Review 2039: Alien Hearts

It’s hard for me to start this review without a swear word. A lot of discussion goes on in this novel about the nature of love and the difference between men and women, but to my mind, neither Maupassant nor his characters have a clue. But maybe that’s what I should expect from a man who died of syphilis at 43.

André Mariolle is a young, rich dilettante who is introduced into the salon of Madame de Burne, who is known for her flirtations that only go so far. Her salon is peopled with artists and musicians, and Mariolle is an outlier, but she embarks on a flirtation as she would with any new man in her circle. However, this time the two fall in love and begin an affaire.

Mariolle isn’t happy for long, though, because he wants her to be as madly in love with him as he is with her. We get lots of descriptions of heart rendings.

The Introduction to the novel includes a quote about it from Tolstoy: “In this last novel the author does not know who is to be loved and who is to be hated, nor does the reader know it, consequently he does not believe in the events described and is not interested in them.” Yes.

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Review 1684: #ThirkellBar! High Rising

I have long been saying I will read Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels in order, but I just keep potting way at them as I encounter them. So finally, I decided to go back and read them all, in order, and I hope some others of you will join me at least part of the way. High Rising is the first one.

Mrs. Morland is a widow who has supported her three sons by writing what she calls “good bad books,” featuring skullduggery in the fashion industry. Her old friend, George Knox, is a widower and also an author, of serious historical works.

It is Laura Morland’s habit to work in London while her young son Tony is in school and come to High Rising when he is on holiday. When she and Tony arrive for the Christmas holidays, she learns there is a disturbing new resident at Low Rising. It is George’s new secretary, Una Grey, who is efficient and sweet to George but behaves officiously as if she were the mistress of the house even to George’s quiet adult daughter, Sybil. It is clear that Miss Grey is aiming at marriage with George, and she immediately treats Mrs. Morland as an enemy and rival.

The plot of High Rising is mostly concerned with this situation, but it also introduces more sympathetic characters. There is Miss Todd, who has been doing all the caretaking of her dying mother and works half-time as a secretary for Mrs. Morland. Dr. Ford is in love with her but thinks the difference in their ages makes him ineligible. Miss Todd herself believes she is the type of woman that men don’t marry.

Adrian Coates is Mrs. Morland’s editor. Although he is a good deal younger than she is, early in the novel he proposes. But Laura has no interest in marrying again and thinks he will make a much better match for Sybil Knox.

There are lots of characters, but one of the funniest is Tony, Laura’s single-minded young son. He is absolutely besotted with railways, and Thirkell does a great job of making him a believable motormouth of a boy.

Most of Thirkell’s books are notable for a subtle wit, but this one is a lot funnier than I remembered. I also felt really invested in the problems of these characters. This novel makes a nice start to the series.

So, who read High Rising along with me, and what did you think?

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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 1567: Beneath the Visiting Moon

It is the summer of 1939. The Fontaynes are dreaming along in their stately but crumbling home, left without much money since the death of Mr. Fontayne, who had been a noted thinker and politician. Unusually for them, they attend a local dance, where 17-year-old Sarah meets and falls immediately in love with Sir Giles Merrick, a middle-aged diplomat. Sarah begins a series of attempts to develop more of a life for herself so that she can meet more people and perhaps see more of Sir Giles, her hazy mother Elisabeth seeing no attraction in anything but staying home.

The Fontaynes have been trying to sell their house. When they learn that an “artsy” family is leasing a house of no distinction, the children urge their mother to call on them in hopes the family will buy Fontayne. This meeting has unexpected consequences, for soon Elisabeth has agreed to marry Mr. Jones, an orchestra conductor on rest cure.

The Jones children, Peter and Bronwen, are more sophisticated than the Fontaynes and take delight in mocking things the Fontaynes like. The Fontaynes particularly find 13-year-old Bronwen, who has written a book that is being published and constantly quotes poetry, to be ghastly. Shortly after the marriage, Sarah decides it’s time to get a job.

I found this novel delightful and was disappointed to learn it was Cavan’s last, for she became a playwright later on, encouraged by Noel Coward. It’s a vivid picture of life in an eccentric household right before everything is about to change.

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1408: Love Is Blind

Although generally speaking, I love William Boyd, I should have known better than to read a book named Love Is Blind. Even from the title, I could tell it was about a man who falls in love with a woman who is trouble, a plot that I hate. Although men love to write books upon this subject, most of the women incarcerated in the United States are there because of a man. Of course, it happens for both sexes, but a man enthralled by a lethal siren is the least of it and, for me, not interesting.

In 1894 Edinburgh, Brody Moncur is a piano tuner of significant skills. He is offered a position of assistant manager in his company’s Paris office which he takes, determined to get away from his controlling father.

In a promotional effort, Brody makes a deal with John Kilbarron, a famous pianist, to play only his company’s pianos. Soon, he has fallen in love with Lika, Kilbarron’s mistress, who is an opera singer. They begin an affair, and his life becomes a series of efforts to win her away safely from Kilbarron.

Disturbingly, we get very little sense of what Lika is like as a person. She serves pretty much as Boyd’s MacGuffin. The novel just focuses on Brody’s obsession and its consequences. It’s obvious that Lika has her secrets, and to me, it was even obvious what the major one was.

As well written as it is, I simply didn’t enjoy the theme of this book. As with Boyd’s other recent books, it takes in a sweep of history and visits many places while it meanders to its denouement.

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Day 1236: A Most Extraordinary Pursuit

Cover for A Most Extraordinary PursuitHaving read Juliana Gray’s second Emmaline Truelove novel, A Strange Scottish Shore, a few months ago, I decided to read the first. Juliana Gray, by the way, is a pen name for Beatriz Williams, known for her historical romances.

It is February 1906, and Emmaline is finishing up the details for the funeral of her employer, the Duke of Olympia, when the Duchess sends for her. It seems that Maximillian Haywood, the heir to the dukedom, has not been heard from in months. He was off working at the newly discovered archaeological site of the palace of Knossos, but he has not sent in his expected report or responded to any messages. The duchess asks Emmaline to go find him, accompanied by Lord Silverton, a renowned womanizer but apparently also some sort of government agent.

As Emmaline sets off on her journey aboard the duke’s steamship, she finds herself re-evaluating her first impression of Lord Silverton as a simpleton. She also can’t deny he has his charms. Unfortunately, nor can most of the women they meet.

This is a fun adventure story with a bit of a twist—time travel! You’ll like the practical, redoubtable heroine, Emmaline, and the charming Lord Silverton and will probably have a good time along with them on their journey.

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