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2021 Year Of Reading Round Up

Well, the past year was absolutely bonkers for reasons we all know and various other reasons that are more personal (and I think we’ve all had enough of those, too). I did finish the year on a positive note – we’ve worked out why my rabbit has been chronically ill and are working towards a proper fix. Hopefully. Crossing fingers. I also ended the year an example of the new definition of fully vaccinated; it’s a statistic I’m happy to be a number in.

I’m not sure I noted every book I read this year – I almost missed one when writing this post that was a glaring omission (a very recent read and podcast recording) so it’s very possible I’ve missed others further back in the year. Given everything, and my incredibly low 36 books (though I did finish a book on the 1st of January and am reading Evelina every day), I’m doing things differently today. I didn’t give many of the below their due, skipping lots of round ups and writing few reviews (I may rectify one or both of those soon – what do you think, is it too ‘late’?). There were lots of re-reads and I read mostly for the podcast. I’ve not been keeping up with new releases. Hopefully this new year, that will change.

No best of this year and no personal favourites. Every book on this list helped me in one way or another.

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Catherine Cho: Inferno – A short while after giving birth to her first child, Cho was sent to an involuntary psych ward in the US (she was visiting from the UK) having experienced Post Partum Psychosis; she details the experience, interwoven with the events to the run up. Stunning book; Cho’s story needs reading widely and her handling of the literature side of things is phenomenal.

Christina Courtenay: The Runes Of Destiny – A young woman finds a Viking brooch on a dig site and is transported hundreds of years in the past where she is taken captive; struggling first to believe what’s happened, she must get used to her new life and not be distracted by the leader of the expedition abroad. A good, fun, follow up to Echoes Of The Runes that expands on the general idea and improves on it by leaps and bounds.

Claire North: Notes From The Burning Age – On a post-apocalyptic earth, a man is hired as an agent for the factor on one side of the sociopolitical environmental debate, and works as a double agent for the other side, as arguments about government, further climate change, and the value of the old world (us) continue to rage. A unique style of conversation about our current world in the context of the environment and how we might be viewed in the future, one full of poignant moments and pauses for thought.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly In Amber – Back in her own time, and twenty years on from when she spent two years in the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, Claire Fraser Randall has returned to Scotland to try and find out what happened to Jaime during the Battle of Culloden. She’s brought her daughter, Brianna, who is yet to discover that her father was a man who lived 200 years previously; now Frank has died, Claire is about to change that. Where the first book was pretty much pure fantasy, the second offering builds on the history to deliver something very detailed and historical and, badly-placed sex scenes aside (why tell your daughter all that?), it’s a great piece of escapism. One can only hope that the person who, in the TV series, is told the truth about Claire, also learns it in the book series, too, at some point.

Edward Carey: B: A Year In Plagues And Pencils – As the world started locking down, Carey made an impulsive promise to draw a sketch every day and post it to social media. He did just that for 500 days; this book chronicles 365 of those days: elections, police brutality, climate change, animals running wide, and many artists who created in some form of isolation. A lovely mix of drawings and textual context, stories that will not be easily forgotten.

Elizabeth Baines: Used To Be – A short story collection with the theme of different roads in life. Very, very good.

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Gill Paul: The Second Marriage – First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy, and opera singer Maria Callas were connected – both had relationships with the shipping magnate Ari Onassis. Paul looks at the lives, loves, and marriages of both women, the connections between them, and the way context and social values affected them. Called Jackie And Maria in the US, this is a strong, bold, work of fiction that offers possible answers and a well-written story of two famous women.

Hazel Gaynor: The Bird In The Bamboo Cage – The pupils and teachers of a school for western missionary children in China is taken over during the Japanese occupation and life suddenly changes from one of happiness and learning to poverty and danger. Full of information about a part of the War not often considered.

Janie Chang: The Library Of Legends – When the Japanese invade China, the government decrees universities pack up and journey to somewhere safer; we follow a group of teachers and students on the road, in particular Lian and wealthy Shen, whose mysterious servant seems to know more than she lets on, as well as a few politically-minded students, as they travel on foot to the other side of China, taking with them a great literary treasure. A wonderful tale of survival with elements of folklore and a heck of a lot of history rarely discussed in the west.

