This week I’ve started three books plus a new audio book. I’ve had a really busy week at work, the weather has been mostly hot & humid although we had some wonderful thunderstorms on Thursday which blew away the humidity, & I’ve found it hard to concentrate on just one book when I have so many lovely choices. I started the week with Joanna Trollope’s new book, The Other Family. I love Joanna Trollope, I’ve read all her books & I always look forward to a new one. This is the story of Chrissie & her three daughters, a middle class family living in London. Chrissie’s partner, Richie, dies suddenly, &, although Chrissie always felt married & wanted to be married, Richie had left behind a wife & son in the North. He refused to divorce Margaret although he’d had no contact with his first family for over 20 years. Problems arise when Richie’s will is read. Chrissie will have legal & financial difficulties but the real shock is the bequest Richie leaves to Margaret & his son, Scott. Chrissie & her two eldest daughters are spoilt & petulant. Amy, the youngest daughter, is the most sympathetic to Margaret & Scott. She finds some photos of her father’s life in Newcastle & makes contact with Scott. I love the beautifully observed domestic details of Joanna Trollope’s writing & I’m looking forward to the resolution of the tension between the families. I only read about 70pp of this on Monday because when I got home, it was gazumped by a tempting package on the doorstep. But, last night, I picked it up again & I’m more than halfway through. I’m totally absorbed & I think I’ll finish it this afternoon.
The tempting package on Monday contained Lyndall Gordon’s new book on Emily Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns. I’ve had this book on preorder for over a year & I couldn’t resist flicking through it, looking at the photos, index etc. I read a lot of Dickinson’s poetry when I was young & I suddenly found myself remembering lines & phrases. Soon I was looking up all my favourite poems & I started the book in bed that night. It’s a biography of Dickinson but it goes further. It looks at the family feuds that erupted over the poet’s manuscripts & reputation after her death. This is something I know very little about & I’m looking forward to discovering more. Although I love Dickinson’s poetry, I’ve always found it difficult to get an idea of who she was as a woman. The white dresses, the seclusion. Was she pining away from unrequited love? Was she ill? Was she just very clever at creating the life she needed to write? Gordon dismisses the traditional explanation of unrequited love. Her theory is that Dickinson suffered from epilepsy which was a shameful disease in the 19th century, linked to mental instability. It’s a fascinating theory, & I look forward to reading more about it when I get back to Emily.
On Tuesday, I took Emile Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise to read at lunchtime because the other two books were too big for my bag. My online reading group is reading Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages over the next couple of months. It’s the story of a young girl’s life as a shopgirl in the North of England & some of us are reading the Zola as a companion read. It should be quite a contrast as Zola’s novel is about a great department store in Paris. I expect much lushness & extravagance in contrast to the Northern austerity of Whipple. I’ve barely begun the Zola so I’ll say no more at the moment.
My new audio book is Sarah’s Cottage by D E Stevenson. I’ve only discovered Stevenson in the last year or so. There’s a devoted following for this author out there but most of her books are out of print. In the last year or so, this has started to change. Persephone reprinted Miss Buncle’s Book & Bloomsbury reprinted Mrs Tim of the Regiment as part of their wonderful Bloomsbury Group imprint. I’ve also listened to several books on audio. Stevenson writes gentle, domestic stories. Nothing dramatic or thrilling happens except maybe to the emotions of her characters. Sarah’s Cottage is set just after WWII. Sarah & Charles Reid are recently married & starting life together in Scotland in a house they’ve built on land given to them by Sarah’s grandparents. Life in a Scottish village, gentle & very satisfying with just enough plot detail in Sarah’s horrible sister & her neglected daughter, & ideas for Charles’ future career to keep me interested.