Douleur by Bogue Profumo x Freddie Albrighton

Notes: Mint, Flesh, Rose, Candyfloss, Seaweed and Benzoin

I know tattoo artist and fragrance aficionado Freddie Albrighton through various meet-ups over the years and his (sadly defunct) perfume blog. I think it’s true to say that he has been drawn to maverick artisan perfumers and that they in turn, have been drawn to him. I imagine they share a similar sensibility. He did the marketing artwork for Vero Kern’s masterwork Rozy and now he has collaborated on a perfume with Antonio Gardoni of Bogue Profumo. How cool is that?

No doubt the project worked in part because they both have a love of novel aromas that not everyone would expect to find in a perfume. I mean, just look at that note list. It made me smile and reminded me of when my then 5 year-old niece said her pretend perfume was made of ‘Lavender, raspberries, rainbows, strawberries and peppermint’. Douleur isn’t child’s play, though it encompasses a similar level of blue-sky thinking.

 

I’ve seen the opening described a few times as ‘piercing’ and on spraying that is exactly the word. It’s a penetrating combination of everything that is to come but at the highest possible pitch and all at once. It’s as if the contents of the sample which seemed to be pulsating in my bag had been squirming to be set free and once the sprayer is depressed, every note hurtles for freedom.

Once it settles after a couple of minutes, the core of Douleur is revealed as rose oxide which is a material both Freddie and Antonio are fond of. You usually hear it referred to as a metallic rose but while I get that almost camphoric steeliness, my nose reads it more as a rose surrounded by bitter greens. This red bloom wrapped in vines is counterbalanced by wisps of candyfloss and a hint of dried seaweed saltiness.,
Over tume it softens and rounds out considerably as the comforting presence of benzoin in the base comes throigh. The various contrasts knit together and it smells like a ‘proper’, if uncommon, perfume with a mix of hot/cold, hard/soft and bitter/sweet facets.

It does indeed stick to the skin like a tattoo and billows out in waves, ensuring a devastating scent trail.

Antoni says “experiencing odours should be challenging and playful” and that’s exactly what trying Douleur is like. It takes me back to the time when I first got into perfume and inhaling something new was always exciting and interesting, even if it wasn’t to my usual taste.

We can get trapped in our comfort zones. Douleur has come to shake things up.

 

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Do you find yourself only sampling perfumes that are in line with what you know you already like? Would you give Douleur a try?

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Los Angeles by Gallivant

“Drive fast, I can almost taste it now
LA, I don’t even have to fake it now”

– ‘American’ by Lana Del Rey

Notes: Eucalyptus, Clary Sage, Mandarin and Pineapple, Narcissus, Tuberose, Cade, Guaiac, Nagarmotha, Musks and Heliotrope.

I haven’t been to Los Angeles since my 21st birthday but I know it’s more of a collection of discrete neighbourhoods than somewhere with a distinct focal point. Despite this, we all have a strong idea of the place.  The recent launch from British indie brand Gallivant, mirrors the differing aspects that meld together to create an overall impression which is that of a ‘neon floral’.

Los Angeles is Gallivant’s eighth release. You can read my mini reviews of London, Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Brooklyn here.

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The fruit cocktail and herbal top notes bring to mind louche parties in the Hollywood Hills amidst eucalyptus trees and aromatic plants.  I remember Katie Puckrik saying that the scent of LA was something like a mash-up of air-conditioning and sweet white flowers. That’s not dissimilar to the heart of Los Angeles: lush tuberose with a bubblegum quality freshened by an ocean breeze and the suggestion of salty skin.

When the sun sets we head to Sunset Strip with the scent of burning rubber on asphalt from those loud, flashy cars out looking for attention. Leather and smoky woods fill the air as Hollywood’s underbelly is revealed.  It’s an unexpected base considering the lurid top half of the fragrance, although you get hints of it from the start – a slight seediness  that is always lurking just beneath the surface, even in broad daylight.

It made sense when I found out the perfumer for Los Angeles, Karine Chevallier. also did Gallivant’s London which was shortlisted for an Art and Olfaction Award. It has the same eclectic mix that manages to intrigue rather than jar. An amped up fruity floral with a smoky, tarry base sounds unlikely on paper but it works and works well.

