Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sugar Girls and G.I. Brides

Last year in an attempt to read more non fiction while at the same time not reading fewer novels I read a social history of the sugar girls in London as the authors interviewed a number of workers and made a narrative from their memories. The book rode the trends of London history, passion for the East End (Call the Midwife) and now-vanished industry. Only natural that the covers should be white with a selection of black and white photos with foil lettering.

The authors have followed up their success by turning to the G.I. brides from an English courtship to American marriage. It's one of those books that, while fascinating, makes you grateful to live in an era when a woman holds her own passport almost as a matter of course and has her own bank account. I was also wondering if we'd see anything close to a happy ending as some of the men lost all glamour when they returned to civilian life and proved to be alcoholics, poor workers, gamblers and routinely unfaithful. I almost gave up on a happy ending, but read on. Early years of a marriage aren't always the pattern of the later relationship and for that, at least, I'm grateful.

I've been fascinated by the Mass Observation publications and the personal stories that have followed on from this trend. Nella Last, of course, is one of the best, but the four G.I. brides featured here are strong women whose hard work and unwillingness to abandon a difficult marriage is inspiring. Modern attitudes would encourage a woman to leave a drunken or womanising husband, but the 1940s/1950s attitude of 'you've made your bed, you lie in it' left these women with few choices. The expense of an Atlantic crossing made it very difficult to return to family even if their family would accept them back.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Rosie Project

I brought The Rosie Project back from BEA in June last year as a very nice man at the Penguin stand said it was one of their funniest offerings he could remember. He was quite right as it kept me occupied on the flight back from New York. I was engrossed and trying not to disturb anyone sitting near me by giggling at the hapless hero's attempts to make sense of the world. Don is a professor of genetics and also a routine-driven social misfit who plans his efficient life to the minute. Mainly by avoiding the majority of social interactions with other human beings. Meal planning is applied for the maximum nutritional benefit and the speed of preparation to the extent that he has has the same meal at the same time each week. On realising that something is missing from his life he takes a scientific approach complete with questionnaire to find a wife. You'll root for Don and Rosie (the barmaid and graduate student who dismantles his routine) and the cocktail-making sequence is especially funny when Rosie and Don staff a bar and an experienced barmaid and Don's encyclopedic knowledge of drinks combinations mean that the bar makes a huge profit.

My proof copy has yet to find its way home to me as it's circulating among friends and family finding a new fan in each household and a few dents and scuffs as it travels. I hope it does return eventually as I'd like to read it again.