Review: Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth

61816951With her satire on Anglo-Irish landlords in Castle Rackrent (1800), Maria Edgeworth pioneered the regional novel and inspired Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814). Politically risky, stylistically innovative, and wonderfully entertaining, the novel changes the focus of conflict in Ireland from religion to class, and boldly predicts the rise of the Irish Catholic bourgeoisie.

I can see why this book is so important in the history of women writers and political satire, however, I just found it quite a boring book. At least it’s a short boring book. There was little to interest the modern reader, and Thady Quirk was really not the most interesting of unreliable narrators.

Maria Edgeworth herself is a very interesting woman, and one whose works I would like to explore with more detail, in the vague hopes that it will be more interesting than this novella. Her writing really hasn’t translated well to modern life, and I think someone who was not familiar with the practice of rack renting and the absentee landlord system in place in Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries would find this book completely boggling without further context.

Thady tells his story with quite a dull narrative voice, though there are parts where he is comically thick. The story of his son’s rise to riches is pretty implausible, though I kind of felt like he was one of the more reasonable characters, since he didn’t seem like a total idiot… money snatching and devious, but not as thick or cruel as others.

Regardless, I was glad to get this book over with, which didn’t take too long, since it’s only around 100 pages long, with extensive footnotes. I felt like there could have been magic there, but it fell pretty flat in comparison to less heavy handed satires of society at the time.

2/5 stars.

Top Ten Tuesday: Badass Women Writers I Love

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Some authors are downright inspirational when they have little to no intention to be. Others force it, and fail miserably. Some don’t want to be inspiring at all, and try to make sure they couldn’t be accused of it. I like the first and the last particularly, though I haven’t really ever read too many books setting out to inspire, except maybe Eat, Pray, Love, and I don’t intend to repeat the experience anytime soon!

But these authors are all badass in their own way, and I love them for it!

  1. Anne Brontë

Anne was quiet and stoic, dealing primarily with her deadbeat brother Branwell, her wild sister Emily and her disparaging Charlotte. She’s often forgotten and overlooked, despite her genius being as great (in my opinion) as that of her sisters. She endured her fatal illness without much complaint, even after watched almost all of her siblings die around her. She wasn’t afraid to tackle really full on, socially unacceptable topics in her works, making her my favourite Brontë of them all!

2. Fanny Burney

Fanny Burney risked the censure of her family to write. She spent a long time in a French prisoner of war camp during the Napoleonic wars- but Napoleon himself told her he liked her work. She underwent a mastectomy without anaesthesia, and lived to write about it. She wrote about things that pushed the envelope, and didn’t apologise for it. Very, very awesome.

 

3. H.D.

This woman overcame so many things that would have kept most people down. Stillbirth, a horrible husband, a fiancee who not only criticised her work and deserted her professionally, but also had TWO OTHER fiancees on the side, an unwanted pregnancy and much much more, and that was only in the first 20 years of her life. She then went on to be thoroughly awesome (I hope in revenge) and had a fairly stable lesbian relationship with Bryher for over 40 years. You go, girl!

 

4. Virginia Woolf

However much I dislike some of her attitudes, Virginia Woolf was Queen and she knew it. She totally dominated the modernist groups, wrote like a total maniac for weeks on end and did some pretty revolutionary things. Despite all this, she was emotionally fragile and admitted it, which to me is a strong thing in itself.

 

5. Jean Rhys

Not only did Jean Rhys manage to hold her breath long enough to sleep with Ford Madox Ford, she also wrote the most scathing portrait of a man EVER in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie, and what’s more, he deserved it. Yes, she led a sad life, but she overcame so many things, such as bullying, racism, poverty and sexism. She even bounced back and smashed people’s expectations by publishing Wide Sargasso Sea, when people had assumed she’d succumbed to her raging alcoholism.