The Eau de Parfum has very good lasting power and low to moderate throw.

Los Angeles is a fun ride. It’s up for a good time but a sense of melancholy creeps in towards the end of night once the party’s over. It’s like one of those cinematic songs by Lana del Rey; sultry, hypnotic and just the right amount of trashy.

 

lana del

 

Do you have a favourite ‘destination perfume’? Let me know in the comments.

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen*

“Watch TV go goggle-eyed, See a horror movie get petrified, Go dye your hair use peroxide, Smoke a spliff and get red eyed ….. From the dance floor I can see, Decadent society, And that’s bad, so bad ……  Attitudes of some would say, I got money, I’m okay, and that’s bad, so bad ….. These are the things that drive me crazy, These are the things that make me bad …..”  BAD. Big Audio Dynamite. 

Even though I was at times pretty heavily into the drug scene, (to say the least), I still had my standards.  A line I would not go below.  Never use needles, never go without, nor leave the house without, a red lipstick, and always have a good hair cut.  To credit my vanity with saving my life is not an understatement.  Self-respect is everything, and I saw many people lose theirs.  And most of them are dead now.   But this is a fun Strange Tale so….

Mick Jones.  Co-founder and songwriter, co-lead vocalist and lead guitarist of The Clash until 1983.  In 1984 he formed Big Audio Dynamite with Don Letts.   Favourite lyricist. Favourite bands.  (I saw The Clash a number of times.)

BAD

AMSTERDAM 1985

I never went anywhere without my red lipstick. In the early days of my relationship with Chris, he would ask why that was such a thing.  It was always perfect and reapplied as often as necessary.   I would answer the same each time: “You just never know, one day I just might bump into Mick Jones.”

AMSTERDAM JULY 1987.  LIPSTICK AND POP HEROES.

I worked at the Melkweg in Amsterdam.  It was and still is a famous music venue, and cultural centre.  It used to be a milk factory, hence the name.  It had a music hall, theatre, restaurant, cinema, and tea house.  It was in the tea house that you could legally buy hash and weed.   I saw bands too numerous to mention there.  One of the more memorable gigs was The Ramones who played a three night stint; I still have some of their monogrammed guitar picks.

melkweg

One summer night we were in the Paradiso, (also a music venue, a converted former church) watching the Hoodoo Gurus, when half way through the gig a colleague of mine from the Melkweg, tapped me on the shoulder and yelled into my ear.  He said that the boss of the Melkweg wanted me to come over and look after an English band who were visiting.  I had absolutely no intention of leaving the gig, but of course asked him who it was.  “Big Audio Dynamite,” he replied. I  kid you not.   I yelled at Chris that I was going over to the club because Mick Jones was waiting for me.  I touched up my lipstick and legged it.

paradiso

Chris stayed until the end of the gig at the Paradiso and then came to join me.  We hung out with them for the rest of the evening, which included helping them to sort out some of their uhm, needs.  We met up again for breakfast the next morning.  Don’t ask. What happened in Amsterdam, stayed in Amsterdam.  B.A.D. were touring with U2 as their opening act, and had a couple of days off,  which explained their presence in the city.  We got tickets for the gig in Rotterdam.  Very cool.

Of course we did not become friends, but when we were in Boston, 1989, B.A.D. played The Channel Club on three nights, and guest listed us.  That was Big Audio Dynamite at their height and three of the best gigs I have ever been to.  And then again in 1990, at the Paradiso,  back to where it all started with that tap on the shoulder.  We went along to that and spent time with them afterwards, taking them some Afgahni Black (superior hash) and it rendered them comatose.  No stamina, those Brits.

Never underestimate the powers of a red lipstick.

red lipstick

I don’t wear red lipstick at the moment.  I prefer to wear an extremely high shine clear lipgloss, amusingly called Crystal, and a lot of dark blue and black eye make up.  Both together would be too much.   But I still don’t leave the house without it in my bag.  Just in case.

val hair

Val

“So when you reach the bottom line, The only thing to do is climb, Pick yourself up off the floor, Anything you want is yours.”  The Bottom Line.  Big Audio Dynamite.       

CQ of APJ      

*Parts of this Strange Tale first appeared on Australian Perfume Junkies in 2015.

