Montreal, Quebec, Canada | Member Since 2011
All the action within this novel takes place during one day and evening as Mrs Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class woman, is first preparing for, then throws a party in the evening. While still at home before she sets out to run her errands, she is visited by Peter Walsh, a man she's known since she was a young girl and who once asked her to marry him. For the whole of the novel, we wander from one stream of thoughts to another, with Clarissa's mind wandering from the moment's happenings and backwards into the past, then without preamble we are following Peter's thoughts, then Clarissa's husband and so on, with the author's focus wandering between every person encountered in the novel. Clarissa thinks about the life choices she has made. Peter has just come back from India and is seeking a divorce from his wife now that he has fallen in love with a much younger married woman. Clarissa's husband has bought her flowers and intends to tell her he loves her, something he presumably hasn't said in a very long time. There is Doris Kilman, the teacher of Clarissa's daughter Elizabeth, who, while she venerates the young girl to a degree that borders on desire (or as much desire as a religious fanatic will make allowances for), despises her mother Clarissa for all she stands for as a society woman living a life of ease and luxury. We meet Septimus Warren Smith, sitting in the park with his wife; he is a war veteran suffering from a very bad case of shell-shock who is being treated for suicidal depression. His wife is concerned because he talks to himself and to his deceased army friend Evans, who may have been much more than just a buddy, and together they are waiting to meet a psychiatrist who will suggest a course of treatment for the young man.
I had a couple of false stars with this book over the years, never making it past the first couple of pages, and must say one needs to be in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate this short, yet very profound novel. Having just finished reading A Room of One's Own I found myself in the right mood for more of Woolf's deep reflections on life and how we are affected by circumstances and the people we are surrounded by, whether by choice or happenstance. Once one gets accustomed to the flow of words, which doesn't follow a traditional narrative style with chapters and commentary, but pours forth in an organic way meant to mimic a real-life experience, one is transported by the portraits Woolf paints of these people, whom we get to know from the inside out, as opposed to the other way round. Because of this, there is a timeless quality to this novel, even though the events it alludes to are very much fixed in the London of the 1920s.
Beautifully narrated by the much recommended Juliet Stevenson.
This is without a doubt among the best books I've read this summer, and indeed, all year. I've been meaning to read Bernice Rubens's books for several years now, ever since a reviewer on a book site I frequent brought her to my attention. Until then, I wasn't really aware of her work. I'd heard of the movie Madame Sousatzka, based on her novel, because Shirley MacLaine had played the lead role, but had it not been for this reviewer, Rubens might have gone on being completely unknown to me for decades longer, which would have been a sad loss. As it is, I've slowly been accumulating some of her books, and was delighted to discover Isis Publishing had recently put out audiobook versions of a number of her novels, all read by very good narrators.
The Waiting Game of the title takes place at Hollyhocks, a distinguished home for the aged close to Dover, where only the gentry need apply for admission. Matron, who keeps things well in hand, has always seen to that, and she has always been able to sift the scent of class from the other less pleasant effluvia of aging. Lady Celia is queen among the patrons, being the only one of the residents holding a title, and all the other residents defer to her in all matters. Of course nobody has any idea she makes a comfortable living with a thriving blackmailing concern which she runs with the help of a partner and Mr Venables, aka The Ferret. Yet, though they all show her respect, most of the residents dislike Lady Celia because their instinct tells them she will outlast them all. Jeremy Cross has more reason than most to hate her as he's made outliving everyone his one and only obsession. He keeps a constantly updated list of those who have passed away before their time and has every intention of outliving all the other residents at Hollyhocks, especially Lady Celia.
Each resident in the house has his or her secrets and when newcomer Mrs Thackeray arrives, she and Mrs Green become friendly and embark on seemingly harmless fantasy-ridden retellings of the past. After all, Mrs Thackeray had endured a miserable and sexually abusive marriage which isn't fit to talk about, while Mrs Green, well.. she perhaps has more reasons than most to wish to reinvent herself. Of course, for the most part, only the reader is privy to everybody's secrets, though in the end a very big surprise is revealed to everyone. I admit I saw it coming, but this didn't take away from my pleasure one bit.
I'm not sure why it is I enjoy reading about elderly people so much (and here I should specify when I say 'elderly', I do mean old and frail enough to need to be in retirement homes!)—it probably has to do with the fact that having lived so long, and lived through many generations, they've inevitably accumulated life experiences, have fully blossomed into the unique individuals those experiences have forged them into, and invariably have stories to tell, and in the hands of skilled writers, these characters can yield pure magic. Two of my all-time favourite novels feature men and women who are in the winters of their lives: Memento Mori by Muriel Spark and All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. Both gems which I intend to revisit often and heartily recommend.
