Magazine article The Spectator

A Jeweller's Treasure Chest

Magazine article The Spectator

A Jeweller's Treasure Chest

Article excerpt


by Patience Gray

Edizioni Leucasia, distributed by Prospect Books, 30, pp. 434

Patience Gray was well known 40 years ago as the author of Plats du Jour, a book as influential as Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking in bringing Mediterranean culture to the English table. For a few years she edited a Woman's Page for the Observer, under David Astor. Then she took off to Italy, reappearing for the British public only once more, so far as I am aware, in a book called Honey from a Weed - until now. Even now, nobody could say that she is playing for publicity on a grand scale, since the book is, in effect, self-published. It must be said that no publisher could have published it as it is, but I don't suppose Miss Gray cares very much about what publishers think, and so much the better: as a result, she has produced something more personal, marginal and eccentric - and very much grander.

Work Adventures Childhood Dreams is a very satisfying object. It is slightly larger than the normal format and heavier, printed well on good paper and properly bound. A great number of black and white photographs and drawings are reproduced in the text. These vary in quality, but the page design is admirable throughout. On the front cover is a gouache of the author by Norman Mommens, who is often mentioned as artist, mentor, partner. On the back is a photograph of the prow of a small painted boat.

The dismal title is a list of the parts into which the book is divided, but Gray does not really follow her own divisions, perhaps because her life is too coherent to fall into components so neatly. The final section, for example, contains only one passage directly concerning dreams, followed by two superb pieces about the author's adoptive Apulia: one recounts a visit by her aged mother, who wanted to take back stories to tell her neighbour in Sussex; the other, called `The Ladies of Lecce', describes the changes wrought by modernity. The last passage is a brilliant and moving tribute to a dead friend whom Gray fancies has returned as a bluebottle. There was `something definitely out of tune even before emerging from childhood in my response to convention, something fatally dissonant in the observable models,' she writes, and the truth of this is evident. In the section entitled 'Childhood', she more or less sticks to the subject, but the conventional title is misleading. The first paragraph is just, `Why I never married. …

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