Book Review: ‘Who needs Mr. Darcy?’ by Jean Burnett

My Darcy

Title: Who needs my Darcy?

Author: Jean Burnett

Publisher: Sphere, an imprint of Little Brown Publishers

Publication Date: 27th September 2012

Paperback: 416 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? I was asked to review this for a friend as part of a judge for the ‘Festival of Romance’

Where to read? Well the weather is getting a bit nippy so either stay in your own comfortable armchair complete with wool blanket or alternatively if you’ve got the budget head to the continent, Venice perhaps, for a weekend of warmth and reading.

Refreshments: Afternoon Tea – what could me more quintessentially English other than small sandwiches and scones? (Aside from buttered crumpets) Pootle off to York and enjoy a superior version at the famous Betty’s Tearooms.

Review:

Lydia Wickham, the scandalous younger sister of Elizabeth Bennett, has lost her scoundrel of a husband to the battlefields of Waterloo. Not one to be indulging for too long in mourning, much to the disappointment of her stern brother-in-law Mr Darcy, Lydia continues her quest to become a woman of means and high society. From a highwayman to an Austrian ambassador via a corrupt banker and heir to the English throne Lydia gambles and gallivants her way through London, Paris, Venice and Brighton on the hunt for a marriage. Leaving a trail of destruction in her wake this lady Bennett’s exploits would have Jane Austen herself turning in her grave.

Told in the first person, in the form of diary entries, our anti-heroine Lydia, who is intensely dis-likeable in Jane Austen’s novel, manages to worm herself into my good graces. Shifted to the role of leading lady her over dramatizing and frivolous nature is entertaining and humorous. This story is not ground breaking by any stretch of the imagination but taken as a silly fun break from the seriousness of everyday life it’s very enjoyable.

However, I felt aggrieved on behalf of Lizzy Darcy née Bennett, who, in Jane Austen’s original, was a vivacious and head strong young woman during a period in Britain when this was deemed unladylike. Unfortunately, Burnett has reduced her to a demure and placid housewife something which is both unbelievable and really quite annoying. The same can be said for Darcy’s sister who has been transformed into a pompous cow rather than the shy creature we knew so well. I understand artistic licence but if you’re going to rehash characters from other much-loved author’s novels then for the love of god think twice!

The positives came further into the story in the guise of Adelaide her cunning maid, the brow beaten Miles and Lord Finchbrook, and the roguish highwayman, Jerry Sartain. And hats off to the ridiculous character of Caroline of Brunswick, wife of King George IV, who entertained me immensely, especially with her demands for theatrical performances and scandalous affairs.

Overall if you want a bit of fluff then this is the book for you it will entertain however, it won’t set your heart or brain on fire – fervent Jane Austen fans should probably avoid at all costs.

Rating: 5 out of 10 – light-hearted fluff

Advertisements

Sociable Reading: Peirene Press presents ‘Chasing the King of Hearts’ by Hanna Krall

Chasing_the_king_of_hearts_smallABBryonyMusician

Event: English Pen & Peirene Press introduces ‘Chasing the King of Hearts’ by Hanna Krall.

Who: Belgravia Books, English Pen & Peirene Press

What: An evening to publicize the translation of Hanna Krall’s novella ‘Chasing the King of Hearts’

When: Tuesday 17th September 2013.

Where: The wonderful Belgravia Bookshop (sorry it’s my favourite)

Refreshments:I don’t know what it was but my friend and I enjoyed a couple of glasses of very nice red wine.

The snacks were late arriving but still appreciated in the form of salted Kettle chips and doritos (however, one must note there were some crisp bowl hoggers).

Review:

The book: “The Warsaw Ghetto 1942: When Izolda’s husband, Shayek, is imprisoned, she sets out to release him. She changes her name, her hair, her religion. Eventually she is captured and deported to Auschwitz. But even there, she trusts that her love will save them both.”

