Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Green Tapestry, by Beth Chatto. Simon and Schuster, 1989

Beth Chatto is a highly respected plantswoman, as both designer and plant ecologist. This book focuses on her own garden, which has many different zones with differences in soil type, sun/shade exposure, degree of moisture available, etc., and shows us how she has planted the areas. Her philosophy of planting is to observe what conditions your garden has (and, like her, you may have more than one type of area) and select plants that like those conditions. In quest of this information, she has spent time looking up where original species came from. Don’t think because she is planting to suit the site that her plantings are boring; she has used many plants that are less common. The area of England that she lives in is drier and colder than most of Great Britain, so her conditions are more like the USA. Five stars for solid information. 

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After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, by Aldous Huxley. Elephant Paperback, 1939

This book is a somewhat odd mash-up of satire and philosophical lecture. On the one hand, we have an uber rich old man, Jo Stoyte, who lives in a castle in the San Fernando Valley. He owns a bank, a cemetery, an oil company… his home is reminiscent of Hearst Castle, filled with every modern convenience and stuffed with art from around the world bought with no plan or passion. His very young live in girlfriend is called The Baby. He also has a live in physician, Obispo, who has no redeeming qualities, (I do wonder where he got his degree) to watch over him, give him testosterone shots, and do research on extending the human life span. At the beginning of the story a British scholar, Jeremy Pordage, arrives, to work on the crates and crates of documents from the Hauberk family- this seems at first to have no bearing on the story, but in the end, it very much does. The other main characters are Peter, Obispo’s young, innocent assistant, and Mr. Propter, who does not live in the castle. While the other characters are the satire of capitalism, lechery, conspicuous consumption, Forest Lawn type cemeteries, and the fear of death, Propter is the moral and philosophical force. And, sadly, while the rest of the story is pretty amusing- and horrific in places- Propter is as dry as a mummy’s fart. He’s a noble person- he helps out the migrant workers (remember, this is during the Depression), is working on a way for people to be self-sufficient, and is against the kind of wealth aggregation that Stoyte represents- but he does not serve to advance the plot at all. It’s like Huxley couldn’t decide what kind of book to write, so he wrote them both and did not blend them elegantly at all. Four stars. 

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Catalina: A Romance, by Somerset Maugham. Doubleday& Co, 1948

Catalina is a 15 year old Spanish girl living in the time of the Inquisition. One day she is laying on the steps of the cathedral, crying because she cannot walk- one of her legs is permanently injured- to see the triumphant entry into the city of two of its favored sons. Of Don Juan de Valero’s three sons, two are famous- one a bishop, the other a warrior in the pay of the king. The third is a humble baker, who stayed to take care of his parents, raise a loving family, and help the poor. Suddenly a woman appears behind her, who asks her what is wrong. Catalina expresses her woe over her leg, including the fact that her inability to walk has caused her beloved to dump her in favor of another girl, one capable of the demanding physical labor of surviving and raising a family in those times. The woman tells her that she can be healed by the son of Don Juan de Valero who has served God the best, and vanishes. Obviously, the woman has to have been the Virgin Mary.

A good section of the book is devoted to describing the lives of the three sons, especially the Bishop. He has lived a life of extreme devotion, wearing a hair shirt and whipping himself for his sins. He is obviously the first choice for healing Catalina. After Catalina is healed, the head of the convent in town wants her to become a nun, feeling that the presence of a living miracle will add fame to the convent- and money in its coffers as pilgrims arrive. But Catalina has other ideas…

And here the story falls apart to me. The first part is a satire of the institutions of the medieval church and caste system, and I enjoyed it. But after Catalina is cured, we leave that frame of mind and end up in “Don Quixote”! Literally- Catalina and her small band of entertainers run into a group of actors from somewhere in Cervantes novel and spend a good bit of time with them. Now, that section of “Don Quixote” was pretty senseless to me, and it doesn’t improve in “Catalina”. So, the first half or more of this novel is witty and good; the last part just seems to fill up space (when I read “Don Quixote”, I wondered if Cervantes had been paid by the word). Three and a half stars. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- Amazon will give me a few cents. 

This did not influence my review.