Monday, June 9, 2014

{review} a week of pineapples

*dusts off blog cobwebs*
'Georgy,' Mr Pasmore asks, 'may we come in?' He was already in. 'I’ve brought you two delightful visitors. They have been exploring the possibility of the pineapple. Do you like that? The possibility of? I mean we all know the positivity of, don't we? What we want, oh, what we all so want want want is the possibility of? Georgy, do you believe in the possibility of the pineapple?' (Thea Astley, Hunting the Wild Pineapple)
Last week I only read books with 'pineapple' in the title. This offered a wider variety than one might expect, and I think I did rather well and read some things I might not otherwise have tackled. So what did I read?


 

M. C. Beaton At the Sign of the Golden Pineapple (1987)
Charlotte Webster awoke during the night and lay shivering under her thin blankets. Food. Mountains of food. That’s what she had been dreaming of. A confectioner’s. She could see it now, the golden pineapple over the door, the piles of oranges and pineapples and dainty cakes. The smells of hot chocolate and coffee. Her stomach growled ferociously.
M. C. Beaton is terrifyingly prolific. This Regency series was originally published under the pen name Marion Chesney. I discovered this series thanks to Another Look Book's review of Beaton/Chesney's Minerva, which I thought could fill a Heyer-sized gap in my reading life. It was less-mannered, more overtly - perhaps one might suggest 'unbelievably' - socially boundary-pushing, and rather more risqué than a Heyer, but a fun - and quick - read. Likewise At the Sign of the Golden Pineapple: our heroine ("We are all kept in chains by the fact that we are genteel women") decides to make her own way by opening a confectionery shop/ices-and-tea-room in London with two lady acquaintances from unhappy homes - but can "ladies" ever resume their previous social and marital ambitions after working in a shop? 

The pineapple connection is that a pineapple was an emblem of the confectionery trade in the Georgian era (lots more on this here and a wonderful recreated pineapple 'ice' here). This is a (hmmm... tries to think of some relevant analogies...) wafer-thin read, stuffed sugarplum-like with sweet historical details, and easily digestible in one sitting. Not sure I'm hungry for more of the genre though, but that might be a result of the sugar overdose of read number two...

Betty Neels Pineapple Girl (1977)

  

And Mrs White, with a swift movement worthy of a magician, heaved at something under the blankets and produced a pineapple. ‘Oh!’ said Eloise, startled, and then: ‘Mrs White, what a simply lovely present—thank you, and your husband. I’ve—I’ve never had such a delightful surprise.’ She clasped the fruit to her person...
I've actually read this Mills & Boon before, and written briefly about it. Nurse falls down steps onto handsome foreign doctor while holding a pineapple; doctor replaces pineapple with THREE from Fortnum & Mason; coincidentally, poor nurse meets handsome doctor in foreign parts while on a job; does he love her or is he a bastard ("How could he talk about kippers when only a moment ago he had been kissing her as though he really enjoyed it?")? Will her clothes be good enough ("an elderly velvet dress the colour of a mole")? ... yada yada yada... You get the picture. I'm here for the pineapples, mostly, I guess. The period details (grimy 70s London) are great, and often rendered rather funny by time-passed:
‘Someone gave me a pineapple,’ she informed the table at large, and added apologetically: ‘I would have brought it down with me, but I thought it would have been nice to take home…’ There was a chorus of assent; everyone there knew that Eloise lived in a poky little flat behind the Imperial War Museum—true, it was on the fringe of a quite respectable middle-class district, but with, as it were, an undesirable neighbourhood breathing down its neck...
My favourite line is when the heroine is tossing and turning at night thinking about the mysterious doctor: "a fruitless exercise". I think NOT!

But I haven't only read pineapple 'fluff':

 


Thea Astley Hunting the Wild Pineapple (1979)
Once in Fixer’s cabin, one hour, one year, Fixer and I worked out the new coat of arms - a beer can rampant on a social security form couchant. Do we make it different, the people up here?
I don't read as much Australian literature as I feel I ought: I think this is a combination of the feeling that I "ought" (which makes me irrationally stubbornly resistant to doing so); a lack of empathy or resonance with the "bush" (I blame family camping holidays and a loathing of tropical weather), and a love of reading about places not as familiar as the home turf. Perhaps there's a bit of a block too because of difficult reading experiences with Australian lit at school and university? But I do keep trying. 

