I've just asked my daughter what to blog about - inspiration sagging after a day storming ahead with the novel, and then wading through a deskful of admin - and she said, 'Chocolate'. Unfortunately, this isn't really a cooking blog, or a chocolate eating blog, though both are high on my list of pleasures. I was wondering what had happened to fifteen years of education, when I remembered how a friend of mine described one of our favourite authors. Trying to pin down the joy, she spoke of Georgette Heyer as 'brain chocolate'.
Just in case there are a few readers who don't know what I'm talking about, permit me to point you towards the piece I wrote for Vulpes Libris, which attempts to describe Heyer's appeal. Or if, even then, you don't get it, just subsitute your own best in-the-bath or in-bed-with-a-cold reading. Or more likely re-reading, because the thing about chocolate is that you can, possibly, eat to much of it at a sitting, but if you love it, you'll always love it, and for me the same is true of Heyer. I don't love Heyer because she has happy endings or pretty frocks or charismatic men, though she does have all those things, and I admit that, as with all writers with a couple of dozen or more titles to their name, some work better than others. I love her because of the fluency and elegance of what critics called her 'seemly English', her sharp eye and satirical tongue, her effortless, unobtrusive handling of historical facts and voices, the exquisite plotting which Coward so admired, her masterly control of pace, point-of-view and structure: her wonderful sense of humour. She can still make me giggle uncontrollably, and on a particularly raw day she can still make me weep.
I can't say that I any longer see something new each time in her books, even though that's usually my basic test of literary merit, but then, chocolate's not new every time either, is it? Nor are hot baths, or scrambled eggs on toast, or walks in the park when the sun's catching the frost, or old friends. Just because a pleasure's familiar doesn't mean it's any less necessary: LeCarré is another deeply familiar, deeply necessary pleasure, though one less straightforwardly delightful, Wodehouse a third, while favourite detective novels lose nothing because I know who-dunnit. But of all the books my hand will hover over while the bath's running or when the duvet and hot waterbottle call, it's Heyer on whom it more often lands. I remember my sister once pointing out that the brain is one of the largest erogenous zones. So if bodies need sex but also need comfort, surely brains need comfort too. I'd certainly swear that Heyer's effect on my serotonin levels is the equivalent of several chunks of Valrhona's finest. Brain chocolate indeed.
PS Just a note to say that I'm reading from The Mathematics of Love and A Secret Alchemy, and discussing my work, in Guildford, at the University of Surrey (head for the Cathedral, and leap off the hill). Tuesday 10th February, at 6pm - all welcome, and there'll be books to buy and get signed too. Details here, so do drop by if you're in the area.