[t. 'Black Beauty', the blackest tulip I have ever seen]
The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
I'd never read any Dumas before and am not a devotee of historical fiction (although I keep meaning to read a Georgette Heyer), and wasn't sure what to expect. So I was delighted to be swept away by a rip-roaring romp through C17 Dutch history written by a C19 French writer. There's pace, gore, royalty, melodrama, intrigue, romance, and a lot about tulips. I wouldn't rely on Dumas to guide you through the growing of a black tulip (there are some glaring errors), but he's excellent on the passion that tulips arouse. The po-faced introduction in my edition makes no mention of the sexual sub-text, but Dumas must have been laughing mightily to himself when writing the outrageously innuendo-filled chapter 21.
We went to see this film - in French but directed by a Finn - a couple of weeks ago, but it has stuck in my mind. It's quite unusual - very flat, very slow, very stylised - and really wonderful. It's a kind of Chekhov-meets-Jacques Tati via 1950s French cinema, and in fact it's quite hard to tell in which era it is set. The acting is superb, the colours deeply matt and beautifully controlled, and there is plenty of gentle humour as well as pathos. It's utterly absorbing, and as far from the noisy multiplex blockbusters as you can imagine.
(We also saw Goodbye, First Love at the weekend. Beautiful to look at - Simon thought it could have been made by the French Tourist Board and was keen to visit the Ardèche as soon as we left the cinema. But after the first intense hour of the heroine's teenage angst and miserable demeanour, we hoped for some kind of growth and, dare I say, a laugh or two (a smile would have been good) but no such luck. This trailer gives an idea of what I mean.)