Ana Kelly is in love with Connor Mooney. They met at her legal practice when Connor came in to draw up his will and started an affair. One day, shortly after the couple have argued, Ana receives a phone call from Connor’s wife, Rebecca. Unaware of their affair, Rebecca tells her that her husband has died and she needs to organise the legal affairs relating to his estate. Bereft without the man she loved, and unable to share her grief as a result of the affair, she transfers her obsession to the woman who stood between them.
Here is the Beehive is a short novel written in blank verse, narrated from the perspective of Ana Kelly as she struggles to come to terms with her lover’s death. Crossan makes the most of the narrow focus of her narrator, the story, despite its brevity, becoming increasingly complex as Ana’s focus shifts in increments and we learn more about her own circumstances, and the increasingly complex world of her affair. I did wonder if Connor’s wife was named Rebecca as a nod to the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name.
I thought the book was skillfully written, but I struggled to empathise with the main characters, at times feeling incredibly hostile towards them, a testament to the author’s skill but not a recipe for the most relaxing read! In terms of style, despite the blank verse, I’d say it’s a little bit Sally Rooney’s Normal People, twenty years after university and lacking (for me) the emotional hook and goodwill the characters in Normal People engendered.
I, like most people, read books partly for the escapism they provide. You suspend your disbelief, and enter the world of the book, outside concerns irrelevant for as long as you can focus.
I’ll be honest, when I bought The Flatshareby Beth O’Leary, I was expecting to have some problems suspending my disbelief. I know that these arrangements – where two unrelated parties end up sharing a bed, sleeping shifts, because life is so bloody unaffordable – exist, but getting my head around how that would work (how is that working, for so many people post-covid??) in lockdown, I didn’t think I’d be able to go with the flow. But I could, and I did, and I found myself genuinely smiling with enjoyment as I read.
The plot of The Flatshare is pure chick lit, and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. The author knows what her readers want – a love story in which you know that the characters will get together, but it’s more about the journey than the destination, and wow, what a journey.
Tiffy has broken up with her boyfriend Justin, who she is very much in love with, but she only realises that this isn’t one of their temporary splits when he brings another woman home. Nice. Being an associate editor at a craft publisher (hello less than London living wage publishers, we see you) she can’t afford anywhere to rent on her own, so is forced into taking a flat share with a palliative care nurse who works nights and spends his weekends at his girlfriend’s place. Leon, said palliative care nurse, needs the extra money because his brother has been sentenced to eight years in prison for armed robbery, a robbery that Leon believes that he didn’t commit, though his girlfriend Kay is less than convinced. She is taking care of the subletting of the flat share so that he and Tiffy never meet. Instead, they communicate through post-it notes, and it isn’t too long until a written friendship springs up between the flatmates….
Looping back to the issue of chick lit being considered a derogatory term, I guess I am using it here as a reference to women’s issues fiction, though I acknowledge that’s very reductive too. This novel, while hugely entertaining is more than a romance, and tackles some pretty serious issues, like emotional abuse, wrongful conviction based on racial profiling, and post-traumatic stress disorder. On the surface it’s less will they, won’t they, more when will they, how will they, marriage plot stuff, but as a novel it has heart and depth, and I thought it was well done.
It would make a fun sitcom/drama, and in the hope that they will adapt it for the big screen, you could have hours of fun fantasy casting The Flat Share.
I will be checking with friends and family as to whether they’ve read it and, if not, will be gifting this as the escapist read lots of us need in 2020.
But if Chick Lit isn’t your genre, I challenge you to write the dark psychological thriller that this book could undoubtedly have been if more sinister characters and lockdown had been thrown into the plot. There’s a writing prompt for you.
If you had to list all the conventions of dodgy “chick lit”, what would be the first things that spring to mind? A heroine an ugly duckling heroine who works in publishing/media/journalism and meets one or more wrong men before blossoming into a swan? A contemporary city setting, possibly London or New York? An irritating friend whose heart is in the right place? A cool friend who acts in underhanded ways?
When I started reading Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans, it seemed to check off all the conventions of bad “Chick Lit” and really annoyed me. I’ve read so many books which make careers in publishing, sound glamorous and easy that when this book started to do the same I was almost ready to throttle the main character Eleanor Bee. As I read on though, I realised that the author was hitting the chick lit check boxes in such a self-deprecating and clever way that I began to enjoy it. I enjoyed it even more when the slightly gauche Elle grows up and learns a few tough lessons about how life and love (and publishing) work along the way.
