Review 1564: Dangerous Ages

Thanks to Simon Thomas’s posts (Stuck in a Book) on the new British Library Women Writers series, I was able to request some review copies. I received Dangerous Ages, which, according to the novel, are all of them. This novel examines the lives of women in the early 1920’s.

Neville is 43, a woman who gave up her medical studies as a young woman to marry and raise a family. That job done, she finds herself feeling adrift, with no purpose, and views her mother, Mrs. Hilary, as an object lesson. She must find work and decides to return to studying medicine.

Mrs. Hilary is a silly woman who always pretends she has read important books and is knowledgeable on all subjects. At 63, she has nothing to do, because she defines herself as a wife and mother. Now she is a widow whose children are grown. She is jealous of anyone being intimate with Neville if her son Jim isn’t around and is jealous of Neville’s intimacy with Jim. She thinks psychoanalysis, which is being talked about, is horrid until she realizes it means someone will listen to her stories.

Nan, Neville’s younger sister, has been courted by Barry for ages. She finally decides she loves him, but instead of telling him so, she goes off to Cornwall to finish writing her latest book, never thinking that Barry might give up on her.

Gerda, Neville’s daughter, is ardently engaged in left-wing activities. The question is, when she falls in love with a man of a different background, whether she will compromise her principles, which reject all the values of her parents’ generation.

Macaulay’s novel is rooted in the early 1920’s, as characters examine hot topics of the time. I had to laugh at the scenes where Mrs. Hilary’s psychoanalysts inundate her with Freudian jargon that she has very little understanding of. That most of these women are frustrated in their aims should not be surprising, for this is a satirical look at the position of women in society. Only Neville’s sister Pamela, who refuses to be bothered, and Neville’s grandmother, who says she is past all that, seem happy.

Simon Thomas’s Afterword provides some insight into views of psychoanalysis in the early 1920’s, which is interesting.

I enjoyed this novel very much. It feels like light, lively reading while dealing with experiences that are universal, no matter the generation.

Related Posts

The Towers of Trebizond

Consequences

South Riding

Review 1536: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Best of Ten!
I’m late to discover Maggie O’Farrell, but better late than never. I’ve read a few books by her now, and she just keeps getting better and better.

Iris Lockhart is contacted by a mental hospital, which wants to find out if she can offer a home to her great aunt, Esme, who has been incarcerated there for more than 60 years. The problem is that Iris has never heard of Esme and believes her grandmother to be an only child.

Her mother now lives in Australia and has never heard of Esme, either. When Iris tries to discuss Esme with her grandmother, Katherine, who is suffering from Alzheimers, she gets a fractured response that implies Esme is her sister. In particular, she says, “She wouldn’t let go of the baby.”

Through third-person narration from Iris’s point of view, Esme’s stream of consciousness memories, and Katherine’s more fractured ones, we learn how it came to pass that vibrant and unconventional Esme was abandoned in the hospital from the age of 16. Iris is shocked to learn that Esme was incarcerated for such outrages as insisting on keeping her hair long and dancing in her dead mother’s clothes. She learns that at the time women could be committed on the signature of one doctor.

This is a shattering, sad story about a girl whose life is stolen because she doesn’t fit in. It is spellbinding as it draws you along to learn Esme’s story. This is also fascinating tale about how sisterly love turns to jealousy and anger.

Related Posts

After You’d Gone

Instructions for a Heatwave

This Must Be the Place

Review 1501: Pachinko

In 1932, 16-year-old Sunja is fascinated by Hansee, a debonair Korean who lives in Japan but visits her small village in Korea to buy fish. Sunja has an affair with him, but when she learns she is pregnant, he tells her he has a wife and children in Japan but wants her to be his Korean wife. While realizing she will disgrace her family, she does not agree.

Isak, a frail Christian minister, comes to stay at Sunja’s mother’s boarding house on his way to Japan, but he soon falls ill with tuberculosis. Sunja and her mother Yangjin nurse him back to health. When he understands Sunja’s predicament, he offers to marry her to give her child a father. So, the couple leave for Japan, where the novel follows the fates of them and their descendents for the next fifty plus years.

