I’ve been in a reading drought. Too little sleep, too much rushing towards a manuscript deadline. No time, no space in my head for any stories other than my own. I’ve been so desperately grasping the thread of my own story I couldn’t possibly read any others.
So when I finally sent off my manuscript to my agent a couple of weeks ago, I quickly found myself at the library, stalking the aisles. There are so many books I want to read, but the first book after a drought is an important choice, don’t you agree? What kind of book do you reach for when you haven’t read for a long time? I look for something not so dense and inaccessible it hurts my head. But also nothing so light that it sets my mind loose, wandering and distracted. I need something a little new, something beguiling yet welcoming. And so it was The Tiger’s Wife came home with me.
I’d heard about The Tiger’s Wife and was intrigued most by the story of the author. Tea Obreht is young and very talented and this is her debut novel. She was born in 1985 (I know, you had to read that twice, right?!) and The Tiger’s Wife won her the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. This rich, layered novel is set in a Balkan country, told over the period of seemingly endless wars, swinging back and forth between Natalia (the protagonist)’s life and the wars of her time, and her grandfather’s life and the wars of his time. It’s a thick braid of folklore, magic, grief and grit and has been compared to the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The voice is fresh and cool and unique, the setting captivating and the characters complex. And I am writing this as I am a mere few pages from the end, struggling to rein myself back from hurrying through the very last of it.
It is oh-so-nice to be reading again. It feels like a treat. Especially when there is laundry to be hung, a fridge to be cleaned out, a nappy bag to be restocked for tomorrow’s activities. No, no, chores, you can all wait, you nagging little imps. I’m reading. But, to be honest with you, it wasn’t so easy to start with. It had been so long since I read a book (not blog, not magazine, not scanning my manuscript for dozens of flaws) that I felt rusty. My attention slid all over the place. I was irritated and restless. I couldn’t read much at a time without getting up and doing something practical and “productive”. It was though the reading aspect of my brain had laid idle so long it had to remember how to do it again. But slowly, chapter by chapter, the memory came back, the muscles were re-flexed and, as the Aussies would say, I was “back in the game”.
At the same time all this not-reading business was going on poor Sydney town has been suffering from heat-waves and state-wide fires. It has been an absolute sizzler summer. And we’re not even half-way through. This week the temperatures reached 45 degrees. (That’s 113 fahrenheit, North American peeps) We bunkered down at my in-laws place and lolled about in the air conditioning like puppies. We literally didn’t leave the house all day. It’s supposed to get very, very hot again at the end of next week and if it’s anything like last week it is a heat you cannot shelter from. Even the wind is hot and moist; like being blasted with a hairdryer. All you can do is hide and pant and nap. Or make this:
I whizzed this up from items in my latest fruit and veggie box delivery (peaches and spearmint), with the addition of some frozen peas. The combination is a bit nuts, I’ll admit it (hey, heat addles your brain!) but surprisingly refreshing. I made it with greek yoghurt and milk this time, thinking of a cardamon lassi my brother-in-law kept raving about from his trip to India, but next time I am leaving out the dairy to make it even more palate-refreshing. The spearmint is gorgeous and cooling, yet still sweet, and the bright summer peaches are so full of juice you have to be careful cutting into them. The frozen peas, clearly the odd-ball addition, chill the whole thing down a notch and add a grassy, garden flavour. Very English summer. And when it is so hot you could bake eggs on the pavement? This hits the spot, let me tell you.
I’ll leave you with the recipe for when the season is right and you’re in the mood. I’m off to scan my bookshelf for a good book to pair with it because now the drought is broken I am thirsty for more, more, more.
Two juicy, ripe peaches, skins removed
About ten spearmint leaves
1/4 cup of frozen peas
greek yoghurt and milk or water and ice – depending on your preference
Blend until smoothie consistency. Yummo.
HUGS, Hannah x