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Reading Diary June/July 2019

I read a fair amount of books and so I try to do what I can to keep the cost down. I only read via my Kindle and there are a lot of ebook offers on Amazon if you can spend the time to trawl through them. I’m constantly buying books for 99p through the Kindle Daily Deal promotion but there are various other offers whether these are monthly, seasonal or ‘Kindle Firsts’. The problem is, I buy them so regularly they tend to pile up.

I decided to try  to read only books I’d bought for 99p for a couple of months. I managed it with all of the books in this blog post. What’s surprising is that a couple were recent releases I thought I’d have to wait to come down in price before I could justify the purchase.

 

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse.
I am the somebody. End of fucking story.”

Reid had a huge hit with The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo a couple of years ago. This 2019 release is based on a Fleetwood Mac type band in the Seventies and again, it has received rave reviews.  It’s told in the form of interview transcripts with the band members and associates looking at back at the past and I know some have seen this as a drawback. I wondered at first if it would prevent me becoming absorbed in the story: it didn’t but it did keep it rather surface level so I didn’t fall for it the ways others have. It was a light, quick read with several strong female characters and all the complicated inter-band relationships you’d expect, along with the mandatory sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.  I’m sure it would make a good beach read, particularly as an audiobook given the format. It’s extremely filmic so expect it to be a film or TV show in the not too distant future. 3.5/5

daisy jones

 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

“To be kin to a dragon, you must not only have a soul of water. You must have the blood of the sea, and the sea is not always pure. It is not any one thing. There is darkness in it, and danger, and cruelty….To be a Miduchi is not to be pure, Tané. It is to be the living sea. That is why I chose you. You have a dragon’s heart.”

I was apprehensive about starting this chunker of an adult epic fantasy.  It was incredibly hyped before its release earlier this year and now a minor backlash has occurred. For 99p I was able to make up my own mind.  This is a Game of Thrones type-universe (with a feminist twist) where the East and West have been at a stand-off for a thousand years. Much misunderstanding and suspicion has grown in the intervening centuries but when the ultimate threat of the return of The Nameless One arises, things need to change. There’s a lot of political intrigue and adventure and I enjoyed the way we change perspectives across the world.  I don’t have the dragon fetish that a lot of fantasy readers possess but these can talk which makes them much more interesting. What really stood out for me was that the story revolves largely around three very driven women and the diversity of characters in terms of both sexuality and ethnicity is excellent.  Not everyone’s cup of tea but it was mine. I just have to knock off a star because, like most books, it doesn’t need to be over 800 pages long.  4/5

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The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

“Well, child, you may do whatever you like with your suffering,” Hanneke said mildly. “It belongs to you. But I shall tell you what I do with mine. I grasp it by the small hairs, I cast it to the ground, and I grind it under the heel of my boot. I suggest you learn to do the same.”

I loved Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic  but have been reticent about her fiction which appears to be rather hit or miss. I took a small 99p chance on The Signature of All Things because it sounded like it could be my kind of thing. It’s a 600 page historical fiction spanning the late 1700s to the late 1800s. It traverses the globe from England to Tahiti, the Americas, Amsterdam – and back again. It starts out with impoverished yet enterprising Englishman Henry Whittaker, who secures a place on Captain Cook’s final expedition as an assistant to a botanist. He makes his fortune through a plant cure for malaria and takes his new Dutch wife to America where he becomes the richest man in Phillidelphia. For the most part however, the novel follows his fiercely clever, if blinkered, daughter Alma, who follows in his naturalist footsteps, eventually quite literally. I think to enjoy this sprawling book you have to like spending time in the 19th century (a passing interest in plants also helps). It’s not about a riveting plot but about watching this well-intentioned woman try to find her way through life despite crushing disappointments and devastating mistakes. 3.75/5

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

“In everyone’s life there are people who stay and people who go and people who are taken against their will.”

