Review 1775: My Lover’s Lover

At the beginning of My Lover’s Lover, I thought O’Farrell was writing an updated version of Rebecca, and indeed she references the movie early in the book. However, if she had that in mind at all, she moves away from it.

Lily meets Marcus at a party and feels an attraction to him. When he mentions that he needs a flat mate, she asks if she can take the room. However, when she goes to see it, she is surprised to find it still full of another woman’s possessions. She takes the room in the renovated Victorian warehouse with Marcus and his friend Aidan, but she becomes obsessed with Marcus’s old lover, Sinead. Although he refuses to talk about Sinead, Lily understands him to have told her Sinead is dead. Once Lily and Marcus become lovers, Sinead begins haunting her, appearing in the flat.

But Sinead isn’t dead. Once Lily finds that out, she goes to see her to ask her what happened. Then the story is told of the beginning and the end of their relationship.

This is another beautifully written, insightful tale by O’Farrell. Sadly, I think I have now read all her books. I’m going to have to wait for the next one to come out.

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Review 1764: Literary Wives! The Summer Wives

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

* * *

In the summer of 1951, young Miranda Schuyler arrives on Winthrop Island for her mother’s wedding to Hugh Fisher. There, she is immediately drawn to the young fisherman, Joseph Vargas, one of the lower class full-time population of the island that is in summer also occupied by the wealthy elite. She doesn’t care about his social position, but her new stepsister, Isobel, claims him for her own despite being engaged to someone else.

In the summer of 1930, a very young and naïve Bianca Medeiro falls madly in love with Hugh Fisher. She does not understand how he views their relative social positions and believes that having sex with him means they are spiritually married, despite his engagement to another girl.

In the summer of 1969, Miranda, now a movie star, returns to the island, where she has been a pariah since the events of 1951. Slowly, we learn what happened back then and what led to Joseph’s imprisonment for the murder of Hugh Fisher.

My Review

Literary Wives logo

First, I have to say that this is absolutely not my kind of book, so I only read it because it was a selection for Literary Wives. I have read one other book by Beatriz Williams, but I’m guessing it was improved by being a collaboration with two other writers, Lauren Willig and Karen White. The Summer Wives is definitely chick lit, which I do not read, so I will attempt to comment on the other aspects of it.

The plot develops so slowly that I considered quitting about page 50, when nothing much had happened except girls swooning over boys. I was about at page 5 when I thought I knew every secret that was going to be revealed, and I was just about right, barring that by then only a few of the characters had appeared. I also expected more of a sense of what the island looked like and who the characters were, but they were very much one- or maybe two-dimensional.

The dialogue was uninteresting, and the writing was either fairly mundane or overstated. For example, Bianca is stunned at being given gin to drink, not surprised, not startled, but stunned.

The novel picked up a little at the end, but had a frankly unbelievable ending. And what is this fascination chick lit books seem to have with wealth? The novels all seem to be about rich people or poor girls brought into worlds of wealth. So, of course, Miranda’s mother marries a wealthy man and despite Miranda having been ostracized from the family at a young age, she doesn’t become just an actress but a movie star.

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

Well, really not much. Despite its title, the novel isn’t really about wives so much as a series of illicit relationships and love affairs. In fact, the word “wives” is used ironically, I think. Bianca considers herself married to Hugh despite his engagement to another woman and is shocked when he actually marries her. The marriages that are depicted are all in some sort of dysfunction. Hugh Fisher and Bianca Medeiro marry others but cheat their spouses throughout their marriages. Miranda has just left her abusive husband who, of course, is a movie director. Another middle-aged wife has been seducing the young men on the island. These are not sincere depictions of marriage but stereotypes, and I find nothing much to say about them.

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Review 1693: An Orchestra of Minorities

An Orchestra of Minorities has an unusual narrator. It’s the chi, a guardian spirit, of Chinonso, a young Nigerian poultry farmer. The chi has come before a sort of heavenly court to plead for leniency for his host, who has harmed a pregnant woman.

The chi’s story begins when Chinonso prevents a young woman, Ndali, from throwing herself off a bridge. Later, they meet again and become lovers. However, Ndali’s family is wealthy, and they don’t consider Chinonso a suitable partner for their daughter. Ndali is ready to split with them, but Chinonso decides to go back to school and earn his degree so he can get a good job.

His friend, Jamike, is attending a college in Cyprus, so Chinonso sells his farm and gives Jamike the money to pay for tuition and board and open a savings account in Cyprus, all without discussing this with Ndali. When he reaches Cyprus, he finds he has been scammed, that Jamike only paid for one semester in college but not for board, and there is no savings account.

Some people in Cyprus try to help him, but the hapless Chinonso falls into one misfortune after another. It takes him four years to get home.

I really struggled with this novel for so many reasons. It incorporates Igbo mythology and culture, which can be interesting, but every chapter and most of the smaller divisions of the novel begin with a story or a series of sayings or other digressions that slow down the narrative.

Then there is the character of Chinonso. He has low self-esteem and is weak, he is unbelievably naïve, he falls into traps that we can see coming pages ahead, he makes poor choices, his reactions to meeting Ndali’s parents seem cowardly. This might be a cultural thing. I have no idea what wealthy displeased Nigerians might be able to do to poor ones.

