March Tea and a Book: One Afternoon by Sian James

Mar 19, 2024 |

My featured Persephone title for March is One Afternoon (1975), by Welsh author Siân James. How I LOVED this book!

From the Persephone blog:

One Afternoon is precisely what we want a Persephone book to be: intensely readable and unputdownable but about many, many things, telling the reader about life, getting them thinking, pointing out things of which they had perhaps not been aware; and, in the end, being far, far more than the sum of its parts.

From Susan Hill (a 1975 blurb):

One Afternoon is a quiet, gentle book, full of insight and truth. It is about passion, but not simply that; about the many varieties and degrees of human love, filial, maternal, spiritual, sexual, friendly. It is, above all, about that pre-eminently difficult achievement, self-love. I learnt a great deal from this lovingly created, carefully worked-out book, and greatly admired the control, elegance and occasional moments of real beauty of Siân James’s prose. The two last, short paragraphs moved me to tears.

My thoughts:

This 1975 novel features a widow, Anna, who is rearing three young girls whilst having a passionate relationship with a charming actor. Charlie is younger, very entertaining, and  happens to get along quite well (and very appropriately) with Anna’s daughters. 

Alas, just as we grow very fond of Charlie, he walks away — thinking he’s doing our heroine a favor — and Anna is devastated. She has no choice but to pull herself together, seeing as she has young children, a dying mother, and an unexpected pregnancy. Sounds a wee bit grim, doesn’t it? Honestly, this is one of the most delightful books I’ve read in a long time. There’s so much humor, warmth, and wisdom in One Afternoon, and I am completely smitten by this story. (In the photo below you’ll note all the pages I flagged while reading.) I missed the characters so much that I read the book again before finishing this post!

Two interesting passages:

This memory of Anna’s dead husband is unsettling, especially when she recalls him belittling her with literary quotations because he doesn’t know or care how to communicate in a loving way.

Giles had always been rather distant, kind, even devoted, but remote. I feel now that he had never, in ten years of marriage, looked at me directly and seen me. It pleased him to believe, or to pretend to believe, that my mind was full of dreams and poetry. Whenever I was vague about something, and I was frequently vague and absent-minded during our marriage, though not before nor since, and what does that signify? “And she shall lean her ear in many a secret place,” he used to say.

When he had friends in, and they were discussing a new book or play or even more likely some theatrical production or other, and I was contributing little, being ignorant or uninterested, “Don’t disturb her,” he’d say, “One moment now may give us more than fifty years of reason.”

By contrast, Charlie has an uplifting effect. He has his faults, to be sure, but unlike Anna’s husband, he is cheerful, funny, enjoys spending time with the children, and appreciates Anna’s romantic gestures.

When Charlie came in at about midnight, my mood changed at once; I was simply and happily in love with him again; grateful to him for giving me an uncomplicated excitement I had never known before. And since he was tired and suffering from dress-rehearsal nerves, I gave him supper and listened sympathetically to his problems, and when we went to bed I cradled him in my arms and even when he was asleep I went on reciting love poetry to him and told him things I’d never said to anyone before.

About the author: Siân James (1930-2021) was a Welsh novelist, academic, and translator. You’ll find more details at her Persephone page HERE.

Now for Tea:

I wanted something gentle and fragrant for my tea pairing, so I chose Organic Linden from Wild Bliss Organics. From the purveyor: A madeleine cake dipped in linden tea sets off the flow of memories that begins Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. Filled with flavonoids and farnesol, linden flower tisanes have traditionally been used as a soothing beverage for both children and adults. We handpick linden’s creamy, starburst blossoms at the end of June when the flowers’ aromatic oils reach their peak.

I love the scent of Linden trees in bloom, and I was pleased to learn that the taste is just as nice. I like to put a little honey in my Linden tea, but it is just as nice without.

Stay tuned for April’s offering of a contemporary novel that I’ve let linger unread on my shelf!

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