Mini Thoughts on Recent Reads

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An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym – The sixth Barbara Pym I read in 2012 centers on a group of  unattached characters who all loosely connect through church or work. Ianthe Broom is a librarian in her late thirties who moves into a North London neighborhood and becomes entangled in the lives of the vicar and his somewhat snobbish wife. She piques the interest of her fellow parishioner, Rupert, and also starts a flirtation with her new, younger co-worker. Pym’s usual sly humor and realistic characters are definitely in evidence here and the loneliness of being an unmarried, older woman is painfully portrayed. Many of the characters, as is also typical, let me down and disappointed me, but this is a theme of Pym’s work – how do we carry on and find fulfillment when so many around us don’t live up to our expectations? I wouldn’t say this was one of my favorite Pym’s, but I liked many elements, especially the trip that the main characters take together to Rome. I’m going to take a break now from Pym until April when I’ll join in with the Librarything Virago group in reading Less Than Angels.

 Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan – I’ve liked a lot of McEwan’s novels, well maybe just a few, but enough to try anything that he writes. Sweet Tooth is the story of Serena, a young Cambridge-educated beauty, who is recruited by MI5 in the early 1970’s. She starts out as a sort of secretary until she is tasked with luring a promising writer to spread the message of the conservative establishment in his novels. The narrative is very compelling, very tense, but there is something just underneath the words that doesn’t feel kosher. I sensed that a major revelation was coming, and boy, was I right. I generally don’t like ‘clever’ writing – McEwan does it better than most, but I still, overall, was unimpressed with this novel. The only great thing about it was Serena’s descriptions of the books she reads and her love of literature.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett – I’ve owned this book for quite a while and am glad I finally read it. It is a strange mixture of a romantic fairy tale and a sensation novel, but I enjoyed the strange journey. The first half of the novel focuses on the sad life of Emily Fox-Seton, a poor and innocent companion to the rich and connected. She supports herself by running errands for several different ladies. One summer she’s invited to the country home of Lady Maria Bayne where she meets Lord Walderhurst, a highly sought after widower. It is an unexpected path to marriage for Emily. The second half finds her adjusting to life as Lady Walderhurst and fending off the evil schemes of her husband’s heir. This is where the book faltered for me, yet I stuck with it so I could see if she prevailed. I lost my liking for Emily in the second half because she just seemed so dunderheaded! However, it is an interesting little book and holds many charms for those who like old-fashioned yet unsentimental stories.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis – Oprah’s newest 2.0 book club pick is about the family of Hattie Shepherd. Hattie grows up in Georgia in the ’20’s and moves to Philadelphia as a teen to get away from the extreme prejudice against blacks in the South. She marries young and has many children, raising them in poverty and unhappiness. Each chapter of the novel focuses on a different child and tells the story of their family through tiny slices of their lives. A couple of the earlier chapters, about her sons Franklin and Six, were absolutely compelling and I wanted to stay with them and discover what was in store for them later in their lives. But just when you are starting to settle in with a character Mathis switches gears and takes you to another time and place. It was very unsettling and distracting. This novel is also completely joyless. Each and every character is a miserable wretch with little hope. I came away impressed with the skill of her writing, but depressed and sad for her characters.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to! I have several more books to write about – I’ll do another round-up post next week and then try to get back on track with blogging in February. I’m reading so many good things!

How have you been?

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