Reading Notes

Notes on The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann and Small Island by Andrea Levy

My face-to-face book group is introducing me to some books I would never read by my own choice. Last month’s book was The Weather in the Streets.

I was looking forward to reading it as I don’t often read romantic fiction. However, I was disappointed. It’s about Olivia, separated from her own husband and having an affair with Rollo Spencer. At times I just wanted to shake Olivia and tell her to open her eyes to reality. It’s set in the 1930s, that inter-war period that seems so glittering, full of bright young things going to lots of parties, lots of socialising and being part of the in-crowd. Olivia is really just on the fringes looking in, whereas Rollo is one of the aristocracy – it’s painfully obvious that he is not going to leave his wife and marry Olivia.

Although it is a beautifully written book, rich in description, giving insight into the characters’ thoughts as well as their actions, I didn’t like the plot and felt little empathy with the characters. I can imagine how shocking it must have seemed when it was first published in 1936 when divorce and abortion were taboo. I found it mildly depressing.

I didn’t fare any better with Small Island by Andrea Levy, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year and the Orange Prize for Fiction. I had high expectations of this book as I had thoroughly enjoyed The Long Song. Small Island tells the story of two couples, Hortense and Gilbert from Jamaica and Queenie and Bernard from England and the interactions of their lives in 1948 and earlier. It’s narrated by each of the four characters, covering a number of issues, predominantly racism and prejudice, war and love.

As with The Weather in the Streets I didn’t like the characters very much; although they mostly come across as rounded personalities, at times they seemed like stereotypes. For me the book was too long and I lost interest several times. For such a long book I thought the ending was rushed, as though Levy had suddenly thought she’d better draw it to a close.

First Lines

Currently I’m reading The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann, but I’m getting increasingly tired of it. It maybe very well written, chronicling (in detail) the tension and despair in Olivia Curtis’s life as she has an affair with a married man in the 1930s, and no doubt it captures the spirit of the times of the interwar years but I just want to shake her. I’m probably in the wrong frame of mind to read it right now with its stream of consciousness style of writing and the small font that is blurring in front of my eyes as I read.

So this morning instead of struggling on with it I opened Once a Biker by Peter Turnbull, a Hennessey and Yellich mystery and began reading. It was a relief – the font size is much bigger, the writing is straightforward and the action is quick-moving.

I’ll write more about both books when I’ve finished them, but for now here are the opening lines of Once a Biker:

Monday, 17th June, 09.05 hours – 23.42 hours in which a realization comes to a dying man.

She had found the hospice had a wholly unexpected air of happiness about it. The peace of the institution she could understand, and indeed expected, as with the atmosphere of resignation, but the happiness of those awaiting death was something that came as a surprise. (page 1)

and of The Weather in the Streets:

Turning over in bed, she was aware of a summons: Rouse yourself. Float up, up from the submerging element … But it’s still night, surely … She opened one eye. Everything was in darkness; a dun glimmer mourned in the crack between the curtains. Fog stung faintly in nose, eyelids. So what was it: the fog had come down again: it might be morning. But I hadn’t been called yet. What was it woke me? Listen: yes the telephone, ringing downstairs in Etty’s sitting room; ringing goodness knows how long, nobody to answer it. (page 1)

Both books invite me to carry on reading. They are very different genres, but I’m keener to find out who killed Terry North, whose body has been found buried in a wood, twenty years after he disappeared, than I am to find out how Olivia’s affair progresses. I suspect it’s doomed.

A Book Beginnings post hosted by Katy at A Few More Pages.