The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice. I decided early on, that this would be one of the books to read in the summer (I think it was the cheerful colors of the cover that made me think it would be a perfect ‘summer book’), and also I hadn’t read anything of Eva Rice before, so this seemed a good choice to start with. It’s about ‘the roaring 60’s in London’, but also about growing up in the country, adolescence, sisterhood, loving horses so much that you sneak into the rich neighbour’s stable and ride her horse, about friendship, dreams come true and crushed. There were a lot of things I enjoyed in this book, especially the early parts, when the main character Tara and her older sister Lucy grows up, how they experience their first crush when they barely know what a crush is (Tara), or become utterly and hopelessly infatuated with the beauty of Victorian architecture when up until then beauty has been your one defining trait in the eyes of the world (Lucy).
I don’t know why I eventually, and definitely towards the end of the book, became a bit disenchanted with the whole story, when there was so much I enjoyed and was touched by, and when it all started out so promising. I can’t really put my finger on it other than the fact that I maybe expected something more, or some other kind of conclusion? Maybe it is also the feeling that while the early parts of the books that details the main character’s childhood and early adolescense, everything happens quickly and the years rush by in the later parts. (But I’m not even sure if this was really the case or only my memory of it). So, an enjoyable read that still left me unsatisfied somehow.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Oh. Where to begin. As many fans, Sarah Waters name already had a promising glow when I came around to read this book. I had only read one work of her before, Tipping the Velvet, and loved it, but somehow didn’t read anything else before I found The Little Stranger in a second-hand bookshop and had it within my reach during this already bookfilled summer. It had just come to my knowledge that Waters would be publishing a new book, The Paying Guests, soon, and in anticipating its release I decided to read some of her other work. So, The Little Stranger it was. I had actually started reading it a couple of years ago, in the Swedish translation. I think I read a couple of chapters but then I didn’t get further somehow. This time around I became completely immersed in it and oh, god! I LOVE when a book is such a success on so many levels. Like, being a seriously terrifying ghost story, while at the same time being a book about class, to belong, the fall of the aristocracy, the power in gender dynamics… I loved everything. I was working at my summer job at the time, and it is a job where you have either a lot of things to do or nothing to do, so I read parts of the book during the quieter hours. All the while, a pianist was rehearsing some modern piece nearby, with a lot of dissonant and spine-chilling chords, and I have to say that those enhanced the horror of the creepier parts in the book up to the part that I felt like I was sitting right in the midst of a horror movie.
The protagonist: Dr Faraday, the doctor with a working class background who becomes a close friend to the remaining members of the Ayres family in the harrowing Hundreds Hall, a mansion that is definitely past its prime. I watched an interview with Sarah Waters shortly after finishing the book where she stated that she thinks the main character is a likeable man, really. Just not so pleasant all the time. Well, I for my part have never experienced a character starting out as likeable or at least someone you sympathize with, to become so utterly unlikeable as this one. It’s a fantastic job. If anyone else has read the book I’m happy to discuss him, and the book’s contents more in depth in the comments.
I also finished this book well past midnight, NOT something I recommend. But in short, it’s a fantastic book and I became an even greater fan of the author after it.
Consequences by E.M Delafield. Alex Clare is the eldest daughter in a wealthy Victorian family, and has been made to feel awkward, out of place and chastized for being ‘oversensitive’, all her life. It is a story of an individual who desperately wants to belong but is rejected by others, time and time again.
Oh, my heart. I have been lusting after all the gorgeous Persephone Books by forgotten or undervalued authors for awhile before I decided to buy Consequences and Alas, Poor Lady. Consequences is not only the first Persephone book, but also the first book by E.M Delafield I’ve read.