 

6. Rebecca West

I don’t even know where to begin with Rebecca West. She travelled through Yugoslavia on the brink of war, she hunted and shamed Nazis, she lived though terrible treatment from H.G. Wells and she wrote fabulous novels that deserve far more attention than they are given.

 

7. Colette

Her abusive absolute raging prick of a husband literally locked her in a room to write the Claudine novels, until she was so sick that she was on the edge of death. Then he claimed the novels and subsequent royalties as his own, t’then when he had been busted and spent all the money that should have been hers, he sold the rights to the books and left her utterly destitute, relying on dancing to scrape by. But scrape by she did, and went on to become even more unbelievably awesome.

 

8. Katherine Mansfield

Moving from a New Zealand sheep farm to London must have been quite the experience for a 19 year old woman, especially in the early 20th century. She somehow managed to be friends with Virginia Woolf without throttling her, a fear that seems to have been almost superhuman. She was bisexual, and had lovers of both sexes, including a Maori woman, which shows she wasn’t sucked in to the racism so prevalent in that era.

9. Maria Edgeworth

A contemporary of Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth was an Irish woman who wrote about some pretty controversial topics, especially Anglo-Irish relations in a time when this was distinctly improper for a woman to do so. She met Lord Byron and thought very little of him, which makes me like her even more. She wanted to write about traditional Irish culture when it was an unfashionable thing to do, and she wrote about interracial marriage in Belinda (though publishers later removed it from her work). When the Famine raged across her homeland, she campaigned tirelessly for relief for the poor.

10. Natalie Barney

Natalie Barney, an American expat who moved to Paris in the early 20th century, was well known for her outrageous parties and bohemian lifestyle. She ran a literary salon that drew some very famous attendees, including Colette and Edith Wharton. She ran hers in opposition to Gertrude Stein, and absolutely rocked it. Her outgoing and unashamed lesbian behaviour and cross dressing was considered deviant, but she discovered some of the biggest names in English literature, and told her critics to get stuffed!

 

Review: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

18300270Elinor is as prudent as her sister Marianne is impetuous. Each must learn from the other after they are they are forced by their father’s death to leave their home and enter into the contests of polite society. The charms of unsuitable men and the schemes of rival ladies mean that their paths to success are thwart with disappointment but together they attempt to find a way to happiness.

I have been wary of tackling this book for years, because I love the Emma Thompson movie version (Alan Rickman will forever be Snape and Colonel Brandon to me! Bless his soul.) I really didn’t want to be disappointed in the book, and had kind of tiptoed around beginning it at all. At Christmas time, however, I had a craving for Austen and thought that it was the perfect time to take on this book, leaving only Emma and Mansfield Park on my unread Austen pile. I’m frankly not looking forward to those two, because Emma seems like a character who will be really annoying and everyone seems to think Mansfield Park is the worst of the bunch.

This was reaaaaaaally slow for the first third, and I was having major trouble staying focussed on the book, which is so unlike me with an Austen! I was feeling pretty negative about it all, and disappointed in the flow of the book, so I limped along for a few days.

Slowly, I was totally immersed and couldn’t put it down! I was giggling at bits, reading out sections to my poor fiancee, who had no prior knowledge of the plot and the social etiquette being broken by the passage. It was absolutely hilarious at points!

Marianne was a difficult character for me to like, because she could be so rude and cruel to those who were kind to her, simply because she disliked some aspect of their character; mainly, that they offended her romantic view of the world. However, as the novel progressed, she became far more measured in attitude, especially after her climactic illness.

“And Marianne, who had the knack of finding her way in every house to the library, however it might be avoided by the family in general, soon procured herself a book.”

I don’t generally frequent homes with libraries, but I feel I would be the same!

Elinor was a far more relatable character for me, though I really wished in the beginning that she’d grow more of a backbone. She puts up with so much from her mother, sister and other relations, it’s no wonder she really wanted to get married and away from it all!

