If someone had told me that my mother would be staying with us for six weeks this year, I would have shuddered with horror. As much as I love her, we are very different people and have little in common. However, it has been remarkably easy.
I have had to make some sacrifices, including watching Wycliffe every evening, enduring the public humiliation of buying the Daily Mail and eating a diet of bland, garlic-free meals, but I can live with these.
The one thing I am having a problem with is my mother's addiction to romantic novels.
My mother is the perfect guest in many ways and demands very little, but there is one exception: when it comes to books, she is like a crack addict. She has a ten-a-week habit and starts to become nervous if she is getting near to the end of the last new book.
I am having real problems keeping pace with my mother's addiction. How do I know which titles she hasn't read before? There's no point looking at the blurb, as most of the books seem to have the same basic plot:
When Kitty Grindstone's parents drown at sea, she is sent to an orphanage where she is beaten daily. Then, at 16, she meets the handsome squire's son, Jasper Cadman, who promises to show her the love that she so desperately craves. But when Kitty reveals that she is pregnant, Cadman cruelly disowns her. Alone in the world, without a roof over her head, Kitty climbs the snow-covered Yorkshire Dales to join her beloved parents in Heaven. Little does she know that her salvation may lie with a simple farmer's son called Jeremiah Ingleby...
Or something like that.
Luckily, there are so many books to choose from, I'm in little danger of buying the same book twice (how does my mother manage to remember what she's read, when the plots all seem to follow the same pattern?)
In the book trade, this genre is known as Clogs and Shawls. They are bought by female, working-class readers, generally over 50, and are usually written by women (or men pretending to be women, like Emma Blair). Publishers and booksellers can be very dismissive about these novels, but they are the bread and butter of the publishing industry. Without these tales of poverty and illegitimacy, there would be fewer first novels by unknown authors.
My mother likes them because they seem realistic. She has no interest in reading about middle-class people or foreigners (so that's over 90% of fiction out of the picture). She wants to read about the world she grew up in and if the plots of these novels seem melodramatic, I have to remind myself that they're tame compared to my mother's family history.
I couldn't help smiling to myself when, last week, my mother complained that she was running out of books to read, as she was sitting in front of my bookcase at the time. I looked at the shelves of books behind her and wondered if there was a single title that I could persuade her to read. What about the ultimate clogs and shawls novel, Jane Eyre?
And why was she running out of books so quickly? I decided to ask my mother and she sheepishly admitted that she only read the dialogue. She has now agreed to read the prose passages as well, so I should be able to keep pace with my mother's insatiable desire for family sagas until she goes home.
Whenever that is.