"Tennyson's Gift"

Tennyson's Gift by Lynne Truss

Well this isn't what I expected at all. I don't remember why I bought it - it's been quite a while - but the cover picture led me to expect a serious story. Instead it's a clever, comical tale of several egotistical, artistic personalities meeting on the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1864 and it's very funny.

First, there is Alfred Tennyson who is on the island with his wife and sons and spends his days reading his own works aloud to himself. Surly and unfriendly, he has very little tolerance for anyone but his own family. Juliet Cameron is a photographer with such an obsession for the good opinion of others that she forces unwanted gifts on everyone she meets. G. F. Watts is a painter who lives off the charity of others and who is married to a beautiful woman with whom he has never been intimate. Then there is Lorenzo Fowler and his daughter, Jessie, American phrenologists who are on the island to put on a show and find new clients. And finally, there is a mathematician called Charles Dodgson, who is actually Lewis Carroll. Once he enters the picture the story begins to take off.

It could be called a comedy of manners, except that most of these people don't have any manners - or they have them but feel no need to use them. I think it would be more accurately labeled a farce. It's quite light-hearted and witty but underneath the comedy are some deeper issues that I think are as well handled as the humour.

All in all Tennyson's Gift made for an entertaining summer read but don't let the fact that summer's over hinder you. You'll enjoy this one anytime.

"Tales From Willowshade Farm"

Tales From Willowshade Farm - An Island Woman's Notebook by Betty Howatt

Betty Howatt is a native Prince Edward Islander who farms with her husband, Everett, on land that has been in his family since 1783. Howatt's Fruit Farm, formerly called Willowshade Farm, is known for their fruit, vegetables and honey.

There are stories in this book about her personal history and what it's like now to be a full time farmer. It's full of interesting information about the history and the flora and fauna of the area and anecdotes about her family's farming experience. The sections of the book are titled The Howatt Farm, My Younger Years, Farming for a Living, Creatures of the Wild, In the Garden and Feasts from the Farm.

Published in 2003, it's a wonderful look at operating and making a living from a small family farm and a lifestyle that is too quickly disappearing. The stories were gathered from broadcasts presented by the author on a CBC radio program.

 I tried to find out if the farm is still operating but the internet didn't yield any current information, just some old references from four or five years ago. If anyone out there knows if they are still open for business please do leave a comment letting me know.

"Persuasion" and "The Incident Report"

Persuasion by Jane Austen

This is not my favourite of Austen's books but I love reading it anyway. In this one the main character is a woman who, in her youth, broke off a relationship with the man she loved because of her family's disapproval. All of Jane Austen's novels end happily ever after and this one has the same predictable outcome when the man shows up in her life after a few years and they renew their acquaintance. I wish there was more dialogue between these two characters, but there are only a few very brief meetings before they finally get together and reveal their feelings for one another. Until then it all happens in her thoughts, which is a bit disappointing. As I said, I like her other novels better. I'll keep reading them all though because there's simply nothing like Jane Austen's writing. It's in a class by itself.

The Incident Report by Martha Baillie

This wasn't what I expected. I'd read reviews saying it was the (fictional) record book of a librarian writing up reports on various incidents taking place in the library, but the tone and the direction the story took were quite a surprise. Because the main character is a female librarian I was thinking it might have a "Miss Read" or "Anne of Green Gables" feel to it. Wrong. It started out with a couple of funny incidents but the stories get much more serious as it continues. This is an edgy librarian - two words not often used together, I suspect. Many of the incident reports are about her personal life, though the book was supposed to chronicle events happening in the library. Toward the end it gets much more intense than anything I expected. I wasn't disappointed with it, just a bit disconcerted because it was so far off what I was expecting. I think I liked it. I know I'll remember it.