Sanditon by Jane Austen

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Sanditon is a fictional little village on the south coast of England, and local landowner Mr Thomas Parker dreams of turning it into a health resort like its bigger neighbours, Brighton and Eastbourne. The current fad among the fashionable is for sea-air and sea-bathing, both promised to cure any number of ills. Mr Parker and his wife invite the young daughter of a friend to visit, Charlotte Heywood, and it’s through her sensible eyes that the reader sees the inhabitants of Sanditon, with all their foibles, kindnesses and hypocrisies.

This is known as Austen’s unfinished novel but it would be more accurate to describe it as barely started. We get a mere 70 pages – just enough to introduce us to some of the many characters and to begin to see the various plot strands on which Austen’s health never permitted her to follow through. It’s a pity, because it looks as if it would have been fun, and rather different from her finished novels. There’s a more cynical tone about it – the same bright wit but with a harsher, less forgiving edge. It’s not nearly as polished as her usual writing but that’s hardly surprising since in reality this couldn’t have been much more than a first draft.

It begins with the meeting between Mr Parker and Charlotte’s father, and we quickly see that Sanditon is an obsession of Mr Parker’s – he is determined to improve it, whether it wants to be improved or not, by building bathing machines and upgrading houses to be suitable for the fashionable people he hopes to attract. He has a partner in his enterprise – Lady Denham, the great lady of the neighbourhood, having inherited wealth from one husband, a title from another and a pack of relatives from both. Mr Parker’s extended family includes two sisters and a younger brother, all suffering from debilitating ailments according to themselves, or from hypochondria, as the more cynical might see it. There is another brother, Sidney, who, it appears, would likely be the sensible one and possibly a love interest for Charlotte, but I fear we catch only a glimpse of his handsome features before the fragment ends. We also know that new visitors to the town are expected, including a “half-mulatto” heiress from the West Indies, but again we are left tantalised but with our curiosity unsatisfied.

Sea bathing at Brighton

There’s a lot of humour in the portrayal of the Parker siblings, rather less subtle than Austen’s usual. There’s no knowing, of course, how the book would have developed, but I felt that it would probably have had a lot of filler added later – this felt very rapid for Austen as if she were getting down the main elements of the characters and setting up the plot, possibly with the intention of then re-working it to add in more of her delightful social observation. But perhaps she was trying a new style intentionally. The introduction by Kathryn Sutherland in my Oxford World Classic’s edition (which is about a third as long as the entire fragment of story) puts it in its historical context, in an England looking to the future now that the long Napoleonic Wars are finally over. Perhaps Austen was reflecting the new modernity and process of rapid change that tends to follow a long war.

Obviously it can’t be wholly satisfying as merely the start of a story, but I enjoyed reading it nevertheless, and had fun deciding for myself who would marry whom and be happy and who would be taught the folly of their ways and so on. I can see the appeal for people who like to have a go at finishing it, although I’m not sure there’s enough there to give a real indication of where Austen would have taken us. I’m delighted to hear that Andrew Davies is adapting it for television next year. He’s clearly going to have to come up with a plot since this fragment won’t be enough to make a TV series out of. I remember Alan Bleasdale adding in a lengthy backstory for Oliver Twist when he adapted that book many years ago, and while I enjoyed it I wasn’t convinced it felt like Dickens. I’m intrigued to see if Andrew Davies will manage to make this one feel like Austen. He is, of course, the man behind my beloved 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, so he certainly has the credentials. Meantime, I’m desperately avoiding all advance publicity.

Fear not, my Darcy – Sidney will never steal my heart from you…

If you haven’t already, you have plenty of time to read this before the adaptation comes out and invent your own story before Davies tells us his. Personally, I shall be very annoyed if he doesn’t allow Charlotte and Sidney a chance at romance… (if you know, please don’t tell me!)

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 207…

Episode 207

I’ve been reading up a storm this last week, but the books have continued to arrive in droves meaning that the TBR has only gone down by 1 – to 226. Still, at least that means I’m going in the right direction, eh?

Here are a few more I should be reading soon. In fact, I’ve started a couple of them. Well, in actual fact, I’ve also finished one of them – Sanditon. Must try to synch these posts better…

Fiction

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Next up for my 5 x 5 Challenge, to read 5 books from 5 selected authors. I’m ambivalent about Steinbeck – I think he writes like a dream but I find him emotionally manipulative and with a tendency to cross the line between pathos and bathos. I gave 5 stars to The Grapes of Wrath and abandoned Cannery Row. So this one could go either way…

The Blurb says: Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull’s egg, as “perfect as the moon.” With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and of security….

A story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl explores the secrets of man’s nature, the darkest depths of evil, and the luminous possibilities of love.

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Classics

Sanditon by Jane Austen

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Despite my love affair with Jane Austen, I’ve never read her unfinished novel, Sanditon, so when I saw OWC were publishing a new edition I couldn’t resist. Apparently there’s going to be a new TV adaptation next year, and I always prefer to have read the book first…

The Blurb says: In Sanditon, Jane Austen writes what may well be the first seaside novel: a novel, that is, that explores the mysterious and startling transformations that a stay by the sea can work on individuals and relationships. Sanditon is a fictitious place on England’s south coast and the obsession of local landowner Mr Thomas Parker. He means to transform this humble fishing village into a fashionable health resort to rival its famous neighbours of Brighton and Eastbourne.

The seaside holiday was invented in the eighteenth century, with resorts springing up along England’s extensive coastline to take advantage of the craze for salt-water bathing. For Jane Austen, a keen bather, the seaside was a place where the female body might enjoy unusual permitted freedom. In Persuasion, the novel she finished only months before she began Sanditon, the sea and coast elicit rare moments of sensuous delight. In this her final, unfinished work, the dying writer sets aside her familiar subject matter, the country village with its settled community, for the transient and eccentric assortment of people who drift to the new resort, the town built upon sand. If the ground beneath her characters’ feet appears less secure, Austen’s own vision is opening out. Light and funny, Sanditon is her most experimental and poignant work.

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Vintage Crime Shorts

Bodies from the Library 2 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This one popped unexpectedly through my letterbox a couple of weeks ago. It sounds great, and so me, with lots of my favourite Golden Age authors included and loads more for me to meet for the first time…

The Blurb says: This second volume is a showcase for popular figures of the Golden Age, in stories that even their most ardent fans will not be aware of. It includes uncollected and unpublished stories by acclaimed queens and kings of crime fiction, from Helen Simpson, Ethel Lina White, E.C.R. Lorac, Christianna Brand, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, to S.S. Van Dine, Jonathan Latimer, Clayton Rawson, Cyril Alington and Antony and Peter Shaffer (writing as Peter Antony).

This book also features two highly readable radio scripts by Margery Allingham (involving Jack the Ripper) and John Rhode, plus two full-length novellas – one from a rare magazine by Q Patrick, the other an unpublished Gervase Fen mystery by Edmund Crispin, written at the height of his career. It concludes with another remarkable discovery: ‘The Locked Room’ by Dorothy L. Sayers, a never-before-published case for Lord Peter Wimsey!

Selected and introduced by Tony Medawar, who also provides fascinating pen portraits of each author, Bodies in the Library 2 is an indispensable collection for any bookshelf.

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New Fiction

Night for Day by Patrick Flanery

Courtesy of Atlantic Books. Patrick Flanery is right at the top of my list of favourite contemporary authors, writing fiction with strong political themes mixed with a deep understanding of humanity. He’s won my Book of the Year Award twice, for Absolution and Fallen Land, (which I think is a Great American Novel). So this has to be in the running for my most anticipated read of the year…

The Blurb says: Los Angeles, 1950. Over the course of a single day, two friends grapple with the moral and professional uncertainties of the escalating Communist witch-hunt in Hollywood. Director John Marsh races to convince his actress wife not to turn informant for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, while leftist screenwriter Desmond Frank confronts the possibility of exile to live and work without fear of being blacklisted. As Marsh and Frank struggle to complete shooting on their film She Turned Away, which updates the myth of Orpheus to the gritty noir underworld of post-war Los Angeles, the chaos of their private lives pushes them towards a climactic confrontation with complicity, jealousy, and fear.

Night for Day conjures a feverish vision of one of the country’s most notorious periods of national crisis, illuminating the eternal dilemma of both art and politics: how to make the world anew. At once a definitively American novel, echoing Philip Roth and Raymond Chandler, it also nods to the mythic landscapes of Dante and the iconoclastic playfulness of James Joyce. With as much to say about the early years of the Cold War as about the political and social divisions that continue to divide the country today, Night for Day is expansive in scope and yet tenderly intimate, exploring the subtleties of belonging and the enormity of exile—not only from one’s country but also from one’s self.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Northanger Abbey: An Audible Original Drama

Horridly excellent!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Northanger Abbey is the most deliciously light of all of Austen’s books, filled with humour as Austen pokes gentle fun at her own class and gender. Catherine Morland is our naive 17-year-old heroine, leaving her country parsonage home for the first time to visit the bright lights of Bath in the company of her generous neighbours, the Allens. Starry-eyed and romantic, and with an obsessive love of the Gothic sensation fiction of the day, Catherine is ready to be thrilled by everything and everyone she meets.

They arrived at Bath. Catherine was all eager delight – her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.

I have discussed the book before, (you can read my thoughts here), so am concentrating in this review on the production and performances in Audible’s new dramatisation of it.

