Review 1623: Miss Buncle Married

How delighted I was to find out there are actually three Miss Buncle books, since I so enjoyed the first one. This second book continues in the first one’s gently comic, frothy tradition.

Barbara Buncle, now Mrs. Abbott, and her husband Arthur discover that neither of them has been enjoying their active social life. There seems to be no way to get out of it, however, because they’re such a popular couple. So, they decide to move.

It takes Barbara quite a long time to find a house she likes. When she visits a solicitor’s office in Wandlebury to view a house, Mr. Tupper, mistaking her for another client, has her read a will in which Lady Chevis Cobbe leaves her estate to her niece, Jeronina Cobbe, on the condition that she isn’t married before Lady Chevis Cobbe’s death. When Mr. Tupper discovers his mistake, he is horrified and asks Barbara to tell no one.

Of course, Barbara discovers the perfect house in Wandlebury, and after extensive renovations, it makes a comfortable home. Shortly after moving there, Barbara meets Jeronina Cobbe, who goes by Jerry. She is an industrious young woman who has been running her own stables to keep afloat financially and is worried about her brother Archie. Archie has been living beyond his means because he thinks he is Lady Chevis Cobbe’s heir.

Barbara and Arthur have been enjoying their new home immensely when Barbara discovers that Arthur’s nephew Sam has fallen in love with Jerry. So, without telling anyone about the will, Barbara feels she must keep the two apart until ailing Lady Chevis Cobbe dies, so as not to deprive Jerry of her inheritance.

If anything, I enjoyed this novel more than I did Miss Buncle’s Book. It’s a lot of fun.

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Review 1622: Literary Wives! Every Note Played

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

We’re sorry to lose Cynthia, who is discontinuing her blog.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

Lisa Genova has certainly identified her niche, which is, with her knowledge of neuroscience, to write a compelling story that also allows readers to understand what it is like to suffer from a neurological disease. In this novel, the disease is ALS.

After a difficult divorce, Karina and Richard have had little to do with each other. Both are harboring a great deal of anger and resentment.

Richard, a world-class pianist, has put his career ahead of his marriage and family. However, he has been diagnosed with ALS and is becoming less able to care for himself.

Karina has avoided the friends the two had as a couple, but she finally attends an event and feels she is being blamed for the breakup. It is there she learns about Richard’s condition. She goes to see him, but the visit is toxic.

Eventually, though, she visits him again, only to find that even with home health care, he needs help, round-the-clock care. He broke with his family years ago, so he has no one. Karina arranges for him to move in with her.

Although at times I felt that some of the descriptions of the illness or the treatment were a little too detailed, I was ultimately very touched by this novel. Genova gives herself a tougher job this time by making the patient a less likable character, but she handles the situation insightfully.

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

This is a novel that saves some of its insights into Karina’s character for the end. We know that both Karina and Richard are angry with each other, but it is much clearer why Karina is angry than why Richard is until well into the novel, so I don’t see how I can discuss this without spoilers.

The immediate causes of the breakup of their marriage seem to be Richard’s serial infidelities and his neglect of Karina and daughter Grace over a period of years. However, as the novel progresses, we learn of Karina’s contribution to the failure of their marriage. First, she changed from classical piano, in which she was more gifted than Richard, to jazz piano, partly because she loved jazz but partly so as to not compete with Richard. She made a place for herself playing in clubs in New York, but then Richard took a position in Boston without consulting her, and there was no jazz scene in Boston.

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Passive aggressively, Karina made excuses for herself not to try to continue her career—pregnancy, motherhood, resentment of Richard—and then more resentment as he began neglecting them and womanizing. Finally, there is the aggressive act of making sure she can’t conceive while pretending to try to conceive.

What makes the novel more than a litany of marriage complaints is how the situation causes both characters to understand the other, to acknowledge their own faults and trespasses, and to forgive.

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Review 1621: Bewildering Cares

Camilla Lacely has been asked by a friend to tell her more about her life in a letter, so she decides to keep a diary for a week. Aside from daily entries, though, this diary reads more like a first-person narrative.

Camilla is the wife of a vicar running a household on very little money, attempting to attend numerous meetings every day, and trying to help parishioners so they don’t all bother her husband with concerns as silly as what the railroad schedule is. Her cares range from how to afford a new hat to how to provide dinner for an unexpected visit by the archdeacon to how to be more attentive to her religious thoughts and prayers.

This novel is touching and amusing, although I occasionally found it bewildering. As an unreligious American from another time, I didn’t always understand the references or jokes. Because of its focus on religion, I had more difficulty with it than with other novels from this period.

The novel does have a plot. It concerns the furor of the village residents when the unbending, self-righteous curate gives a sermon preaching pacifism. Since this novel takes place in the early days of World War II and many villagers have relatives in the war, this sermon causes an uproar.

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Review 1620: Beatlebone

Judging by the description, Beatlebone is a novel I never would have picked up if not for my James Tait Black project. Often, these projects I’m pursuing have led me to discover wonderful books that I never would have thought to read, but this is not always the case.

Further, I think that reviewers sometimes get jaded, which causes them to give a book rave reviews just because it is different. Certainly, the newspaper and magazine reviewers raved about this one.

The premise is that John Lennon, in 1978, decides, in an attempt to renew himself, to visit an island he bought off the west coast of Ireland. He doesn’t want to be followed by the paparazzi, however, and he can’t remember exactly where his island is. He ends up being taken around by a man named Cornelius O’Grady, who hides him at his farm, takes him to pubs, and so on. During this time, Lennon has what are described on the jacket as surreal experiences.

