A Few Days in the Country
1 journaler for this copy...
For me A Few Days in the Country & Other Stories would have been superlative without two stories and they are English Lessons and The Cornucopia, which has been marked out for praise by severals reviewers. The former seems to be a study of how useless words are to convey our thoughts and feelings and ultimately words fail the hapless Laura. Unfortunately whatever Harrower was trying to impart in this short story was lost on me as well.
The latter story comes across to me as simply a rant, an elegant one, but perhaps I missed the significance of the last line. The main character’s manoeuvres are foreshadowed by Miss Frazer, Claire Edwards’s boss in Summertime, and to see how Miss Frazer manipulates her employee was much more effective for me than all the details about Julia the High Society autocrat in The Cornucopia.
I also appreciated Summertime because it captures the city mid last century. What I think of as the tone of those times is rendered very evocatively by Harrower. Here is the coffee lounge (a term now almost dead) that Claire visits with her friend Annette.
“By mutual consent they saved the news for some minutes. Removing their short white gloves with casual deliberation, they studied the menu with the air of detachment they had practised since they were sixteen.
Their order given, they gazed at the other coffee drinkers with bored, haughty faces. Their own reflections were scrutinised even more carefully in a full-length mirror conveniently close to their table.” Wonderful! The story The City at Night, although not a favourite, is also interesting for capturing the 1960s and the attitudes of the two young women exploring a new friendship.
The Beautiful Climate is a story very close to home and is my top pick for a number of reasons. Firstly I spent many weekends as a teenager on my parent’s cruiser moored in Pittwater and sometimes around in the Hawkesbury, passing Scotland Island on the way. Luckily I didn’t have a father like the one in the story but there are many things I love about this one, particularly the subtlety of the depiction of the abuse. There’s no screaming and shouting but the father manages to completely dominate their lives. For instance Hector Shaw deliberately makes his wife and daughter come out with him on their small boat although he knows its the last thing they want to do:
“Mrs Shaw put on her big straw sunhat, tied it solemnly under her chin, and went behind him down the seventy rough rock steps from the house. She said nothing. The glare from the water gave her a migraine. Since a day years before when she was a schoolgirl learning to swim and had almost drowned, she had had a horror of deep water. Her husband knew it. He was a difficult man, for what reason no one had been able to discover, least of all Hector Shaw himself.” Stories like this one should be compulsory reading for young girls in High School, I believe, to clearly show manipulation in all its forms.
And then there is the technically brilliant Alice. What can I say about this one other than you really have to read it for yourself. Yes, it is unusual and understated but it is masterly in its depiction of a wasted life. Unfortunately a lot of women like Alice lived such lives where the men were valued over the women, even by their own mothers. Hopefully it is an attitude that will gradually die out. The story for me, I believe, holds the key somehow to Harrower’s own psyche and the long years during which she didn’t write at all.
Two of the stories in this collection I enjoyed because of the characterisations and they happen to be the two stories with male points of view. Lance, Harper His Story is one of the most unusual stories with a very clever last line and in The Cost of Things, my favourite character is Clea: “I’d be bored, Dan.” Severals others are interesting reading but, strangely, it is The North Sea that lingers. What will be your favourite? Read A Few Days in the Country & Other Stories and find out. Highly recommended.
WILD RELEASE NOTES: