Well I didn’t think I was going to like it. Snobbish little Alison thought it might be a little too Chick Lit for her rather cultured taste in literature. (Ahem.)
But it was lovely. Flitting between Modern day New York and 1930’s Ireland and bookending each chapter with a vintage recipe, it is an absolute treat not least because of the parallels between Tressa’s noutiness and Bernadine’s sheer bewilderment and thinly disguised sorrow have so much to teach us about acceptance, authenticity and learning to love the way we ourselves need to be loved.
“When big things in our life start changing, we rely more heavily on small certainties to make us feel secure.
My body changed early. In my late forties it began to act against me like a rebellious teenager. I started to heat up like a furnace at irregular, unpredictable times. My palms became sweaty, my skin erupted in blotches and spots; it felt like there was some energy anxious to escape through the ends of my fingers and toes, so that I would sew and knit and run around frantically all morning, then collapse in the mid-afternoon exhausted.
Often, I felt like weeping for no reason and that was possibly the hardest thing of all. I was never given to easy displays of emotion. When I cried, it meant that there was something powerful and terrible going on. I considered the misty-eyed sentiment of older women to be a weakness. Now here I was leaking emotion against my will and I did not like it. It made me bad tempered.
So I flung myself into the certainty of my proficiency as a housekeeper.
My house already being run with great efficiency, I sought out new Ways to express myself as an exemplary home-maker. I took every tired or unworn piece of knitwear in the house – from old hats to holed socks and threadbare jumpers – then unpicked and reknitted them into a dreadful hodgepodge of multi-coloured junipers and cardigans, which my husband wore without demur.
I crocheted antimacassars and doilies, until all the surfaces in the house were covered in lace, and then invented new things to cheer the place up. Among the more ludicrous of them was a monogrammed linen wallet for James’s daily newspaper and several decorative sacks to hold his gloves, hat and shooting scarf.
I made tea cosies, drawer tidies. I took every unused item in the house and turned it into something else; old mackintoshes into gardening aprons, felt hats into kettle holders. On one frustrated afternoon, I attacked the baby clothes that I had lovingly kept and cut them up into tiny triangles for cushion stuffing. When I saw the decimated pile, I wept with sentimental longing to have them back.
It was around then that I developed the habit of using a different cloth to polish every surface in the house. In later years Niamh called it my ‘rag habit’, as I never was able to let go of it fully. Cotton for cleaning, silk and nylon for polishing. Each rag then developed a special purpose in the house: this one for washing cups and everyday crockery, this one for china only and another again for wiping and another for drying. This one reserved for saucepans and this one for floors. If I inadvertently used the wrong rag on the wrong surface, I would have to go back and start again.
This neurosis developed in tandem with the disintegration of my ageing body. As I watched my childbearing years vanish behind me, I tried to fill the barren void with pointless fripperies. I had no purpose in life and was frantically searching for one.”
Trust me to think a cloth for every surface in the house is a good idea…
Read it, weep, and bake Bernadine’s Rhubarb Tart for afternoon tea. They are our kind of girls.
Buy “The Perfect Marriage” here. (P.S: It was formerly known as Recipes For A Perfect Marriage.)