There are several reasons why - we moved apartments, it's a short month, we had lots of guests staying - but ultimately reading fell to the bottom of my list of priorities for a while and I'm still actually struggling to poke it back up the charts again. (Who knew unpacking took seven times as long as packing!?!) I hate logging into my Goodreads account and seeing that I'm 1, 2 or 3 books behind schedule but that's the most ridiculous feeling to give into, so next month, if I stay behind I'm going to be okay with that.
Anyway, enough of me and my irrational self-doubt caused by social networks. Let's get back to the books I did read and enjoy in February 2015.
If one novel surprised me this month it was this one. Telling the story of the first Mrs Rochester from Jane Eyre - you know, the mad one cooped up in an attic with pyrotechnic tendencies - I was really excited to read this book but I didn't expect it to have such extraordinary depth and imagination. I have to say, it really added something to Charlotte Brontë's original tale. This is no mean feat as I adored Jane Eyre.
Born on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Jean Rhys' own story is a little mysterious. Her writing career began in the 1920s under the wing of Ford Madox Ford in Paris but then from 1939 until 1960 she didn't publish any work, though it's not clear if she was still writing or not (I like to think she was). The descriptions of the Caribbean people and landscapes are exquisitely authentic and she masterfully captures a turbulent time in the region's history (when slavery had just been abolished) with great originality. But what stayed with me more than anything, was the haunting, disjointed and yet utterly believable way she describes a woman coming undone. Frightening and fantastic.
The funniest book I've read this year. So far. I've saved this book to give to my mum when I next see her because it contains the kind of chuckle-inducing personal stories about family life with someone from your own family. I read several lines out to NewMan who took them much better than those I read to him from last month's favourite book, Dear Sugar. While the humour is pretty much the same throughout - self-deprecating and at the expense of the author and those closest to him - there's also plenty of sharp observation to be enjoyed and a general celebration of peoples' egos and eccentricities.
Grisham is my guilty pleasure and while I would be slow to recommend this particular book to anyone looking to advance their appreciation of the novel as a work of art, it ticked a lot of boxes that I wanted to tick last month. I needed something easy to read but not braincell nuking. I needed to read an author who has published both excellent and average books (don't ask - my writer's paranoia knows no bounds!). And I wanted to read a book that had mystery, a mix of characters and technical detail all woven into one over-arching plot line that ended with a firm and satisfactory conclusion. I didn't love it, but it served a purpose and it's definitely worth reading if you like Grisham for these or other reasons.
Why I didn't read this years ago after I enjoyed The Girls of Slender Means so much, I'll never know. It's possible I liked this one more. It felt more sophisticated with its time straddling narrative and unapologetically subtle spoilers that actually didn't spoilanything just made me catch my breath - no bad thing! While on the face of it, this is a novel about a group of girls who come of age under the unconventional guidance of their free spirit teacher Miss Brodie, there are many more layers to the characters involved. Through Spark's slick prose I began to see the so-called "Brodie set" less as the innocent sheep who follow their teacher around and I certainly found Miss Brodie more flawed and frayed than the confident and aberrant free spirit she begins the story as. I love novels that do that.
I picked up my old friend Chandler towards the end of the month as I needed a little boost for writing my own private investigator mystery and who else can you turn to but Philip Marlowe to teach you how to be a slick sleuth who comes up against all manner of obstacles, peculiarities and unanswered questions? I found Little Sister to be one of the sexier, sassier Marlowe stories and it certainly dug the nails into Hollywood as an industry and an assembly of people. The ladies and their outfits weren't the only sophisticated things on display; the plot was multi-layered and artfully revealed in stages. While I was able to unravel some elements, of course, Chandler would never let a reader be able to figure out the whole story... I only hope I am able to do something similar with my own novel. Just with slightly less red lipstick and Hollywood gangsters.
Finally, if you're wondering where I buy my vintage Penguin books, it's this site, which I recommend signing up for as they often have free delivery and other offers. I went on a bit of splurge last year as a treat to reward myself for publishing London Eyes and I'm still working my way through the stack. It's a tough job...
What books have you read recently and enjoyed? I'd love to hear your recommendations!
P.S. You can keep up with all the books I'm reading on Goodreads - I'd love to be friends there too so add me!
Frances M. Thompson
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