Monday, 21 December 2015

Xmas Entertaining: Starlight by Stella Gibbons



published 1967








On Christmas Eve, Peggy was in the drawing-room, tying to the Christmas tree, whose branches almost touched the ceiling, the balls of coloured plastic which have replaced the fairy-like spun glass of other days. She had laid out cigarettes, and seen that the forced pink and white hyacinths whose scent filled the room were well displayed. The old woman who acted as parlourmaid had tottered in, followed by the older houseman with a tray of canap├ęs, for whose safety Peggy could not refrain from apprehensive glances; these had been returned with spiteful ones by man and maid. They were very jealous of her. ‘These won’t work,’ she observed, indicating the coloured bulbs that were to light the tree. ‘Can you do anything, Hobbs?’…



commentary: The book gave the blog an Easter entry, and I said then that it roughly follows the church year, so there’s an Advent post too.

Later Peggy will go out on Chrismas Day.

She was wearing a black jacket and cap, carried a bunch of Christmas roses. He had not seen her clothes before, and commented on them. ‘I like your fur.’ 
‘It’s new. I just bought it. It isn’t fur, it’s nylon.’

‘Well it looks like fur … most of the girls I know wouldn’t be seen dead in imitation fur. But I must say that looks all right.’… The cap she wore was shaped like a silky black bag and sloped away from her olive brow.


There are a lot of hats that might be described as bag-like out there, but I particularly liked this ensemble, it seemed to look like Peggy might have. It’s from a Niemann Marcus advert. But probably a bag hat is really more like this, which is a Tudor-style bag hat:



There is a twist of kindness and good-heartedness running through the book – see the earlier entries - and some interesting views. The vicar explains why he thinks mental health treatments don’t work:

Each patient really needs the entire interest of one person concentrated entirely on him or herself. It just can’t be done. It’s cruel to pretend it can. They find themselves clinically pigeon-holed when they need to be loved …

And two very unlikely characters have something in common. Mr Pearson explains how he fell in love with his wife:

‘when I saw her first, in Venice, I believed that God had sent a peri – an angel – in a woman’s body to make up to me for what I’d been through. She wore a blue dress. She was eighteen. She was like a spring morning.’ He wiped his eyes again.

Mr Geddes looked down at the table. He knew these thoughts; they were his own, though he had never put them into words. He had known a girl of eighteen who had been like a spring morning. But the dress had been yellow.


Christmas tree picture from the Sam Hood collection on Flickr

10 comments:

  1. I like the snippet you've shared very much, Moira. It's such a nice reminder of what an event trimming the tree has been at some times and in some places. There've been tree-trimming parties, the whole thing. And I do think it's interesting this book roughly follows the church calendar; you don't often find books that do that.

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    1. Families have their own tree-decorating traditions, and I like the rather fractured version in this book. It takes a sideways, and slightly weird, look at families and relationships.

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  2. I really enjoyed Starlight. Clothes do feature a lot in it, elegant ones but also a balaclava which the elderly Annie wore in bed, along with a couple of coats.

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    1. Yes! Gibbons always does a great job on clothes - strange details and important minor features. Perfect author for my blog.

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  3. Moira, "peri," or "pari," means an angel in some Indian languages. It's also a fairly common first name for girls. It was interesting to see the author use the word in this book.

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    1. Oh thanks Prashant, that's really helpful and interesting. I have come across the word occasionally, but wouldn't have been able to define it. It's a touching moment in the book.

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  4. Some lovely extracts from this book. I had never heard the term "peri" -- very interesting.

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    1. It was so interesting what Prashant said, wasn't it?

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