Excellence and Irritation
When I saw that Alan Bennett was next on our list I went out and bought this book, knowing it would be one for the shelf. So it was. Brilliant in its brevity, composition and character portrayals. Such gentle, but often poignant humour, with a good plot and superb ending. As someone for whom reading was a delight that wasn't shared or understood by my family as I grew up, I found this a truly poignant read. My only grievance with the book was that Bennett insisted on linking those who like reading with those who like writing. This is not always the case and I thought it a shame that both the Queen and Norman went from critically appreciating books to feeling the need to write one. However, that aside, I know this will be a book well worth re-reading as there were so many vignettes to enjoy over and again.
As for A Breath from elsewhere, I found this an extremely irritating book. I was so glad to see that others found her equally difficult and I'm afraid I gave up after the first chapter. I came to the book as a reasonable novice in gardening and was very interested in the first chapter as supposed succour for the novice gardener. I agree that "there are no right ways" and that experimentation and creativity is good in the garden, but I got annoyed that her "right way" was continually being promulgated. No rules but "As for trees, neglect these at your peril" and "no garden should be without a wall"? One moment she is saying "As for Good Taste... forget it" and the next "But there is no excuse for the owner of a garden full of unusual plants to instal a pre-fabricated shop-bought electric blue 'kidney' in which to plant water lillies". I found her tone preachy and arrogant.
She continually insisted that she too was once a beginner but had clearly forgotten the nervousness and insecurity of the novice, who needs those gardening magazines and supposedly stifling rules in order to navigate their way through the myriad of mysteries that gardening at the outset can seem to be. Similarly, visiting gardens can be inspiring but can also be completely overwhelming for the beginner; like being given a copy of Dickens when first learning to read. Exhausting. I also took umbrage (and suprised Emily that you didn't too) at what she said about photos and photographers in the garden. Her book, I felt, would have been a great deal better for a few glossy photos (for example I would have loved to see a picture of the garden with the piano in it) and again, for the beginner, how essential is the odd photo if you can't picture the aforementioned plant by it's Latin name.
Definitely not a book for a novice gardener, or for one who can enjoy photography as an art form or for one with a small garden and a limited budget!