This is done as half narration and half dramatisation. The narration is done superbly by Emma Thompson, someone who truly ‘gets’ Austen as anyone who has watched her performance in the wonderful 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility will know – a film for which she also wrote the script. In this one, she goes all out to bring out the humour in the script, and her affectionately ridiculing tone and excellent comic timing had me laughing aloud time and time again. It truly feels to me as if she’s channelling Austen – I suspect if Jane read her manuscript aloud to her family, she’d have delivered it just like this, with the same fond teasing of our delightful Catherine and the same gasping drama over the Gothic horror elements, played strictly for laughs. Thompson verges perilously close to going over the top at points, but is far too masterful to actually do so. Part of me wished this was a straight narration – and I really would like her to narrate all the Austen novels, please, when she has a moment to spare.

That’s not to suggest I didn’t enjoy the dramatised elements too – I did, very much. The young cast were largely unknown to me, since I don’t watch much TV or film, but several of them have impressive lists of credits to their names already. Each turned in a fine performance here with no weak links in the chain.

The role of Catherine is vital, and Ella Purnell does an excellent job in portraying the youthful naivety that sometimes leads her into foolish behaviour. She brings great charm to the role, with the same infectious good humour that makes Catherine such a likeable heroine on the page. Henry, I always feel, is a harder role to pull off, since frankly he’s so patronising to our lovely Catherine and his sister Eleanor that I often have an uncontrollable desire to hit him over the head with a well-filled reticule. So I was very impressed with the way Jeremy Irvine was able to navigate that aspect with such a degree of warmth in his tone that I found it easy to forgive him and to understand Catherine’s attraction to him. (And bear in mind, girls, that I didn’t even have the advantage of being able to see him… except perhaps in my mind’s eye… 😉 )

Douglas Booth and Lily Cole are both nicely unlikeable as the baddies John and Isabella Thorpe (Boo! Hiss!), Booth managing with aplomb all John’s boastful silliness about his horses and so on, while Cole drips delicious insincerity with every word.

As the sensible one, Eleanor Tilney can tend to be somewhat dull as a character, but Eleanor Tomlinson gives her some much needed vivacity, while in the big dramatic scene near the end, she brings out beautifully all her distress and embarrassment. My other favourite is Mrs Allen, played by Anna Chancellor. Again she can be a tricky character; her rather silly empty-headedness and obsession with clothes could easily be annoying in the wrong hands, but Chancellor brings out her affectionate nature and the true warmth of her feelings towards Catherine, and the script is very humorous at showing how she allows her husband to form all her opinions for her.

Directed by Catherine Thompson, the production itself is fun with all the appropriate sound effects of carriages rattling along the roads, dramatic music for the Abbey horror scenes and delightful dance music during all the various balls. The balance between narration and dramatisation is good and I find this format works particularly well for audio – better than either alone for me. The bursts of dramatisation hold my attention in a way that an unbroken narration, however good, sometimes doesn’t; while the narration gives an opportunity to hear the author’s voice and fill out the background that’s sometimes missed when a book is reduced completely to dialogue. The script too, by Anna Lea, is excellent, sticking as it should entirely to Austen’s own words. I felt it had been a little abridged, not just for the linking parts in the dialogue to make it work as a dramatisation, but also in some of the narrated parts. But if so, the abridgement is done smoothly and none of the important elements have been cut.

So another excellent audio drama from Audible, who seem to be producing more and more of these, and casting them with some of our top performers. Keep them coming, I say! And as for this one – highly recommended!

NB This audio drama was provided for review by Audible UK via MidasPR.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

Six Degrees of Separation – From Austen to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before…

This month’s starting book is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What a pity! This means I’ll have to start with my obligatory Darcy pic instead of ending with it! Oh well, I suppose I’ll just have to search for another hunk to fill the end spot… a tough job, but one I’m willing to undertake to bring you pleasure…

She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.

Pride and Prejudice is, of course, the story of a man falling in love with a fine pair of eyes and a woman falling in love with a big house full of servants – undoubtedly, the basis for a wonderful relationship. Thinking of relationships reminds me of…

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. This is a woeful tale of what can happen to a young girl when she goes off travelling but forgets to pack her paracetamol. It also provides a warning to us all never to declare undying love to a rich man whose mother controls the purse-strings, else we may end up the wife of a country curate…

Talking of country curates reminds me of…

Emma by Jane Austen – a terrifying tale of a middle-aged man who grooms a young girl to grow up as his ideal woman. Poor Emma is offered an escape route, when Mr Elton the curate offers to marry her, but alas! It is too late – her indoctrination is complete! A fine moral lesson to us all from the pen of Ms Austen…

Mr Elton…

We are given another, and perhaps even more important, moral lesson in…

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen – An innocent young girl is trapped in an old abbey, with only spooky shadows, a potential murderer, a patronising young man who can dance unnaturally well, and a pile of pulp fiction to occupy her mind. Naturally, she picks the pulp fiction, starting a process that will rot her mind and eventually take her beyond hysteria to the brink of near insanity. The moral clearly is – don’t read books!

“…and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am!—What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them…”

And, most certainly, don’t read this one…!

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope – In a desire to save us all from the perils of reading fiction, Ms Trollope has written a book so majestically awful it is certain to put the unsuspecting reader off for life! A book that introduced me to two words that prove that the human race is already well on the way to total mental decline – amazeballs and shagbandit – it left me feeling that even emojis can sometimes be less offensive than the written word.

😉 😛 👿

He gave an almost imperceptible smirk. ‘The obigations of the heir…’
‘Oh my God,’ Marianne exclaimed. ‘Are you the heir to Allenham?’
He nodded.
‘So fortunate,’ Belle said dazedly.
Marianne’s eyes were shining.
‘So romantic,’ she said.

After this experience, I had to be persuaded to try reading another book, which brings me to…

Persuasion by Jane Austen – a tragic story of a young woman who dumps her lover and then is surprised that he takes her seriously and goes to war with the French (an extreme reaction, but quite romantic in its way. A bit unfair on the French though, perhaps.) The moral of this story is surely that we should grab the first offer we get, girls, for fear we might otherwise end up having to marry a curate…

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

A lesson taken to heart by the downtrodden heroine of our last book…

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen – a story wherein a young girl is wrenched from her mother and forced to live with two ugly sisters – ugly on the inside that is. Poor little Fanny is destined to spend her days as a skivvy without so much as a pair of glass slippers to call her own. Until her fairy godmother (rather oddly named Edmund) waves her magic wand and suddenly Fanny gets to go to the ball after all…

There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.

* * * * *

And they all lived happily ever after!

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So Austen to Austen, via relationship advice, curates, moral lessons, don’t read books!, persuasion and grabbing a husband!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Oh! And here’s your extra hunk…

The 3 Day Quotes Challenge

“Quotation, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.” Ambrose Bierce

I’ve been nominated to take part in the 3 Day Quotes Challenge – thanks to the lovely ahouseofbooks!

The rules of the challenge are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you.
2. Post a quote on your blog every day for three days.
3. Nominate three other bloggers each day.

Being a contrary sort of beast, however, I thought I’d do all my quotes on one day. It doesn’t say anything about punishment for breaking the rules, so I’m hoping the Challenge Police don’t raid my house and steal all my chocolate…

cartoon policeman

So here goes…

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My first quote represents the standard to which I compare all literary fiction. It comes from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and I’ve seen it translated in a variety of ways, but this is my favourite translation…

Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we long to move the stars to pity.

Books that move the stars to pity include…

The Testament of Mary, Sunset Song, American Pastoral, The Grapes of Wrath, Revolutionary Road, And the Mountains Echoed

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The second quote comes from the unique and wondrous pen of the great Plum, PG Wodehouse…

It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.

Books that contain aggrieved Scotsmen include…

Laidlaw, Even Dogs in the Wild, Gallowglass, Entry Island, Kidnapped, Docherty

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The third quote is one I’m not sure I believe, except in literary terms, but I love it nevertheless. From John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Books where beauty is truth and truth beauty include…

The Great Gatsby, Nora Webster, Last Man in Tower, The Wind in the Willows, Fallen Land, The Way Things Were

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I’m sorry, but I’m enjoying this so much I positively refuse to stop at three…

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Number four sums up the glory of the cosmos and all that it contains… from that old chap who has tortured generations of schoolchildren with his pesky theorem, Pythagoras…

There is music in the spacing of the spheres.

Books that take us in amongst the spheres and beyond include…

Gravity’s Engines, Dreams of Other Worlds, Nearest Star, The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein, Thirteen, What Galileo Saw

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The fifth quote is of course from the Bible via Wild Bill Shakespeare and is one I have used as the title of more than one review recently…

Woe is me!

Books that are woeful (in one or other sense of that word*) include…

The Goldfinch*, Second Life, The Monogram Murders, The Life I Left Behind, Gone, Lass, Sense and Sensibility – the Trollope version!

*The Goldfinch achieves the special status of being woeful in both senses.

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Since tomorrow is Armistice Day in the UK, when we remember the fallen in two World Wars and later conflicts, it seems appropriate to include the lines that sum up the day, from Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Books that will help us remember include…

The War That Ended Peace, Birdsong, Heath Robinson’s Great War, That Dark Remembered Day, The Aftermath, The Telegraph Book of the First World War

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From Ken Kalfus’ fabulous literary sci-fi novel Equilateral comes the wonderful quote…

“…red like a pomegranate seed, red like a blood spot on an egg, red like a ladybug, red like a ruby or more specifically a red beryl, red like coral, red like an unripe cherry, red like a Hindu lady’s bindi, red like the eye of a nocturnal predator, red like a fire on a distant shore, the subject of his every dream and his every scientific pursuit.

“Mars,” he says.”

On the same subject, astronaut Buzz Aldrin said…

“Mars is there, waiting to be reached.”