This novel made quite the splash when it was released and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Despite that (haha) it’s a highly engaging read which I raced through. Our narrator Rosemary is quirky and humorous with a great love of words (keep a dictionary handy). The story revolves around her unconventional upbringing in Indiana and the consequences It has on the rest of her life. The timeline jumps around so the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her sister Fern isn’t revealed until almost around a quarter of the way in. Strangely, it seems the publishers encourage people to disclose the twist when recommending the book to others. I disagree. It would spoil the reveal which is really something. Unfortunately, I can’t say any more without spoiling it but the cover quote ‘Hilarious and heartbreaking’ sums it up nicely.  4.5/5

 

we are all

 

How To Be Human: The Manual by Ruby Wax

It’s this sense of unrest, this nagging feeling we should be finding some meaning (especially existentialists) that makes us very, very unhappy. Baboons are still going round having the time of their lives while we’re tearing out what little hair we have (compared to the baboons) trying to suss out why we don’t feel good enough.

I read and thought a lot of Frazzled and Sane New World so I snatched it up How to Be Human when it came up for a song. All three books have mindfulness at their core but take different approaches. It’s good to keep hearing the message because it encourages me in my own practice. This book focuses on the fact that our lives have changed radically over millennia have but our brains haven’t. There is input in each chapter from her friends, the neuroscientist and the Buddhist monk which makes for an entertaining and insightful read. There is also a host of mindfulness exercises for tackling a whole range of issues.  Ruby’s experience tracing her family’s roots in Austria towards the end of the book was particularly moving. 4/5

How-to-be-Human-The-Manual-by-Ruby-Wax

 

Do you have any summer reading recommendations?

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Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori by Gucci

Hello A Bottled Rosers,

While you are all sweltering in heatwaves up north I thought we could chat about a new to me fragrance in my collection. Someone at Gucci has remembered how to make wonderful fragrances again. It’s really exciting and fun for me to find new Gucci fragrances to try and love. The Absolute range is killer and so too is the Gucci Bloom range.

Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori 2018

Alberto Morillas

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Top: Galbanum, Blackcurrant bud
Heart: Jasmine, Rangoon creeper, Tuberose
Base: Musk, Sandalwood

A leafy green fruity floral aquatic. HA! Sounds particularly vile, doesn’t it? WRONG! It’s freaking wonderful. An aquatic wash that gives a salty seaside vibe without it feeling like the regular cucumber water that so many perfumistas find horribly reminiscent of the 1990s. Here it’s all poured over white flowers with a lovely tart yet unscreechy blackcurrant. Refreshing without resorting to most of the old fashioned tropes.

Gucci Bloom Acqua di Fiori is the late, hazy days of summertime captured in a bottle. In feeling it’s analogous to hanging out on a Sunday afternoon with a white wine spritzer and joining the kids running through sprinklers to cool off.

 

 

I really like the way that green is used, it’s an interesting, slightly off kilter leafiness with a hint of unripe fruit. The closest I can think in terms of feeling was that Annick Goutal scent Mandragore. Here we smell a similar ivy-like green cutting across everything else. The Gucci does it with a really lived-in set of musks and breathy white flowers which feels very tropical hotel gardens in the moonlight.

 

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A casual, wearable white floral fragrance that starts with the pep of thirst quenching water and finishes warm and cozy. Perfect summer wear but also excellent for our mild winter here in Sydney. It’s reminding me of what we look forward to in a couple of months time.

Have you tried any of the Gucci Bloom series yet? What did you think?

Portia xxx

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Most Worn – Summer 2019

I don’t plan on posting perfume reviews during August and Strange Tales From The Cookie Queen will be taking a break until the end of the month. However, Portia will be joining ABR on a monthly basis (yay) and inspired by her own excellent Summer List, I thought I’d share my own most worn perfumes this season.

The U.K. has experienced another heatwave this year with temps hitting an all-time high for July last Thursday of 38.1 degrees Celsius (about 101F). No joke when you don’t have aircon. Thank goodness for the cooling, distracting powers of perfume.

 

Eau de Rochas by Rochas

I love this cheapie from 1970 so much. You may not envisage it from the wide-ranging notes list but Eau de Rochas is all about lime and patchouli on me The tart lime against the raspy patch is bliss and has been perfect for muggy (overcast, humid) days. It makes a pleasant change from the white flowers or clean citrus. The bottle fits in well with my home décor too which is a bonus, haha.

