Review 1673: Writers & Lovers

Ever since reading Euphoria, I’ve been wondering what else Lily King can do. Let’s just say that Writers & Lovers did not disappoint.

Casey Peabody is having a rough time. At 31 she is still waiting tables and trying to work on her novel. Her mother died recently, and she is grief-stricken. She just wasted a spot in a writing workshop on an affair instead of writing, and now she hasn’t heard from the man she spent so much time with. She lives in what used to be a gardening shed, and her landlord frequently belittles her. Finally, she has a crushing student loan debt, and she is working double shifts just to be able to afford to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As if all this isn’t stressful enough, she finds herself dating two very different men. She is supposed to go on a first date with Silas when he abruptly leaves town with no explanation. Then she meets Oscar, a middle-aged, established writer with two delightful young boys. Soon, she is going on outings with the three of them. But then Silas shows back up.

This is an intimate and engaging story of a few months in a complicated woman’s life. This description almost makes it sound like a romance novel, but it is much more than that. I found it absolutely compelling.

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Review 1672: Literary Wives! Monogamy

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.

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

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Annie, a small, reserved photographer, and Graham, a large, extroverted bookstore owner, have been married for about 30 years. Their story goes forward linearly with many visits to the past as Miller minutely examines their relationship. The crux of the story, though, is that Graham has been having an affair that he has just managed to break off. Then that night he dies in his sleep. Months later, Annie is just beginning to make some sort of recovery from her grief when she learns of the affair and has to reassess what she thought she knew about their marriage.

It’s hard to explain or evaluate this novel. Miller is generous to her characters, but she is also very observant. She examines and excavates their relationship in a detached way, even though the novel is from Annie’s viewpoint, that can seem cold. That is, there are no value judgments but also no feeling of affection, either, which may make readers feel detached. On the other hand, she really understands the intricacies and complications of marriage.

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

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Although Annie and Graham are happily married, we learn that Annie resisted him at first because she was afraid he would overwhelm her. For his part, his bonhomie and charm hide his insecurities, and his lust for life is characterized by a certain insatiability. He needs.

In this novel, although we see almost her every thought, I thought Annie was somewhat of an enigma. I find myself puzzled by her even while understanding why she is angry with Graham. I almost think that the novel provides us too many details of their lives to answer this question. Of all the books we have read for this club so far this one seems to be the most nuanced. Still, I find myself without very much to say about it.

After thinking about it for awhile, though, it seems to me that the couple is a mismatch even though they were happily married for years. It seems that Annie doesn’t realize that Graham reinvented himself from an introverted geek to the loud, exuberant charismatic person he became. Perhaps because this isn’t his true self, Graham seems to seek reaffirmation of his attractiveness through affairs. Annie is probably too self-possessed to be the person who could calm Graham’s insecurities. Perhaps he would have been happier with someone who was more dependent.

The title also makes me wonder if we’re supposed to re-evaluate the whole concept of monogamy, but nothing in the book forwards this thought.

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Day 1271: Mistress of the Art of Death

Cover of Mistress of the Art of DeathHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge¬†with a very appropriate cover!

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I recently realized that of Ariana Franklin’s Adelia Aguilar series, the only book I had not kept was Mistress of the Art of Death, the first one. This realization made me immediately buy another copy, which made a good excuse to reread it.

In 1171 Cambridge, someone is brutally murdering children. The locals have decided to pin these murders on the Jews, despite their having been locked up in the castle for safe keeping after the first death.

King Henry II has asked the King of Naples for help. An investigator is requested, as well as a Master in the Art of Death, a medical doctor who investigates the causes of death, trained by the University of Salerno. To everyone’s surprise and some dismay, along with Master Simon, the fixer, comes a woman, Adelia Aguilar, a doctor trained in Salerno.

Adelia finds herself in a relatively barbaric country where her identity as a doctor must be concealed for fear she will be accused of witchcraft. To be able to treat people, she passes off her Moorish manservant, Mansur, as a doctor, while she pretends to be his assistant and translator.

Her party enters Cambridge in the company of some pilgrims returning from Canterbury. Soon discoveries lead Adelia to fear that the murderer may be among the pilgrims she traveled with.

I think I enjoyed this novel even more this time through. The first time, I was skeptical that there were woman doctors in the 12th century. Now that I know Ariana Franklin better, I’m more confident that she did her research.

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Day 459: The Orphan Choir

Cover for The Orphan ChoirThe Orphan Choir is a departure from Sophie Hannah’s Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer mystery/thriller series. It still is darkly atmospheric and features her trademark neurotic characters but goes off in another direction.

Louise Beeston’s neighbor on her Cambridge street regularly wakes her up playing loud rock music late at night. When she goes over to complain in the beginning of the novel, he ridicules her in front of his friends and refuses to turn the music down. Louise’s husband Stuart can sleep through anything and doesn’t want her to call the police, but she does anyway. They refer her to the Council.

The music stops as the representative from the Council, Patricia Jervis, arrives, but Patricia seems very sympathetic and takes the complaint. Louise also complains to Jervis that her neighbor mocked her for sending her son Joseph away to school at the age of seven. Louise is actually very unhappy about the decision, but Joseph was given a place at a school that requires him to board if he is in the choir, and Stuart insists that she would be ruining Joseph’s chances if they send him to a different school.

Louise continues to hear music, but the neighbor seems to have begun a more insidious program of sometimes quietly playing choir music of children singing. After Louise turns on some loud music of her own at 6 a.m., when she knows the neighbor is sleeping, the rock music stops but the choir music continues.

With the house being renovated, Louise talks Stuart into buying a second home in a gated community in the country. Peace is the rule there, and she is happy and calm for awhile until an argument with Stuart about removing Joseph from the school results in Stuart summoning Dr. Freeman, the director of the choir, whom Louise despises. Suddenly, she begins hearing the choir music again, but without her neighbor nearby, she fears she is going crazy.

http://www.netgalley.comAs I am familiar with Hannah’s other novels, I suspected someone was gaslighting Louise, possibly her husband, who seems genial but overrides and undercuts her at many points during the novel, including summoning Dr. Freeman without discussing it with her first. Another suspect is Dr. Freeman, who seems creepy and overly concerned with whether Joseph is in his choir or not. However, I won’t say whether I was right. I think I prefer Hannah’s mysteries, but if you like novels that are unusual and slightly macabre, you may enjoy this one.