I can't say that I felt any sense of breakthrough after reading Thea Astley's take on Far North Queensland - hot, wet, uncomfortable, primitive, dangerous - a "soft porn" of a landscape - and filled with the lost and those not wanting to be found. This is a land where social boundaries break easily: "Carl’s fingers have been scratching the spines of Mac’s books. He wants to borrow a couple. I explain they’re not mine, but he’s oblivious to the protocol that goes with possession."

Astley's writing is absolutely superb, although sometimes one feels on the verge of drowning in it. (Whispering Gums discusses why Astley's language can also be confronting.) The book is a series of interlinked short stories about the inhabitants of the tropical Far North. Her descriptions of place can be claustrophobia-inducing - small artificially created physical and metaphorical spaces within which we imprison ourselves, and then the equally terrible world without: "a postcard tropadise (the greens are too green! the blues too blue!)". 

Then there are moments of pure comedy (like the 'hunt' for the wild pineapple of the title) or the little vignettes of everyday life such as the blind date: "He was much older than she had expected. So was she." Elsewhere: "She always appeared formidably silked and hatted and her bust was frightening. ‘Breasts’ is somehow too pretty, too delicate a word to describe that shelf of righteousness on which many a local upstart had foundered."
Mr Waterman was, also, a foundation member of the metric society. He was the first in the district to think in millimetres of rain, kilometres of road, kilograms of body fat and the metric statistics of wanted criminals. When he and Mrs Waterman did their biennial culture junket to Europe, he took enormous pleasure in supplying details for his passport. ‘One point eight five four three metres,’ he wrote against ‘height’; ‘eyes’ – ‘blue’. He would chide his wife mildly. ‘No, dear. No, no. You are one point six four one two metres.’ Against ‘colour of eyes’ she wrote ‘glazed’.
A difficult but valuable read.

Kaori O'Connor Pineapple: A Global History (2013)


Pineapple is great. She is almost too transcendent - a delight if not sinful, yet so like sinning that really a tender conscienced person would do well to pause - too ravishing for mortal taste, she woundeth and excoriateth the lips that approach her - like lovers’ kisses she biteth - she is a pleasure bordering on pain, from the fierceness and insanity of her relish. (Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia [1823])
I have a copy of Fran Beauman's The Pineapple on my shelf, but I decided to read this shorter history first. It's part of a series of books devoted to single foodstuffs - nuts, pancakes, pies, soup, offal, etc. (Incidentally, Pie is by the always fascinating blogger Old Foodie.) Pineapple is basically all you need to know about the pineapple in the short form: where it came from, how it got everywhere, its role as a prestige and royal object, the craziness of growing it in England, the popularization of the fruit through canning, and so on.
Indeed, the gulf between the pineapple’s fame and the difficulty in satisfying curiosity as to its taste came to epitomize the nature of knowledge itself for the serious-minded. In his On Human Understanding, published in 1690, the empiricist philosopher John Locke used the pineapple to argue that true knowledge can only be based on experience. In Locke’s words: If you doubt this, see whether you can by words give anyone who has never tasted pineapple an idea of the taste of that fruit. He may approach a grasp of it by being told of its resemblance to other tastes of which he already has the ideas in his memory, imprinted there by things he has taken into his mouth; but this isn’t giving him that idea by a definition, but merely raising up in him other simple ideas that will still be very different from the true taste of pineapple.
I thought this a very readable book, although I think it dealt rather tentatively (but without omission) with some of the unpleasant aspects of the pineapple trade, for instance the connection with the slave trade. It was also weak, I thought, on the place of the pineapple in Australia. I am looking forward to finding out if Fran Beauman's book is better on this. I am also looking forward to an exhibition on the pineapple's importance to Queensland that will open in Brisbane this year. *plans a little holiday*

So, what did I get from my week of 'pineapple' reads? Predictable romance is enhanced by pineapples. Pineapple skin demonstrates the Fibonacci sequence. "In organoleptic terms, the pineapple’s great contribution has been the unique ‘sweet-and-sour’ taste." Pineapples have permeated all levels of society, and now I know why and how. Isn't abacaxi a great word? Pineapples feature in philosophical discourse. I can never holiday anywhere north of Brisbane. I'd really like a pineapple upside-down cake now. Here's one I made earlier...