Austen has left the prolonged felicity of the couples in doubt, ending the book at a point that implies that the future is not necessarily stable. I like this about Austen, as she manages to combine the fairytale endings with stark reality, leaving there enough mystery for the future to get the reader thinking. I’d love to know how Marianne and Brandon got on, and whether Willoughby’s wife’s behaviour improved.

Overall, because of the slow start, i’d rate this book at the 3.5 star point. It’s far better than Northanger Abbey, but not as good as Pride and Prejudice. I felt like it was about on par with Persuasion, which I also very much enjoyed. Now I’ll have to go on to read the last two relatively soon, as I’m reading my way through the important classics from the 18th Century onwards!

 

Review: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

5290266The storyline of Miss Buncle’s Book (1934) is a simple one: Barbara Buncle, who is unmarried and perhaps in her late 30s, lives in a small village and writes a novel about it in order to try and supplement her meagre income.

 

For the first third of the book, I enjoyed it and found it charming, but easily forgettable. I dropped it for many weeks, almost forgetting that I hadn’t finished it, until on Christmas night I found myself lacking a book to read. Kindle at the ready, I took myself off to bed to read for a while. That “while” ended up being several hours, at which point the party I was avoiding ended, and I finally went to sleep. The next night, I again found myself up until 4 o’clock in the depths of finishing this book!

It was the perfect book for a laid back, Christmassy mood. No one wants to be slogging through the Russian greats when all your belly can do is grumble for another serving of ham and you’re pouring yourself your third Baileys (which for me is about 2.5 too many!) The premise is simple, the characters are funny and the story charming.

Miss Buncle is a rather quiet heroine, whom nobody suspects could possibly be clever enough to write a novel, let alone one so astute that could rock a little town to its core. She’s a smart cookie, and watches the townspeople with a keen eye. They have absolutely no idea that what they’re doing is feeding her content for her next book by acting like complete fools in regard to the first one, the aptly named Disturber of the Peace.

The leader of the band of naysayers is Mrs Featherstone-Hogg, a woman so caricatured that she manages to be exactly relatable to someone you know. She’s in the realm of the perpetually outraged. She literally wants the author of Disturber of the Peace to be horse whipped once she gets her hands on them. Obviously, this is the main antagonist of the novel, though she has her willing sidekicks ready to leap on the person who so truthfully depicted them in all their glory… or in some cases, evil.

Stevenson manages to touch on three rather interesting and important themes; domestic abuse, lesbianism, education and spinsterhood. There is a lesbian couple in this book, skirted around and never stated outright, but they are there, and they are sympathetically rendered by all. Women’s education is touched upon, as several women who could have been intensely clever are left without an education because of their father, or family’s, patriarchal opinion that smart women are an abhorration. There is a woman who is pitied by the more sensitive women in the community, who is married to a man who treats her and her children with disdain at best. She literally goes to ask a friend what to do because he was nice to her at breakfast. Her children are described as “mice”, who are timid and tiptoe around their house, and are unable to relate to other children. She also deals with the perils of spinsterhood, the lack of money that it can entail, and how women feel it is better to have a mediocre husband than none at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a light read that touches on some heavy topics with grace. It was laugh out loud funny at several points, and I’m definitely going to be keeping it for future comfort reading!

 

4/5 stars

#CCWomensClassics Review: Bush Studies by Barbara Baynton

15832465Barbara Baynton’s short-story collection Bush Studies is famous for its stark realism—for not romanticising bush life, instead showing all its bleakness and harshness.

Economic of style, influenced by the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists, Baynton presents the Australian bush as dangerous and isolating for the women who inhabit it.

‘The terror Baynton evokes,’ Helen Garner writes in her introduction to the book, ‘is elemental, sexual, unabashedly female.’

Oh, dear. What a disappointing collection. It had so much promise, so much potential to be wonderful, but it failed. I have had a run of bad luck with Text Classics books, which I’m sure is not indicative of their value, but of my hopes and desires. They are all great examples of Australian Gothic literature, but are deeply flawed and uneven in quality.

