Sunday was lost to the efforts of enduring culinary and alcoholic excess following an evening of Greek dancing in the bosom of almost my entire family as we gathered to watched Uncle Kosta do his thing with a bauzouki.
Much too much merry-ment meant a bedtime of some un-godly hour and the next day the debilitating effects of taramasalata induced exhaustion meant that it wasn’t until four o’clock in the afternoon that it struck me that as 2010 was not a leap year, I would neither have to ask Richard to marry me, nor have time to review Julia Strachey’s Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, before a bunch of white rabbits flung another month at us…
And so never one to dodge my obligations I pulled on my thermal jim-jams and snuggled up beneath a pin-tucked quilt, with my 1978 Penguin version of the book (68p on AbeBooks!) and a bar of medicinal chocolate, then set about reading from start to finish this promising little novella, certain in the knowledge that my brain wasn’t quite up to scratch and thus my opinions of what followed may not be quite as reliable as those proffered by a woman declaring a Vintage Read Along really should be!
Seventy-eight pages later, the book was finished and I was perplexed. While it doesn’t take much to perplex me in conversation, when it comes to books it is rare that I reach the end and don’t quite know what to feel.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding was Julia’s first novel and was written in 1932. It describes one day in the life of a family, an important day for this is the one, that Mrs Thatcham, a middle class widow, would marry her daughter Dolly, to the Hon. Owen Bingham. And thus we are hurled into the heart of Mrs Thatham’s house in the country, resplendent with all the domestic detail we Vintage Housekeepers adore, then like uninvited guests to someone else’s family wedding, required to prowl around the house and observe the comings and chaotic goings of a family in flux.
Though as readers we are always observers, while reading this novel I could not shake of the sense that I was looking from the outside in, and like any gate-crasher at a party, found myself quite unable to get a good grip on what was going on.
Dolly is, from the off, rather a darling, but she is troubled on what should be the happiest day of her life, and after a rather alarming moment in front of the drawing room mirror, when in writing akin to quite the most awful of horror pulp, the potted ferns dance “menacingly” like “jungles in the Congo” and Dolly’s white face is reflected “like a phosphorescent orchid blooming alone there in the twilight swamp”, her eyes spin in her head “ceaselessly” for five or six minutes until the spell is broken by her Mother’s appearance in the room, and thereafter she is banished to her bed-room to begin her preparations for her marriage, while assorted relations begin to arrive and thereafter take centre stage, greeted in turn by Mrs Thatcham who rushes about all of a fluster, bewildered by the jinks in her well laid plans and given to the most dramatic and comical of declarations when that same bewilderment reaches a frenzy.
And so it goes on. We meet various curious aunties, children and cousins, curious only in the way other peoples families often appears to us and we sit through a series of set pieces between relations and domestic staff, many quite hilarious in tone, until it becomes clear that is Dolly’s friend Joseph who is both the pivotal character and the most restless, looking as we are, from the outside in at a family he fails to understand.
The language though occasionally stilted by age, is lovely enough to engage us, and the story is played out like the very best of theatre with even the wedding itself taking place off-set, while we wait, with bated breath, for the return of the family, and the answer to all the questions presented by a conversation between Dolly and Joseph that took place just before she left to be married.
And then in a crescendo of a last chapter we are richly, if not rather bizarrely rewarded by the kind of revelation we could only have hoped for. Though I cannot say any more without revealing the story, it transpires that there is good reason for Joseph’s behaviour, and the family come’s undone in the light of the kind of truth Dolly presumably hoped would never be spoken out loud. A truth, who’s impact is quite hysterically diluted by the funniest, and certainly the oddest misunderstanding about the difference between Albania and Albino’s. Though maybe it wasn’t a misunderstanding at all? In all honesty I couldn’t say, because therein lies the part that most perplexed me. Albino or Albanian? Or both? I have no idea.
Perhaps you should read it and enlighten me? Or perhaps I should re-read it and try to make sense of it on an evening when comprehension isn’t compromised by memories of a night, when rather than being a gatecrasher at a party, I was instead right there at the heart of it…
P.S: The March book is At Mrs Lippincotes by Elizabeth Taylor. Do come read along…