Four of us read this next shortlist book: His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Kate was the only one to correctly predict that it would make the shortlist. Check out what we think of the odds that this book will win the whole thing. Read more
Posts tagged ‘historical fiction’
The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
First published: 1969
Reviewed by: Jen & Book Worm
Find it here: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Synopsis (from Goodreads): The scene is the village of Lyme Regis on Dorset’s Lyme Bay…”the largest bite from the underside of England’s out-stretched southwestern leg.” The major characters in the love-intrigue triangle are Charles Smithson, 32, a gentleman of independent means & vaguely scientific bent; his fiancée, Ernestina Freeman, a pretty heiress daughter of a wealthy & pompous dry goods merchant; & Sarah Woodruff, mysterious & fascinating…deserted after a brief affair with a French naval officer a short time before the story begins. Obsessed with an irresistible fascination for the enigmatic Sarah, Charles is hurtled by a moment of consummated lust to the brink of the existential void. Duty dictates that his engagement to Tina must be broken as he goes forth once again to seek the woman who has captured his Victorian soul & gentleman’s heart.
I have avoided this book for many years due to my own misconceptions. I don’t typically enjoy reading romance-heavy novels because I find them formulaic and overly simplistic. I had assumed that this novel was a Victorian style romance. Boy was I wrong. I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad that others encouraged me to pick it up. First off, I loved the writing style which I found witty and at times unexpectedly snarky. Fowles injects himself into the novel, critiquing various elements of Victorian society with significant humor. For example, there is this passage (which goes on for a few pages):
What are we faced with in the nineteenth century? An age where woman was sacred; and where you could buy a thirteen-year-old girl for a few points — a few shillings, if you wanted her for only an hour or two. Where more churches were built than in the whole previous history of the country; and where one in sixty houses in London was a brothel (the modern ratio would be nearer one in six thousand). Where the sanctity of marriage (and chastity before marriage) was proclaimed from every pulpit, in every newspaper editorial and public utterance; and where never- or hardly ever – have so many great public figures, from the future king down, led scandalous private lives [page 267].
I wouldn’t quite call this a feminist book, although the author has been known to make this claim, because the main female character is never given her own voice. However, it is feminist leaning in that Sarah is a strong, independent, and intelligent woman who fails to conform to Victorian gender ideals in a magnificent way. The French Lieutenant’s Woman is not a sappy romance novel where the weak-willed woman falls in love with the strong gentleman and they all live happily ever after. Instead, it is more commentary on Victorian society (and its hypocrisy) and an analysis of gender and class restrictions than it is a romance. I highly recommend it.
Book Worm’s Review Unlike Jen I don’t mind romance stories. Sometimes there is nothing better than getting lost in happily ever after, however this book is not your traditional romance and like Jen I really enjoyed it because of that.
Jen has covered the main points that make this a great book I will just add that I love the way the author interjects and turns what you have just read onto its head. This really is at least 2 books in 1.
Want to try it for yourself? You can find it on Amazon here: The French Lieutenant’s Woman
We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think?
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Published in: 2010
Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize Nominee for Longlist (2010)
Reviewed by Jen
Rating: 3.5 stars
Find it here: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
After reading Cloud Atlas, I avoided all other Mitchell books for many years for fear of being disappointed. Cloud Atlas is one of the books that made it into my list of favorite books which is no small feat. I have over 600 books on my Shelfari bookshelf and only 10 of those books have made it onto my list of favorites. Typically when I love an author, I seek out all their books but I felt differently about my first experience with Mitchell. Cloud Atlas was one of those books that was notable for me because it was unlike anything I had ever read. It was intelligent but in an unpretentious and highly accessible manner. While Cloud Atlas was a great and engaging story, it was the unique way that Mitchell played around with narrative structure, timeline, and genre that made the reading experience so wonderful for me. So when I turned to read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, it was under the shadow of unrealistically high expectations. Read more
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Little
Published in: 2006
Original Language: French
Awards: Prix Goncourt 2006
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Find it here: The Kindly Ones
Amazon Synopsis: Dr Max Aue is a family man and owner of a lace factory in post-war France. He is an intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music. He is also a former SS intelligence officer and cold-blooded assassin. He was an observer and then a participant in Nazi atrocities on the Eastern Front, he was present at the siege of Stalingrad, at the death camps, and finally caught up in the overthrow of the Nazis and the nightmarish fall of Berlin.
His world was peopled by Eichmann, Himmler, Göring, Speer and, of course, Hitler himself.
