This week I’ve been reading… Married Love and other stories by Tessa Hadley

I picked up this book immediately after finishing War and Peace. I picked it up without much thought but I do have to wonder if subconsciously I was craving short stories. After 4000 pages of the same people, places and events being introduced to and done with a character all in 20 pages was a welcome relief.  And whereas in War and Peace I found myself skim reading to get it over with as soon as possible, in Married Love I wanted to savour every word because it was the writing that had all the beauty. Almost like poetry.

The stories in general perhaps had more in common with poetry than a traditional novel. Many of them didn’t really have a notable plot; nothing much changed from beginning to end. Instead of being full-fledged narratives they were more like snippets of stories, brief glimpses into a life, like you’re peering in through a person’s window as you walk down the road.

And because there wasn’t a plot I didn’t get hung up wanting to find out what would happen next. Usually I see long-winded descriptions, character sketches and scene setting as a waste of time, an obstacle to get through to get to the really good stuff: the story. But with no story to worry about I could fully immerse myself in the subtle, delicate writing style.

It’s that lack of a narrative, that uneventfulness, which ties together all the stories. The characters’ imaginations take them on a course that their life never actually does – Shelley expects the worst news about her son, Alec expects the worst news about his sister, Ally takes an unnecessary risk, Kirsten acts without thinking – and they all come out the other side unscathed.

But although the worst never does happy, it doesn’t prevent an overwhelming sense of misery in all the stories. From the slow, introspective writing style and the dreary normality of the lives being portrayed. The dramatic life-defining crescendo might seem the more emotional of the two options but Tessa Hadley articulates so well the quiet melancholy of everyday life that it becomes far more relatable and therefore far more affecting.

This week I’ve been reading… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

It has actually happened. I have read Gone Girl. After all those months of delays and excuses, reading every other thriller I could get my hands on apart from the one that started the whole craze, I finally pulled it off the shelf.

I’d been putting it off partly because I knew it wouldn’t be able to live up to this fearsome hype it’s amassed and partly because I expected it to be really scary and really addictive, the kind of book that needs a whole day set aside to just devour it and still have time to watch a Disney film afterwards to remind you that the world is in general a cheerful happy place. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn”

This week I’ve been reading… Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

The more I enjoy a book the harder I find it to write the review. I don’t know whether this is just because it’s easier to criticise than praise. Or because writing a positive review can quickly become gushy, and no one wants to read that.

Anyway, this review of Station Eleven is really really hard to write. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel”

This week I’ve been reading… The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Brown University, 1982. Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English student and incurable romantic, is writing her thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot – authors of the great marriage plots. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different men, intervenes.

Leonard Bankhead, brilliant scientist and charismatic longer, attracts Madeleine with an intensity that she seems powerless to resist. Meanwhile her old friend Mitchell Grammaticus, a theology student searching for some kind of truth in life, is certain of at least one thing – that he and Madeleine are destined to be together.

But as all three leave college, they will have to figure out how they want their own marriage plot to end.

I’ve been trying to avoid using other people’s blurbs in my reviews in favour of writing my own but I wanted to quote the one from the back of my copy of this book as it is startlingly inaccurate. For one thing it completely over plays the prominence of Jane Austen and George Eliot in the story, which had been the main attraction for me. And more importantly it makes it sound like the book is entirely about the character of Madeline, when in fact the narrative overall is split pretty evenly between Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides”

This week I’ve been reading… In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Thrillers and ghost stories and murder mysteries never used to be a genre of book I had much interest in. Mostly because I’m a massive wimp – I can read something scary in March and still be having nightmares in December; I saw the stage play of The Woman in Black when I was 14 and still can’t think of it without shuddering. And although I’m still just as much of a scardey-cat, that hasn’t changed with age, I can kind of start to see why people like thrillers and horror films. There’s something almost addictive about that rush of adrenaline you get from being scared. I first experienced this reading The Girl on the Train and since then I’ve been trying to find another book that will equal that level of tension and suspense. Continue reading “This week I’ve been reading… In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware”

The 10 most romantic romances of all time

  
Yep it’s that time of year. Time for shops to be filled with all things red and pink, restaurants to release special oyster and champagne based menus (and charge twice their normal prices for the privilege) and me to shelter in my bed and wait for the whole thing to be over.

I’ve never really been one for soppy declarations of love, whether spoken, written or sewn onto the front of a teddy bear, but classic literature is the one exception. As I’ve said before, romance doesn’t grate on me nearly so much when all the language is just that bit more poetic.

And the other thing that will almost always win me around to a love story – a tragic ending. Give me a book with a pair of star-crossed lovers, heartbreak and death and I’m hooked. It’s the Marianne Dashwood inside me I think. A happy ending will barely ever get in involved in quite the same way – Jane Austen aside of course, because no one can criticise Jane Austen about anything ever in my presence (expect Emma, you can criticise away on that one with my full approval).

This post is of course heavy on the spoilers so be warned!

 

  1. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.

Sometimes a bit of instalove is forgivable. And that’s certainly true of anything written by Shakespeare. So what if they were thirteen years old and fell in love in the space of ten minutes? How could something that includes quotes like, ‘love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs’ and ‘parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow’ not be considered one of the greatest romances of all time?

  1. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

You have short earlobes. Socially and genetically there’s no reason for me to be attracted to you. The only logical conclusion is that I must be in love with you.

Look, look, a contemporary book has made the list! This book is just nothing but sweet from start to finish. I read the whole thing with a big soppy grin on my face. If you want a heart-warming, easy reading romance that will make you believe in love in this cold cold world then this is the book for you.

