Friday, 12 April 2013

The perfect reread

There's a fine art to rereading; real rereading not the 'so good I have to read it again straight away'  or 'psyching myself up for the next one in the series' or  'discovering a book on your shelves you forgot you had but kind of remember liking' type. I mean the regular rediscovery of old favourites.
But not too regular. Read them again too soon they lose their charm, leave too long a time and they become as new again.
Rereads for me are the comfort reads, the slippers, hot bath and glass of good wine books. In a five
Read it LOVE it
year cycle I usually reread I Capture the Castle, all of Jane Austen, my entire collection of Noel Streatfield, LM Montgomery's Anne books plus The Blue Castle (buy it, read it, LOVE it. I promise you joy), all of Diana Wynne Jones, Georgette Heyer's regency and Georgian romances and the entire Chalet School even the crazy last ones although I have to come up with an alternative ending where Len break off her engagement to creepy Reg Entwhistle, Margot escapes the convent, Con gets a personality of her own and one Old Girl manages to combine a career with marriage. 
My cover, clothes are all wrong
but I like the dreaminess of it
Today I realised I was adding a new author to the list. Many years ago I was staying with a friend and, in a conversation about books, we confessed our guilty pleasures. I owned up to Georgette (I am brazen about that now but at uni  I kept my love of any genre fiction hidden) and she told me about a book she and her sisters adored. Eva Ibbotson's 'A Countess below Stairs'. I gulped it in one sitting. It was perfect. White Russians, post WW1 country houses, an emotionally wounded hero and Anna. Anna Grazinsky, Countess and house maid, strong, passionate and utterly adorable. A book peopled with so many brilliantly drawn secondary characters it feels three times as long as it is. It's since been reissued as 'the Secret Countess' and is available everywhere but I had to track it down in a second hand book shop, just as I did most of Antonia Forest's Marlow books and my battered copy of I Capture the Castle. 
I haven't been to Vienna but I have managed Austria,
conjured up so lovingly by  Ibbotson
Last night I finished Countess for the fifth time. I have just reread the same author's Madensky Square, a bitter sweet book set in Ibbotson's native Vienna, whose older, sadder, emotionally scarred heroine stays with you long after the book is finished and Magic Flutes, also set in Vienna. I found myself eyeing up the Morning Gift and wondering why I don't possess a Company of Swans. Gorging myself on Ibbotson's sharp humour and perfect sense of time, place and character.
Eva Ibbotson was also the brilliant author of children's classics including The Great Ghost Rescue,  The Beasts of Clawstone Castle and her multi award winning Journey to the River Sea. Everyone of these books is a joy and you should read them, love them and hand them to a child forthwith but start off with Anna, start off with the Countess and I'll see you back here in five years for the next reread. Now where did I put that copy of the Morning Gift?

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