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Nicola Cornick – The Lady And The Laird

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A little more conversation.

Publisher: Mira (Harlequin)
Pages: 370
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-472-01628-7 (ebook; paperback out of print)
First Published: 30th July 2013
Date Reviewed: 22nd June 2018
Rating: 4.5/5

Lucy’s twin died in love and now Lucy is afraid to fall herself; happy as a near spinster, she writes erotic letters for her brother’s friends to give to the ladies they wish to woo, donating the money she makes to those in poverty. But her last letter hits the mark a bit too close to home – in helping her brother, she unwittingly ruins the upcoming marriage of Robert, the man she kissed some years ago. Robert needed to wed the lady in order to gain his inheritance and Lucy may be the only possible bride left.

The Lady And The Laird is a very well-written regency romance that includes conflict but never at the cost of a good story.

It is the defining feature of this work that allows the rest to flow so well. The Lady And The Laird sports a good handful of problems that keep the story going without ever going too far. This is to say that the main conflict that prevents the romance moving forward – as you would expect such a thing in romance – carries on only until a very realistic point wherein the characters open up to each other and communicate their problems. Communication is a big element of this book. The characters have trouble at first but they give it their all; there is no situation where a lack of communication is used as a device.

That said, there is one area that could have been tied up a bit quicker, and that is the story behind Alice’s death. It’s not a conflict in itself – the conflict is the result it causes for Lucy as explained above – it’s that it’s one of those times when the reader can tell very quickly what’s gone on but the narrative takes a while to fully inform.

The romance is well done; with the characters given a lot of time to progress and with the realism included (away from the obvious fantastical perfection and coincidences that create a story) it’s steamy not just in the scenes themselves but otherwise. The characters are on a par with each other and whilst there are times when Lucy is undermined by others, Cornick quickly flips the tables and puts her in a position of strength.

There is plenty of history to be had both in terms of the Scottish Highlands and a Scottish version of the Bluestocking society, both of which this reviewer can’t determine the reality of but whether fact or fiction provides a good representation of the real life. (Cornick refers to the ‘Golden Isles’, which may be a nickname for a real place.)

For all of the above then, the book is a fun, quick read. The world-building is often such that you find yourself immersed in the scene, with the running and repairing of inherited land written with aplomb. There are some editing errors but these are mostly confined to the opening chapters. The only thing missing is one possible thread – there is some dialogue and a long-term quarrel between two secondary characters that is presented in a way that suggests the two will discover a romantic connection, but which is not ‘completed’; it could be that it was just a quarrel, it’s simply that it’s referred to a good few times but doesn’t get an ending besides the characters returning to their respective homes.

This book is pretty damn good. It brings refreshment to the staid idea that a romance must have a continual conflict, shows the importance and positive result of communication. The characters themselves may not be the most memorable – because the novel itself is so good.

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When How You Read Changes

A photograph of Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit and Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl lying on a shawl in the sun

I’ve come a far way since the days when I had to had absolute silence around me to read, and having travel sickness. In the past year I started being able to read on buses (for a short time and as long as I didn’t look up much) and just recently I’ve come to find solutions to other problems, namely keeping my attention on the book.

As much as I can’t not place some of the blame on myself, it would be correct to say that since social media and phones and so forth have been contributing to our world-wide attention span problems. I’ve often had issues with reading, especially when it comes to longer books and that delayed satisfaction of completion that naturally accompanies them. If I’ve had all I can take of the internet in a day, I can read. And if a book is very good, I can read, which is of course something to think about in this respect – our fast-paced lives are not the only reason.

I’ve come to find that I’m at my reading best when reading first thing in the morning, before I’ve done anything that will get my brain heading in a different direction. If I can, breakfast then book, or book then breakfast is the best way to read. On the days when this happens, I consider any extra reading to be a bonus. (Interestingly, despite this and despite multiple reading slumps lately, I’m currently on track to make my average of 50 books in a year for this year.)