Frangipani by Ormond Jayne

A dear friend in Sydney gave me a travel spray of this swoon-inducing fragrance when I stayed with her last summer. It reminds me of her every time I wear it. Frangipani is my favourite of the OJ white florals. It’s all creamy petals and tropical langour with zero screechiness. A squeeze of lime cuts through the buttery flowers like an ocean breeze.  The carefree, barefoot feeling it gives me is priceless: carrying me off to the Polynesian islands which I hope to visit for real one fine day.

 

 

Eau de Mandarine Ambrée by Hermes

The Hermes Eau de Cologne collection is top-notch and in an ideal world I’d own all of them. Eau de Mandarine Ambrée takes the fruity note that makes me the most happy – mandarin – and combines it with a lightweight, sunlit amber to extend its lasting power. My friend was disappointed that the mandarin didn’t last longer and gifted me her bottle but it doesn’t bother me. It can be a little syrupy so I wear it when the heat is in the low to mid twenties.

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Prodigieux le parfum by NUXE

I love the original NUXE multi-use oil – it has a sprayer and dries quickly, as well as smelling great. The scent reminds me of summer holidays sur le continent. Where others cite Bronze Goddess as their beach perfume of choice, I’m not so fond of the prominent coconut accord. Prodigieux le parfum is the perfect beachy scent for me with its notes of orange blossom, magnolia and vanilla. It brings me all those old school sun lotion vibes while I’m chained to the office desk. I only wear it when the temperature hits the high 20s. It doesn’t feel right to be laying on the sand – olfactory speaking –  otherwise.

 

 

 

Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens layered with Seville a L’Aube by L’Artisan Parfumeur

Here’s the curveball. EauMG recently posted a fantastic Instagram story about how she was standing next to an older lady who looked like an ex-model and smelt amazing. She screwed up her courage and asked what she was wearing. It turned out to be Chanel’s Paris-Venise (neroli, vanilla, tonka) layered with Iris Silver Mist. MIND BLOWN. I don’t own the Chanel so I improvised with the orange blossom oriental Seville a L’Aube instead. It it worked well. The Artisan can be a little ‘thick’ and sweet so ISM’s cool steeliness was a great counterbalance. I just need to use a bit less SaL’A or flip the order because I lost that stunning iris after a while.

 

How’s your summer coming along? Any perfumes you’ve been loving in the heat?

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Portia’s Summer List

Hi there A Bottled Rosers. Thanks again Tara for letting me infiltrate you inner sanctum.

I come from Australian Perfume Junkies and would like to share some of my all-time favourite fragrances. Each season, according to your Northern Hemisphere weather, I’ll tell you what I have that gets quite a bit of wear. So Portia’s Summer List will be like a personal all-star list.

SUMMER! Suddenly the world is hot. Wearing way less clothing, floaty linens and cottons for choice. If the seaside is within driving or transport distance there are lazy beach days (personally I am a pool fan, no sharks or sand). Salads jump to the front of the food order and light, easy drinking wines flow all afternoon. I tend to either look for shimmering, cool colognes or lean into the heat with heavy middle eastern concoctions, both perfectly viable summer expressions of fragrance.

Here is a photo of Tara, Anna Maria, Jin and me in Venice a few years ago. We have definitely had some amazing adventures together.

Aqua Allegoria Lys Soleia by Guerlain

Lily, yang, vanilla and fruits all combine to create a creamy tropical dream. This is not the usual tart cologne of the Aqua Allegoria line but a rich, sophisticated and long lasting gem. It always smells to me like there’s coconut in the mix as well. On the long hot days of summer Lys Soleia will fit right in with its golden smelling extravagance.

Geranium Pour Monsieur by Frederic Malle

Imagine arcticly frigid mint and incense facing off against anise, clove and resins in a refreshing, utterly unique blend. Nothing smells quite like it and very little on the shelves will give you such a jolt of cool wind in your flagging sails. Geranium Pour Monsieur is the ultimate frosty spritz.

Granville by DIOR

It’s no secret how much I love Granville. A classic cologne with lemon, thyme and rosemary twisted through fresh pine needles and a peppery snap. Its sharp, awakening burst is an excellent foil for those summer days when you are hurried, sweating and uncomfortable. A couple of spritzes and you are good to go.