Books that take us to Mars include…

Equilateral, The Martian, A Princess of Mars, The Martian Chronicles, The Emperor of Mars, The Warlord of Mars

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And finally, no list of quotes would be complete without a wee bit o’ Rabbie Burns – from My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

Books with loves that will last till a’ the seas gang dry include…

Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, Persuasion

darcy kiss
(Though really they’re social commentary…)

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D’you know, I’ve had so much fun doing this I suspect there will be another post on it sometime, perhaps a Shakespeare special. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too – and I hereby challenge every one of you, (especially Susan), to join in, either by doing the challenge on your own blog or by leaving your favourite quote(s) below.

Thanks again to ahouseofbooks for the inspiration!

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Have a great Tuesday! 😀

Friday Frippery…

Darcy by any other name…

 

MarinaSofia this week upped the reviewing ante by producing a poem in lieu of a book review. Now, she has an unfair advantage by virtue of the fact that she is a poet, but nonetheless I feel the gauntlet has been thrown down.

So, never one to refuse a challenge, here goes…

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darcy and lizzie scorn

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There was a young woman from Longbourn
Who treated her suitor with much scorn
But when she saw his great house
She would fain be his spouse
The poor girl was really quite lovelorn.

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darcy pemberley

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Her sisters were terribly busy
Catching husbands, which left our poor Lizzie
On the shelf, until Darcy
Took her hand at a party*
And they danced till they both were quite dizzy.

* (well, you try and find a rhyme for Darcy, smartypants!)

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darcy dancing

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Now some people call this a romance
(Just ’cause they don’t like to dance)
But wait just a moment!
It’s deep social comment
And gets 5-stars from me! *happy trance*

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darcy kiss

.

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

OK, your turn. Now…who’s going to do War and Peace…?

.

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PS If you’d like to see how it’s really done, do visit MarinaSofia’s blog, Finding Time to Write – a great place for poetry and reviews, plus she hunts down all the best locations for the readers and writers amongst us to lust after…

Persuasion by Jane Austen

persuasion coverThe pen in her hand…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Eight years ago, Anne Elliot fell in love and became engaged to a young naval officer, Frederick Wentworth. Frederick had little money but, at a time when Britain was at war with Napoleonic France, the prospects for advancement in his career were good. But Anne’s friend Lady Russell, who is something of a substitute mother figure to Anne since her own mother died some years earlier, persuaded her that a lengthy engagement with no guarantee that Frederick would make his fortune was unwise, and so Anne broke off with Frederick. She has never forgotten him though, even turning down another more eligible suitor. Now Captain Wentworth has returned from the wars a wealthy and successful man, while the Elliots are on the brink of financial ruin. But Captain Wentworth hasn’t forgotten the hurt that Anne caused him and despises her for her weakness in allowing herself to be persuaded. And his changed circumstances and gallant bearing make him an attractive catch for the other, younger, single women in the neighbourhood.

Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn – that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness – that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.

This is the last novel that Jane Austen completed before her tragically early death, and Anne is her most mature heroine. At the age of twenty-seven, Anne is already sadly faded and has reached the age when her chances of achieving a good marriage are rapidly receding. Sir Walter Elliot, Anne’s father, is a member of the landed gentry, obsessed with his ancestry and his family’s social standing. Living well above his means, he has reduced the family fortune to such a low ebb that he has no option but to lease his house, Kellynch Hall, and take a much smaller place in Bath. The new tenants of Kellynch are Admiral Croft and his wife Sophy, who is Captain Wentworth’s sister. And so Anne and Frederick are thrown back into the same social circle…

persuasion covers

There is a tendency, not helped by a rash of chick-littish covers over the last few years, for Austen’s books to be looked upon as simple romances. Of course, on one level they are. On the surface, this is a Cinderella story. Anne is the downtrodden under-appreciated daughter, complete with two sisters who might be beautiful on the outside but are pretty ugly underneath. Anne has to be her own fairy godmother – her innate kindness and patient constancy the magic she must use to win her Prince.

Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness as a very resolute character.

But, as in every Austen novel, there’s so much more to it than that. Austen’s insight into the society of her own time catches every nuance of how status worked at a time when it was beginning to change. Completed in 1816, the book reflects the social upheavals of the long war, when military and naval officers had won both fortune and respect and were now looking to take their place in civilian life on an equal footing with the hereditary landowners – their wealth making up for any deficiencies in ancestry. Birth is still important in this society, but character is shown as the true hallmark of the gentleman. Austen’s very positive image of the naval officers might have been influenced by the fact that two of her own brothers were seamen, each rising to the rank of Admiral in later life.

persuasion illustration 3

In contrast, there’s a more biting edge to her observations on the snobbishness and toad-eating of the traditional squirearchy than in her earlier novels. Anne’s father and sisters may still feel their lineage entitles them to automatic respect, but Austen reserves her respect and that of the rest of her characters for the people who have achieved their status through their own actions. Not quite a meritocracy yet, and Austen makes no explicit reference to the recent upheavals of the American and French revolutions, nor to the beginnings of the industrial age, but even her rural society is clearly feeling the first breezes of the winds of change.

persuasion illustration 2

And there’s something similar going on in her portrayal of the status of women. Austen’s heroines always defied the convention of making loveless matches for wealth, but the early ones, even my beloved Lizzie, wanted most of all to find a man they could love and respect but who would give them a life not significantly different to that of their childhoods. They wanted a respectable establishment in a rural society, be it a minor one like Elinor’s rectory in Sense and Sensibility or a glittering prize like Lizzie’s Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. Emma may be the ultimate example of this – her marriage simply added a husband to the family and house she grew up in and barely changed her position or lifestyle at all.

persuasion illustration 1

Anne Elliot is a different kind of heroine. She has had the benefit of eight years to think about what she wants from life and she knows it’s not the small and restricted world of Kellynch, or even Bath. She admires Admiral Croft’s wife for accompanying her husband as he sailed the world, and part of the attraction of Captain Wentworth is that he will expand her horizons beyond the tiny circle in which she and her family move. Austen’s rather barbed humour about the daily intercourse between the two families at Uppercross is an indication of how small this rural world really is, and of how friendships and relationships are determined by propinquity rather than shared tastes or interests. The senior Musgroves are intriguing in their relative relaxation about whom their daughters marry – they are more concerned with their children’s happiness than their social advancement. These were the days of the first feminist writers – Mary Wollstonecraft et al – and again, without direct reference, Austen provides hints that her world may be on the cusp of change. Marriage and wealth are still key for women, but Anne looks out at a different world and finds it an enticing prospect.

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.”

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

Of course, I don’t want to pretend that this is a revolutionary or feminist tract. Anne’s story is still one of a woman subordinate first to her father and then to her husband and subject to persuasion to conform to society’s norms. She’s not a rebel, but her stubbornness in refusing to make a loveless match and her constancy in her love for Captain Wentworth make her a strong and appealing heroine. I wish I liked Captain Wentworth more – I think the way he runs away when Louisa is injured is unforgivable, and I really dislike how his interest in Anne is reawakened only once her youthful bloom begins to return in the bracing air of Lyme. But he recognises her true worth in the end, I suppose. He’ll never be Darcy though…

darcy and lizzie

TBR Thursday 55…

Episode 55

 

Well, I did brilliantly during my little break and got the TBR down to a magnificent 129! So I moved up a few from my supplemenatry TBR – i.e., the books that are on my Kindle that have never been read – and now it’s back up to 139. But I feel good, ‘cos List 2 is therefore down by ten. Now if only I can stop myself from adding any to List 2 from List 3… the wishlist! (Am I good at fooling myself or what, eh? I’m thinking I might cut the TBR dramatically in half by creating a List 4…)

Never mind! Here are some that will be moving to the Have Been Read List very soon…

Factual

 

Khlevniuk jkt ks.inddCourtesy of NetGalley and Yale University Press, who are producing some fabulous biographies at present. If this is as good as the John Knox one (also from Yale) that I’m currently reading, I’ll be well pleased…

The Blurb says Josef Stalin exercised supreme power in the Soviet Union from 1929 until his death in 1953. During that quarter-century, by Oleg Khlevniuk’s estimate, he caused the imprisonment and execution of no fewer than a million Soviet citizens per year. Millions more were victims of famine directly resulting from Stalin’s policies. What drove him toward such ruthlessness? This essential biography, by the author most deeply familiar with the vast archives of the Soviet era, offers an unprecedented, fine-grained portrait of Stalin the man and dictator. Without mythologizing Stalin as either benevolent or an evil genius, Khlevniuk resolves numerous controversies about specific events in the dictator’s life while assembling many hundreds of previously unknown letters, memos, reports, and diaries into a comprehensive, compelling narrative of a life that altered the course of world history.

 * * * * *

Fiction

 

Should I ever finish The Grapes of Wrath (16 days and still over a third to go – even chocolate isn’t cheering me up any more) then I shall reward myself with a re-read of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. This is the Austen I have read least often – perhaps only twice – but I have walked down those famous steps in Lyme Regis…

persuasion

The Blurb says Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?(Shall we all guess the answer?)

* * * * *

 

death and mr pickwickCourtesy of the publisher, Jonathan Cape. I’ve been doing weight-training in preparation for tackling this 800-page monster…

The Blurb says Death and Mr. Pickwick is a vast, richly imagined, Dickensian work about the rough-and-tumble world that produced an author who defined an age. Like Charles Dickens did in his immortal novels, Stephen Jarvis has spun a tale full of preposterous characters, shaggy-dog stories, improbable reversals, skulduggery, betrayal, and valor – all true, and all brilliantly brought to life in his unputdownable book.