Jennifer Robson: Our Darkest Night – As the Nazis start to round up Italian Jews, Nina’s father sends her away to the countryside with a friend of a friend. Nico is a Catholic, and Nina is yet to find out is that he’s secretly been helping more people, too. As she starts to get used to the hard work on the farm, an old ‘friend’ comes calling, a Nazi classmate of Nico, and his obsession with being better than Nico changes the relative peace in the family and community at large. A stunning book – from its fairly quiet beginnings it transitions into a harrowing but fantastically-written and important first person narrative of the journey of Jewish people and the splitting of work camp and death.

Kate Forsyth: Bitter Greens – A fictional story of the woman who wrote the popular version of Rapunzel, and how she discovered the tale (it includes a retelling of its own). It made my ‘best of’ list the year I first read it, and it would make my best of list this year if I didn’t have a rule of no repeats.

Kate Forsyth: The Wild Girl – The fictionalised tale of Dortchen Wild who fell in love with one of the Grimm brothers and helped them in their task of collecting fairy tales. Very good, hard to put down.

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Katy Yocom: Three Ways To Disappear – Quinn and Sarah lost their sibling, Sarah’s twin, in childhood; now adults, Quinn tries to get back into her art whilst being a mother to her own set of twins, one with a chronic illness, and Sarah leaves her job as a reporter in dangerous locations to work in tiger conservation in India. Much better than my brief summary can do, this is a super book that explores trauma, conservation, and in the conservation all of the social affects conservation has on humans.

Kimberly Derting: The Body Finder – A girl who can sense the bodies of murdered people aids the discovery of the killer. Very good young adult fiction.

Kimberly Derting: Desires Of The Dead – Violet steps up her act by working with the FBI. It may not be as creepy as expected but it’s a worthy continuation of the series that begun with The Body Finder.

Kimberly Derting: The Last Echo – Violet and her team take on a man who kidnaps girls to be his girlfriend, and this time it’s more personal than ever before. The best book of the series so far.

Kimberly Derting: Dead Silence – Violet now has her own echo playing in her head, and her next assignment involves a young group of people. Still holding onto that strength.

Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant – Jimmy Han wants to make something of himself, away from his father’s restaurant but things start to go a bit amiss; this all kicks off after Jimmy’s conversion with family friend Uncle Pang, and as Jimmy tries to work around the issues and becomes close to employee/consultant Janine, the cracks in the lives of those who work at the restaurant start to show, and they’ll need work to overcome. A difficult book to summarise without revealing too much, this is a book that studies immigrant parent-child relationships and other familial relationships in the against the backdrop of a busy restaurant.

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Liz Fenwick: The Path To The Sea – The impending death of Joan causes her daughter Diana to wonder what exactly happened to her father, who died when she was young; it causes granddaughter Lottie, whilst happy to return to the home she spent her summers at, to look at her current relationship and where she went wrong with her first love; and meanwhile we learn the story of Joan’s days as a spy in the Cold War. Three very good narratives (I personally most enjoyed Joan’s) that will appeal to many give its scope, use of time, and the different characters.

Louise Douglas: The House By The Sea – When Edie’s ex-mother-in-law dies and leaves the house in Sicily to her and her ex-husband, Anna’s son Joe, Edie is forced to go to inspect it with Joe despite the hatred she feels for the woman – Anna was babysitting young Daniel the day he died. A great book about forgiveness and redemption with a heroine as well written as any of Douglas’ previous.

Louise Douglas: The Scarlet Dress – Alice disappeared at the caravan park when Marnie was a young child and Will a young man rather in love with the holidaymaker. Years later, the park is being dismantled for redevelopment but hits a problem when a body is found in ground beneath a structure. Marnie has to remember the past, Will has to work with what’s gone on (it had a massive impact on him, leading to career as a thriller writer) and the mystery of what happened to Alice must be solved by everyone remaining whose lives were linked with the park. A good, fast-moving, mystery revolving around a close-knit group.

Nicola Cornick: The Forgotten Sister – Dudley’s wife, Amy, has died, and, seen by the media as his likely lover, popstar and presenter, Lizzie, finds herself caught up in a suspected murder case; whilst this is happening, we read about Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, Elizabeth I’s favourite, who was found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. A thrilling, compelling, tale with time-slip elements and an intriguing, well-thought-out way of offering a solution to the historical mystery. The book will be published late April.

Nicola Cornick: The Last Daughter – When Caitlin’s body is found in a long-sealed coffin, Serena is forced to confront the past that has alluded her for so long to try and work out how her modern-day twin came to be buried in the 1800s. In a second narrative Anne Neville, wife of a close friend of Richard III’s recounts the story of her earlier years and the strange story told to her by a mystical woman about a familial lodestone with a powerful magic. As strong as Cornick’s previous time slips, this looks at a possible answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Noelle Adams: Married For Christmas – Jessica proposes a marriage of convenience between her and her friend so that she can have a family and he can become pastor to their childhood church. Re-read, happy and easy-going Christmas-time book very much appreciated.

