Monthly Archives: February 2012

The True Story of Butterfish – Nick Earls

I’ve been listening to The True Story of Butterfish while quilting – here is my quilt. I use the audible app on my ipod, which works well.

I’ve read a few Nick Earls’ books; Zigzag Street, World of Chickens and Perfect Skin and I’ve enjoyed all of them. I’ve always described them as chick lit for boys and I wasn’t being derogatory. I mean that in a good way.

Here is the blurb …

With his chart-topping band, Butterfish, Curtis Holland lived the cliched rock dream. But no dream lasts forever. When Annaliese Winter walks down Curtis Holland’s front path, he’s ill-prepared for a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who’s a confounding mixture of adult and child. He’s back in Brisbane trying to build a life and he is not used to having a neighbour at all. So when Curtis receives an invitation to dinner from Annaliese’s mother, Kate, he is surprised when he not only accepts but finds himself being drawn to this remarkably unremarkable family. Even to fifteen-year-old Mark, who is at war with his own surging adolescence. Curtis soon realises that with Kate divorced, Annaliese and Mark need a male role model in their lives, but it’s hard for him to help when he’s just starting to grow up himself and harder still when Annaliese begins to show an interest in him that is less than filial.

There are some funny, laugh out loud moments in this novel. I particularly enjoy the conversations. There is some poignant stuff too – dealing with ailing parents and divorce. The setting is fabulous – I could imagine the heat and the ‘dagginess’ of the studio. This is a fun, easy novel that never jolts you with a poorly written sentence.

The version I listened to is here  and the narrator (David Tredinnick) was fabulous – because the narrator can make or break an audio book.

More reviews …

 http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertainment/books/book-reviews/the-true-story-of-butterfish/2009/07/20/1247941862229.html

http://aussiebookreviews.aussieblogs.com.au/2012/01/30/the-true-story-of-butterfish-nick-earls-review-by-jill-smith/ 

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Little Coffee Shop of Kabul – Deborah Rodriguez

I downloaded this using the google books app on my ipad, but I was very disappointed (in the app not the book). It always wanted to be portrait despite the fact that I always read in Landscape – I don’t think I could take notes like I can in the Kindle app and there was no dictionary.

Anyway, this book was selected for book club with the idea being that  it was a quick and easy read (February is short month after all). It certainly made me think about Afghanistan and what life is like for women.

Here is the blurb …

 After hard luck and some bad choices, Sunny has finally found a place to call home – it just happens to be in the middle of a war zone. The thirty-eight-year-old American’s pride and joy is the Kabul Coffee House, where she brings hospitality to the expatriates, misfits, missionaries, and mercenaries who stroll through its doors. She’s especially grateful that the busy days allow her to forget Tommy, the love of her life, who left her in pursuit of money and adventure.

Working alongside Sunny is the maternal Halajan, who vividly recalls the days before the Taliban and now must hide a modern romance from her ultra traditional son – who, unbeknownst to her, is facing his own religious doubts. Into the café come Isabel, a British journalist on the trail of a risky story; Jack, who left his family back home in Michigan to earn ‘danger pay’ as a consultant; and Candace, a wealthy and well-connected American whose desire to help threatens to cloud her judgment.

When Yazmina, a young Afghan from a remote village, is kidnapped and left on a city street pregnant and alone, Sunny welcomes her into the café and gives her a home – but Yazmina hides a secret that could put all their lives in jeopardy. As this group of men and women discover that there’s more to one another than meets the eye, they’ll form an unlikely friendship that will change not only their own lives but the lives of an entire country.

Brimming with Deborah Rodriguez’s remarkable gift for depicting the nuances of life in Kabul, and filled with vibrant characters that readers will truly care about, A Cup of Friendship is the best kind of fiction – full of heart yet smart and thought-provoking.

It was a quick and easy read with some important points to make. However, I did find myself doing other jobs rather than reading it. I just kept waiting for something awful to happen and consequently didn’t want to keep going. Bit of a spoiler now, awful things do happen, but not as bad as you’re expecting.

For me the best part of this book is reading about life in Afghanistan – seeing a different culture in a new and sympathetic light. Read this novel for the plot and location.

Here are some more reviews …

http://pamelasbookspot.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/little-coffee-shop-of-kabul-by-deborah.html 

http://freepagenumbers.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/the-little-coffee-shop-of-kabul-better-in-theory-than-in-execution/ 

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So Long, See You Tomorrow

I read They Came Like Swallows  and so when I saw So Long, See You Tomorrow for $5 in my local book store I had to have it.