The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, featuring the fat and lovable Mr. Pickwick and his Cockney manservant, Sam Weller, began as a series of whimsical sketches, the brainchild of the brilliant, erratic, misanthropic illustrator named Robert Seymour, a denizen of the back alleys and grimy courtyards where early nineteenth-century London’s printers and booksellers plied their cutthroat trade. When Seymour’s publishers, after trying to match his magical etchings with a number of writers, settled on a young storyteller using the pen name Boz, The Pickwick Papers went on to become a worldwide phenomenon, outselling every other book besides the Bible and Shakespeare’s plays. And Boz, as the young Charles Dickens signed his work, became, in the eyes of many, the most important writer of his time. The fate of Robert Seymour, Mr. Pickwick’s creator, is a very different story – one untold before now.

* * * * *

Crime

 

jack of spadesCourtesy of NetGalley. I don’t think I’ve read any of Joyce Carol Oates’ books – a strange omission, soon to be rectified…

The Blurb saysAndrew J. Rush has achieved the kind of critical and commercial success most authors only dream about: his twenty-eight mystery novels have sold millions of copies in nearly thirty countries, and he has a top agent and publisher in New York. He also has a loving wife, three grown children, and is a well-regarded philanthropist in his small New Jersey town. But Rush is hiding a dark secret. Under the pseudonym “Jack of Spades,” he writes another string of novels—dark potboilers that are violent, lurid, even masochistic. These are novels that the refined, upstanding Andrew Rush wouldn’t be seen reading, let alone writing. Until one day, his daughter comes across a Jack of Spades novel that he has carelessly left out and begins to ask questions. Meanwhile, Rush receives a court summons in the mail explaining that a local woman has accused him of plagiarizing her own self-published fiction. Rush’s reputation, career, and family life all come under threat – and unbidden, in the back of his mind, the Jack of Spades starts thinking ever more evil thoughts.

* * * * *

 

NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

emma mccall smithNot with a bang but a whimper…

😦

I wouldn’t have thought it possible for any of these Austen Project books to reach lower depths than Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, but I fear this one does. After Val McDermid’s surprisingly enjoyable take on Northanger Abbey, I hoped the series might be capable of redemption – I was wrong. (Go ahead – say you told me so!) There are some mild spoilers ahead…

The first few pages are quite fun with lots of little jokes about class and McCall Smith’s hometown of Edinburgh. But it’s a false dawn – very quickly the book descends into a miserable and poorly written attempt to make Austen’s observations about class relevant to today’s society.

Helpful note for authors 1: You cannot make a historical thing relevant to today if it isn’t.

The characterisation is dreadful. Emma may have been unlikeable in the original, but one can see why she got away with it. Firstly, she is superficially pleasant and, secondly, she is socially superior to everyone she meets and they are conditioned by society to respect her. In this version, she’s simply a nasty, selfish, small-minded piece of work, to whom no-one in the real world would give the time of day. Her main belief seems to be that women should set out to catch a rich husband so that they don’t need to work – slightly different from Austen’s women who had no opportunity to work. Harriet, not the brightest candle in the chandelier in the original, is so thick in this one that it’s amazing she remembers to breathe. Mr Woodhouse, our selfish hypochondriac, is probably closest to the original, but I fear it doesn’t work in this one, since he is far from elderly and perfectly fit, meaning that he’s just annoying and repetitive, with no possibility of gaining sympathy from the reader.

Knightley’s barely in the book until near the end – McCall Smith obviously has his own reservations about the ‘grooming’ aspects of the original, so has simply removed him from Emma’s upbringing and reduced the age difference by several years. Instead he has been replaced by Miss Taylor – now a cross between Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee – as the sole influence in the revolting Emma’s upbringing. Not a recommendation to hire her to look after your own sprogs, if you want them to turn out…human. Frank and Jane, also hardly in it really, are awful – silly little people trying to make each other jealous for no good reason.

Nanny McPhee...or Miss Taylor?
Nanny McPhee…or Miss Taylor?

Helpful note for authors 2: Make at least one character likeable/believable.

I’ve mentioned that several of the characters are hardly in the book. This is because McCall Smith has decided to fill the first quarter of the book with descriptions of Emma’s upbringing and childhood, not to mention Mr Woodhouse’s entire life story. We get Isabella’s courtship with John Knightley, tons and tons of stuff about Miss Taylor, mainly so McCall Smith can continue his quips about Edinburgh, and the whole history of Emma’s education at school and university. What does this add to the story? Well, tedium, primarily. When Harriet and Mr Elton finally appear their whole story is dealt with in three or four meetings, culminating in what really comes close to an assault on Emma by a drunken Mr Elton. Should I mention the nude Harriet scene and the lesbian overtones? Nope, can’t bring myself to. But Mr Elton does provide an opportunity for McCall Smith to make what is clearly his favourite joke, that he drives a BMW Something-Something. I say favourite joke, because he repeats it an amazing nine times. Mind you, he repeats the joke about the English language students asking the way to the railway station an astonishing 22 times…

Helpful note for authors 3: If a joke isn’t very funny first time, it won’t get funnier with repetition.

Although only half the length of the original, the book feels twice as long. Each little bit of story is surrounded by pages and pages of repeated descriptions of Emma’s selfishness or Harriet’s stupidity or Mr Woodhouse’s obsession with germs. And in case we fall into the Harriet spectrum of intelligence, McCall Smith spells out his conclusions about Emma’s character all the way through, so we can be sure to keep up.

It had been an important summer for Emma, as it had been the summer during which moral insight came to her – something that may happen to all of us, if it happens at all, at very different stages of our lives.

Helpful note for authors 4: If you have to spell out your point, you’ve failed to make it.

Would I recommend this? Only to someone I really didn’t like…

* * * * * * *

Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith

PS I will be going on to re-read the other Austens over the next year or so, but the Austen Project will have to limp along without me. If they really had to do this, they could have done it so much better, by truly transplanting the stories to the modern day and looking at some of the real issues for women in today’s society instead of pretending that we still face the same ones as Austen’s heroines. With the exception of McDermid, who admittedly had an easier task with the much lighter Northanger Abbey, this has done nothing to enhance the reputations of the authors involved to date – both of whom perform significantly better when writing their own stories in their own style.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Emma by Jane Austen

emma austenBig fish in a small pond…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Emma Woodhouse is unusual amongst Austen heroines in being independently wealthy and therefore with no need to marry. When we meet her, she is twenty-one, still untouched by love, and determined to remain single. This is a small society with a tiny number of gentlefolk, so that everyone knows every detail of each other’s lives, and the main interest of the book is in the descriptions of the society – in this case showing the very limited and somewhat dull life of young gentlewomen in small towns where they are socially superior to all their neighbours. Emma lives with her elderly father and, as the book begins, has just lost the constant companionship of her long-time governess, Miss Taylor, who has married Mr Weston, another resident of the town. The only other person in the neighbourhood who matches the social standing of the Woodhouses is Mr Knightley, owner of the neighbouring estate and friend of Emma’s father. He has known Emma all her life and has taken it upon himself to guide her intellectual and emotional development since her early childhood.

Jane Austen
Jane Austen

The plot, such as it is, is a simple comedy of manners. Although she still sees Mrs Weston nearly every day, Emma feels the loss of female companionship, so takes under her wing young Harriet Smith, the illegitimate daughter of a father of unknown identity. The small cast of characters is further enhanced by the arrival of Jane Fairfax, niece of the impoverished but voluble Miss Bates. Soon after, Mr Weston’s son Frank also comes to visit – after his mother’s death, Frank was adopted by his wealthy aunt so, despite his relationship to Mr Weston, he is a stranger in Highbury. These young people are to be the pawns in Emma’s matchmaking games, leading to many misunderstandings and much heartache all round before we reach the traditional Austen happy-ever-after.

* * * * * * *

Any regular reader of the blog will be aware of my ardent devotion to Jane Austen (not to mention my even more ardent devotion to Mr Darcy). So it might come as a surprise to know that I really don’t get along with Emma. Let me try to explain why.

NB There be mega-spoilers ahead…

Apparently before beginning to write Emma, Jane Austen said “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” And this is the fundamental problem. The delicacy with which Austen normally handles the subtleties of class seems to have deserted her almost entirely in this one – Emma is an arrogant, self-satisfied snob who expects everyone to toady to her, not because of her own talents or character, but simply because she is the daughter of the richest man in town. And none of the other characters are much better.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma
Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma

There’s the annoying Mr Woodhouse, a selfish hypochondriac, whom everyone kowtows to because he is rich. Frank, a selfish pleasure-seeker, whose behaviour to Jane and Emma shows a complete disregard for anyone else’s feelings, but still isn’t as bad as his unconcealed delight at the death of the wealthy aunt who brought him up. Jane, who has to be the most boring character in all of English literature. Harriet, who has fewer braincells than the average amoeba and about as much personality. (Why would Robert love her? It’s inconceivable…)

Then there’s Mr Knightley. He’s thirty-seven. Emma’s twenty-one. He has shown an interest in her since she was a child, so let’s say since he was twenty-four and she was eight or thereabouts. He has brought her up to be what he wants a woman to be, and now he’s going to marry her. I know middle-aged men married young girls back then, but young girls they had been involved in bringing up? Yes, Colonel Brandon and Marianne had a greater age difference, and yes, Mr Jarndyce was way too old for Esther, but at least they both met these girls once they were women. Colonel Brandon and Mr Jarndyce leave me a little uneasy, but Mr Knightley makes me positively queasy. And did, even when I was seventeen.

