*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 )
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...