I am amazed how much can be fitted into such a small space.

Here is the blurb …

 “This is one of the great books of our age. It is the subtlest of miniatures that contains are deepest sorrows and truths and love – all caught in a clear, simple style in perfect brushstrokes.”

Michael Ondaatje

On an Illinois farm in the 1920s, a man is murdered, and in the same moment the tenous friendship between two lonely boys comes to an end. In telling their interconnected stories, American Book Award winner William delivers a masterfully restrained and magically evocative meditation on the past. “A small, perfect novel.”–Washington Post Book World.

The writing is beautiful – each word appears to have been chosen with great care. It is quite a short novel and yet manages to convey so much about place, time and character.

This novel can be thought of as a sequel to The Come Like Swallows, but can easily be read alone.

I encourage everyone to read this novel – here are some better (and way more comprehensive reviews)

 http://www.openlettersmonthly.com/year-with-short-novels-the-rooms-of-the-past/

http://dovegreyreader.typepad.com/dovegreyreader_scribbles/2010/03/so-long-see-you-tomorrow-william-maxwell.html 

http://bookssnob.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/so-long-see-you-tomorrow-by-william-maxwell/

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Too Much Happiness – Alice Munro

I’ve been on a bit of an Alice Munro fest.

Here is the blurb …

 Ten superb new stories by one of our most beloved and admired writers – the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize.

In the first story a young wife and mother receives release from the unbearable pain of losing her three children from a most surprising source. In another, a young woman, in the aftermath of an unusual and humiliating seduction, reacts in a clever if less-than-admirable fashion. Other stories uncover the ‘deep-holes’ in a marriage, the unsuspected cruelty of children, and how a boy’s disfigured face provides both the good things in his life and the bad. And in the long title story, we accompany Sophia Kovalevsky – a late-nineteenth-century Russian émigré and mathematician – on a winter journey that takes her from the Riviera, where she visits her lover, to Paris, Germany, and, Denmark, where she has a fateful meeting with a local doctor, and finally to Sweden, where she teaches at the only university in Europe willing to employ a female mathematician.

With clarity and ease, Alice Munro once again renders complex, difficult events and emotions into stories that shed light on the unpredictable ways in which men and women accommodate and often transcend what happens in their lives.

Too Much Happiness is a compelling, provocative – even daring – collection.

This set of stories is classic Munro. Although, once again, I think collecting the stories by theme lessens their impact. They all end up being a bit too similar.

I found the big story in this one (about Sophia Kovalevsky) dragged a bit. I’m not sure why this is the case it sounds so interesting – a female mathematician in the 19th Century and she has a lover, but it was my least favourite of the stories.

More reviews …

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/too-much-happiness-by-alice-munro-1792706.html 

http://longingtobe.wordpress.com/2011/06/12/too-much-happiness-alice-munro/ 

http://weloveliterature.com/2011/02/13/review-alice-munro-too-much-happiness/

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They Knew Mr Knight – Dorothy Whipple

As you all know, I’m a bit of a Dorothy Whipple fan – see here, here, here and here. I’ve been meaning to read They Knew Mr Knight for ages and then, luckily, a friend had a copy. I liked it, not as much as Because of the Lockwoods , it is a bit too overtly religious for me, but it is classic Whipple with her shrewd understanding of character.

Here is the description from Persephone

 A Book Society Choice, shortlisted for the Femina-Vie Heureuse Prize, the second Dorothy Whipple novel we publish is also wonderfully well-written in a clear and straightforward style; yet ‘this real treat’ (Sunday Telegraph) is far more subtle than it at first appears.

The Blakes are an ordinary family: Celia looks after the house and Thomas works at the family engineering business in Leicester. The book begins when he meets Mr Knight, a financier as crooked as any on the front pages of our newspapers nowadays; and tracks his and his family’s swift climb and fall.

Part of the cause of the ensuing tragedy is Celia’s innocence – blinkered by domesticity, she and her children are the ‘victim of the turbulence of the outside world’ (Postscript); but finally, through ‘quiet tenacity and the refusal to let go of certain precious things, goodness does win out’ (Afterword). And the TLS wrote: ‘The portraits in the book are fired by Mrs Whipple’s article of faith – the supreme importance of people.’

