Monday, 24 March 2008

The Courtyard in August

If you look out of your aircraft window as the plane taxis across the Roissy tarmac, you will see the rabbits – hundreds of them, burrowing in the earth next to the runway. Nell Marchand – an English chief purser at Air France, gazes at the rabbitsas her flight arrives from Tokyo but she doesn’t see them. Nell is worried. Nell is always worried and today her worries are about the summer heat, moving house and betrayal.Paris is too warm, Tokyo was too warm- she has just flown over her native England and noticed with a gnawing anxietythat it is parched and brown. Nell has always preferred places to people and this gradual transformation of the world that she has flown around for years terrifies her. Nell is also concerned about her approaching move from Chantilly to Provence where her pilot husband, Luc, wants to spend his retirement. Nell, who rarely sees her husband is anxious about that retirement. But within days of the Tokyo flight, Luc is hi-jacked while flying a cargo plane carrying several hundred cans of baked beans, fifty containers of oversized women’s underwear and a lone dolphin. The dolphin’s handlers are believed to be responsible for the crime. “Return our relatives to the seas” is the slogan of these ecological terrorists. With the house in Chantilly already sold and the purchase of the new home in Provence puzzlingly cancelled by Luc, Nell is left to wait out the sizzling summer alone in his old bachelor flat on the Paris courtyard.

She is drawn into the lives of her neighbours: prim, mysterious Mademoiselle Marina who plies her transsexual trade in the Bois de Boulogne at night; and carefree, careless Mort, the American TV weatherman whose failure to cover a hurricane has cost him his job. Back in England Nell’s father is terminally ill. As she flies back and forth between Roissy and Heathrow, Nell discovers that her father has been living a double life. And that her mother knew and seems to understand. A confused, unhappy Nell attempts to cope with these latest dramas as she has always coped: by reducing the whole, immmense baffling world down to a collection of small, routine tasks. But as the summer progresses, she learns that work and duty are not always enough. Faraway places are not always enough. And that whether she likes it or not, her destiny is entwined with transsexuals, an irritating American weatherman and those hundreds of rabbits out at Roissy…

Sunday, 23 March 2008

The Singing House

On the eve of her wedding, Rose Lorenzo is handed a ticket to the opera at Covent Garden by an eccentric stranger. The opera is Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.Listening to Wagner's ecstatic, deeply erotic music, Rose realizes that if she goes ahead with her sensible marriage to suitable Martin, everything she has heard in this music will be lost to her forever.


She cancels her wedding and agrees to drive Otto and his equally eccentric twin sister, Eva, on an operatic road trip to the great theatres of Europe. As they drive across a snowbound continent from La Scala in Milan to Venice to King Ludwig's castles in Bavaria, Rose meets and falls in love with Leo dalla Vigna - the greatest operatic bass in the world but a lonely, driven man still inextricably tied to his elusive and unstable wife who lives alone in their villa on Lake Como.

"Unashamedly romantic...crisp and witty," Hilary Mantel