{READ IN 2017}

  • JUNE
  • 55.
  • 54.
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • APRIL
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • MARCH
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore

{READ IN 2016}

  • (K = Kindle; rr = re-read)
  • DECEMBER
  • 92. Richardson's First Case - Basil Thomson [K]
  • 91. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 90. Orphan X - Gregg Hurwitz [K]
  • 89. The House of Godwinsson [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 88. Music Tells All [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 87. Helen Passes By [Bobby Owen 23] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • NOVEMBER
  • 86. It Might Lead Anywhere [Bobby Owen 22] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 85. There's a Reason for Everything [Bobby Owen 21] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 84. Secrets Can't Be Kept [Bobby Owen 20] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • OCTOBER
  • 83. Night's Cloak [Bobby Owen 19] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 82. The Conqueror Inn [Bobby Owen 18] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 81. The Diabolic Candelabra [Bobby Owen 17] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 80. The Dark Garden [Bobby Owen 16] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 79. Picture Miss Seeton - Heron Carvic [K]
  • 78. Down Under (Benbow Smith 4) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 77. Walk with Care (Benbow Smith 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 76. Danger Calling (Benbow Smith 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 75. Fool Errant (Benbow Smith 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 74. The Annam Jewel - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 73. Mr Zero - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 72. Will o' the Wisp - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 71. Red Shadow - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 70. Pursuit of a Parcel (Lamb 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 69. Who Pays the Piper (Lamb 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 68. The Blind Side (Lamb 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 67. Outrageous Fortune - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 66. The Amazing Chance - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 65. Red Stefan - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • AUGUST
  • 64. The Coldstone - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 63. Anne Belinda - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 62. The Black Cabinet - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 61. Hue & Cry - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 60. The Skin Collector - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 59. The Kill Room - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 58. Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 57. Kingdom Lost - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 56. Beggar's Choice - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 55. Hole and Corner - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 54. Touch and Go - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 53. The Red Lacquer Case - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 52. Run! - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 51. Fear by Night - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • JULY
  • 50. The Dower House Mystery - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 49. The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 48. Weekend with Death - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 47. Blindfold - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 46. Silence in Court - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 45. Acts of the Assassins - Richard Beard [K]
  • JUNE
  • 44. Hack - Kieran Crowley [K]
  • 43. The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie [K]
  • 42. The Spirit Murder Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • MAY
  • 41. The Ginger Cat Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 40. The Pleasure Cruise Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 39. The Polo Ground Murder - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • APRIL
  • 38. The Outsider - Jason Dean [K]
  • 37. The Hunter's Oath - Jason Dean [K]
  • 36. Missing or Murdered - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 35. The Beetle - Richard Marsh [K]
  • MARCH
  • 34. A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1) - Deanna Raybourn [K]
  • 33. The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia [K]
  • 32. An Infamous Army - Georgette Heyer [K]
  • 31. Mr Bazalgette's Agent - Leonard Merrick
  • 30. Don't Tell - Karen Rose [K]
  • 29. Say Goodbye - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 28. Gone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 27. The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 26. The Next Accident - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 25. The Third Victim - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • FEBRUARY
  • 24. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 23. Find Her - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 22. Fear Nothing - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 21. Catch Me - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 20. Love You More - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 19. Live to Tell - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 18. The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 17. Hide - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 16. Alone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 15. The Humans - Matt Haig [K]
  • 14. Utopian Man - Lisa Lang
  • 13. Love Insurance - Earl Derr Biggers [K]
  • JANUARY
  • 12. The Ignition Effect - Viv Ronnebeck [K]
  • 11. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin [K]
  • 10. Dangerous & Unseemly - K. B. Owen [K]
  • 9. In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward [K[
  • 8. Half a Crown - Jo Walton [K]
  • 7. Ha'penny - Jo Walton [K]
  • 6. Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - Grant Allen [K]
  • 5. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 4. Blue Murder - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 3. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 2. Knock, Murderer, Knock! - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 1. Ten Star Clues [Bobby Owen 15] - E. R. Punshon [K]