WARNING: CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS
I really struggled with this book. It’s not my usually thing, I picked it up on holiday as a previous guest had left it in the apartment where we were staying. I’d stupidly brought some philosophical tome to read which I just couldn’t get my head around so thought this book would be less challenging for holiday reading. It certainly looked it from the colourful cover and from getting to know the main character Lola – a stylist from Dublin with a passionate love of designer labels who’d just been dumped by her more heavyweight politician boyfriend (Patrick D’Courcy, the charming man from the title). She goes to the county to recover where she meets amusing and quirky characters and tries to lick her wounds.
After establishing this set up the narration then switches to other women who have also been close to the ‘charming man’. Steadily it unfolds that he is actually a sadist who beats, rapes and mutilates the woman in his life. It’s quite shocking and the tone pretty much remains in chicklit territory while dealing with these horrifying issues. I think it is a brave move from the author but for me she just doesn’t quite pull it off, the switches between silly moments and serious I found a bit jarring. But that does reflect life doesn’t it? Just because you’ve been a victim of rape, assault or domestic violence doesn’t mean you’ll never laugh again, fall in love again or that you’ll cease to care about the content of Vogue magazine. No, that isn’t my main criticism, I actually think the idea of tackling more serious issue in an accessible style is a very good idea (even if it didn’t entirely work for me).
The main reason I didn’t like it was the plot. I felt let down by it on behalf of abused woman. I’m not sure if I have misunderstood the author but it sent out a very strange message. After we learn about the four different women who have been abused by Patrick their plots start to move together. One of them, a journalist, finds out that Patrick is planning to leak a story to the press to destroy the career of a honourable female politician who she admires. She gets the girls together and they threaten to go to the press with their stories unless he agrees to abandon his scheme, and he does agree and also apologies to them…and they celebrate! He’s raped and tortured them and they are happy to have caused an inconvenience to his career? ! All the woman have been left with permanent physical and psychological scars from his treatment and yet are we to think this is the only justice they can expect? I found this so disappointing.
The novel ends with Patrick’s career badly damaged and him going off to continue to abuse his latest victim…and yet the main characters seem pretty happy with the outcome. I don’t think this holds up in a post Operation Yew Tree, Weinstein and #MeToo world – perhaps the world has moved on since the book was written about 10 years ago or maybe I am just naive. I understand that abuse can damage people mentally as well as physically and maybe the women are so damaged that they don’t have the confidence to aim to bring him to real justice. But then if that is the case the author deals with it very strangely with the girls whooping, laughing and celebrating their ‘victory’ with a night out in the pub.
I decided to read a book from my childhood as it is a favourite for me and my best friend, and we always pretend we are the Mad Hatter and March Hare as it is a reflection on our lives.
Anyway, the story is about Alice who is sitting quietly on the riverbanks of the Thames and then sees a white rabbit who is talking to himself. Alice decides to follow him but then accidentally falls down the rabbit-hole!
She lands in a room with keys in it and sees a very tiny door that leads into a very pretty garden, but it is so small, she is unable to go through the door.
She then notices a small bottle that says “Drink me”, so she decides to drink it and then she becomes very small.
Unfortunately. she forgot to take the keys from the table before drinking the bottle and then realises she needs to grow big again. She then comes across a cake saying “eat me” and then when she does she becomes big. She then starts crying from all the confusion but as she is crying she shrinks again and is forced to swim in her own tears.
Eventually, she decides to go into the garden and comes across a cottage where she meets all the animals, such as Fish- Footman and delivers an invitation from the Queen to play croquet too a Frog -Footman. She comes across a cook who makes pepper soup and then sees the baby changing into a piglet.. She leaves them and meets the Cheshire cat who has a big wide grin.
She then meets Mad Hatter and March Hare who are having a tea party with sleeping Dormouse. She asks them questions but all she gets is riddles and to which nothing makes sense. Hence the phrase the Mad Hatters Tea Party.
This book is full of eccentricity and a dream world of nonsensical wonderland with the tea party and a chaotic game of chess that makes Alice into a Queen.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!”
“Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle____” ‘
Cityread starts next month and you may already know that Prophesy by S.J. Parris has been chosen as this year’s title. Hope you are planning to read it next month! It is part of a series so I thought I would take a look at the first book in the series in preparation (Prophesy is number two in the series).
The sequence starts with Heresy, the first of five novels (so far) set in the late sixteenth century and following the story of Giordano Bruno, former monk turned travelling academic and part time sleuth! Giordano Bruno was a real person and although all the novels are works of fiction they are littered with real characters and events.
The novel begins in Bruno’s youth as a monk in Italy and gives us a nice background into his character and situation. Expelled from his monastery for reading banned books he has to go on the run and is then later excommunicated for his own controversial writings – making his existence even more perilous.
Portrait of the real Giordano Bruno
Despite his fugitive status he does find favour with some powerful people due to the brilliance of his philosophy and scientific ideas. While this is a time of religious extremism and control it is also a time when learning and new ideas were embraced – these contradictions feature throughout the novels reflecting the confusing times he was living in. After an exciting life on the run, including time spent working for the King of France, Bruno travels to England to a debate at Oxford University he is also hoping to locate a rare book he is eager to read – this is where the meat of this particular story begins.
Before travelling to Oxford Bruno is asked by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Walsingham, to keep an eye out for Catholic Heretics while in Oxford. Bruno admires Walsingham and also needs the money offered for the task! He accepts with some reservations.
So you can see he’s in a bit of a pickle before he even begins! He’s hated by some in Protestant England because of his Catholic background. Hated by others because he has been excommunicated. People tend not to trust him because he’s a foreigner. He is eager to impress in a prestigious academic debate even though he doesn’t know the English debating style. He wants to find a book, but can’t ask openly about it as it concerns elements of sorcery and could see him accused of witchcraft. He has been told to look out for Catholics and report them to the authorities but his own instinct is for religious tolerance. As soon as he arrives in Oxford he finds himself attracted to the beautiful and clever daughter of the University Rector – and she is very much out of bounds to a foreign former Catholic!
There is enough here for an exciting novel already…but then there is a grisly murder!
I won’t go into too much detail about the crime as this is basically a plot driven whodunit and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.
I do definitely think it is worth a read. The novel really immerses you in this fascinating era and the plot is pacey and exciting. I suppose my only criticism is that, now I have also read Prophesy, the second novel is considerably better! But this is a good sign as it hopefully means the series will develop and improve as it goes on. In Hersey, while the ideas and feelings of the era seem well described, I often found it difficult to imagine the physical surroundings as S.J. Parris describes them (whereas in Prophesy the setting of Elizabethan London is extremely vivid).