Category Archives: british literature

Dear Charlotte:

21st April 2016

I’m a writer, of sorts, yet in all of my years writing about books and reading, I’ve written only briefly (here and here) about my love for Jane Eyre.

How does one talk about a book that has resided in heart and mind for so long? Suffice it to say, Jane was my friend at a young age, when I had no idea how to pronounce the words rendezvous or hors d’ouevres. I likely caught very little of the very adult love affair between Jane and Rochester the first few times I read about them, but I felt deeply the death of Helen and the harsh, unfair punishments Jane received while in school. And years later when I read it yet again and Jane wrenches herself away from the man she’s grown to love, I couldn’t imagine being that strong and brave. An autobiography, eh?

Of course, what kind of admirer would I be without having read your other works? I enjoyed them (and honestly need to reread them), but my heart belongs to Jane Eyre. I have mentioned briefly before that Jane Eyre is a hard book to love, but that’s a lie. What I meant by that is simply that so many people want to criticize it, both when you published it and all these many years later, and I, for one, have a hard time contextualizing criticism for a book I fell in love with at age 8.

So I’ll continue to love it, especially as, at its opening, Jane Eyre so perfectly described my reading experience as a little girl:

A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window- seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

Stormy days are still my favorite reading weather. How much pleasure – and pain and joy and hope – you’ve brought me over the years. Thank you, Charlotte, and happy birthday.

jenn aka the picky girl

See This, Not That – Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

2nd July 2013

Have you guys seen this preview yet?

Because all I have to say about that, is this:

I mean, really.
And if you haven’t seen the latter version, I urge you to spend your pennies and rent it because it’s just the best. I may or may not have spent a week my freshman year in high school watching this over and over again. It’s pretty amazing.
 

Review: Lost & Found by Tom Winter

26th March 2013

pg1

*I received this novel from the publisher, Corsair, in exchange for an honest review.

From the inside flap:

Carol is unhappily married to a man she doesn’t love and mother to a daughter she doesn’t understand. Stuck in a life she doesn’t want and crippled with guilt, she can’t shake the feeling that she has wasted her life. So she puts pen to paper and writes a Letter to the Universe.

Albert is a widowed postman, approaching retirement age, and living with his cat, Gloria, for company. Slowly being pushed out at his place of work, he is forced down to the section of the post office where they sort undeliverable mail. When a series of letters turn up with a smiley face drawn in place of an address, he cannot help reading them.

Sometimes when I read, I feel I am hovering above the story, acutely aware of the tactics of the writer, the outline, the plan. I wonder if this is the editor in me, or if it is simply the sign of a reader. With Lost & Found by Tom Winter, unfortunately, I was aware of a supreme lack of character.

Carol and Albert are both extremely unhappy, though Albert’s unhappiness is much easier to understand. Feeling worthless and lonely with his impending retirement looming, Albert encounters well-meant but still hurtful comments from coworkers and nastiness from his neighbor.

Carol, on the other hand, tells us she is unhappy, but it’s difficult to understand why. She has a teenage daughter who, on the whole, seems much better than many sullen, angry teens in books. Her husband seems simple but relatively kind. Yet she is devastatingly unhappy and plans to leave her husband until he divulges some life-changing news. She begins writing letters, and Albert looks forward to them in the way only a truly lonely man can.

Lost & Found is a wonderful example of how two readers can read the same book and come away with vastly different impressions. Leeswammes really enjoyed this book. While I did finish it relatively quickly, though, it wasn’t a favorite. I found the characters (Albert being the only exception) wooden and irredeemable. The main impetus for Carol’s angst isn’t really revealed until much too late for me to empathize with her and understand her (often) mean-spiritedness toward her husband and mother. Without any background, the bitterness she feels toward both is difficult to see in any other light. The letters are the best part of this novel, and it would have been interesting to stick with Albert’s perspective more and learn of Carol only through her letters.

