March reading round-up

A hardback copy of My Real Children by Jo Walton. The cover shows a woman sitting on a beach and looking out to sea holding an umbrella over her head.

Jo Walton, My Real Children (2014)

I’ve been meaning to read Jo Walton for ages and My Real Children did not disappoint. The novel is the story of Patricia Cowan, a woman whose life splits into two timelines after a phonecall in which her boyfriend asks her if she will marry him immediately. One of her selves answers “yes” and the other “no”. My Real Children begins at the end of Pat (or Trish’s) life when she is elderly, has dementia, and is living in a care home. Somehow able to remember both lives, she tries to sort through the memories and understand what has happened to her. In one timeline, she experienced an unhappy marriage and terrible loneliness; in the other, she had a happy same-sex relationship, but lived in a far nastier world. This is a brilliant novel about society, about women’s lives and the choices we make. It has a powerful, if restrained, ending. I look forward to reading the rest of her books.

CN: graphic scenes of marital rape.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

A comfort book if there ever was one. Pride and Prejudice is a delight to read, of course, but as I get older I’m more and more impressed by what a clever, subtle and nuanced novel this is, with its layers of irony.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893)

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes is another old comfort read. I went through quite a Sherlock Holmes phase when I was a teenager. It’s enjoyable, but I prefer The Return of Sherlock Holmes. ‘The Musgrave Ritual’ and ‘The Naval Treaty’ are strong stories, but there are others in which Holmes doesn’t do much detecting; he’s just kind of present as things unfold (‘The Yellow Face’, ‘The Gloria Scott’, ‘The Stockbroker’s Clerk’). ‘The Yellow Face’ is an attempt at an anti-racist story which is nice, but then ‘The Crooked Man’ really hasn’t worn well in terms of race or disability! ‘The Final Problem’ is ridiculous and to me just feels like a way for Doyle to get rid of Holmes, which of course it was. I mean, he has Holmes go on a walking holiday when he’s being chased by the two most dangerous men in England, without taking his revolver out with him. Still fun though and I’ve already started on The Return.

Anthony Horowitz, The Sentence is Death (2018)

I keep trying with Anthony Horowitz because I loved The Magpie Murders, but nothing else has come up to that standard for me. The Sherlock Holmes novel was okay, but overly grim and I thought Moriarty was dreadful! Like all his books, The Sentence is Death is very well written. It has a decent mystery and I liked the meta touch of the author inserting himself into the story as a character. It could have been annoying, but I thought it was the best thing about the book. However, I found The Sentence is Death really misogynist, to the extent of practically being a tirade against powerful ‘uppity’ women. The women who aren’t horrible are weak and flaky, or loyal, hardworking wives. I think Horrowitz was aware that he was straying into dodgy ground becasue there were a couple of defensive comments about being fine with feminism! (as long as it’s not too extreme). One of the characters is even a racist ‘dragon lady‘ stereotype. Finally, the investigator, Hawthorne, is so deadly dull and also unpleasant I couldn’t engage with him as a character. I finished it because it was like a car crash and I couldn’t look away, but don’t think I’ll attempt any more.

Life round-up: April – May 2014

Books

April was all about mysteries. I started by re-reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894). The stories are still enjoyable, but they no longer have the hold they had in my teens, when just one would set me off on a Sherlock Holmes reading frenzy. After that, I moved onto The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie. This is the first story featuring Hercule Poirot (because I like to do things in order).  Then I read the much more contemporary Blue Monday (2011) by Nicci French, which is the first in the Frieda Klein series and was recommended to me by @Gherkinette on twitter. It’s smart, easy to read, not overly violent and I really like the psychotherapist detective. To give myself a break from the mysteries, I also read American Primitive (1983) by Mary Oliver and it was lovely.

In May I finished the wicked, subversive Lolly Willowes (1926), by Sylvia Townsend-Warner, and Hilary Mantel’s life-affirming Fludd (1989). Although these are very different books, they both offer stories about transformation and the importance of owning your life. In non-fiction, I read Andrew Martin’s Ghoul Britannia: Notes from a Haunted Isle (2009) because I’m interested in our cultural fascination with ghosts. It’s an amusing take on the development of the ghost story, but it felt a bit underdeveloped and the text was full of editing mistakes.

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This week’s culture round-up

  • Flavorwire tells us that these are the 20 most iconic books covers ever . It’s interesting that most of the books on the list are books that middle-class adolescents are expected to read.   This is not to say they’re not iconic covers, just that someone with more mental energy than I have right now could probably say something about the politics of canon formation.
  • From the Paris Review, an article about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Hound of the Baskervilles .  I was such a Sherlock Holmes fan when I was a teenager.  I couldn’t start reading The Adventures without going on to read the entire series. The Hound of the Baskervilles is not my favourite, but I do like its gothic atmosphere.

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Different portrayals of Sherlock Holmes

Post about different portrayals of Sherlock Holmes on Tor.com.

I love Sherlock Holmes so much that I daren’t even start reading The Adventures unless I know I’ve got time to read through the entire series.  As a teenager, I think I was attracted to Holmes as this queer figure who existed outside the norms of marriage and family.  In terms of portrayals, I am strictly a Jeremy Brett woman and will resist watching anyone else in the role.  I’m still feeling quite traumatized from seeing the trailer for the new film in the cinema.