Then there’s his relationship with Ndali. For all we know of her, she might be a cipher. She is pretty much just something he wants. He calls her Mommy, for god’s sake. This is not a cultural thing, because she asks him why, and his answer creeped me out. I won’t say what happens to her, but it’s not good.

The only way I can justify not personally detesting this novel is if I look at it as a character study of what happens when a weak person is pushed beyond endurance. I strongly feel, though, that this novel shows an underlying hatred of women. What do women do in this novel? One dies at his birth. One leaves him without explanation. One is a prostitute. One makes a false claim of rape. One is steadfast and suffers a horrible fate. None have a personality. Detestably, at least for me, this novel is described as one about a man who will do anything for the woman he loves. Right.

And let’s not even mention the mistreated gosling that we hear way too much about. I read this novel for my Booker project.

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Review 1624: The First Bad Man

The First Bad Man reminds me of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine except on steroids, because while Eleanor is one eccentric character, all of the characters in The First Bad Man are eccentric. I read this novel for my James Tait Black project.

Cheryl Glickman is a bit out of touch with normal human behavior. She is a manager at Open Palm, a martial arts/exercise company, but she has been directed to work from home and is only allowed to come to work one day a week. She has long been in love with Phillip Bettelheim, a much older man who is on the company’s board, and she consults a chromotherapist to treat her Globus hystericus simply because Phillip recommended him and so she can report back to him about it.

When she gets up enough nerve to show some interest in him (she tells him “When in doubt, give a shout”), he responds by asking her whether she thinks it is okay for an older man to be interested in a much younger woman. Of course, Cheryl takes this question as an interest in herself, when he is really in love with a 16-year-old schoolgirl. He continues to update her on the progress of the relationship, using explicit language.

As if this weren’t enough, the owners of the business, who routinely help themselves to supplies and the employees’ food when they come in, force her to let their daughter Clee stay with her until she gets a job. Clee is surly and unresponsive and then physically abusive when Cheryl tries to set her eccentric limits.

Cheryl herself is positive and upbeat most of the time, although she has arranged her house so that it doesn’t get dirty during occasional depressions simply by having almost no possessions. But Cheryl finds a way to respond to Clee that is unusual but ends up lightening the atmosphere.

Cheryl has some surprises for herself in this bizarre but touching novel. I liked it very much.

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Review 1589: My Husband Simon

According to Simon Thomas’s Afterword for My Husband Simon, the publicity for it posed the heroine’s dilemma as wife vs. mistress. And that’s just typical, isn’t it? When the real choice was marriage vs. not just a writing career but the ability to be a good writer.

Simon’s Afterword discusses the class element of the novel, which comes out in nuances an American reader wouldn’t necessarily pick up on, at least not all of them. (For example, I didn’t get the distinction between Pardon? and Why? until I read the Afterword, although I understood there was something wrong with Pardon?)

Nevertheless, it’s clear from the beginning that Nevis Falconer, a young writer with one very good book out, and the man she chooses to marry, Simon Quinn, are singularly poorly suited. Nevis enjoys sophisticated, witty people who know about books and culture. Simon is actually proud of his ignorance and prefers the country and physical activity. The attraction is physical, and the two consummate it almost the day they meet. Then they immediately get married.

Four years later, there’s trouble in paradise. The couple alternates arguments with love making for a highly volatile relationship. But the worst thing is, Nevis hasn’t written anything good the whole time. And Simon and his family make insulting remarks about her career. He speaks of her doing nothing all day and is continually on at her about the state of the house.

This novel, published in 1931, takes a very serious look at the dilemma of working women of the time, especially those in the arts, a dilemma that still exists in many ways. Although I couldn’t really understand Nevis’s attraction to Simon—to me, he belittled her too much—the ways of sexual attraction are enigmatic.

Panter-Downes is a lovely writer, and I enjoyed this novel very much.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1523: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant leads a life of routine. She’s worked at the same company for years, doing the same job. She stops at the same stores on the same days and buys the same things. She has no friends, and her only human contact besides work and shopkeepers is her Wednesday phone call from her abusive mother. She doesn’t quite understand many interactions and often offends people. She also has a scar on one side of her face.

At a rock concert, she decides she has seen the man for her, the lead singer. She begins preparing a systematic approach to attract him. Around the same time, she meets the new corporate IT guy, Raymond, who is kind to her.

I have commented before about how much I dislike the custom of comparing a book to another book in its publicity. I understand that publicists are trying to build on the other book’s popularity, but if I loved the other book, I am always skeptical that I will find any resemblance. In this case, the comparison kept me from reading this book because I felt that the book it was compared to, A Man Called Ove, was cheap and manipulative. I finally read Eleanor Oliphant because a friend recommended it.

I have to say that I found this novel endearing and touching. At first, I was afraid that all of its humor would be around Eleanor’s eccentricities, but the depiction of her is more nuanced than that. You grow to care about Eleanor and the other characters as her friendship with Raymond opens her up to other people. There are hints of a horrific past, and you eventually come to admire Eleanor’s courage and resilience.

