Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book. My mother left it behind and I thought I would give it a go. I think I was put off by all of the hype surrounding The Kite Runner (I tend to be disappointed when something is universally acclaimed).

For me this book is all about the story – I thought the writing was a bit ordinary – but the story is compelling. I know very little about Afghanistan and had no idea that the war(s) had been going on for so long. And although, I knew women were treated badly, a first hand account (albeit fictional) carries much more impact.

This is a sad tale – probably not for the faint hearted – but it’s worth reading for the insight into the lives of Afghan women.

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Filed under Fiction - Light, Recommended

The Journal of Dora Damage – Belinda Starling

We selected The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling as our January book way back in July – it is quite large and we thought we would need two months to read it (we don’t meet in December hence the two months). We picked it mostly based on the life of the author – sadly she died shortly after publishing this novel (she was only 34! and had two small children).

This novel is set in Victorian England in the time before adequate sanitation – Dora’s mother died from Cholera. She is married to Peter Damage a book binder who is suffering from a disease that makes him retain fluid – his hands are so swollen he can no longer work. She also has an epileptic daughter, Lucinda.  Peter disappears one day – the rent is due plus Dora finds out that Peter has borrowed from a money lender at an horrendous rate of interest. She sells what she can, pawns other stuff, but it is not enough. She finds a book sellers card and determines to visit him to see if she can get any binding business. Dora possesses a knack of binding books in a manner appropriate to the content – this leads to more commissions and ultimately the extremely lucrative job of binding pornography. She works for Sir Jocelyn Knightley a man who thinks of himself as a renaissance man. He is interested in science, medicine, Africa, the differences between races, etc. Sir Jocelyn has the ugly Charles Diprose act as his intermediary – he is a book seller and a very unattractive character. Sir Jocelyn provides Dora with bromide crystals (which seem to stop Lucinda’s epilepsy) and laudanum for Peter. He also provides lavish gifts of food, clothes, etc.

Sir Jocelyn’s wife, Sylvia, is a member of a society which tries to help free slaves. The society purchases a slave and brings him to England. Sylvia wants Dora to give him a job in exchange for a regular sum of money – Dora can’t resist. Charles Diprose is horrified and tells Dora she must find a way of binding Din to her (find a secret and black mail him with it).

Eventually Dora is disgusted by the pornography, which gets more graphic as time goes on and confronts Diprose in his shop – unfortunately there is a raid and she is forced to hide away in attic for several hours. She can’t extricate herself – they know she is doing the binding and not Peter plus they threaten Lucinda.

I won’t reveal any more of the story…

The social history aspects of living in Victorian England are well written – the tap only works at certain times, it’s difficult to get anything clean (with all of the soot and smog). The characters are well written and the story fascinating. Having said all of that, I struggled through the middle third and only kept reading because it is my bookclub book.

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Lucy Maud Montgomery – The Gift of Wings – Mary Henley Rubio

I’m an enormous L.M Montgomery fan – her books were an escape when I was a child and even now as an adult they’re my guilty pleasure. So I couldn’t resist a biography! I’ve read all of the journals and like many people was shocked to discover that her life was so dark (and depressing).

As Mary Henley Rubio (along with Elizabeth Waterston) edited the journals, I thought she would really know her subject – and she did. She interviewed people (in the 1980s) who remembered Maud, spoke to her children and grand children (and obviously carefully read the journals!).

I was fascinated by this biography – read it in a couple of days – particularly the bit about Herman Leard and about Ewan and Maud’s drug taking (later in life they both became dependent on bromides and barbiturates) and the end of her life.

I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, so I’ll just say if you’re at all interested in the author of Anne of Green Gables, then you should read this book.

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Filed under Miscellaneous

Second Chance – Jane Green

I wanted to read something light after Georgiana and this one was waiting in the pile.

It’s about a group of college friends who are reunited 20 years later by the death (in a terrorist attack) of one of their friends. Tom’s death is a catalyst for change in Holly’s life – she has always harboured a secret feeling that Tom and her were meant to be together, but the timing was never right – she is unhappily married to Marcus and begins an emotional affair with Tom’s brother Will. Paul and his wife Anna desperately want to have children, but despite many rounds of expensive IVF they haven’t been able to conceive. Saffron is an actress having an affair with a married man (who happens to be an incredibly famous actor) and finally there is Olivia who has a fling with a colleague of Tom’s and finds herself pregnant – will she keep the baby? Will she let Anna and Paul adopt the baby?

I did like this book, but the ending was very disappointing. It was like Ms Green reached the required number of words and then just wrapped the story up in a chapter (almost like an epilogue). Stop reading now I’m about to ruin the ending. We don’t know what happened with Holly and Will (just that she ends up with someone else), Olivia keeps the baby, Anna and Paul stop IVF and Anna seems to find peace by doing pilates (and she sells her company for lots of cash) and Saffron and the incredibly famous actor get married.

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Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire – Amanda Foreman

I liked this book. Ms Foreman combines an easy reading style with scholarly research. If you are at all interested in 18th Century History, Social History, Political History, then you should definitely read this book.

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Filed under Non-Fiction, Recommended, Serious