Friday, 12 September 2014

Blood From Stone by Frances Fyfield

published 2008








He smiled at memories. Peter did not.

‘I met her five years after I threw her out, walking through the Temple. She was as sleek as a seal with her hair cut in a cap, walking as if someone had trained her to dance. A grown-up woman with success in her eyes, and she said how do I look, Lover boy, do you still not want me? I invited her here. She came in dressed in a real Lanvin evening jacket. High-necked, satin. Her mother or grandmother might have had such a thing. Held together by a single button, yellow silk, cross-cut, topstitched heavy-duty thing. Of course I wanted her….

'Every week [she] came to this room. She dressed; she undressed. I am always besotted with beautiful clothes, while my dear wives never cared. She was the ideal model. She loved what I loved and I loved to dress her. She was the perfect shape, she could bend double, pliable as the sloth, still, nothing she wouldn’t do, no position she could not reach.'


observations: Bernadette reviewed this book on her marvellous blog, Reactions to Reading. She is a wonderful reviewer, I find her take on books incredibly helpful – she expresses ideas and reactions that I never see in other places: she has an honesty and perception that you don’t realize are missing from other reviews till you read hers.

Anyway, she said I should read this one because of the clothes in it: she said ‘I kept thinking of Moira as I read this as there are lots of clothes in this book. One character is a restorer of them and another is a collector so there are lots of lovely descriptions - and then the idea of how we use clothes to enhance or hide our identity runs through it too. I might not have noticed all of that before I started reading [Clothes in Books].’

- so obviously I got hold of it, and it is indeed full of clothes: fashion and fashion choices are absolutely key to the whole plot, and Bernadette sums that up very well in those few lines above.

In the first few pages, a barrister apparently kills herself, not long after what the back cover describes as ‘her last gruesome case – when she knowingly sacrificed an innocent witness to let a criminal walk free.’ Her few friends, and the people involved in that last case, talk and ask questions and investigate. Is there more to her death than meets the eye? We are invited to wonder: is she 'wearing her high heels in Hell?’

Fyfield does a memorable job with the characters, but they’re a horrible lot. Writers are always being described as the ‘heir to Patricia Highsmith’, and this is one of the few cases in which I think the comparison is justified, because of her cold cold eye and the cold cold hearts of the participants. In the end, I prefer books with some redemption, and the idea that we may all be capable of terrible things, but some of us might try to be capable of better. There’s not much sign of that in this book, and there are vile descriptions of the bad things people do to each other. It’s hard to get a handle on the court case that kicks off the book – and it is impossible to believe that the barrister could have said all those things in the transcript: given that the court case is key, that’s a bit odd.

There are, however, some fabulous descriptions of clothes, and of what they mean and what they show, and of how we make our choices. One of the characters has a workroom where clothes are cleaned and repaired, and that’s very well done and intriguing. There’s a marvellous description of the V and A fashion department, and some extraordinary individual garments come up in detail.

Overall, I am very glad to have read this book, and am grateful to Bernadette for the tipoff.

The lady in the yellow jacket is the designer mentioned, Jeanne Lanvin, painted by Clementine-Helene Dufau, from Wikimedia Commons.

19 comments:

  1. Moira - I read Bernadette's review of this one too, and you're right; her blog is superb! This one does sound like an interesting noir kind of a story, and of course, the clothes are described so well. I may wait on it though; like you, I prefer stories where there is at least some sort of good in at least some of the main characters. Hard balance there, as you don't want to sugarcoat things, but still...

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    1. It's a personal choice isn't it Margot? As Col says below, for some people that might be a recommendation. And I don't like books to be too sweet and sugary either. Those poor authors - trying to keep me happy is not easy.

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  2. It seems quite an interesting book, and I've never read the author. Perhaps the non-redemptive nature of the characters appeals to me more than you.

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    1. Good point Col: although it is more of a straight murder story than a thriller, I think it might be more up your street than some of the books I deal in...

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  3. I guess I will skip this, as I need to like someone in a book. But I appreciate the comments here about it.

    And, I do agree that Bernadette writes terrific reviews. Her blog is partially responsible for my burgeoning TBR list, and has led me to some very good reads.

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    1. It was a good one for me, because of the clothes, but I wasn't super-enthusiastic. And Bernadette is someone I very much rely on for her reviews.

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  4. That Lanvin jacket is a real garment!!! It actually exists - and when you mentioned the V&A I immediately knew for a fact it was the same garment.

    OF COURSE the V&A search the collections website would choose this very moment to go down.... but someone has pinned it to their Pinterest here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/90212798761015706/

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    1. Oh wow, how beautiful is that! Thanks Daniel.

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  5. I admire Highsmith greatly and have practically all her books on my shelf, but they make for grim reading and she is one of the few writers of that type I do regularly go back to - which is my long way round of saying that I'm not sure I will embark on a Fyfield, not just yet anyway (much as I enjoyed the review Moira!).

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    1. I read a lot of Highsmiths, but one day it occurred to me that I was treating this as a duty, and I didn't enjoy them, so I just stopped. Very liberating. I know other people do like them, but one of my resolutions is not to continue to read things I won't enjoy....

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  6. As the saying goes -- and I wish we had T-shirts with this slogan emblazoned -- "Too many good books, too little time."

    I'll add to this "too many good books and videos, too little time." I've got on the Welsh police procedural "Hinterland" now, and over the summer I watched slews of British, Italian, Scandinavian and other European crime dvd's. So much is available now. But it cuts into reading time.

    I agree about being selective, and if it doesn't work by 50 pages, move on.

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    1. I have cut down on TV watching, even though people tell me about the wonderful new series available. It's also true that it's much easier to ditch a TV series than give up on a book, I find, but I am getting better at that...

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  7. I agree, Bernadette is a great reviewer. I thought I had read some Fyfield, but if so it must have been some of the earlier ones. I should try some standalone books that are more recent.

    I have not tried Highsmith. She is in a group of authors that I have avoided up to now because the books seem to be too unsettling to be enjoyable. I figure I only have so many books left to read and I want to enjoy them. BUT, I do plan to try at least one book by each of these authors because who knows, I may find them rewarding.

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    1. I have read several Fyfields, and always think that I like a lot about them, but there's a coldness at the heart that puts me off. Your description of HIghsmith - too unsettling to be enjoyable - seems to me exactly right for both of them.

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  8. Tracy's reasoning is why I haven't read Highsmith or Fyfield, for that matter.

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  9. I must also add my praise for Bernadette's reviews - she has pointed me to some great books and saved me from some duds too.

    And I really enjoy your reviews.

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    1. Thank you for those kind words! And yes, Bernadette is a valuable blogging friend.

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  10. And Bernadette is one person to whom I can credit my staggering TBR list! Every time I read a rave review, it goes on the list.

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    1. I know - one of the most trustworthy of bloggers.

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