If all the stories in this collection were as good as the last one, I would have enjoyed the experience and recommended it. “The Chosen Vessel” was gripping and frightening, and had me well within its clutches. Swagmen are an essential part of Australian colonial culture, and are almost always depicted as a jolly nuisance that one must feed, give work and tolerate. Baynton flips this on it’s head and turns him into a figure of terror. The “heroic” stockman is a figure of idiocy and religious fervour, not the lighthearted saviour of the usual kind. The villainy of the patriarchy is on show, from the husband who sneers at his wife’s fear to the swagman who feels he has the right to not only take her body, but her life.

Baynton knew too well the horrors of living alone in the bush, and how frightening it could be for a woman. Each woman in the stories is a different archetype, from the masculine Mary in “Squeaker’s Mate” to the timid governess in “Billy Skywonkie”. All face a myriad of terrors, not only in the stories, but before and after them. Baynton is not optimistic or positive about life in the bush for a woman, setting the role of a bushman’s wife as a hellish experience, contradicting the typical 19th century ideas of life on the land.

However, Baynton’s storytelling technique is at points nigh on impenetrable, her dialogue a complete mess and the narration confusing. I found myself backtracking over and over, having missed what on earth was going on, and jumping back to find my question is inexplicably unanswered. I’m not sure if Baynton actually intended this, or if it’s just me, or her fault as a writer. Action scenes were hard to follow, and I ended up skim reading stories like “Scrammy ‘And” because I simply couldn’t work out who was who and what was happening.

The dialogue is stilted and makes very little sense at times, even with reading it aloud and having a pretty decent knowledge of Australian slang, accents and older terminology. In her attempt to depict language as it sounded, Baynton has completely muddled it and made it far more difficult for the reader than necessary. The better stories are those with little dialogue, namely the first half of “Squeaker’s Mate, “The Chosen Vessel” and “A Dreamer”. The others are dialogue heavy, making them confusing and unenjoyable.

“I know who yer thort ’twas, Warder!” They were sitting side by side, yet he spoke very loudly. “Scrammy ‘and, ehm?” He had guessed correctly. “An’ yer thort yer see ‘im lars’ night!” He was right again. “An’ yer thort ’twas ‘im that ‘ad bin ramsakin’ the place yesterday, when we was shepherdin’. An’ yer thort ‘t must ‘ave bin ‘im shook the tommy!”

(Scrammy ‘And, pg.28)

That’s a pretty standard set of dialogue, which does make sense, but takes a little bit of interpreting. That, set over the length of a story, (and it does get worse) then over several stories, gets old really quickly. I don’t even mind a bit of phonetic dialogue, but Baynton has taken it too far.

Helen Garner, in her introduction, is tough but fair on the collection. She raises many of the points that I have, and critiques Baynton’s attitude towards the bush and humanity. I enjoyed the introduction more than half the stories, which is a first for me!

If you would still like to read them, and I do recommend the three that I mentioned as good earlier, you can find them here for free. I wouldn’t spend too much money on them, though they are published by Text Publishing, so a free pdf is a good idea, and one I wish I’d known about before purchasing the book.

These are a grim set of stories, but unfortunately I will not be recommending more than three of them and regret buying this. But hey, you live and learn and there are plenty more books on the shelf!

2/5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday (on a Wednesday…again): Favourite Books of 2015

91e47-toptentuesdayAgain, I’m terribly disorganised and didn’t get around to writing this post when it should have been written. I’ve been quite ill and totally exhausted, as well as trying to organise things for Christmas, so my poor blog has had to take a back seat.

I have read so many good books this year, and many of them will be similar to my TTT post last week, but so what… it’s time to wax lyrical about this year’s favourites!

