Saturday, 2 October 2010

Through the round window...




I loved the view from my room on the top floor of the Balmoral -- looking out of the attic window at the Castle beyond. It reminds me of Play School, the television show from my childhood, where the highlight was going through the round window or the square window or -- on special occasions -- the arched window. In my hazy memory of the past (that world where dream and memory blurs into one), the round window was also somehow akin to Alice going Through the Looking Glass... and as it happens, in the opening chapter of Lewis Carroll's story, Alice is gazing out of a window. 'I was watching the boys getting in sticks for the bonfire... Only it got so cold, and it snowed so, they had to leave off.' She is talking to her kitten at the time -- who has been playing with a ball of wool -- and re-reading this episode now, I was struck by the tinge of menace in the room. 'Alice wound two or three turns of the worsted round the kitten's neck, just to see how it would look.... "Do you know, I was so angry, Kitty," Alice went on... 'when I saw all the mischief you had been doing, I was very nearly opening the window, and putting you out into the snow! ... You know I'm saving up all your punishments for Wednesday week -- Suppose they saved up all my punishments?" she went on, talking more to herself than the kitten. "What would they do at the end of a year? I should be sent to prison, I suppose, when the day came."'
Then, to punish the kitten for not folding its arms properly, 'she held it up to the Looking-glass... "-- and if you're not good directly," she added, "I'll put you through into Looking-glass House."'
But it is Alice who sees the glass go soft as gauze: '"Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through --" She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.'

I know, I know, I'm still obsessed with Coco Chanel -- how could I not be? -- but as I sit here, musing over the looking glass house, I can't help but remembering the mirrored walls of 31 Rue Cambon, and the sense I had while writing at Mademoiselle's desk of how her reflection might be visible just behind me; the back of my neck prickling, wondering whether the glass above the fireplace might soften, just as ice melts...

PS. One of the disturbing things about having a book out is that you feel yourself exposed, as if seen in a distorted hall of mirrors -- and there is shame, too, in feeling that you are looking at yourself, as well as being examined by others. But having just read today's review in the Telegraph , I'm so glad to realize that other writers and readers are discovering the myriad reflections in Chanel's looking glass world -- and that she has a continuing life of her own.

21 comments:

Lilacs In May said...

I am enjoying your book so much.

Re: Playaway I heard Sue MacGregors programme the Reunion, on R4 - Brian Cant, Floella et al. They were very rude about Hamble....

Justine Picardie said...

Was Playaway the same as Play School? My memory is failing me...
So pleased you are enjoying the book.

enid said...

I am so impressed with your book and elegant is indeed a good description in the Telegraph. Once again congratulations. I am loving my time with Coco and savouring every page. Enjoy the attention !!!!

Lilacs In May said...

Playaway was for slighlty older children, same people, more songs.

I can't imagine how it feels to be putting your self out there, must make you feel very vulnerable- but the reaction you're getting is rewarding you for all those long hours gestating! Your paper baby has had a lovely warm welcome.

kairu said...

Still slowly savoring Chanel, Justine, and taking a break for Dodie Smith's The New Moon With the Old. It is an old hardcover copy from the 1960's, smelling of dust and ancient paper.

There is something mysterious and beguiling about round windows. They narrow the world outside into that small circle, either the trees and mountains in the distance, from up high under the eaves, or the endless blue of the sky and ocean, the porthole in a ship's cabin...

Justine Picardie said...

I love 'I Capture The Castle', but haven't read any other of Dodie Smith's novels (apart from The Hundred and One Dalmatians), so will have to look out for this one. I wonder if it's out of print?

Lazywell said...

Yes, a very good review in the Telegraph; well done. The first one I saw was in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago, and that got things off to a very positive start. 5 stars last w/e in the Mail on Sunday which you must have been thrilled about.

There was another 5 star review on Amazon, I saw, but then a really silly one that gave you only 1 star - on wholly specious grounds, I thought. I've added my own humble review there to try and redress the balance. Others might be tempted to do likewise...

Josephine Tale Peddler said...

Congratulations on the arrival of your beautiful book and the good review, Justine. Australian Playschool also had the differently shaped windows. Round is my pick for the porthole effect. It's amazing how much menace there is to be found in some of the classic tales for children. xx

Justine Picardie said...

I think menace is an almost essential component of the most potent and archetypal children's stories -- or least, the ones that I carry with me from childhood: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Mary Poppins (the books are so much darker than the Disney version), and the Narnia stories.
Many thanks to Lazywell for his much appreciated support on amazon, and elsewhere!

eberg said...

I have a wonderful view from my bedroom window, I live at the top of Telegraph hill and can see clear across to Crystal Palace on one side and over the Thames on the other. Sadly there is a real presence in my room, the unseen squirrels that have invaded my eaves and are slowly chewing their way through my roof joists.

My mum says that she spoke to you the other day. How are you?
Ian C

Wendy said...

Justine, I am reading Coco and am loving it! It is a beautiful and luscious volume. I have been waiting on it for about a year, and am very glad it is here. As usual, I can't wait for your next book. (I just wish the print was a bit bigger in Coco.)
Wendy

Justine Picardie said...

Wendy, I'll pass on your comment on the size of the print to my publisher -- but I'm glad you're enjoying Coco, even so.
And Ian, yes, I did meet your mother recently -- she came to an event I did for the publication of my book. As for London squirrels: they've dug up most of the bulbs in my garden, and I'm beginning to regard them with the same suspicion as rats...

kairu said...

My late and beloved dog was always infuriated by the squirrels in our backyard. She would bark madly and chase after them, but they would leap up on the fence railing and cheekily look back, taunting her with every twitch of their fluffy tails.

The New Moon with the Old is a bit different from I Capture the Castle. It is a puzzle-piece, the adventures of four young (teens through early twenties) siblings after their father flees the country following some shady business deals. I liked it, but it doesn't have the same breathlessly enrapturing soul as I Capture the Castle.

Justine Picardie said...

I'm off to Paris tomorrow, and must think of an appropriate books to read on my way there and back. Apparently there is a tube strike and a heightened terrorist alert, so I need something to keep me occupied. I'm thinking 'The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill 1952-73' and Hermione Lee's biography of Edith Wharton.

Love Bakery said...

Have a fabulous time in Paris. I am reading The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber and loving it. Enjoy the next part of your amazing journey.

kairu said...

Safe travels, Justine.

I nearly always travel with Umberto Eco's How to Travel with a Salmon (essays). They are very, very funny and have gotten me through many a long flight.

Now onto Stella Gibbons' Nightingale Wood...

enid said...

What about reading Cara Black's Paris detective series eg Death in the Marais . They are great Paris reading and do go to Village Voice Bookshop in Rue Mabillon and Shakespeare and co

enid said...

What about reading Cara Black's Paris detective series eg Death in the Marais . They are great Paris reading and do go to Village Voice Bookshop in Rue Mabillon and Shakespeare and co

silverpebble said...

There were lots more posts here a minute ago - they appear to have been swallowed up! I just viewed your little film and am captivated. What an intriguing figure she was. I had no idea about her time in Britain, let alone the connection with Churchill. I'm off to order a copy. Many, many congratulations on its publication.

Young at Heart said...

what a brilliant view over Edinburgh.....I discovered some fantastic loos burried in the basement of The Balmoral that no one seemed to use where I would seek refuge and freshen up after a hard days flyering the show I co-wrote at this years fringe....hope you have fun in France!!

Ross said...

Very cool shots, and the story behind them is so interesting.
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