Monday, November 8, 2010

Back from the Nether World of Castles

I have spent the last 3 or so days and 4 very long nights half dead in bed from stomach flu, which I could have done without.  If you were to ask me what is the very worst thing about having children I would have to say 'being sick' because it is so hard to recover from anything when you have to attend to their every need and that, combined with guilt that you are not attending to their every need in a remotely satisfactory way, renders the whole experience twice as bad.  Mind you I was fully delirious for one whole day so I didn't much notice how hungry they were.  (Only joking, I did have a husband who can in theory look after them.  But to this day one of my fears which cannot be stilled is the fear of becoming chronically ill.   Who would make sure that the children are really okay?)

I did manage to do a lot of this though:

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (with some weak tea)

Kate Morton is now an 'Internationally Best Selling' author, trumpet her publishers.  Her first two books also received the little golden 'Great Read' sticker handed out by the Australian Women's Weekly which usually guarantees mega sales. It also connotes girly chick lit whirlwind slightly bitter romance. And her work is better than that.  Still pretty fruity in its language, perhaps searching for the less well known word when the ordinary one would do just fine, it's true, but I have loved all her books, resonant with secrets, dark English houses, overgrown gardens, pre and post War romances, and the tragedies and misunderstandings of family relationships.   

Have you ever wondered about your mother's life before she married and had you? I have, and like most people I have never really broached the topic with her.  The Distant Hours explores the life of the heroine's mother as an evacuee to a castle located (I think) in Surrey which was inhabited by three sisters and their mad brilliant writer father in the depths of World War 2 and the secrets the sisters then keep there for 50 years. 

Here is Kate Morton at her desk at home in Brisbane.  Yes she is Australian, but writes so well about England.

photo via The Australian

And most wonderfully The Distant Hours features a castle with a tower and a filled in moat.   Kate Morton recently said in an interview 'I wanted to write something that made me feel so enveloped by a story that the real world dissolves around me'.   I would say that is the secret to all great writing, that transportation into another world, and another point of view.


Whilst Kate Morton was apparently inspired by Sissinghurst Castle in her depiction of the fictional Milderhurst Castle, I pictured this castle as the home of the Blythe sisters, Juniper, Persephone and Seraphina.  This is Herstmonceux Castle (Tudor, constructed from 1441) at Bexhill in Sussex, taken I suspect, before it was refurbished. It now houses an outpost of Canada's Queen's University.   

How I wanted to live in a castle when I was little.  And the Distant Hours made me think back to some other favourite castle books.  

I read Dodie Smith's 'I Capture the Castle' many years ago, and when the film was released in 2003 I rushed off to see it by myself.   The film was set here, at Manorbier Castle (Norman, constructed from 1140) in West Wales, a castle which has now, like so many others, fallen into disrepair.

No post about English castles in books would be complete without Malory Towers.   I have read that the real life inspiration for Malory Towers, the four towered school in Cornwall, was this castle, Lulworth Castle (built in 1610) in Dorset.   Isn't it funny that as a child I so fervently wanted to go to boarding school. I probably would have hated it, but the idea of school in a stone castle was just so exciting.

I do often wonder if Brideshead Revisited would have died a quiet 20th century death were it not for the BBC TV series from the early 1980s.  After all, I have to say I found the book a bit turgid.  Far away, at Melbourne University at the time of the TV series, people got up in boaters and blazers channeled Sebastian Flyte in their every utterance.  But the setting, in this, the castle of all castles, Castle Howard in North Yorkshire (built from 1699 to a design by Sir John Vanbrugh), makes up for almost everything else.   

Other castles of my dreams? I prefer them craggy and stormy, like this one, Eilean Donan Castle (originally built in early 13th century as a defence against the Vikings):

Have I missed any other great castle books?

(Photo of Manorbier Castle by Stephen J Franklin)


Jeanne Henriques said...

Oh Jane, I feel for you. I can think of nothing worse than being sick with little ones to look after. You seem to have found the perfect activity to bring you along. I love your review on the books and all these castles are just wonderful.

That last shot is spectacular...the stuff dreams are made of, no doubt about it.

B-well soon

Jeanne :)

Amanda said...

Hope you are feeling much better now - I agree that recovering is so much harder when you have children to look after too. Sounds like you've gotten into a great book - that last castle image is breathtaking!! x

24 Corners said...

Jane dear...I hope you are on your way to feeling back to your old healthy self now. I must send this to my sis-in-law who has two little boys and when she's sick, which she has been recently, it has been a bit difficult. I hope this will let her know she's not alone.

Thank you for the great book tips! Here in the Pacific Northwest with it's very "English" weather, there could be nothing more perfect than a castle read (well, other than anything by or about the Bronte's). I truly look forward reading these.