Niki de Saint Phalle

Where would summer be without a dry, rasping, uptight chypre that flows into a mossy cuddle bunny? It would be a very dreary summer indeed. Niki de Saint Phalle has been one of my favourite summer spritzes for years, friendlier than CHANEL No 19 and less floral that Piguet Futur I find NdSP a perfect balance.

Rahele by Neela Vermeire Creations

Osmanthus, leather, violet and modern oakmoss all drizzled perfectly over some white flowers. Rahele is the sleeper of the Neela Vermeire Creations oeuvre, it easily gets the most wear across the year of all the NVCs. It was my wedding fragrance, fits with any mood or event and has a quiet elegance few fragrances can match.

Ubar by Amouage

When I want to push back at the heat with a burning brand of my own then the choice is often Ubar. I discovered its sublime hot weather qualities while travelling desert Rajasthan in India and have kept it in summer rotation ever since. A fruity white floral underscored by ambergris, vanilla, woods, patchouli and resins galore.

So what are you all wearing this summer?
Portia xx

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Galop d’ Hermes

Notes: Saffron, Quince, Rose, Osmanthus, Leather and Musks

 

Christina Nagel’s Twilly was chic with just right amount of quirk and her additions to the Hermessence line have been stellar, with my particular favourite being the radiant jasmine, Cedre Sambac. The oils are exquisite and if I had the budget, I’d purchase Musc Pallida in a heartbeat. The 2016 release of Galop continued the trend and lies somewhere between the two in terms of availability and price point.

Val the Cookie Queen fell hard for Galop and kindly gifted me with a large decant last winter. I’ve nearly drained it.

Let’s start by taking a look at that fabulous stirrup bottle…

galop

Galop has a very striking olfactory colour palette. To my mind it’s petal pink and saffron orange.  It is only available in Parfum concentration which, of course, has excellent lasting power but also retains a transparency that is very much in the classic style of the previous in-house perfumer, Jean Claude Ellena.

I never tire of the saffron, quince and rose accord. It’s masterfully crafted with no facet being out of kilter. The tart quince counters the sweetness of the rose and the savoury saffron bathes the whole composition in golden light.  It just sings. The saffron has a substantial presence but it’s not as pungent as it can be. I’m generally fond of it as a note but can find it overwhelming. Here it is perfectly pitched, gloriously bright and full but not too spicy.

The rose heart is pure pink, softly sweet and very pretty. It’s poles apart from a dark, sultry red rose. There is also a mouth-watering, juicy fruitiness which I imagine is coming from peachy osmanthus.

Hermes started making riding acoutremonts and so there is often a nod to leather in their fragrances. It’s present here but to my nose it’s more like blush suede.

Galop has just the right amount of tension between sweet and sour and this makes it moreish.

One perfume that I constantly turn to during spring/summer is Vaara by Penhaligon’s. It has a similar saffron/quince/rose combination but a lot lighter (EdP strength) and lacks any leather. Where Vaara dries done to a soft rose, Galop’s development doesn’t have any clear demarcations. The saffron merely becomes calmer and creamier.

It’s a fragrance I pick up in a hurry with the confidence that it always feels right. I can see Galop being the same only on a whole other level of elegance, complexity and quality.

I’ll have to content myself with the Penhaligon’s fragrance until I have the funds for the Hermes.

 

galop horse

Do you like saffron in fragrances? Have you tried Galop?

 

 

 

 

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Reading Diary May/June 2019

I used to regularly read literary fiction, often reading books that had won prizes or were lauded by The Literary Review. My success rate wasn’t great. I DNFed The Line of Beauty and The Corrections. I was baffled as to the fuss over The Life of Pi and Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. The end of Atonement ended me. Then it dawned on me that these books are often written by – and to impress – literary types. They sometimes mess around with the form, can be snobby and tend to favour a depressing ending. It felt like they were more concerned with showing off than providing people (like me) with a good read. So I more or less gave up on them and retreated into genre fiction. I’m trying not to rule them out  anymore and gradually dipping my toe back in does make me appreciate the quality of their writing.

