Girl Waits with Gun – Amy Stewart

Girl Waits with Gun – Amy Stewart

I saw Amy Stewart at the Perth Writers Festival and was intrigued, so I popped over to the festival book shop and picked up a copy. I enjoyed it – it is well-written and entertaining (plus I learnt things)

Here is the blurb …

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mold. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters into hiding fifteen years ago. One day a belligerent and powerful silk factory owner runs down their buggy, and a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their family farm. When the sheriff enlists her help in convicting the men, Constance is forced to confront her past and defend her family — and she does it in a way that few women of 1914 would have dared.

I wish I had read it before I went to the talk because I am intrigued by the research. It wears the research lightly – it is never intrusive – but you feel like you are at the Kopp farm, or downtown Paterson, or waiting with a gun for the mysterious women in black. There is mention of clothes (I always like that), food, transport… essentially documenting a vanished way of life.

I love the fact that all three of the Kopp sisters are individuals – Constance, our heroine, Norma with her pigeons and her meaningful silences and Fleurette, melodramatic and flighty.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/01/girl-waits-with-gun-by-amy-stewart-review-a-marvellous-debut-mystery

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/girl-waits-with-gun-review-a-feisty-heroine-inspired-by-a-real-detective/2015/08/26/49d374da-4b34-11e5-84df-923b3ef1a64b_story.html?utm_term=.42e2d3b88490

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction

The Odd Women – George Gissing

The Odd Women – George Gissing

After reading The New Grub Street I was loathe to start this one, but my fellow book clubbers assured me this was a good read. And it was – I enjoyed it.

Here is the blurb …

A novel of social realism, The Odd Women reflects the major sexual and cultural issues of the late nineteenth century. Unlike the “New Woman” novels of the era which challenged the idea that the unmarried woman was superfluous, Gissing satirizes that image and portrays women as “odd” and marginal in relation to an ideal. Set in a grimy, fog-ridden London, Gissing’s “odd” women range from the idealistic, financially self-sufficient Mary Barfoot to the Madden sisters who struggle to subsist in low paying jobs and little chance for joy. With narrative detachment, Gissing portrays contemporary society’s blatant ambivalence towards its own period of transition. Judged by contemporary critics to be as provocative as Zola and Ibsen, Gissing produced an “intensely modern” work as the issues it raises remain the subject of contemporary debate.

At first I thought the ‘odd’ in the title meant quirky or a bit strange, but it means unpaired. So this novel is about all of the ‘superfluous’ women – the ones who can’t seem to find themselves a husband.

It shows the plight of a few ‘odd women’: Mary Barfoot (independent and trying to educate women with useful skills), Rhoda Nunn (fiercely independent and determined to remain so no matter the cost), the Madden sisters – Alice (poor but respectable), Virginia (who takes to drink) and Monica (who marries to escape her sister’s fate – a cautionary tale) and Mildred Vesper (content to work for her living).

Despite portraying all of these women sympathetically Gissing makes several misogynistic statements (unconciously revealing his belief that women are inferior)

Guilty or not, Monica would regard her with secret disdain, with woman’s malice

and

The scandal of Amy Drake, happening long after, revived her misery, which now took the form of truly feminine intolerance

This novel is preoccupied with money – very detailed accounts of incomes, what is required to get married, etc. It is about people living in straitened circumstances and how limited their lives are as a result. The women, for the most part, want to be free, but the only ones who achieve this are Mary Barfoot (independently wealthy) and Mildred Vesper (content with little). Monica finds marriage to be a prison and Rhoda’s fate is complicated – she got to choose it, but was her choice wise?

Gissing doesn’t provide any solutions -life is hard made even worse by poverty. Women, in particular, have little control of their lives.

More reviews …

“And neither was content”: George Gissing, The Odd Women

The Odd Women by George Gissing

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction

The Camomile Lawn Mary Wesley

The Camomile Lawn – Mary Wesley

We stopped in Capel on the way home from Dunsborough and the library was selling books for a $1 – I bought this one and A Common Loss by Kirsten Tranter.