At the time of the beginning of the novel, Japan ruled Korea, and the Japanese treated the Koreans as second-class citizens in their own country. In Japan, the Koreans are considered dirty and lazy and are forced to live in ghettos. They are discriminated against, and most are not allowed to become citizens even if born there.

This novel is an interesting story about the difficulties Koreans had living in Japan. It is the type of novel that is more interested in what happens to this family, though, than in creating well-rounded characters. I liked it but did not love it.

Related Posts

A Tale for the Time Being

The Vegetarian

Unbroken

Day 1187: Edgar & Lucy

Cover for Edgar & LucyBefore I start my review, I realized I forgot to check the spin number on Friday morning. It seems as if Classics Club always picks the number for the most obscure book on my list. This time, I get to read Le Morte D’Arthur.

* * *

Best of Five!
Eight-year-old Edgar has no idea about the terrible events that took place when he was a baby. He lives with his mother, Lucy, and his grandmother Florence, who tells him innocuous lies about Frank, his father and her son.

Lucy and Florence have not been getting along lately. Lucy, still traumatized by her husband’s death, has been drinking too much and seeing men, when old-fashioned Florence would like her to be a perpetual widow. But Florence dies, and a series of misunderstandings and accidents at the time of her death place Edgar in danger.

Although I wouldn’t describe Edgar & Lucy as a thriller, it kept me pinned to the page much like a good thriller would, and the novel has some thriller-like plot characteristics. But really, it is a thorough examination of several characters under trying circumstances. And one of them is a ghost.

This novel is highly unusual. At times, it is almost meditative while at other times it reveals its characters’ minds as almost hallucinogenically original. If you decide to read it, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Related Posts

Room

The Burgess Boys

The Good Lord Bird

 

Day 600: My Father’s Eyes

Cover for My Father's EyesWhen she was in high school, author Sheila Allee discovered that her father had a brother she didn’t know existed. Melrose Allee, nicknamed Pie, was born with profound intellectual disabilities. Once Allee’s father “Dub,” who had taken much of the burden for Melrose’s care, left home in 1937, his parents placed Melrose in Austin State School. Even though her father was angry with his parents and swore to get his brother out, he never did, and Melrose eventually became an unmentioned subject.

Sheila could not understand how her family could have institutionalized her uncle in the first place and even worse, how they could have left him for years, unvisited. When she moved to Austin as an adult, she set about finding Melrose, eventually locating him in Travis State School in 1991.

This short book is the touching story of Allee’s own self-discovery through the agency of her impaired uncle. It is also the story of her discovery of the profoundly disturbing beliefs and practices surrounding the mentally handicapped that were practiced in this country in the first half of the 20th century.

In the interests of full disclosure, I know Ms. Allee, and I received a copy of her book in return for an honest review.

Day 594: The House We Grew Up In

Cover for The House We Grew Up InIn some ways The House We Grew Up In hit home for me, but ultimately I felt it both was a bit unlikely and found too easy a solution for large problems. It is about a family trying to cope with a terrible event and with their mother’s mental illness.

We meet the Bird family at various stages of their lives, beginning when the oldest daughter Meg is about ten. As Easter is mother Lorelei’s favorite holiday, many of the events in the novel are set at that time.

In her mid-thirties, Lorelei Bird is a vibrant, beautiful woman, but there are already signs of what will become her obsession. Her kitchen is cheerfully cluttered and serves as the gathering spot for friends and neighbors. Lorelei’s husband Colin is a gentle, loving man, but when the wading pool gets punctured and Lorelei argues for keeping it anyway, he remarks mildly that they already have several punctured pools in storage. The kitchen wall is gay with children’s drawings, but when any of the children draw something new, Colin hastily claims it to put in his files.

When Lorelei’s youngest children are sixteen, tragedy strikes. From a seemingly happy family, the Birds disintegrate into unhappy adults. Meg, apparently the most well-adjusted and practical, is rigid and judgmental and  fanatical about neatness. Bethany, slightly younger, is afraid to leave home and carries on an inappropriate affair for years. Rory simply leaves, seldom to be seen again.

