A Friend From England by Anita Brookner read by Cherie Lunghi

Rest, it seems, is a peculiarly English thing. Restfulness in all its timorous, melancholic glory cushions the indoor lives of Oscar and Dorrie Livingstone, in a peculiarly English way. Not as the accidental sidebar of an otherwise busied existence but as an aspiration, a calling, a rigorous end in itself.  Oscar is

…a bulky soft-voiced man with beautifully cared for hands. Something about him broadcasting the resignation of a schoolboy who has to submit to an inspection before he is allowed to leave the house.

All in all they are a placid wistful couple, resigned and melancholy by themselves and for each other. Well fed, well napped, well sheltered they form a restful destination for the nervous, ambitious, insecure and disinclined Rachel Kennedy who would have liked to see herself in this pink shell of kinship and central heating. Miss Kennedy takes up a remote and impassive alliance with Heather, the passive offspring of this mildly inert, mildly well off couple who accommodates her parents imagination by pretending to manage her own clothing shop in London, a Daisy Miller with short hair, unexcitable and worrisome.

She would glide from virginity to matronhood with no sense of a change in her condition. She would duplicate her mother, succeed her, and no doubt become the center of the family circle in her own home with the full approbation of that mother whom she planned so closely to copy… As she sat there emotionless and smiling in the midst of this agitated assembly,  she looked like the bride in a Breughel painting, as if she were already at her own wedding breakfast.

Rachel Kennedy lives a perfectly balanced and satisfyingly sombre life, too glad to come to rest at the Livingstone family home, to inhabit the functionary role of ‘friend’, to perform the duties of that functionary, like a glum, gloved observer at a greenhouse of rest. Here she studies English life, exacting a micro-analytics of personality and sensibility and mood as meticulous as a clinical formula.

This is where I leave you by Jonathan Tropper performed by Ramon de Ocampo

If you’re Jewish and you have a brother and he’s still married, this is NOT how he will sound after he divorces his goyishe wife who you’ve never liked anyway. Because the person reading this acid-funny tale doesn’t have the nasal force or the resentful irregularity or that specific Jewish brand of ironic despair in the face of public failure that dunks every insult, every complaint, every abusive remark (“This is my brother Judd… Judd is recently cuckolded.”) in borscht-belt tenderness.

When this brother is summoned home to your father’s funeral, he will be driving forward but wishing in reverse.

When people give directions to any home or business in West Covington they use [my parent’s house] as a negative landmark. If you see the big white house then you’ve gone too far. Which is precisely what I’m thinking.

Your sister will have installed a high tech baby monitor in the front hall, so you can all hear the baby screaming in amplified stereo as you eat lunch but

…she doesn’t seem at all inclined to go upstairs and quiet the baby. “We’re letting her cry” she announces, like it’s a movement they’ve joined.

If you’re Jewish, this imaginary brother is sitting shiva in hell, i.e. surrounded by his family, thinking about his divorce from a beautiful woman who he had once been able to make laugh. Once, he’d

read enough Playboy … to know that beautiful women want a man who can make them laugh. Of course what they really meant was a man who can make them laugh after he delivered multiple orgasms on his private jet with his trustee 9 inch cock.

If you’re not Jewish, you already knew this. But you may be interested in this unhappy family’s way of being unhappy. I doubt it.

The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch by Michael Wolff read by Paul Boehmer

“The thing you have to understand and understanding this explains so much about Murdoch’s success is that happy newspaper families are alike and unhappy newspaper families are, well, quite alike too: in the end they all lose their papers. As cautionary tales go you could hardly find a more hothouse example of families gone awry, of genetic dumbing down, of the effect of idiot-son primogenitor, and of the despairing results of idle hands than newspaper families…The Bancrofts are ridiculous.”

The use and abuse of genealogy as evidenced in old world newspaper families told fetchingly, by a bitchy, fact-loving gossip.

Wolff reads Murdoch against his century, against his country, against his father and delivers a kind of King Solomon saga, with the years of degeneration yet to come….

Promises To Keep by Jane Green read by Cassandra Campbell

There is something beautiful and more than beautiful about these women who enjoy their kitchens, who love  all the rooms of domesticity.   Jane gives us wives, book club ladies and hostesses, in Manhattan or Westchester, well groomed and well mannered and well off, obedient to husbands or mothers in law or schedules. Some are jolly and educated New Englanders, old and odd, wealthy and artsy and irrepressible.  The plot? It is as comforting as warm bread,  about women organizing people and things; themselves and each other. One woman most of all: Callie Perry, who has always been the happy center of many friendships.

Jane Green, The Beach House read by Cassandra Campbell

Nan localizes Nantucket. Charmed, beautiful, slightly eccentric, she is at that age  where she can get away with mostly anything:   trespassing or swimming naked or wearing scarlet lipstick everywhere.

Nan lives in a huge old house where she has decided to run a bed and breakfast for summer guests. It is this  house which  brings together a handful of curious, complicated personalities: Michael, Nan’s son, Bea and Daniel (a soon to be divorced couple), Daphne (a divorced real estate agent) and her hormonal and horrible daughter.

Nan eases and re-invents the lives which assemble around her; she couples, amuses, and converts her guests, into friends, into family.