The novel was lauded for its writing, and the writing is good, but it is full of Joycean monologues that sometimes go on for pages. One Goodreads reviewer mentioned that a novel needs more than good writing, and I’m with him there. I’m not one to say about a novel that nothing much happens in it if something else keeps my attention, but nothing much happens here, and what does happen, I didn’t have much interest in.

Several newspaper reviews mention Barry’s daring act of inserting himself into the novel. This act consists of inserting about 20 pages into the back end of the novel that would normally go in an Afterword. I found this section simply interrupted what little forward movement there was, as did a five-page rant at the end. The whole thing struck me as well-written fanboy fantasy.

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Review 1619: The Outcast Dead

Elly Griffiths has always been good with characterization, but her mysteries are getting harder to solve, too. So, all is good with the series so far.

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is working on a TV series after her discovery during the excavation of castle grounds of a skeleton that may belong to “Mother Hook,” a Victorian childminder who was famously executed for murdering the children in her care. The show’s historian, Frank Barker, believes, however, that Jemima Green may have actually been innocent.

For Inspector Nelson’s part, he and his team are investigating the death of Liz Donaldson’s baby son. Her two other sons died as babies, but the deaths were found to be from natural causes. Something feels off about this one, though, and the forensics team finds indications of smothering.

The Donaldson case isn’t going very well when the baby of another couple disappears. This time, the police find a note saying that the baby is with the Childminder. Then another child disappears.

This time, I figured this one out about the time that one of the detectives did. Griffiths’ novels are always atmospheric and entertaining, and I continue to be interested in the characters.

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Review 1618: The Prince

I put The Prince on my Classics Club list mostly out of curiosity. Now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I can well understand some of the controversy surrounding it.

Machiavelli wrote the book for the newly arisen Medici family, and the last chapter is basically a plea for Lorenzo di Medici to rise up and conquer Italy. The Prince is a treatise on power: how to get it, how to keep it, what to do with it. It is utilitarian rather than moral. For example, it advises princes that they need not honor their promises once they are in a position of power if the promises are not in their best interests.

Although Cesare Borgia was considered ruthless and cruel even in his own time, Machiavelli several times holds him up as a model and clearly venerates him. But then, his ideas are not ours, for he tells a story of a principality being won. The principality needed good government, so the prince put in charge a man known for his ruthlessness and rapacity. Once the area was settled, the prince “wiped out” his lieutenant. Good work!

The book is regarded as a realistic analysis of the pursuit of power. This is why it is still widely studied. It is written in a straightforward style, assertion followed by example.

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Review 1617: The Western Wind

On Shrove Tuesday 1491, Henry Carter awakens the local priest of the village of Oakham, John Reve, to tell him he’s seen a body floating in the river. For four days, Tom Newman has been known to be drowned, but the villagers have not been able to recover the body. When John and Henry return to the river, however, the body is gone.

Although there is no evidence to suggest that Newman’s death was other than an accident or suicide, the dean, who has taken it upon himself to investigate, is convinced that Newman was murdered. His reasoning is that Newman, as the wealthiest, most productive man in town, is unlikely to have committed suicide and that there was no reason for him to be by the broken village bridge so early in the morning unless he was meeting someone. Before the day is out, the dean has selected two possible murderers and is trying to force Reve to pick one, even though Reve believes neither is guilty.

The novel moves backward in time to the day of the drowning, during which time the villagers’ secrets are revealed—John Reve’s among them. The novel is deeply interesting for its view into the thinking and superstitions of the Medieval mind. I read this absorbing novel for my Walter Scott project.

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Review 1616: The Lost Gallows

The famous French detective Inspector Bencolin and his friend Jeff Marle are sitting with Bencolin’s friend Sir John Landervorne in the Brimstone Club in London while Bencolin tells a strange tale of a man seeing a gallows in the fog. Upon leaving the room, they find a toy model of a gallows there. Later that evening, Marle encounters a wealthy Egyptian, El Moulk, on the floor of his rooms in the club. He appears terrified.

On the way back from the theater that evening, Marle is nearly run down by El Moulk’s limousine. When he looks into the window, he sees the chauffeur is dead. Returning to the club where the car has stopped, they receive a message saying that El Moulk will die on the gallows at Ruination Street.

The three investigate the case along with Inspector Talbot, trying to rescue El Moulk and locate Ruination Street even though they become convinced that the Egyptian is guilty of a heinous crime for which someone is taking revenge.

Like many Golden Age crime novels, this one is extremely complicated, almost to the point of the ridiculous, as the perpetrator takes a bizarre revenge. However, it is fast-paced and even contains a love interest for Marle. I believe that long ago I read a locked room mystery by Carr. I liked this one a lot better.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1615: Swimming Lessons

I was interested in reading Swimming Lessons when it came out, but I never actually got hold of a copy. Then I read Fuller’s next novel, Bitter Orange, and liked it so much that I had to read Swimming Lessons.

Gil Colman, a famous writer who hasn’t written anything for years, is now elderly and dying of cancer. He has discovered letters from Ingrid, his wife who was presumed drowned years ago, tucked away in his thousands of books, many of which were removed from his house by his daughter Nan and sold to a bookstore. He is in the bookstore, having discovered one of the notes, when he thinks he sees Ingrid out in the street. Rushing after her, he gets injured.

That is the setup of the novel. From there, chapters alternate between the letters telling the story of their marriage from Ingrid’s point of view and Gil’s daughter Flora’s point of view as she returns home because her father is in the hospital. She tries to learn more about Ingrid, who she believes is alive. Although the sections about the current time and Flora’s struggles are interesting, most enthralling are Ingrid’s letters to her husband, describing a marriage in which, as a naïve girl thirty years Gil’s junior, she falls into a life she does not want, of marriage and children, to a husband who is serially unfaithful, and who, in a way, co-opts her past.

This is a fascinating and haunting story about the secrets of a marriage.

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