(Mr Elton and Mr Collins…or is it the other way round?)

And that just leaves us with Emma. Fans of the book may wish to look away now, because I’m going to say something you may find shocking – it is my belief that by the time she is fifty, Emma will have transmogrified into Lady Catherine de Bourgh. What is different about them other than that Emma is young and pretty? They both think themselves above the need to learn the skills that other young women have to master in order to secure a good marriage. They both think they have the right to interfere in the lives of the people around them because they consider themselves to be intellectually and socially superior. They both expect the local parson to suck up to them (is Mr Elton really significantly different to Mr Collins?). They both resent anyone who shows any kind of independent spirit or who outshines them at any skill. (Is Jane Fairfax not the closest the book has to my beloved Lizzie? Except Jane is insipid and dull, where Lizzie is strong and witty. And look at Emma’s reaction to her…)

Lady Catherine de Bourgh...or future Emma?
Lady Catherine de Bourgh…or future Emma?

All of this would be fine if Emma developed during the course of the book and learned from her mistakes, but she is still just as egotistical and condescending at the end as she is at the beginning. Thrilled to get rid of the now inconvenient Harriet to the farmer she once despised, but determined to drop her friendship as soon as she does because the connection will be too lowly for Emma’s exalted position. Still expecting Jane to toady to her despite Emma’s appalling behaviour to her throughout. Still as dismissive of Miss Bates as ever she was (one visit after the Box Hill incident can’t be seen as a serious attempt to make amends). If only Austen had made Emma suffer – cast her into poverty or broken her heart. But no, she gets everything she could possibly desire and is left basking in a glory that Austen seems to think is as deserved as I think it undeserved.

Emma and Mr Knightley lead the dance...
Emma and Mr Knightley lead the dance…

The book is as well written as all of Austen’s, and is therefore eminently readable. There is some humour, though not as much as in some of her other books, and her characterisation and depiction of society is as insightful as always – all of which explains my four-star rating. But the fact that in this book Austen openly upholds the strict class and wealth divisions in society makes me wonder what happened to her since she taught Mr Darcy not to look down on other people because of their position in society. Is this the same author who had Lizzie declare “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman’s daughter; so far we are equal.”? Is Miss Bates then not equal to Emma? Apparently not, and there is the main reason that for me Emma is not equal to Austen’s other books.

Please feel free to tell me why I’m wrong… 😉

Aah, that's better!
Aah, that’s better!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 40…

Episode 40

 

I’m thrilled to say the TBR has dropped to an almost bearable 106 – due in part to some brutal weeding out of books that have been languishing there for so long I can no longer remember why I wanted to read them in the first place. So with a song in my heart and a merry tra-la, here’s a bumper bunch of some of the upcoming delights…

Crime

 

the seventh linkCourtesy of NetGalley, a nice little cosy to start the ball rolling…

The Blurb saysThe village of Frog End may be peaceful, but that doesn’t mean that the Colonel’s life there is quiet – not with his friendly but nosy neighbour Naomi, desperate to know what he’s keeping in his new shed; the curious Miss Butler, who tracks his every move with her German U-boat captain’s binoculars; and the attentions of the local vicar, who’s keen to involve him in church affairs. That’s not forgetting the demands of the aloof, imperious cat Thursday, who seems to have adopted the Colonel.”

 * * * * *

lamentationComing out on 23rd October, at last, at last! The new Shardlake!

The Blurb saysAutumn, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councillors prepare for a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. The Catholics decide to focus their attack on Henry’s sixth wife, the Protestant Queen Catherine Parr. As Catherine begins to lose the King’s favor, she turns to the shrewd, hunchbacked lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, to contain a potentially fatal secret. The Queen has written a confessional book, Lamentation of a Sinner, a memoir so radical that if it came to the King’s attention, it could bring her and her courtly sympathizers to ruination. The London printer into whose hands she entrusted the manuscript has been murdered, the book nowhere to be found.

Shardlake’s investigations take him down a trail that begins among printshops in the filthy backstreets of London, but leads him once more to the labyrinthine world of court politics, where Protestant friends can be as dangerous as Catholic enemies, and those who will support either side to further their ambition are the most dangerous of all.

* * * * *

Factual

 

napoleonNetGalley, what would I do without you? Napoleon was one of my early heroes based, I think, on a Ladybird book when I was about 8. Time to discover if he was worthy of my worship…

The Blurb saysAndrew Roberts’s Napoleon is the first one-volume biography to take advantage of the recent publication of Napoleon’s thirty-three thousand letters, which radically transform our understanding of his character and motivation. At last we see him as he was: protean multitasker, decisive, surprisingly willing to forgive his enemies and his errant wife Josephine. Like Churchill, he understood the strategic importance of telling his own story, and his memoirs, dictated from exile on St. Helena, became the single bestselling book of the nineteenth century.

An award-winning historian, Roberts traveled to fifty-three of Napoleon’s sixty battle sites, discovered crucial new documents in archives, and even made the long trip by boat to St. Helena. He is as acute in his understanding of politics as he is of military history. Here at last is a biography worthy of its subject: magisterial, insightful, beautifully written, by one of our foremost historians.”

* * * * *

Fiction

 

the new worldHave I mentioned that I love NetGalley? Andrew Motion’s second follow-up to Treasure Island – despite some reservations over the first, his writing impressed me so much this is a must-read…and isn’t the cover the most gorgeoous thing you’ve seen in years? 

The Blurb saysJim and Natty are shipwrecked on the coast of Texas, blown off course on their way home from Treasure Island. But they have stolen something they should have left well alone, something that will haunt them until what was taken has been returned…

On their journey they encounter Native American tribes, a wandering group of European Circus performers, deracinated warriors, eccentric pioneers, some landscapes of great serenity and others of terrible savagery, until, at last, they reach the mighty Mississippi.

The New World is an adventure story, a race across America, a Western, a travelogue, a love story and a lament for an indigenous culture in the years before its destruction. Andrew Motion has achieved that singular thing – a story that is both very moving and very exciting, and always written with a remarkable clear beauty.”

 * * * * *

emma austenProbably my least favourite of Austen’s books, though I know it has its own legion of ardent admirers. I admire rather than love it. But time for a preparatory re-read…

The Blurb saysBeautiful, clever, rich – and single – Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen’s most flawless work.

* * * * *

emma mccall smith…because, on 6th November, the Austen Project rolls back into town with Alexander McCall Smith’s version! Will it be a another Trollope-esque turkey? Or will it match McDermid for amazeballsness…?

The Blurb (which makes me shudder a bit) saysFresh from university, Emma Woodhouse arrives home in Norfolk ready to embark on adult life with a splash. Not only has her sister, Isabella, been whisked away on a motorbike to London, but her astute governess, Miss Taylor is at a loose end watching as Mr. Woodhouse worries about his girls. Someone is needed to rule the roost and young Emma is more than happy to oblige.

At the helm of her own dinner parties, and often found either rearranging the furniture at the family home of Hartfield, or instructing her new protégée, Harriet Smith, Emma is in charge. You don’t have to be in London to go to parties, find amusement or make trouble. Not if you’re Emma, the very big fish in the rather small pond.

But for someone who knows everything, Emma doesn’t know her own heart. And there is only one person who can play with Emma’s indestructible confidence, her friend and inscrutable neighbour George Knightly – this time has Emma finally met her match?

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

 

TBR Thursday 31…

Episode 31

 

Tragically, the TBR list has grown to an incredible and devastating 105 during my absence from the blogosphere. No, don’t laugh – it’s not funny! It’s also not my fault! All the October pre-Christmas publications appeared on Amazon so the pre-ordering went a bit crazy. On the upside that’s months away, so plenty of time to get the list back down before they all arrive…isn’t there? Of course, there were other temptations too – and somehow I couldn’t resist. So here are a few that will reach the top of the list in the next few weeks…

* * * * *

Crime

 

strange loyaltiesThe last book in the Laidlaw Trilogy, I’ve had this one since last Christmas (thanks, BigSister!) but I don’t like to read books by the same author too close together. So now’s the time to find out if this one can live up to the high standards set by the first two…

The Blurb saysThis third book in the series begins with Jack Laidlaw’s despair and anger at his brother’s death in a banal road accident. His questions as to the dynamics of his bother’s death lead to larger questions about the nature of pain and injustice about meaning of his own life. Laidlaw is determined to learn more about the circumstances surrounding Scott Laidlaw’s death. His investigations will lead to a confrontation with his own past and a harrowing journey into the dark Glasgow underworld.

* * * * *

 

the ties that bindCourtesy of NetGalley, I was inspired to read this one by this review from one of my chief temptresses, Cleopatra Loves Books…

The Blurb saysLuke is a true crime writer in search of a story. When he flees to Brighton after an explosive break-up, the perfect subject lands in his lap: reformed gangster Joss Grand. Now in his eighties, Grand once ruled the Brighton underworld with his sadistic sidekick Jacky Nye – until Jacky washed up by the West Pier in 1968, strangled and thrown into the sea. Though Grand’s alibi seems cast-iron, Luke is sure there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and he convinces the criminal-turned-philanthropist to be interviewed for a book about his life.

Luke is drawn deeper into the mystery of Jacky Nye’s murder. Was Grand there that night? Is he really as reformed a character as he claims? And who was the girl in the red coat seen fleeing the murder scene? Soon Luke realises that in stirring up secrets from the past, he may have placed himself in terrible danger.

