Joanne Harris: Sleep Pale Sister
Joanne Harris wrote this book before she became famous with her novel ‘Chocolat’. In a way I can appreciate the rich imagination which produced ‘Chocolat’ also produced this. This novel set in the ‘buttoned up’ Victorian world is, to an extent, a mystery tale and a horror story. It is almost surreal and dramatic and could quite easily be dramatised or turned into a gothic horror movie which I would avoid watching! I am never too comfortable with larger than life, Dickensian stereotypes, particularly when the subject matter is intense and never relieved by comedy, as it is in Dickens. Perhaps it’s unfair to say the characters are stereotypes, as some were quite rounded and believable. But I am never too convinced by the introduction of ‘out of world’ powers, which are attributed to the central character, Effie. I guess the most impressive thing in the book is the horror writing. At the end the ‘villain’ of the piece is punished as he lies helpless: “ I feel the tic which has already frozen half my face begin to twitch again, relentlessly, as if a tiny, furious creature were imprisoned behind my eye socket, gnawing its way out……The lid of night is beginning to lift and beneath is the Eye of God with its blank blue iris and terrible humour.” Scarey!
Sebastian Faulks: Human Traces
I have heard a number of people say they struggled with this but I persisted, finished it and was suitably impressed. The book spans the lifetime of two characters, one, from an educated middle/upper class English family and one from a lowly French background. Both, by circuitous routes, end up as ‘mad doctors,’ friends and colleagues, in a time of great change which starts, way back in the 19th Century taking the reader through into the 20th Century and beyond the First World War, from their childhood to their, disappointed, old age. The book is truly a remarkable tome which deals with personal development and ideas and history, particularly the effect Darwin had on the scientific community and the start of ideas which were to characterise the work of Freud. Faulks must have had to research the era and the ideas which drove the more enlightened doctors dealing with the mentally ill. Besides this there are the developing relationships of the main characters and their intense familial and other relationships. This book was hardly a page turner but was hugely rich in ideas and human interest. Well worth the effort!
Katharine McMahon: The Rose of Sebastopol
Goodness! My reading on the boat is educating me in British history and this time it is the British involvement in the Crimea. All I knew, in my ignorance, of the Crimean War, was the famous Charge of the Light Brigade. Now if this book has any historical accuracy, which I imagine it has, I know that it was a desperate and terrible war, at least as awful as WWI. Reading it, at this point of the 21st Century it seems we learn very little from history, as more troops are sent into Afghanistan for spurious reasons. The descriptions of the campaign, the battlefield, before, during and after action are terrifying. The military leadership supported by the political body at home, and the wealth created by the manufacture of armaments is made all too apparent as the story unfolds! Things don’t change.
But all mentioned above, is just incidental, as the novel is about two young girls, growing into women at that time in history. The two girls are as different in background and personality. One is quiet, gentle, careful and conservative by nature and the other radical, passionate, energetic and spontaneous. The story of how they both end up, out in the Crimea witnessing at first hand the horror of those times is well worth the reading! To say a great deal more would spoil a moving and engaging story.
Yes, highly recommended!