Wednesday, 5 February 2014

My Friend Madame Zora by Jane Duncan

published 1963 chapter 3 set in 1951



She must have been six feet tall and she was gauntly thin and narrow and so hung about with necklaces and floating, gauzy scarves and loose flowing panels on her ankle-length dress that she had the appearance of an uncompromisingly angular, cast-iron lamp standard that had been elaborately clad in black crape for some important funeral. ..

The gaunt, pole-like, black-clad body from ankles to neck seemed to be more solid than normal human flesh, and the floating gauze draperies seemed to be more ethereal than any textile stuff made by human hands and, at the neck, the material of which she was made seemed to change, for the solid black of the dress gave way to a face so heavily powdered with dead white that it was almost luminously green around the deep cavities of the sunken dark eyes. And she seemed to have no forehead, for her hair, of the hard black that only dye can give to human hair, was drawn in a tight, lustreless swathe from temple to temple immediately above her eyebrows.



observations: And on we plod with the My Friend books. This is one of the better ones, although not very rigorous or demanding. Janet and Twice are home on leave from the West Indies - previous entries here and here. They spend most of their break in Scotland, but there are also rather dashing trips to a stately home and to London, which perk the book up quite a lot. There’s a fortune-teller who is plainly a fake, yet strangely enough it turns out her predictions do come true – it’s a familiar and comfortable scenario (like Professor Trelawney in the Harry Potter books). And you’re not likely to be surprised that the fortune teller is the Madame Zora of the title. And when, early on, a firm Highland matriarch refuses to believe that her grandson died in the war, you might be hoping for a happy ending, but no spoilers allowed. Apart from the dedication at the front of the book, which makes it clear that all will end well.

But no harm – it’s a pleasant enough read, with plenty of subsidiary characters, and Scottish dialect, and some of the descriptions, like the one above, are very good. Janet and her husband, a working man, are meant to be a pleasant no-nonsense couple, with no pretensions, but they seem to be running 3 servants – this is 1951 – and it must have been nice to say to them, as Janet does:
Madame Zora’s coming to tea this afternoon. There’s that Dundee cake and could you make some scones and a few sandwiches and put on a good fire?
She then goes off to her bedroom for a bit, and when she comes out the fire is blazing and there’s jam tarts too.

There’s a lot of mileage from the comic servants doing the football pools, which was a major part of British life for many years, though has been overtaken by the lottery now.

Links on the blog: For any of the previous entries on this series, click on Jane Duncan below. This particular book gave us a Dress Down Sunday entry a while back. More fortune tellers here.

The picture, of a Mrs Inez Stiness, from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.

6 comments:

  1. Looks like she's geared up for the dance of the seven veils......hopefully not though! I think I'll take another pass.

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    1. She's pretty extraordinary-looking isn't she? Not recommending this book to you though, not your thing at all....

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  2. Moira - It would indeed be nice to just ask to have something done like that. But I predict that that sort of thing is in my future... It sounds like this one has a solid Scottish context, which is always nice, and I like a thread of wit in a novel. And that description? Just excellent

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    1. I'm *sure* our moment will come for a bit of luxury living! And although I am sometimes a bit rude about these books, I must be enjoying them because I keep on going through the series....

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  3. Three servants? I like the idea of servants but not the actuality of it. Must take a lot of management. It seems like to have that many servants at that time, they would have to be wealthy? The setting sounds interesting, but probably not for me.

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    1. I think you're right - in theory it would be nice to find the fire made up and the tea on the table, but managing the staff would be horrible...

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