  1. Persuasion by Jane Austen

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I’ve limited myself to just including two Jane Austen romances on this list so I thought I should pick the two polar opposites. Whereas Pride and Prejudice starts off with Lizzy and Mr Darcy hating each other and not being afraid to show it, Anne and Captain Wentworth used to be engaged, are still madly in love, but both trying very hard not to show it.

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Love. The reason I dislike that word is that it means too much for me, far more than you can understand.

Anna Karenina is the perfect book to satisfy the drama loving side of me, with the passionate and ill-fated affair between Anna and Vronsky, while at the same time giving a beautifully written account of the ordinary, quiet love between Kitty and Levin. Not as heart-wrenching or memorable but while I was reading it it was their story I was enjoying more.

  1. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.

The relationship between Eleanor and Park starts off heartbreakingly cute and ends just heartbreaking, just as a love story should. Maybe not exactly one for the ages – I doubt this will stand the test of time, being held up alongside Romeo and Juliet as romance at it’s best  but for right now, for a tale of modern love, this is as good as it gets.

  1. Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Just because it’s taken you three years to notice, Ron, doesn’t mean no one else has spotted I’m a girl!

I know, I know, the romance really isn’t the point here, but no matter what JK Rowling says, Hermione and Ron will always be the perfect couple to me. If you’re ever in doubt, just imagine how clichéd the whole series would have been it if was all about Harry and Hermione.

  1. Atonement by Ian McEwan

Find you, love you, marry you, and live without shame.

Perhaps the most ill-fated love story on this whole list. In this whole 400 page book Robbie and Cecelia get to spend less than five hours in the same room as each other. And then  there’s that ending. If you haven’t read this book then what are you waiting for, go and read it right now! In fact, this is the one situation where I might even condone you watching the film instead because it’s just that good.

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The whole world is divided for me into two parts: one is she, and there is all happiness, hope, light; the other is where she is not, and there is dejection and darkness.

Admittedly I haven’t actually finished this book yet. But I just had to include it because already I am that invested in Natasha and Andrei. Oh My God. The most epic of epic love stories. Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed. And I may have just slipped in quoting Veronica Mars, oops.

  1. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

That it would always be summer and autumn, and you always courting me, and always thinking as much of me as you have done through the past summertime!

The love story between Tess and Angel Clare is definitely not a happy one, but almost as epic as that of Natasha and Andrei. And in fact, now I think of it, eerily reminiscent of that Tolstoy plot line. It all starts so well, such a sweet simple love. And they’re happily planning their future as farmer and wife when BAM, Tess does one thing wrong and he turns out to be the biggest jerk the world has ever known. Seriously, my hatred for Angel Clare knows no bounds. When really I suppose it’s not his fault, it was just the way women were treated at the time.

  1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.

There could be no other winner for me. Lizzy and Darcy are the original OTP. Their love story, the initial hatred, the slowly coming to understand each other, the separation and disapproval of his relatives, will be copied for generations to come. But never ever equalled.

My Week in Books: 10th May

THE KING’S CURSE by PHILIPPA GREGORY

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In a nutshell: The story of one of the wealthiest women in Tudor England as she attempts to stay alive, whatever the cost,.

How long: A week.

Where I finished it: On the train. Perfectly timed as I arrived into my stop.

Favourite quote: The thought of the long winter stretches before me, and I cannot imagine spring.

Would I read it again: Hmmm, I’d like to, but there are just so many books to get through in the world that I doubt I’d bother.

I just love Philippa Gregory novels. They are the epitome of easy to read, escapist fiction. I can devour her books in just a few days. I read the whole Tudor Court series in about a month this time last year and now I’ve dived back in with The Cousins’ War series. Unfortunately when I got my craving for some historical fiction the only one I had on me was The King’s Curse which is technically the last book in the series. But it also works as the first book in The Tudor Court series. Either way it wasn’t really the best one to be reading but that didn’t stop me getting completely sucked in.

The Kings’ Curse focusses on the life of Margaret Pole, one of the last remaining Plantagenets during the reign of Henry VIII. It overlaps a lot with The Constant Princess and The Other Boleyn Girl, just telling the story from a different point of view which is a pretty bold move by Philippa Gregory; assuming that people would be interested in the same part of history again. But if her books are to be believed (which I’m sure they shouldn’t be but it doesn’t stop me taking every word as fact) then there was certainly enough intrigue and plotting going on to justify several books.

I stand by my claim that Philippa Gregory writes really awesome female characters. Margaret Pole was certainly a force to be reckoned with. She was also a little different. Unlike the typical hero who sticks staunchly to their beliefs, refusing to renounce them even if it means dying for the sake of it, Margaret Pole did everything she could to cling to life. She did whatever Henry VIII asked of her even if it went against everything she believed in because she recognised that there is nothing more precious than life. And I really admired that. I also found it much more relatable. If I were in her situation I don’t doubt for a second that I would have been doing exactly the same. It wasn’t fear, she wasn’t afraid of Henry VIII, she just didn’t think that there was anything that was worth dying for.

I suppose my only complaint would be the number of secondary characters. They’re all earl of something and called either John, Edward or Thomas. There was absolutely no way I could keep track of whose side they were on or who they’re related to.  But even when I gave up trying it didn’t stop me loving the story.

I really can’t recommend these books highly enough. They’re not cultured, they’re not beautifully written, the characters won’t stay with you and I doubt the stories will have any lasting impact, but they’re just great fun to read.