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Showing posts from August, 2012

Review: Winter Sonata, by Dorothy Edwards

Pages: 245 Original date of publication: 1928 My edition: 1986 (Virago) Why I decided to read: All Virago/All August How I acquired my copy: LT member, June 2012
Winter Sonata revolves around the lives of several people in a small English village. Arnold Nettle is a shy telegraph operator, disinclined towards conversation, which nonetheless is invited to his neighbors, where he plays the cello for them in the evenings. He falls in love with Olivia, the eldest daughter, a smart, introspective young woman with good judgment about other people. Other characters in the drama include Olivia’s teenage sister Eleanor, their cousin George, his best friend Mr. Premiss, and Mr. Nettle’s landlady’s teenage daughter, Pauline.
Although the book claims to be a love story, it is mostly about the interactions between the main characters. Although part of the group, Mr. Nettle is completely detached from them, and it’s interesting to watch the difference between Olivia, who’s in her twenties and has a head …

Review: The Queen's Vow, by CW Gortner

Pages: 380 Original date of publication: 2012 My edition: 2010 (Ballantine) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon Vine, May 2012
Until I began reading this book, I hadn’t realized that I’ve never actually read a novel about Isabella of Spain—one of the most powerful women in early modern history. The novel is set during the early years of Isabella’s life and covers her marriage, struggle to maintain the throne of Castile, and the birth of her children.
CW Gortner is known for researching the heck out of his novels, so you know you will always get high-quality fiction from him. That said, though, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I’ve enjoyed some of his others or as much as I wanted to. There’s nothing technically wrong with this novel, but I wasn’t as interested or invested in Isabella’s story as I was with Juana la Loca’s in The Last Queen.
The prose is stiff, as is the dialogue, and I found it hard to like or relate to Isabella’s plight (even though the novel is written…

Review: The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh, by Linda Colley

Pages: 361 Original date of publication: 2007 My edition: 2008 (Anchor Books) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: LibraryThing Secret Santa, December 2010
Elizabeth Marsh was truly an interesting and remarkable woman. Conceived in Jamaica and born in 1735, Marsh literally traveled from the time she was in the womb. She visited Morocco, the Mediterranean, Florida, and India. The books covers not only Elizabeth’s story, but her family’s and, by extension, world history. Because her father and grandfather were shipbuilders, Marsh’s life was linked to the English Royal Navy and the world of the British Empire. It was a time when there was a growing awareness of and connections between various cultures of the world, and Marsh’s story in some part personalizes that experience.
In some ways, her life and adventures were similar to those of Eliza Fay, who wrote her “Letters” from India roughly a generation later. Both were lower-middle class (if you could use that term for 18th century s…

Review: A Few Green Leaves, by Barbara Pym

Pages: 250 Original date of publication: 1980 My edition: 1980 (Harper Perennial Library) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: The Philadelphia Book Trader, August 2010
Barbara Pym’s novels are comfort reads. They follow pretty much the same format and have very much the same elements; in fact, some of her characters overlap between novels. This novel is set in an Oxfordshire village in the 1970s and features a typically Pym-esque cast of characters: an academic, a rector, village doctors, spinsters, and possible love interests.
One of the main characters, Emma, is an anthropologist, and her activities reflect the overall purpose of the book, because the story is more or less an anthropological study of the people who live in the village.Some of Pym’s characters are truly funny: the rector who’s so wrapped up in searching for his mythological DMV (deserted medieval village) that he scarcely pays attention to the present; the local spinster cat lady; the ex boyfriend who accidenta…

Review: Little Boy Lost, by Marghanita Laski

Pages: 232 Original date of publication: 1949 My edition: 2010 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone Secret Santa, December 2011
Little Boy Lost is set during and just after WWII. Hilary Wainwright is an English writer who lost his wife during the Holocaust—and his son, John, is also lost but in a different way. Hilary receives a tip that his son may be living in an orphanage in France, and he goes there to investigate.
It’s a bleak novel—the theme of which is emotional expression. Hilary’s constant struggle is whether to repress emotion, or to let it out. There’s so much emotional fodder here—the death of his wife, the loss of his son—but he doesn’t allow himself to actually express what he’s feeling. This suppression of emotion is what makes this book so powerful, all the more so because this is a novel of self-discovery, too. It’s only when Hilary manages to “find” himself that he opens himself up. Then there are the larger questions that Hilary finds him…

