I’m afraid this book has gone on to my small life is too short pile of unfinished books. The book was highly recommended to me by a friend so clearly not everyone feels this way!
It was just so humdrum and dull (IMO). I gave it a fair chance, I got to page 233 before I decided that I had no interest in finding out what happened to these characters and would quite easily shut the book and never think of them again (obviously I’m thinking of them now – but only because I’m writing the review).
The book gives us alternate chapters following our heroine then hero over the same time period. Our heroine is Vivian a very beautiful (we’re told this repeatedly) and slim (which we’re told over and over again) debutant. Slim, beautiful Vivian is a popular girl who hopes to make a good marriage and help raise her family’s flagging fortunes but then when she fears she is losing the attentions of the man she has set her sights on she has sex with him in an attempt to seal their relationship. This is a shocking thing for a high born young woman do to in 1914 and, although it is not clear that the details of her indiscretion are widely known, her reputation is damaged so her family rush her into a hasty marriage much more lowly than they had hoped for. Her husband is not cruel or anything but he is cold and unaffectionate so their marriage is rather unsatisfactory. It gets worse for Vivian when war breaks out her husband goes to war and it’s decided she should relocate from London to their relatively modest country home in the midlands where she is very lonely and isolated.
Our hero, Howard’s, story runs concurrently. He a handsome (we are told this repeatedly), tall and manly (we are told this again and again) playwright who has a promising career ahead of him. But then war breaks out and Howard is pressured to sign up, he resists because he does not agree with war and instead goes to the trenches as a journalist. There he sees the horrors of war first hand and becomes even more convinced of the futility of war. He returns to England just as conscription is introduced. He becomes a conscientious objector and is imprisoned because of this.
Howard witnesses the horrors of life in the trenches
At this point I felt the time was coming for our heroes to meet as Vivian had befriended Howard’s mother in the country and she had started to talk to Vivian about the plight of her son. That’s when I decided I just couldn’t go on.
It’s hard to put my finger on why this was so rubbish. I guess in a way it wasn’t terrible just so so, it seemed to have nothing to offer that hadn’t been done better elsewhere. There have been better books about lonely neglected wives and much better books about the horrors of war. The characters were very two dimensional with nothing about them that drew you in or made you feel an emotionally linked to their journeys. I just thought they both sounded fairly inoffensive but dull and I couldn’t imagine having an interesting conversation with either of them (even though I’m sure they would have been very nice to look at!)
I’d really like to hear from anyone who strongly disagrees with me on this. What is it about this that you liked so much? Does something extraordinary happen in the second half to make it all worthwhile?!
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).
Of all the monsters and heroes that people often dress up as at Halloween, the favourite for everyone are witches and wizards. They both appear in literature sometimes as protagonists and support characters, but most often they are the villains of the story, witches more often than wizards. The rabble of characters I have selected for my list are all the stars of their respective stories and all have a thing in common with each other, see if you can spot it in the list!
- Mildred Hubble – The Worst Witch Series – Jill Murphy
My personal favourite character on this list, Mildred is presented to us in Jill Murphy’s 80’s book of the same name as a bumbling, accident prone girl, a “worst witch” as you will. Everything seems to not go to her favour, from messing up in Potions class to not getting a black cat like the other girls but instead a grey coloured cat she calls ‘Tabby’. Mildred’s bumbling is actually her greatest strength in the books as she (unknowingly) saves the day in each one, with accidental consequences of course! What made Mildred my favourite over the years is that she was very gloriously average. Most characters I have read about up until then were Greek in their ways, flawless and ones to model ourselves after. Mildred in a way was us, and we were following her journey with her. I also thanks to Mildred, grew quite fond of tabby cats and used to always carry a beanie baby tabby cat with me and pretend I was Mildred, in fact I was her for Halloween three times in my life! Re-create the look by getting a black pinafore, thin scarf, blue shirt and witches hat. And don’t forget those famous plaits!
- Wizard Howl – Howl Series – Diana Wynne Jones
I admit I did not know who Diana Wynne Jones was as a child and I first came across her as
a teenage anime fan, seeing the movie adaptation of her book Howl’s Moving Castle. But we are not here to talk about the movie version as this is a library blog. Howl is somewhat of a mysterious character when you are first introduced to him. Although the book is called ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ you are seeing the events through the eyes off a milliner called Sophie Hatter. Sophie is turned into an old woman for much of the story, and her meeting Howl is a happy accident. Howl is presented to us as a vain if quirky wizard who is supposed to be this ‘heart eating demon’. Throughout the book, you see (through Sophie) Howls personality change from that to a selfless hero who is a powerful wizard. Complete the look for Halloween by finding the dandiest suit you can find and putting a blond wig on.
- Hermione Granger – Harry Potter series- J.K Rowling
This series does not need any waffling from me to introduce it does it? Even though Harry is the main star of the series, it was his clever friend Hermione Granger that I always was in awe of. She was the straight woman of the 3 Man Band of Harry, Ron and herself. She would always use her cunning intelligence to get Harry and Ron out of trouble and lets face it, she was the real hero of the stories. Get the look by purchasing a Harry Potter Hogwarts uniform set from any fancy dress shop and letting you hair go wild.
Brent libraries are running Halloween events all half term so check brent.org/events for more details.