Lorelei dumps Colin for a relationship with Vicky, the next-door neighbor. By the time of her death, twenty years later, she has accumulated so much junk in the house that only narrow pathways are open and she lives in one soft chair. All her loved ones have left her because they can’t live in the environment she has created.

With her death, the scattered family reassembles to try to clean out the house. As they exchange information, they slowly begin to understand some family secrets.

In some ways, the novel affected me because I have a family member who is a hoarder, although not yet on the scale of Lorelei. Still, we have an unusable room and some junk piled up even in the public rooms. It is very difficult to deal with.

http://www.netgalley.comYet, I felt that the novel was too easy. First, it gives every member of the immediate family severe emotional problems, which I actually found unlikely. Then it clears them up magically at the end after a few conversations. Not happening. The ending moves the novel in my mind from a thoughtful examination of the problems caused by unresolved tragedies and mental illness to something more closely resembling a sitcom ending.

 

Day 586: Wit’s End

Cover for Wit's EndRima Lansill finds herself suddenly without a family. Both her parents are dead: her mother when she was young and her father just recently of cancer. It is not so much her father’s death that has rocked her, though, but that of her younger brother Oliver in a drunk-driving accident. Rima is upset enough to want to get away from Cleveland for awhile, so she is happy to accept the invitation of her godmother to stay at her house of Wit’s End in Santa Cruz, California.

Rima’s godmother is the famous mystery writer A. B. Early—Addison—whose sleuth is Maxwell Lane. Rima has read all of Addison’s books but has never actually met her, as there was some sort of rift between Addison and Bim, Rima’s father. Rima wonders if it was caused by Addison having used Bim’s name for the murderer in one of her books.

Taking sleuthing tips from Maxwell Lane himself, Rima decides to try to find out what happened and just what her father’s relationship to Addison was. Addison herself is not very forthcoming, but some letters Rima finds in Maxwell’s fan mail show knowledge of the real Bim, not the fictional murderer. And these letters arrived from the home of what used to be a cult.

I have now read three Fowler novels, and they all construct an interesting tale full of well-meaning characters (although We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves leaves the others in its dust). There are some alarming moments in Wit’s End, but mostly what it offers is comfort and a new home for the main character. I have categorized it as a mystery, but the mystery is really only something to hang the characters and atmosphere on, as the book club is in The Jane Austen Book Club. Wit’s End is a fun bit of very light reading.

 

Day 533: The Descendants

Cover for The DescendantsIf you have seen the movie The Descendants, the book will not provide you with very many surprises. But that is looking at things the wrong way around. Perhaps the novel provides a stronger sense of betrayal and even more sympathy with the characters.

He may live in balmy Hawaii, but Matt King is struggling. His wife Joanie is in a coma after a boat-racing accident. He has been the type of father who is always working; now he is becoming conscious of his deficiencies as a parent. He finds his ten-year-old daughter Scottie harming herself. Then he learns that the reason his wife sent his teenage daughter Alex away to boarding school was because she discovered drugs in her room.

Added to all this turmoil is a decision he must soon make about his family’s property. A trust is being wound up and prime real estate could be sold. Some cousins want the most money while others favor a local developer. With the majority vote, Matt has the power to decide what the family will do with the land.

After Matt picks up Alex from boarding school, she explains a big blowup she had with her mother over Christmas. Alex had discovered Joanie was having an affair.

Joanie’s doctors decide that she is brain dead, so Matt begins gathering her friends and family to say goodbye. Learning from friends that Joanie had planned to leave him for her lover, Matt decides he should notify him too.

It is in trying to identify and contact this man that Matt discovers Joanie’s affair was a much bigger betrayal than he thought. He is also brought to consider what he owes to his Hawaiian ancestors, from whom his family inherited their property.

Although narrated in a light style that is sometimes funny, The Descendants deals with such issues as grief, anger, death, and infidelity. It is surprisingly affecting, and you feel you know and like Matt, his daughters, and their friend Sid. Most of the characters are well-meaning people who are trying to do the right thing. I enjoyed this novel.