Books of essays are perfect travelling companions. They are designed to dip into, finding a subject that takes your fancy, and are long enough to be satisfying, short enough to entertain.
Find the right author and you feel as though you are having a fascinating conversation, albeit one in which the other person is doing all the work and providing anecdotes and just the right quotes. With the wrong author, however, you quickly realise that you are bring preached at by a bore. Rosemary Friedman’s book Final Draft thankfully falls into the former category.
At 88, she has written novels, scripts, plays, non-fiction and short stories. Final Draft is her valedictory collection, with the sub-title Reflections on Life. And those reflections cover the stuff of life, from sex and marriage, technology and travel, to grief and happiness — on which she concludes: “People need to choose happiness; they need to agree that they want it, deserve it and have it. “
My favourite essays are the ones where Friedman’s life experience comes into play — often playfully — and she views the present through the lens of the past.
On food, for example: “We who were brought up on wartime rations —when oranges, bananas, cream and avocado pears were twinkles in the food purveyors’ eyes, when vegetables meant cabbage grown on our allotments, when beans (which came from the iconic tin) were baked and cheese was ‘cheddar’, must now learn not only to eat ‘mindfully’ (that is, fast two days a week), source ‘free-from’ groceries and get our head round such delicacies as bottarga tostada, rock samphire, fava, gum mastic, labnah, freekeh, mung beans, zhoug, za’atar and yakitori monkfish, if we are not too busy shoring up the coconut industry by sourcing and buying coconut butter and coconut oil (apparently not the same thing although they look identical), coconut yoghurt and coconut flour or agonising between two varieties of pumpkin seed.”
This, by the way is an example of the long sentences that Friedman is adept at spinning; they go hither and thither, showing her love of language and ideas, but they never lose their thread or eventual destination.
The book ends with her thoughts about death, which she calls The Next Big Thing: “You will die. And not only will you die, but everyone you love and who loves you will die, and, one day, whether it is in 100 or 100,000 years hence there will be no memory, trace or evidence that you once lived. What are you to do about it other than live in the moment with as much passion and strength as you can summon. Life is not a dress rehearsal and time is running out.”
Final Draft is published by Peter Owen Publishers (£14.99)
Keren David is the JC’s Features Editor. Her latest book is ‘The Liar’s Handbook’ (Barrington Stoke)