Ross Poldark

by Winston Graham

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I absolutely loved this book.

All the characters were so alive, so three dimensional. I had no trouble keeping even quite minor characters sorted out. After (part) reading The Mirror & the Light finding that my aging memory can still keep track of large character casts if the book is compelling enough is quite a relief! The book contains everything – major setbacks, romance, tragedy, family life and humour. It is not surprising that two different TV series have been made from the Poldark saga.

The three main female characters Demelza, Verity & Elizabeth were what I particularly loved. They are all nice people but none of them are saints. I particularly like the joy that Demelza brings to the page, skipping around with huge bunches of wild flowers, yet also working so hard.

As well as giving us compelling characters, Graham does some of the best writing of a blighted romance I have ever read.

She pushed the bolt across the door and sat abruptly in the first chair. Her romance was over; even though she rebelled against the fact, she knew that it was so. She felt faint and sick and desperately tired of being alive. If death could come quietly and peacefully she would accept it, would sink into it as one sank into a bed wanting only sleep and self-forgetfulness.

So beautiful and tender. & unlike many male writers, Graham doesn’t disdain to give us clothing descriptions. It is a criticism often levelled at Georgette Heyer, but I enjoy it as part of the historical novel experience.

I now also own parts 2-6 in this series. I can’t wait to read Demelza i hope that all of these books hold my interest – I think it will depend how much detail there is about tin mining, which to be honest, doesn’t interest me at all!

Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not an easy book to read or review.

Jean Rhys was inspired (some may even say obsessed) by Bertha Mason (in this book mostly called Antoinette Cosway.) from Jane Eyre. I reread Jane Eyre in preparation for this read, as this novella is considered a prequel. In my case as I mention in my review of Jane Eyre this was definitely needed, as I believe when I read Jane Eyre in the past that I read an abridged or heavily censored edition. For someone who has read a “full” edition & who has a decent memory, a recent read probably isn’t necessary – & it won’t help!. To be honest, even with a recent read, I was still confused! I found that helps reflect the confusion in both Antoinette & Rochester’s minds. & I felt the heat, the lushness – & the rage Rochester feels when he thinks he is being manipulated by everyone including his family back in England.

Rochester believes he is in a corrupt & decadent society…

..& he is both young & immature.

I found it better to relax into the beauty of the writing & not try to pick at faults. I know this isn’t my usual way, & I could do that because the novella is so short.

Reading the notes & introduction of my copy this particular novella had a very chequered history. It was started many years earlier by Ms Rhys, partially destroyed and then heavily rewritten by Rhys. This may explain the incoherence. I was captured by this book, but anyone reading the reviews on Goodreads will realise it is not for everyone.

The Mirror & the Light

by Hilary Mantel

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I have just watched the TV series Anne Boleyn. I found it a little disappointing – mainly because “Henry VIII” just didn’t have the presence you expect. But it reminded me I hadn’t finished this series.

This book was another disappointment – one I should have been prepared for really. Lots of my friends have read it & given it 4 or 5★, but there just didn’t seem to be much buzz around it in the bookish world after it was published although there was certainly plenty before. Never a good sign.

The beginning starting with Anne Boleyn’s execution was thrilling and there was some beautiful writing, then more beautiful writing, but the pace was extremely slow. The book only seemed to have any vitality when Henry or (surprisingly) Jane Seymour were on the page.

This reminds me of Sue Grafton‘s later books. When the author is a mega success I guess the editor is hesitant to be too heavy with the red pen. I abandoned this book at 348 pages and I feel 100 pages could have been pruned, even at this early stage. I didn’t feel like ploughing on to see if things improved.

DNF at 39.4%

The Infinite Air

by Fiona Kidman

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I read Fiona Kidman’s This Mortal Boy last year and it was one of my favourite reads of 2020. I thought Kidman did a marvellous job of recreating a life of a nearly forgotten figure from New Zealand history, Albert Black.

With famed Kiwi aviator the enigmatic Jean Batten, not so much although I do value Kidman’s more sympathetic than usual interpretation of Miss Batten’s life.

Jean came from a seriously dysfunctional background. Her mother Nelly was obsessed with Jean and neglected her sons, her father was a notorious philanderer. Not too surprisingly, the marriage didn’t work out! Her brothers in Kidman’s interpretation were left to make their own way in the world – in a twist I didn’t know, the younger brother John became a Hollywood actor who did very well for a time.

Jean meanwhile grew into an astonishingly beautiful young girl.

Jean at 15

Highly intelligent, she was also a gifted dancer and pianist. Her father was happy to encourage Jean in her dreams to become a concert pianist. But Jean, even though she was living in near poverty with her mother was determined to fly.

Where Kidman’s account differs from many others, both in newspaper accounts and biographies, is that she doesn’t see Jean as a heartless gold digger who ruthlessly obtained money from men to follow her flying dream. Some of them were infatuated with her beauty but who want to control her- and certainly didn’t understand her. This is indeed the strongest part of the book. I loved being gently lead to a different interpretation of Jean’s character.

Kidman even portrays Jean’s great love Beverley Shepherd as someone who would want to control her.

But the most controlling person in Jeans life was her mother, Nelly. Does Jean ever realise this?

For me, the book quality tails off quite a bit in Jean’s post fame years. It is almost like Jean & Nelly are cardboard cut-outs pasted into different scenes. Jean may have been happy to keep her mystique, but I was a little disappointed.

No Bed for Bacon

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dagglebelt almost snatched the held-out pumpkin in his eagerness. His big chance had come. “Now just watch me a minute,”he pleaded. He planted his feet in an open fourth. He threw up one pumpkin. He threw up another. He threw up the third. “Juggler, “explained the Master of the Revels. Breathing heavily Dagglebelt caught the first pumpkin. He clutched at the second. He missed the third. “A bad juggler,” said Burghley disappointed. “It was an accident,” said Dagglebelt. He picked up the pumpkins. He tried again. “Dolt,” cried a raw voice from an upper storey. “Run away and practice while you still have hands to do it with.” Dagglebelt gave one glance. He abandoned his pumpkins. He ran. Elizabeth of England withdrew from the window. She was smiling.

If this strikes you as funny (or like in my case, mildly amusing) this might be the book for you! There were only a couple of parts that I laughed out loud (the best one was Elizabeth of England choosing her outfit for the day) but I read most of it with a smile.

A wild mixture of Shakespearean fact & the authors’ equally wild imagination (they were both Fire Wardens during WWII when they wrote this together) , until near the end when this tale started to drag a bit.

I was curious what a pantoble was. Some of the characters threw one quite a bit. Sounded like a small piece of furniture. The (uninformative definition) I googled said it was another name for a pantofle. (which sounds like a pastry)

It is actually;

a type of footwear.

Good fun!

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