The evening began with an introduction by the lovely Meike Ziervogel, founder of Peirene Press, the publishing house tasked with producing the beautiful translation and production of Hanna Krall’s novella.

This was followed by a reading of an extract by Bryony, a recent graduate from the Oxford performing arts college, she presented us with a section early on in the book in a simple and not overly dramatic fashion. Her second reading later on in the evening was well chosen in it’s ability to capture Isolde’s, the heroine’s, true optimistic spirit when recounting a particularly dark anecdote.

The second and rather unique genre of entertainment came in the form of two young musicians who have made it their mission to produce music to represent the written word. They had crafted two short pieces to accompany the readings done by Bryony. I was a bit cynical about how this would work but I am pleased to say I was proved wrong especially in the second instance when Brahms lullaby was played to an intensely eerie effect.

It was disappointing but not surprising that Hanna Krall herself hadn’t been able to make the trip from Poland, being nearly 80 years old and all, however we were treated to an insight into her mind and motivations via professor Agata Bielik-Robson. She had been treated to an interview with Hanna Krall and we were lucky enough to hear the results.

The stand out point for me was that her idol and literary inspiration was Tadeusz Borowski, author of ‘This way for the gas chambers ladies and gentlemen’ – a book I will be reading in the very near future – and renowned for recounting the holocaust in a frank and exceptionally dry manner rather than endowing it with the heroism of favoured by most.

Secondly, it was entertaining to learn about Hanna Krall’s meeting with the real life Isolde (the book is based on a true story, although strangely promoted as fiction) especially the anecdote of when Isolde met Gregor Mendel and her first impressions of him being that he was a very good looking man, but also that he had a gap between his two front teeth and that she was very proud for remembering the scientific name for it, diastema.

Apparently, Mendel’s whole family suffered from diastema and this was why he developed an interest in genetics which developed into the sinister career he is famous for to this day.

After the second round of dramatic performances there was a Q&A whereby Meike was questioned over her novella, Magda and how she compared it to the story of Isolde. This was an interesting comparison and one answered particularly astutely by Meike explaining that it was two woman both with love at the centre of their worlds, the difference being one had love and survived and the other was desperate for love and met with tragedy.

The evening ended to great applause and another glass of red wine before my friend bought the book – she had the nerve to suggest buying it on the Kindle until she saw my look of horror – all in all another great night of literature at Belgravia bookshop.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Book review: ‘How’s the Pain?’ by Pascal Garnier

Howsthepainpascal-garnier-itw2

Title: How’s the Pain

Author:Pascal Garnier, translated by Emily Boyce

Publisher: Gallic Books

Publication Date: 11th June 2012

Paperback: 163 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? I appear to be going through a phase of loving French Noir so when this gem dropped through my letter box I was hardly going to deprive myself of the joy.

Where to read? Although it’s not really the time of year for it anymore a trip to the seaside is apt for this story. So if you can brave the latter stages of a British summer I would suggest Whitby on Yorkshire Coast – Yorkshire has after all recently been voted Europe’s leading destination!

Refreshments:If you’ve heeded my advice and taken yourself to the seaside then you should also embrace the local seafood that usually is to be found in a cone i.e cockles, whelkes and mussels. However, if these don’t float your boat then a round of traditional fish and chips with lashings of vinegar.

Review

Simon, an old, vermin exterminator has unfinished business to attend to down the coast, before his frail health packs in, and he needs a chauffeur and companion to take him. Bernard a refreshingly innocent and optimistic twenty-one year old has only ever achieved one good thing in his life, passing his driving test. A chance meeting results in a business agreement and an unexpected friendship as the pair set off on a journey that is destined to change both their lives in both hilarious and horrific ways.

This story starts with the ending. As with many of Garnier’s works the importance is never really about the grand finale, otherwise you would only need to read the first two pages, it is always about the journey of the characters. This style forces the reader to really concentrate on the story rather than racing to the finish line.