* * * * *

Fantasy

 

the adventures of siskin and valderanI’ve enjoyed reading Alastair Savage’s blog for a long time, particularly the hugely imaginative short stories he sometimes posts. In fact, one of his creations, an alien with lactating armpits, has gained a permanent place in my nightmares memory! So I’m looking forward to reading his newly published book, The Adventures of Siskin and Valderan

The Blurb saysSiskin and Valderan, swords for hire, are on a desperate chase to find mystic relics throughout the known world. Powerful forces are watching the heroes at every step, with monstrous servants at their command.

Aided by their talking monkey Jackanapes, Siskin and Valderan must cross the desolate steppe in search of a mysterious mound and the secret which it conceals. István, a bizarre creature from the tropical lands fears the discovery of the contents of the mound and will do anything to prevent Siskin and Valderan from reaching it.

Alone in the wilderness, far from their friends and allies, Siskin, Valderan and Jackanapes must fight for their lives as István’s ruthless servants lie in wait, ready to ambush them at any time.

* * * * *

Manga

 

p&p mangaYes, really – manga! No, I don’t know what I was thinking either! But you never know – it might be brilliant. And whatever – it can’t possibly be as awful as Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. Can it?

Again, courtesy of NetGalley.

The Blurb saysBeloved by millions the world over, Pride & Prejudice is delightfully transformed in this bold, new manga adaptation. All of the joy, heartache, and romance of Jane Austen’s original, perfectly illuminated by the sumptuous art of manga-ka Po Tse, and faithfully adapted by Stacy E. King.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

 

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

Almost totes amazeballs!

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

northanger abbey mcdermidThis may be the most disappointing thing I will read this year. After the abomination that was Joanna Trollope’s version of Sense and Sensibility, I was confident – oh, so confident – about the inevitable direness of Val McDermid’s entry for the Austen Project –  Northanger Abbey. There I was – poison pen at the ready, sarcasm ready to drip like venom, scalpel sharpened to rip the very heart out of it – and dang me if it doesn’t turn out the book’s not too bad at all! In fact – and you’ll never know how much it hurts me to say this – it’s actually quite good fun.

To be fair, McDermid’s task was always going to be easier than Trollope’s. While Austen’s Sense & Sensibility is a serious book which casts a penetrating light on aspects of the society of her time that no longer exist in ours, Northanger Abbey is a much lighter concoction that deals with the eternal subjects of true and false love, and obsession with literary trends. So, while I remain unconvinced of the need or merit of updating Austen at all, this is probably the one that lends itself most easily to updating.

After an hour of being whirled and birled, of Gay Gordons and Dashing White Sergeants, of pas de bahs and dos a dos, they broke for refreshments. Cat was uncomfortably aware that she was sweating like an ill-conditioned pony and that Henry seemed positively cool by comparison.

Edinburgh Book Festival - in sunshine!
Edinburgh Book Festival – in sunshine!

Our heroine Cat Morland is fairly inexperienced in the ways of the world, having been home-schooled by her mother in a Devon rectory. So when her well-off arty neighbours Andrew and Susie Allen invite her to come with them to the Edinburgh Festival, Cat is thrilled. And, as in the original, she’s even more thrilled when she is befriended by Bella Thorpe, never thinking that Bella may see her only as a way to get closer to Cat’s brother James. When tickets arrive for a Ball, Susie sends Cat off to get lessons in Scottish country dancing, where she meets the handsome, charming, mysterious and slightly exotic Henry Tilney, who also happens to be a superb dancer (slight pause while we all swoon, girls). All it would take for Henry to be perfect would be if he happened to live in a Gothic Abbey in the Borders and had some mysterious secret in his family…and what a coincidence! He does! And soon Cat is invited for a visit to Northanger Abbey, where she can indulge her romantic imagination to the full…

Before she could open the book, there was a clap of thunder so loud and so close that Cat cried out in terror. The room was abruptly plunged into darkness and a second deafening thunderclap vibrated through the air. Cat curled into a ball and moaned softly. What terrible powers had her discovery unleashed?

Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House seems like a good likeness for Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey
Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford House seems like a good likeness for Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey

McDermid has stuck pretty closely to the original story but has made some changes to the characters and plot to make it fit better in a modern world. Cat isn’t quite as hero-worshipping as Catherine from the original – she’s very taken with Henry and ready to learn from him but she’s got plenty of character of her own. McDermid has solved the problem of modern technology by siting the Abbey in a reception blackspot, and has used the current obsession for vampire novels very amusingly as a replacement for the ‘horrid novels’ of the original. (I hoped they might be real books – Poltergeist Plague of Pabbay, Vampires on Vatersay – but alas! It appears not.) McDermid is a Scottish author, of course, so gives an authentic and wryly humorous flavour of the hugely popular Edinburgh Festival, often as noted for the peculiarity of some of the productions as for their quality. Naturally Cat is mainly interested in the Book Festival and I doubt there is anyone better qualified to write about that event than Val McDermid.

Cat had convinced herself that in spite of Henry Tilney’s failure to appear at the Book Festival grounds, he would surely attend the dramatic adaptation of last year’s best-selling novel about love, zombies and patisserie, Cupcakes to Die For. Had they not touched on the subject of the fluency of women’s writing at Mrs Alexander’s dance class? Was this not the most sought-after ticket of the Fringe? And was not the Botanic Gardens the coolest of venues?

Royal Botanical Gardens dressed up for the Festival
Royal Botanical Gardens dressed up for the Festival

The book isn’t perfect and there are a few things that grated a bit. John Thorpe, a money-grasping buffoon in the original, appears to have turned into some kind of anti-Semitic fascist in this one, which seemed a little odd. The updating of the language has replaced Austen’s deliciously light wit with a heavy blunt instrument in too many places. And the big reveal at the end, as to why Henry’s father should suddenly have changed towards Cat, is the main disappointment of the book – McDermid’s choice of reason was sadly very typical of her and not at all within the spirit of the book, I felt – old or new version.

Val McDermid
Val McDermid

However, overall I have to admit that I enjoyed this quite a lot and, while it will never compete with the original for any true Austen fan, it is a light, fun read with enough of an edge to avoid being just throwaway chick-lit. So this grumpy and disappointed reviewer is left with nothing to do but congratulate Val McDermid on achieving the impossible – making me give a positive review to one of these hideous Austen Project books. I shall now go off into a dark corner and pout.

PS Do trendy young things really say things are ‘Totes amazeballs’? Both Trollope and McDermid seem to think so. It’s rare for me to be glad I’m no longer groovy…

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

A delectable delight!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The first of Austen’s completed novels, Northanger Abbey was sold to a bookseller for £10 in 1803, but the bookseller then decided not to publish it. In 1816, her brother bought it back for the original price – the bookseller was unaware that the book was written by the same author who had by then achieved so much anonymous fame and success with Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility et al. It was finally published in 1818, six months or so after Austen’s death.

They arrived at Bath. Catherine was all eager delight – her eyes were here, there, everywhere, as they approached its fine and striking environs, and afterwards drove through those streets which conducted them to the hotel. She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.

Brock6

Northanger Abbey is the most deliciously light of all of Austen’s books, filled with humour as Austen pokes gentle fun at her own class and gender. Catherine Morland is our naïve 17-year-old heroine, leaving her country parsonage home for the first time to visit the bright lights of Bath in the company of her generous neighbours, the Allens. Starry-eyed and romantic, and with an obsessive love of the Gothic sensation fiction of the day, Catherine is ready to be thrilled by everything and everyone she meets.

It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull, or the jackonet. Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.

Brock11

Empty-headed Mrs Allen is a kind and generous hostess, but is not much of a guide to young Catherine except in the matter of clothes. At first, they know no-one and poor Catherine must watch as the excitement of Bath seems to be passing her by; but then she meets the lively and lovely Isabella and within hours they are inseparable friends – and surely only a cynic would suspect that Isabella’s sudden interest in Catherine could have anything to do with her desire to get closer to Catherine’s handsome brother, James. Even more exciting for Catherine, though, is her first meeting with Henry Tilney – good-looking, charming, wonderful dancer and son of the owner of Northanger Abbey, the very name of which sets Catherine’s Gothic-loving heart a-flutter. The scene is set for misunderstandings, upsets and drama as Catherine learns that not everyone and everything can be taken at face value.

She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can…

…I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance.

brock2

The bulk of the book is a social commentary on marriage at a time and in a class where money and family connections were often more important than love in the finding of a suitable partner. But in this one it’s all much lighter than in her other works – Austen gently mocking the tradition in contemporary Gothic fiction that the heroine must go through all kinds of terrors and dangers before being rescued by her perfect hero. Henry has to rescue Catherine from nothing worse than the embarrassment of being left with no dancing partner in the Assembly Rooms. But that doesn’t stop the imagination of Catherine, fed by the sensation novels of the time, running away with her as she invents all kinds of horror stories around the Tilneys and their romantically Gothic home. And here we have proof that TBR lists were just as uncontrollable in Austen’s day…

“…and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”
“Have you, indeed! How glad I am!—What are they all?”
“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”
“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”
“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them…”

Mrs Radcliffe’s Udolpho and The Italian are still well known, of course, but the others were all real books of the time too and Northanger Abbey’s popularity has meant they have in recent years been brought back from obscurity and republished as the ‘Horrid Novels’.

Northanger illustration 1

Northanger Abbey perhaps doesn’t have quite the depth of the later books but it is highly entertaining, full of witty and well-observed social commentary. Catherine may not have the sparkling wit of Lizzie but she is a sweet and loveable heroine; and, while Henry may not have the smouldering magnificence of a Darcy, he’s a model of propriety, fun to be around (if Catherine doesn’t mind his occasional pomposity why should we?) and, most importantly, independently wealthy. A perfect match in a perfect little comedy of manners – a delectable delight!