Here is the blurb …

Behind the large house, the fragrant camomile lawn stretches down to the Cornish cliffs. Here, in the dizzying heat of August 1939, five cousins have gathered at their aunt’s house for their annual ritual of a holiday. For most of them it is the last summer of their youth, with the heady exhilarations and freedoms of lost innocence, as well as the fears of the coming war.
The Camomile Lawn moves from Cornwall to London and back again, over the years, telling the stories of the cousins, their family and their friends, united by shared losses and lovers, by family ties and the absurd conditions imposed by war as their paths cross and recross over the years. Mary Wesley presents an extraordinarily vivid and lively picture of wartime London: the rationing, imaginatively circumvented; the fallen houses; the parties, the new-found comforts of sex, the desperate humour of survival – all of it evoked with warmth, clarity and stunning wit. And through it all, the cousins and their friends try to hold on to the part of themselves that laughed and played dangerous games on that camomile lawn.

I have been on a 1930s/1940s thing lately – The Light Years and then Marking Time. This period is definitely growing on me – although both Mary Wesley and Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote about the 40s much later, so maybe I wouldn’t like contemporary authors.

This novel starts in the summer of 1939 war is brewing but has yet to break out. The cousins come every summer to Cornwall to stay with their uncle. Oliver has returned from Spain – altered by his experiences, but still in love with Calypso. Calypso is determined to marry a rich man. Then there is Polly and Walter – both overshadowed by Calypso and Oliver, and finally Sophie much younger than the others and she lives with Richard and Helena (the uncle and aunt everyone is visiting). There is also the rectory twins.

The novel then follows their adventures during the war – although Sophie ‘sees something nasty in the woodshed’ and deals with that early on. Everyone lives like each day might be their last – Helena finds love or at least sex, Calypso marries her rich man (and may indeed love him), Oliver continues on his cynical and selfish path, Polly finds love, Walter never finds his sea legs and remains a bit of a shadowy character and Sophie watches it all and wishes to be older. There are bombs, rationing and lots of drinking – all of the characters are more alive during the war years than before or after.

It is a beautifully written novel – witty, lively and at times brutally honest.

I am now going to watch the 1992 adaptation – As it is rated MA15+, I need to wait for my girls to be back at school.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/jun/03/featuresreviews.guardianreview2

http://www.nytimes.com/1984/07/08/books/oliver-worshipped-calypso.html

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction, Recommended

LaRose – Louise Erdrich

LaRose – Louise Erdrich

I am not sure about this one, it was recommended by several people and I liked it, but I am not sure if I would recommend it.

Here is the blurb …

Louise Erdrich, the author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in indigenous culture.

Some bits of it I loved – the social/cultural history of settler/Indian contact, contemporary life on Reservations (the drugs, alcohol and violence, but also the kindness and support). However, I stopped reading found excuses to do something else, which is always a sign that I am not that taken with a novel. It seemed overly long and I found it a struggle to read. Having said all of that, I am glad I finished it.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/may/25/larose-by-louise-erdrich-review

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/louise-erdrichs-larose-a-gun-accident-sets-off-a-masterly-tale-of-grief-and-love/2016/05/09/e719aa04-1215-11e6-8967-7ac733c56f12_story.html?utm_term=.ed461f97f16e

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction

The Light Years – Elizabeth Jane Howard

The Light Years – Elizabeth Jane Howard

A friend recommended this, but I had a few reservations – it seemed a bit saga-ish (there are several books after all) and the author’s name seemed a bit romance novelisty. However, I really enjoyed this one and will certainly read the rest.

Here is the blurb …

In 1937, the coming war is only a distant cloud on Britain’s horizon. As the Cazalet households prepare for their summer pilgrimage to the family estate in Sussex, readers meet Edward, in love with but by no means faithful to his wife Villy; Hugh, wounded in the Great War; Rupert, who worships his lovely child-bride Zoe; and Rachel, the spinster sister.

This novel was full of social detail – the drama of organising meals, buying enough food, dealing with servants, taking the family to the beach, but it is also surprisingly modern – there is a lesbian couple, there is a brief mention of anti-semitism, being a conscientious objector during war.

The characters are magnificently portrayed – the view point switches around between characters and there is a lot of pyschological insight. I was fully engaged with this novel. There was a never moment when I was jolted out of the story because of poor writing.

