you wouldn’t look at more than once, if you love them, can become the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. All you want to do is be near them.

I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. Quasimodo’s plight always made me wonder if physical appearances can be so overpoweringly offensive as to hide all other qualities of a person. Is that possible? Try as I might, the romantic in me, cannot think well of Esmerelda. But then maybe that’s  idealistic, maybe physical appearances do stop you from looking deeper. Maybe.

Onto Quasimodo No 2. He (or rather she) is as different from his namesake as possible. He makes an appearance in one of my all-time favourite books Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. Forgive me if I’m partial to this one – but he really is most endearing. He is named after the original Quasimodo for his amazingly ugly looks. He’s a pigeon – an obese pigeon – but he’s convinced he’s a human, if that counts for anything. Since he’s ‘human’, obviously he cannot fly. He walks. So when, Gerry, the ten-year old whose pet he is, goes for a walk, Quasimodo walks along. He can of course be carried on the shoulder (like a baby) but then there’s always the danger of an ‘accident’. Nobody thought of pigeon diapers, obviously.

Of course he would sleep in the house rather than the pigeon loft and listen to music along with the family. He turned out to be quite a music connoisseur. He learnt to recognise the waltz and the military march, which is more than we can say for a lot of men. He even choreographed and executed with much brilliance, different dance routines for the two.

Then one day to Gerry’s utter shock Quasimodo laid an egg! An egg for goodness sake. ‘He’ was a ‘she’ … a girl.. a woman.. a mum … whatever!! And he/she was spotted sitting on a tree making eyes at a very very macho pigeon.

At least this Quasimodo had a happy ending to her love story.

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday the weekly alphabetical challenge where I get to reminisce about my favourite characters from books. Do drop by and take a look at what others have come up with for the letter Q.

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