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Patrick Gale: Take Nothing With You – Eustace undergoes cancer treatment in an isolated facility in hospital and takes with him a disposable music player with his friend’s cello music on it to help him pass the time. As he listens he looks back on his life – his childhood love of the cello, his progression in understanding his sexuality and his parents’ relationship, and what happened to change the academic trajectory he was on. Fantastic book – full of heart and music.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Ella becomes the long-awaited 10th member of a society that involves the country’s greatest writers – but are they the greatest writers, really? A very good look at ideas and writing in general.

Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: Secret Passages In A Hillside Town – Mundane, boring, Ollie, who lives in his own world and doesn’t even seem to know or care what his son’s name is, has a blast from the past when a past lover adds him as a friend on Facebook and Ollie starts to be imbroiled in a present-day version of his fantastical childhood. Fantastic, strange, out and out weird – I still haven’t worked it all out but there’s no question; it’s amazing.

Rachel Hore: A Beautiful Spy – When Minnie is approached by a family acquaintance about potential work and later contacted by MI5, she finds herself a spy, spying on British sympathisers of communist Russia and living two lives that cannot be blended together. Based on a real life spy, this is an interesting work that focuses more on the person than the work, showing the reality of life as well as bringing to the fore a woman who could never be noticed.

Rebecca F John: The Haunting Of Henry Twist – 1920s: When his wife, Ruby, dies in an accident and Henry finds himself a new single father, he starts to notice a man hanging around his flat and comes to believe that Jack is Ruby. A wonderfully written book about love and hope against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties and the Bright Young Things.

Rosanna Ley: The Orange Grove – When Holly bakes a cake to celebrate her business news, she knows it’s one her mother has never made, but doesn’t know why. Ella is shocked by the news but agrees to Holly’s proposal, that they go to Seville together to research products and meet vendors for her forthcoming orange-based shop. There’s just that trepidation – Ella visited Seville when she and and husband Felix were younger, but Felix left early to look after his mother, and Ella stayed on. She wasn’t entirely alone. A great book that blends interesting business trip with a past holiday spirit and an excellent look at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

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Rosie Travers: The Theatre Of Dreams – A recently-disgraced actress moves to the coast to manage a dance school… or at least that’s what she thought she was doing – in actual fact she’s there to help save a historical pavilion from demolition. Good stuff.

Samantha Sotto: The Beginning Of Always – At a New Year’s Eve party on a boat, Elise is bothered by a man who says he knows her from somewhere; who he is and whether he’ll go away becomes a moot point when Elise falls into the Seine and drowns… but doesn’t. She later finds the man, Thomas, who says he’s dying but the doctor’s can find nothing. Together they work to find out the reason they are seemingly connected. Meanwhile we hear from old Paris, where the morgue is full of bodies including one, a beautiful drowned woman whose face is cast into a mold. Very good – Sotto has taken the story of Resusi Annie and the Drowned Woman and run with it in her awesome magical way.

Susmita Bhattacharya: Table Manners – A collection of stories about human relationships and connections, linked by the theme of food, whether the food is an item, an idea, or a construct. Awesome.

Tyler Keevil: Your Still Beating Heart – Eira’s husband is killed in a senseless attack on a bus and it leaves her completely numb. She decides to go to Prague and, when a man who she suspects is a criminal attempts to discover if she could be a point of contact for trafficking, she agrees to do it. It’s all good until she finds out what she’s been tasked with, and the numbness is replaced with a will to live. An incredibly well told literary thriller told in the second person to great effect.

Wendy Holden: The Duchess – As she prepares for her husband’s funeral, Wallis Simpson looks back at the journey her life has taken, from regular everyday woman to wife of the abdicated King. Told with more credit given to Simpson than most, this fictional account offers a different look at the woman and the history that is rarely questioned.

The stats this year are all over the place, I read very few books for review, and the oldest book on the list is Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly In Amber (1992 – not old at all). I have very much enjoyed what I read, there were some stellar books and none that I wouldn’t recommend. The list may be short but it’s been good.

Hello again, and Happy New Year! Please do tell me what you’ve been reading recently, do include both new and older books, and tell me how your year is going so far!

 
Wendy Holden – The Duchess

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Always Duchess, never Queen.