More reviews …

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/elizabeth-jane-howard-2/the-light-years/

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry was meant to come to the Perth Writers Festival, so I thought I should read his latest novel. However, he didn’t end up coming, but none-the-less I pushed on and finished this novel.

Here is the blurb …

From the two-time Man Booker Prize finalist Sebastian Barry, “a master storyteller” (Wall Street Journal), comes a powerful new novel of duty and family set against the American Indian and Civil Wars.

Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.

Moving from the plains of Wyoming to Tennessee, Sebastian Barry’s latest work is a masterpiece of atmosphere and language. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona, Days Without End is a fresh and haunting portrait of the most fateful years in American history and is a novel never to be forgotten.

I found this hard going at first not because it is poorly written (quite the contrary), but the era of history is not one I am that interested in. However, I persevered and was well rewarded. It is a beautiful story about family and how often the family we make for ourselves is better than the family we were given. It is a violent story – Indian massacres, civil war battles, soldiers being massacred by Indians, but the violence isn’t dwelt on it is just how life was at that time. I didn’t realise how badly the Indians were treated or the sorts of things that happened to black people in the South after the civil war – terrible times.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/oct/28/days-without-end-by-sebastian-barry-review

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/days-without-end-review-sebastian-barrys-novel-of-a-young-irishman-in-america-20161024-gs9ckg.html

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction, Recommended

The Secret Garden – Katie Fforde

A Secret Garden – Katie Fforde

I read all of Katie Fforde’s books – usually in a day and some are better than others, but there is something very comforting and easy about her books.

Here is the blurb for this one…

Romance, humour and happy-ever-after endings in Katie Fforde’s brand new novel for 2017.

‘What I want to know’, said Lorna, ‘is what lies behind those ash trees at the back of the garden?

Lorna is a talented gardener and Philly is a plantswoman. Together they work in the grounds of a beautiful manor house in the Cotswolds

They enjoy their jobs and are surrounded by family and friends.

But for them both the door to true love remains resolutely closed.

So when Lorna is introduced to Jack at a dinner party and Lucien catches Philly’s eye at the local farmers market, it seems that dreams really can come true and happy endings lie just around the corner.

But do they?

Troublesome parents, the unexpected arrival of someone from Lorna’s past, and the discovery of an old and secret garden mean their lives are about to become a lot more complicated…

The deliciously romantic new novel from the No. 1 Sunday Times bestselling author of A Vintage Wedding, Recipe for Love, and A French Affair.

What I like about these novels is that you get to explore a new profession/job – in this one it is landscape design and growing plants (i.e. being a plantswoman).

Another review …

http://www.onemorepage.co.uk/?p=20226

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction - Light

Reading in Bed – Sue Gee

Reading in Bed – Sue Gee

I am not sure where I first heard of this book – here maybe, but I was looking for something less grim to read after New Grub Street.

Here is the blurb …

Opening at the Hay Festival, and ending with the prospect of a spring wedding, Sue Gee’s novel is a lively story of tangled relationships and the sustaining powers of good books, loyal friends and conversation.

Friends since university, with busy working lives behind them, Dido and Georgia have long been looking forward to carefree days of books and conversation, when each finds herself caught up in unexpected domestic drama. Dido, for the first time, has cause to question her marriage; widowed Georgia feels certain her husband will return to her. Meanwhile, an eccentric country cousin goes wildly off the rails, children are unhappy in love, and perfect health is all at once in question.

This book will appeal to readers – a lot of casual mentions of reading, authors and the central place reading can take in people’s lives. It is also about friendship, family and romantic relationships and what it takes to make these relationships successful. It is witty and insightful, but also a comforting easy read.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction - Light

Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner

This was novel was recommended by a friend and I took a while to get to it, but I am glad I did.

Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia …

Lolly Willowes is satirical comedy of manners incorporating elements of fantasy, it is the story of a middle-aged spinster who moves to a country village to escape her controlling relatives and takes up the practice of witchcraft. The novel opens at the turn of the twentieth century, with Laura Willowes moving from Somerset to London to live with her brother, Henry, and his family. The move comes in the wake of the death of Laura’s father, Everard, with whom she lived with at the family home, Lady Place. Laura’s other brother, James, moves into Lady Place with his wife and his young son, Titus, with the intention to continue the family’s brewing business. However, James dies suddenly of a heart attack and Lady Place is rented out, with the view that Titus, once grown up, will return to the home and run the business.