I have to say, reading about Alex’s childhood was a painful experience, not only from an adult viewpoint, where you see on how many levels and in what ways this child was let down early on and left feeling inadequate, without those responsible for her upbgringing once making the effort to meet her needs. There were a lot of things in Alex’s behaviour I recognized from my own childhood, and the constant clash between intention and consequences she experienced. So, in some ways, reading about her experiences and recognizing my own as trying to fit into an all too narrow gender role resonated very deeply with me. And I was very saddened by how her life progressed. This is by no means a feel good-story. There are very few – if any – bright moments. I also felt very clearly, that the difference between Alex Clare’s Victorian childhood and my own younger self, is that the time and society I grew up in was one where I eventually got the possibility to acquire the tools to carve out my own place and becoming lucky enough to be able to rest in the belief that being who I am has a worth and is okay, regardless of what restrictive norms and expectations say. But Alex is not so lucky; having lost the battle of cultural norms early on she is only viewed as inadequate, a failure, not worthy of love or respect and this is something she quickly internalizes having nothing and no one around her to contradict this belief. Delafiled makes a very great point in showing how society in those days – and to this day – let its women down by not giving them any worth beyond their looks and ability to please their environment.
Alex’s story is therefore an immensely important one, no matter how disheartening. There has been a lot of discussions in the latest years of Strong Female Characters, discussions that have dismantled this trope and pointed out the necessity of allowing female characters to be human, flawed, or even victimized without it diminishing their worth as characters and human beings. These discussions have been very needed, and I think it is very good that people have started to question the love that Strong Female Characters receive and the hate that their less fortunate sisters get. Alex’s story is just a story like that, of a woman who couldn’t cope, who never got the chance to be ‘strong’ and to ‘rise above’ her hardships. And that is okay.
While England Sleeps by David Leavitt. This is going to be short because this is the one book that didn’t stand out as much as the other outstanding books of the summer. That being said, it is a really elegantly written, heartbreaking love story between upper-class aspriring writer Brian Botsford and idealistic and politically active Edward Phelan, in the 1930’s era of war and political turmoil. I loved Leavitt’s prose, subtle and just flowing, and it reminded me at times of Wodehouse (particularly at the beginning where Brian meets a wealthy aunt for lunch who never stops asking when he is going to be married) or perhaps Wodehouse with more sex is a better description. As for the other aspects of the story, after We were Liars and Consequences took their emotional toll on me, I felt I didn’t have enough feelings left for one more heart-breaking story. So I think this books deserves to be read when you’re not hung over from other devastating books.
Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour. Emi is a young set designer who just have suffered from one of several break-ups from longstanding partner (but this time for good). Summer is coming up, and her brother leaves town at lets her leave in his luxurious flat in Little Venice while away. Emi and her friend jumps to the occasion. But this is also the summer she meets Ava, a beautiful, enigmatic girl she at once falls in love with. As they get to know each other and start to work on the same film project, they become closer and Emi soon realizes much more to Ava than her own quick idealizations of her.
I really liked this book. Firstly, it absolutely makes you want to become a set designer yourself. The passion and interest that goes into describing the minute details of Emi’s working life (how to find the couch with just the right shade for a scene, or happening to find the perfect music-stand in the second hand-shop) is simply wonderful. And oh, the slowly developing love story!! And particularly on that starts with idolization on one part, but is explored and grows into so much, and this is handled so beautifully.
Plain Kate by Erin Bow. Katerina Svetlana, called Plain Kate, grows up in the town of Samilae, where her father is woodcarver and where she quickly learns the trade herself. They have always been poor, but when her father dies Kate is left with nothing. As the years go by she barely manages to make living out of selling wood carvings. But her life becomes more complicated when the ‘witch-white’ stranger Linay comes to the market. He quickly recognizes the exposed position Kate is in and offers to give her her heart’s wish if she gives him her shadow. Kate refuses and Linay immediately knows how to exploit her position in the community. When rumours of witchcraft are starting to spread all suspicious eyes are directed at Kate, and she must choose between staying or fleeing with the Roamer people in search of safer life.
I loved the atmosphere in this novel. It starts out really simply, like a folk tale, and the tone is very subtle, from beginning to end. What it does is telling a story of poverty, desperation and grief, but also the power of letting things go. It is a beautiful book. Erin Bow has written two other fantasy themed books, and I can’t wait to read more of her work.
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. I started reading this book earlier in the year and this once more proved how unfair it is to a book to start reading it in hectic times, then put it aside a month or two, and then start reading again and finishing it in a rush. That’s what happened with The Lifeboat for me, and I’m sorry for it, since it affected my reading experience. It is a great story, with a hypnotic narrative voice and I became really engaged in the story when I started reading it. The story is about Grace Winter, one of three survivors from a lifeboat. It is the summer of 1914 that catastrophe strucks; Grace and Henry are newly wed and on their way to Henry’s family in America on an elegant ocean liner. But something goes wrong, an explosion makes the linear sink and Grace is one of the people who gets a secured place at a lifeboat, along with 49 other passengers. As they drift away at the sea, the days go by without any rescue in sight, it quickly comes apparent that they are too many in the boat, and not everyone can expect to survive.