 

Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters Trilogy Book One) by Juliet Marillier

“We draw our strength from the great oaks of the forest. As they take their nourishment from the soil, and from the rains that feed the soil, so we find our courage in the pattern of living things around us. They stand through storm and tempest. They grow and renew themselves. Like a grove of young oaks, we remain strong.”

daughter of the forest

When I told my friend about Daughter of the Forest she said she immediately knew it was my kind of book. The funny thing is that as I read it I kept thinking of Liz Moore of Papillon Perfumes to the point where I had to tell her about it. This was because the story is set 10th Century Ireland when many people still revered the nature spirits and honoured their festivals. The descritpions of the forest are lush and there re many references to flora and fauna. basically if Dryad were a book, it would Daugher of the Froest. As to the plot, it releved about young Sorcha who has a deep mystic connection to the forest. When her six brothers are cursed by a wicked stepmother the Fair Folk tell her what she must do to free them. This sets on her path that is more arduous than she could possible imainge but she is also finds kindess along the way. My only issue was it dragged a little towards the end of its 500+ pages and this put me off going straight on to Book Two in the trilogy but hopefully I’ll come to back it.  4/5 (Contains scenes of serious sexual assault.)

 

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

“Some of us are fated to live in a box from which there is only temporary release. We of the damned-up spirits, of the thwarted feelings, of the blocked hearts, and the pent-up thoughts, we who long to blast out, flood forth in a torrent of rage or joy or even madness, but there is nowhere for us to go, nowhere in the world because no one will have us as we are, and there is nothing to do except to embrace the secret pleasures of our sublimations…”

A couple of reading Diaries ago there was a lot of enthusiasm in the comments fo the nvels of Siri Hustvedt. I looked at her back catalogue and while not the highest rated, this was the one that appealed to me. It’s about a poet in her mid-fities who has an episode of psychosis after her husband puts there marriage on pause to pursue a relationship with a co-worker. We meet Mia after she’s left the hospital and retreated to her small home town for the summer. Here she takes on a summer poetry class for adolesecent girls at the local school and visits her mother daily at her retirement complex.  We follow the interactions between her mother’s friends “The Swans” and the group of girls who indulge in the all too familiar prepubescent pastime of singling out the most ‘different’ for subtle and not-so-subtle ridicule. It’s a study in female relationships (and to a lesser extent, relationships between men and women) but it’s also about the varied ways women are constrained. Hustvedt is clearly a fiercely intelligent woman and though I’m not keen on narrators who drop in phrases in a foreign languages and talk directly to the reader, it was an accessible literary read overall. The small town setting and limited time span kept it intimate. I warmed to Mia immediately and eventually managed to get in sync with the slow pace and just enjoy it for what it was.  3/5

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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

“When something was strange, everyone thought they had the right to come stomping in all over your life to figure out why. I found that arrogant and infuriating, not to mention a pain in the neck. Sometimes I even wanted to hit them with a shovel to shut them up, like I did that time in elementary school. But I recalled how upset my sister had been when I’d casually mentioned this to her before and kept my mouth shut.”

There has been quite a buzz around this book with some even calling it the Japanese Eleanor Oliphant. Keiko like Eleanor, is socially inept but to a much greater degree. She has so little empathy, she appears to be sociopathic. At school she learns the best way to get by in life is to keep quiet. From there she gets a job at a convenience store and finds her true north. The store provides reassuring predictably and a role to perform. In fact she mimics the other employees in voice and dress to appear like ‘a normal person’. Keiko stays at the store for 18 years at which point she feels the pressure from those around her to make some kind of change in her life. Unlike Eleanor, there is no trauma beneath it all to make sense of her strangeness and allow the reader to empathise with her, but that’s kind of the point. No one is comfortable with her living an unconventional life even though she is perfectly content with it. A quick, quirky and engaging read. 4/5

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Villette by Charlotte Bronte

“The negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives – the life of thought, and that of reality.”

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Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classics and so it makes me sad that Millenials often dislike it because they focus on the ‘problematic’ relationship with Mr Rochester rather than Jane’s incredible strength of character. When looking to get back into reading classics, I chose this much lesser known work which was Charlotte’s final novel. There are echoes of Jane Eyre with Lucy Snowe being a friendless introvert who is trying to survive in the world after a history of tragedy. Jane Eyre isn’t especially likeable but Miss Snowe is hard to warm to. I grew to understand and empathise with her however. She is the way she is as the result of her past and her circumstances. She is fearful that the rug could be pulled from under her at any point and is constantly steeling herself for disappointment. It’s a bleak book but that was Charlotte’s experience of life and I feel a kind of kinship with her. It isn’t an easy read, not least because I don’t speak French and there is untranslated dialogue throughout. 3/5

 

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

“Your parents warn you about the monsters you might encounter in dark alleyways, but they never warn you about the monsters you might find in your own mind, the ones that taunt and trouble you, and make you question yourself to your very core.”

