I was thinking the other day it would be fun to teach a class that explored the fiction of nostalgia. It’s because I’m reading Sophie Hannah’s latest Poirot book, The Closed Casket. It’s taking me an inordinate amount of time to read – not because of the book, I hasten to add – but because I’ve had other reading commitments. I find it fascinating that a writer would take on Poirot, such an old-fashioned hero, if well-loved, and that there’s a reading public out there unwilling to let the detective die from natural causes. Yes, I admit I’m part of that reading public. (Although, to be absolutely fair I did buy the book from a remainder bookstore, so perhaps there isn’t such a huge readership out there.) Poirot, of course, was reincarnated by the wonderful David Suchet in the television series which boasted Art Deco architecture and design and gorgeous costumes. I still covet a pair of cherry red velvet trousers I saw but can’t track down a reference to! I am sure this is the year I find some comparable velvet and make a pair.
The other reincarnation via both television and, later, a new book by Sebastian Faulks, is P. G. Wodehouse’s glorious couple, Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. Jeeves and the Wedding Bells was published in 2013 and I rushed to buy it. I adore Jeeves and Wooster, Wodehouse’s comic style and perfect delivery. I turn to Jeeves and Wooster regularly when I’m ill or simply in a fit of pique. I wasn’t disappointed. Of course, Faulks is no Wodehouse – but I didn’t expect that. I just wanted Jeeves, Wooster and the life Wodehouse so effortlessly evokes kept alive for another book.
E. F. Benson’s Lucia books are time machines back to a world of village greens, gossip and snobbery – who can resist Lucia with her bad Italian and her intimate – but not too intimate – relationship with the fussy, needle-work enthusiast, Georgie? I haven’t ventured into Lucia revisited but I note that no less than six authors have tackled Lucia, Queen Bee of Tilling. Now that I’ve discovered that, I’ll have to look up some reviews.
I’m not sure how one would teach a short course on the fiction of nostalgia but it’s interesting to think about how these minor classics not only survive but are revisited. It isn’t just our era – every age looks backwards to the previous Golden Age, of course. But it seems to me that there’s a particularly twenty-first century yearning for the past. Do we imagine that it’s the key to a richer, more authentic life?
In my email inbox I field messages that exhort me to revolutionise my inbox! work less hours more productively! create a unforgettable brand! unlock the powers of social media! I also receive notifications that alert me to new podcasts and vlogs from knitters and sewers who are making daily items with care and love, rather than shopping for fast fashion. A couple of weeks ago the New York Times food editor, Sam Sifton, urged readers to make time to cook as an antidote to Trump-fuelled despair, to sit down with friends and family in the age-old act of breaking bread together, rather than eat on the run, at the desk or in front of the television.
Yesterday my husband and I revolutionised our pantry – I now know I have three unopened packets of freekah, four packets of star anise and an enormous packet of almonds. The spices are in alphy order in their handsome box and I promise the universe not to buy dried mushrooms any time soon. This morning we went to Quaker Meeting and met a man who has attended Meeting for ninety-three years. Now there’s an authentic life! I thought about that during the Meeting and, at the end of the hour’s silence, a Friend gave Witness in the form of a quote which talked about all earth being holy ground and I was moved profoundly. Then my husband and I walked through Sherbrooke Forest and a male lyrebird ran across our path, his handsome tail floating behind him, as though to prove that point. After dinner, using my late step-grandmother’s fish knives and forks, I made bread and now my kitchen smells of freshly baked sour dough from the starter I’ve nurtured for the past twelve or so months – just a baby in sour dough terms.
Those are part of my own yearning – along with the delicious Lucia, Jeeves and Poirot – for a little attention to hold against indifference.