“But a lonely man is an unnatural man, and soon comes to perplexity. From perplexity to fantasy. From fantasy to madness.” My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
I don’t get as much time to read as I used to (and even less time to write blog posts that do more than scratch the surface of books) but I was determined to read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier before the Roger Michell directed film version starring Sam Claflin and Rachel Weisz hit the cinemas, or at least before going to see it.
For readers who first encountered Daphne du Maurier through her most famous novel Rebecca and have loved her works ever since, My Cousin Rachel doesn’t disappoint, offering the same rugged Cornish landscape, with a plot featuring stately piles, mystery, romance and intrigue which keeps twisting and turning to the very end.
In My Cousin Rachel, Philip Ashley takes on the role of naïve narrator, whose comfortable existence is rocked when his beloved cousin Ambrose Ashley dies abroad, shortly after his marriage to Philip’s mysterious cousin Rachel. The official verdict is that Ambrose has died of a fever, which was further complicated by a brain tumour that lead to violent delusions, but Philip believes that there is some truth to the letter Ambrose has sent him begging for help and suggesting that his wife has poisoned him. Philip vows revenge upon Rachel, and soon has this in his sights when she arrives at his house to return Ambrose’s belongings. But Rachel is every bit as charming as Ambrose made out, and despite his suspicions, Philip finds himself increasingly drawn to the attractive widow.
Though My Cousin Rachel has a huge amount to recommend it, what stands out for me is the psychological complexity of the novel. Despite being the titular character, Rachel remains something of an enigmatic figure, in part a vulnerable woman living at the mercy of her erratic relative, in part a woman with huge power to entice, heal and potentially destroy, we receive almost all of her history and description through other characters which means her actions can never receive a straightforward interpretation. Philip’s progression from his self-perception as something of a man of the world who has modelled himself on his idol, sees him move from outright misogyny to falling into a deep obsession, acting out an Oedipal complex with his father figure’s widow who oscillates wildly between being an object of desire and a symbol of destruction in his mind.
It’s enough to make you want to go on a Daphne du Maurier binge all summer. And I’m going to Cornwall soon… as to whether Rachel is guilty or innocent, I’m keeping spoilers out for my review for those who have yet to read it, but let’s discuss in the comments!
I’ve been finding it difficult to get drawn into novels recently. You know the kind of thing, you’re busy with work and life, so when you do get the time to read you’re so tired that your brain doesn’t really engage enough to full commit to the world of the novel.
But every so often, something comes along which really hooks you, so you forget about that. The kind of book where you go and have a lie down with a low level headache when the baby’s gone to bed at seven, start reading the first chapter, and before you know it, it’s two in the morning and you just have to finish the last chapter even though you know you need to be up at half past five. Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig was that book for me this week.
The novel opens with fourteen year old Ginny, an autistic girl who is living with her Forever Parents having been removed from the care of her unreliable, drug addict mother, looking aft er one of those electronic plastic babies they give teenagers to give them a better understanding of what an unplanned pregnancy can do to your quality of sleep. She’s tried rocking it, shushing it, letting it suck her finger, but it just keeps crying. And it reminds her of her Baby Doll, the real one, which she left in a suitcase at her mother’s apartment when the police came to remove her into care.
People will inevitably compare Ginny Moon to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but for me, Ginny Moon was actually a far more gripping read, the kind of gripping where someone has hold of your intestines and every now and again gives them a little twist to make sure that you’re paying attention. With respect to Mark Haddon, it might be the benefit of fourteen years life experience and having worked with autistic children since I read The Curious Incident… and it might be having a child of my own, but I really felt that in Ginny Moon the author Benjamin Ludwig had crafted something much more involving.
I don’t want to give too much away, because I would highly recommend that you read this, and that you do so without spoilers, but I felt like I was being dragged along through Ginny’s story, seeing all of the pieces fitting together from the information that Ginny was unable to communicate to her Forever Parents and therapist because they were unable to fully appreciate that what she was saying was true, and becoming more and more horrified by the potential situations that I anticipated playing out but that Ginny was partially blind to because of her all-consuming fixation on her Baby Doll. I found myself simultaneously feeling an immense like for characters for the way they behaved towards Ginny, and a total empathy and pity because who could honestly say they would have been able to behave differently?
