As I mentioned in my Ode to Autumn post, it’s usually at this time of year that I break out the Tania Kindersley and disappear into a wistful and nostalgic world.
There’s just something about Kindersley’s novels that strike a chord with me. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I have read them, every year, they manage to touch me in a different way or reiterate a feeling I have felt myself.
I have a great admiration for the skill Kindersley has at presenting difficult experiences, like losing people you love, in such an atmospheric and eloquent way. I often find myself, all curled up and protected, nodding emphatically at the words before me, because someone has managed to put into such beautiful words, how I have felt about certain things in the past.
The first time that happened for me, was on reading Goodbye, Johnny Thunders
This book is told in the first person, by Nancy. She’s instantly likeable because despite growing up with odd, cold parents, she’s quite a die-hard romantic. She strives for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Despite being very well travelled, she settles in London with a touching naivety and innocence.
She has a wonderful circle of friends, each having their own crosses to bear, and Nancy tells hers and their story in such a way that you feel close to these people too.
Nancy meets and falls in love with the mysterious and impenetrable Jack. He’s a drug dealer, and while Nancy pretends to enter into the relationship with her eyes wide open to his flaws, she ignores the “signs” and continues to strive for that happy ending that will surely be hers if she wishes for it hard enough.
I first read this book when I was only 13, so you could say that I have grown up with it. It helped get me through my own heartbreak when I was 18 and every reading since then, I’ve felt an unswerving love and gratitude to this book for helping to put into words, so many feelings that I experienced myself and made me realise that I wasn’t alone.
The next book I encountered by Kindersley, was the story of Iris in Elvis Has Left the Building
This one probably resonated with me more than Goodbye, Johnny Thunders in that I was able to relate to the circumstances a lot more. Iris, had been in a relationship with Fred for 9 years when he suddenly and without explanation, declared to her that he “couldn’t see her any more”. It eventually transpires that Fred had been having an affair for the last 2 years.
Despite the often difficult to read passages relating to Iris’s heartbreak, this is a wonderful celebration of friendship and self discovery.
The sub-plot involving the fictional artist, Edgar Dime and Iris’s mission to discover one of his lost works, is intriguing and wonderful in that, by Iris throwing herself into the life of Edgar Dime, she actually ends up finding herself.
As in most of Kindersley’s novels, the central character is estranged from her mother. In almost all of Kindersley’s novels, the central character has a history of loneliness and isolation due to some form of family dysfunction, and the central character always seems to be battling against an innate sense of failure and disappointment and not being good enough.
This brings me on nicely to Don’t Ask Me Why. I first read this when I was about 19/20, and I finished it a few days ago as part of my annual Tania Kindersley homage.
This is a fine celebration of friendship. We follow the story of Ash, from when she first meets her best friend Virge, through their days at Oxford and their exploits in the real world. It’s heartbreaking and tragic and bittersweet. Yet like all of Kindesley’s other novels, it is told with a sense of nostalgia and eloquence.
When I finished reading the last few pages a few days ago, my cheeks were soaked with tears, and despite having read this book several times before, it had never affected me to such an extent before.
It’s amazing, the talent Kindersley has, to make you almost feel nostalgic yourself, for places like Oxford. I suppose it’s because Ash is introduced to us when she is just about to embark on her university days and we follow her and Virge through those days, right up to their thirties and it’s difficult to not feel like you have connected with them. This book wouldn’t be what it is if you didn’t care about these people. You feel sad for them when they realise that the real world can’t live up to their expectations and why in particular, this is intolerable to someone like Virge, who has gone through life inventing mysteries and fantasies, when the world couldn’t offer them.
Unfortunately, my meagre words do not do any of Kindersley’s works justice, but I felt I had to put down, in my own fumbling way, why I love her books so much.
The last book I read by Kindersley was Nothing to Lose which follows the story of Maud who becomes almost like a phantom after self imposed isolation as punishment for the day, several years ago, that she accidentally knocked over and killed a young boy in the street.
As you can imagine, from the subject matter, it is quite a difficult book to read at times, and the language Kindersley gives to Maude is jarring and unforgiving.
Yet, you feel pity and compassion for Maude, as she battles to keep people out of her life as self imposed punishment. She feels like she can’t possibly deserve any good things if her life, so she locks herself away and uses her guilt as a barrier to the outside world.
This barrier is slowly and determinedly broken down by a stranger who imposes herself upon the world and starts to bring Maude out of her shell and puts her on the path to self forgiveness and discovery.
It’s another beautifully written novel and like her others, it’s atmospheric and bittersweet.
One thing I cannot do, is read Kindersley’s books idly. There is no way I would be able to read these on a bus or train. They demand more attention than that. I prefer to close myself when I read them and curl up in the corner of the sofa or disappear upstairs and get warm under the covers of my bed.
I know I refer to these books with a certain degree of reverence, but they are very special to me.