Simon is brilliant. I could leave it there but I should probably expand on my point. His frank and direct manner is refreshing and so stereotypically that of a un homme âgé that you can’t help but smile when reading his sections of the story. Bernard, his alter ego, is resigned to his mundane life carries this off with an optimism and happy acceptance not yet tainted by the tribulations of life. Together they provide a perfect symbiosis for Garnier’s novella on human life and experiences.

My favourite character was Bernard’s mother who infrequently pops up amongst the chapters and presents the classic French eccentric divorcée. Her youthful entrepreneurial endeavours followed closely by her descent into rags and rum are fantastically entertaining. The stand out scene comes close to the end of the story when she leaves it to god to decide whether she’ll be drinking cleaning products or her reserve rum from the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

However, for the rest of the female cast I found their sub plots frankly irritating. The young mother, whose appearance on the scene comes pretty early into the story, and who attaches herself to Bernard like a limpet is the biggest offender. Her sense of entitlement and dictatorship over Bernard’s actions annoyed me and in fact had me wondering, out loud and in public I should add, who the hell she thought she was?

This novella is yet another seriously addictive example of French noir and reflection on human life, and one which will only take you a couple of hours to devour.

Rating: 7 out of 10

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret Blog Tour!

The Husband’s Secret Blog Tour!

Title: The Husband’s Secret’

Author: Liane Moriarty

Publisher: Michael Joseph, Penguin

Publication Date: 29th August 2013

Paperback: 416 pages

Why did I choose to read this book? I was invited by Penguin to join the blog tour & I can’t resist a secret.

Where to read? Unfortunately a trip to Sydney would break most people’s bank balance so I suggest a trip to an Antipodean style cafe like Lantana in Fitzrovia to settle down with a good quality coffee in a comfy chair.

Refreshments: The dominance of tupperware in this book suggests that leftovers should be consumed whilst reading. The only thing I found in the freezer was my homemade spicy tomato soup which made a welcome accompaniment along with some crusty bread.

Rating:

A child’s innocent interest in the history of the Berlin Wall leads to a trip into the attic and the unearthing of an envelope. Cecilia recognises her husband’s handwriting but is dumbfounded by what on earth he would want her to read ‘only in the event of my death.’ When Cecilia opens the letter the contents reveal an earth shattering confession that rocks her world to the core. However, if she confesses the secret everything she holds dear will be destroyed but if she doesn’t can she live with herself?

The story is divided into the seven days of one week. This choice in structure is particularly effective for this story especially because each of the characters’ lives are interlocked. The momentum of this style creates the domino effect whereby this one event, the opening of the letter, snowballs swiftly crashing into these people’s lives leaving a path of devastation.

In terms of the characters John-Paul is arguably the central one as it is to his penmanship that we owe this whole sorry saga. He is an immensely dislikable character due to not only his actions but his pathetic inability to live up to the consequences of them. His wife Cecilia, I found particularly interesting. This was because it is largely through her eyes that we witness the events. In addition the contradictions within her reactions and behaviours, after the revelation of her her husband’s secret, lead you to seriously question how you might behave in the same instance. However, my favourite family sub-plot was Tessa, Felicity and Will whose rather baffling ménage à trois with a twist produced some light relief especially in the guise of Tessa’s mother Lucy.

The central theme to the story is that of the role of fate. In this case, the idea that certain paths are presented to you once you have made a life decision. This is especially the case for John-Paul and his decision to write the letter. In addition, karma also plays an important role especially with an extremely shocking event near the end of the story. I don’t want to give anything away, but I found the thought processes of both Cecilia and Rachel surrounding this event of particular interest. The impression I was left with was that life is a series of checks and balances and you always end up paying in the end.

Overall this was a surprisingly dark and thought provoking story that thankfully didn’t kowtow to a sunny ending and remained true to the reality of life.

Rating: 8 out of 10 – definitely recommend this read!