Monday, 1 July 2013

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

published 1998





But tomorrow is Sunday and when I have been to church I shall go down to the workroom and make a dress. The material is waiting for me and it’s ravishing: aquamarine watered silk as blue and green and silver as the sea which now, perhaps, I shall never see. And when I have made it, I shall put it on and float through the streets of the Kaiserstadt and Franz Joseph will drive by in his gold-wheeled carriage and decide to live a while longer, poor old man, because there are such lovely dresses in his town. The little girls will stop playing with their hoops and ask their mothers if they too could, please, have such a dress when they’re grown up; and the hussars in their scarlet and blue, and the young men about town in their silk hats will stare at me…


observations: Eva Ibbotson had me early on with this:
She wants a better world for the poor and oppressed — and she wants to look pretty while she’s getting it — and don’t we all?

Some of us have what you might call Desert Island books – the ones we can pick up any time, knowing that they will seduce and warm us, that we’ll be happy to read them all the way through, that they’ll do the job when other books don’t seem attractive. (My own list would include blog favourites I Capture the Castle, Ballet Shoes, Nancy Mitford, Margery Sharp, Miss Pettigrew, The Group, The Other Boleyn Girl). And now this book is a new addition. Ibbotson is famed as a children’s writer (and her Journey to the River Sea has the most enticing setup of any children’s book ever: Maia the orphan heads for the Amazon…) but this is a novel for adults: particularly adults with an afternoon free, a comfortable sofa, and a need to be seduced and enchanted and entertained.

Susanna lives in Vienna at the beginning of the 20th century. She is a dressmaker with her own small shop in the Square of the title, and the book tells the story of a year in her life, and the life of her neighbours, along with some flashbacks about what brought her there. It makes Vienna very real, and you can think that you almost know the square she means (it’s just round the corner from Stephansdom…)

It has been republished as an ebook by the rather wonderful people at Bello, who are featuring here a fair bit.

Links on the blog: A very different book (but also excellent) – Aquamarine by Carol Anshaw.

The picture is a fashion illustration from the magazine La Gazette du Bon Ton – the dress is by Madeleine Cheruit, whose designs featured in this entry and this one, along with a picture of her salon here.

7 comments:

  1. I think, one, two or possible all three of my children may have read this author, which I think means I don't have to!

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    1. OK you are let off this time. I'll see what else I can find to suit you...

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  2. Moira - That's an interesting topic in and of itself isn't it - 'desert island books.' This one does sound good. I always think it's interesting when an author tries a new genre; it sounds as though Ibbotson succeeded here...

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    1. I'd be interested to hear your Desert Island books, Margot, you should take it as one of your topics.

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  3. If you liked this, try her A Countess Below Stairs. Very light, much in the vein of Georgette Heyer, but set in about 1921 England.

    Sarah

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    1. I'm getting straight on it - I have never read a book by Eva Ibbotson that I didn't like, and that sounds like a great recommendation...

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    2. Might it also have the name Secret Countess? I can find that one easily enough...

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