Publisher: Welbeck
Pages: 423
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: ?978-1-787-39624-1
First Published: 19th August 2021
Date Reviewed: 13th September 2021
Rating: 4.5/5

Wallis Simpson marries her second husband Ernest after a short relationship; Ernest is wonderfully caring, the complete opposite of her first, abusive, husband. The new marriage isn’t perfect – Wallis wants to move up in the world, if just a bit, whilst Ernest’s happy as they are, and Wallis still carries the metaphorical scars from her first marriage – but it’s good. But Wallis still hopes to enter a society closed off to her due to lack of wealth, a society her mother was unable to introduce her to, and due to a series of lucky events, she gradually makes the sort of acquaintances she always dreamed of. One of them is the mistress of the unwed Prince Edward, heir to the throne.

The Duchess, Holden’s second novel about figures in royalty who have been put in particular lights, puts Wallis Simpson in a more positive one than she ever was in life, at least not once she entered the life of Edward VIII.

(Nor, for that matter, since – during my research whilst I read the book I struggled to find any mention of good values or any descriptions that were particularly positive. There may well be factual accounts that are positive but they are not to be found in articles on the Internet. Most likely Wallis’ own ghost-written memoir would be positive but there are of course going to be biases in that.)

However this positivity is not constant. Holden’s story is not completely positive, indeed her descriptions of good points are balanced out by her fictional Wallis’ relentless drive to be high in society, which obviously echoes thoughts of the time. This said, as the book reaches its end it does very much move towards the idea that Wallis did not want to be Queen and did not want to marry Edward at all, at least not following his abdication, which does directly conflict with various thoughts, especially where recent research shows a possible case of abuse.

If it sounds like there’s a lot of fiction here, again, as noted above by the positivity not being constant – thus the commonly-held view of the conflicts and issues are included – the fact that Holden’s account is openly a novel allows further study and further question. It is all very well adhering to the most popular points of view when they haven’t changed since the 1930s and 1940s, particularly given the contents (see here the visit to Nazi Germany, the discourse with Hitler, the photo of smiling faces) but the fact remains that it is one based in those years in a society that was very British, against divorcees marrying into royalty, and all about tradition. And whilst things have changed – Camilla has married Charles, Meghan married Harry – they haven’t changed enough to support new viewpoints coming through into the public domain; Camilla will likely never be ‘Queen’, Meghan is seen as a big problem.

All that rambling to say that, whilst Holden’s Wallis is incredibly different to the accounts that are most easily accessible, and the presentation is that of a problematic prince who is needy and increasingly manipulative and has more say than Wallis, it’s impossible to say that this is far-fetched and too fictional. Is it quite a quiet book in its way, yes, does it break lots of new ground, no. And it’s intriguing why it ends on the note it does without going further.

But as I hope all this rambling and considering and pointing out has done, the fact that The Duchess presents such a highly different account and, possibly, interpretation, is very much in its favour. Wallis is still, today, ‘that woman’, and it’s worth looking at the information again, looking at it in terms of the time to view the biases openly, and arguably Holden has done an excellent job doing so.

Will The Duchess change minds? It could be said that it does something far more important – it pushes you to review what you thought, what you’ve heard, and what the actual truth might be.

Perhaps a couple of sentences would have sufficed: this book is brilliantly planned, written, and executed in all ways. That it provides a fair amount of historical information about real-life socialites, and detailed reasoning for the break-up of Wallis’ first marriage is more of a bonus, even though they are in fact quite extensive in terms of pages. Great stuff.

I received this book for review.

 
First Half Of 2021 Film Round Up

I’m in a mini rut this year with films; I’ve spent a lot of evenings socialising digitally and time spent in front of the TV has been for comedy shows. Having noticed it I’m planning more Cary Grant film nights for this second half of the year.

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Emma (UK/USA, 1996) – Of Jane Austen fame; Emma, thrilled with her past success in matchmaking attempts to find a match for her lower-born friend amongst Emma’s higher society at any cost. This one’s okay, though if I can compare, I preferred the latest one from 2020.

Maggie’s Christmas Miracle (USA, 2017) – A single mother with a demanding career finds luck when her son befriends a man who can be his tutor. Pretty average story however the two leads are two of the better actors in Hallmark/Lifetime/etc Christmas movie land so that makes it a lot better.

The Greatest Showman (USA, 2017) – A man works his way from a regular background to become famed for his circus. the plot is very so-so – it’s the music that’s good.

