Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Julia Gregson

Julia Gregson has worked as a nanny, a shearer’s cook in Australia, a horse wrangler, and waitress, before becoming a writer in her mid twenties.

She lives in Wales with her husband, and has a daughter and four step-children.

Gregson's last novel, East of the Sun, was an international best seller, translated into over twenty languages.

Her new novel, Jasmine Nights.

Not so long ago I asked her what she was reading.  Her reply:
Recently, I re-read one of my favourite books, Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour, with enormous pleasure and renewed admiration for her skills as a novelist.

When I first discovered Molly Keane a few years ago, it was almost like discovering a hilarious, deliciously spiteful and observant new friend. Her humor is so sly, her characterizations merciless- she is sort of like an adult Roald Dahl at times, , but she is also a poet at heart. Few writers I know can evoke the agonies of snobbery or a broken heart, or the atmosphere, the smell, the character of a room as she can, or the beauty of the Irish countryside at dawn.

Good Behaviour tells the story of Aroon, a character every bit as monstrous as Roald Dahl’s Mrs Trunchbull. She is a snob, a control freak; she has lots of rules about things like sherry (there’s posh sherry, and other peoples) and napkins and the laying out of the dead.

Aroon is a sad character too: she is a 57 year old spinster living with a cold mother who has bullied her all her life.

But now the tables have turned: Mummy is upstairs with a dicky heart, and for the first time in her life, Aroon is in control, well sort of... for she has a servant called Rose in the house with her who adores Mummy and resents Aroon.

In chapter one of the book, a tour de force, we meet Aroon in the kitchen. She’s been cooking lunch for her mother, a kind of culinary revenge, for she’s been whizzing cooked rabbit ( a dish her mother loathes) in a Moulinex in order to disguise it as chicken, and the results are quite dramatic, though I won’t spoil it for you.

Molly Keane was born in Ireland but grew up in a house in Claverton in Bath, a house that is now the American Museum. Hers was a career in two halves: in the 1930’s she was a successful playright on the London stage, quite an achievement in itself as she had no formal education. Sir John Gielgud directed one of her plays and she also wrote novels under the pseudonym M.J. Farrell. The pseudonym was wise for she was now back living in Ireland and a member of the hunting, shooting and fishing set, and to be a writer amongst them was social death, particularly when you were casting a cold, clear eye on their foibles.

The death of a husband she adored, and some vicious reviews made her stop writing when she was 37. But in 1980, a friend came to stay, the writer Elizabeth Bowen. Molly tentatively showed her Good Behaviour, Bowen said, ‘this is marvellous Molly.’ The book, published in 1981 caused a sensation and missed winning the Booker Prize by a whisker.

She was in her 80’s at the time- another reason I am inspired by her.
Visit Julia Gregson's website.

The Page 69 Test: East of the Sun.

The Page 69 Test: Jasmine Nights.

My Book, The Movie: Jasmine Nights.

--Marshal Zeringue