Posts Tagged ‘Lynne Truss’

‘Tennyson’s Gift’ is the second novel featured in ‘The Lynne Truss Treasury‘. The story takes place in 1864 in a place called Freshwater Bay in the Isle of Wight. The poet Tennyson lives there with his family. The famous pioneering photographer Julia Cameron also lives there. Julia’s dream is to take a portrait of Tennyson’s, but Tennyson keeps avoiding it. One day Charles Dodgson, more famously known as Lewis Carroll, drops by. Then the painter G.F.Watts and his wife Ellen arrive on a visit. Then more people drop by and more and more interesting things happen. We are provided a glimpse of Tennyson’s poetry and some of the crazy things happening in the island start resembling the events described in ‘Alice in Wonderland‘. Soon the events start spiralling out of control and the book, in typical Lynne Truss fashion, ends up as a screwball comedy.

I found ‘Tennyson’s Gift‘ quite interesting. Lynne Truss says in the preface that the characters in the book are all real people, even the two maids of Julia Cameron. The story though, is imaginary. I love the way the book is interspersed with passages from Tennyson’s poems. I have read ‘In Memoriam‘ and ‘Ulysses‘ and probably ‘Maud‘ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade‘. It made me want to read more of Tennyson. Julia Cameron was a likeable character and I loved her. Ellen was also a wonderful character. Lewis Carroll was not at all the way I expected him to be. He looked very creepy. Tennyson was interesting and complex. I learnt interesting things about what these real-life artists did during that time. But as a comic novel, I liked Lynne Truss’ first book more. There was, however, one very fascinating thing in this book. In the middle of the book, there is an interesting conversation between Ellen and Tennyson, about being an introvert, guarding one’s privacy, and the less desirable aspects of fame. It was beautiful and fascinating to read. I loved that conversation. I am giving it below.

Conversation between Ellen and Tennyson

Ellen : “Why don’t you pose for Mrs Cameron? It would make her so happy.”

Alfred Tennyson : “Happy? But, my dear, Mrs Cameron’s happiness in this matter is neither here nor there.”

Ellen : “It isn’t?”

Tennyson : “Consider what she does when she has a person’s photograph. She exhibits it, she gives copies to anybody who calls. She gives away albums.”

Ellen : “She has a generous nature.”

Tennyson : “And I have a desire for seclusion. Why do you think I live on the Isle of Wight?”

Ellen : “Because the Queen likes it? And she once said she might visit you? And then you might get a Knighthood?”

Tennyson : “Yes, but aside from that. I simply will not accept that, just because I am a poet, people should know what I look like –”

Ellen : “Well, everyone knows what I look like.”

Tennyson : “Take this point, my dear. On a walking holiday last year, my companion shouted “Tennyson!” in the hotel, and the price of our simple lodging was doubled at once. Already visitors come to our house, pushing their noses at the windows, frightening Emily, disturbing the boys. People send me their poetry to read. They want to intrude on my private life in a most unseemly manner. I fear for this development, my dear, especially if the railway comes to Freshwater. Even in death I will not be safe. For there is a fashion for writing lives of poets, publishing their diaries and letters.”

Ellen : “Yes, but that’s to show how important they are. Poets are dreadfully important.”

Tennyson : “But such scoundrels might tell the world that a man was mad, or dirty, or worse! And he has no defence!”

Ellen : “But don’t you agree that fame has its price, Mr Tennyson?”

Tennyson : “It has a price. But I firmly believe that no one can make you pay it.”

Have you read ‘Tennyson’s Gift‘? What do you think about it?

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When I was wondering yesterday which book to read next, ‘The Lynne Truss Treasury‘ leapt at me. Lynne Truss is, of course, known for her book on punctuation, ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves‘, which brought her international fame. But before she became an international bestselling author, Lynne Truss wrote comic novels. This book collects three of those novels and one collection of her columns, which all came out in the ’90s. I read the first book in the collection today, ‘With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed‘.

With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed‘ (that title definitely needs improvement! Who suggested this? What were the editors doing here?) is concerned mostly with people who are working in a magazine called ‘Come Into the Garden’. Osborne writes a weekly column for the magazine after interviewing a celebrity, Lillian is the secretary in the office who refuses to pick up the phone and whom everyone is scared of, Michelle is the Chief Sub Editor who works hard and stays late, Tim is a young Deputy Editor. Osborne is going to interview a famous actress called Angela Farmer during the coming week. But, meanwhile, the magazine has been sold off to a new owner, and the new owner decides to shut it down. But when the story starts, the characters in the story don’t know this. I can continue the story, of course, but I won’t. I will just say this. More characters make their appearances, strange things happen, the plot becomes more and more complex and spirals out of control, and how it all comes together in the end, is described in the rest of the book.

I enjoyed reading ‘With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed’. Lynne Truss’ prose was beautiful, engaging and filled with humour, the story was comic and hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing at many places, and towards the end, the story became a screwball comedy. I think it will make a great play or a movie. I loved nearly all the characters in the story (except one who was malicious and another who was annoying) – they were all charming. Towards the end, there is even a chapter where the story transforms into a murder mystery and all the main characters who are potential suspects are sitting in a room and discussing which one of them could be the murderer. It is hilarious!

There is a beautiful, charming preface at the beginning of the book, in which Lynne Truss says this :

“As I write this, I can’t quite visualise the book you are holding. All I can imagine is that it must be quite substantial, and I can’t help remembering a review I once published in ‘The Listener’, which said that the book in question (a one-volume ‘Cambridge Companion to English Literature’) was so thick that you could stand on it ‘to kiss someone tall’. Please do employ this giant tome in any similar useful way you can think of. On busy, fuggy subways, for example, you could stand on it to reach the better air. On icy days, load this book in the trunk of your car to prevent unwanted slewing! If you find yourself on a yacht drifting towards dangerous rocks, attach ‘The Lynne Truss Treasury’ to a sturdy anchor chain and heave it over the side. I won’t mind a bit. I have never written anything remotely weighty before. It makes me feel so proud.”

I fell in love with Lynne Truss after I read that. I can’t wait to read the next story in the book.

Have you read this or other comic novels by Lynne Truss? What do you think about them?

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