Posts Tagged ‘romance’

Love on a Branch Line

27 January 2014

Love on a Branch LineLove on a Branch Line by John Hadfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A tasteful and thoughtful comedy mixing myth, wish-fulfilment and English charm.

It is the late 1950s. Jasper Pye is an earnest young civil servant living with his mother, stung when various people, including a girlfriend of sorts, call him a bore. Just as his frustration peaks, he is commissioned to visit an odd little unit of Her Majesty’s Government based in a castle on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk – a wartime stopgap measure mysteriously prolonged. Ostensibly there to inspect it, his real, informal brief is to recommend its closure.

The locality is called Arcady, a strong hint that we will soon disconnect from the everyday flow of time. The last part of his journey is on a steam train, owned by Lord Flamborough, who has purchased the local branch of the line. Legless since 1926, the Earl lives on the train, travelling endlessly forward and back. His family’s motto is hic manemus: here we remain. Jasper alights at a station called Arcady Halt.

The unit is staffed by the stern-seeming Scot, Professor Pollux, his assistant Quirk, and their secretary, the young, plain, eager-to-please Miss Mounsey. They have long ceased doing any real official work. Closing the place might seem a done deal.

The problem is that Pye is slowly seduced by Arcady. For a start there are Flamborough’s three lovely daughters: the nympho Belinda, unhappily-married Chloe, and the virginal, too-young, but frenziedly romantic Matilda. They leave him very disoriented and hovering between desire and disgrace.

Belinda makes a playful reference to Freud, whose symbolism is never far away: the mother, Lady Flamborough, keeps whisking Jasper away to attend to her flowers; the Flamborough family has only married within its own extended ranks for generations; and then there is her husband’s severed legs.

The residents of Arcady are lotus eaters. The Lady has her floral borders and beds, the Lord his steam train and jazz music, while others have sunk into the honey of cricket, alcohol, collectables – fixed and narrow desires like Flamborough’s branch line.

Myth plays an important role, but nothing is laboured in this delightful book.

Sometimes bravery is needed not to face hardship, but to take the leap into joy. That, I think, is the true challenge Jasper faces.

In 1994 the book was adapted into a four-part series, which was very friendly to the intentions of the book, though there are subtle differences in the ending.

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Wicked Lovely

25 February 2012

Wicked Lovely (Wicked Lovely, #1)Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay-ish in some ways. Faery in this tale evokes no sense wonder. In most ways it is like a stage set, a few fold-out screens, behind the drama of teen romance. The only authentically fay element is in the tensions set up between possibility and the need to follow rules, mapped simultaneously onto fairyland and adolescence, and here some interesting situations emerge.

The world teems with fairies invisible to mortals, except for those few with the Sight. Power is held by the sinister Winter Queen Beira, who mocks victims with a thin motherly persona. She is rather like Dolores Umbridge in a bad mood. She will not surrender power to her son Keenan, Summer King. That will only happen with the emergence of a Summer Queen – a girl who is willing to risk clasping Beira’s staff, and who is deemed suitable by hidden higher powers. So Keenan keeps seducing mortal girls seeking the right one. If a girl is tough enough to have a go but fails the test she becomes Winter Girl, a semi-powerful ice lady but no match for Beira. The incumbent Winter Girl only escapes her role when another girl has a go at the task – but the rules insist that Donia tries to dissuade the girl from doing so. Young women who fall in love with Keenan but funk out from even trying for the role of Summer Queen become mere Summer Girls, ditzy good-time followers of the weak King.

Aislinn is the latest mortal girl to be swept into this scenario, dealing with Winter Girl Donia. But Aislinn is busy forming a relationship with mortal boy Seth. Covered in face-rings, Seth is nevertheless squarely within the romance tradition: assertive with other males, but ever-sensitive and attentive to the heroine.

Strength of character can often leave a girl isolated and sad, while insipid creatures who go with the flow are rewarded, up to a point. Other strong females make the best of friends and the worst of enemies. Yet for the strong female happiness is there to be had, and not necessarily within an endless chain of nuclear families.

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