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Review 1509: Normal People

In school, Marianne and Connell ignore each other. They come from different social backgrounds. Marianne is from a wealthy family, while Connell’s mother is the cleaner for Marianne’s family. Although Connell is popular, Marianne is bullied and ignored.

Away from school, the two become lovers. However, a misunderstanding about their relationship causes Connell to hurt her and they break up.

At college in Dublin, they meet again. This time, Marianne is popular with a set of bright students and Connell feels like an outsider.

Normal People is the minutely observed story of a friendship and an on-again, off-again love affair. It has been widely lauded, but it was hard for me to be interested in this story of two very immature people. The relationship is a long series of misunderstandings that separate the two but do nothing to teach them to communicate more honestly.

It’s not that I disliked this novel. It’s just that I found myself getting impatient while wondering where it was going. When it finally got there, the conclusion was underwhelming.

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Review 1311: Literary Wives! They Were Sisters

Cover for They Were Sisters

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!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

I jumped the gun on this book back in October because of the 1944 Club. I had already read the book when the club was proposed, so I published my review in time for that club, since it was written in 1944. So, you can read my review there. Suffice it to say that this was one of my best books of the year.

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

I like how balanced this book is in presenting marriage, especially as most of the books we’ve read for Literary Wives are about unhappy marriages. They Were Sisters is a good book for this club, because it depicts three very different marriages, although it spends most of its time on the two unhappy ones. The details of Lucy’s marriage are more implied. They married late after she didn’t expect to. She and William lead a calm, well-ordered life. They discuss their concerns with each other. When Lucy wants to provide a more stable environment for Judith, he is happy to oblige.

Lucy approves of Vera’s husband, Brian, but Vera’s marriage slowly disintegrates under the pressure of her boredom with him and his resentment of her series of admirers (whether they are actually lovers is not clear). They become more withdrawn from each other, and eventually Brian gives her a final opportunity to save their marriage. In this situation, Vera is depicted as at fault. Beautiful and spoiled, she is happy to use his money, but she cannot do without the admiration and constant entertaining. Theirs is a true mismatch.

From the beginning, Lucy thinks Charlotte is making a mistake in marrying Geoffrey. Charlotte is in love with him and at first thinks he can do no wrong. Later, she protects him even after he makes her life a misery and teaches their daughters to disdain her. This is a classic abusive relationship where he does everything to separate her from those she loves and to destroy her self-esteem. Nothing she does is right, although she only tries to please him. Eventually, she gives up and reverts to alcoholism.

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Review 1304: Our Spoons Came from Woolworths

It’s typical of Barbara Comyns that she tells a horrifying story in a disarming, naive style. In Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, her theme is an ill-considered marriage.

Sophie marries Charles at 21 despite considerable opposition from his family. They make it plain that they don’t like her, think she isn’t good enough for Charles and that he shouldn’t marry before he can support a wife. They assume she has tricked Charles into marriage by getting pregnant when in reality she knows nothing whatever about sex. The fact that Charles says nothing in response to his family’s insults to his fianceé should have tipped Sophia off, but she’s not very good at picking up on things.

Charles is an artist, and apparently Sophia is meant to support him on her meager salary as a commercial artist. Although he occasionally picks up a contract, most of the time they are just getting by. Getting by, that is, until Sophia soon finds herself pregnant. Slowly, she learns that she has married a self-absorbed man who feels no responsibility toward her or their life.

This may sound like a depressing story, but there is something about its light, naive tone that lifts it up. Instead, it is a charming and funny story of depression-era poverty and a bohemian lifestyle.

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Day 1290: Literary Wives! The Stars Are Fire

Cover for The Stars Are FireToday 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!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

After a winter that seemed like it would never end, the autumn in Maine of October 1947 is in severe drought. Grace Holland is pregnant and the mother of two small children. She feels that her marriage is in jeopardy. Her husband, Gene, never loving or communicative, has barely spoken to her since his mother died. Soon, though, she has the very existence of her family to worry about as fires threaten their small beach community.

Grace is able to save her children and her neighbor’s family, but Gene, who went out to fight the fire, doesn’t return. Everything she owned is gone, so now Grace must learn to live an entirely different life.

Anita Shreve knows how to tell a story, and this one drew me right in. Her characters are vibrant and believable. A few of her books have brought me to tears. This is not one of them, but it is still an absorbing novel to read.

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

At the beginning of the novel, Grace’s life as a wife is one of loneliness. Her husband barely speaks to her or touches her. We get the feeling he blames her, as does his mother, for getting pregnant so that he had to marry her. Left all day without a car, she can walk to shop, see her mother, or visit her girlfriend, Rosie. In her own house, however, she is treated as someone to keep the house, care for the kids, and occasionally provide sex.

Spoilers ahead . . . . Sorry, they’re unavoidable.

After she learns independence when Gene disappears during the fire, her marriage changes with his return. Now, he begins to behave with the more classic traits of an abusive husband. He speaks to her cruelly, tries to isolate her in their home, and eventually becomes threatening and physically abusive. Since the fire, Grace has had to learn to survive, and she has to figure out how to do that in an abusive marriage.

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