I can see lots more Rubens in my future, and this was a great place to start. Narrator Anna Bentinck does this novel full justice. Much recommended.
At the head of the Elliot family is the baronet Sir Walter, a widower and a vain man who lives beyond his means and makes up his mind about people solely based on their appearance and station in life. His eldest and his youngest daughters take after him, to great comical effect, but Anne Elliot, his middle daughter, is quite different. She's a great reader of poetry and has never forgotten her first romantic attachment to Captain Frederick Wentworth, a romance which took place eight years before the story begins. But like all well bred young ladies of her day, she let herself be persuaded by a close friend of the family, Lady Russell, to break off the engagement because of Wentworth's apparent lack of fortune and prospects. But Wentworth is back, now having acquired great wealth and looking for a wife, and anyone will do, as long as she is fond of the navy. Anyone that is, but Anne.
This, the last novel Austen wrote as she was dying, is a story imbued with a sense of loss, missed opportunities and regret, but of course in the end, love must conquer all and hope wins the day.
This audio version by the ever-perfect Juliet Stevenson was quite a treat.
McWhorter's short book is obviously aimed at the public at large and in the audio version at least, he is a narrator who is engaging and fun and obviously doesn't take himself too seriously, which kept me going even the more arduous bits (I've always had a hard time with grammar). He uncovers some links in the English language which are surprisingly overlooked by most linguists, among others, the connection between the spoken languages of the Celts as well as the Welsh and Cornish who had populated Britain before the invasion of the Germanic tribes, pointing out that not only words, but grammar itself was influenced by these origins. Why historians have ignored these particular linguistic connections is anyone's guess, and he advances some theories which are interesting.
A noteworthy reminder for the modern reader is the fact that language was transmitted purely orally and on the fly, with no formal schooling in existence and was almost never put in writing, with the bulk of the population being illiterate, besides which written and oral versions of languages were often vastly different (for example, Latin exclusively in many Mediterranean countries for written matter, and Arabic, even to this day different in daily speech and printed matter).
He also goes over quite a bit of ground in this section about the use of "unnecessary do" in the modern English language, as in "do you think this is a good idea?" It took me a while to understand this concept, because we use (unecessary) 'do' so much in our regular speech that we don't even think about it, but it seems no other Germanic languages use it this way.
The end section was of particular interest to me, because having studied in grade school in Israel, I learned how Hebrew was a semitic language which at one point evolved from Phoenician, and here McWhorter makes the argument that even the proto-Germanic language, from which modern languages such as English, German and Dutch evolved, through the sea travels of peoples such as the Phoenicians, probably had similar influences as well.
An overview more than anything, but fascinating in parts.
Gwyneth and her entire family has always believed that her much more beautiful, better poised and much better educated cousin Charlotte had inherited the time travel gene, as Isaac Newton had foretold. The onset of the symptoms first appear during the gene-carrier's teens; headaches and dizziness and then out of the blue he or she is transported sometime in the past (never the future since it hasn't happened yet) for no longer than a couple of hours. Charlotte has been meticulously prepared all her life for this, but when Gwen suddenly discovers the hard way her mother has held back secrets from her and she lands in another century much to her surprise, the family is forced to accept this reversal of fortune.
There's some allusion to an alchemical secret and a circle of 12 which Gwyneth completes with the confirmation of her genetic capabilities which I guess gets worked out in the course of the next two books. Of course, she has a love interest, in the shape of a fellow time traveler and distant cousin, Gideon de Villiers, who at first seems to despise her and to show a marked admiration for the ravishing Charlotte, but soon comes to appreciate Gwen's spunk and ability to handle situations on the fly.
I don't always appreciate YA literature, often finding it too fluffy and predictable to my liking, but this summer my teen self seems to be enjoying the diversions I'm offering it, and this first book in the trilogy was so much fun that I'll be looking for the next two books soon to find out how Gwen fares in the end and what the 'ultimate secret', which one of her cousins is working hard to kept hushed up—supposedly for the good of all—is.
Many readers must come to this book having read quite a few Alan Furst WWII spy novels. After all, as the NYT stated in a recent review, "Mr. Furst has long since carved out this turf and made it his own", and while I've long wanted to start on his Night Soldiers series, I jumped at the occasion to acquaint myself with this novelist with his latest one-off.
