Technically, it isn’t eavesdropping if you’ve attempted to tune it out, right? The hospital waiting room was quiet, though, and one point of the conversation behind me definitely registered.
While I’d brought a novel to occupy the hours I’d be sitting there; the ladies stationed behind me had opted for conversational distraction. Talk eventually turned to their book groups. One admitted that she wasn’t in the mood for this month’s selection, a well-regarded but hefty tome of issue-laden contemporary fiction. “Too much for me right now” was the verdict. “I wish they’d chosen something I could fit into my purse!”
And there I was, less than two feet away, with exactly what she needed. Awkward! Unwilling then to swivel around, intrude into the speaker’s space, and prescribe what she ought to have brought, I’m now telling you instead. My handbag is fashionably huge, but these three wonderful but petite volumes would have fit into just about anyone’s carryall with loads of space left over:
- Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey: This 131-page Pulitzer winner was my husband’s choice, but he wasn’t using it right then, what with the surgery and anesthesia, etc.
- Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell: It inspired the Oscar-nominated film by the same name and creates a memorable story in only 193 pages.
- Published in the UK in 2009 but just out here, Kate Pullinger’s The Mistress of Nothing kept me so immersed that I had to check the page count–248–to verify that so much occurred in so few pages.
This period drama (English ladies–one with a capital “L”- taking up residence in 1860s Egypt) works equally well as travelogue, historical fiction, and romance. Lady Duff Gordon and her maid Sally (both actual historical figures) embark upoin their sojourn just as antiquities preservation and tourism are beginning to alter the Egyptian landscape, both literally and figuratively. Imagine stumbling across an ancient scarab on your walk into town, or noting that fragments of a casually assembled garden wall still retain their hieroglyphic writing!
It’s fair to say that the geographic context is timely (tyrannical political leadership) and timeless. What I appreciated, even more, however, was the interplay between Lady Duff Gordon, celebrated as a woman ahead of her time, and Sally, rendered socially powerless by her station and circumstances—or is she? Both individual readers and discussion groups will form opinions about Sally’s choices and the implications they suggest about custom and class distinction.
What great examples of “light” reading–space-saving and illuminating!