A quintessential English summer’s day and The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

Saturday was absolutely gorgeous in my part of the world. Two weeks ago we had planned to spend it wandering around eleven open gardens in a village not too far from us fully expecting that it would come to nothing as we couldn’t quite believe the weather would hold. The village is Mells and it’s an interesting one as well as very pretty. Siegfried Sassoon is buried in St Andrew’s Church attached to the manor. It’s a very discreet grave – if you didn’t know it was there you’d miss it. Sassoon died at his home in Heytesbury not far from Mells at the age of 81. Having converted to Catholicism in 1957, he wanted to be buried close to Monsignor Ronald Knox who preached at St Andrew’s and helped with Sassoon’s conversion. Mells’s other claim to fame is the ‘Little Jack Horner’ nursery rhyme – he of the plum pie. Nineteenth century rumour had it that Jack, or probably Thomas, was dispatched to London by the abbot of Glastonbury before the dissolution of the monasteries carrying a pie with the deeds to a dozen manors baked in it. Jack/Thomas dipped his hand in what must have been a very large pie during the journey and pulled out the plum of the Mells manor deeds which included the lead mines of the nearby Mendip Hills. Not so, said the subsequent owners of the manor – well they would wouldn’t they – but the village seems happy enough to own Jack Horner now. The gardens were lovely but thanks to my and H’s forgetfulness there are no pictures. A visit to the Walled Garden at Mells website – a nursery with a fabulous garden which serves excellent cream teas – will give you a flavour.

Cover imageMuch of Sunday afternoon was spent in my own postage stamp of a garden, dipping in and out of Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, much reviewed in the press this week by the likes of the erudite Marina Warner. Solnit is well known in the States but not so much here. The book is a memoir of her mother’s dementia and of her own cancer interwoven with her reflections on art and literature, and the stories they tell us, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to seventeenth century Dutch vanitas paintings. It’s all about storytelling, opening with the line “What’s your story?” and then leading in to a scene straight out of a fairytale in which a huge quantity of apricots cover the floor of her apartment. These are the fruit from her mother’s tree and must be dealt with much as her mother’s descent into dementia must be dealt with. Solnit weaves her own story out of what she does with these fruit and how she copes with the decline of a mother who seems always to have resented her. It’s a fine piece of writing.

2 thoughts on “A quintessential English summer’s day and The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit”

  1. I requested this to read and had it on kindle and then serendipitously I happened to be in London on a Saturday and looked up the SouthBank Centre to see if there were any literary events on and there it was, a reading and discussion with Rebecca Solnit. Previous to that I had bought one of her books Wanderlust for a friend who is a walking guide in the South Island of NZ. To read Solnit is one thing, but wow, to listen to her is like watching a performance artist, she is incredibly engaging in a thoughtful yet intense way and has an abundance of anecdotes in what has been a very interesting life thus far.

    1. I like the sound of that! She writes very well – she summoned up the image of those apricots so vividly and along with it her mixed emotions about her mother.

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