Clothes for challenging the system: Joanna Kavenna

the book:

Come to the Edge by Joanna Kavenna

published 2012   chapter 4

Cassandra White has stripped her life of frills and comfort. Her house is an unsettled pile of slate, neglected and shambolic. She doesn’t even seem to notice. She holds her head high. Her arms are sinewy. Her shoulders are broad and padded with gristle. She has creases around her eyes, ingrained furrows from staring into the sun. She has still more lines drawn deep into her forehead. Her hair gets into her eyes and she blows it out again. She wears the same pair of old cords every day and the same blue jumper. She has a big pair of muddy wellingtons and a battered wax jacket. She stalks across her dwindled stretch of land and she grabs goats and hurls them around. Every day she works, to bring in water and light the fires and shovel shit and milk the goats and collect grey water or rainwater or whatever sort of water it is, just not mains water lest she be afflicted by plague or ebola or drugged and rendered compliant or whatever it is she’s worried about.

observations: This blog is a huge fan of Muriel Spark, and in general holds her to be inimitable. But this fabulous book is the closest thing to Spark you could imagine – maybe crossed with a little touch of Hilary Mantel, equally a star in our eyes. It’s very short, and you could read it in a couple of hours. The narrator, adrift after the breakup of her marriage, goes to live on a farm in the Lake District. Cassandra, the farmer, is horrified by the changes in the area, and particularly the second-home-owners who are never there. So she comes up with a plan to make life fairer, and takes it to extremes, with the narrator rolling along beside her. Cassandra is an amazing character – completely unreasonable, horrible, impossible, and very entertaining. As the narrator says, ‘I can’t really imagine who on the planet would address Cassandra as dearest, but it seems heartless to point this out.’ You get swept up in the whole story, which is hilariously funny.

Links up with: different kinds of village life
here and here. The properties repurposed by Cassandra include Pig Hoof Cottage, Itchy Cow Cottage, Biting Midge Cottage – names that could come straight out of Cold Comfort Farm.

The photograph is of noted gardener Vita Sackville-West (for whom see
this entry) and is by Jane Bown.