I’ve managed to get a decent amount of reading done this month, and write more on this blog which I’m very pleasantly surprised about. I will hopefully keep this up in August, so let me know if there’s anything you would like to see me discuss, whether it’s books/tv/history.
Monthly Reading Roundup
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler: 3.5 Stars
I was lucky enough to find this book in a local second-hand bookshop, in the beautiful hardcover edition and for a bargain price. The third book published in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, Vinegar Girl is the retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. It is the second book in the series I’ve read, after Margaret Atwood’s Hag -Seed, and so far, I’m really enjoying reading different authors retell Shakespeare plays in their own unique styles. Admittedly much of what I know about the play comes from 10 Things I Hate About You, and while I think I know the rough outline of the story, I didn’t know enough to be able to compare in detail to the original.
Here’s the basic synopsis:
Kate Battista feels stuck. How did she end up running house and home for her eccentric scientist father and uppity, pretty, younger sister Bunny? Plus, she’s always in trouble at work, her pre-school charges adore her, but their parents don’t always appreciate her unusual opinions and forthright manner.
Dr. Battista has other problems. After years out in the academic wilderness, he is on the verge of a breakthrough. His research could help millions. There’s only one problem: his brilliant young lab assistant, Pyotr, is about to be deported. And without Pyotr, all would be lost.
When Dr. Battista cooks up an outrageous plan that will enable Pyotr to stay in the country, he’s relying – as usual – on Kate to help him. Kate is furious: this time he’s really asking too much. But will she be able to resist the two men’s touchingly ludicrous campaign to bring her around?
I didn’t enjoy Vinegar Girl as much as I wanted to, mainly because it took me a while to get into the story, and when I did, it was right at the end. I was left wanting a lot more and this frustrated me, because I was genuinely invested in the story at that point and the development of Kat and Pyotr’s relationship. This made the ending feel quite rushed and abrupt, and this disappointed me.
One of the best parts of the story was how the marriage occurred, and Tyler using a green card marriage made the ‘taming’ of Kate feel believable for a present-day story in America. It was a smart adaptation choice, and made complete sense.
I really liked the writing style, the book’s length making it a short and easy read. Kate was a very relatable and likable protagonist that I really empathised with, though the supporting characters were a lot weaker in comparison.
In Search of Anne Brontë by Nick Holland: 2.5 Stars
The next book on my dissertation reading list, In Search of Anne Brontë was one of two new books on Anne published last year in what appears to show a growing interest in Anne’s life.
Honestly, this wasn’t for me. I’m grateful to the author for writing about Anne with high respect and clear admiration, along with starting more conversations about her life and work, but the writing style kept putting me off throughout. Mainly it was because of all the assumptions about the emotions Anne or her sisters felt at times, and writing about how they reacted to things or their actions during events, when there was no evidence to back these claims up. Holland did question parts of Anne life and interpret events, but then there would be language that stated Anne’s actions or feelings, which we have no way of knowing. There’s so much we don’t know about Anne’s life, let alone all her thoughts or feelings. We can guess and try to make arguments, but these cannot be assumed to be true. Especially after reading the brilliant biography of the Brontë family by Juliet Barker, and Samantha Ellis’s wonderful book on Anne, this paled in comparison. Both of those made suggestions about how Anne may have reacted to situations or felt about events, but didn’t write them as though they were truth.
Anne’s relationship with her father’s curate William Weightman was the part that annoyed me the most though. I’ve read books that all have different views on the nature of their relationship, and the lack of evidence we have surrounding makes it difficult to conclude. Holland seemed firm in his belief that they did have a romantic relationship, but lines such as “Anne would have to cling to her dreams of a future life with her William. She would have to make do with the exchanged glances in church, the brushing of hands when nobody was looking, the sighs and whispers.” There’s nothing to prove any of this happened, with a quote from Charlotte’s letter to Ellen Nussey and Anne’s poetry (which we can’t assume is all autobiographical, considering a lot of it was probably written for her and Emily’s imaginary world Gondal) being all we have to base their relationship on.