Lots of studies have found that keeping the parts of your day not related to screens away from screens provides the best chance for getting things done. As I’m not a big TV watcher, I can sit in front of a TV and read a lot, but I do find it good to stay away from the computer. I often sit in a particular seat in another room where I can have a drink on a table. In the summer, reading outside is wonderful – I believe it’s the reason my Julys are always full of books – lots of sun, warm weather, and to be outside is to be ever further from the computer. The only thing downside is that a computer or other device is useful for looking things up you may not understand, and so there can be anxiety if I come across something in a book that I feel needs explaining before I continue. Do I go to the computer and potentially lose some time in research (admittedly often very worth while), or do I try and remember for later what I want to look up? The latter is fine… until you’ve a small list of things to remember. I also find I don’t concentrate so well once I’ve something noted to research.

This brings me to note-taking, which can of course help with items of research – taking notes is great but it can pull you away from your reading flow. I also find that once I start taking note of a good quote or two, it’s all too easy to pinpoint further quotes of worth.

In terms of noise, I can now read with a bit of noise. There’s a bit more traffic where I currently live compared to my previous home – the first time I attempted to read with the windows open I soon came to the conclusion that as nice as the place was, reading was going to be difficult. But I kept at it; a few weeks later I found I’d blocked out the noise.

Whilst I can read on buses, even when there’s quite a few people on there, I find trains impossible. And those ‘quiet’ carriages are often the most loud. I’m not sure what the difference is – a bus is more bumpy, there are more stops and there’s more bustle.

When I need to relax I ironically find chores a better escape; mindless activities. I’m also not too great in a library; I browse and then bring the books home.

Writing this, it seemed my reading life has become more limited, however until quite recently most of the above would have been off the table to the extent that they wouldn’t even warrant a mention. I reckon that whilst it’s happening slowly, I’m moving in the right direction.

How do you read best, and what are your limitations?

 
Valeria Luiselli – Faces In The Crowd

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Stories can haunt you.

Publisher: Granta
Pages: 148
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-847-08507-8
First Published: 2011; 2nd May 2013 in English
Date Reviewed: 18th June 2018
Rating: 4/5

Original language: Spanish
Original title: Los ingrávidos (The Weightless)
Translated by: Christina MacSweeney

A woman – generally unnamed but briefly described as Dolores – working as a writer and translator in Mexico, struggles to find Latin authors to put forward as candidates for publication to her boss; she finds the work of a poet – Giberto Owen – in the library and starts to construct a tale of discovering old translations by a famous translator. As she writes the translations herself she tells us the story of the novel she is writing, which appears to be very similar to her own life.

Faces In The Crowd is an incredibly literary book that, as Luiselli has her character write, is ‘a horizontal novel told vertically’ and ‘a vertical novel, told horizontally’ and ‘A novel that has to be told from the outside in order to be read from within’; in essence, this is a book in a book that’s possibly in another book that’s possibly not actually fiction at all… but then is, of course, fiction.

If that sounds terribly confusing that’s because it is – Faces In The Crowd is a great read but it can and most likely will do a number on your literary sanity. This is most likely an intended part of the experience. With Luiselli’s concept of ghosts and the reality and fiction meddling together and modifying each other – the author (Luiselli) even has her character write such a thing, possibly with the idea of helping her (Luiselli again) reader’s work it out – there are a lot of hints but their core meaning can be difficult to place against the text.

This novel in a novel, then, is formed of both Dolores’ home life and her work, and she writes about her home life as it happens, thus blending the two together, and goes so far as to call her translation work another life. Luiselli uses the concept of vignettes to separate both ideas and storylines but only loosely – one of the best easy-to-understand aspects of the novel is the way the different vignettes become associated as the narrative continues:

On Sundays, my husband, the children and I listen to Rockdrigo and eat pancakes for breakfast. But not this Sunday. My husband is angry. Through my own carelessness, he’s read some more of these pages. He asks how much is fiction and how much fact.

*

During that period, I took to telling lies.

As a further example, too long to quote, on the page directly following this, Dolores says that her husband got a postcard from a woman ‘in Philly’. In the next vignette, Dolores is just back from Philly, and in the one following that, women contact their first loves and ask to meet in Philly. Later the husband has to go to Philly… but later he, or his ‘ghost’ is still at home.

