The university year has come to an end and I am more or less on holiday now (Ph.D. research always excepted). It doesn’t feel like summer yet, though, for here in France it is STILL raining. So instead of unpacking my beach towel and sunglasses, and sampling strawberries, icecream, and lemonade in frosted glasses, I am huddling indoors in my fluffy dressing-gown. Here’s the reading list I’ve compiled to keep me busy till the weather clears up (supposing it ever does, of course – I have grave doubts on the subject).
I am always greedy for a Mary Stewart, and this one had no sooner arrived on Wednesday than I had already gobbled up three quarters of it. Set in the Pyrenees, it features smugglers and blackmail, thunderstorms and avalanches, and a treacherous Spanish nun, in the best Gothic tradition.
I have heard a great deal lately about Jeanette Winterson, who was in Paris recently for the promotion of her latest book, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? So I decided it was time I gave her a try, and opted for The Passion, which seemed the most likely to engage me, as part of it takes place in Venice during the Napoleonic wars.
This tale of an English painter escaping her unsatisfactory marriage and setting out for the Dalmatian coast (via France, Italy, and an affair with a man half her age) has come so warmly recommended by every blogger who has read it that the news that Daunt’s was re-issuing it (with a beautiful new cover!) sent me rushing to order a copy.
How could I say no to this biography of the John Tradescants (father and son), botanists, world travellers, and gardeners to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (he of The Three Musketeers), and later Charles I?
I picked this up at my favourite bookshop last week, in a sudden desire to read something different and exotic. Short-listed for the Booker prize and acclaimed by critics worldwide, Soueif’s novel certainly seems promising: in 1901, Lady Anna Winterbourne travels to Egypt, where she falls in love with an Egyptian patriot and is swept up in the country’s struggle for independance from British rule.
Sister of the novelist Rosamond Lehmann and the poet and publisher John Lehmann, Beatrix Lehmann was a highly successful stage actress. She also published two novels. Rumour of Heaven tells the story of Miranda Mirova, a celebrated dancer whose career is cut short by motherhood and who retreats into isolation and depression.
At dinner with a friend on Monday night, she urged me to read Trapido’s début novel, which recounts eighteen-year-old Katherine’s involvement with the large and eccentric Goldman family, and her infatuation with handsome Roger Goldman. When disillusionment sets in, she flees to Rome, and it is ten years before she returns to England to face the Goldmans once more.
This, too, was lent to me by a friend, who swore I would love it. Winner of the World Fantasy Award, Little, Big: or The Fairies’ Parliament tells the story of Smoky Barnaby, who arrives at Edgewood hoping to win the love of Daily Alice Drinkwater. But Edgewood is no ordinary house, and before long, Smoky is drawn into a world of mystery and enchantment.
© Florence Berlioz 2012