Throwback Thursday: A Woman’s Life by Guy de Maupassant

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

A Woman’s Life by Guy de Maupassant (or A Life)

I read this book back in 2010 and loved it. Here is a link to my original review.

a lifeWhat I thought:

Who would have thought that such a little book (just 202 pages) could incite so many different emotions (on the part of the reader as well as the characters)? One minute I was swooning over landscape and seascape and melting in Maupassant’s prose, and the next I was wanting to wring the protagonist’s neck!

The book starts with a young Jeanne who is in her last ever day at the convent school in 1819 and who is desperate to taste freedom and start her life after being cooped up for so long, only being able to stare out of windows and dream what her life will be like when she is finally out in the world. Jeanne’s daydreams are filled with longing and a restless spirit that is aching to see far away lands and nature and finally breathe after all these years at school. Jeanne’s parents (a Baron and Baroness) pick her up on her last day and drive her to Poplars which is to become her home by the sea. Maupassants narrative is so beautiful in parts that I longed to be there too; to experience what Jeanne was experiencing.

“First of all facing her was a broad lawn as yellow as butter under the night sky. Two tall trees rose up like steeples in front of the house, a plane to the north and a linden to the south.”

“Jeanne gazed at the broad surface of the sea, which looked like watered silk, sleeping peacefully under the stars. In the quiet of the sunless sky all the scents of the earth rose up into the air. A jessamine climbing round the downstairs windows gave a penetrating scent, which mingled with the fainter smell of the young leaves. Gentle gusts of wind were blowing, laden with the sharp tang of the salt and the heavy sticky reek of seaweed. At first the girl was happy just breathing the night air; the peace of the countryside had the calming effect of a cool bath.”

Jeanne’s first few months are spent getting to know her new surroundings and enjoying her freedom and soon she is introduced to a young man by the name of Julien who is a count and after a brief and all-consuming romance they marry. Jeanne starts to pick up clues that all is not what it seemed as early as the wedding night when he forces himself on his new bride but desperately wanting to believe that she has married the right man and stay happy she puts it to one side. I feel the need to note here (for amusement’s sake) that Julien calls his wife’s breasts Mr Sleeper-out and Mr Kiss-me-quick and certain other parts of her womanly anatomy The road to Damascus. Fortunately, these aren’t mentioned more than once.

The story is very much about the downward spiral of one woman’s life. We watch Jeanne’s hopes and desires and dreams turn into boredom and frustration and self-pity.

“Suddenly she realised that she had nothing to do and never would have anything.”

“But now the magic reality of those first days was about to become the everyday reality, which closed the door on those hopes and delightful enigmas of the unknown.”

“Habit spread over her life like a layer of resignation like the chalky deposit left on the ground by certain kinds of water.”

“Sometimes she would spend the whole afternoon sitting looking at the sea; sometimes she went down to Yport through the wood, repeating the walks of old days which she could not forget. What a long time it was since she had wondered through the countryside as a young girl intoxicated with dreams!”

Maupassant has such a way with words that he drew me into Jeanne’s world and I felt the same longing she felt. It took me back to days when I had the world at my feet too and thought I could do anything, had no cares in the world – OK so my carefree days were a little different to Jeanne’s as in rather than floating round some big mansion by the sea, it was made up of nights out on the town, no mortgage to pay and a feeling of being able accountable to nobody except myself (ahh, to be so naive once more!).  I do sometimes wonder how I would have coped in those days – one part of me thinks how lovely to do nothing all day other than read my books and take little walks round the garden with my parasol in hand, and the other part thinks but what would happen when you got bored of that? A woman didn’t have a choice then. In those particular circles, they were there to look pretty and be seen but not so much heard. How dull!

Despite my sympathy towards Jeanne, not just because of her longing for something else but also because of her brutish husband and selfish son, I still found myself wanting to grab her shoulders and give her a good shake! My God, this woman can make a fuss. Her level of self-pity knows no bounds – we have hysterics, weeping, falling on someone’s breast and weeping, collapsing on a chair and weeping, we have fainting, panic attacks and wailing. There were times when I wanted to yell “get a grip, love!” at the pages.

“She continually repeated: ‘I have no luck in life.’ But Rosalie would retort: ‘What would you say if you had to earn your living and had to get up at six every morning and go out to work? There are plenty of women who have to do that, and when they are too old to work, they starve to death.’”

Quite!

This book, I believe, should have been translated as One Woman’s Life rather than A Woman’s Life as it is very much about Jeanne and her personal story.

