The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

November 2018

 - Thursday, November 15, 2018
Some time ago, I wrote about a book called Love, Nina, which was Nina Stibbe’s account of her time nanny-ing for Mary-Kay Wilmers, the editor of The London Review of Books and her hubbie Stephen Frears. Rural Leicestershire lass, Nina, knew nothing of literary London, and the picture she paints of the people and the neighbourhood of Gloucester Cresent is delightful. Now I have another story of the inhabitants of Gloucester Crescent—called simply Gloucester Crescent—written by William Miller, the son of opera producer (among other things) Jonathan Miller. Residents of Gloucester Cres and environs—Alan Bennett, Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn, David Gentleman, the artist, Alice Thomas Ellis—too many names to mention, all make appearances. In the warm weather, the windows of the houses on the Crescent are open, and William grows up to the tap tap of typewriters up and down the street. There are lots of great stories in this book. They are at times very funny, like when he’s bitten by Alice Ellis’ dog, but also tender and moving when he attempts to have a close relationship with his distant father. Don’t be put off by the famous names—to William they were just people he knew. This would make a great present for any literary-minded person. It is an attractive hardcover at a very reasonable price ($30). Hugely enjoyable & highly recommended.

Charlotte Higgins’ book Red Thread is hard to define. In a handsome hardcover, full of paintings and pictures, she wanders the labyrinths found in the writings of Homer, Catullus, Virgil and Ovid, Dante, Borges and George Elliott, and the artists Titian, Velázquez and Picasso. I picked it up and found myself reading about George Elliott’s Middlemarch and Dorothea and her new husband’s honeymoon in Rome—and was immediately lost in the Dorothea/Casaubon story and in Higgins’ interpretation. I can’t do justice to Red Thread in a few lines. It’s about being lost and finding one’s way, of travelling through the difficult terrain of living one’s life—a strange journey that leads to all sorts of unexpected places and delightful pleasures. It’s the sort of book you can devour cover to cover, or have on your bookshelf to take down now and again to be immediately immersed in its wonderful lusciousness. Another great book for our discerning readers. Again, Highly recommended.

While on the subject of people and places, I am looking forward to reading Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra 1955 to 1964 by Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell. The Greek island of Hydra was one time home to a colony of writers and artists—perhaps the most well known being Leonard Cohen, who was there with his partner Marianne Ihlen. Among the group were the Australian expat writers George Johnston and Charmian Clift—they became the ex officio foster parents of the colony, and Charmian chronicled their life there in Mermaid Singing, written when they were on Kalymos, and Peel me a Lotus on Hydra. They are wonderful books—her description of island life, the squabbles, petty jealousies, but also the good times when things—meaning the writing—is going well. This promises to be a very interesting read.

Murder on Millionaires’ Row is a crime novel set in 1986, in the upper echelons of Manhattan. Erin Lindsey is new to me—the cover appealed, and on reading a few pages I was hooked. Rose Gallagher is a housemaid in a big brownstone on Fifth Avenue. The household is ruled by housekeeper, Mrs Sellers, with the proverbial rod of iron. When her employer, Mr Thomas Wiltshire disappears, a concerned Rose is convinced something is amuck, and she enlists the help of Clara the cook to investigate. This is great fun—ghosts, murder, magic and a smart heroine who likes to take risks. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and the Josephine Tey novels by Nicola Upton will enjoy this. ($24)

The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Bell is what you might call a romp. 79-year-old widow Peggy Smart is living a quiet life—her days revolving around aqua aerobics, and visits to the doctor. Her son David sees her as an unpaid babysitter—and Peggy has always done her duty. Enter old school friend—the glamorous, life of the party, Angie Valentine—and Joanna’s ‘beige’ tinted life is suddenly new and exciting. The myriad adventures of Peggy and Angie, are too many to mention here—but the fashion parade, the karaoke party, and the mysterious brownies at the committee meeting were highlights. I fell in love with these two old friends and their life at Jacaranda Retirement Village. I cheered for Peggy when at last she stood up to her children, with the help of the lovely Dr Stephen. It is never too late for life to throw surprises at you, and how Peggy seeks and finds love is a joy to read. This is a book to relish. My sisters, my niece, my great-niece, all gave it the seal of approval. A lovely, uplifting holiday read. Janice Wilder