The Girl Booker

The Girl Booker

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gentry Does It

I am sitting on my bed typing this in the soft warm glow of a lamp on a dull Sydney afternoon. I have been anticipating this blog post for a couple of weeks, because the book I have just finished reading was a long, delightful journey which I couldn't wait to transcribe. A book heavy with fact and detail told with the lightest touch you can imagine.

Gentry; Six Hundred Years of a Peculiarly English Class by Adam Nicolson was more History than Anthropology. Although I was hoping for Anthro when I selected it, I was not in the least bit disappointed. By using the frame of twelve English gentry families in a chronological parade, Nicolson explains significant historical events through small details; using the families' personal circumstances to demonstrate the bigger picture. I certainly got a sense of what 'gentry' means, which is the stated purpose of the book, but even more interesting and valuable was what I learnt about English History. Events such as the Wars of the Roses, the sugar and slave trade, and the Industrial Revolution now make sense to me as more than just a list of facts and dates. And it is all fascinating.

I was also able to make sense of the English obsession with class. Nicolson's contention is that the flexible and unstable nature of the definitions of gentry made for constant questioning, examining, assessing and re-assessing by people involved both directly and indirectly with the English gentry. This insight was marvelous; so many books I have read suddenly made a whole lot more sense. It's like I fitted the last piece into 50 puzzles all at once. The sense of satisfaction one gets from finishing the puzzle is how I feel now that I have read Gentry.

Sunday, March 17, 2013


An Equal Music by Vikram Seth is a dreamy, melancholy, hauntingly sad, achingly beautiful story about a man who is a professional musician with a string quartet, and what happens when his past love turns up after several years of silence. It is about music, and love and loss. It makes me think of something my sister said when she was about six: "Why is it that sad music is always so soft and beautiful?".

I went to see a chamber music concert a few weeks ago and found myself thinking about An Equal Music. Perhaps here is the point at which I should mention that I read the book about seven years ago. It has been haunting me ever since. If that is not the sign of a fantastic book then I don't know what is. I have had half a dozen conversations about it since the concert, and I can't help but gush and enthuse in every one of them as though I had finished reading it last week.

My incomplete memory of the details is no hinderance to thinking about it often, and with affection and appreciation. I still retain a memory of the basic plot outline, and along with that some very vivid emotions and a few mental pictures: the Serpentine in Winter, a face in a red double decker bus window, an eventide sky of indigo blue. It really is the most wondrous read and I feel my life has been enriched because I read it.