This novel has been compared quite a lot on Goodreads to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, another novel I wasn’t particularly charmed by. Lost & Found, though, is a simpler (and less preachy) attempt to explore those whose unhappiness is so profound that the only means of hope is escape.

Review: The Burning Air by Erin Kelly

18th March 2013

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Pamela Dorman Books in exchange for an honest review.

Of course it was my love for my children, love for my son, that caused me to act as I did. It was a lapse of judgment. If I could have foreseen the rippling aftershocks that followed I would have acted differently, but by the time I realized the extent of the consequences, it was too late….

Motherhood was my only excuse. I was trying to do right by my son and it made me momentarily blind to the interior laws I have always tried to live by. We all want the best for our children, but I crossed the line between protection and offense.

Lydia MacBride has kept a diary every year, commemorating events large and small, noting her thoughts, her dreams, her confessions. The Burning Air begins with one of her greatest confessions: she is dying, and she has not told her family, but there is an even larger secret she must keep from them.

Close-knit and supportive, the MacBrides must move on after the death of Lydia. She was a force to be reckoned with, but the privilege of their lives – private school, family, a lovely home – has created unknown enemies. On an annual trip to Far Barn, a family residence in the secluded English countryside, one enemy in particular has waited for this moment, has crafted its circumstances, and will threaten the MacBrides and their memories.

A tale of obsession and misguided hatred, The Burning Air by Erin Kelly is a great thriller with an oddly intoxicating villain. Though the narrative shifts between characters to build suspense and divulge only what is known to each, the unreliable narrator is by far the most interesting. The megalomania is fascinating to consider but terrifying to behold.

However, the culmination of years of planning was too rushed and didn’t seem fitting of a truly obsessive enemy. I am being intentionally vague here because there were moments in The Burning Air where I gasped with recognition and knowledge of who the villain was and how it would all play out. A single-sitting read, The Burning Air by Erin Kelly was a fast and electric read with only a mildly disappointing ending.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

“Like Jane Eyre But Without the Crazy Wife”

21st February 2013

Twitter is a fascinating beast for many reasons, and I find some really great articles and stories there. Last week, though, I found something that piqued my interest…and led me to bemoan the “retelling” of classics yet again.

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time, partly because it’s the first “big book” I read, way back in 4th grade, and though I had no clue how to pronounce rendezvous, I did know an epic story when I read it. From time to time, I read about retellings of Jane Eyre, and I cringe and look away, vowing never to pick up said book. Inevitably, these books will not live up to the original, and honestly, why should I waste my time if that’s the case? Don’t even get me started on the erotic retelling…Jane Eyre Laid Bare. [Just typing this makes me ill.]

I much prefer novels that may be reminiscent of certain novels or themes while having intrigue and beauty all their own. For example, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca has been compared to Jane Eyre with some pretty obvious and interesting differences.

So what did I see last week? A tweet about a writer who has retold the story of Jane. Read the post if you like, but my reaction was much like the takeaway from diet soda advertisements: “Same great taste! Fewer calories!” Similarly, my take on the author’s post: “Like Jane Eyre but fun! And without the crazy wife!”

You can imagine my consternation. One of the most problematic aspects of Jane Eyre is that poor, crazy wife, Bertha. So much so that Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea in an attempt to give Bertha a bit of screen time herself. Bertha Mason lends the novel its horror and its complexity. She is also the reason so many rail against it and why many cannot understand the allure of Mr. Rochester. Without her, without the obstacle of Jane and Rochester’s union, it’s just another romance novel. Jane isn’t a typical Harlequin heroine, ripped away from the one she loves because of a misunderstanding or a silly fight over his possessiveness. She tears herself away out of a sense of right and wrong, leaving the only place where she has ever felt at home.

And you want to make Jane Eyre fun? Well, ok, I guess, but could you stop the references to a heartwrenching novel that chronicles the actual problems of a young woman with no family and no home? Just call it a novel, and be done with it.

In the meantime, I’m going to go read my novel that’s like Jane Eyre in every way except the English countryside, an orphan, a crazy wife, and a hunky man. Excuse me.