As previously mentioned, this year I’m attempting my first ever monthly themed read. I’m not used to disciplining myself, or keeping to a reading deadline, so although I’ve relished the process of selecting a large pile of books from my shelves and local library, I’ve been reaching the month’s end with a frustratingly small number actually read. I give in to distractions, reading group books, and am always greedy for more books than I can make time to read.
This month I’ve time-travelled between 1920s Paris to York in the 1560s; New York in 1938 to London’s East End in the 1880s; London during the Suffragist’s struggle to the ton in Regency London, learning much about characters, feuds, passions and romance both real and entirely imaginary.
So, what I actually read this month was:
The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles Although centered around a trio of Katy (narrator), Eve and the alluring and enigmatic Tinker Grey, the relationships spiral outwards as character’s fates take them up or down. Evocative of time and place, his is an interesting debut novel. As slick, glamorous and ephemeral as the jazz age in New York this story is set, I was left wondering what was the novel’s central message.
The Paris Wife – Paula McLaine (April’s choice for my reading group) I know very little about Hemingway, having only read ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, thinking he’s a man’s writer. I was wrong. This fictionalisation of his first marriage to Hadley Richardson opens in Chicago 1920. The slightly naive and gauche Hadley meets the charismatic, handsome, young ‘Wem’ through mutual friends. Both young, Wem is only 20 although Hadley a little older, he’s the centre of his social circle; Hadley is on the edge. It is eventually Wem’s gregarious nature which undoes their marriage. Moving between Paris, Spain, Austria and Chicago, notorious characters from the literary Jazz Age make cameos such as Fitzgerald and Stein. The couple’s joy together, particularly once their son ‘Bumby’ joins them, is poignant knowing their marriage will fall apart through Hemingway’s inability to remain faithful. Based on the couple’s intimate letters, this novel so effectively captures Hadley’s voice and their loving relationship.I quick online search added an extra dimension as I found photographs of the young Hemingway and Hadley: handsome devil! The Sun Also Rises is now added to my ever-increasing ‘to read’ list.
Minerva, and The Taming of Annabelle – MC Beaton – The first two stories about the 6 Armitage sisters. Recently repackaged to build upon Beaton’s success with Hamish McBeth, Agatha Rasin and The Travelling Matchmaker series. These are light, very enjoyable Regency romances; perfect escapism and easy to flick through a few pages surreptitiously. I’m going to enjoy reading the rest of the series (bought at a bargain price).
Fifty Shades of Grey – EL James I’m going public: I confess! I read this year’s most talked about book based on an interview on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. I wouldn’t usually be attracted to a BDSM romance (in fact I’m still not entirely sure what it stands for; lots of rule-driven, complicated, sex of the bondage variety it seems), but enjoyed this as another escapist, easy to read, disposable novel. The sex became over the top; after a while I started to tune out, reading more for the relationship development than the ‘action’. That’s my main hesitation about the romance/erotic genre; I prefer sex in novels to be understated rather than overplayed. But now I have to read the rest of the trilogy to follow the story to its conclusion. I fear it will begin to be repetitive and tiresome but I’m learning some things along the way(!)
Half of the Human Race – Anthony Quin Another novel with romance at its heart, this centred on the lives of Constance, a suffragist and frustrated surgeon, and William, a county cricketer trying to prove his mettle. An expansive novel, I grew very fond of Connie but frustrated with William. I stayed up until 1am finishing this story; sign of a good read! One of Specsaver’s Channel 4 Book Club choices.
As I’m not used to a reading deadline, as we start May, I’m still reading:
The White Queen – Phillipa Gregory This, the first part of The Cousins’ War trilogy, explores the lives of the women at the heart of the struggle for kingship between the houses of York and Lancaster. I thought I knew something about the Wars of the Roses through history studies at A level, but there’s so much I knew nothing about. At heart, it’s another love story (an inadvertent theme this month) with more slaughter and peril than usual. Very enjoyable. I have the other two lined up, alongside some supplementary reading for more historical context.
The Somnambulist – Essie Fox Only just started this story of gothic Victorian mystery. Seems promising, taking a picture by John Millais as inspiration, and it has a gorgeous cover! I love a bit of Victorian gothic.
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer A remnant from March’s non-fiction attempt which reads so well, it’s a great accompaniment to anything set in the medieval period.
And I didn’t have enough time to give justice to the magisterial Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel I’ve managed the first few chapters, settling me into the feel of it, having listened to the first couple of cds of the audiobook. It’s on my Kindle (perfect for reading such a large novel) but I’ve been dipping into it rather than giving it a concentrated effort. One for my (virtual) ‘keep reading’ pile.
And now onto May: classic British detective fiction. Hoping to find some -as yet- unknown gems. Christie, Sayers, Allingham are the obvious starting points. Any suggestions?