I don’t think I can elaborate much more, because it is really one of those books where it doesn’t ‘happen’ very much, still the story has a quiet intensity in the relations between the characters and the desperate situation they are all in. Moreover, we get the whole experience narrated of Grace’s point of view, since she is requested to recount all her memories of the days in the lifeboat in the subsequent trial when she and the two other survivors are accused of murder.
Because of my interrupted and rushed reading, I really can’t remember more of the experience than the atmosphere and how much Grace’s narration draw me in, but it is definitely a very intense and interesting read, and one that certainly will benefit from a reread on my part.
Three Bedrooms in Manhattan by Georges Simenon. Simenon has been in my TBR-pile for quite a while, someone listed him as a favorite thriller/detective-writer, and since I haven’t read much thrillers from the 40’s I thought I would expand my reading horizon by reading one. Also, my copy being a slim volume, I thought it would be nice with a quick read.
There is a reason I don’t read male writers from the 1940’s. And the following description will come with spoilers because they are necessary to articulate my frustration with the book. So, the reason I don’t read male writers from the 1940’s is because I don’t appreciate being slapped in the face with unapologetic misogyny and sexism.
Trigger warning: abuse, sexual violence.
It starts harmlessly enough; a recently divorced middle-aged male writer sits in his Manhattan apartment, unable to sleep. He decides to take a walk in the night and eventually ends up at a pub. There he meets a woman who seems equally lost and they start to flirt. So far so good, the writing is smooth, the atmosphere draws you in, the setting is very film noir-ish. I even like it. So the man and the woman start roaming the streets together in the night and finally rent a bedroom in a motel, where they become intimate. The next day is bright, the man feels refreshed, like his life has some kind of meaning again. Another night goes by as they drink and roam the streets together, and then finally end up in a bedroom. They are both lost souls and have inner struggles, problem is, this man’s struggles manifest themselves in the need to hit the woman, shame her, then being sorry for it, getting consoled because really, we should feel sorry for this poor messed-up man, and, another time, forcing her to have sex with him when she is too tired, and this just happens like it’s nothing, like something expected.
Oh, and let’s not forget the conclusion where the main “thriller moment” is creating a sickening atmosphere where the reader is made to wonder if the man is going to murder the woman or not. He doesn’t and they stay together in the end.
I was sickened to death with this book. I don’t care that it was well-written, because the protagonist’s behaviour is absolutely revolting and the whole novel reeks of the spirit of the time where this kind of behaviour is expected. Unsurprising. Natural. Like a fucking accident. And the sheer fact that the novel is said to bear a close resemblance to how the author met his second wife, and that the he was said to boast about his ‘sexual appetite’ that he needed ‘hundreds of prostitutes’ to satisfy makes me want to throw up.
I don’t care if he, or the book is a product of its time, it makes me sick to my stomach and if anything I seek to stay clear of reading experiences like this, because I honestly don’t need fiction that treats its female characters like lesser human beings.
It is the 1920’s, in the years after the Great War and Frances Wray and her mother are now struggling to make ends meet, once accustomed to an affluent life. Now that they don’t have the money to afford servants anymore, Frances makes most of the domestic work herself. It is also with a heavy heart they eventually make the decision to take on lodgers. The ‘paying guests’ are the clerk couple Lionel and Lily Barber. In the beginning Frances and her mother can only focus on the differences between themselves and the couple and they keep to themselves. But as Lionel starts working and is out of the house most of the time, and Frances’ mother visits friends and aquaintances, Francis and Mrs Barber are often the only ones left in the house and they soon let their guards down and start getting to know each other.
I don’t think I can write much else than this is a beautiful book. I never get tired of Waters’ insight into and compassion with her characters, the class differences, the intimacy. As the reader, you ARE Frances, and you feel everything she feels and want everything she wants. I also love how Waters never lets her queer heroines have stereotypical fates but actually gives them the chance to have fulfilling lives. Sarah Waters FTW.