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman read by Kimberly Farr

Two mothers.

Iris, mother of the bride, is pushy, ambitious, Jewish, overpresent, and proud of her Red Hook genealogy, which can be traced back to the Battle of the Bulge. But Iris is not exactly a local. Yes, every summer Iris comes back to the oceanfront Queen Anne house, chats up the Red Hook Ladies, attending “every last bean supper and blueberry breakfast of the season,” where she tries to befriend the wives of lobstermen by feigning enthusiasm for rummage sales. But every Fall, Iris returns to New York, to art and to work, and will never, in the eyes of the locals, be anything but a “from away”.

Iris’ father, Mr Kimmelbroad, is indeed “from away”: a real gentleman,  a refugee violinist from Prague who still smells of polished wood, rosin, violets and 4711 Kolnisch Wasser.   The family are immigrants: bustling, displaced, well educated.

Jane, mother of the groom, is a local: by temperament, by income and by genealogy. Jane is strong from “clomping up and down stairs and hauling laundry and vacuum cleaners.” Jane has been taking care of  houses for the “from aways”  for a long long time, as had her mother before her. One of these houses is Iris’, which she cleans in the summers and tends all year long.

She [would get] the furnace and the propane tank filled, turn on the water,   take down the storm windows and put up the screens, mow the meadow and lawn, replace the water filter, have the piano tuned, and replenish staples like flour, sugar and the fancy teas ….

The story begins in the middle of the wedding, detailing the  profusions of fresh flowers, mismatched vases, white lace tablecloths, blues band,   bar, hanging lanterns, crab-cakes and lobster puffs and champagne of  the  reception at Grange Hall, where the mothers find out that the bride and groom are dead.  What becomes of the mothers and their other children is part of the story of the wedding, because the wedding  joins not only the bride and groom but the mothers; makes them, in Yiddish, Machatainisteh.

The Gatecrasher by Madeleine Wickham read by Katherine Kellgren

Like Grace in Warren Adler’s Mourning Glory, Fleur seduces very wealthy widowers at funerals. Fashionable, flamboyant and sexually gifted, she moves in to Richard Favour’s estate, charms his family, and plays out her usual scam. First, she borrows an American Express Platinum Card which draws on the widower’s bank account, but has her name on it. Then she buys lots of lovely elegant presents for everyone. Then she withdraws larger and larger amounts of cash, which she re-deposits; withdraws and re-deposits, establishing a credibility so that she can eventually withdraw a very large sum of money, without a re-deposit. But this time, things are different.

Agatha Christie The Hollow read by Hugh Fraser

Have a bit of Christie as social chronicler, as drawing room critic of a leisure class which presents itself as a platform of unemployment. It is 1946 and the Angkatells are gathered togethered, after the murder. Lucy, the mistress of cognitive deviations, Henrietta, clever, independent and detached, Midge, dark, square shaped, and poor, David, a spoiled, sour intellectual, and Edward, the reluctant, bony, undeserving heir.

It is quite obvious that the notion of work is odd, uncertain, and turning: the way milk turns. “Is the woman sympathetic and pleasant to work for?,” Edward asks Midge. “If you must have a job you must take one where the surroundings are harmonious and where you like the people you are working with.”

But how does one explain the notion of work to an heir?

How to explain to a person like Edward… What did Edward know of the labour market, of jobs, They were all divided from her by an impassible gulf: the gulf that separates the leisured from the working. They had no conception of the difficulties of getting a job. And once you had got it, of keeping it… She had found a job for herself at 4 pounds a week… Midge had no particular illusions about working. She disliked the shop. She disliked Madame Alfredge. She disliked the eternal subservience to ill tempered and impolite customers. She doubted very much whether she could obtain any other job….

A 17 year old shop girl, circa 1946 or 2010?

Discontent does not stop at the door of the dress shop. Oxford is overgrown with it; circulates it, exports it.

“I must have a talk with you David and learn all about the new ideas. As far as I can see one must hate everybody but at the same time give free medical attention and a lot of extra education… Poor things all those helpless little children herded into schoolhouses everyday….

Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler read by George Guidall

Only Anne Tyler can make an off-license church appear as American as apple pie, and it’s off-beat flock, a fumbling but cuddlesome assemblage. The Church of the Second Chance is both a hovel and haven of forgiveness, a familial supplement to a family no longer familiar, a family askew.
In 1965 Mrs Bedloe was one of those mothers who believed that life, her life, was perfect, and that everything that happened in life, her life, was perfect. “Her marriage was a great joy to her, her house made her happy every time she walked into it, and her children were attractive and kind and universally liked.” Indeed, in 1965 the Bedloe family had been perfect, or close to it as you got on Waverly Street, in Baltimore. Mr Bedloe was a high school math teacher and the coach of the baseball team, Danni worked in the post office, Ian dated the prettiest girl in his junior class and dressed in high top sneakers held together with electrical tape.
Afterwords, after the Bedloe family had lost Danny and Lucy, whom he had met in the post office, and married, and who had worn red lipstick and stockings with too straight seams, what remains are Lucy’s three children — Agatha, Thomas, and Daphne, and Ian, and his parents, and the house, with its attic converted into bedrooms for the extra children.