Sunday, 5 July 2015

Books: June Fifty Two in Fifty Two

"Have books happened to you? Unless your answer to that question is yes, I'm unsure how to talk to you" Haruki Murakami

48. Michael Robertson, The Baker Street Letters. 1/5.
I love a mystery and I love a Sherlock Holmes so it was inevitable that I would give this a go when I saw it in the library. I was sorely disappointed. 
Two brothers, both lawyers (cue stereotypes) rent 221B Baker Street, on the understanding that all letters addressed to the famous detective are saved. When one if the brothers opens a letter from a girl whose father has gone missing, a transatlantic adventure begins. 
I was so disappointed by this - as an initial concept it had so much potential but it quickly became clear that the author was using the Sherlock connection as a marketing opportunity rather than part of the plot. The lead characters were all very one dimensional and frankly unpleasant, and its pretty telling that a month after reading it, I can hardly remember a thing.

49. Jane Austen, Persuasion. 5/5.
After starting and stopping a couple of books, I decided to go back to an old favourite as a comfort read. Persuasion is probably my favourite of Austen's works, probably because it explores the characters and situation in so much more depth than some of her others - and because its hard not to feel her sadness and anger radiating off the pages. 
Anne Elliot, our heroine, a spinster at 27, was stopped from marrying Captain Wentworth by her father. Now that their house is bring rented out to his family, a reconnection is inevitable. 
The romance is really a side note in Persuasion, which is rather scathing in its critisicm of misplaced snobbery and the role of women in the upper middle classes. Accusations are frequently thrown that Austen only wrote about love and rich people but Persuasion dispels that myth. Numerous rereads later and I still love it.

50. Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White. 3/5.
After reading and enjoying a couple of 'classics' recently, I thought it was time to have a go at The Woman In White, which has been on my shelf but sadly neglected for at least ten years. I loved The Moonstone when I read it a few years ago but I was disappointed in The Woman In White. 
Walter Cartwright, a drawing tutor, is employed to teach two wealthy sisters - and on his way to Cumberland, makes the acquaintance of a woman on the run - dressed in white. Inevitably he falls in love with one of the sisters (not the dark haired sensible one. Oh no.)... And his banishment from the house is where the mystery begins. 
I don't know if its because I'm a bit immune to Victorian 'mystery' but I struggled with this in parts. It was long, overly so, and there were too many subplots to make the ending satisfying. The characters were, again, Victorian stereotypes, and I guessed the major twist about half way through. Not bad, but probably one of those classics where watching the BBC adaption will suffice. 

51. Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. 4/5.
I started reading this by accident after a case of mistaken identity, but found myself really enjoying it. It a gentle tale of a widower, the eponymous Pettigrew, and his everyday battles - with his obnoxious son, his angry sister in law, and his opinionated neighbours. Initially I wasn't convinced, I struggled to find anything likeable in the Major, but Simonson did a fantastic job of drawing his personality out as the tale went on, and he transformed from a snobbish and grumpy man into a principled and honest lead character. I found myself rooting for him as he befriended Mrs Ali, the widowed convenience store owner in his village, and as he supported her troubled family. 
A gentle but really lovely read, if a bit slow at times. It would lend itself to a cinematic portrayal well, and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets the Marigold Hotel treatment soon.


  1. I love revisiting Austen - although my particular favourite comfort blanket is "Emma". Shame about the Baker Street one - as soon as I saw the title my ears pricked up so I can completely understand how you would be disappointed.

    1. For some reason I've never quite been able to get into Emma as much as some is the others. I do love how everyone has a different favourite of hers!

  2. I feel there arent many books that could beat Persuasion. I love Austen, but it is head and shoulders above her others.

    I read Major Pettigrew last year. I picked it up in a 3 for £5 offer, expecting a standard beach read, and loved it!

    1. I thought it would be a beach read too - odd isn't it! I think it's been published with a "brighter" cover to the one above which does make it look a lot more chick lit than it is!

  3. I love Persuasion SO much. When I was reading it as a 'spinster' in my late 20s and early 30s it still felt so relevant... the fear, anger and loneliness that Anne feels were very real to me.

    1. Oh yes - rereading it as a spinster at 28 - the same age as Anne in the book - had a similar effect on me too. I think that's why I love it so much, it tells the alternative side to women's lives in the 18thC that are so much ignored now but must have been very claustrophobic and scary then. You can almost feel Jane Austen's own emotions dripping from the pages.