Catching Up

I’ve found that this lockdown period has affected my blogging as I haven’t been writing about the books I’ve read recently. I’ve been doing posts that don’t really need much concentration – lists of books, book beginnings and so on. So now I have a few books that I’ve read but not reviewed. Here’s what I thought about two of them. These are just brief reviews – more like notes really.

Queen Lucia

Queen Lucia has been on my radar for years ever since I began blogging and I bought a copy several years ago. When I saw that Simon and Karen were hosting the 1920 Club I realised it would be ideal as it was first published in 1920. However, time got the better of me and I finished reading it too late to add it the 1920 Book Club – but better late than never. 

I know other bloggers love E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, but they have never really appealed to me. I don’t read many comic novels. But I did enjoy it more than I thought I would, although I think his style of writing is an acquired taste, using satire, irony, exaggerations and ridicule to expose people’s stupidities or vices – not my usual genre of books.  However, it is easy reading and it took my mind off the horrors of the coronavirus whilst I was reading. It is a book of its time and definitely not PC by today’s standards.

Queen Lucia is actually Mrs Emmeline Lucas, who presides over the residents of the village of Riseholme as its self-appointed queen. She is a most unlikeable character, totally self-centred and manipulative, aided by her friend, George Pillson who worships her. But as the events described in the novel unfold he rebels and works to undermine her. I disliked her pretentious tastes and her lust for power. She irritated me immensely with her baby talk, her pretence that she can speak Italian and her methods of riding roughshod over everyone. A rather more sympathetic character is Daisy Quantock, who introduces a mysterious Indian guru to the village before Lucia managed to present him as her protege.

The whole book has an artificial and silly feel about it but about half way through I found I was just going with the flow as I really  wanted to know what happened next. There are five more Mapp and Lucia novels, and as I’ve found an e-book containing all six for just 49p – Make Way for Lucia, I shall probably read more of them sometime.

The Dutch House

I decided to read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett as so many other bloggers have written glowing reviews, but I wasn’t as keen on it as others. Its about a dysfunctional family.  The Conroys, Danny, Maeve and their mother, Elna and father, Cyril  who lived in the Dutch House, but when Danny was just three his mother left home.  Cyril remarried, and his second wife, Andrea, the mother of two young girls, was the epitome of the  wicked stepmother. When their father dies he leaves the Dutch House, to Andrea.  She shows her true  colours and insists Danny and Maeve have to move out of their home. The house itself is described in detail. It was built by a Dutch couple called VanHoebeek in 1922 when it was in the open country just outside Philadelphia and their presence is still a strong influence on  the Conroy family.

The novel moves backwards and forwards in time, from 1946 to the present, and at times I was not sure what happened when (probably my lack of concentration caused my confusion). Danny and Maeve are both obsessed with the house, to the detriment of their own lives. Their mother, Elna meanwhile had a totally different reaction to the house, never liking it and I was intrigued about her – what made her leave her children – and I was suspicious about that had happened to her and even if she was she still alive. The pain her children felt when she left to be replaced by a wicked stepmother is immense. But it is the loss of their inheritance rather than the loss of their mother, that has left them with bitterness, and anger.

I thought the book began well, but somewhere in the middle and definitely towards the end I did get rather bored with the story, so much so that I was relieved to finish it. It was not just such a good choice of book for me – or maybe it was the wrong time for me to read it.

Latest e-book additions at BooksPlease

We’re in self isolation right now and one of the things I’m hoping to do is to spend more time than usual reading. And one of the best things about reading e-books is that you don’t have to go out of the house or meet anyone to get them. 

The Overstory by Richard Powers – this was my Mother’s Day present from my son.

An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. An Air Force crewmember in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan.

This is the story of these and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by the natural world, who are brought together in a last stand to save it from catastrophe.

The Feather Thief : Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson – I’ve been watching Chris Packham’s daily live broadcasts and this is one of the books that he recommended.

One summer evening in 2009, twenty-year-old musical prodigy Edwin Rist broke into the Natural History Museum at Tring, home to one of the largest ornithological collections in the world. Once inside, Rist grabbed as many rare bird specimens as he was able to carry before escaping into the darkness.

Kirk Wallace Johnson was waist-deep in a river in New Mexico when his fly-fishing guide first told him about the heist. But what would possess a person to steal dead birds? And had Rist paid for his crime? In search of answers, Johnson embarked upon a worldwide investigation, leading him into the fiercely secretive underground community obsessed with the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying.

Was Edwin Rist a genius or narcissist? Mastermind or pawn?

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Longlisted for the Women’s Prize 2020. I’d reserved this at the library, but as it’s now closed I decided to buy the e-book!

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish mansion. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, Danny has his beloved sister Maeve: Maeve, with her wall of black hair, her wit, her brilliance. Life is coherent, played out under the watchful eyes of the house’s former owners in the frames of their oil paintings.

Then one day their father brings Andrea home. Though they cannot know it, her arrival to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve’s lives. The siblings are drawn back time and again to the place they can never enter, knocking in vain on the locked door of the past. For behind the mystery of their own exile is that of their mother’s: an absence more powerful than any presence they have known.

Told with Ann Patchett’s inimitable blend of humour, rage and heartbreak, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale and story of a paradise lost; of the powerful bonds of place and time that magnetize and repel us for our whole lives.