Friday, October 31, 2008

The Two Elizabeths

I'm currently reading two very English books, from roughly the same era (well, mid-twentieth century-ish) and which are both written in a really delightful, quiet, precise and beautiful way. They are both also, co-incidentally, written by women called Elizabeth.

Elizabeth David's cook book French Provincial Cooking is justifiably famous. This is a cook book that is easy to read cover to cover. Even the lists of ingredients are poetic and evoke long, warm summer nights in Provence or other such picturesque French country experiences. I'm only just realising what a debt so many modern celebrity chefs owe Elizabeth David. Her writing sounds remarkably contemporary, despite the fact that this book was written in 1960. Her promotion of fresh, seasonal ingredients and simple, clean flavours would be right at home in any modern cookery writing.

My favourite bit in the book so far is when Elizabeth David writes about Provence:
Provence is a country to which I am always returning, next week, next year, any day now, as soon as I can get on to a train. Here in London it is an effort of will to believe in the existence of such a place at all. But now and again the vision of golden tiles on a round southern roof, or of some warm, stony, herb-scented hillside will rise out of my kitchen pots with the smell of a piece of orange peel scenting a beef stew.

It is really lovely writing, and whether I ever cook anything from it or not, it is worth reading.

The other Elizabeth I am reading is Elizabeth Taylor's A View of the Harbour in one of those lovely dark green Virago Modern Classics paperback editions. I have to admit to having been hopelessly ignorant about Elizabeth Taylor (the writer, not the actress of course) and had not heard of her until I picked up this novel. But so far I'm loving the precise observation and insight into character in this novel set in a quite English seaside town after WWII. Beneath the calm surface, tensions abound in the village, with the story centering around Beth, her husband Robert who is the local doctor, and their neighbour Tory, who is Beth's best-friend but who is also having an affair with Robert. I can't wait to see how it's all resolved but so far Taylor has avoided any sense of melodrama in a plot that could tend that way.

More on both books as I work my way through the provinces of France and the intrigues of English village life...


Tamara said...

Hi Jess, How creative is that - choosing your books based on the first name of the author! well done, I've just tagged you for the Kreativ Blogger Award, see why on my blog.

Melanie said...

I have a copy of "A View of the harbour" but in the newer Virago edition. (I still prefer the green ones!) I think I'll have to read it soon, along with all my other Viragos!

jess said...

Thanks Tamara!

Yes, hope you like A View of the Harbour Melanie. Those dark green Viragos are great, aren't they?