 This novel provides a glimpse at life between the wars for a certain set of people (middle class English families). Thomas gets into deeper and deeper financial trouble by following Mr Knight’s advice. At first everything is wonderful; he buys back the engineering works, he can afford a new and nicer house, but then, as always, he needs more and ultimately he over extends himself and loses everything. Celia is happy with their position at the start of the novel – she is busy keeping house and tending the garden. As they move up in the world she has less to do and becomes disgruntled. She hates the new house and is over joyed when they move again – although it is clear that it will be a stretch to keep the new house. Thomas’s focus shifts from his family to the stock market and business concerns. The oldest daughter is more concerned with appearances – she only wants the best and doesn’t want to appear poor, and in the end she escapes into a loveless marriage to avoid the family’s ruin. The other two children are made of sterner stuff and it is clear that the family will survive the calamity and possibly be the better for it.

This novel is about ordinary people living an ordinary life, but even these ordinary people face temptations and must live with the consequences of their actions.

I’ll be looking for more by Dorothy Whipple.

There is a fabulous review here.

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Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden

I read about this novel here and was very keen to read it. I bought a copy for my Kindle, but in the end I read it on my Ipod (Kindle app) and was pleasantly surprised by the experience (the small screen wasn’t a problem at all).

Here is the blurb …

 Dublin, Midsummer: While absent in New York, the celebrated actor Molly Fox has loaned her house to a playwright friend, who is struggling to write a new work. Over the course of this, the longest day of the year, the playwright reflects upon her own life, Molly’s, and that of their mutual friend Andrew, whom she has known since university. Why does Molly never celebrate her own birthday, which falls upon this day? What does it mean to be a playwright or an actor? How have their relationships evolved over the course of many years? Molly Fox’s Birthday calls into question the ideas that we hold about who we are; and shows how the past informs the present in ways we might never have imagined.

This was a beautifully written story about family and friends, art, literature and drama, how we see ourselves and how the world see us. It is a short story encompassing only one day, but it seems to contain an amazing amount of interesting anecdotes, social history and character development. This is not a story for people who like a lot of action, but for those who like a gently unfolding story.

More reviews …

http://rippleeffects.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/molly-foxs-birthday-by-deirdre-madden/

http://abeautifulhue.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/beautiful-books-molly-foxs-birthday.html 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/aug/30/fiction.deirdremadden 

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One Pair Of Hands – Monica Dickens

I’ve read Mariana (the Persephone edition), which I enjoyed, so when a friend lent me this I was keen to try it.

Here’s the blurb …

 What does a young, well-off English woman do with herself when she’s thrown out of acting school and is tired of being a debutante? Well, if you’re Monica Dickens, you become a cook. She makes the plunge to a life “below the stairs,” confident in her abilities to be a cook because she once took a course in French cuisine. She quickly learns the difference between school learning and real life. Scalded milk, dropped roasts, and fallen souffles plague her in her domestic career, but she perseveres. What makes this book so delightful is the sense of humor and drama Monica Dickens brings to her work. From dressing up for job interviews in a “supporting-a-widowed-mum look” to eavesdropping on dinner guests, she tackles her work with an enthusiasm for discovery. To her descriptions of battles with crazy scullery maids, abusive employers, and unwieldy custards, she brings a humorous and pointed commentary about the delicate and ongoing war between the wealthy and their servants. Written in 1939, this true-life experience reveals a writer who wasted no opportunity to explore daily lives and dramas. Her keen eye for detail, youthful resilience, and sense of the absurd make One Pair of Hands a deliciously inside look at the households of the British upper-class.

There are some fabulous laugh out loud moments in this memoir. It is worth reading just for the social history and when she tries to act the part at the interview (it always involves a sensible and frumpy hat).

It is written in a really chatty style – you can imagine sitting down with Ms Dickens over tea and being regaled with these stories. The work was hard and long – she arrived early to prepare breakfast and needed to stay to tidy up after dinner parties (which she cooked and served). This was all in a time before dish washers!

It’s definitely worth reading this memoir – it’s light, entertaining and a quick read. And now I know what a Cook General is meant to do.

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Runaway – Alice Munro

I’m still getting through my holiday reading – in case anyone thinks I’m reading books in one day!

I really like Alice Munro’s short stories. I’ve read  Too Much Happiness (check back later for a review of that one) and Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship and Marriage. I was keen to check Runaway out when I saw it at the library.

Here is the blurb …

 A collection of stories about women of all ages and circumstances, their lives made palpable by the subtlety and empathy of this writer. Here are the infinite betrayals and surprise of love – between men and women, between friends, between parents and children – that are the stuff of all our lives. Alice Munro is the award-winning novelist, and has published ten previous collections of stories.