I was one chapter from the end of Ginny Moon when my nearly-two year old woke up. I went in to her room, picked her up and cuddled her back to sleep all the while thinking how lucky we are. A real privilege checker of a book.
“As specimens go, they always get excited about me. I’m a good one. A show-stopper. I’m the kind of kid they’ll still enquire about ten years later. Fifty-one placements, drug problems, violence, dead adopted mum, no biological links, constant offending. Tick, tick, tick.”
The Panopticon, Jenni Fagan
At the opening of Jenni Fagan’s debut novel, fifteen year old Anais Hendricks, the anti-hero of the piece, is sitting hand cuffed in the back of a police car being transferred to The Panopticon a children’s unit with a watchtower that forces its residents to live under constant observation. She has blood on her school uniform, and a police woman is lying in a coma that she is unlikely to come out of.
The opening of the novel, coupled with the fact that Anais is feisty, intelligent and stylish, seemingly possessed of a six sense which allows her to see to the very core of people, could make this sound like a middle of the road, young adult dystopian novel. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Because beneath her tough exterior, Anais is incredibly vulnerable, a teenage girl for whom the label at risk might have been invented- in the grip of delusions fuelled by narcotic psychosis or untreated borderline personality disorder, she has been exploited or failed by most of the adults she has encountered in her short life. This is not a novel which uses a dystopia as a smoke screen for real world issues, this is a novel about real world issues which hammers home the appalling ways that the most vulnerable members of society are so often failed and demonized.
Jenni Fagan’s writing is like slam poetry, the perfect words chosen with flair that punches you in the guts. Her characterisation is exemplary and nothing I can say will do it justice, so what I will say is that The Panopticon is a novel which probably needs a thousand trigger warnings, but I would recommend that everyone reads it.
Only kidding. I knew it was World Book Day, just about. I remembered the day before it when the a sign on the nursery door reminded me that children were meant to come in dressed up as their favourite book character. This post is late because I’m too tired to blog any more.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried talking to a toddler about who their favourite book character is, but even a relatively verbose twenty month old can be quite evasive on the subject. Throw in the need to cobble together at short notice a costume that won’t be torn off in a fit of pique and you face a challenge.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Peter Rabbit… or at least, bunny ears and a blue jacket.
The costume is, admittedly, not great but I had to admire the spirit in which she wore it. She strutted into nursery and glared at anyone who dared to call her Phoebe. As soon as they called her Peter, she hopped quite happily around the room and settled down quite happily for a snack.
As for me, I’m joining the ranks of parents not quite sure why World Book Day seems to be about dressing up and not, say, reading a book.
I’ve always had a bit of a thing about the Tudor dynasty, and Catherine Parr as the surviving wife of Henry VIII always fascinated me, how do you follow up marrying one of the greatest tyrants in history? Falling in love with and marrying an equally questionable man (see the rumours around Thomas Seymour’s relationship with his stepdaughter on Katherine Parr’s watch) before dying shortly after giving birth to your sole child. Tragic. And what happened to Mary Seymour, the baby who survived? She disappears from history. And that’s where Nicola Cornick’s latest novel The Phantom Tree comes in.
“My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”
Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.
The painting is more than just a beautiful object from Alison’s past – it holds the key to her future, unlocking the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.
But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…
Part timeslip, part romance, part mystery, part ghost story The Phantom Tree follows the dual narrative of Mary Seymour in Tudor England, and Alison Bannister in (mostly) modern England. Alison, trapped in the 21st century, desperately searches for clues left as to the whereabouts of her lost son by her sometime enemy, Mary, who in turn struggles to carve a life for herself in a land where her mysterious visions have lead to accusations of witchcraft while still making time to fall recklessly in “love”.