It starts with a quotation from Northanger Abbey, “She read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.” Rarely have I seen such an appropriate epigraph. I think Jane Austen would approve- Elle B is something of a modern-day Catherine Morland albeit a lot less irritating. She moves credibly from hopeless naivety and weakness to gradually become a stronger, enjoyable heroine.
The beauty of contemporary women’s fiction is that when it is well executed it tackles some really dark themes with warmth and compassion. Elle B has to face some demons and Happily Ever After sits up there with some of the best that I’ve read in this sense. It does obey some of the conventions that you might expect of “Chick Lit” very closely (a fifth of the way through the book I told my editorial assistant that I could guess who the main character would end up with and I was right) but gosh does the author make you work for the ending you expect and hope for. At times I was worried that it wouldn’t all turn out as I’d hoped. But then when an author makes such arch comments about the wonder that is Bridget Jones, the publishing industry and the incestuous world of book people (there’s a lot of office hook ups in this book but I mean incestuous in a hyperbolic, small-world sense and do not mean to suggest that book people interbreed or liaise with their colleagues), you have to expect that there will be some clever tricks along the way.
If you are looking for an enjoyable read which is light but not excessively so then I would definitely recommend this book. At times it is moving, at others it is “snort tea through your nose” funny. It would make a perfect holiday read and I don’t mean that in a bad way. In fact, I’ll leave you a quote from Eleanor B which in many ways sums up my thoughts on holiday reading:
“If I work hard all year and have two weeks’ holiday in Greece I don’t want some pale, worthy, boring book about middle-class people in London sitting round debating their stupid, self-satisfied lives. Sometimes I want a private jet and a hooker drinking champagne.”
I’ve always been a fan of classical mythology, though this tends to manifest itself through adaptations because having tried reading translations of The Iliad and They Odyssey, I found them a little dull… I would never cut it as a classicist.
I was quick to buy The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, but delayed reading it because a friend whose opinion I trust made the book sound like Fifty Shades of Troy, all action (if you know what I mean) and no plot. This time they were off the mark.
The Song of Achilles is primarily a love story, yes, but I thought that any sexual allusions were actually pretty tame and completely sympathetic to the story. Miller’s prose is clear and controlled, and the use of Patroclus’ narrative is a masterstroke in characterisation, allowing the reader to grow close to the apparently unremarkable Patroclus who earns the love of a flawed demigod and the wrath of his ambitious mother. As our affection for Patroclus grows, we see each character through his eyes, and share his discomfort as he witnesses the man he loves distorted by his quest for heroism and recognition. As the novel draws towards its inevitable conclusion, the reader is pulled along, unable to resist, wondering which will triumph? Destiny, glory, love?
It comes as no surprise to me that this novel won the Orange Prize for Fiction, it is a stunning debut novel and, for me, a far more accomplished adaptation that the likes of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad.
I’ve delayed in posting this for a day or so in order to avoid coming up with the obvious, but surely it has to be Edgar Linton, Cathy and Heathcliff?
I intentionally include the three, because Edgar Linton adds an extra element to the relationship, without him they would be two children running around on the moors outside of society. It’s his socialising influence which brings the concept of marriage and propriety to their relationship. I wrote a whole essay at university about how Heathcliff is the id, Cathy the ego and E. Linton the super ego and the two men tear her apart between them to the point that she can no longer recognise herself.
Not pretty, but amazing reading and way ahead of its time.
Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you — haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe — I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always — take any form — drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul! Heathcliff
It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire. Cathy
My older sister bought me Fallen and Torment by Lauren Kate for my birthday back in December, and though I’d like to think that I’m generally not very snooty about which books I will or won’t read I have to admit that I was wary- like much of the world I have been suffering Twilight Sickness, and these books are in a similar vein.
In Fallen, Lucinda Price is sentenced to time at a school for young offenders having been implicated in a terrible accident. Her strange testimony about shadows gathering has everyone thinking that she’s crazy, or worse, has something to hide. Once there she finds herself torn between two handsome men (as all good heroines in teen romance books seem to do…) the dark and edgy but considerate Cam, and the aloof and somewhat unfriendly Daniel. Now, to most women that would seem like an obvious choice, but Luce has a feeling that she has known Daniel for a very, very long time. Torment is the sequel to this story, in what will be a four part deal.
So, the comparisons to the Twilight books are inevitable. Intelligent young heroine is placed in an unfamiliar environment and relies upon the charms of two supernatural (oh come on, you saw it coming) young men to help get her through. We also have the Twilight love triangle going on, and the character of Daniel is a lot like the character of Edward (an annoying, controlling know-it-all). They’ve even pre-empted the Edward Cullen effect by having some blonde weightlifter pose for promotional material, which I found quite funny. The young man was more a pretty teen than eternally beautiful angel, but I suppose you have to work with what’s available.
