H and I have spent the past week being entertained by the boys at Popham Farm – that’s what the owners call the breeding male alpacas who were munching away in the field just below Lynher Cottage where we were staying. I’m not sure how they managed to keep us occupied for so many hours: it’s not as if they do much besides mince about, lift a leg to scratch delicately – fleas seem to be a bit of a problem – then stride purposefully off before stopping for a steady nibble at an identical bit of grass to the one they’ve just abandoned. Perhaps it’s because they look so endearingly silly – a cuddly toy of an animal, some with a topknot left over from shearing, others more llama-like with longer coats. Tracy, who looks after the herd of around 150, introduced us to a couple of young ones who had been bottle-fed – very friendly with amazingly soft fleeces. Hard not to come away with one or two but our ancient cat and suburban garden wouldn’t accommodate them.
Other than alpaca-watching, we explored Launceston and Tavistock – both attractive, thriving market towns stuffed with real shops – healthy survivors of the dreaded out-of-town supermarket developments that have destroyed so many other British towns and the livelihoods that depend on them. Naturally, cream teas were consumed – a couple of particularly fine ones at the Edgecumbe on the Cothele estate – and a few books read, the best of which for me was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. It’s taken me ages to get around to this novel and I’m not sure why. It’s a very fine piece of writing which explores the Nigerian immigrant experience in both the States and the UK through Ifemelu and Obinze, two lovers who pursue separate and very different lives. My three other holiday reads were Rosie Garland’s imaginative nineteenth-century circus fantasy The Palace of Curiosities, Araminta Hall’s Dot which is about what happens when the truth is withheld, however kindly, and Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs about which I’m still cogitating. I remember much being said when it was published in the UK about an interviewer who asked Messud why her narrator was so unlikeable. Messud gave a somewhat waspish response – and who can blame her? How tedious fiction would be if every character was nice. That was my week – how about you? What was yours like?