Sunday, August 2, 2009

Diary of an Urban lady upon reading about a Provincial one

I have made another step towards catching up with what the rest of the book blogging world has already read, and finished Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E.M. Delafield. Very much liked it, though I am possibly not as enthusiastic about this as some.

It reminded me forcefully of Bridget Jones's Diary, and I am left with the impression that Helen Fielding had read this before writing that. They have very definite qualities in common, and are rather interesting in comparison. We get in these two books a picture of what it is like to be thirty-something in 1931, and what it is like to be thirty-something in the 1990s, and the difference in years produces rather a large difference in situations of the two characters. The narrators of these two diaries are very similar despite their situational differences, though, both with a certain inability to make things come out quite as hoped for. The style is also similar, that habit of abridging sentences to remove various pronouns and conjunctions which is extremely catching. One rather comes out of the book with a tendency to attempt wittier ways of speech, which is a bit funny as the Provincial Lady's witticisms always seem to fail (though possibly this is the fault of her listeners and not herself). One also comes out knowing her very well, though she is the only character in the book without a distinct portrait, and without even a name.

The illustrations by Arthur Watts are a nice addition to the book, especially with their prevailing and unnatural long-leggedness. I was rather amused, too, by the numerous mentions of food (Provincial Lady is always wishing her own house's food was like other people's), as it is all the sort of bizarre English food that one is a bit frightened of ever encountering and having to wonder what exactly it is. I like the way the Provincial Lady observes things and takes note of them, and then simply moves on to more practical things like the children and the servants. She never takes herself too seriously, and thus neither does the book, which is rather nice sometimes when one often reads things that do. I like all her parenthetical notes to self and queries and memorandums and whatnot, such as: "Query: Is not a common hate one of the strongest links in human nature? Answer, most regrettably, in the affirmative."

This was rather a speedy little read. It's 388 pages but the margins are absolutely enormous, and it's always rather nice to finish a book almost in two sittings. I'll probably be on the look-out to buy the book's various sequels if I see them in thrift-shops, though they're not going straight onto my reading list.

And can someone please tell me why I seem to have zero ability to type the world "provincial" correctly on the first try? It always comes out "provinical." (And of course the one time I purposely try to spell it wrong it comes out right.)

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