As always these stories are full of fabulous characters (very ordinary everyday people) dealing with difficult, interesting or just plain mundane circumstances. Munro has an uncanny knack of expressing her character’s inner lives – the good and the bad – which astonishes me. It is unusual to have things that you think are uniquely yours expressed in a novel.

My one criticism is the way the stories are collected. I know it makes sense to collect like with like, but I find each story loses it’s impact when it is surrounded by similar stories. I would prefer an eclectic mix of all of her stories.

More reviews …

From The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/feb/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview 

and the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/books/review/14COVERFR.html?pagewanted=all 

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Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackerary

My Victorian Study Group have moved onto Thackerary.  I read this years ago – about the same time as the BBC Adpatation (in fact I think that is why I read it). I didn’t particularly enjoy it and I remember thinking it was quite a slog. This time around, however, I really enjoyed reading and found it to be very easy going – must be all the Dickens.

Plot summary from Wikidpedia 

The story opens at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies, where the protagonists Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley have just completed their studies and are preparing to depart for Amelia’s house in Russell Square. Becky is portrayed as a strong-willed and cunning young woman determined to make her way in society, and Amelia Sedley as a good-natured, lovable though simple-minded young girl.

At Russell Square, Miss Sharp is introduced to the dashing and self-obsessed Captain George Osborne (to whom Amelia has been betrothed from a very young age) and to Amelia’s brother Joseph Sedley, a clumsy and vainglorious but rich civil servant fresh from the East India Company. Becky entices Sedley, hoping to marry him, but she fails because of warnings from Captain Osborne, Sedley’s own native shyness, and his embarrassment over some foolish drunken behaviour of his that Becky had seen.

With this, Becky Sharp says farewell to Sedley’s family and enters the service of the crude and profligate baronet Sir Pitt Crawley, who has engaged her as a governess to his daughters. Her behaviour at Sir Pitt’s house gains his favour, and after the premature death of his second wife, he proposes marriage to her. Then he finds she is already secretly married to his second son, Rawdon Crawley.

Sir Pitt’s elder half sister, the spinster Miss Crawley, is very rich, having inherited her mother’s fortune of £70,000. How she will bequeath her great wealth is a source of constant conflict between the branches of the Crawley family who vie shamelessly for her affections; initially her favourite is Sir Pitt’s younger son, Captain Rawdon Crawley. For some time, Becky acts as Miss Crawley’s companion, supplanting the loyal Miss Briggs in an attempt to establish herself in favour before breaking the news of her elopement with Miss Crawley’s nephew. However, the misalliance so enrages Miss Crawley that she disinherits her nephew in favour of his pompous and pedantic elder brother, who also bears the name Pitt Crawley. The married couple constantly attempts to reconcile with Miss Crawley, and she relents a little, but she will only see her nephew and refuses to change her will.

While Becky Sharp is rising in the world, Amelia’s father, John Sedley, is bankrupted. The Sedleys and Osbornes were once close allies, but the relationship between the two families disintegrates after the Sedleys are financially ruined, and the marriage of Amelia and George is forbidden. George ultimately decides to marry Amelia against his father’s will, pressured by his friend Dobbin, and George is consequently disinherited. While these personal events take place, the Napoleonic Wars have been ramping up. George Osborne and William Dobbin are suddenly deployed to Brussels, but not before an encounter with Becky and Captain Crawley at Brighton. The holiday is interrupted by orders to march to Brussels. Already, the newly wedded Osborne is growing tired of Amelia, and he becomes increasingly attracted to Becky who encourages his advances.

At a ball in Brussels (based on the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo) George gives Becky a note inviting her to run away with him. He regrets this shortly afterwards and reconciles with Amelia, who has been deeply hurt by his attentions towards her former friend. The morning after, he is sent to Waterloo with Captain Crawley and Dobbin, leaving Amelia distraught. Becky, on the other hand, is virtually indifferent to her husband’s departure. She tries to console Amelia, but Amelia responds angrily, disgusted by Becky’s flirtatious behaviour with George and her lack of concern about Captain Crawley. Becky resents this snub and a rift develops between the two women that lasts for years. Becky is not very concerned for the outcome of the war, either; should Napoleon win, she plans to become the mistress of one of his marshals. Meanwhile she makes a profit selling her carriage and horses at inflated prices to Amelia’s panicking brother Joseph seeking to flee the city, where the Belgian population is openly pro-Napoleonic.