The Importance Of Being Earnest (UK/USA, 2002) – As per Oscar Wilde, two men pretend to be each other in order to better themselves and everyone is confused. Lots of fun.

Apart from the Cary Grant films, and the latest David Copperfield which was added to Amazon later than I’d thought it would be (thus I forgot to keep an eye on it) I’m not making any plans. I think this year that would be best.

 
May, June, And July 2021 Reading Round Up

It made sense to put these months together; it was getting late last month to write about my June reading, I’d only finished one book, and then I realised I hadn’t accounted for May either. I did a lot of reading during that week-long heatwave where I spent most hours of the day situated outside. I’m also thrilled to say I’m double vaccinated; the second dose gave me a weird half flu for a few days but I’m glad to have had it. Photos suggest bookshops still exist; I’m looking forward to visiting them.

All books are works of fiction.

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Christina Courtenay: The Runes Of Destiny – A young woman finds a Viking brooch on a dig site and is transported hundreds of years in the past where she is taken captive; struggling first to believe what’s happened, she must get used to her new life and not be distracted by the leader of the expedition abroad. A good, fun, follow up to Echoes Of The Runes that expands on the general idea and improves on it by leaps and bounds.

Diana Gabaldon: Dragonfly In Amber – Back in her own time, and twenty years on from when she spent two years in the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, Claire Fraser Randall has returned to Scotland to try and find out what happened to Jaime during the Battle of Culloden. She’s brought her daughter, Brianna, who is yet to discover that her father was a man who lived 200 years previously; now Frank has died, Claire is about to change that. Where the first book was pretty much pure fantasy, the second offering builds on the history to deliver something very detailed and historical and, badly-placed sex scenes aside (why tell your daughter all that?), it’s a great piece of escapism. One can only hope that the person who, in the TV series, is told the truth about Claire, also learns it in the book series, too, at some point.

Gill Paul: The Second Marriage – First Lady of the United States Jackie Kennedy, and opera singer Maria Callas were connected – both had relationships with the shipping magnate Ari Onassis. Paul looks at the lives, loves, and marriages of both women, the connections between them, and the way context and social values affected them. Called Jackie And Maria in the US, this is a strong, bold, work of fiction that offers possible answers and a well-written story of two famous women.

Louise Douglas: The Scarlet Dress – Alice disappeared at the caravan park when Marnie was a young child and Will a young man rather in love with the holidaymaker. Years later, the park is being dismantled for redevelopment but hits a problem when a body is found in ground beneath a structure. Marnie has to remember the past, Will has to work with what’s gone on (it had a massive impact on him, leading to career as a thriller writer) and the mystery of what happened to Alice must be solved by everyone remaining whose lives were linked with the park. A good, fast-moving, mystery revolving around a close-knit group.

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Nicola Cornick: The Last Daughter – When Caitlin’s body is found in a long-sealed coffin, Serena is forced to confront the past that has alluded her for so long to try and work out how her modern-day twin came to be buried in the 1800s. In a second narrative Anne Neville, wife of a close friend of Richard III’s recounts the story of her earlier years and the strange story told to her by a mystical woman about a familial lodestone with a powerful magic. As strong as Cornick’s previous time slips, this looks at a possible answer to the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.

Rachel Hore: A Beautiful Spy – When Minnie is approached by a family acquaintance about potential work and later contacted by MI5, she finds herself a spy, spying on British sympathisers of communist Russia and living two lives that cannot be blended together. Based on a real life spy, this is an interesting work that focuses more on the person than the work, showing the reality of life as well as bringing to the fore a woman who could never be noticed.

Rosanna Ley: The Orange Grove – When Holly bakes a cake to celebrate her business news, she knows it’s one her mother has never made, but doesn’t know why. Ella is shocked by the news but agrees to Holly’s proposal, that they go to Seville together to research products and meet vendors for her forthcoming orange-based shop. There’s just that trepidation – Ella visited Seville when she and and husband Felix were younger, but Felix left early to look after his mother, and Ella stayed on. She wasn’t entirely alone. A great book that blends interesting business trip with a past holiday spirit and an excellent look at the extraordinary in the ordinary.

All these books have helped me through the last months, with their balance of fun and escapism with excellent studies and commentary. The fantasies, too, have included their studies. The Gabaldon definitely took a while to read – a few hours in the garden every week or so (it took over four months) – but I’m glad I decided to carry on with the series and am looking forward to getting back to the adaptation.