‘Ghost’ is the word here: with the various narratives gradually moving together, the concept Luiselli introduced early on is unpacked and made easier to understand. There is one ‘ghost’ who starts us off, and that is Gilberto Owen.

This is where we encounter the historical literary aspect of the book: Dolores’ chosen Latin poet is a real Mexican poet from the 1800s – this reviewer could not find out enough about him to be able to say whether Luiselli’s narrative for him is fact or fiction but there are hints as to poetry movements and concepts. Through Owen’s life – whether fictional in terms of Dolores’ ‘translations’ or simply fictional in terms of the novel – we meet the likes of Ezra Pound and Nella Larsen. (Luiselli has taken her title from Pound’s poem, In a Station of a Metro.) The use of fellow poets and writers aids the narrative, both in terms of real life happenings and the mere concepts that follow them, for example it could be said that Luiselli’s writing is styled rather similarly to Imagism – Pound’s school of poetry.

There isn’t much character development here – the plot and the style is the focus – but again, that adds to the narrative. Everyone sounds rather like everyone else, and the book becomes more an ode to interpreting literature and the work of historical writers rather than a book to enjoy. But the writing is very likeable and it’s evident that the translation has placed more prominence on understanding and getting the active point across instead of making words and phrases align which mean you get a firm idea of what the original is (would be) like.

Faces In The Crowd is a tough read – you’ll look at the thin stack of pages and ample white space thinking you’ll spend an hour or so in literary enjoyment and then find you’ve been there for a long time and still not finished; this book requires more attention than an ancient classic. But being able to say you’ve read it is satisfying in itself and if you’ve learned a fair amount about literary constructs and literary people in that time then all the better. If there’s anything else to be said about it it’s that it perhaps goes on too long, which does indeed sound ridiculous.

Perhaps it’s right that words contain nothing, or almost nothing. That their content is, at the very least, variable.

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Returning To The Question Of Ratings

An image containing the numerical ratings I use

A few years ago I wrote about how ratings show one’s opinion. At the time I was considering dropping ratings from my blog; I was conflicted.

That conflict remains. I’m still considering dropping them but the reason I continue to keep them is because I know that to go without them would present its own set of problems. (Not least because I’d have to restructure several on-going posts!)

On one hand, ratings make reviewing easier. Using numbers to back up your thoughts – both in the publicly accessible review itself and whilst mentally planning what you’re going to say – is a boon. A number can help when you’ve not yet found the words, or, if you’ve found the words already they round it all off.

On the other hand they can be restrictive. Words provide description, a rating can only ever help sum it up (I still believe a rating without words to be of limited value). On the occasion that you have the words but can’t decide on a rating, it can be incredibly difficult to reach the balance of words and numbers that feels right. And as it’s both inevitable and understandable that sometimes people will look for the rating rather than the rating and the words, the pressure to get it right increases.

Sometimes there is no one correct rating; I’m writing this post with the Valeria Luiselli book in mind – the book is of high literary value but at times I feel it goes a bit too far in the way it expects you to keep up with its concept. I’m nearing the end of the book and really should have made up my mind already as to the rating; after having written about books for the time I have I generally have a good sense of what my final rating will be by about halfway through (this is of course subject to change as I continue the book and I have and do change my rating). This time, I don’t know, and although this conflict doesn’t happen all that much it’s enough to make me consider throwing in the ratings towel. Excellent literary content – I’m thinking 5. But that feeling of ‘too far’ – I’m thinking 4. Perhaps I should split the difference and say 4.5.

A 4.3 might be more appropriate, but I’ve never wanted to go down the decimal route. I admire those who do but it looks like too much to keep track of. I chose to rate out of 5 with .5s included because it’s near enough to 10 but different enough to get around the problems I had with the idea of 10 itself.

No, that doesn’t make sense to me either but somehow it works. I may be over-thinking this. I still haven’t made up my mind.

Have you changed your thoughts about ratings as you’ve continued to read (whether you review or not), have you ever felt conflicted as to their value?

