Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Most Curious Dinner Party

By R.J. Harlick

If you could host a dinner party where the guests didn’t actually have to be alive, which three writers would you invite?

I suppose I could hold a literary salon and invite all the latest and greatest, like the grand dames used to do in the 18th and 19th centuries. They would hold their weekly afternoon salons in sumptuous surroundings and invite authors, artists, even politicians, who were on their way up to regale the chosen few with their pearls of wisdom or shock them with their outlandish views.

But I am neither a grand dame nor do I have a fitting venue and I would be inviting ghosts, which I am not sure would go over well in a literary salon, so I think I will stick to a more intimate affair. I haven’t quite decided whether I should invite all the authors at the same time or whether I should invite them individually. Mind you it would be fun to watch their interactions with each other for it promises to be a disparate group based on my diverse reading habits.

The first author I would invite would be Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, otherwise known as Leo Tolstoy. While I am a great admirer of his books, particularlyWar and Peace and Anna Karinena, I also have a particular affinity for things Russian having spent two years living in Moscow. I have fond memories of the time my husband and I visited Tolstoy’s home, Yasnaya Polyana, a wooded estate about 200 kilometres from Moscow. I would invite him for zakuski, the hot and cold hors d’oeuvres Russians serve before the main meal or on their own. I would ensure that there would be lots of caviar, smoked sturgeon and salmon, pickled wild mushrooms and beets and of course vodka and champagne. But if Tolstoy is still pursuing a life of abstinence, I would have the samovar bubbling away with the tea concentrate ready to be diluted in a fragile porcelain cup. No doubt he would lead us through a lively dissertation on his anarchist views. I get the impression one didn’t really discuss things with him, rather he lectured.

John Fowles would be another invitee. He’s an author we hear little about these days, but I thoroughly enjoyed his books, like The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Magus and Daniel Martin. I would invite him for a particular reason, his home town, Lyme Regis, which was also the setting for The French Lieutenant’s Woman. For those of you who have seen the movie, you will remember the memorable scene of Sarah Woodruff standing on The Cobb with waves flying around her. I too have stood on that massive stone harbour wall, but in calmer weather. But the memory I treasure the most from my stay in that delightful seaside town is my first Devon cream tea in a quintessential English tea house. So I would serve Mr. Fowles a Devon cream tea with plenty of clotted cream, buttery scones and strawberry jam and of course tea, likely Darjeeling, my favourite afternoon tea. If he’d like a wee tipple added to his tea I would ensure a bottle of his favourite was at hand.

Another author I would like to invite would be Tony Hillerman. I loved his Leaphorn and Chee novels. I confess I had his series in mind when I started on my journey with Meg and her Algonquin friends. I even have a handwritten letter from him encouraging me with my writing venture. But once again I am inviting Mr. Hillerman because I have had several pleasurable trips to the part of the world he wrote about and lived in, the American Southwest, in particular New Mexico. And I love its cuisine.  So I would serve quesadillas, fish tacos, chicken enchiladas with refried beans and rice, all liberally smothered in pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream. And of course with southwest food we would have to have margaritas.

But you may have noticed that these three authors are no longer with us, plus they are all men. So to round out the party, for I've decided it would be more fun to have everyone at once, I would invite four women, who are very much alive, four women whose writing I admire and who are very good friends and with whom I’ve had many a raucous dinner. They are fellow crime writers, Vicki Delany, Barbara Fradkin, Mary Jane Maffini and Linda Wiken. I think the four of them would add a very lively addition to the party and wouldn’t mind mingling with ghosts and indulging in such a curious combination of food.  I would even include some of our Canadian favourites, like cedar plank salmon, fiddleheads, wild rice and Nanimo bars. I mustn’t forget a few bottles of Niagara and Prince Edward County wine.

Where the conversation would take us, I have no idea, but I think it would be great fun. One thing I do know, I doubt anyone would be at a loss for words.

What about you? Which authors would you like to invite?


Paul D. Marks said...

John Fowles, what a great choice! All great choices, but he really resonates with me.

RJ Harlick said...

Paul, I loved Fowles books too, his sense of place and aura of mystery he was able to create. I haven't thought of him in a while. Maybe it is time for a reread.

Linda Wiken said...

What a fun dinner party! Thanks for the invitation, Robin. I would accept in flash. Imagine rubbing elbows, real and imaginary, with so many points of view. And yes, the females in the group have been known to enjoy our dinners out together.

I'd like to bring along a guest, if that's okay. Andrea Camilleri, so we could spend part of the evening discussing his wonderful Inspector Montalbano.

Barbara Fradkin said...

What fun! I'd accept in a flash too, because as if the food and drink weren't incentive enough, the company would be fabulous. And I'd throw an extra man into the mix- two, actually- Michael Stanley, AKA Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who together write the powerful Detective Kubu series set in Botswana. A truly international gathering, and Kubu loves his food.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I would be thrilled to attend. I am a great admirer of your ghosts and love and admire all the dangerous women you have selected. If I may also bring a plus one, it would be from the ghostie side with the late great Ngaio Marsh. I'd like to talk to her about how she used her knowledge of the theatre to enhance her dialogue and staging of those timeless crime novels.

Thanks for making me part of this: I'd like to contribute a maple mousse as an additional dessert.


Mary Jane aka Victoria Abbott

RJ Harlick said...

I'm delighted you can attend, Linda, Barbara and Mary Jane. You are most welcome to bring guests. They will add an extra gaiety to the evening. This is going to be a grand party.

Art Taylor said...

Great choices here—and I'm a fan of Fowles' work as well! (And ha! I see that Paul beat me already to celebrating Fowles here.)

I think I may need to crash this one. :-)

Susan C Shea said...

Is John Fowles the writer who wrote a novel about a woman who was held captive by a group of men and abused sexually as their desires became less inhibited? I stopped in the middle of what I thought was a nasty fantasy and haven't revisited him again. If I have the wrong author, deep apologies...Otherwise, I'll respectfully decline and hope you invite me again some time!

RJ Harlick said...

Susan, this wasn't a plot in any of his books I have read, but I haven't read all of them. Perhaps, Art or Paul know. I do hope you can join us. It would be great fun.

Art Taylor said...

Not one I've read.... Paul?

Susan C Shea said...

I just went online and, yes, it was his novel that turned my stomach:
The Collector

The Collector is the story of the abduction and imprisonment of Miranda Grey by Frederick Clegg, told first from his point of view, and then from hers by means of a diary she has kept, with a return in the last few pages to Clegg's narration of her illness and death.

Paul D. Marks said...

The Collector is about one man and one prisoner. What came to mind for me, RJ, was the movie Straw Dogs, made twice now, the first time by Peckinpah. Based on the novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm
by Gordon M. Williams. Could that be what you're thinking of? Though Susan's already said it was The Collector, which was definitely creepy.

RJ Harlick said...

Susan, that book does sound rather creepy, one I would also avoid. But try The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Magus or Daniel Martin and you might change your mind. It would be so nice to have you at the party, but if not, we shall see you at the next one.

Wenni Donna said...

This is just an amazing post my friend. I am so pleased to know about this most curious dinner party. Thanks a lot for sharing lovely photos here. We will also be hosting a dinner party on our wedding anniversary at local party venues in Los Angeles. Eagerly waiting for this family dinner!