<<TBR CHALLENGE: August 2016>>
Today has been one of those warm, salubrious days, where time seems to slow and stretch out before you in a vast ribbon-like stream. It reminds me of sunny afternoons when I was (oh-so) much younger, languishing on the couch, the windows open, cats purring and books being avariciously read.
It was in these afternoons that I discovered Trixie Beldon and Brian Jacques, Emily of the Moons and Anne of the Gables.
I think often when searching for new books to read, I am still looking for that same elusive anticipatory squee of welling excitement that accompanied those afternoons; the sentient awareness of not just reading a book and liking it, but also liking the PROCESS of reading that book. It becomes bigger than the book. It’s about liking the way the words sound in my head, the way the characters resonate.
A palpable enjoyment of the procedure and progression of the unfolding story.
I don’t think many books do that.
But Joyce Dingwall did it for me, with her 1974 vintage romance Flamingo Flying South.
This incidentally totally covers Wendy-The-Super-Librarian’s August TBR Challenge theme: kickin’ it old skool – but which my auto-correct seems to keep wanting to change to ‘stool’ thus making me think of poop-stories and wanting to snigger into my hands. (Hey! I may have indicated we were grown up here at BlueCastle – but I NEVER said we were mature…)
Flamingo Flying South is one of those penultimate vintage romances that seem to crop up from time to time in the mills & boon.
It’s clever, and oh-so-snarky, with class up the wahzoo, and quick-fire hepburn retorts, and doesn’t have very strong romantic elements.
Sure, it is a ROMANCE. And there is a hero and a heroine and a HEA, but there are more elements at play here than just a simple love story.
It’s about family and happiness and never leaving people behind. It’s about rising above self-absorption and not taking things at face value. It’s about not settling, and it has that innocent sweetness of certain books from the 70s that when you read them, they are so adorable, you just want to find a soft cat and hug it really tight ’til it scratches you to death. Or maybe cry.
I did both.
Georgia (our heroine) holidaying in Cypress with her brother and sister-in-law, doesn’t want to leave. She is haunted by bittersweet memories of another Cypress holiday, when she was younger (and more innocent) than the grand old age of 23.
An encounter from the rude and unreasonable Agrippa Smith, who desperate for someone to take charge of two young boys, gives her the opportunity to stay on.
(Seriously where do these people get all their summer holiday time from???)
Grip (Agrippa) landed with two pale anaemic-looking youngsters, wants to beef them up a little before he takes them back to Australia.
This initial premise leads to some hilarious tongue-in-cheek rapid-fire banter.
Thank you for picking up my ruins,’ she offered stiffly
‘Thank you for being an Australian,’ he said calmly back.
‘So you thought up two children to be duly toughened?’ Georgia said coldly. ‘Then you asked around?’
‘Yes,’ he confirmed calmly.
‘Quite a story,’ she awarded.
‘Except that it’s a true one. They do exist.’
‘Ages six and seven?’
‘And a need for toughening?’
‘Again yes. And that’s what I want to talk to you about.’
‘I see.’ She absorbed this for a moment. ‘And do I look that type then? That toughening-up type?’
‘No. And that sets me back a little, I’ll admit. But beggars can’t be choosers.’
‘You should have seen your scandalized face at that!’
‘You weren’t looking.’
‘With your back turned?’
‘I have eyes there, too. When you’re in my employ, it might be well to remember that.’
Then we meet Bysshe (who ‘coincided with his mother’s poetic phase’) and Segovia (‘Her Spanish guitar period. But please not to be discouraged…’)
And the need to toughen them up becomes a little more reasonable…They are monosyllabic, dutiful and quiet as mice. Nothing peaks their interest, and they are absorbed in their own worlds.
‘Mr. Smith, all Australian boys don’t go round looking like prize-fighters or buck-jumpers, in fact most don’t.’
‘Then answer me this: Do many go round looking like Bish and Seg?’
‘You see?’ Again he pointed the finger. ‘I don’t ask the impossible. But I do want a bit of colour on their faces, a bit of muscle on their arms, a bit of interest in them.’
‘I suppose I could help with the colour and the interest,’ she admitted.
So Georgia agrees to join them, rents a house for them and duly tries to ’toughen’ them up. And all of this would be pretty generic, if Dingwall didn’t decide throw a monkey wrench into the middle of it all, in the form of a Flamingo, that they (the boys and Georgia) discovered and subsequently rescued. I am entering FFS into the annals of ‘most awesome plot pet poppet ever’ because who could beat out a FLAMINGO?????
Ok – No real relevance – but how fabulously clever!
On an island where the Flamingoes stop for the winter, before migrating to Kenya; one is left behind. The boys are immediately captivated.
‘I’m calling him Flamey.’ Bish was touching the down-curved bill again, the wading bird calmly permitting him.
‘I’m calling him Rose Red Morning Cloud,’ said Seg
‘He’s going to be Flamey,’ insisted Bish.
‘He’s going to be—’
‘Hush,’ directed Georgia, ‘the pink one is becoming alarmed.’
…The boys were looking at her with one look, one agreeing look. Unmistakably they were agreed.
‘The Pink One,’ they said in unison. ‘We’re calling him the Pink One!’
Thus The Pink One joins them on their adventure.
A lovely thing about FFS, is that the development of story and the addition of characters doesn’t subtract from the romance, but it does make it a more rounded, universal story.
It should subtract in reality. It has convoluted story lines: accidents on donkeys, school bullying and betting, midnight boat rescues, masked carnivals and mistaken identifies. But it doesn’t.
For a tiny 187 page novel, a significant amount of THINGS are shunted in. But it never feels cluttered and the story takes on an extra dimension. It become bigger than the two protagonists, because the secondary characters (and menagerie of pets) are so beautifully defined.
I heeved a big gushy sigh when I finished it. And I am now searching out MANY more Dingwells. And have added her to my list of Rare Magical Unicorn Authors…Because if Ms Dingwell can make a flamingo, a donkey and a cat called Purrs at home in a villa with two tiny boys and grumpy author, then frankly, I don’t think there is any end to her power.
Seriously. Read it.
Valancy: wondering if flamingos CAN be pets… cos that would be 12 spoonfuls of awesome.
Header Image: Louis Agassiz Fuertes, (1874-1927), American Flamingos.