Wednesday, 17 August 2011

When God was a Rabbit

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

This book's had so much hype it doesn't need any more from me, which is good, because it's not going to get any. Bought it on an impulse in WHSmiths because it was there, right under my nose, as it has been under most people's noses for months now.

It's being pushed as a book club book, and I can see why- an easy, shortish read with lots to discuss. Most people seem to love it. I only quite-liked it.

Elly is the younger child of two in an unusual and quirky family. She narrates the story in first person. She has an older brother who discovers he's gay at a young age and falls in love with his best friend. She has a film-actress aunt who's also gay. Her aunt fancies her mum, who kind of fancies her back. Elly also has a single best friend. When the family win the Pools they move to a large house in Cornwall and open a B&B, which quickly becomes populated with more gay and theatre people who seem to stay for ever. Elly and her brother grow up and remain close. Stuff happens then more stuff happens and frankly, probably far too much happens so we don't really ever feel involved in all these events in this unlikely family.

Despite the self-centredness of the characters world events also have a part to play, so when Elly's brother finds himself working in New York at the start of the millennium you just know he'll get caught up in 9/11. Which he does. Which made me sigh, as it was predictable, although to be fair, this part was beautifully written.

Don't let me put you off. It's a well written book which will make you laugh in places and possibly cry in other places (though I never felt close enough to the characters to cry over them). As I said, I quite liked it. Great title. (Elly has a pet rabbit named god when she is small. It speaks.)

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Constance - the tragic and scandalous life of Mrs Oscar Wilde

Constance by Franny Moyle

Bought this one after reading a post about Constance on the wonderful Virtual Victorian blog, which included a link to the book. I like a bit of biography now and again and was intrigued to find out what kind of a woman was married to Oscar Wilde.

Constance was Irish, like her husband. She and Oscar seemed, in the early days of their marraige, to be a perfect match for each other. Constance wrote children's stories and housekeeping articles, accompanied her husband on his many social engagements and joined in with the aesthetic movement starting up around that time. The couple had two sons.

And then Oscar began spending more and more time with the numerous young men who flocked to his side. One, especially - 'Bosie' Douglas - was a bad influence on him. Bosie started out as a friend of the family and Constance herself often invited him to come and stay, until she realised that he was breaking apart her marriage. Bosie's father, the Marquess of Queensberry, began to make trouble -attempting to disrupt performances of Oscar's plays when he was in attendance, etc. When he openly libelled Oscar, Oscar felt he had no option but to press charges.

When the case came to trial however, Queensberry had put together a host of witnesses who would swear to Oscar's homosexuality and the trial quickly collapsed, to be followed by Oscar's arrest on charges of indecency. He was, of course, found guilty and sent to prison.

Constance had stood by her husband throughout all this, but exiled herself to Switzerland while Oscar was in jail. She was urged by friends to divorce him, but didn't, though she took steps to ensure that on his release from prison he would not be able to fritter away her money and leave their sons penniless. On his release, she might even have taken him back, had not Bosie intervened and lured Oscar away with him.

Constance died not too long after the trial, at the age of just 48, after surgery to help with a long-standing neurological problem went wrong. Oscar died shortly after.

The book is an easy and enjoyable read - you get a good sense of this intelligent and loving woman who went so quickly from being half of England's most feted couple to being shunned by society and forced into exile. The fin-de-siecle was a fascinating time of change in society and Constance was there at the forefront.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Write On!

Review on my other blog - here.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

I must be a bit of a fan of Kate Morton as I seem to have read everything she's written and enjoyed them all. This book's no exception - it's a big fat juicy mystery, with the main action taking place in two time periods - during the second world war, and in 1992. I love novels where a contemporary story unfolds alongside a historical story - they are definitely my current favourite reads.

In this one, three elderly sisters live in a Gothic castle in Kent. The youngest of them is mad - she lost her fiance during the war and has not been the same since. All of them are keeping secrets from each other. A young woman, Edie, gets caught up in their story while trying to solve related mysteries of her own. Her mother had been evacuated to the castle during the war, but she too is keeping secrets from her own daughter. And the three old ladies come from a literary background - their father wrote a famous children's novel but never told where his inspiration came from...

This is a long book, and at the start I wondered if it might be better edited down a bit to get the action going sooner. It's possibly a bit repetitive in places- we are certainly told things more than once, or shown then told, and some points get rather hammered home. Having said that, I loved the writing, got fully immersed in the story and didn't want the book to end. All the story strands come together nicely at the end, and all the mysteries are solved, though the resolutions Edie believes are not actually the truth.

I took it away last week on our camping trip and would definitely recommend this as a holiday read. It's got me all inspired as well - would love to write this kind of book!