Laura finds herself feeling increasingly stifled both by the obligations of being a live-in aunt and living in London. When shopping for flowers on the Moscow Road, Laura decides she wishes to move to the Chiltern Hills and, buying a guide book and map to the area, she decides upon the (fictional) village of Great Mop as her new home. Against the wishes of her extended family, Laura moves to Great Mop and finds herself entranced and overwhelmed by the chalk hills and beech woods. When out walking, she makes a pact with a force that she takes to be Satan, so as she can remain in the Chilterns rather than return to her duties as an aunt. On returning to her lodgings, she discovers a kitten, whom she takes to be Satan’s emissary, and names him Vinegar Tom, in reference to the English history of witchcraft.

In the meantime, Titus, having visited Laura, has decided he wants to move from his lodgings in Bloomsbury to Great Mop and be a writer, rather than inheriting the family business. Titus’ renewed social and domestic reliance on Laura make Laura feel frustrated that even as a witch living in the Chilterns she cannot escape the duties expected of women. Satan intervenes, plaguing Titus with tricks, such as curdling his milk and, finally, setting a nest of wasps upon him. Finally, having had his wasp stings treated by a Londoner named Pandora Williams, Titus proposes marriage to Pandora and the two retreat to London. Laura, relieved, meets Satan at Mulgrave Folly and tells him that women are like ‘sticks of dynamite’ waiting to explode and that all women are witches even ‘if they never do anything with their witchcraft, they know it’s there – ready!’ The novel ends with Laura acknowledging that her new freedom comes at the expense of knowing that she belongs to the ‘satisfied but profound indifferent ownership’ of Satan.

My version has an introduction by Sarah Waters, which contains this gem

Having read verbatim accounts of 16th Century Scottish witch trials and been struck, as she described it, by the ‘romance of witchcraft’ for the women who became involved with it, the ‘release’ it represented to them from ‘hard lives’ and ‘dull futures’ it occurred to her to try out a novel on this theme, but with a contemporary setting.

and that is what she does with Lolly Willowes.

She wrote to her friend David Garnett

Other people who have seen Lolly have told me that it was charming, that it was distinguished, and my mother said it was almost as good as Galsworthy. And my heart sank lower and lower, I felt as though I had tried to make a sword only to be told what a pretty pattern there was on the blade.”

I have to admit I thought it was charming (subversive as well, but definitely charming!). This novel is about gender and the role of unmarried women in particular. Laura moves to Great Mop in 1921 – women had been granted the vote in 1918 (well some women) and England was dealing with returned service men (unable to find jobs and emotionally damaged) and surplus women (which was seen as a problem). For the most part unmarried older women were seen as chronically unfulfilled. There was a contrast between the lives they lived and their passionate imaginative emotional lives. Laura turns to Satan who, in the words of Sarah Waters, “who pays them the compliment of pursuing them, and having bagged them, performs the even more valuable service of leaving them alone.”

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/15/100-best-novels-lolly-willowes-sylvia-townsend-warner-robert-mccrum

http://furrowedmiddlebrow.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/sylvia-townsend-warner-lolly-willowes.html

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction, Recommended

New Grub Street – George Gissing

New Grub Street – George Gissing

I had never even heard of George Gissing before he became one of my Victorian Book Group authors!

Here is the blurb …

In New Grub Street George Gissing re-created a microcosm of London’s literary society as he had experienced it. His novel is at once a major social document and a story that draws us irresistibly into the twilit world of Edwin Reardon, a struggling novelist, and his friends and acquaintances in Grub Street including Jasper Milvain, an ambitious journalist, and Alfred Yule, an embittered critic. Here Gissing brings to life the bitter battles (fought out in obscure garrets or in the Reading Room of the British Museum) between integrity and the dictates of the market place, the miseries of genteel poverty and the damage that failure and hardship do to human personality and relationships.

and the Wikipedia plot summary

The story deals with the literary world that Gissing himself had experienced. Its title refers to the London street, Grub Street, which in the 18th century became synonymous with hack literature; by Gissing’s time, Grub Street itself no longer existed, though hack-writing certainly did. Its two central characters are a sharply contrasted pair of writers: Edwin Reardon, a novelist of some talent but limited commercial prospects, and a shy, cerebral man; and Jasper Milvain, a young journalist, hard-working and capable of generosity, but cynical and only semi-scrupulous about writing and its purpose in the modern (i.e. late Victorian) world.