I appreciate that this sounds like a jumble sale of genres, but for me it worked. Especially the witchcraft element of the story and the way that this played out with the mysterious Darrell, though I have to admit a part of me found the story of the lost child really challenging. When the novel had finished, I thought that it was really nicely handled, but I think that this might be a challenging read for anyone who has been separated from a baby.
The feminist slant on life in Tudor England was very welcome, and I thought that the character progression of Alison throughout the novel was really well handled. I wasn’t wholly sold on Mary’s transition from a wise imp of a child to a would be Juliet surrendering much of her integrity to the first good-looking man who pays attention to her, but hey, we all did silly things as teenagers and the story had gained enough momentum to carry me through- though I would have liked to see more time and attention giving to the riddle of Alison’s sewing box.
Something that I found really interesting was the use of historical and fictional characters, in as much as I wondered why the author had decided to create a fictional version of the historical Wild William Darrell in Will Fenner. I assume it was because of the misdeeds of the characters associated with the family in the book- one of which was clearly forewarned in the earlier part of the novel and one of which really took me by surprise- and concerns about how their descendants might react to the artistic license taken with the story, or perhaps out of respect to the memory of the individuals in question. Either way, very interesting, and I’d love to pick the authors brains about it.
In summary, it’s an interesting read, and another instance of Nicola Cornick putting her own spin on history to create an enjoyable yarn. It would make a great summer read…summer, it is coming.
I’ve written this post as a part of Midas’ The Phantom Tree Blog Tour. Please visit some of the other blogs involved to see what their reviewers thought.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten my teeth into a decent fantasy novel. I’ve mostly been reading other genres, checking Patrick Rothfuss’ blog to see if he has any intention of ever finishing The Kingkiller Chronicles, deciding he hasn’t, then reading other genres. That’s the problem with fantasy series, unless the series has been completed before you begin reading (thank you Tolkein, Lewis et al) you can end up committing to a series and waiting a decade* to read the next flipping installment. By which time you’ve forgotten all the minutiae of the author’s world building and the theories you’ve woven around them.
Despite this, I received a copy of Truthwitch, the first book in Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series in my Illumicrate a few months ago and since I was clearing my bookshelves out, I thought I might as well give it a go. Now I’m back at square one and waiting until 2017 for the next book in the series to come out.
By the end of the opening sentence of Truthwitch, threadsisters Safi and Iseult are already in trouble. The kind of trouble that involves holding up the wrong carriage, telling the wrong lie and becoming the main obsession of a Bloodwitch trained as an elite fighter Carawen Monk who knows that you’re a heretic Truthwitch and wants to sell you to the highest bidder… and from there, things only get worse for the threadsisters and more exciting from the reader. Well-paced, packed with interesting characters, dripping with tantalizing titbits of in novel mythology and set in a world poised on the brink of war, Truthwitch really whets your appetite for the rest of the series.
The thing I really liked about this book was the description of the witcheries. Truthwitches, Firewitches, Waterwitches, Earthwitches, Cursewitches, Threadwitches, Glamourers, Wordwitches and more, each with their own abilities and weaknesses. If you’ve ever liked that game where you consider what superpower you’d choose if you could, then you’ll probably like speculating on which witchery you would like best. Threadwitchery sounds like a pretty interesting one to me, in many ways more useful than Truthwitchery which would do you a lot more harm than good in Safi’s world if you couldn’t fight as well.
Some readers might be put off by the fact that this book has been a bestseller in children’s book lists (I’m never sure why this does put people off, but hey ho). What I would say is that this didn’t strike me as a children’s novel at all. Apart from some pretty explicit violence and injuries, there are some quite steamy sections. I’m not sure who it was said that dancing is a vertical representation of a horizontal desire, but the Truthwitch Safi and Merik dance scene illustrates this perfectly. I look forward to seeing the Nubrevnan four-step on the next series of Strictly…
My current series predictions: Without naming names, because spoilers, Good will naturally triumph in the end, though not without some major character losses along the way. One character who seems evil now will turn out to be good at heart (with possibly a sibling relationship?), and there will be some real shadiness among background characters who’ve seemed benign.