I read quite a few Maupassant books when I was at school (we studied Boule de Suife and some of his other shorter stories) but it’s far too long since I have read anything else of his. I’m glad I did – it reminded me why I liked him. Recommended.

Since reading this book I have visited Paris and on one occasion I went to see Maupassant’s grave.

Have you read this or any of de Maupassant’s other books? Any recommendations?

Review: Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito

quicksandWhat I thought:

The Secret History meets We Need to Talk About Kevin? A bold claim, but one that had me champing at the bit to read this, nonetheless. Those books are two of my favourite of all-time and with Quicksand also laying claim to Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2016, I thought I was in for a treat and then some. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

Beginning with a murder trial, I was fully prepared to love this book. I love a courtroom drama and this had the hallmarks of a good one: privileged, popular, straight A student Maja Norberg is standing trial for the murder of her boyfriend and classmates. A mass shooting has taken place at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb ad eighteen-year-old Maja is charged for her involvement in the massacre. Now the time has come for her to enter the courtroom. But how did Maja—a top student—become a cold-blooded killer? The media whips up the whole country into a frenzy and Maja becomes guilty before even tried.

Now, I don’t always have to like a cast of characters in order to be invested in their story, but frankly, Maja and her equally privileged friends were so unlikeable that I couldn’t make myself care one way or the other. What started out as a did-she-or-didn’t-she drama, quickly descended into endless flashbacks of teenage love triangles, drugs, parties and the likes. Maybe I’m just really old, but honestly, I couldn’t give a toss about any of them or their angst.

To be fair, it did start well: Maja is found in her classroom amongst a room full of dead classmates and she doesn’t have a scratch on her. I was excited to read more and find out what really happened in that room on that fateful morning. I wanted to know why Maja seemed so detached from it all. Then the book took a serious nose-dive towards the middle and I found myself bored of the to-ing and fro-ing between timeframes and lost interest.

Verdict:

Quicksand, for me, lacked suspense or tension: there were no surprises, twists, red herrings and no reason to keep reading on. And yet I did. Because surely an award-winning book must redeem itself, right? Wrong. I read all the way to the end and wasn’t even rewarded for my slog. That said, it is getting lots of rave reviews so definitely one to make your own mind up about.

I’d love to know what you thought if you have read it.

I received a copy of this book for review from Simon & Schuster in return for my honest opinion.

 

 

 

Blog Tour: We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummins

Welcome to Day 4 of the blog tour for debut author Harriet Cummings for her book We All Begin As Strangers. 

BeginAsStrangers_BlogTourTwitter (1)

So what’s it all about?

We All Begin As Strangers (2)Inspired by real events – a beautiful debut about an English village pushed to the brink, and the secrets its residents are desperate to protect. If you loved THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon, ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey and THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce, you’ll adore this wonderful debut novel.

1984, and summer is scorching the ordinary English village of Heathcote.

What’s more, a mysterious figure is slipping into homes through back doors and open windows. Dubbed ‘The Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.

When beloved Anna goes missing, the whole community believes The Fox is responsible.

But as the residents scramble to solve the mystery of Anna’s disappearance, little do they know it’s their darkest secrets The Fox is really after…

Inspired by real events, and with a brilliant cast of characters, WE ALL BEGIN AS STRANGERS is a beautiful debut novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone.

If you loved THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon, ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey and THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce, you’ll adore this wonderful British debut novel.

My review of this book will be coming shortly.

Meet Harriet Cummings

HARRIET CUMMINGS (2)Harriet Cummings is a freelance writer with a background in history of art and gender studies. As a scriptwriter, she has had work performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as independent venues around London.

While studying at Faber Academy, Harriet threw herself into her first novel and hasn’t looked back since.

She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and springer spaniel.

Follow Harriet on Twitter @HarrietWriter or find out more at http://www.harrietcummingsauthor.com

Getting to know Harriet

I wanted to get to know Harriet a bit more and decided that with the book being set in the 80’s, what better way than with some 80’s inspired questions:

What is your favourite 80’s group? 

Blondie! ‘Heart of Glass’ is so addictive.

What is your favourite 80’s song?

It has to be ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. Remember the video with her in the white dress with the school boys?! Pretty special stuff.

What is your favourite 80’s film?

Heathers… I had a poster of Christian Slater on my bedroom wall and argued with my sister over who liked him more. We were very competitive about nonsense things!

Favourite 80’s item of clothing?

