Okay. Here is a weekend roundup:
The Painted Veil by a relatively new discovery of mine, W. Somerset Maugham, is the perfect thaw to the January chill. Sure, its erudite tragedy unfurls so subtly its climax catches your heart , but the denouement ( a doctor and his unfaithful wife discovering almost absurd grace in Cholera- ravaged China ) is worth a ride.
Walter Fane has not let go of me since I first read of him. The consummate silent mourner, the affair his beautiful (and much loved wife ) betrays him with, cuts deeper than I would have initially thought.
In a catapulting joint suicide-pact, they fall in love ( Walter once more, Kitty for the first time ), amidst illness and strife. Trust Maugham to paint a love story in its perverse " Love in the Time of..." way.
Loving Will Shakespeare by Carolyn Meyer
A renowned historical novelist for the teen age, Meyer crafts a winsome and believable Stratford-Upon-Avon in the years when it housed a budding poet and the comely older girl he would eventually fall for. Setting the stage for an almost preternatural courtship, Will ( a fiesty performer ) and Agnes ( Anne as he likes to call her ) attend the same grammar school and engage in light conversation.
Virginia Woolf ponders "If Shakespeare had a sister...." and this one does. A sister, a mother, a father a thatched-roof house and an existence in a middle-class family of glovemakers , neighbours to the Hathaways. Narrated by Agnes, the tale takes us to the Black Death, the esteemed visit of Elizabeth I to Robin Dudley's castle, and through the heated attraction of Agnes to a swarthy farmhand.
Not lasting literature, in my opinion, and sprinkled with obvious cliches ( Will compares Agnes to a Summer's day) it is nonetheless a picturesque portrait of early Elizabethan England framing two unlikely lovers and setting the stage for the world's greatest playwright.
Dust by Martha Grimes
It is hard to know how best to whet your insatiable Grimesian appetite. Do you gobble in a quick devour, do you slowly chew unthreading the plot by each, colourful and humorous string?
After finishing a Grimes completely satisfied, cliffhanger or not, I bound about in a euphoria I reserve for very few things. The blast of a Jury/Plant romp hits with jubilant force--- I laugh, sometimes tear, and burst on each page with wide-eyed wonderment. To say nothing of her prose ( carefully calculated strokes of a master brush), her palatable wit, her literary flair (Dust is set partly at Lamb House, oft occupied a century ago by Henry James.... and where he penned Golden Bowl, Wings and Ambassadors) and her characters.
Melrose Plant. Melrose Plant. Melrose Plant:
As says The Stargazey: "Melrose smiled his special smile, the one he was not wholly conscious he had, but it was as fetching as the smile of a very young child. It was, like the work of Matisse, Vuillard, and Van Gogh, the real thing on offer. It invited you in"
Melrose and art intertwined. Synonymous, in my opinion.
The kind of character that makes me want to be an author. Remaining one of the greatest discoveries of my literary life. So real, visceral, engaging, I often look up from a Grimes novel shocked that he is not sitting across from me so clear is his image in my mind's eye.
The Dickensian connection so many reviewers make is well founded. The children, dogs, caricatures, setting--- the melange of police procedural, comedy of manners and tea cosy a near-Victorianesque ( because I dwell on it so much ) frothy treat.
If she wasn't so damned smart, I might write her as my guilty pleasure. Happy thought that she can be candy and still a hybrid of Dickens, Sayers and Doyle all rolled into a comfy ball.
I feel proud that I discovered her, like I keep a sneaky delectable secret from the masses yet unitiated---still wandering to Elizabeth George for fulfilment.
Ha! Grimes did it first. And I am onto something oh deprived Non-Grimes readers!
I know something you don't know! And you are missing one helluva literary feast !
Shattered Eric Walters recently won UNESCO International Award for Literature in the service of tolerance. In this mindblowing YA book profoundly interrupted by the horror of the Rwandan genocide, I find myself an acute believer in Walters and his power of pen.
Ian works at a downtrodden soup kitchen inching hours toward a social science credit. There, he meets Jacques, a poignant former soldier who seems most of mundane humanity as butchered as any horror movie; atrocity forever embedded in his mind after his service in Rwanda.
In a series of harsh truths about society's easy dismissal and judgment of the homeless and the derelict, Walters spins a young man's viewpoint at a 360 angle, forcing the reader to come away as the protagonist has: a little saddened, a little wiser, a little better for the experience.
Coupled with an introduction by Romeo Dallaire, endorsing the text with a stamp of worthy validity, readers follow with a glimpse into the brilliant mind of a writer whose agenda deserves highest praise.
Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn.
My friend Cathy recommended this as a lowkey fantasy/romance. It's a very sweet thing with a pinch of faerie magic. Coriel spends her summers at court where the roguish red-headed king-to-be captures her heart and the horsemaster Roderick and ever-present Kentley, secure her sense of adventure and fun. Shinn departs from the convention in the guise of the aliora---beautiful, waif-like creatures hunted from their pixie world beyond the castle walls and subjected to slavery within. In a paradoxical twist, the castle itself undergoes an upheaval of demise.
This book put me in mind of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and the imaginative and forthright Fanny soon (as Coriel is ) disenchanted by her guardians doings and the mass failings of his eldest son. A girl caught in a wbe of dark deceit, while trying to uphold the sense of release she felt as a child with her cousin Edmund.