  1. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovich
  2. Orkney by Amy Sackville
  3. Bid Me to Live by H.D.
  4. The Silk Worm by Robert Galbraith
  5. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters + The Lake House by Kate Morton
  6. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  8. The Female Malady by Elaine Showalter
  9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  10. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

 

Rivers of London is a damn good book. I’ve been at and at people to read it… most commonly my fiancee, poor bugger. It’s hilarious and very cleverly written. I’m trying to ration out the rest of the series, since I don’t want to devour them all and be left with no more left!

Orkney was my first Amy Sackville novel, and not my last, as I also read The Still Point recently. The prose is gorgeous and I loved the slowly unravelling story, laced with mysteries and unspoken, unseen moments.16057621

Bid Me to Live is a very special book to me. I fell in love with H.D.’s work whilst reading it, and it’s changed a lot of my thoughts about how and why literature is written. The Female Malady comes in here too, because it utterly changed my perception of the way women have been treated as humans and as writers- same goes for A Room of One’s Own, which I read on New Years Day, not realising how important it would be to my year.

I haven’t yet finished reading The Silk Worm, but I already know this is one of my favourites for the year! It’s sucked me straight in and I’m very sure I’ll break my moratorium on unmatched series sizes to get the third book tomorrow.24661340

Fingersmith took me way too long to read, having lost my copy halfway through, but once I found it again I chomped the rest down in one very satisfying gulp! The Lake House by Kate Morton is getting thrown in here too, because I seriously can’t choose between them. It’s all too hard!!!

North and South was a wonderful novel, and I’m sure to be reading more Gaskell soon. An honourable mention also goes to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, who sadly missed out in favour of Gaskell!

The Bell Jar came at the perfect moment for me, so though I am sad I spent so long without it, I am glad I read it at a time when it would speak to me so perfectly.

Reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was an effort, since it was one of my forays into audiobooks, but the story and the magic of it sucked me straight in. Jim Dale’s narration was spot on, and was really what got this (somewhat flawed) book over the line for me.

Coming in last place is Between the Acts, simply because I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of reading it. It was a bit like having your guts smashed and put in a blender. However, it was one of the most heart 526033rending and gorgeous books I’ve ever read, beating Jacob’s Room on that point alone. The desperation and sadness in this novel isn’t just an undercurrent; it is the whole feeling and it slams the reader so hard it hurts.

I know I’ve put a few sneaky extras in here, but it was WAY too hard to choose ten favourites out of the 99 books I’ve read so far this year!

Yep, I’m one book off my goal of 100 books read in 2015, which I’m fairly sure beats all my other goals by about 20 books!

Top Ten Tuesday (on a Wednesday!)- Ten Authors I Discovered in 2015

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I have been very much off the ball, and didn’t think I’d do this week’s TTT, but I have decided against it and want to discuss some of my favourite new -to-me authors I’ve come across this year!

As usual, this list is in no particular order, because really, they’re all very wonderful and deserve some love.

  1. Amy Sackville  

I first read Orkney in August on a recommendation from Kirsty @ the Literary Sisters, and absolutely adored it. I then read The Still Point in the last few weeks and loved that as well, though I think Orkney still has my heart.

      2. H.D. hdpoet

H.D. has literally changed my life, and changed how I view reading and writing. She has challenged me to the point of tears, but she is rewarding to the point of euphoria. I absolutely adore her as a woman, but her novel Bid Me to Live is one of my favourite books EVER. I also read Asphodel this year, which was an incredibly tough book, but again, rewarding. Her poetry is lovely, and I’ve been pacing myself well, only reading Sea Garden this year, though I have bought beautiful first editions  of The Walls Do Not Fall and Tribute to the Angels. 2015-10-17 17.08.35

3. Deborah Harkness

I’m about to start the second book in the All Souls trilogy, hopefully today, but so far I’ve really enjoyed her style. Yes, it’s not top quality literature, but it’s been an enjoyable ride and I’m glad to have got into her work!

4. Elizabeth Gaskell

Oh, how I loved North and South! I devoured it, and my (already high!) expectations were well and truly surpassed. I also read The Old Nurse’s Storya short ghost story which was also quite fun.