I’m currently about a quarter of the way through Sharlene Teo’s Ponti and have just begun Tyler Keevil’s Your Still Beating Heart. The first was a present last Christmas and a long-awaited read that I’m enjoying, the second a newer book that employs the second person, which had me intrigued.

It’s been a while: how are you all and what have you been reading?


Charlie and Rachel Hore (A Beautiful Spy) discuss the life and work of a female spy in the years between the First and Second World Wars, the man who inspired James Bond’s M, and how Rachel took care to do right in her representation of a real person.

To see all the details including links to other apps, the episode page can be found here.

 
Gill Paul – The Second Marriage

Book Cover

Life can be operatic.

Publisher: Avon (HarperCollins)
Pages: 412
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-008-36626-1
First Published: 18th August 2020
Date Reviewed: 21st July 2021
Rating: 4.5/5

In the mid 20th century, Jackie Bouvier married the man who would become president of the United States only to be assassinated two years later. In the same few years, the wildly popular opera singer Maria Callas was in her prime. The two would come to be in relationships with Greek shipping magnate – one his mistress, the other his wife. Paul imagines this period in American history, focusing on the women’s individuality, lives, marriages, loves, and the people they may have been away from the cameras.

The Second Marriage (Jackie And Maria in the US), is a literarily thrilling and very bold book that begins with strong characterisation and continues with the author’s excellent balancing of the known facts and rumours. Structured in the form of an opera with its Acts, the book blends both your regular story with moments of high drama and tragedy, rather mirroring the life of the characters; it also shows that even the ordinary is not. Favouring exploration, Paul pays heed to, as well as moves away from, the presentations and opinions of the time, covering all bases before looking into the reasons the two women might have been one way or another way and so on. (For example, Callas certainly appears haughty in interviews (to this reviewer, at least) but, says Paul, was this a persona? Was she fed up of the way she was treated by the press?

On the subject of mainly separate lives, it should be noted that Paul has created a few scenes in this regard – the two women are not known to have met. However, they were linked in more ways than one; whilst both had a relationship with Ari Onassis, through him and Jackie’s family was a further link. Jackie’s sister, Lee, is rumoured to have had an affair with JFK, and a relationship with Onassis whilst he was seeing Callas. And related to this in terms of rumours, Paul has taken rumours such as miscarriages and secret children to create her tale. The use of these ideas – often things that could have damaged a women’s status at the time – allows for an exploration of agency without a requirement for foresight.

Of the lack of foresight – which is good – and staying in context, Paul’s version of Onassis asks many questions in its subject. You see a womaniser who simply had money (and whilst not directly referenced by Paul, recent focus on him has included alleged abuse of Callas) who was nevertheless pined for. It’s another bold choice by Paul, letting the history be itself, letting the reader come to their own conclusions, and moving away slightly (through Onassis) from the idea that a reader relate to characters.

The characterisation, in itself, is sublime, particularly, not surprisingly, when it comes to Jackie and Maria. The characters are brought wonderfully to life, as well as if they’d been narrated in the first person, and the scenes echo reality.

It is perhaps the active focus on Jackie and Maria here, rather than the book, that may divide opinion. Paul’s versions of these women focus here on the men in their lives, marriage, love, and children. As much as they are individuals and the focus of the story, the women are secondary to the men, and this is where the expectation of the reader comes in. The context of the women being secondary is correct in its time and Paul makes no bones about Jackie and Maria’s relative dependence, but a reader wanting more of the idea of a strong woman might be disappointed with the way they are strong. Are Paul’s Jackie and Maria strong, yes, but they are still restricted by the mores of their day, even if they are the one making money. (Maria also said in at least one interview that she had wanted a family.)

What this book does then is provide an excellent exploration of the time period and an idea (sometimes more a possibility, as discussed) of the women at hand. Jackie Kennedy’s life following the death of JFK – her worries for herself and her children both in terms of being the next target (JFK’s brother, later standing as a presidential nominee, was killed) and money. In the years since her life, her story has been seen as one of likely Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, her strength due to the needs of the day. Maria Callas, as said, was seen as haughty, and to some extent Paul has used this, showing a measure of on-stage persona and discussing the idea of such a thing. There is, moving towards support for Paul’s choice, a lot to be said for honing into specifics. Paul’s ideas can be found in further research and she allows focus on things that weren’t in focus at the time.

The Second Marriage is, then, full of thought, facts and various people’s rumours, and a fully-fledged look at some fascinating lives. This is a book very much worth reading and a book that will push even the most escapist of readers to do further research, both to see where Paul has diverted and created, and more about Jackie and Maria in general.

 

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