* * * * * * * * *

This revew is dedicated to passionate Austen fan, Professor VJ Duke, as a special gift for his blog birthday. And here’s another…

darcy wet shirt

TBR Thursday 18…

Episode 18

 

A massive leap up to 105 for the TBR this week. So much for all my good intentions! The problem is some books are just irresistible…

Courtesy of NetGalley:

the quickPraised to the skies by Hilary Mantel and Kate Atkinson apparently – so either it’s brilliant or they share a publisher… 😉

You are about to discover the secrets of The Quick –

But first you must travel to Victorian Yorkshire, and there, on a remote country estate, meet a brother and sister alone in the world and bound by tragedy. In time, you will enter the rooms of London’s mysterious Aegolius Club – a society of some of the richest, most powerful men in fin-de-siecle England. And at some point – we cannot say when – these worlds will collide. It is then, and only then, that a new world emerges, one of romance, adventure and the most delicious of horrors – and the secrets of The Quick are revealed.

*****

that dark remembered dayI loved Tom Vowler’s first book What Lies Within. Can he do it again…?

When Stephen gets a phone call to say his mother isn’t well, he knows he must go to her straight away. But he dreads going back there. He has never been able to understand why his mother chose to stay in the town he grew up in, after everything that happened. One day’s tragic events years before had left no one living there untouched. Stephen’s own dark memories are still poisoning his life, as well as his marriage. Perhaps now is the time to go back and confront the place and the people of his shattered childhood. But will he ever be able to understand the crime that punctured their lives so brutally? How can a community move on from such a terrible legacy?

*****

A re-read in preparation:

 

northanger abbeyJane Austen’s most humorous book takes a sly look at Gothic literature…

Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist. The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey?

*****

Courtesy of Amazon Vine:

 

northanger abbey mcdermidI couldn’t resist! It can’t possibly be worse than Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility…can it…?

Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels?

*****

All blurbs are taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

At least I’m sure to enjoy the Austen! Will you be reading any of these?

PS Due to life interfering with my reading time, I will be having a short bloggie break. Apologies in advance if I also don’t get around to visiting your blogs as often as usual for a short while. Back soon!

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

sense and sensibility trollopeWhy???

Warning! This review may involve wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention cursing…of both kinds. Persons of a sensitive disposition may wish to look away now. And on the assumption that no-one will be interested in this who doesn’t know the original, there are some mild spoilers…

😡

The Austen Project is a strange little idea to rewrite all the Austen novels for a modern age. Why? It certainly can’t be because the originals are unreadable – I’d imagine they are more popular today than they have ever been. One can only assume they see it as a money-spinner. I’m delighted to say I got this book free – and even then it was too expensive.

My recent review of the real Sense and Sensibility highlighted that I think it deserves its place as a classic because of the light it casts on the restricted lives and opportunities of the sons and daughters of the ‘gentry’ in Jane Austen’s time. This fake S&S concentrates on the same class, but is set in the present day. Unfortunately, society has changed so much that the premise doesn’t work. In order to make the story fit into today’s England – where opportunity for the middle-classes is almost infinite, where women are freer and more equal than they have ever been and where the norm is for people without money to do that revolutionary thing and get a job – Trollope has decided to make most of the characters completely feckless and thus entirely unsympathetic.

He gave an almost imperceptible smirk. ‘The obigations of the heir…’
‘Oh my God,’ Marianne exclaimed. ‘Are you the heir to Allenham?’
He nodded.
‘So fortunate,’ Belle said dazedly.
Marianne’s eyes were shining.
‘So romantic,’ she said.

The story begins with the Dashwood family losing their home at Norland. Not because it’s entailed – oh, no! Because Mr Dashwood never bothered to marry Mrs Dashwood (Belle, heaven help us!) and so his great-uncle left the house to his legitimate nephew rather than his illegitimate nieces. Already I’m wondering what society this reflects? Certainly not the one I live in, which stopped giving a…fig…about legitimacy back sometime in the seventies and where even the crown is now allowed to pass down the female line. To make it work, Trollope has had to make it overly complex and unbelievable…and we’re only at Chapter 1.

Poverty - Trollope-style
Poverty – Trollope-style

So the poor Dashwoods, with only £200,000 and a modern cottage given to them by other rich relatives, have to face up to living within straitened means. Why? Has the concept of going to work never occurred to any of them? Poor Elinor has to give up Uni. Why? Can’t she get a student loan and live in a bedsit like everyone else? To be fair, she does get her rich relatives to pull strings to get her a job. But the rest whine endlessly about lack of money making me want to a) hit them collectively over the head with a brick and b) explain that living in a four-bedroom cottage, running a car and popping up to London every weekend to go to parties isn’t really poverty!

Then we have Marianne (M!) – in this version a hysterical maniac, rather than the overly emotional but sweet and loving girl of the original. Suffering from constant asthma attacks (presumably because when we get a cold these days, we just take paracetemol and get on with it), she spends her time wheezing, gasping, sobbing, throwing tantrums and being revoltingly rude to everyone, and yet being so lovely throughout that no man can withstand her (invisible) charm. To explain this strange anomaly, Trollope tells us approximately 15,000 times that M is stunningly gorgeous, even whilst receiving Intensive Care. I shall brush quietly past the sex episode…

Joanna Trollope
Joanna Trollope

Shall I tell you about Wills(!)? Of course, single motherhood tends not to lead to death these days, so how does Ms Trollope resolve this conundrum and ensure that we understand that he’s a bad lot? Well, by making Wills, (who’s not just the ‘hottest boy in the county’, by the way, but a complete ‘shagbandit’ – charming) into a drug-pusher! Yes, little Eliza is a junkie…

Pah! I can’t bear to talk about this monstrosity any longer. I will leave you to imagine whingy Ellie, pathetic Ed, and Mags, the nightmare teenager with an iThing habit. I will ignore the fact that all the married women stay at home to look after their children. I will pretend I didn’t notice that we now have a Wills, a Harry and – yep, that’s right – the Middletons. I won’t even mention the youtube ‘trolling’ incident…and I refuse to think about the gay party-planner, Robert Ferrars, and his marriage of convenience…

‘One hundred parties in the last year!’ Mrs Jennings said. ‘Incredible. That’s one party every three nights that wouldn’t have happened without him!’
‘Too silly,’ Lucy said, looking straight at Elinor. ‘Brainless. My poor Ed must be cringing.’
‘Amaze,’ Nancy said from the sofa. ‘Amazeballs.’
Elinor took a step back.
‘Well, I suppose it’s good to be good at something.’

A fake book that tells us nothing authentic about today’s society – might work as a fluffy romance (except aren’t you supposed to like the heroines in them?) but doesn’t work as a serious novel, isn’t funny enough to be a comedy and is an insult rather than an homage to a great classic. Read at your peril…

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
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Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The nuances of birth and worth…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

jane austen completeMuch though I love Pride and Prejudice, and although Lizzie will always be my favourite Austen character, for me Sense and Sensibility is the better of the two books overall. That’s not to say it’s more enjoyable – P&P definitely wins out on both humour and romance. But in Sense and Sensibility, I feel Austen paints a more realistic picture of the lives of the ‘gentry’ of her period, and in this book we see much more clearly the constraints placed on young men, as well as on the women. The main thrust of the book is on the contrast of personality between the reserved and sensible Elinor and the frenetic romanticism of Marianne, but for me the more interesting element is what the book tells us about Austen’s late 18th/early 19th century society.

The book starts with a similar premise to P&P; the Dashwood family, all girls, find themselves forced to leave their home and reduced to genteel poverty when, on the death of their father, his house and estate pass down through the male line to the girls’ half-brother, John. There is, of course, no possibility that the girls could work, so they must survive on the little income they have, and look to kindly relatives (all male) to assist them. The only other alternative is to achieve a good match.

But in S&S, we also see the other side of the coin – Edward (Elinor Dashwood’s love interest) is an eldest son and as such has been brought up to be ornamental (which he’s not very good at) and useless (a skill he has pretty much mastered). And so his life is not his own – he must marry to please his mother or risk losing the wealth he has grown up to expect. But as a wealthy young man of a good family, he is considered a good match, despite this combination of uselessness and spinelessness. (Edward’s eventual ‘heroism’ was forced on him, so he deserves no praise for it.) Then we have Sir John Middleton: a kindly and generous man, distant relative of Mrs Dashwood, who offers the family not just a cottage on his estate, but also his friendship and concern for their future (i.e., marriage prospects). And how do the Dashwoods repay him? By looking down on his taste and manners, and the vulgarity of his relations by marriage. The nuances of a multi-tiered class-ridden society, where every tier is jealous of the one above while despising those below, are already becoming clear.

Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett as Elinor and Marianne
Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett as Elinor and Marianne

There are things I don’t like about S&S, but these too tend to shed light on the same class divides and gender roles. Lucy Steele is a much-maligned young lady, in my opinion. Why shouldn’t she have become betrothed to Edward? Should she really have said ‘No, no, I am too vulgar to marry such a sophisticated (and rich) young man’? What was it they all despised her for, except her birth and lack of education – two things she could not control? Why is Edward considered noble for sticking to an engagement he entered into willingly, while Lucy is reviled for not freeing him from it? Is Mrs Dashwood’s desire to marry her daughters to rich, or at least well-established, men any different to Lucy’s desire to escape her relative poverty through rich connections? And since everyone despises her anyway, why shouldn’t she act as she does at the end? I’m always rather glad that things work out for Lucy – she reminds me a little of a less entertaining, but more successful, Becky Sharp.

brandonAnd then there’s Colonel Brandon – and of course I love him. But I can’t help feeling a little queasy that he fixes his passions on a seventeen-year-old girl barely out of the schoolroom and clearly immature. But he’s a rich landowner, and so again seen as a good match, and although Marianne makes it clear from the outset that she sees him as an old man, her entire family encourage her to think of him as a potential suitor. Would they have had he been poor, or even just comfortably off? Lastly Willoughby (the hottest boy in the county, according to the blurb for the Joanna Trollope remake) – a rake, yes, but does what he does because he can’t face disinheritance and, despite ruining one young woman and breaking another’s heart, gains back his place in respectable society within a very short space of time, by making a good though loveless match.