Review: The Fortnight in September, by RC Sherriff

Pages: 326 Original date of publication: 1931 My edition: 2011 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, September 2011
“But over all lay a spirit of joyful, unrestrained freedom. There were no servants—no masters: no clerks—no managers—just men and women whose common profession was Holidaymaker.”
Every September the Stevenses—a working-class family from the outskirts of London—take a fortnight holiday to Bognor, a town by the sea. On the surface this is a typical tale of holidaying—but there is so much more to this novel than there appears.
There is a feeling, however, that this holiday will be their last as a family—the two oldest, Dick and Mary, have left school and may easily have made plans to vacation with friends instead; and Mrs. Stevens doesn’t particularly care for Bognor. As such there is a feeling of nostalgia about this novel; it seems as though the Stevenses are trying to capture the essence of a time gone by while still grappling with…

Review: The Way Things Are, by EM Delafield

Pages: 336 Original date of publication: 1927 My edition: 1988 (Virago Modern Classics) Why I decided to read: read for All Virago/All August How I acquired my copy: Ebay, January 2012
The heroine of The Way Things Are is kind of a prototype for the Provincial Lady. Laura Temple has been married to her husband Alfred for 7 years. The have two small sons together and Laura spends her time looking after her family and engaging in the local affairs of the village of Quinnerton. At heart, though, Laura feels trapped—her husband is a good man but she feels that she’s missing something—until she meets Duke (Marmaduke) Ayland, a friend of her younger sister Christine.
On the surface, the book is lighthearted, even funny in some places; but you really experience the boredom and monotony that Laura feels. At the heart of this book is the theme of entrapment—EMD believed that all married women were trapped. EMD approaches the book with detachment; she tried to view the characters impartially, so none…

Review: BUtterfield 8, by John O'Hara

Pages: 228 Original date of publication: 1935 My edition: 200 (Vintage) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011
BUtterfield 8 is based on a true story. In this novel O’Hara tries to imagine what that young girl’s life might have been like. Gloria Wandrous is a party girl, familiar with the speakeasies and clubs of 1920s New York City. She falls in with a married man and spends one night at his apartment—after which she steals his wife’s fur coat. The theft leads to tragedy.
I liked the idea of the novel, but I thought it was confusing and illogical in several places; I agree with a previous reviewer who said that the relationship between Gloria and Weston Liggett didn’t seem believable. The relationship started too quickly and seemed less like a relationship and more like lust/physical attraction; I didn’t buy for a second that he was in love with her.
The tone of the novel feels very frenetic and sex-charged, probably due to the intensity of Gloria’s pers…

Review: Memoirs of Montparnasse, by John Glassco

Pages: 236 Original date of publication: 1970 My edition: 2007 (NYRB Classics) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Joseph Fox bookstore, Philadelphia, February 2012
In 1928, a young Canadian named John Glassco set out for Paris with his best friend. The two set out to explore all that the city had to offer: the cafes, bars, and brasseries that the Americans of the Lost Generation would have been familiar with as well. Glassco set out to have a literary career and along the way rubbed shoulders with some of the greats (at one point in this memoir a man walks into a bar and someone calls him “Ernie;” it took me a while to realize that yes, it was that Ernie).
Glassco wrote this memoir as truth, although it’s not completely factual. For example, Kay Boyle and Djuna Barnes, both important figures of the literary expatriates of Paris at the time, receive new names; and there is a certain sense of scintillism to Glassco’s account—probably because the author was so young. Glassco manage…

Review: The Roaring Nineties, by Katharine Susannah Prichard

Pages: 411 Original date of publication: 1946 My edition: 1983 (Virago Modern Classics) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: London, September 2011
The Roaring Nineties is set on the Australian frontier in the 1890s. Sally Gough is the wife of a gold miner, eking out a rough living in the goldfields of Western Australia. It’s a tough life these people live, certainly much different than ours is now; and it’s interesting to watch the characters grow, even as the Australian frontier changes with the advent of the railway and the growth of towns.
It’s a tough book to get through; bleak in many places. As such, it’s a bit of a slog. But despite that, I enjoyed this novel; it’s very realistic and true to the time period (even though I know nothing about colonial Australia or the business of gold prospecting). Sally seems very flat and devoid of emotion; I guess that life on the frontier makes people become stoic in that way. Her focus is her family and she turns out to be a tough, res…