I’m probably nit-picking too much, but this style just surprised me and distracted me throughout, and I have never seen it in a nonfiction novel before. Anne is a hard person to write a book on though, and I can understand that this style is ‘bringing history alive’ and makes it easier to tell her life story. Though I guess this book isn’t really aimed for me in the first place. This book is great for an introduction into Anne’s life, and covers her whole life and the legacy she left behind. Her death scenes in particular were very emotional
This is certainly not a bad book, just one that wasn’t meant for me, but one I’m glad still exists and is helping introduce people to Anne.
1984 by George Orwell: 4 Stars
I’m so glad I can finally say I’ve read this book. As an English student, there’s so many books that you think you ought to have to read, and this was one that has been on the list for ages. Sometimes with these books, they turn out to be dull, too long or just not very good. Thankfully this was not the case with 1984, which lived up to the hype. It’s also seen a recent surge in sales, mainly after Trump became President, and it’s telling that Orwell’s story still holds so much power and resonance today.
It’s not a particularly cheerful read, and leaves you with feelings of dread and horror at what society could still become, but hey we’re not short of that at the moment anyway.
People are quick to make comparisons with this novel and today’s political events, and sure, some of these might be an overreaction but others are chilling. History is continually being altered in Orwell’s dystopia, with the regime changing the past to suit their own agenda, erasing the truth and arresting anyone that would suggest otherwise. This doesn’t feel that far off in a world where “fake news” and “alternative facts” are being thrown around.
It’s clear to see everyone is encouraged to read this book, and I’m so glad I finally did, a worthwhile read.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: 3.5 Stars
Another second-hand bookshop find, I picked this book before I went back to visit my house at university, and wanted a good fiction book to read on my train journeys. Fates and Furies follows the marriage between Lotto and Mathilde, and here is a basic synopsis:
“Fates is handsome, charismatic Lotto’s story, in which he tells of the electric beginning and building of his 24-year marriage to Mathilde; Furies is his wife’s version, which cleverly undercuts Lotto’s knowledge and memory of events, and shows her orchestration and manipulation of their life together – as well as how she has maintained her secrets within it.”
It has drawn comparisons to Gone Girl, for its detailed exploration of marriage in both perspectives, though I preferred Gone Girl more. Though this book had absolutely beautiful writing which made it worth reading, and compelling throughout. The writing was brilliant, but the plot for me grew weaker as the novel went on. The first half, ‘Fates’ from Lotto’s perspective was engaging, and showcased the entirety of his and Mathilde’s marriage, as well as Lotto’s own upbringing. I was really looking forward to ‘Furies’ looking at Mathilde’s side of the story, but that’s when I almost gave up on the book. It was interesting in parts, but parts of Mathilde’s backstory were too ridiculous and I ended up feeling no connection to the main two characters, and by that point I thought the book had dragged on for too long. It’s sad because there were some wonderful moments, but the second half dragged it down for me.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë: 5 Stars
This was a second reading of this book for my dissertation, and while I loved reading it a second time around I want to a post focused on the novel itself at some point so I’m going to hold off doing a review here. (Yeah sorry, this blog is only going to increase with its Anne Brontë content.
Also this month I’ve bought/been given:
Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer
Bought from the utterly wonderful Persephone Books in London, a bookshop that is dedicated to publishing now unpublished 20th century women writers.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith is becoming one of my favourite authors this past year, and I was luxky enough to be given her latest novel as a birthday present this week, and I’m so looking forward to reading it.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
On my birthday, I explored Foyles bookshop in London (Seriously that place is heaven and I want to live there) and I managed to restrain myself and buy one book. Alias Grace is the latest Margaret Atwood novel to be getting a TV adaptation, with Netflix releasing all the episodes in November. I want to hopefully read the novel before it’s released.
Hopefully have another post up very soon this week!