Not as sparkling as P&P, but with much more depth, Sense and Sensibility shows more clearly how this society operated through family alliances and marriage, with the young people of both sexes expected to conform to the wishes of their elders. While Lizzie and Jane are whisked off at the end, Mills & Boon style, to great houses and handsome men, the matches made by Elinor and Marianne are less glitzy but probably more realistic. Both books are great in their own right, but together they give a much fuller picture of the nuances of this complex society, where money and birth determined status and worth in an ever-fluctuating pattern.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen read by Lindsay Duncan

Published by AudioGo – running time 12 hrs 5 mins

The crucial character of Lizzie…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 for the book           🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 for the reading

pride and prejudice audioWhen I try to pin down why I love Pride and Prejudice as much as I do, it really comes down to the character of Lizzie – her warmth, her strength and her humour. Lizzie, had she gone as governess to Thornton Hall, would not have moped around after the rather unpleasant Mr Rochester – no, indeed! She would have been annoyed at his behaviour, disgusted by his morals (or lack thereof), and would have set him straight on points of etiquette towards governesses and wards. Fortunately, Darcy is not as unpleasant as Rochester and, as well as the major benefit of not having a mad wife locked in the attic, is considerably better-looking.

I’m jesting a little, but there is a point – an independent-minded, strong heroine without her own fortune who is willing to turn down a man with as much material wealth as Darcy is a rarity in nineteenth century fiction. The position of ‘gentlewomen’ was such that, unless they controlled a fortune of their own, their welfare was entirely dependent on their male relatives – fathers, brothers, husbands. It’s hard for us to imagine what that must have been like. We get upset today when we hear of forced marriages, and even arranged marriages are anathema to many of us. But Lizzie and women of her era were expected to accept any offer that came with enough gold attached – you only have to look at Mrs Bennet’s reaction to Lizzie’s refusal of Mr Collins to get a feel for the pressure that girls were put under.

the definitive Lizzie
The definitive Lizzie

OK, this is fiction, and it all works out in the end…but there are other characters in Austen’s work that show the misery of the genteel poverty that many women were forced to live in through lack of a good marriage – Miss Bates in Emma, for instance. This is the future that may well have loomed for Lizzie if she failed to ‘secure’ a husband. How brave, then, to refuse Darcy! And for good reasons – not because she had fallen in love with some disreputable rascal but because she felt his proud manners and lack of concern for the feelings of others made him truly unlikeable.

But does she then boast of her conquest? Or mope over a missed opportunity? No! She keeps her feelings to herself and turns her strength and humour towards cheering up her beloved but blighted-in-love sister Jane, helping her mother and father get through the unfortunate Lydia incident and generally being the rock of the family. And, instead of resenting Darcy for having been proved right about her family, she is open and honest enough to reflect on his words and actions and to discern the goodness of character that hides behind his forbidding exterior. And a word of praise for Darcy here too – many a young man would have bitterly resented Lizzie’s refusal, but Darcy too reflects and comes to see the justice in her harsh words to him.

“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.”

Lindsay Duncan
Lindsay Duncan

All of this is a long preamble to explain why, although I love Lindsay Duncan nearly as much as I love Lizzie, her interpretation of Lizzie didn’t work for me in this audio-disc set. She has a lovely speaking voice and is one of my favourite actresses, but somehow she makes Lizzie sound hard and rather unladylike in this – I could imagine this Lizzie turning into a middle-aged scold. When she spoke the line about Lizzie dating her love for Darcy from ‘my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley’ it didn’t sound like the self-mocking joke that it is in the book. When she gently mocks Darcy at the end, it doesn’t sound gentle and I could imagine them in a few years as one of those harridan-wife/hen-pecked-husband couples that Dickens would have enjoyed so much. Somehow the humour of Austen’s writing and the fundamental and crucial happiness of Lizzie’s nature didn’t shine through. In fact, I felt that, when speaking the dialogue, most of the girls sounded far too old and a bit fishwifely (especially poor Charlotte), whereas in the non-dialogue passages, when using her natural speaking voice, Duncan’s tone is perfect for the book.

So overall I thought this was a very good reading that would probably work well for someone coming fresh to the book with no preconceived ideas, but it just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. 5 stars for the book, of course, but only 4 for the reading.

"You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
The perfect ending…

NB This audio-disc set was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 5…

Episode 5

 

A slight change to TBR Thursday this week, due to the fact that this has been a terrible week for the old TBR. A combination of NetGalley, Amazon Vine and my own total lack of willpower means my list has grown to a ridiculous and out-of-control 104! So instead of adding yet another, I thought I’d share some of the books already on there that I’m looking forward to reading over the next few weeks…

Courtesy of NetGalley:

 

the war that ended peaceI remember once being asked to write an essay explaining the causes of the First World War in 800 words. This book looks as though it will go into the subject in considerably more depth…

“Beginning in the early nineteenth century, and ending with the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, award-winning historian Margaret MacMillan uncovers the huge political and technological changes, national decisions and – just as important – the small moments of human muddle and weakness that led Europe from peace to disaster. This masterful exploration of how Europe chose its path towards war will change and enrich how we see this defining moment in our history.”

*****

elizabeth of yorkInexplicably, I’ve never read any of Alison Weir’s books. Time to remedy that…

“Elizabeth is an enigma. She had schemed to marry Richard III, the man who had deposed and probably killed her brothers, and it is likely that she then intrigued to put Henry Tudor on the throne. Yet after marriage, a picture emerges of a model consort, mild, pious, generous and fruitful. It has been said that Elizabeth was distrusted and kept in subjection by Henry VII and her formidable mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, but contemporary evidence shows that Elizabeth was, in fact, influential, and may have been involved at the highest level in one of the most controversial mysteries of the age.

Alison Weir builds an intriguing portrait of this beloved queen, placing her in the context of the magnificent, ceremonious, often brutal, world she inhabited, and revealing the woman behind the myth, showing that differing historical perceptions of Elizabeth can be reconciled.”

*****

Bellman & BlackI’ve seen some reviews of this that have been disappointing, but all from people who had read Diane Setterfield’s first book and felt this didn’t live up to expectations. I haven’t read The Thirteenth Tale so am intrigued to see if I’ll enjoy it more…

“Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget . . .

Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born.”

*****

Courtesy of Vine:

 

sense and sensibility trollopeWhat was I thinking? A remake of Sense and Sensibility for the modern age?? Yeuch!! I absolutely know I’m going to hate this…unless of course I love it…

“Joanna Trollope’s much anticipated contemporary reworking of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility will launch The Austen Project and be one of the most talked about books of 2013.

Two sisters could hardly be more different. Elinor Dashwood, an architecture student, values discretion above all. Her impulsive sister Marianne displays her creativity everywhere as she dreams of going to art school. But when the family finds itself forced out of Norland Park, their beloved home for twenty years, their values are severely out to the test. Can Elinor remain stoic knowing that the man she likes has been ensnared by another girl? Will Marianne’s faith in love be shaken by meeting the hottest boy in the county? And when social media is the controlling force at play, can love ever triumph over conventions and disapproval?”

On the upside, it’s a great excuse to re-read the real thing…

*****

Pre-orders:

jeeves and the wedding bellsThis could be as big a mistake as Sense and Sensibility…or it could be wonderful…

“A gloriously witty novel from Sebastian Faulks using P.G. Wodehouse’s much-loved characters, Jeeves and Wooster, fully authorised by the Wodehouse estate.

Bertie Wooster, recently returned from a very pleasurable soujourn in Cannes, finds himself at the stately home of Sir Henry Hackwood in Dorset. Bertie is more than familiar with the country house set-up: he is a veteran of the cocktail hour and, thanks to Jeeves, his gentleman’s personal gentleman, is never less than immaculately dressed. On this occasion, however, it is Jeeves who is to be seen in the drawing room while Bertie finds himself below stairs – and he doesn’t care for it at all.

Love, as so often, is at the root of the confusion. Bertie, you see, has met Georgiana on the Côte d’Azur. And though she is clever and he has a reputation for foolish engagements, it looks as though this could be the real thing…”

*****

saints of the shadow bibleAnd finally, most eagerly anticipated, my beloved Rebus! One I know for sure I’ll love…won’t I?

“Rebus is back on the force, albeit with a demotion and a chip on his shoulder. A thirty-year-old case is being reopened, and Rebus’s team from back then is suspected of foul play. With Malcolm Fox as the investigating officer are the past and present about to collide in a shocking and murderous fashion? And does Rebus have anything to hide?

His colleagues back then called themselves ‘the Saints’, and swore a bond on something called ‘the Shadow Bible’. But times have changed and the crimes of the past may not stay hidden much longer, especially with a referendum on Scottish independence just around the corner.

Who are the saints and who the sinners? And can the one ever become the other?”

*****

All blurbs are taken from either Amazon or NetGalley.

What do you think? Any of these that you’re looking forward to too? Or are there other new releases you’re impatiently awaiting?