Think about it.
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell was our book club choice to read for this month. It is O’Farrell’s third book, and though I enjoyed her first one the next two left me fairly indifferent, so I was not expecting to enjoy reading this book as much as I did. The writing is very evocative, and it is a fascinating story so I was completely absorbed from the very start.
Esme Lennox is the second child of Scottish parents who live in colonial
Always a feisty girl with a stubborn streak of independent thought, Esmé finds it hard to adjust to the rigid social expectations of upper middle class life, unlike her pretty older sister Kitty. Even as a very young child she always irked her mother, who finds her irritating and troubling, and this gets worse as she gets older. Things go really awry when the suitable young man who has been earmarked for Kitty shows a decided preference for Esme, and when she is found trying on her mother’s clothes all hell breaks loose.
The book is told in flash backs, beginning in the present when a young woman called Iris receives a phone call to say that her great aunt, Esme Lennox, is to be released, after 60 years, from the mental institution in which she has been kept. The institution is closing down and Iris is thought to be responsible for her – the problem is that Iris didn’t even know she had a great aunt, she thought her grandmother Kitty was an only child. Kitty is still alive, but in a home as she is suffering from Alzheimer’s. There are three distinct voices in the book: Esme, Iris and Kitty, and through their thoughts the reader slowly learns long buried family secrets. Esme seems remarkably sane for someone who has been institutionalised for so long. She had, as a child developed a mental trick of distancing her mind from the situations she found herself in, vanishing in effect. At the end of the book Esme and Kitty meet again which leads to a startling denoument.
As I read the book, I became both sad and angry when I realised how easily a young woman could be locked away under the powers of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913 (which included people, who were deemed to be ‘Moral Defectives’) just on the say so of a father or a doctor.
I found the book had particular resonances for me as some aspects of Esme’s story were similar to my mother’s early life. Like Esme, my mother was born in
HIV/Aids is a truly ghastly disease, but thanks to the tireless efforts of medical researchers it is now much more controllable than it was ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. How the disease can be passed from person to person is now understood, and with some relatively simple behavioural changes people can seriously reduce their risk of catching the virus. In much of the ‘western’ world, the number of people suffering from HIV/Aids has remained fairly low, but in other parts of the world,
The last thing that the people of
The various governments who provide foreign aid on which The Gambia relies so heavily, the WHO and the UN, should tell President Jammeh in no uncertain terms that this is a load of dangerous nonsense and he must stop immediately or there will be serious consequences. The international TV news organisations should be far more rigorous in their reportage, and ensure that no-one watching their coverage could possibly think his cure was genuine.
Only last year the Minister of Health in South Africa, Ms Manto Tshabalala-Msimang made a similarly ludicrous statement, urging HIV sufferers to cure themselves by eating beetroot, garlic, lemon peel and African potato which aroused such mirth abroad that an embarrassed President Thabo Mbeki was forced to issue a rebuttal (and he has not been exactly sound on the treatment of the disease) However this mad claim by Jammeh is much more serious and much more likely to cause harm to people.
The west is very pusillanimous in its treatment of African leaders, it does not call them to account when they behave in dangerous ways and continues to dole out money to the countries they rule, money which frequently makes its way into the Swiss bank accounts of those leaders.
Last week we did a lot of entertaining, and one of the desserts I made used the delicious new season's forced pink rhubarb. These jellies have such a glorious colour, and taste so good that even people who say they don't like rhubarb will be converted. The added bonus is that you can make it a day or two in advance. It is ideal after a rich main course.
RHUBARB & GINGER JELLIES
1½ teaspoons fresh ginger root, finely grated
60g caster sugar
15g gelatine powder (one sachet)
3 tablespoons orange juice ( I use OJ from the carton of ready squeezed we have at breakfast)
2x 275 bottles of Ginger Beer – (use the best you can buy, I use Fentimans)
2-3 pieces stem ginger chopped
200 ml carton crème fraiche
You can cheat by using 1 x 135g packet of Hartleys orange jelly instead of the gelatine and OJ.
Wash the rhubarb and cut it into pieces. Put it into a saucepan together with the grated ginger and the sugar and heat very gently until the sugar is dissolved and it stews in its own juices. It takes about 20 mins. Stir from time to time to prevent it burning. The pieces of rhubarb will fall apart but that doesn’t matter. Remove from the heat and set aside. Prepare the jelly mixture by putting the orange juice into a microwaveable jug and sprinkling the gelatine over it. Leave for five minutes to allow it to ‘sponge’. (If you are using the orange jelly method, cut the jelly into cubes and put into a microwaveable jug with 3 tablespoons of water.) Place the jug in the microwave and heat on full power for about 1 minute for the gelatine(jelly) to dissolve completely. Stir well. Make the quantity of liquid in the jug up to 520mls with the ginger beer. (You can drink any that is left over!)
Mix the poached rhubarb and its juices together with the liquid mixture and stir well. Pour or ladle the combined mixture into six 200ml wine glasses or similar, and put them in the fridge to set – preferably overnight, but for at least 6-8 hours.
Prepare the jelly mixture by putting the orange juice into a microwaveable jug and sprinkling the gelatine over it. Leave for five minutes to allow it to ‘sponge’. (If you are using the orange jelly method, cut the jelly into cubes and put into a microwaveable jug with 3 tablespoons of water.) Place the jug in the microwave and heat on full power for about 1 minute for the gelatine(jelly) to dissolve completely. Stir well. Make the quantity of liquid in the jug up to 520mls with the ginger beer. (You can drink any that is left over!)
Before serving them, top each one with a dollop of crème fraiche and scatter a few pieces of chopped stem ginger on top.