A Visit to Don Otavio struck me as an obvious predecessor to Peter Mayle (A Year in Provence) or Frances Mayes (Under the Tuscan Sun), and, for that matter, with her fantastic description of a hamper for travelling, of Amanda Hesser, but while Bedford occasionally neared the point of my wanting so smack her upside the head (which was a repeated reaction of mine to Mayle and Mayes) she never quite hit it. Perhaps this is because I let historical snobbery get away with a bit more than contemporary snobbery, or perhaps because, unlike Mayle and Mayes, Bedford never claimed this was paradise and then tried to change it, but most likely because Bedford can, and does, laugh at herself. After sending back a bottle of Mexican wine (which the server did not find lacking) she is annoyed at the waiter's insistence on replacing it was a bottle of imported wine. "I choose a Spanish claret . . . It is good, but it costs ten shillings a bottle, which is too much to pay for one's glass or two at dinner in a wine country. Perhaps, it begins to dawn on me, Mexico is not a wine country."
Bedford has the pleasant habit of starting every chapter with a quote and the annoying habit of not translating them. Somehow I would be okay with that if they were in Spanish, but most are French, with a few German. If Bedford were a contemporary writer, I would accuse her of being a Eurosnob.
Eudora Welty is very far from being a Eurosnob. She is among the writers I've long known existed and thought I wanted to read (Flannery O'Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, and George Sand being others) but couldn't name a single work of hers until one ended in my lap at Christmas. Deciding that I needed more fun, thoughtful books, my sister-in-law gave me four such books (she presented them with great trepidation, as if I might not love a gift of four books loosely themed around women and their gardens. Said sibling-in-law is an occasional reader of this blog, so I feel I should declare for her, the record, and anyone else possible tempted to give me interesting books: by all means, give me books! Do not be offended if they do not float to the top of my to be read pile, but I will read them and will delight in the idea that you gave me a book), Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter among them.
Pulitzer Prize winnng The Optimist's Daughter is a small, quiet book. I caught myself regularly comparing it to Willa Cather works and, like The Professor's House, never could decide if too much happened or nothing much at all. I read it too quickly, for I am a fast plot reader, and much of the beauty of small quiet books is in the details fast readers don't catch. Still, I caught enough detail to consider it lovely and refreshing. Well worth reading for those of you who also consider emotional reactions acceptable plot-forwarding action.
In the last two weeks I've also read some trash: Sandra Brown's The Silken Web and Katherine Greyle's Miss Woodley's Experiment. The former is a contemporary romance (first written in 1982 and revised in 1992) and the second a regency romance of the type where they can, and do, have sex. While The Silken Web had a real emotional tangle way too conviently solved, way too much almost sex and fighting about it, and too many obvious communication failures (cell phones would ruin the plot), it still managed to be a sexy tear-jerker. Miss Woodley's Experiment was nothing extraordinary plot-wise, but the heroine was just quirky enough to make me want to seek out Greyle similar works at some library book sale sometime, while I won't be looking for any more Sandra Brown.