Max is looking back at his life with cool-eyed precision; he is speaking out now to set the record straight. Read more
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
First published: 1985
Format: Audiobook narrated by Derek Jacobi
Reviewed by: Jen
In the 18th century Nicholas Dyer, an architect, and secret devil worshiper, is commissioned to build seven London churches. In the 1980s, detective Nicholas Hawksmoor is investigating a series of gruesome murders that took place in the sites of those same seven churches. Hawksmoor alternates between the two time periods and Ackroyd uses different styles to reflect “modern” day language and 18th century language. As the story progresses, readers begin to piece recognize patterns and connections between the two periods.
Nicholas Dyer is loosely based on real life architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (I wish I had known this prior to reading the book – notice the overlapping names of characters) who worked with Sir Christopher Wren (also mentioned in Ackroyd’s book). The real Nicholas Hawksmoor was a free mason who incorporated pagan symbols into his churches and did in fact build the 7 churches mentioned in the book. The Guardian published an interesting piece on Hawksmoor and his churches. Scroll down the bottom of this review to see images of the 7 churches.
Let me begin by saying that audio is the wrong format with which to tackle this book. The book is confusing, the author jumps around between time periods, some names are similar across time periods, and the narrator does not do a good job of distinguishing between voices.
Now on to my review… Read more
Rites of Passage by Golding
First published in: 1980
Winner of Man Booker Prize in 1980
Reviewed by: Jen
Rites of Passage is the first book in Golding’s To the Ends of the Earth trilogy and it won the Man Booker prize in 1980. It is written in the form of a travel journal and it documents Edmund Talbot’s sea voyage from England to Australia. Mr. Talbot is the godson of an English nobleman and he writes the journal in order to share his experiences of the voyage with his godfather. Initially, he uses the journal to describe the setting, the passengers, and his experience experience on board the ship, but the journal ultimately describes the tragic downfall of one passenger: Parson Colley. The novel is a clever commentary about class, bullying, and man’s complicity in the downfall of others. The reader quickly learns that the ship is a microcosm of British society. The lower class passengers are in a separate section from the aristocracy and treatment of the officers is determined by where passengers fall on the social class spectrum. It is part coming of age story and part social commentary.
I was skeptical about this book because I don’t care for swashbuckling, sea voyage, sailing, types of books. However, while the entire story is set during a sea voyage, the plot is not at all focused on the voyage. I thought that Golding does a wonderful job in creating a sense of discomfort in the reader by flipping the switch on our perspective from identification with Talbot (to mild degree) to compassion and identification with Colley. Initially, we are made complicit in the atmosphere of bullying. For example, we are made to feel the absurdity of the parson — the image of him as a bumbling, weak, and awkward man permeates our viewpoint. We find humor in his struggles to gain the favor of the Captain and to gain his sea legs. Then Golding turns the tables on us and we are made to see how the initial light and humorous tone turned into cruelty, leading us to question our roles as readers in finding early events humorous.
The commentary of class, a central theme of this book, is interesting. Social prejudice is rampant and once again Golding turns the table on readers. Characters who are seen as moral and noble (the upper class passengers) are shown to be course and cruel and vice versa.
Finally, I enjoyed picking up on similarities between this book and Lord of the Flies. Golding seems to like themes about man’s isolation and how behaviors emerge in the context of removal from “civilized” society. The writing is solid with an interesting blend of humor and tragedy. It is a book that I was surprised I enjoyed so much and that I would be happy to recommend to others.
Overall: A very engaging and thought-provoking read.
BBC also has a series based on these books. You can find it on netflix. It is supposed to be quite good.
Want to read it? You can purchase it from Amazon by clicking: Rites of Passage (To the End of the Earth)
NOTE: If you do buy your copy from Amazon, don’t get the $1.42 ebook version. I originally bought this copy and it was filled with formatting issues and mistakes. I returned it for a refund and bought the $7.00 version and didn’t have any problems with that version. But, then when I tried to find it again, they only had the $1.42 version listed. So, I’d recommend the paper copy or try your local library.
Have you ever noticed how some books seem to drive a wedge between people? You check the reviews and find almost no middle-of-the-road ratings. Instead people either seem to love it or hate it. Well, welcome to the new Love it or Hate it post category! Each month, we’ll pick one book to review. Two contributors will battle it out to convince you to pick it up or throw it out. Our February book is Atonement by Ian McEwan.
Special thanks to guest contributor Nicole R for writing one of the points of view this month!
Make sure to read to the end and cast your vote. And to celebrate our first Love it or Hate it category we are giving away a gently used copy of the book to one randomly selected person who writes in with a comment saying “I want it.” Read more