I’ve been taking a bit of a hiatus lately. Since Phoebe came along I haven’t had as much time to read as I’d like, and I’ve been having way too much fun with her to really care about that. It has meant that my blogging suffered though…
I’ve found myself in this strange situation where I was feeling like I should be reading regularly and posting regularly, even if the books I’d read were just a bit blah and I had nothing to say about them. This feeling was going on to the point where I felt like my blog was just another obligation and not somewhere I could enjoy talking about books that had actually had an impact on me with people who have similar interests. So I kept thinking about that, and it put me off reviewing some of the books that I had read… and before you know it, vicious circle. So I decided to just pause and see how I feel about carrying on with it.
And I’m back, though with a slightly different attitude to reviewing and a new reviewing policy to follow. I won’t feel the need to review every book I read, just the ones I have something I want to say something about so I’ll be sparing you my thoughts on Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser…’s Wife of Bath tendencies.
If you’ve dipped even your little toe in the murky waters of social media recently, I’ll bet that you’ve seen an advert for some kind of subscription service. From make up to meat, surprises to sanitary towels (no, really) it seems that there’s a subscription box for almost everything, though until recently a monthly box for book lovers has been a pipe dream for those in the UK.
But no more! There are now a wide range of book subscription services for bookworms in the UK, so you don’t have to pay a huge postage fee to enjoy a monthly book box from across the pond. And, dare I say it, it seems to me that UK bookworms actually have a more grown up selection of book subscription packages to choose from?
I’ve selflessly gone out of my way to test a few of these (best month ever) and am able to give you a round-up of the best book subscription boxes the UK has to offer. Curated by small teams of imaginative, talented and hardworking bookworms, they really are all fantastic:
If you’ve ever had wall art envy for an amazing framed literary quote, you’ve probably come across a print from Bookishly. They’ve recently branched out from creating word art with Vintage books and have created a book club that sends out a monthly package containing a vintage book, a luxury tea sample from Jenier World of Tea and a curated item of stationery. If you know a bookworm who loves to curl up with an old book and a cup of tea before writing a thank you note on beautiful stationery, then the Bookishly book subscription is the gift for them. Or you, if you fit that description.
Curated by Daphne at Winged Reviews, Illumicrate is the new heavyweight on the book subscription box market and it really packs a punch. Filled with items that match the Illumicrate ethos of “fun, beautiful and geeky” this larger subscription box is released monthly. The perfect gift for a reader who is passionate about their contemporary and young adult literature, the former teacher in me also thinks it would be the perfect way to lure a reluctant reader into exploring literary worlds.
If you’re looking for a special gift for a loved one but don’t necessarily share their literary tastes, the Owl and Bear Gift Company Book Subscription service can help you out. Specialists in genre book subscriptions, they have a package to tickle every bookworm’s fancy whether they are young or old, or if their passion is for horror, thrillers or romance. If you’re not even sure exactly what kind of books your intended recipient prefers, they can still help you out with their bespoke subscription service which builds a package based on the recipient’s favourite authors.
Founded by Adam and Chloe Pollard in 2012, The Willoughby Book Club provides a personalised book subscription service with some really clever package options. Not only do they provide a Contemporary and Classic packages for those who want to hone their reading in a particular direction, they also provide hobby subscription packages for cooks, gardeners and natural historians. The Willoughby package I like the sound of most is, sadly, not for me… The Couples Book Club package which sends out two copies of the same novel so that you can read it together and discuss it. My boyfriend may make wonderful cups of tea and buy me the books I am embarrassed to be seen with in bookshops, but a reader he is not! Still, I think it would make a great gift to share with a close friend and it really is a genius idea.
If you took a straw poll to determine the greatest love letter in literature, I’d wager that Frederick Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot towards the end of Jane Austen’s Persuasion would come out on top.
Estranged former lovers, Anne harbours a massive flame for Frederick Wentworth but has resigned herself to the fact that he doesn’t feel the same after she gave him up eight years before. Until she receives this hastily written, unsigned letter which is personally delivered with a meaningful look….
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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