I am a white, middle-aged male. (Don’t stop reading, please). My conscience has been pricked a great deal over the last couple of years. Since I began the obstacle course that is getting a novel published, actually. I started looking at my bookshelves about a year ago. There’s a ratio of 5:2, more or less. A ratio of what? Male to Female authors.

It is rare I’ll pick up a pastel-colour-covered paperback. However, I did have the following: Lionel Shriver’s novels, all of Donna Tartt’s books (brilliant! But you knew that), Faye Kellerman (not so keen now but earlier books were wonderful, maybe you knew that too), lots of other thriller writers, Reichs, Slaughter, McDiarmid, for example. (There are a lot of books in our house). George Eliot, only Middlemarch, Silas Marner and The Mill on the Floss. Mary Wollstencraft, everything by Austen except the last unfinished novel (What’s it called?) I have a novel each by the Bronte sisters, same as everyone.


It’s still 5:2. I have read, Louisa M. Allcott, L.M.Montgomery, Anna Sewell and Toni Morrison. I have a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I preferred Helen’s column in the Independent; I don’t know why, seeing as they are more or less the same.

I bet if I counted up all the books I’ve ever read, it would still be 5:2.

Which brings me to the book in the picture. I’ve decided I’m going to read a book by a female author for every single one I read by a male author from now on. Katarina Bivald’s book was the first one I picked up. You will note it doesn’t have a pastel cover, but I’m not convinced I would have chosen it to read, if not for my “little experiment”.

This is a book written by a person who loves books. On the surface it is a simple love story, not out of place in Mills And Boon or (haha) Harlequin’s catalogues, I would venture.  There is much more to Katarina’s book than that. Is it coincidence that Sara’s pen-pal is called Amy? Allcott is referenced throughout the book.

And the jokes, the meta-glory of putting the words “all stories start with a stranger coming to town” into a character’s mouth. These pleasures are strewn throughout Ms Bivald’s book.

It’s sentimental, some might call it twee. I would call it Capra-esque, or better still it’s like a Preston Sturges film. What’s wrong with creating things to make people feel good? Watch Sullivan’s Travels, if you don’t want to read this book – they want the same thing for us and bless Sturges and Bivald for making their film and book respectively.

Respect, Ms Bivald, I’ll change that 5:2 one day, thanks to you. 

Malaga: City of Culture

After nearly 15 years in Andalucia, I finally made a proper attack on several of the art galleries available in Malaga. An overnight stay in The Hotel Carlos V in Cister was in no way disappointing. Cheapish and very comfortable. No further away than I could throw Keith Richard was La Catedral. For the Spanish, an Art Gallery is a Museo, as is a Museum, it can disappoint the unwary, but then, who goes to an Art Gallery on the spur of the moment? (Me, if I get the chance).

On Friday we visited El Museo Ruso, currently housing works from The Winter Palace’s collection once owned by the Romanovs. One day I hope to visit St Petersburg and see what treasures were too valuable to send. Some of the work was, it must be admitted, of variable quality: other pieces were unbelievably good. Like this: “The Ice House” by Valery Yakovi

The Ice House 1878

Bizarrely decadent – and as disturbing in its way as Velasquez’s Las Meninas – this striking painting depicts the Jester’s wedding in The Ice Palace built by Empress Anna Ivanova. The jester was in reality Prince Mixhail Alexeevich Goletsyn, who had displeased the Empress by marrying unsuitably. On the death of this unsuitable wife, Anna Ivanova forced him to marry a servant in a degrading ceremony. How unlike the home life of our own dear Queen.

The lighting in the Ruso was most disappointing. There were sufficient spotlights to satisfy the vainest of actors, every one seemed to be positioned for maximum glare on every painting, were it oil on canvas or water-colour behind glass.

Tapas for lunch near the Hotel in the shadow of the Cathedral and then it was off to Museo Carmen Thyssen. The best thing was one of the temporary exhibitions. This compared some of Goya’s goriest and grimmest etchings with work by a Belgian artist with a peculiarly Irish name, James Ensor. If you’ve a taste for grue, I thoroughly recommend it.

Two of Goya’s Etchings Featured in the Exhibition

The lighting was better in the Thyssen, thank goodness…

Dinner was at Garum (named after an ancient fish sauce invented when the Romans ruled Malaga) an interesting Restaurant on the Calle Alcazabilla. The menu is not extensive but it really is quite different. Try the 5×2 Atun (10 cuts of Tuna cooked in five different ways) – a real treat. The service was very good too, which, unfortunately, isn’t always the case here in Andalucia.

Garum: Go, it’s good.

Saturday morning, coffee in La Café de la Abuela, Granny’s Caff, if you like. I read the newspaper-wallpaper, pages and pages from “Cronica de España” from the early 70s. Franco dying, Juan Carlos reinstating the monarchy, Adios à Picasso, off-plan homes on never-built urbanizaciónes with prices in pesetas: all Spanish life was there. My coffee grew cold and eventually the clock showed 10 and we could go to the Museo Picasso. The doors opened right on time. It truly is a beautiful building, a one-time town hall and beautifully laid out with lots of salas off a lovely central patio.

If, like me, you’ve seen Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia in Madrid, you’ll feel that Pablo never did anything as good/significant/important (choose your own adjective) before it or after. So, I’d recommend the Museo Picasso for completists only. But, and it is a big but…


Oh, and Dorothea Tanning is quite good too…

Until 28th January 2018 there is a temporary exhibition entitled “We Are Completely Free: Women Artists and Surrealism“. Works by 18 women are featured in this exhibition in a variety of styles. I had heard of several of those featured (Lee Miller, Frida Kahlo, Claude Cahun), many more were artists I’d never heard of. Particularly impressive were : Maruja Mallo, the Leonoras – Fini and Carrington and… (Tada!) Kay Sage.

It was one of the best things I’ve seen for years. Women in art seem to have been air-brushed out of the picture or painted over by male art-historians, curators and critics. This is one exhibition which makes an effort to overturn some of that. Do go.