Bryony Gordon is a journalist who wrote a best-selling memoir The Wrong Knickers about her wild twenties . What she never mentioned in that book and what she explores here, is her longstanding mental health issues.  She battles an eating disorder, depression and OCD – not the ‘tidy sock drawer’ type of OCD but the kind which makes her believe she is a serial killing paedophile.  While it’s hard going through the world feeling you are not enough, it’s equally hard feeling you’re too much: too loud, too open, too greedy, too sexual, too much. Her story is sometimes heart-breaking but often hilarious. She can appreciate the absurdity and selfishness of her younger self and acknowledges that she was often simultaneously having a great time as a columnist for The Telegraph. 3/5

 

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How has your reading been this last month or two?

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen

“I said mama we’re all crayzee now.”  SLADE. 

 

In fairness to Mum, she never turned up to visit me unannounced.  Once in a blue moon she would ask to drop by and I would spend a week cleaning up, hiding a million things, including the fact that my boyfriend was living with me.  And sometimes a number of other strange people at any given time, most of them with aliases.  (Pedro and Budgie? Yeah, I’m talking about you.)

I said never, it would be more correct to say once, she did.  It was early evening and a group of us were hanging out, smoking and listening to music.  We were expecting another couple of friends, and had not yet been busted, so were not as paranoid as we would be in the future.

There was a knock at the door.  I got up and went to open it.  Mum was standing there.  I panicked, surely turned white, said wait a minute and slammed the door.  Right in her face.

“Clean all this shit up!” I yelled at everyone “and hide”.  You have never seen a bunch of stoners move so fast.  I could hear loud banging on the front door.  Bang, bang, bang, CRASH.

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Mum, and those who knew her will surely remember this, wore a ring on every finger, on some she had two.  I particularly remember a bishop’s ring on her pointer, with a stone the size of an small egg in it, and a half sovereign mounted in a setting that had the ring standing about half a cm above the finger that she wore it on.  The other eight, were bits and bobs.  Yes, eight, her thumbs had rings too.

We had an old door with a stained-glass window in it.  Mum’s thumping on the door smashed two pieces of the glass out, and she seized the moment.  Putting her fist straight through the gaps, she opened the door from the inside.

She walked into the empty living room, windows open, music playing and a still warm bong in the middle of the table.  My boyfriend sat on the sofa sketching on his drawing block, a picture of innocence.

Now that I am a mother myself, I can only imagine that she was as scared as me.  How on earth could I have know that at the time?  I told her that I was so surprised to see her, and so ashamed at how messy my flat was, that I could only think of keeping her out until I could tidy it up.  She asked me what the pipe thing was, and I explained it was from the guy next door who smoked Turkish tobacco.  Luckily I did not have to come up with a reason for the five people hiding in the bedroom, clutching rolling papers and album covers.  She did not find them.

Mum was a fireball.  The kindest person you could meet,  but also (seemingly) the scariest.  She stuck to her religious values so fiercely it felt like she was not able to accept things that fell outside of that zone.  I know now of course that it was her way of protecting and forgiving  herself from her own past;  falling pregnant with me out of wedlock, being adopted and not finding out about it until she was about to marry my father, a severe nervous breakdown when she was just 25 ….

 

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Val with her mother

For many years after the fist through the window episode I thought I had successfully gotten away with hiding my life from my mother, and that she was in a way naive. Maybe she was, I don’t know.  She never asked, and I never told her.

It was those fierce religious values that gave me a foundation strong enough to save my life.

CQ of APJ

 

This was the same apartment that I had my first bust in, as told in my first Strange Tales. You would think I would quite simply have just not ever opened the door.  But you live and learn.  As we moved onto other flats, we started to have coded rings (no pun intended) and knocks.  One learns.

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