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Surrey, United Kingdom

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson

I have quite mixed feelings about this book. I had been really looking forward to reading The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson, particularly as it was written by Vita Sackville-West's great grand-daughter. While there was much of interest, I couldn't help but get the feeling it was more like an anthology. There were plenty of extracts from writing of the time and interesting little anecdotes, passed down through the generations. Unfortunately, I think it just made the book as a whole feel a little incoherent. It jumped from one tit-bit to another and I didn't really feel that it drew any conclusion, or made any comment on the social circumstances of 1911. It did leave me wanting to find out more (particularly about Lady Diana Manners and the life of domestic servants) so from that point of view, it was very successful! I am not giving up on Juliet Nicolson though - I have The Great Silence: 1918-1920 Living in the Shadow of the Great War to read too...

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I have been wanting to read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters since it was released, but what with waiting for it to come out in paperback and a heavy reading schedule (or rather, getting distracted by other books) I have only just got around to it. Thankfully, it was very much worth the wait. I don't know what it is about Sarah Waters, but she makes good writing seem incredibly easy. There is nothing particularly startling or unusual about her writing style but she can create atmosphere so well you can almost taste it. Her characters are always engaging and fascinating and within a few pages I felt like I knew the Ayres family and Dr Faraday like old friends. That is not to say that her characters are run-of-the-mill or stereotypical, it is simply that her writing brings them to life; the subtle use of idiosyncratic movements (Mrs Ayres twisting the rings on her fingers, Caroline biting the tips of her fingers) makes them seem so real and ordinary, while also absolutely creating tension and heightening the sense of the unknown. Even Hundreds Hall becomes a living, breathing thing - and it is the house really which is the central character of the plot. I won't discuss the plot as I can't help thinking that, like revenge, this book is best served 'cold'. But rest assured that it builds and twists, gives and takes, just as the very best gothic tales should.
Dr Faraday is an unusual narrator. In some ways he very much reminded me of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited (a tough read, but a fantastic story with memorable characters). There is something distasteful about his obsession with Hundreds Hall and his attitude towards the Ayres is in turns condescending and arrogant, but for me having this 'unreliable narrator' gave me licence to believe and trust more in the Ayres family's point of view.
Highly recommended...as are all Sarah Waters' novels. They are accessible but a cut above the rest.

Current Reading:
The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson - An examination of the period of May to August in 1911 as Britain danced towards disaster.

Next book club book:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - This year's Booker prize winner is an obvious choice for a book club. It's a doorstop of a book but I can't wait to get started!