It has been raining a lot, so I indulged myself by staying home and rereading Alice Thomas Ellis’s Home Life Two, or More Home Life. The “Home Life” columns were written for the Spectator in the 1980s, and then collected and published in four volumes. Ellis, who was nominated for the Booker Prize for her novel The 27th Kingdom, is an equally witty essayist. Her columns range in subject from meditations on domestic life to the burlesque of being mistaken for a prostitute in a bar to freezing on vacation in Wales because nobody understands the boiler.
Some of these essays strike a “chord” with me (literally). In “Too Many Love Songs,” she admits she doesn’t care for most music. She says outrageously, “I don’t know which I hate more, Mozart or the Rolling Stones…” (I do like the Rolling Stones, but I agree about Mozart.). But when her favorite shows on Radio 4 are repeated, she listens to the music on Radio 2.
…as I washed the dishes I was struck by the fact that every single song was about love. For me, on a scale of one to ten, romance comes about eighth, after chess but before politics and football. I scarcely ever give it a thought. My mind is usually taken up with what to cook for lunch, or why I’ve got an overdraft when I’ve hardly bought anything, or who’s going to feed the boa constrictor while its master is away on holiday, or where the daughter is, or why the mat from outside the bathroom is draped up the steps to the barn. Perhaps these topics are not suitable to be set to music, but surely someone could think of something to sing about as well as love.
I agree with Ellis! The rock songs I grew up with were always about love, not to mention the Frank Sinatra songs my mother listened to. And since real life generally consists of other activities, it’s no wonder that women read romance novels.
Many of you will cackle over Ellis’s essay, “Over-booked.” When she reads a confusing article in the newspaper about the British book trade’s schemes to compete with shops like Marks & Spencer, she has trouble deciphering the meaning. She quotes an almost unintelligible paragraph: the book trade needs to”reallocate resources”and “market the product better overall and so that we strive to produce a product which is going to be popular and of the highest quality.”
Ellis informs us that 50,000 books were published last year. She wries facetiously, “If only these multiple titles could be reduced to, say, 100 standard lines–ideally to ONE BOOK written jointly by a committee of tried and tested best-selling authors…”
Home Life is so much fun to read. Unfortunately these books are out-of-print.