Love your tea cup by the way...and, that last image...beautiful!
Take care...
xo J~

Ann said...

I'll have to give Kate Morton a chance - I wrongly assumed she was firmly in the 'airport' category - a category I'm trying to leave behind along with other lazy reading habits.

I have loved all the others you describe - even Brideshead - and was so thrilled to discover just how many ruined castles there are to see in Scotland. Love that last picture.

Hope you're well over the bug. Awful. A x

Emma said...

Loved this entry Jane! Well, not you being sick of course, but the book recommendation (sounds wonderful) and the fabulous castle images. I did go to boarding school and having been raised on Enid Blyton books was quite disappointed at the absence of lacrosse (??) but some girls did have horses and we did have midnight feasts! Best wishes for a quick recovery! x

jules @ The Diversion Project said...

i feel for you jane, its the pits! i have just got through a weekend with the boys on my own and bed ridden with the flu. man they clocked up some movie time this weekend!! oh well every once in a while wont kill them i'm assuming! hope you're feeling much better now.

I like hte sound of kate's book, will have to look out for it.


Jane said...

Hmm yes our DVD player got a real workout over the weekend too. And ABC Kids. And ABC2 and ABC3. And the computer. Oh dear!!

Lee said...

Hi Jane, sorry to hear you've been feeling under the weather - hope the lovely spring sunshine we had here in Melbourne today is making you feel a little bit better.

The Kate Morton book sounds fabulous - I'm going to pop out to Berkelouw Books tomorrow to buy a copy. Thanks for the great review. Lee :)

brismod said...

Hey Jane, I'm glad to hear you're better. You do wonder what would happen to the children if you were seriously ill for a prolonged period. Raised by wolves if left with certain hubbies I would imagine. You know I haven't read Kate Morton - I think the fact that she looks that good, is smart and is so successful is part of the reason!

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

Oh Jane I do feel for you. Hope you're feeling a lot perkier today. Your description of Kate Morton's books is spot on - all those brooding family secrets. This sounds like a good read sometime this summer. Like you, I have a bit of a thing for castles - my grandmother always told us the story that we would be living in a castle today if it weren't for a mysterious fire, and the deeds to the castle going missing, and mysteriously turning up on the 'other side' of the family. Who knows if it's true! But the family tree certainly gives it a little credence. I visited the castle when living in the UK, and it would be nice to claim the inheritance!

JMW said...

Sounds like a book that I would love - will have to put these on my to-read-next list. Hope you feel better soon. :)

Jen said...

I can't believe I have let Kate Morton pass me by, she sounds just my cup of tea. Love a good castle book and so glad someone else found Brideshead a bit heavy going (2nd half especially, all that Catholic angst). Loved both Malory Towers (always intrigued that a girl could be called Darrell) and I Capture the Castle. Your kids are probably too small but in time you will read Harry Potter and that castle is pretty impressive! Electronic entertainment for children during parental illness is perfectly acceptable, can I use the same excuse to read??

Jane said...

Jen - my daughter is just on the cusp of Harry Potter and as I have read them all I have them ready to go for her! Yes Hogwarts is amazing. (Looks different in each film though for some funny reason.)

Millie said...

Oh dear Jane, trust you are on the mend. Apparently Kate M is the biggest selling Aussie author. So I'm off to give her a run for her money, stay tuned!
Millie ^_^

Kellie Collis said...

Sounds like these are lovely reads! Have a gorgeous day, Kellie xx

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

Hello Jane,
What a beautiful post. I see Kate only about once a year at my agent's annual Sydney bash and so I'd bet she would love to hear from you. She would enjoy this post as much as I did, I'm sure. If you do write to her, give her a link so she could read it.
It's been surreal enough for me watching her go from being a writer who was having difficulty getting picked up to international sensation. So exciting to witness her journey. I've no idea of how she manages to cope with it all. I'm sure that focusing on her writing, having a great husband and family and friends to keep her balanced help.
It's been wonderful for local writers as it shows there is a marker for Australian writers who are writing books that put as much emphasis on story and plot as on beautiful language.
And I love I Capture the Castle. That's one of my very favourites. (And Nigella Lawson's as well.) I read somewhere she gives copies as Christmas presents. Which reminds me that Kate was on the book show with Nigella which was so thrilling. I think I was more excited about that one than she was! I can't wait to see that show.
And you may recall that I'm a huge Enid fan. Say no more there...
If you are on Facebook, Kate has an account there that she updates and you can also contact her through her website.
I haven't read The Distant Hours yet as I'm saving it for my holiday read. It's a beautifully presented book. Can't wait to escape into it. xx

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