I’m a firm believer in every book having its day. I’d started this series of reviews back in June 2018, keen to work my way through Penguin’s boxed 70th Birthday collection that doubles up as a doorstop. It’s a brilliant set of reads, usually from longer books, that draws upon Penguin’s long and varied history publishing of ‘intelligent books at low prices’. I’d raced through numbers 1-7, feeling smug that I’d hit upon a way of getting enough posts out in a regular fashion. But then I’d come to this one and, well, I just wasn’t in the mood that day.
But a year and a half later, I picked it up again and, damn this was the right afternoon for this book. I love Keyes’ delivery of her lines – she has the best voice in the world and that really comes through in these short pieces – and the fact this volume focuses on her travels meant it was perfect for reading on a sunny afternoon in lockdown. I needed to laugh this afternoon, and I did. Ahem – I’ll have to confess now to having been a bit sniffy about her novels when I first tried one in my twenties. I am now grown up enough to admit I was wrong.
As soon as we’d said hello, she told us that her husband had just left her. God, I love Russians. Love them. They’ll tell you anything. They do unhappiness with such verve, such style, such passion. As we lugged our suitcase to the car, Valya told me that she had nothing left to live for, but that she would still take care of us on the tour.
From the trials of getting an emergency passport – I’m hoping St Anthony listens to Welsh pleas too – to the trials of flying, Keyes’ self-deprecating humour and comic timing is superb. I loved her run down of shopping experiences in New York, and the chapter on her family’s week in a villa – ‘All the bread is gone!’ Although she doesn’t like travelling, I can’t help feeling she’d make an excellent travel companion. I’m so glad I went back to this. Just the tonic.