A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Recently, I read three novels that I thought deserved attention. They didn’t produce the emotional response of the ones on my “Best of 2012” list a few weeks ago, but they are interesting in their own right.
Stand By Your Man by Gil McNeil
Architect and single mom Alice lives with her toddler son, Alfie in a small village not far from London. When her friend Molly drags her to a meeting of the Garden Society, she gets roped into designing a project for their annual competition on land donated by wealthy new residents. The new family, headed up by aggressive, ambitious Lola and her pleasant husband Charles, provide a sharp contrast to the eccentric members of the garden club and they are all fodder for Alice’s very funny commentary on everything and everyone. She’s not nasty, but has a wry manner of looking at things which I admired. It’s a novel of ordinary people in everyday lives, but told in a highly entertaining way. This was my favorite of the bunch and I was sorry to leave such likable people and amusing narration.
Bloomsbury Publishing 2004 241 pp. ISBN-13:978-0747561392 available in ebook and traditional formats
Life Mask by Emma Donoghue
A book full of the flavor of Regency Era England. It focuses on a trio of characters: Lord Derby, a liberal Whig politician and founder of the horse race bearing his name, Eliza Farren, a reknown stage actress who is Lord Derby’s love interest and Anne Damer, an accomplished sculptor and cousin to Horace Walpole. It’s a slow moving novel, more a character study of these personalities and their relationships with each other. But a strong cast of secondary characters adds layers to a story which encompasses events from the King’s illness and how the French Revolution affected England to the tenuousness of reputations and friendships in The Ton or high society.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2004 533 pp. ISBN-13:978-0151009430 available in ebooks and traditional formats
The Clouds Beneath the Sun by Mackenzie Ford
Archeologist Natalie Nelson leaves family troubles in England to go on an excavation in the Serengeti. There she becomes involved with competing brothers, who each fall in love with her and makes an important discovery in the dig. (Have you ever noticed that archeology is so much more exciting in fiction? There’s hardly any of that tedious digging, it’s just one amazing discovery after another.) When members of the team desecrate a Masai memorial, it leads to a murder and Natalie is the only witness. The events take place in the early 1960’s, on the eve of Kenya’s independence, as well as changing global attitudes towards gender and racial equality, sexual mores and cigarettes. It’s a bit melodramatic, especially towards the end, but the setting was vivid and I even learned some new things about wildlife.
Anchor Books 2010 449 pp. ISBN 978-0-307-45616-8
So, three quite different novels, but I realized that they all have strong females at the center, though strong in various ways. And they are unconventional women, which carried more penalties in earlier times, but it’s worth noting how they dealt with it, even as we get caught up in the stories.