New Grub Street opens with Milvain, an “alarmingly modern young man” driven by pure financial ambition in navigating his literary career. He accepts that he will “always despise the people [he] write[s] for,” networks within the appropriate social circle to create opportunity, and authors articles for popular periodicals. Reardon, on the other hand, prefers to write novels of a more literary bent and refuses to pander to contemporary tastes until, as a last-gasp measure against financial ruin, he attempts a popular novel. At this venture, he is of course too good to succeed, and he’s driven to separate from his wife, Amy Reardon, née Yule, who cannot accept her husband’s inflexibly high standards—and consequent poverty.

19th-century Grub Street (latterly Milton Street), as pictured in Chambers Book of Days.

The Yule family includes Amy’s two uncles—John, a wealthy invalid, and Alfred, a species of critic—and Alfred’s daughter, and research assistant, Marian. The friendship that develops between Marian and Milvain’s sisters, who move to London following their mother’s death, provides opportunity for the former to meet and fall in love with Milvain. However much Milvain respects Marian’s intellectual capabilities and strength of personality, the crucial element (according to him) for marriage is missing: money. Marrying a rich woman, after all, is the most convenient way to speed his career. Indeed, Milvain slights romantic love as a key to marriage:

As a rule, marriage is the result of a mild preference, encouraged by circumstances, and deliberately heightened into strong sexual feeling. You, of all men, know well enough that the same kind of feeling could be produced for almost any woman who wasn’t repulsive.

Eventually, reason enough for an engagement is provided by a legacy of £5,000 left to Marian by John Yule.

Life and death eventually end the possibility of this union. Milvain’s initial career advancement is a position on The Current, a paper edited by Clement Fadge. Twenty years earlier, Alfred Yule (Marian’s father) was slighted by Fadge in a newspaper article, and the resulting acerbic resentment extends even to Milvain. Alfred refuses to countenance Marian’s marriage; but his objection proves to be an obstacle to Milvain only after Yule’s eyesight fails and Marian’s legacy is reduced to a mere £1,500. As a result, Marian must work to provide for her parent, and her inheritance is no longer available to Milvain.

By this time, Milvain already has detected a more desirable target for marriage: Amy Reardon. Reardon’s poverty and natural disposition toward ill-health culminate in his death following a brief reconciliation with his wife. She, besides the receipt of £10,000 upon John Yule’s death, has the natural beauty and grace to benefit a man in the social events beneficial to his career. Eventually Amy and Milvain marry; however, as the narrator reveals, this marriage motivated by circumstances is not lacking in more profound areas. Milvain, it is said, has married the woman he loves, although it should be noted that the narrator never states this as a fact, merely reporting it as something others have said about Milvain. In fact, in a conversation that ends the book, the reader is left to question whether Milvain is in fact haunted by his love for Marian, and his ungentlemanly actions in that regard.

At first I was pleasantly surprised – like many Victorian novels it took a depressing turn; poverty and despair – it was very modern. There were discussions about writing as an art and writing as a business, marriage – should it be for love or a step up the career ladder/social order?  It is a novel about writing – do you know that it is easier to write dialogue and it fills the space quicker?  Gissing is sympathetic to all of his characters, particularly Marian, the point of this novel is to highlight how poverty is a terrible burden on the intelligent and sensitive.

This novel is not for the faint hearted – it is long and the last third is depressing (I suspect that was Gissing’s point). It is also bleak and cynical and none of the characters you like fare well. However, it documents a time and place in English life and publishing.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/31/100-best-novels-new-grub-street-gissing

http://www.londonfictions.com/george-gissing-new-grub-street.html

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fiction