Captain Crawley survives, but George dies in the battle. Amelia bears him a posthumous son, who is also named George. She returns to live in genteel poverty with her parents. Meanwhile, since the death of George, Dobbin, who is young George’s godfather, gradually begins to express his love for the widowed Amelia by small kindnesses toward her and her son. Most notable is the recovery of her old piano, which Dobbin picks up at an auction following the Sedleys’ ruin. Amelia mistakenly assumes this was done by her late husband. She is too much in love with George’s memory to return Dobbin’s affections. Saddened, he goes to India for many years. Dobbin’s infatuation with Amelia is a theme which unifies the novel and one which many have compared to Thackeray’s unrequited love for a friend’s wife (Jane Brookfield).[1]

Meanwhile, Becky also has a son, also named after his father, but unlike Amelia, who dotes on and even spoils her child, Becky is a cold, distant mother. She continues her ascent first in post-war Paris and then in London where she is patronised by the great Marquis of Steyne, who covertly subsidises her and introduces her to London society. Her success is unstoppable despite her humble origins, and she is eventually presented at court to the Prince Regent himself.

Becky and Rawdon appear to be financially successful, but their wealth and high standard of living are mostly smoke and mirrors. Rawdon gambles heavily and earns money as a billiards shark. The book also suggests he cheats at cards. Becky accepts trinkets and money from her many admirers and sells some for cash. She also borrows heavily from the people around her and seldom pays bills. The couple lives mostly on credit, and while Rawdon seems to be too dim-witted to be aware of the effect of his borrowing on the people around him, Becky is fully aware that her heavy borrowing and her failure to pay bills bankrupts at least two innocent people: her servant, Briggs, whose life savings Becky borrows and fritters away, and her landlord Raggles, who was formerly a butler to the Crawley family and who invested his life savings in the townhouse that Becky and Rawdon rent (and fail to pay for). She also cheats innkeepers, milliners, dress-makers, grocers, and others who do business on credit. She and Rawdon obtain credit by tricking everyone around them into believing they are receiving money from others. Sometimes, Becky and Rawdon buy time from their creditors by suggesting Rawdon received money in Miss Crawley’s will or are being paid a stipend by Sir Pitt. Ultimately Becky is suspected of carrying on an extramarital affair with the Marquis of Steyne, apparently encouraged by Rawdon to prostitute herself in exchange for money and promotion.

At the summit of her success, Becky’s pecuniary relationship with the rich and powerful Marquis of Steyne is discovered by Rawdon after Rawdon is arrested for debt. Rawdon’s brother’s wife, Lady Jane, bails him out and Rawdon surprises Becky and Steyne in a compromising moment. Rawdon leaves his wife and through the offices of the Marquis of Steyne is made Governor of Coventry Island to get him out of the way, after Rawdon challenges the elderly marquis to a duel. Becky, having lost both husband and credibility, is warned by Steyne to leave the United Kingdom and wanders the continent. Rawdon and Becky’s son is left in the care of Pitt Crawley and Lady Jane. However, wherever Becky goes, she is followed by the shadow of the Marquis of Steyne. No sooner does she establish herself in polite society than someone turns up who knows her disreputable history and spreads rumours; Steyne himself hounds her out of Rome.

As Amelia’s adored son George grows up, his grandfather relents and takes him from poor Amelia, who knows the rich and bitter old man will give him a much better start in life than she or her family could ever manage. After twelve years abroad, both Joseph Sedley and Dobbin return to the UK. Dobbin professes his unchanged love to Amelia, but although Amelia is affectionate she tells him she cannot forget the memory of her dead husband. Dobbin also becomes close to young George, and his kind, firm manner are a good influence on the spoiled child.

While in England, Dobbin mediates a reconciliation between Amelia and her father-in-law. The death of Amelia’s father prevents their meeting, but following Osborne’s death soon after, it is revealed that he had amended his will and bequeathed young George half his large fortune and Amelia a generous annuity. The rest is divided between his daughters, Miss Osborne, and Mrs. Bullock, who begrudges Amelia and her son for the decrease in her annuity.

After the death of old Mr. Osborne, Amelia, Joseph, George and Dobbin go on a trip to Germany, where they encounter the destitute Becky. She meets the young George at a card table and then enchants Jos Sedley all over again. Becky has unfortunately deteriorated as a character. She is drinking heavily, has lost her singing voice and much of her looks and spends time with card sharps and con artists. The book suggests that Becky has been involved in activities even more shady than her usual con games, but does not go into details.