The scrunchie was something to be loved and loathed.

Favourite subject at school?

I liked art, especially painting.

Favourite childhood book?

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Grange Hill or Hollyoaks?

Grange Hill. I never got on board with Hollyoaks – too many beautiful people to be convincing, haha.

Wham bar or Haribo Tangfastic?

How about a Highland Toffee? Can I have that instead? I used to get one for 10p after swimming.

Atari? or iPad?

Hmm, I never had an Atari so I guess an iPad. My first computer console was a Snez. Again, my sister and I fought over who could play first. We both wanted to be Princess too. Fun times.

 

Thank you to Harriet for taking the time to answer these questions and good luck with your debut novel.

 

 

Review: The Last Piece of my Heart by Paige Toon

last pieceWhat I thought:

I have long been a fan of Paige Toon’s books. She is one of those authors whose books you just know you will love; a go-to author. Women’s Fiction, chick lit, holiday reading, call it what you will – when all said and done, they are feel-good and will melt the hardest of hearts.

What I like about Paige Toon’s books is that characters from previous books quite often pop up (no plot spoilers, usually just a brief mention by way of a call or email but it always puts a smile on my face to hear from them). In The Last Piece of my Heart, Bridget re-locates to Cornwall to ghostwrite a sequel to a best-selling novel, only the widow of the author who wrote the first book is still grieving and not especially pleased to see her. I don’t want to say more than that, as I find that with these books it’s best to get swept up in the unfolding story without knowing which direction it might go in  (I say that because in some of Toon’s books we’re not actually sure who the lead character will end up with).

I do like books like this in between crime and more literary reads – I consider them palate-cleansers, and I don’t mean that to sound in any way derogatory, as some have become firm favourites of mine; a respite or an escape, real comfort reading. What I especially love about Paige Toon’s books, among all of this genre that I enjoy, is that they are probably the books that make me root for the characters the most. We watch them fall slowly for each other and cheer them on towards the hoped-for conclusion.

Verdict:

Another belter. Feel-good, romantic, pure escapism. Big thumbs up.

Have you read any of Paige Toon’s books? Which other authors from this genre would you recommend?

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for my copy of this book in return for my honest review.

Throwback Thursday: Perfect People by Peter James

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week’s choice is Perfect People by Peter James and is taken from my review in 2011.

PPeople

What I thought

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover: It looked eerie and intriguing. According to the blurb, this book has been 10 years in the planning. When the idea first came to James about writing a book about designer babies, it was just that – an idea. Now it is a reality. That makes reading this book all the scarier – we may just be looking at our future.

John and Naomi Klaesson live in California and have lost their 4 year old son to a rare genetic disorder which made them watch him die a slow and horrible death. Still young and desperate for another child, the Klaesson’s opt for paying a huge sum of money to geneticist Dr Leo Dettore who has promised them that he can prevent this child from being born with the same disorder that killed their son. What soon become apparent is that Dr Dettore can also offer them so much more scope in “designing” their next child.

This book poses so many questions and will undoubtedly make you think about what you would do in the same situation. Being faced with the option to make your child more empathetic (but would that make them a playground bully target?) or allow them to survive on only a few hours per night like many CEOs and politicians do (but would that mean that they may have sociopathic tendencies?) what would you decide? These are the dilemmas that also face the Klaessons when going through page after page of tick-box options. The Klaessons are normal people, they have normal jobs, they live in a normal house and they only thing they really want is a disease-free child…but does that mean that they can’t be tempted by anything else?

What makes this book so compelling is that it becomes apparent pretty early on that something isn’t quite right. It’s so difficult for me to be say anything more about the plot as it really would spoil it, but what I will say is that with fairly short chapters that have a tendency to end at a point where you can’t possibly put the book down, then this makes for one mighty page-turner.

Verdict

An amazing thriller. One that will make you question what you would do, one that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and one that has sufficient twists to keep you on your toes and not get too comfortable…

Have you read this book or anything else by Peter James? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Review: Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

man i knewWhat I Thought:

This weekend I sat in the garden, the sun shining, and read the most beautiful, lyrical and vividly written book – Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew. This isn’t the first book I have read by this author (more on that later) so I knew that I was in for a treat and I wasn’t let down in the slightest.

This book is a feast for the senses. From the very first sentence, I was whisked immediately away to the Provencial countryside as a new spring is dawning and I was immersed in colours and fragrances and sensations that can only be brought about by the most talented author. I was there under the lime tree, I felt the breeze lift the hem of my skirt, and heard the parched earth drink the water from the upturned pail.