 
In Which I’m Researching Authors Again

Anne Richie

A couple of years ago, I created a bookmark folder in my internet browser for books I’d like to read, placing in it reviews, other articles, and some author websites. I found it a useful way to keep all those pieces of information that I hope to one day use but likely rarely will (I have bought a couple of books due to going through it which I consider makes it a success).

Then, sometime earlier this year, I started a ‘literary criticism’ folder in case I wanted to write articles based on the books those articles were talking about. Purposefully being more picky before I commit anything I read to the folder, it’s working out quite well. What I hadn’t reckoned on, though, was the way in which I’d be wanting to note each new classic author I came across. (‘Classic’ here used for both those who are famous and people less known/unknown who have long since passed.)

I have a penchant for keeping information I may need in the future, mostly because it has indeed come to pass many times that information has been used, and whilst in terms of handwritten notes – university and so on – I keep a lot less, when it comes to the internet and computers all bets are off, particularly in the case of literature. If I come across a person from the past who happened to be a writer, I will be bookmarking that page, no matter whether I’m interested in the subject they wrote about or not.

Still, as much as the information will be useful to somebody and indeed I am using it elsewhere, I wonder about it all. I remember reading a blog several years ago in which it was noted that it’s estimated we can get through about 5,000 books in our lifetime; constantly seeking out old authors only reminds me of this sobering fact. (There were certainly more than 5,000 books in the Beast’s library, which is something I think it’s fair to say we all aspire to emulate.) Even if you seek to read only the best of the best of the best, you will never cover it. (To include another sobering bookish screen reference, a statement by Ted Danson’s Gulliver comes to mind, from his main statement in court about his travels: “I could read every book ever written” – 1996 adaptation.)

I think, beyond the reasonable hope and plan to write about these authors, I just like having the information. I find I retain much more knowledge after a second read of information, and keeping it allows this. It also allows me to look back at people when other connections are made, such as my recent finding of the possible (likely?) inspiration for Jane Austen’s title for the book initially called First Impressions, as well as what got the ball rolling on Northanger Abbey.

Maria Edgeworth

It makes sense that I write about a few of them here. Aside from works on authors I’ve written about recently and thus don’t need repeating yet again, I have work on Christine de Pizan, Mary Hays, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I’ve saved pages on Adela Florence Nicolson (1800s poet from England, died in India, who wrote who the pseudonym Laurence Hope); Amelia Opie (1700s-1800s novelist and leading abolitionist – Amelia’s was the first name on a petition to parliament from women to end slavery); Ann Hatton (1700s-1800s popular English novelist); and Anna Bray (1800s British novelist).

Most interesting so far has been Anne Richie née Thackarey, the daughter of William. Wikipedia says this: Her 1885 novel, Mrs Dymond contains the earliest English-language use of the well-known proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”. It would also seem she visited Southampton, my city, where her father once attended a school he found wretched but the city itself he liked. There is also Sarah Burney, half-sister of Frances, who wrote several novels but isn’t much remembered, possibly because she didn’t have too many friends. The Burney sisters’ father was more supportive of Frances, disliking Sarah’s Clarentine, and Jane Austen’s thoughts (as we know she liked Frances’ work) are thus:

“We [the Austen family] are reading ‘Clarentine,’ & are surprised to find how foolish it is. I remember liking it much less on a 2d reading than at the 1st & it does not bear a 3d at all. It is full of unnatural conduct & forced difficulties, without striking merit of any kind.” (Letter to Cassandra.)

But Sarah’s third novel, Traits Of Nature, did very well.

Finally there is Maria Edgeworth who may well be well-known today (and I would have just missed the discussion). She was an early realist writer of children’s literature, and a ‘significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe’ (Britannica 2014). Her novel Belinda depicted an interracial marriage and was thus controversial.

Austen, again:

“Oh, it is only a novel… It is only Cecilia or Camilla, or Belinda; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed.” (ibid.)

Unfortunately, when looking through my browser bookmarks for this post I happened upon yet another author. I’d better call it a day.

So today I would very much like to know, do you collect information for later use and are there occasions when you’ve come to use some of it? And which relatively unknown authors of the past do you recommend reading?

 

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