Following Jos’ entreaties, Amelia agrees to a reconciliation (when she hears that Becky’s ties with her son have been severed), much to Dobbin’s disapproval. Dobbin quarrels with Amelia and finally realizes that he is wasting his love on a woman too shallow to return it. However, Becky, in a moment of conscience, shows Amelia the note that George (Amelia’s dead husband) had given her, asking her to run away with him. This destroys Amelia’s idealized image of George, but not before Amelia has sent a note to Dobbin professing her love.

Becky resumes her seduction of Jos and gains control over him. He eventually dies of a suspicious ailment after signing a portion of his money to Becky as life insurance. In the original illustrations, which were done by Thackeray, Becky is shown behind a curtain with a vial in her hand; the picture is labelled “Becky’s second appearance in the character of Clytemnestra” (she had played Clytemnestra during charades at a party earlier in the book). Jos’ death appears to have made her fortune.

By a twist of fate Rawdon dies weeks before his older brother, whose son has already died; the baronetcy descends to Rawdon’s son. Had he outlived his brother by even a day he would have become Sir Rawdon Crawley and Becky would have become Lady Crawley, a title she uses anyway in later life. The reader is informed at the end of the novel that although Dobbin married Amelia, and although he always treated her with great kindness, he never fully regained the love that he once had for her. There is also a final appearance for Becky, as cocky as ever, selling trinkets at a fair in aid of various charitable causes. She is now living well again as her son, the new baronet, has agreed to financially support her (in spite of her past neglect and indifference towards him).

Becky Sharp is a fabulous character – conniving, mercenary and charming. I know she is the anti-heroine and she probably does take her exploits a bit too far, but is she expected to accept a life of drudgery and poverty? How could women improve their situation in those days? I’m sure I read somewhere that Becky Sharp was modelled on Lydia Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice).

This novel has quite and Austen feel (despite the wordiness of Thackeray) it’s all about puncturing the posturing. Seeing people and their motives clearly. I have to say I found Amelia Sedley to be one of those too good heroines (like Amy Dorrit). In fact there is quite a Dickensian feel to this novel as well – sprawling, wordy and full of eccentric characters.

I’m glad I read it and I might even read another Thackerary – although I understand this to be his best.

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The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenides

I read Middlesex and love it – in fact I lent it to someone and they never returned it (don’t you hate that?) Anyway, that mean I was keen to read The Marriage Plot doubly so because I’m also keen on 19th century literature.

Here is the blurb …

 Madeleine Hanna was the dutiful English major who didn’t get the memo. While everyone else in the early 1980s was reading Derrida, she was happily absorbed with Jane Austen and George Eliot: purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. Madeleine was the girl who dressed a little too nicely for the taste of her more Bohemian friends, the perfect girlfriend whose college love life, despite her good looks, hadn’t lived up to expectations.

But now, in the spring of her senior year, Madeleine has enrolled in a semiotics course “to see what all the fuss is about,” and, for reasons that have nothing to do with school, life and literature will never be the same. Not after she falls in love with Leonard Morton – charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Oregon boy – who is possessed of seemingly inexhaustible energy and introduces her to the ecstasies of immediate experience. And certainly not after Mitchell Grammaticus – devotee of Patti Smith and Thomas Merton – resurfaces in her life, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

The triangle in this amazing and delicious novel about a generation beginning to grow up is age-old, and completely fresh and surprising. With devastating wit, irony, and an abiding understanding of and love for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides resuscitates the original energies of the novel while creating a story so contemporary that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

The author of two beloved novels, Middlesex (bestselling winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, with more than 3 million copies sold) and the now classic The Virgin Suicides (made into a haunting film by Sofia Coppola), is back – with a brilliant, funny, and heartbreaking novel about the glories and vicissitudes of young love.

This novel is beautifully (and very cleverly) written – it is indeed a modern novel with a marriage plot. What really stuck with me, however, was Leonard’s mental illness. The incredible highs with almost superhuman energy and enthusiasm and the plunging depths of the lows. I feel I have a much greater understanding now after reading Leonard’s point of view. I also enjoyed Mitchell’s search for meaning in his life; religion, good works etc. The characters were clever and interesting and I wanted to know what happened to them.

More reviews …

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/07/books/the-marriage-plot-by-jeffrey-eugenides-review.html?pagewanted=all 

 http://austenprose.com/2011/12/30/the-marriage-plot-by-jeffrey-eugenides-a-review/

http://blog.sarahlaurence.com/2012/02/marriage-plot-by-jeffrey-eugenides-and.html 

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