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Archive for May, 2011

Title: The Thirteenth Tale

Author: Diane Setterfield

Published: Orion, 2006

Genre: Novel

Blurb: Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.  It was once the imposing home of the March family – fascinating, manipulative Isabelle, Charlie, her brutal and dangerous brother, and the wild, untamed twins, Emmeline and Adeline.  But Angelfield House conceals a chilling secret whose impact still resonates…

Now Margaret Lea is investigating Angelfield’s past — and the mystery of the March family starts to unravel.  What has the house been hiding?  What is its connection with the enigmatic author Vida Winter?  And what is it in Margaret’s own troubled past that causes her to fall so powerfully under Angelfield’s spell?

How I came to own it: I BookMooched this at the recommendation of Katie, aka The Old English Rose.

What I thought: Firstly, I’d like to (rather lazily) direct you to Katie’s review of this book. Katie has a real gift for recreating a novel’s atmosphere, and it was this review which inspired me to get a copy in the first place. Katie’s blog is professional and reader-centred, while I use mine more for keeping track of my own reading. When I was at secondary school, we had to keep a ‘reading log’, an exercise which I thoroughly enjoyed, and this is now the online equivalent. In short, if you’re here (and I somehow doubt anyone is), I rejoice at it and you’re most welcome, but you might be happier there.

Back to the book. Everything Katie said, but I’d like to add…. Firstly, I loved this book! It was so indulgent. I particularly enjoyed tracing the influence of novels like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. The Heights-like, many-voiced, many-layered narrative structure was done particularly well. The only real niggle for me was the post-scriptum: I had thought that one of the novel’s achievements so far was its ability to be outrageous and to flirt with the supernatural whilst remaining believable. The post-scriptum broke that spell and suddenly I was irritated rather than enchanted. The whole point of the supernatural is that it’s just around the corner. It’s not in your face and it can’t be confirmed. The minute a ghost turns up with his head under his arm and says ‘Oooh,’ he ceases to be frightening or interesting and he becomes a figure of fun. Not quite as bad as Philippa’s Melusina, but it’s the same thing. I love the gothic genre and I love the supernatural in fiction, but for goodness’ sakes, keep it unknowable and keep in ambiguous, or just wave goodbye to reality completely and call the ghost Casper.

Rant over. Snip off the post-scriptum and this is one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

Rating: 4.5/5

How I’m doing: 45 to go.

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The Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: Mary Barton

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Published: Penguin, 1994 (originally 1848)

Genre: Novel

Blurb: When John Barton’s wife dies in childbirth, his daughter Mary becomes ‘the light of his hearth, the voice of his otherwise silent home’.

She is silently adored by Jem Wilson, whom she has known since childhood, yet she is determined to break away from the poverty of her background and rejects his love. Without her father’s knowledge she is courted by the self-satisfied, handsome Harry Carson, son of a rich mill-owner, who represents everything John Barton abhors. Unable to find work as a weaver, surrounded by poverty and starvation, John Barton becomes increasingly embittered against the richer classes and strives to bring about change. His efforts prove fruitless and he is driven to commit a crime that is to have deep repercussions on all those around him.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s story of Manchester life in the 1840s is at once a powerful portrayal of a divided society and a moving love story in which she gives voice to the terrible suffering of the working classes and the anguished emotions of her characters.

How I came to own it: I bought or mooched it after it was recommended on Twitter.

What I thought: This is an excellent read, and one that gets better as it goes on. In the early scenes I was frustrated by the stereotypical sentimental description of the struggles of the Victorian poor. But this faded and was replaced with ideas that were radical and ahead of their time, and with a moral ‘message’ which, though explicitly stated, did not make me want to punch the narrator on the nose. It was, for the most part, sensitively handled and I felt myself sympathising with Gaskell’s world view. I was reminded of a less fluffy version of one of my favourite historical novels, The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge: there was the same Christian ethos and genuine goodness in characters that I came to love. I also saw the novel in a new light when a friend explained to me that much of the content Gaskell had experienced first hand, as she was a minister’s wife in Manchester and did relief work amongst the poor.

Rating: 4.5/5

How I’m doing: 46 to go.

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“In my mailbox” is a not-very-weekly-in-my-case meme hosted by The Story Siren in which people share the books that they have acquired that week. I threw the rules out of the window long ago. Just keeping it to attempt to fool myself into believing I have some kind of structure going on.

I went to a glorious heaven of a book shop in an old train station at Alnwick, Northumberland and I had to buy something, so I picked up:

I love Gaskell and I haven’t read nearly enough. Plus it’ll be useful for the Victorian Literature Challenge.

TBR pile back up to 47.

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