5. E.M. Delafield

I can’t wait to read some more of the Provincial Lady next year! I loved Diary of a Provincial Lady, and now have all the rest of the series, so I’ll get cracking on it soon enough!

6. Ray Bradbury

I’ve been recommending Fahrenheit 451 to anyone who will listen since I read it in February. I loved his dystopian future, and the creepily prophetic nature of the story.

7. Marghanita Laskim-laski

The Victorian Chaise-Longue was wonderfully creepy, and I’ve found myself pondering the ending well after I finished. I’m very excited to read more of her work, as I’ve heard even more wonderful things about her other books.

8. Ben Aaronovich

Another series I’ve been recommending EVERYONE is the Peter Grant series, beginning with Rivers of LondonI’ve read the first two books, and both have had me giggling my head off like a crazy lady. For those who are trying to read books with diverse characters, this is one to go for, as Peter is half West African.

9. Allen Ginsberg

Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems was my introduction to the Beat Generation, and one that I do not regret. Having read it has come in handy over the last few months, and I really want to go back and re-read it again… there’s so much more to it. Very dirty, very gritty, but fantastic.

10. P.G. Wodehouse

Ahhhh, Jeeves. Such fun. I will need to read far more of his work, but I’ve had such a good introduction.

 

There are a few more authors that I wish I could have mentioned here, but since I’ve read them before 2015 I couldn’t. However, this year has been the year I’ve really appreciated and fallen in love with their work. These writers are Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Sarah Waters and Henrik Ibsen. There are so many writers that deserve mentioning, but I just can’t list them all! However, here is the link to my 2015 Goodreads reading list, so if you’d like to pop over there and have a look at what I’ve been up to, and maybe become my friend, that’d be fabulous!

 

#AusReadingMonth Review: The Three Miss Kings By Ada Cambridge 

The Three Miss Kings – Elizabeth, Eleanor and Patty – were brought up in a remote seaside settlement in Victoria, Australia, their father a mysterious man of ‘preposterous eccentricity’, their late mother a dignified, accomplished woman who instilled in the girls an appreciation of ‘spiritual and intellectual aspirations’ which compensates for their lack of worldly experience. Such virtues serve the sisters well when, on the death of their father, they begin a new life in Melbourne. Under the watchful eye of one of society’s more respectable patrons, they learn quickly about ‘life, and love, and trouble, and etiquette among city folks’ – to emerge radiant in their succession to both marriage and gentility. First published in 1891, The Three Miss Kings was one of Ada Cambridge’s most popular novels, a delightful story of young women’s gentrification in a colonial society still tied to the aspirations of its English forebears.

A friend of mine wrote part of her honours thesis on this novel, which is one I’d never come across before, despite having read quite a bit of colonial Australian literature. I was expecting it to have more of a “Little Mother Meg” vibe, but it was quite different.

I didn’t find myself connecting with any of the three sisters until late in the book, when I decided that Patty was by far my favourite. At first, they had very similar personalities, which made them rather difficult to tell apart, but as the novel went on they became more distinctive. I’m not entirely sure if that was deliberate on Cambridge’s part, but it worked well. Elizabeth became more of a doormat, Patty more feisty and Eleanor more insipid. It showed how money and romance can change a person and their outlook on life, which added to what was a great social critique.

I wasn’t overly convinced of the romances, except that of Patty and Paul, who reminded me very much of Margaret and Thornton in North and South. I felt Yelverton and Elizabeth were odd, and Elizabeth became way too much of a doormat, to the point of allowing his exclusion of her sisters from her first childbirth, then saying nothing when he was challenged about it. Come on, lady!

The sisters are pretty much adopted by Major and Mrs. Duff Scott, the latter of the two being the pinnacle of Melbourne Society. I found her to be awful, and sincerely think that she should have backed off a lot earlier, particularly about Patty. She takes two years to decide that an engaged couple should be allowed to see each other, and repeatedly tries to marry Patty off to elderly dukes… Why anyone could want that for a young girl who already has money is beyond me, even if she has a fiancé you disapprove of. However, it is obvious that the girls had no hope of being accepted without her.