The man of the book title is, in fact, Vincent van Gogh, however, he isn’t the protagonist; that is Jeanne Trabuc. Van Gogh is more of a supporting character to enable Jeanne to evolve and blossom, and the story is really hers. The year is 1889 and set in the Saint-Paul Asylum, Saint-Rémy, where Van Gogh admitted himself and was a patient for a year, painting some of his most loved paintings during that time before he became more well known. Jeanne lives with her husband Charles in a little white cottage next to the asylum in the French countryside as Charles is the Manager there. Jeanne, whose three grown up sons have all left home, lives by the rules she has become accustomed to over the years and is forbidden to enter the asylum grounds but she finds a way to meet with Vincent often and through their conversations while he paints, she learns to remember the woman (and child) she was; the playful, independent girl who grew up with just her belovèd Father and wore yellow silk dresses, wore  her hair unpinned, and who did handstands in the square. It’s an incredibly moving story as Jeanne considers her life and contemplates her future. Van Gogh’s paintings awaken something in her; a desire and a longing for something more than the life of conformity and routine.

The paperback version due out in June 2017

Seven years ago, I interviewed this author about her book Corrag (which is now re-published as Witch Light and is still one of the most perfect books I’ve ever read) and in this interview, she explained about spending half-an-hour of watching a bumble bee visit foxgloves, writing down how it looked and sounded, and I can completely see this. The scenes of nature in both books are exquisite; full of vibrancy and sentiment. Just stunning.

When I read a book I want to believe I’m right there in the pages. Few authors make me feel this as well as Susan Fletcher. Others that have had a similar impact are Joanne Harris (particularly the Chocolat series) and more recently Sealskin by Su Bristow. 

Verdict:

This book was a joy to read from start to finish. Susan Fletcher can write. I mean, REALLY write. If you love beautiful storytelling and pitch-perfect prose, you need to read this book. I cannot recommend highly enough.

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Have you read this book or anything else by Susan Fletcher? I’d love to know what you think.

Review: The Bricks That Built The Houses by Kate Tempest

bricksWhat I thought:

 

This is going to be one of the trickiest reviews I have ever written because I keep changing my mind on how I feel about it. It was chosen as my book groups read last month and is a book that I probably wouldn’t have picked up for myself (which is exactly what I love about book groups as it takes you out of your comfort zone, and I have found many a cracking read this way over the years).

Firstly, a little bit about the author that I have discovered while reading The Bricks That Built the Houses. Kate Tempest is an award-winning poet and a rapper who grew up in “a shitty part” of South London and had a wayward youth, living in squats and hanging around picket lines. This does not surprise me in the least. Her book felt like a simmering, bubbling, molten-hot pot of cynicism and discontent that is ready to spew and explode at any moment. It felt sometimes angry, sometimes jaded and always unflinching.

So what’s it about? Herein partly lies my struggle, as I’m not entirely sure. There are several main characters – Becky, Harry, Pete and Leon – all in their 20’s, all wanting something more than they have, and all living a daily battle with the life they are in. Aside from the main four, Tempest also takes us back in time with all the protagonists’ parents and their struggles and how they ended up where they did. It appears that whatever generation you’re from there is something that will get you down / hold you down and keep you down. I saw one quote somewhere that said: “this book leaves Generation Xers understanding the woes of millennials much better”. That probably sums up best how I feel about it. Maybe I’m more of a fogie than I realised. It basically seemed like everyone was on drugs, nobody wanted to earn an honest living, and everyone just wanted to hang around getting pissed and wasted.

The book itself could have done with a bit more editing. OK, a lot more. Tempest is a poet and a rapper and that was obvious in her prose. While there were some beautiful and lyrical moments of narrative, everything, it seemed, was a metaphor. At first, I quite liked this. Then it got too much, too quickly. To the point that I was rolling my eyes at the page and urging her to get on with it. Interestingly, she did towards the end; almost as if she had run out of them. And while we’re on the subject of the end: it left me with that dreaded “is that it?” feeling when you don’t feel that the ends have been tied up well enough. Now what?

Verdict:

So here’s the thing: while I hated parts of it, and early on could quite happily have put it to one side for later (or never), I ended up racing through this book and really quite enjoying it. I was invested, I wanted to know what was coming next, and I started to look forward to picking it up.

Whatever your view on the topics in the book, it’s certainly a good one to read in a book group!

Have you read this? I’d love to know what you think.