“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” – Henry Ward Beecher
April saw me (yet again) ignore blogging… But I did read a bit, so there’s that…
Daphne Du Maurier, Jamaica Inn
When 23 year old Mary Yellan’s mother dies, she finds herself alone, and travels to Cornwall to live with her Aunt and Uncle at Jamaica Inn. Finding herself in the middle of a smuggling ring, Mary must establish week is telling the truth – and how to stay safe…
I read Rebecca years ago and enjoyed it, so I was intreagued by how different Jamaica Inn was – while the rather Gothic tension was familiar, that was the end of the similarities. Jamaica Inn isn’t the most challenging book I’ve ever read – the plot is surprisingly simple – and at times I found myself wondering why it is so lauded. It’s slow. Nothing much happens until the last few chapters. The “twist” isn’t really that surprising… But it is incredibly atmospheric, something that I find a lot of more modern novels lack. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been curled up next to a log fire with the wind and rain outside, but it was a good pick anyway.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, shares her advice and wisdom on living creatively in this self help slash biographical tome. Outlining the reasons why people don’t explore their creativity, and encouraging us to ignore the “fear” which stops most of us from exploring our full potential, Gilbert writes frankly about her own experiences to encourage the reader.
I’ve found myself struggling to find my creative mojo recently. In absolutely no way did this book help – if anything, I finished it feeling more frustrated than I did to begin with. While I have no doubt that Gilbert is well intentioned, her never-ending stories about her own success frustrated me and I found it increasingly repetitive. This could be because I listened to it rather than read it, which did tend to emphasise how little she actually says. A one hour TED talk? Yes. A six hour audiobook? No. Ultimately it also failed to address the key reason that a lot of people I know are not “living creatively” – frankly, we’ve not worked out what we are good at yet. If you’re into her books, or think writing is your thing, give it a go. If you’re looking for advice and inspiration? Don’t bother.
Rosalie Ham, The Dressmaker
Myrtle Dunnage shocks the Australian town of Dungatar when she returns from a long absence to look after her mentally ill mother. Why do they all think she is cursed? Why did she leave, all those years ago as a teenager? And how did she become such a skilled seamstresses? Rosalie Ham’s debut novel, set in the 1950s, explores themes of prejudice, love… and fashion.
After seeing trailers for the film version of this book at the beginning of the year, I decided to give the original a go. Myrtle – now known as Tilly – is a fascinating lead character, an outcast who has been wronged by her community, and I enjoyed watching her revenge playing out over the course of the novel. To an extent though she is more of a vessel to tell the story of a town inhabited by individuals who struggle with their own happiness, and despite the slow first third of the book, I found the ekeing out of the stories of the other personalities just as interesting as Tilly’s, if not more so. It’s hard to describe The Dressmaker without giving anything away, but its fair to say that Ham has a knack for drawing a character and I found myself both laughing and crying at different parts. Worth a read, particularly if you didn’t catch the film.
Alexander McCall Smith, The Novel Habits of Happiness
The tenth novel in McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series sees our philosopher heroine drawn into a mystery of identity – that of a small boy, Harry, who is convinced that he has lived on this earth before and who is unsettling his mother with tales of another family. Isabel’s professional life is also thrown into disarray as she discovers that her unpleasant former colleague may be relocating to Edinburgh…
There’s several reasons I enjoy McCall Smith’s “philosophy” series, and I suspect they are the same reasons that other people don’t. The setting is in many ways the star, which suits me fine but I suspect would put others off as the nuances (such as the significance of where characters live) are likely to be lost unless you know Edinburgh. Similarly, McCall Smith has a tendency to add in smatterings of what I can only assume are his own interests – Auden poetry and ruminations on morality for example – and I do find myself wondering if there is an element of biography in the series. But despite these niggles he writes an excellent character and is one of the only male authors I can think of who can successfully write a woman. One of the reasons that Isobel is such a strong lead character is that she is flawed, particularly in this book, where she finds herself repeatedly ill at ease. In many ways not much happens plot wise, I suspect that it’s largely scene setting for later in the series, but even still McCall Smith offers a gentle but firm reminder to his readers that quite often our assumptions are wrong – and that the adage that we are all fighting our own secret battle is often worth remembering.
Kerry Greenwood, Flying Too High
In the second of the Phryne Fisher mystery series, we discover that our daring investigator is not only clever and beautiful – she’s also an excellent pilot! After a rather daring day at an airfield, Phryne is asked to investigate two different mysteries. The first – the murder of an unpleasant businessman whose son is protesting his innocence despite being charged. The second – the kidnapping of a young girl just weeks after her father wins the lottery. Can Miss Fisher save the day?
After enjoying the first in this series last month, I thought I’d keep going and give the second a try. In many ways I enjoyed it more than the first as we get to know not only Miss Fisher a little better, but her growing band of sidekicks too. The novel itself is pretty short but captures the essence of the 1920s incredibly well, particularly the controversial nature of women’s roles in society. While it would be easy to write off the series as daft, frankly I’d rather call it entertaining fun – and we all need a light-hearted read now and then. I’m looking forward to the next already.