Cristián Ferrar is a Spanish émigré living in Paris and has some clout as a lawyer working for a prestigious American law firm representing an international clientèle. When the novel starts in December 1937, the Spanish civil war is ongoing and the Republicans, fighting against General Franco's fascist army is in desperate need of munitions. Ferrar, with his skills as a negotiator and diplomat is recruited to help in the arms deal negotiations with dangerous criminals and to ensure the shipments actually get into the proper hands. A man of not inconsiderable charms and an amorous disposition, Ferrar quickly falls for the charms of a prim and proper potential client, the Marquesa Maria Cristina. Beneath her chic veneer is a woman all too willing to fall for Ferrar's charm, but is she who she claims to be and does she have ulterior motives? Ferrar is too clever to be played like an innocent in these dangerous times, but he also doesn't miss a chance to enjoy the bounties beautiful women and life in Paris have to offer, as the novel takes him from exclusive swank nightclubs and the famous Parisian landmark, restaurant Lapérouse, to wine and dine, and potentially bribe a necessary contact. From there to negotiations with Bulgarian gangsters in Istanbul brothels and uncollaborative train-yard inspectors in Poland, he and his collaborator, ex arms dealer Max de Lyon, must use all the finesse they can to deliver the arms to Spain or else see the republicans lose to the Fascists in the bigger war that is looming ahead. It took me a while to sink into the story, in which many characters are introduced in the beginning, but once I got in the groove it was a smooth, satisfying ride with plenty of zing.
I read and listened to quite a few fantasy YA novels in June, and while fantasy and YA aren't usually in my comfort zone, ended up enjoying all of them. This particular trilogy only came to my attention because I've fallen in love with Samuel West's voice and narration style, and so have bought most of the audiobooks he's recorded that are likely to be of interest to me (16 of them so far). Twin sister and brother Kestrel and Bowman Hath are living peacefully in their now egalitarian society after having endured a totalitarian regime most of their lives (this is covered in book 1 of the Wind of Fire Trilogy). However this state of affairs doesn't last long when an ambitious young soldier decides to capture the entire town as slaves for the people of the Mastery. The methods used to keep captured slaves compliant are incredibly cruel, so the people have no choice but to let themselves be led to their new masters. While the raid takes place, Kestrel and Bowman are separated, with the boy and other family members taken in captivity while Kestrel is left behind to make her way to safety. Along the road, she meets a young and extremely beautiful princess travelling in great pomp who takes her under her wing. The twins each use their great intelligence and special skills to get their family back together again while also doing all they can to overthrow the oppressive regime, with the girls also having to fend off the advances of dangerously enamoured men. And exciting adventure story which is rather unique, as was the first book. Both are highly recommended.
I became very keen to learn all about the Tudors after reading Hilary Mantel's excellent Wolf Hall, followed by Bring Up the Bodies not long after. At that time I had very little notion about British History, and none at all about Henry VIII and his time, other than the fact he was an oft-married tyrant who had a couple of his wives beheaded. This book was just what I needed to fill some of the biggest gaps in my understanding of a) the reasons why H8 married so often b) who his wives were, with their backgrounds and personal stories and c) why he killed off two of his wives and divorced two more. I also learned in greater detail about d) how and why the break from Rome and the pope occurred, and why there were so many reversals back and forth from Catholic to Protestant beliefs, resulting in the deaths of uncounted masses of people for heresies which were determined according to ever-changing priorities and whims of the great monarch.
I felt I got quite a thorough overview of each of Henry's six wives, and also that Alison Weir seemed to greatly dislike Anne Boleyn, who came across as quite an unlikeable woman, though I gather this is a widely agreed upon opinion. Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, predictably enough, came across as a saint. Ann of Cleves and Catherine Parr, as the two clever ones who survived marriage to a vile brute. And of course, plenty of information about the monarch himself and his time.
Recommended for those who like me have an interest in literature about that period with little background on the topic, as I imagine a lot of the material is familiar to those who have a better grasp on English history.
While I really enjoyed the first book in the series, March Violets earlier this month, I can't say I felt quite the same about this one. We are now in the Berlin of 1938 and Bernie Gunther is asked to rejoin the police force to work on a serial murder case. Several young girls have gone missing and been found defiled in the most gruesome manner: raped, tied by their feet and drained of their blood exactly like slaughtered pigs. All the girls were around 15, blonde and blue-eyed; the perfect Arian stereotype. Another private case has him uncovering a man blackmailing a wealthy widow, a publisher whose son is a homosexual who (inadvisedly in this age of Nazi power) kept up a correspondence with his lover, some of those letters now being in the hands of the blackmailer. Two very different cases, and no apparent link to the question of the oppression of the Jews in this year which is marked by Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, an organized attack against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria which took place on the 9th and 10th November 1938. But of course we eventually learn that no crime in this time and place could occur without the aim of further oppressing the Jews.