Despite this, I think that the Fallen books are infinitely superior. Luce is a lot less annoying than Bella, challenging Daniel’s decision to establish himself in the role of authority figure instead of playing the insipid little wife. I also like the way that the author has made the lines between good and evil a lot more blurred than they are in Twilight making elements of the books less predictable than they might otherwise have been.
Having said that, I suspect that parts of the books might just be a little predictable. And I can’t wait to read the next book to find out how the author will unfurl the story to prove me right!
Oh, and in case you wondered? I’m team Cam. I’m starting that bandwagon rolling.
I know that some people hate Valentine’s Day, and this list is for you. A list of books about doomed love, some weepy, some cruel, some just plain brilliant. Not quite Valentine’s Schadenfreude, these will leave you heartbroken. However, they serve as a reminder that while the course of true love never did run smooth, if does come along, you might just want to run in the opposite direction.
Against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, a naive soldier Henri and a streetwise young woman Villanelle learn about the destructive and regenerative powers of passion, when nothing is as it seems and what you risk reveals what you value.
Jessamine has grown up knowing that the most innocuous looking plant can have the power to heal or kill. When a mysterious young man arrives to live with Jessamine and her father, little do they suspect that these sinister plants have their own plans for the couple, and that obsession and love when misused can be fatal.
The five beautiful and mysterious Lisbon sisters capture the hearts and imaginations of the neighbourhood boys. Twenty years after each of the girls committed suicide, as grown men the same boys reconstruct from relics and memory, the story of the tragic girls who shaped their early romantic ideals and coloured their desires.
The guardian books section today had a subheading instructing us, “Steel yourself for romantic disappointment as the poet considers the literature of desire, from Marvell’s coy mistress to John Betjeman’s lovelorn subaltern.” In the article, poet John Stammers picks out his top ten love poems in which Desire is unsatisfied or denied. I was certainly disappointed, but not by thwarted desire, but the staid and predictable selection of poems, many of which had nothing to do with unsatisfied desire.
Why is it, of all the poems in the English language Sonnet 116 has to be stuck on every list of romantic poetry? It’s not even Shakespeare’s best. And perhaps I’m being slow here, but isn’t it about steadfast love and not desire unsatisfied or denied? Likewise Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song may reflect Betjeman’s feelings for the lovely Miss Hunter Dunn being unrequited in real life, but in the poem they sit in the car ‘til twenty to one and are engaged after… I wonder what went on in the car, between the lines. Nudge nudge, wink wink and all that. Not exactly unsatisfied or denied.
I agree that Donne’s The Flea deserves its place on the list; I would have put it at number one. Likewise, I love Wyatt’s Whoso List to Hunt though I suspect that has to do with the Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII love triangle that was going on, not just the poem itself. But To His Coy Mistress? This is why people say they hate poetry. The same boring tat trotted out again and again. It’s like people stop reading poems when they finish their school career or at the very latest their undergraduate degree and churn out the one cannon of poetry-that-was-considered-worthy-thirty-years-ago.
So for anyone who has made it through that rant and cares, here’s my alternative selection:
1. Correspondents- Carol Ann Duffy
A highly erotic description of a chaste and futile love affair between a married man and woman, who do not touch, but send letters and conceal their love for fear of shocking polite society.
2. Like The Touch of Rain/Go Now- Edward Thomas
The bliss of unsought love bleeds into the shock and pain of unexpected rejection.
3. Love Songs in Age- Philip Larkin
An elderly lady looks back at her collection of love songs, and realises with sadness that the idea that love will sustain and heal all has never been true, and will not be true.
4. For Desire- Kim Addonizo
What can I say? She wants to be desired. Definitely a poem about unsatisfied urges…
5. The Bath Tub- Ezra Pound
Have you ever anticipated something so much, that when it doesn’t live up to your expectations you feel the most disappointing anticlimax? Ezra Pound tells it like it is…
6. Porphyria’s Lover- Robert Browning
When obsessive love goes wrong. A cautionary tale ladies, about what happens when you toy with your lover but don’t give him the adoration he desires. That or a warning about what happens when you hook up with a psycho.
7. Libido- Rupert Brooke
Desire is portrayed as a pestilence and it’s fulfilment as death.
8. Nothing-James Fenton
“Nothing I give, Nothing I do or say,
Nothing I am will make you love me more.”
9. The Flea- John Donne
How can you not include this playful petition?
10. The Toilet- Hugo Williams
You meet an attractive stranger on the train, but what will happen when you decide to make your move?