I particularly liked Paul, even though he was a grump. It seems he had the worst run of luck any man could have, poor bugger! As for the mystery that he helps solve, I worked it out very early on, which made the waiting game a tiny bit frustrating, but then satisfying when all was finally revealed.

The rooting of the story deeply into Melbourne in 1880 gave it such a character, which I loved. It specifically mentions events and personalities, such as Ned Kelly, which make it easy to pin the story down. Even the Melbourne Cup is attended, so any Australian would know that it is the first Tuesday of November. I really like that kind of detail in a book, especially when it’s set in a place I’m familiar with. The 1880 Melbourne Exhibition also takes a starring role, opening the girl’s eyes to the wonders the outside world can offer.

I liked the questioning of conventional religious thought, especially after having just read North and South, which also discussed religion as a key theme. They had quite different views, though both show people who do question authority and religion in a positive light. Sexual and gender politics are also explicitly dealt with, and Cambridge shows how jarring and strange those social rules are for a person who never had to adhere to them… It definitely showed the silliness of some of their social norms.

The narrator was quite funny at times, cutting in and embellishing the story. Sometimes I did want the explicit details they said we didn’t need, which was disappointing, but most of the time they were a good narrator to follow. But overall, the narrative intrusions were amusing and stopped the story from being too sickly sweet.

I’d recommend this for anyone who liked Victorian literature (either the state or the era- this book has both!) and those who like Classic women’s literature. It is a really interesting comedy of manners and class distinctions, which I found rather impressing. I’m gong to be keeping an eye out for Cambridge’s other books in the future, and I do hope this novel gets noticed a bit more in the future. It’s definitely up there with the best of Australian men’s writing for it’s era, and does truly deserve the recognition.

4/5 stars.

Review: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell’s compassionate, richly dramatic novel features one of the most original and fully-rounded female characters in Victorian fiction, Margaret Hale. It shows how, forced to move from the country to an industrial town, she develops a passionate sense of social justice, and a turbulent relationship with mill-owner John Thornton.

I have seen the BBC Mini series several times, but for some reason had not tackled the book yet. I guess that I was slightly worried that it wouldn’t measure up to how much I love the series, and would thus disappoint me. I was entirely wrong. This book made me run the gamut of emotions, including a spell of hysterical sobs which made my partner think I’d had some kind of awful news delivered to me!

I loved Margaret Hale, for all her sass and fortitude. She definitely had balls, and wasn’t afraid to tell people where they were wrong. I did become annoyed with her by the end, as she really did make life far more difficult for herself and others the was strictly necessary… I wanted to shake her and say “Come on! Just TELL them!”

Thornton was far mellower than the Prince Broody McBroodypants that Richard Armitage portrays him as in the screen adaptation, and I can see why they made the change. He obviously has his major flaws, but mostly he makes Margaret look a bit bitchy, when you really think about it. Neither of them gave the other a chance though. I found their romance really quite sweet, and liked how Gaskell gave us both sides of the story.

Mostly, I found the contrasts between the South and Milton to be fascinating, and loved how Gaskell slowly makes Margaret understand that farm life isn’t all haystacks and baby alpacas. It was a tough life for farm labourers in the 19th century, and Margaret shows at first an idyllic wilful blindness to what is placed before her, simply because she finds country life so charming. Watching her development from naïve young girl to a much wiser woman was great.

I wish that I hadn’t left reading this for so long… It’s probably going to be in my top reads of 2015 and has influenced how I have read other 9th century women’s fiction (I read The Three Miss Kings immediately afterwards and saw many parallels) as well as how I look back at other novels I’ve read in the past. I’ve seen several critiques of the novel and disagree with most of the criticisms levelled at it, particularly those that believe the book to be a simple mimicry of other writer’s work. Of course, it is similar to others, but I wouldn’t call it mimicry, as every writer has their influences, and it probably didn’t help that Dickens himself edited the work!

