I spent the last week with my partner Brian at our cabin in the Interior of BC, a little spot outside of Princeton which has so far been untouched by the fires of the last few years. Covid and heavy smoke kept us away for nearly a year, so it was a relief to finally set eyes on the place again. Even better, one of our land partners has been working away at things in our absence and we now have a functional bathroom and kitchen after seven years of cabin-building. Oh, the simple pleasure of being able to shower after coming in from a run around the lake! Up until this trip it’s been all sponge-baths and trips to the outhouse.
We spent the week canning food and planning cabin-finishing projects (floors, window-coverings, interior doors). Some writing and knitting also happened. In short, it was a brief holiday, from which we now return to a busy fall of work.
Sunday recipe: Baked Apple Chips
If August is the month of blackberries, then September is the month of apples. In particular, it is the month for Gravensteins which make the best apple chips. I like to do several rounds with just cinnamon in the dehydrator, which I then pack into quart jars for year-round snacking. This recipe makes a quick oven-chip that can be packed in a school lunch or eaten with afternoon tea.
two apples (Gravensteins, Galas, Golden Delicious etc)
2 tsp powdered sugar
2 tsp cinnamon sugar (1/2 cinnamon, 1/2 white sugar)
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Wash and slice apples in rings. If you are feeling fancy, core them. If not, don’t worry about it but do remove the seeds.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle powdered sugar in a thin layer on the parchment. Line up the apple slices as closely as they will fit. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top.
Pop in the oven for 90 minutes, rotate once halfway through.
At the 90 minute point, check the apples and decide whether you want them a bit crispier - if so, leave them in for another thirty minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool, they will crisp up a bit more as they sit.
Book notes: Double Blind
An enjoyable book, but one I wanted more from in the end.
In Small Comforts, I pretty much only review books that I can give a glowing recommendation for. This month, I’m changing that up as I look at Double Blind, the latest novel by Edward St. Aubyn. This is a novel I set out to love, but it left me feeling jilted by the time I turned the last page. Although the tableau of characters and moral dilemmas are artfully arranged, none of them have anywhere to go in this novel which suffers from trying to do too much at once.
What is clear from the outset is that St. Aubyn wants his characters to be smart people, talking about smart things. And they do! They are re-wilding ecologists, cutting-edge DNA scientists, outsider psychologists, neurologists, and venture capital fund managers with a penchant for the environment. Each of them has a stake in the personal dramas that unfold throughout the novel, but more importantly, each of them has a strong opinion on how to change or save the world from itself which is where the big ideas conversations come in throughout the book.
At the core of the story are three main characters, Lucy and Olivia (two old school friends) and Francis (Olivia’s boyfriend) but they are threaded together with a much wider cast through the largess and business interests of Hunter Sterling. An Elon Musk knock-off, Sterling is one of the richest men in the world who despite his prickly personality (and substance abuse problems) wants to do the right thing while also being a billionaire.
This isn’t a long novel, and yet there are various storylines which flow quite naturally between one another keeping the pace of action moving through each of the main narratives. But what I enjoyed the most was the backdrop of conversation that St. Aubyn dresses his stage with. Although many reviewers explicitly criticized this aspect of the novel, the explorations of botany, ecology, climate science, psychology, neuroscience, and cutting edge technology held my interest more than any of the characters or their motivations. In this, I was reminded of Upton Sinclair’s novels of the early twentieth century, in which characters break off from normal conversation to deliver long socialist polemics that go on for pages with some frequency. St. Aubyn’s protagonists are not only eager to describe their research findings in great detail, but they also engage with each other through incisive questions and counterpoints that bring them to life more than their individual storylines do.
Unfortunately, St. Aubyn himself is too enamoured with the wealthy Hunter Sterling to ever have his intelligent and ethical characters challenge him in any fundamental way. Not once does a conversation take place where anyone points out that being a billionaire with all the trappings (the private plane, multiple massive properties, lavish parties) and doing the right thing are fundamentally incompatible states of being. Lucy, Olivia, and Francis, all described as having come from relatively modest means, seem to slip into the world of the privileged with little to say about it other than to marvel occasionally that their life has become like a movie set against the backdrops of Sterling’s wealth. It’s as though all intellect goes out the window at the first sign of financial security (or sexual intrigue - but that’s another plot line). This left me disappointed with St. Aubyn’s characters, who start out as intellectually strong but resolve as somewhat vapid (and apolitical to an extreme) towards the end.
None of the internal dramas of the novel are resolved, and there are several - a character with brain cancer, another who is pregnant but worries a child will destroy her research career, one who is tempted away from his partner by a wealthy (and sexy) benefactor who wants him to head a project to save the Amazon, and another who carries a family secret and professional ethical problem alone throughout the book. This made me wonder if St. Aubyn originally envisioned this as a series project like his earlier Patrick Melrose novels, and might still deliver more of this story in instalments. Should this be the case, I would hope the main characters are redeemed by showing more political and intellectual rigour in their associations. Despite the shortcomings of this novel, it still held my attention enough that I would definitely read a sequel.
I will be closing The Comfort for the Apocalypse survey on Typeform within the next week. If you had meant to provide some feedback to me but hadn’t quite got to it - now is the time - and you’ll be entered into a draw to win some weaving.