Monday, 2 January 2017

New Year: A Shaky Start



Every year I do a series of Xmas & New Year entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. You can see some of the pictures in this entry, and find (endless!) more Xmas books via the tags at the bottom of the page.


  

Sisters by the River by Barbara Comyns



published 1947




 
New Year  sisters
 


[spelling and punctuation as in the original]


The new year wasn’t nice at our house, the grown-ups got simply frightful, they all drank too much and got depressed, I can’t think why they did, if it made them unhappy, Daddy was the worst, he would get all sentimental and morbid and keep saying this was the last year we would spend in the house, and we could expect the bailiffs any day now and Granny and Mammy would cry and have another drink to help them to bear up, then Granny and Daddy would both say ‘This is the last New Year we shall see, they could feel Death coming nearer’ and Granny would cry more than ever and say no one wanted you when you were old, and they never told you anything, and young people were hard and looked like strumpets anyway.

Just before 12 there was an interuption in our misery (perhaps Daddy’s trouble was incometax, I’ve never paid any but I know people who do hate it) The intruption was Will Gardiner come to let the New Year in, he had red hair and if you don’t have a red haired person to let the New Year in you are in for the most awful time…

It was a relief when Will Gardiner came in and blessed the house, things began to brighten up, and they drank beer and eat mincepies and the grown-ups forgot how miserable they were and we remembered there were still two weeks of the holidays left, and things became quite normal again.

commentary: This description of New Year makes me laugh a lot, I don’t know why I find it so funny. I didn’t particularly like this book, and the consciously fake-childish spelling and lack of structure is infuriating. It’s the story of a set of sisters living in a dire situation somewhere in the Midlands, probably in the 1920s. Although it is a novel, it is also highly autobiographical, and the narrator’s name is Barbara. It’s very gothic – miserable family, no money, Granny in the bedroom, girls left to their own devices – and a lot of people really like it, but it is not for me.

But – a miserable new year. Income tax and drink. Excellent.

New Year card from the NYPL .











16 comments:

  1. Funny, isn't it, Moira, how even a book you don't enjoy has that one scene in it that you love. And that bit really is funny. I can see why you got very tired of the spelling and structure issues, though. I find that sort of thing to be really annoying as well. And what a sad set of characters to spend time with! Still, that one scene is great - thanks for sharing it.

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    1. Thanks Margot - and a Happy New Year to you, with best wishes for 2017.

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  2. Writing like a child would write is horrendously difficult. I dug out some old school books a few years ago, and they contained the stories that I used to write for English lessons. They would have been so difficult for an adult to write because children don't write 'like children', they write how they think adults write, but their understanding of the world is profoundly different. The stuff about drink is interesting, as people react to drink in different ways. I know some people who become profoundly miserable and depressed, but on the very few occasions that I've become drunk I tend to very boisterous. I think most people do, otherwise there wouldn't be any point in getting drunk!

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    1. Yes, exactly, it's not even convincing is it? And drink is an endless mystery...

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    2. "they write how they think adults write" - good point.

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  3. I dislike that childish misspelling nonsense. Bailiffs, miserable and sentimental are letter perfect. Yet interruption -- a relatively simple word, spelled exactly as it sounds -- is misspelled twice. Two different ways, no less. Bogus.

    Never heard of the red haired person greeting the New Year superstition. I kind of like it!

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    1. Excellent summing up. It is just annoying, and someone should have told her to cut it out. Where I come from it had to be a dark-haired person coming across the threshold to bring NY good luck.

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    2. Huh, I'd never heard of anyone with any particular colored hair was good luck on New Year's.

      I do love the vintage postcards you're using to illustrate these postings, though!

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    3. Thanks - I love them, the NYPL has an amazing collection of all kinds of cards.

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  4. I too found this novel verged on twee, but was just about redeemed by the darkness beneath the surface. Apparently the erratic spelling & grammar were genuine: BC had little formal schooling. I think it adds authenticity to the ingenuous narrative voice, but I agree it grates at times. And she is very funny - and serious.

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    1. Thanks, it's good to read the case for the defence! I do remember The Vet's Daughter as a very striking and unusual book.

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  5. Moira, the excerpt doesn't prompt me to reach for this book and misspelling, in fiction or anywhere else, can certainly be annoying.

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    1. Prashant, I read this one so you don't have to...

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  6. I do like that excerpt, Moira, although I am sure I would grow weary of a whole book written like that. I am never too excited by holidays and holiday gatherings, but my father's birthday was New Years Day, and my husband always makes me Hoppin' John for New Years Day (a Southern tradition although he is from Ohio), so it is a holiday I appreciate more.

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    1. I had to go and look up Hoppin' John - it looks delicious! I like Christmas, and the chance to see family, but it is a lot of work...

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