North and South is a wonderful, thought provoking novel that isn’t afraid to tread on a few toes. I did find the preaching sections a bit tiresome, but they are an important part of the novel. The gender and sexual politics running throughout the novel are fascinating and give the novel a good dollop of tension, which is very much needed in a novel like this. It’s also far sexier than it is given credit for, with a healthy streak of sexual tension running through the novel.

I wished the ending was a bit more drawn out, ie. I’d have liked to have seen a bit more of the romance. It was cut off very abruptly, which bothered me somewhat… The book is over 500 pages, so surely we should be rewarded for sticking through all that love/hate stuff and get some kisses! I have no idea what Gaskell had to cut out to fit into Dickens’ word limits, but she was suitably annoyed at having to cut her story short, and that is possibly why it is how it is, even with the re-editing to put in missing sections not published in the initial serials.

Overall, this was a 4.5 star read for me, losing half a star only because of the ending feeling so rushed. It takes a very special book to make you truly forget the world around you… Especially when that world involves a noisy television and people trying to talk to you!

4.5/5 stars

Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew, an approaching-middle-age governess, was accustomed to a household of unruly English children. When her employment agency sends her to the wrong address, her life takes an unexpected turn. The alluring nightclub singer, Delysia LaFosse, becomes her new employer, and Miss Pettigrew encounters a kind of glamour that she had only met before at the movies. Over the course of a single day, both women are changed forever.

Sometimes, there is a moment in your life when a book collides with your emotions, and puts everything you’re feeling into some kind of gorgeous sense, and makes you feel even happier than you did to begin with. For me, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day was exactly that book. My picking it up coincided with one of the happiest weeks of my life, and I literally hugged the book when I finished it!

I finished this glorious novel in lightning speed, mostly because I HAD to find out what happened at the end! I adored Miss Pettigrew and all her new friends, and felt myself utterly gravitating towards the women of the novel. It is such a shame that this work isn’t given more credit, and remains somewhat elusive, as it is truly up there with the very best feel-good novels I’ve ever read. Thank you to Persephone for re-publishing this darling novel!

At first, I was so worried that something bad would happen to spoil the Cinderella story, and felt myself cringing internally, which was enough to make me put down the book after a few chapters. However, I strode gallantly on, because I felt like Miss Pettigrew needed me to follow her. I am so very glad that I did push on, because it was really worth it.

The relationships between men and women are decidedly cynical, and Watson has managed to play the boundary between cynicism and faith very well. Though some of the ideas in the novel are very questionable (especially in regard to race- there are some very outdated views in it that wouldn’t go down well if the book were released now, and for a good reason) we see how well Watson understood the relations between genders at this point in time, and some remain very current.Of course, there are some good male characters, but even the one portrayed as “good” isn’t exactly a decent person- his first introduction into the novel involved some domestic violence. When you consider the era, these questionable antics are kind of negated, but some recent readers and reviewers have definitely taken offence to it.

What interested me most, however, was the relationships between women portrayed in the novel. We have Guinevere Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse, who are mutually supportive, then Miss LaFosse and Miss DuBarry, who seem to rely on each other to maintain themselves and their image. Then you have Angela, who walks into a room and instantly despises all other women due to her own jealousy and insecurity. Most of us ladies have come across at least one Angela in our lives!

Yes, it’s a light and bubbly adult fairytale, but so what? I love a good light hearted fairy tale of a book! I read way too much “serious” novels, so a nice light, fun read is a really nice break. I read this at precisely the right moment. Sometimes, one enjoys a fairy tale when you feel like you’re having your own little love story at the same time! I’m told this was made into a movie as well, so I’m going to be trying to watch it soon!

5/5 Stars and LeoGatsbyWineFireworkMan!

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