I'm nearly there.
My mission to read around every author I will be talking to next weekend is almost accomplished, and for all the pleasure that reading brings under such circumstances I can't say it hasn't been tough some days for a free-range reader like me when I see what the postman staggers in with, because hard on the heels of Port Eliot Festival will be the announcement of the Man Booker longlist on Tuesday July 26th.
I'm way off the pace and not even going to hazard half a guess, though I will be asking all my Port Eliot guests for their predictions, but as the books arrive which I think could be in with a chance I've been stacking them on a table; that table now so ridiculously over-laden that all it does is gives a snapshot of the madness the judges may have been up against. So I shall be dashing around and getting my customary Bookerthon snapshot up on the day and doubtless reading a few that take my fancy before short listing.
But back to the book in my hand which thankfully has been no hardship (and I have to thank the very discerning taste of Cathy St Germans because she knows dovegreyreader scribbles well and has been spot on with her suggestions for me) because it has been You by Joanna Briscoe. Maggie O'Farrell rightly calls it 'dangerously addictive' and I like her I couldn't put it down either.
The funny thing is you don't ever meet an author down here in the back of beyond and then, would you credit it, you meet them twice in ten days. I nipped across to Dartington last Wednesday afternoon to catch just three events, and, though I had to miss Joanna Briscoe's because it clashed with Matthew Hollis talking about Edward Thomas, we did manage to say a very brief 'Hi see you at Port Eliot' over her book signing.
More about Matthew Hollis's talk soon and also Rachel Johnson of The Lady who was predictably very funny and then Blake Morrison giving the annual Ted Hughes Memorial Lecture, it was a good afternoon.
I knew little about Joanna Briscoe before she was added to my Port Eliot guest list and I have only had time to read You, but I do now know that she grew up in an ancient and isolated thatched Long House on Dartmoor, fled to London and university the minute she could legitimately escape, is now a literary critic for the Guardian as well as an author, and that this novel may be something of an exorcism of past ghosts that surround a home that Joanna Briscoe discovered had never left her consciousness.
I think we can all agree that the house itself, Jordan Manor, was indeed isolated...
You are unlikely to find a more tangled web of intrigue than the one spun by Joanna Briscoe in You as she explores the obsessive infatution that Cecilia Bannan has for her school teacher Mr Dahl. Mr Dahl unwittingly becomes Cecilia's 'complex and large-scale project' and all portrayed with an uncomfortable degree of accuracy, as you will realise if you too have ever have been an adolescent also prone to infatuation....weren't most of us.
The school is a progressive one, un-boundaried and lacking in curriculum or rules (and historically not without precedent in this area of the West Country) and Cecilia's bookish, isolated existence in her family's remote Dartmoor home offers plenty of scope for her adolescent imagination to run riot. But that's not all because infatuation is not the sole realm of the love-struck teenager, as Cecilia's mother Dora, the music teacher at her daughter's school, finds herself obessed by the art teacher, who happens to be Mrs Dahl.
It's a right old emotional soup very cleverly dished out by Joanna Briscoe because in writing that quick resume I can see it might seem to border on farce, when in fact You is very much a potent and potentially explosive mix that is handled with great care. Events are exposed through flashbacks as Cecilia, after many years absence has returned with her partner Ari and their three daughters to the family home to care for her mother, now diagnosed with cancer.
It had never occurred to me that there is really only one other novel that centres its plot around Dartmoor (I'll let you guess) and how strange that is given the wealth of natural elements to draw on, along with all the legends, the myths and folklore, so I was pleased to see Joanna Briscoe give a mention to the good old Hairy Hands and Jay's Grave.
I can't bear to give away the central plot theme as someone had done on Twitter recently...'oh that's the book where .....' because I didn't know that detail at the time, and I wanted to come across it for myself at the moment allotted by Joanna Briscoe, so that rules out some very very interesting discussion here about what comes next. And we'll have to tip toe around it in our discussions at Port Eliot too in order to talk about the novel's central and heartbreaking themes of lies and secrets and the loss and grief that returns to haunt Cecilia in gut-wrenching form, like a scab waiting to be picked and turned into a running sore throughout her life. But I love a book that draws me in and makes me wonder quite how I may have felt given this set of circumstances... a bit like the shock moment in Gillian Slovo's Black Orchids. Though not a shock, events here are every bit as profound and far-reaching in their impact.
However that's alright because Joanne Briscoe and I will be able to discuss the health visitor.
As Cecilia's mother gives birth to late addition Barnaby, the health visitor comes to call and you know how excited I always get when one of mine own appears in a book, especially given that huge swathes of Dartmoor were my 'patch' for some thirty years. After all Susan Hill has a nice, kind, understanding health visitor called Lynne in one of her Simon Serrailler novels, (The Shadows in the Street) and so this was surely going to be another one modelled on someone like me me me... preen preen...
'Each one is different, Mrs Bannan,' said the health visitor, a woman palpably past retirement age who organised the Widecombe WI childrens' Christmas parties...and who negotiated the precipitous hills of the surrounding villages by bicycle, her face grimly set and her white uniform remaining spotless while her stockings were mud-splattered on arrival.
'He seems to feed all day, but he's not taking much. ' said Dora, who had become yet thinner.
'He needs a bottle,' said the health visitor with a jaw movement that reminded Dora of her mother.
OK... so well before my time then.
There is a fascinating article by Joanna Briscoe in this month's edition of Vogue and you can read it via a link on the front page of her website here, so I am very much looking forward to talking to her about it all at 3.30 pm this Friday July 22nd and You Know Where by now I think.