The Invisible Woman is the story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. With so many letters destroyed, and lies told to maintain the public’s view of the great author, much of this story is guess work, or background history. I quite enjoyed the social history, and the details about Dickens’ work, but the lack of information about Nelly, the way she was erased from history, left her largely without personality, and the relationship between her and Dickens, without heart. I think I would have enjoyed an imagined version, told as a novel, better than this bringing together of scant facts and possibilities.
In 1960s rural Australia, kind and gentle farmer, Tom, wife has left him again, this time taking the young boy Tom raised, though the child wasn’t his. A glamorous older woman moves into town, a survivor of Auschwitz, determined to open a bookshop. Tom and Hannah find love, but making a new life is complicated. There is sweetness and humour here, and a lovely setting; I think it would make a popular movie. For me, there wasn’t enough character development, the villains were unconvincing (not the Nazis!) and I just wasn’t captured by this story.
An English lecturer, Tom, is staying in the Victorian bush, trying to finish the book he is writing, when his dog goes missing. From that starting point we go back and forth, to India and Melbourne, to the past and the present, exploring Tom’s life and relationships. There is mystery, but it’s not about what happens, but about place, love, relationships with parents and lovers, art, poetry, and belonging. The language is beautiful, and it’s full of thoughtful insights on things like ageing, and consumerism.
Frankie, in her late twenties, is in a bit of a mess. She is taking a break from her chosen career as a writer, working in a friend’s bookshop, and her love life is a disaster, and then she comes up with the idea of using books to find her perfect mate. Everyone is gorgeous, quirky, wise-cracking and on a very familiar journey, with bonus book references. I think there are lots of people who will enjoy this cute, modern love story, but all the references to books I would rather be reading, weren’t enough to make me enjoy this. Chick lit really isn’t for me; I just read for something else….
Guylain Vignolles lives alone, apart from his goldfish, and hates his job. Each day he gets pleasure from reading aloud, on the train, from pages of books he has rescued. One day he discovers entries from a young woman’s diary, and goes on a quest for love. Set in Paris, with a host of quirky characters, I expected this to be an awful lot sweeter and more heartwarming than I found it. It was rather more coarse, and didn’t deliver on the promises I thought the plot had made, especially about the power of books. It was a quick, and pleasant read, but disappointingly unaffecting.
I read Paula Byrne’s biography earlier this year, one concentrated mainly on his friendships and influences for Brideshead Revisited, and enjoyed it so much I was keen for more of Evelyn Waugh’s extraordinary life. Eade takes the more traditional, birth to death approach, and comprehensively presents Waugh’s life in all its complexity. Like Byrne, he shows that snobbery was not Waugh’s defining trait, though his rudeness, arrogance and cruelty are more obvious in this book, but he also emphasises his humour and extraordinary writing. This is a fascinating look at the man, but also at the time in which he lived and his literary legacy.
Howling Books is a second hand bookshop, with a collection of books for people to leave letters in. Rachel comes back to town and starts working there, with the boy she used to love. This is young adult fiction, with an Australian setting, references to so many books, sweet and complicated relationships, and not too much teenage angst. It’s about loss, connection and the power of books. There’s a lot to like.
It turns out that I can enjoy a book like this, if it is set in a book shop, in the Cotswolds. Emilia’s father has died, leaving her a book shop that isn’t doing very well. As she decides whether to keep it going or not, a cast of her customers also find themselves at crossroads. It’s heartwarming, comfortably predictable and sweet, without being cloying. I couldn’t read only this sort of book, but it was an entertaining interlude.
A charming Australian story about female friendship. Sybil decides to start a book club which leads to 5 women developing the strong bonds of friendship, bonds that will stand up against the bad and the good times. The setting of this book is a remote cattle station in the Northern Territory, which adds extra dimensions to the story, as well as being set in the late 70s. It was quite nostalgic going over some of the major world events for that time period which Sophie has included in her story and how much communication has changed (who remembers the telephone party line?). I was worried that the story was going to end all neatly wrapped up with everyone blissfully happy, but it wasn’t. Sophie has left room at the end of the story for the reader to continue the characters’ stories themselves – a great tool to let the story remain with you after reading the story.
Andrew Relph was born after a tragedy in his family. The event left his parents unable to respond to him, emotionally, as they should have. Though he, himself, had great difficulty reading, his mother read to him, and in books he found the connection, relationship, conversation and emotion that he was missing. There is a fair bit about psychotherapy in this book, the author became a psychotherapist, and perhaps because the particular books he has written about, are not ones I have loved, I didn’t connect with this book so much. It is about the immense power of reading, but I found How Proust can Change Your Life , by Alain de Botton, a far more engaging book on the subject.