While I liked the way the case started resolving itself two-thirds of the way in, I've developed a serious dislike for forms of entertainment which centre on serial rapes and murders of women, and the details in this case were truly horrendous. Perhaps because of this, I focused more on little things that bothered me with the first book; endless questionable similes and a main hero who is a typical macho male, which is accurate enough for the period portrayed and amused me the first time around, but here set off against the background of these female victims was distasteful to me. Is that reverse sexism on my part? All the same, solid writing overall (except those similes—why?) and a crime story which places the reader firmly in the heart of Nazi Germany just before WWII. I'll be listening to the third book to see what trouble Bernie gets into next.
My first Philippa Gregory, picked up partly because it was on sale here at Audible, and partly because I was interested in learning more about the mother of the Princes in the Tower and that particular period of British history, which especially came to my attention when I listened to Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time (narrated by the fantastic Sir Derek Jacobi). Reading Tey's book, I was both impressed and frustrated. Impressed because Tey is such a great story-teller, but frustrated because at that point I knew little to nothing about the main characters involved in this political drama and I resolved to find out more about it so I could read it again eventually and feel I had a better grasp on the events and personalities described.
In that sense, this book has delivered the goods very well. Why go to a work of fiction rather than a no doubt more reliable work of non-fiction? Because I can retain facts much better when they are told to me as a story with interesting characters moved by complex motives. Gergory's work is obviously very well researched and she has a skill for writing compelling stories. Certainly she is never likely to win a literary prize, and I was slightly annoyed when certain details were repeated twice and three times. But otherwise the story of Elizabeth Woodville, who became Queen consort when she married King Edward IV for love—of all things, in an age when marriages were nothing more than political pacts (it was the cause célèbre at the time)—, is here very well told, and from her own perspective so that we get to hear how much influence the women likely had over these great men of power. The story begins in the 1460s, when she first meets the King and compels him to fall in love with her with a combination of charm, great beauty, brains, and if we are to believe the persistent rumours that have always surrounded her, witchcraft as well. She had two sons from a previous marriage to John Grey of Groby, who died fighting for the Lancastrians during the ongoing Wars of the Roses. Her own parents were also Lancastrians, so that while her alliance with a Yorkist King was certainly calculated to promote her and her children's welfare by aligning with the clan in power, it seems this ambitious woman truly loved King Edward and bore him 10 children, including Edward V of England, who was King of England for less than 4 months, and Richard, Duke of York, both Princes in the Tower who disappeared in suspicious circumstances when their uncle Richard III (King Edward IV's youngest brother) kept his nephews imprisoned in the Tower of London in his political machinations to take over the crown. Elizabeth Woodville's oldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, married King Henry VII, and King Henry VIII was one of three surviving children from that union, so that the heroine of this novel is the ancestor of every English monarch since Henry VIII and every Scottish monarch since James V of Scotland through her daughter Elizabeth. A really great read with plenty of political intrigue and romance as well as a good lesson in history. I checked many facts against wikipedia and found everything to be completely in order.
I only wish I'd checked the chronological order of the stories, as would have probably started the series with The Lady of the Rivers, which is third in publication order but tells the story of Elizabeth Woodville's mother, who sounds like a fascinating lady. Jacquetta of Luxembourg had a scandalous second marriage with a man far inferior in rank, Sir Richard Woodville, who served as her first husband, John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford's chamberlain. Believed to be a descendant of the river goddess Melusina, she also allegedly practiced witchcraft, the knowledge of which she passed on to her daughter. I'll probably be moving on to that one next.
I'd been hearing about what a wonderful experience it is to read Georgette Heyer's novels ever since I joined an online reading group several years ago. Perfectly researched with great period details, and a great comfort reading experience is mostly what I gleaned from the various comments and reviews I'd read. I must say I agree. As it happened, I was very much in the mood for something comforting and not too demanding either intellectually or emotionally on the day I picked this book up, as I had just moments before decided to abandon a very difficult novel, as I didn't see the point of continuing to emotionally torture myself in the name of literary proficiency. I already had another Heyer novel in the listening stacks, but that day I was determined to find both the storyline and the narrator that most appealed my momentary whims, which is how I came to choose Heyer's third among her Georgian and Regency novels. The book blurb on this site, short and to the point appealed to me, and from the first 11 minutes of the novel, available on the audio sample, I decided this would do the trick very well (though in retrospect, I don't know why Cornelius Garrett made the Duke sound like an old man, when he's only 40). As can be expected, there are beautiful and lavish details of costume, an interesting cast of characters with comical quirks, a deep intrigue, and plenty of romance (although Romance is usually a genre is steer clear from). No, this is not a work of great literary merit, but it's well written, has a great plot, and it's so much fun... who cares?
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