Tuesday, 28 May 2019

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

“There was something appealing in thinking of a character with a secret life that her author knew nothing about. Slipping off while the author’s back was turned, to find love in her own way. Showing up just in time to deliver the next bit of dialogue with an innocent face.” 

It is entirely possible that you may have heard of this novel before. I'm almost entirely sure I've seen the movie adaptation and yet nothing detailed springs to mind. I really needed a delightful foray into the realms of light romantic comedy in order to escape some really, rather stressful times. This should have fit the bill. After all, I was very taken with Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and was therefore keen to explore more of the author's work.

While trying to complete a list of five essential Jane Austen inspired works - indeed I've only got one more to go -  I stubbed on this one and was enthusiastic about cracking the spine. Sadly, I was a little disappointed. I've been naturally distracted by visits to the local hospital, so perhaps not all the blame can be laid on the book - rather, perhaps its just me. I have vague recollections of the characters and the action and yet my overwhelming impression is one of misty confusion. That and a fleeting discussion about Ursula Le Guin. Actually I don't even remember the movie adaptation, other than it starred Emily Blunt.

I'm looking forward to my good friend and fellow bibliophile Nicki's take on this one to see whether I should re-visit in in less distracting times. My current romantic confusion is a life raft in turbulent times from unexpected quarters and everything is being called into question. Ergo, my ability to provide some well thought out review at this point is unlikely. Think re-examined feelings a la Persuasion,  rather than any Sense and Sensibility.

2 out of 5 book clubs are fuelled by vino.

Inverted World by Christopher Priest

“I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.”

While I have to say this particular novel took me what seemed like an age to complete, upon reflection, it is perhaps better than I initially thought. I say that because its world building style is strange in proportion and bears reflection upon completion.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you too much more. There were moments of keen interest and yet the laborious read I endured, distracted by a new job and other circumstances, rather detracted from my enjoyment of it.

This is one of those rare instances where the visual elements of the novel suggest to me that it would make a more interesting film or TV series than a novel. After all the author did pen The Prestige  which was adapted as a Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson movie - so anything is possible.

3 out of 5 - spatial awareness is intriguing but not quite enough to keep me engaged.


Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

“Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.”

I was lucky enough to see Max Porter's opening address to the Sydney Writer's Festival and immediately invested in a copy of this. His speech was a roller coaster of emotions about the impending doom that is change. I'm afraid my review will be a little light on, as it is difficult to discuss an amazing narrative around grief and loss when you're trying to focus on the more positive outcomes in life.

I've spent a week visiting my mother in hospital and it has been rather trying and all encompassing. I will posit that you should explore this slim volume that couches a torrent of emotions in a highly poetic style, despite my rather insignificant review. I wish I could write and indeed deliver an address as passionately as Mr Porter.

5 out of 5 feathers make me sneeze.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

“Dear God, she thought, was that what she was known for? Although it was true she was an eater —she had eaten  her way through grief, she had eaten her way through what had passed for love, she had eaten her way through the war (when she could).”

I have always loved a good spy novel. One of the most attractive aspects of this fantastic example of the genre is its female protagonist. A far cry from any James Bond style hero, Juliet Armstrong is a naïve eighteen-year-old recruited by M15 to listen in on potential enemies of the state. Her duties are transcribing conversations ( hence the title) and yet she is drawn into more thrilling intrigues. Never leave your handbag behind ladies!
Later, as she reflects on her exciting past, shadowy figures reappear and it seems like her relatively harmless role at the BBC might not save her from the threats of the past. 
Unfortunately, between reading (and thoroughly enjoying) the novel, it has taken me a few weeks to be close to a functioning computer (alas poor Mac Air —your death has rocked my world). That is the reason why my review is so little light on detail. The old grey cells have turned to mush without use.
Don’t let that dissuade you from seeking out this engaging and thrilling work. This was one of those books that I closed with a particularly satisfied smile.

5 out of 5 walls have ears.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

“I am not entirely persuaded that selling a book is like selling a pig.”

Lately I have been without a laptop and it has been an almost unbearable pain. As such my reviewing capability has been severely impeded! I know you are just dying to know what I’ve been reading… and who am I to let you down?
I’m working my way through a top 5 list of Jane Austen adjacent novels and the premise for this one is fabulous. Imagine having the technology to go back in time and potentially retrieve a lost work by one of your literary idols. Crazy!
When Rachel and Liam do exactly that, they can hardly foresee the impact they might have on the future. Rachel is a Doctor in the future and Liam pretends to be one under her tutelage. Their entrée into the Austen family is Jane’s ailing brother. The adventurous time travellers will need all their cunning and fake currency to inveigle themselves into Jane Austen’s world. As if that’s not distracting enough…. The rather comely Liam is a source of romantic distraction and the world will never be the same.

Such a delight. If you adore time travel tales and are secretly a literary nerd – this is the ticket!!

 5 out of 5 trips backwards can trip you up.

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

"At a first glance Lucy felt that she was in a singularly bad museum."

Goodness I’ve been a busy girl. I started reading this novel in my spare time, waiting for people, on my phone. I started reading it in January…. And now it is half way through May! It was almost as if the action transpired in actual, real time! 

When I was a young thing, probably around the age of eight, I devoured every Agatha Christie book I could get my little hands on to. At twelve, I’d moved on to more serious works. I seem to have pretty much forgotten the content of all of them and am at the stage where I can re-read. 
What is stunning is how tame they are. While the body count rises, it is in a fairly demure fashion and just as much time, if not more, is dedicated to the romantic trysts of Miss Marple’s “plant” into Rutherford Hall as to the deathly details of the plot. 

I remember always using the name Mrs McGillicuddy as a fake name when I was a child and I’m quite convinced that this may have been the source. I certainly never met anyone of that name. Weirdly it seems the only aspect of the book that I recall. 

The action commences on a train, where said Mrs McG ( for brevity) witnesses the strangulation of a woman whose body then mysteriously disappears. She is generally not believed by anyone, save her friend, Miss Marple. Queue murder mystery drama. 

I can’t say this was my favourite Agatha Christie novel, to be fair though, I was reading something like a page or two at a time and I still managed to follow the action. Perhaps that reflects its serialisation origins in the 50s. 

I found a really interesting article reflecting back on Christie’s work from a modern perspective and perhaps the quote that called to me the strongest was from John Banville, who said, on Christie:

There is something too neat, too removed and too tidy for me about the crimes in this novel. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun read. Who doesn’t love a big fancy house, a plucky cook/housekeeper and an old lady who always has the answers? 

4 out of 5 curries do not contain arsenic on purpose.