Monthly Archives: November 2009

My Antonia – Willa Cather


 I bought this book from my local second hand book store. Cather was one of those authors I felt I should read, but hadn’t yet got around to it.

An enduring literary masterpiece first published in 1918, this hauntingly eloquent classic is an inspiring reminder of the rich past we have inherited. Willa Cather’s lustrous prose, infused with a passion for the land, summons forth the hard scrabble days of the immigrant pioneer women on the Nebraska plains, while etching a deeply moving portrait of an entire community. As Jim Burden, revisits his childhood friendship with the free-spirited Antonia Shimerda, we come to understand the sheer fortitude of homesteaders on the prairie, the steadfast bonds cultivated there, and the abiding memories that such vast expanses inspire. Holding the pastoral society’s heart, of course, is the bewitching Antonia, whose unfailing industry and infectious enthusiasm for life exemplify the triumphant vitality of an era.

I haven’t read much American Literature – Canadian yes – but not American. I’m also quite ignorant of American history, so from that point of view this book was very enlightening. I enjoyed reading about life on the prairie – all of the details about cooking, gardening, keeping warm in winter etc. However, I did struggle to read this book and I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else by Cather.

Here are some other reviews …

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A Wreath of Roses – Elizabeth Taylor


I found this book in a second hand book store while on holiday. I do like Elizabeth Taylor novels – such understated, character driven stories.

“Spending the holiday with friends, as she has for many years, Camilla finds that their private absorptions – Frances with he painting and Liz with her baby – seem to exclude her from the gossipy intimacies of previous summers. Anxious that she will remain encased in her solitary life as a school secretary, Camilla steps into an unlikely liaison with Richard Elton, a handsome, assured – and dangerous – liar. Replete with the subtle wit that is her hallmark, and a tender and perfectly evoked portrait of friendship between women, A Wreath of Roses is nonetheless Elizabeth Taylor’s darkest novel: an astute exploration of the fear of loneliness and its emotional armour.”

This novel is dark. For me it was about the choices women make in their lives and where those choices have taken them.  Frances, an elderly solitary woman, is finally able to concentrate on her painting after a lifetime of working as a governess. From the outside her life might look lonely and confined, but she feels she has truly lived and her art provides her with all of her emotional needs. And there is Liz recently married and newly a mother. She complains about her husband and is very anxious about her son. It doesn’t seem a particularly successful marriage, however, when Arthur enters the scene it all seems better and I’m sure with time everything will be fine. And then there is Camilla. She is definitely lonely and thinks she has missed all her opportunity to meet a man. She meets the mysterious Richard Elton and begins a somewhat clandestine affair. She seems drawn to him despite understanding that he really is not her ‘type’. He is a bit sinister and we the reader have insights into his character that Camilla does not. Will she make a terrible mistake?

I really enjoyed this novel – I loved how Richard seemed menacing even though everything he did was ordinary. I also enjoyed Frances inner thoughts about her art…

Then, one day, when she was a young woman, she suddenly and as if by chance, related her talent to her genius. She cast away the dressing up clothes and willed herself into what she painted. She threw away her personality and it changed. The nervous effort was extreme, for the difference was the distance between charades at parties and Sarah Bernhardt as Phedre.

I think this book is beautiful, well written and thought provoking.

I can only find one other review …



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Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger


I’m not sure why I picked this one – I have read The Time Traveller’s Wife but I wouldn’t have thought enough to buy her next book. Perhaps I got caught up in the hype?

Anyway I have read it. This is the information from the publisher …

Audrey Niffenegger’s spectacularly compelling second novel opens with a letter that alters the fate of every character. Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons and Karl Marx are buried. Julia and Valentina come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including — perhaps — their aunt.

Author of one of the most beloved first novels in recent years, Niffenegger returns with an unnerving, unforgettable and enchanting ghost story, a novel about love and identity, secrets and sisterhood and the tenacity of life — even after death.

Once again Ms Niffenegger has been very creative. I thought her characters were realistic and compelling. Having said that I found this book creepy and depressing and I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

Here are some other reviews …

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