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I'm not going to write a formal review for this book as a lot of people have done this already, and besides everyone knows what happened to Anne Boleyn. But this was a beautifully written book which in my opinion was a worthy winner of the 2012 Booker Prize. It was a book which I enjoyed a lot and which drew a wonderfully evocative picture of Tudor England, but I didn't love it as many people seem to have done. I found the historical period dealt with just a little bit too familiar: living with a history teacher who loves his subject and a son who is almost as obsessed, historical events can be a quite common topic of conversation in our house. So while I loved the portrait of Cromwell presented in this book, the book didn't have that uncertainty of plot which I need for a book to become a favourite with me.
It was the portrait of Thomas Cromwell which made the book for me. Risen from being the son of a blacksmith to being one of the most powerful men in England, he is the archetypal self-made man. A complex character with one foot in the modern world and one foot still in the superstition of the medieval age. It's an achievement for Mantel to have presented a character that can be both hugely ruthless and sympathetic at the same time. As he engineers Anne Boleyn's downfall he will stop at nothing to achieve his aims, but at the same time the reader can empathise with his grief about his long dead wife and daughters and his hopes for his son's future.
I should add that I haven't read Wolf Hall but I don't think that detracted too much from my enjoyment of this.
So glad you decided to make a thread within the group. It will fun and interesting to have you here and to be able to read your comments.
Ignorance Michele Roberts ***
This book reminds me very much of the only other book by Michele Roberts that I have read: Daughters of the House. Both are set in a small French town and are presented from the point of view of two different women looking back on their shared experiences as children. Both look at the French experience in the Second World War in general and the treatment of Jews in particular. In both the memories of the individual and the collective memory of the community are seen to be flawed. But whereas Daughters of the House was a carefully constructed book with a satisfying conclusion, this book, although beautifully written, seemed to drift in its second half and in the end was slightly unsatisfactory.
Ignorance tells the story of Jeanne, the daughter of a widowed charwoman and Marie-Angele, the daughter of more prosperous shopkeepers for who Jeanne's mother works. Thrown together by the illnesses of both their mothers which causes them to become temporary boarders at the convent school which they attend (Marie-Angele paying, Jeanne a charity case and not allowed to forget it) they become almost friends. And although their subsequent lives follow very different paths, they continue to be intertwined. And through their lives we see the day to day reality of the German occupation of the two small towns of Ste-Madeleine and Ste-Marie-du-Ciel: the compromises and adjustments and betrayals which the townspeople make to survive.
Ignorance is the key theme of the book: ignorance of infidelity, of a mother's love and above all the collective ignorance of the population at large who prefer to close their eyes rather than see what is going on around them. But the characters felt a little stereotyped and one dimensional and so overall Ignorance didn't quite seem to live up to the promise of its ambitions.
And of course the Kindle is very practical to take with one when traveling. Gone Girl, while not prize worthy was a good read. Interesting and a page turner. Where'd You Go Bernadette?, again not prize worthy but a good & fun read. I enjoyed both. I absolutely loved Life After Life, my only 5 star Orange this year and I've yet to read NW. It is on my reading list for this month. I hope it doesn't disappoint. (not much of Zadie Smith fan here)
Enjoy your holiday Dune & whichever book you decide to read. Travel safely. :-)
Enjoy whatever you end up reading.
Looking at the number of four and five star ratings on the review page it seems that everyone loves Where D'You Go Bernadette?! Well I didn't. I suppose saying that I hated it would be an exaggeration, it was OK, but I found the main character Bernadette particularly dislikable, and I didn't much like any of the other characters either. That's maybe not so important, I've read some great books where I hated the characters, but the problem with this one was that I didn't find anyone particularly interesting either.
Bernadette is a complete mystery to the other mothers at Galer Street Elementary School that her daughter Bea, a precocious and extremely intelligent child, attends. She doesn't join in with any of the voluntary activities, she doesn't contribute and is never seen out of her car or without her sunglasses. Bernadette doesn't think much of them either, referring to them as 'gnats'. Despire being an award winning architect her house is falling to pieces and she hasn't designed anything for years. She tries to have as little human contact as possible, and has outsourced much of her life to a virtual assistant in Delhi at $0.75 an hour: unfortunately this has involved handing over more and more details of her credit card, bank accounts, and other personal information, as the family plan a trip to Antartica to reward Bea for her perfect grades at school. And when this policy backfires in a fairly spectacular manner Bernadette's strategy is to run away, showing her usual lack of consideration for her fellow human beings, this time in the shape of her husband and daughter. Personally, I think I'd be quite glad to see the back of Bernadette if she was my mother, but Bea and her father embark on a quest to track her down.
In Bernadette, Maria Semple has created one of the most self-centred characters that I've ever come across. In her own mind she is far too interesting, clever and sophisticated to be expected to interact with any of the people she meets outside her own family, an opinion which extends to cover the entire population of Seattle. But Bernadette hasn't actually done anything interesting or clever herself for the last fifteen years, since an architectural project went wrong and she moved to Seattle with her family. And as far as I can see she hasn't done anything that could be counted as kind or considerate or centred on anyone other than herself either.
An example of the 'me, me, me' train of Bernadette's thoughts:
'The only way to get to Antartica is by cruise ship. Even the smallest one has 150 passengers, which translates into me being trapped with 149 other passengers who will uniquely annoy the hell out of me with their rudeness, waste, idiotic questions, incessant yammering, creepy food requests, boring small talk, etc. Or worse, they might turn their curiosity towards me, and expect pleasantry in return.'
So not a great book for me - it's only getting two and a half stars.
I've spent several holidays on the Hebrides and have always found the story of St Kilda fascinating, so this book, set on the St Kilda of the mid- nineteenth century, seemed likely to appeal. The most isolated inhabited island of the British Isles, at least until 1930 when the remaining inhabitants requested to be resettled elsewhere, it was one where the task of eking out a living was incredibly difficult. Cut off from even the remote islands of the Outer Hebrides for a large part of every year, the inhabitants depended on the huge colonies of seabirds which nested on the islands, and on the tiny amount of arable land on which they could grow crops. And it was also an existence which was blighted by incredibly high infant mortality rates, with mothers routinely losing child after child within a week or so of birth.
Unfortunately, though, this story of the first minister of St Kilda, Neil MacKenzie and his wife Elizabeth, did not engage my attention as I expected. Island of Wings tells the story of their first arrival as a young married couple in 1830, to their eventual departure in 1843. The book does succeed in conveying the isolation of Elizabeth's position in particular, as an English speaking town bred woman from the Scottish mainland, but for me at no point did the characters or the narrative really come alive. The most interesting part of the book was learning about the social conditions of the St Kildans, which were extraordinarily basic even when compared with the Hebridean Islands which were their nearest neighbour. But I had already come across much of this information, and so not much of this was new. So while I would recommend this book to someone who is not familiar with the St Kildan story and is interested to learn more, I didn't find it particularly gripping apart from this.
How was Malaysia? I take it there will now be a host of posts catching up on what you read. Hope it was all you expected - and more.