Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn

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My fourth book for the RIP Challenge, because apparently I just cannot get it together to read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher right now.  Silent in the Grave is the first of (so far) three mysteries with Lady Julia Grey, whose husband passes away at the start of this book.  After his death, private investigator Nicholas Brisbane tells her that he believes her husband was murdered.  She rejects this possibility out of hand; but a year later, after her mourning time is over, she finds clues in her house that make her wonder – was he murdered?  And if so, how and by whom?

I enjoyed this book a lot.  Obviously I am in the mood for slightly frothy set-in-England historicalish mysteries!  Silent in the Grave is – er, derivative seems harsh, but let’s just say you can see its literary antecedents.  Julia Grey owes a fair bit to Amelia Peabody (okay, yeah, have to read those again soon), and Brisbane is squarely in the tradition of dark tortured heroes.  Which is why I won’t necessarily need to own this book or the ones that follow, but I would like to get them out of the library.  Because, you know.  They’re fun.

On the other hand, I am not completely satisfied with this book’s treatment of gender issues.  Lady Julia is constantly doing silly things that cause trouble, without thinking about them, and Brisbane is all YOU ARE VERY STUPID.  Sometimes she does clever things, and this is noted, but there did seem to be a surfeit of silliness on her part, with lots of good sense and deductive skills on the side of Brisbane.  I do not like this.  I shall read Elizabeth Peters as an antidote.  And then I was not in love with the way male homosexuality was managed in the book.  I can’t put my finger on what bugged me about it, but I just didn’t care for it.  Queer Victorian history is rich and fascinating, and it seemed like Deanna Raybourn just didn’t want to be bothered with it, and made all her gay characters sort of two-dimensional.

This has not been a very positive review of a book that gave me a lot of pleasure – I just don’t want to give it a glowing review and then everyone have high expectations and then be like, Hm, this book isn’t all that great.  Because it isn’t all that great, unless you are in total guilty pleasure mode, and I am.  No judgment please.  😛

Other reviews: Bride of the Book God, A Garden Carried in the Pocket, At Home with Books, bookshelves of doom, S. Krishna’s Books, Medieval Bookworm, Reading Matters, ReadingAdventures, What Kate’s Reading, Framed and Booked, Mysteries in Paradise, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Angieville, Wendi’s Book Corner, My Random Acts of Reading, Miss Picky’s Column, The Thrillionth Page, Sadie-Jean’s Book Blog, & tell me if I missed yours so I can add a link!

I’m Looking Through You, Jennifer Finney Boylan

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Heeheehee, this RIP Challenge is jolly good fun.  At this rate I will have read way too many spooky books before Halloween.  I should pace myself, except I can’t because The Girl in a Swing just came in at the library and I went and picked it up today and I really really really want to read it.

Jennifer Finney Boylan‘s I’m Looking Through You is all about how Jenny Boylan (Jenny! hooray! More people should be called Jenny!) grew up as a boy in a spooky old house, haunted by ghosts and writing under the wallpaper.  She writes with love (and some regret) about her family, and particularly about her sister Lydia, whom she hasn’t seen since she came out as a trans woman.  This is sadder than you might expect, and I was expecting it to be pretty sad.

It’s a quiet, gentle book (hm, as far as the RIP Challenge goes, I’ve now said “quiet” about two of two books – weird) that slides past the really dramatic moments in the story.  This is good for me, actually, as it lessens my usual concerns about memoir writers telling every detail of the often very sad and private episodes of their families’ lives.  We don’t see the crucial moments, but we do see the scenes that lead up to the crucial moments; it works surprisingly well, conveying a lot of emotion through these small, everyday scenes.  Without laying bare the darkest moments of the lives of each member of the family.  More than many I’ve read, this is a respectful memoir.

The haunted house is not very scary, but it is certainly atmospheric.

[My father] stripped off another swath of damp [wall]paper, then stood for a moment looking at the exposed bare plaster.  “Hey,” he said.  “What do you make of this?”

There on the plaster, at shoulder level, was a line written in fancy cursive script.

In this room in the year 1923 lived Dorothy Cummin, who was not of sound mind, and drowned.

…Next to the closet we found a face with an open mouth, long hair, and eyes filled with tears.  It looked a little like the translucent woman I had seen in the mirror.

My father got out his pack of L&Ms.  He stood there by the sad, knowing face of the girl on the wall for a while, smoking, and did not say a word.

Ms. Boylan’s own skepticism is palpable, even when she brings in a team of “ghostbusters” to check out the paranormal energy there – this is good because otherwise I’d be all, hm, this is v. hokey.  What’s not hokey at all, and indeed is very genuine, is the author’s description of being haunted by her certainty that she was a girl, and the inner ghosts that obviously still haunt her as an adult.

Plus, it’s a funny and enjoyable and readable book.  Like this:

“You know what the problem with kids today is?” my grandmother said all at once.

“What?” I asked.

“They don’t eat enough dirt!”

My sister and I looked at each other.

“Dirt?” asked Lydia.

“I said dirt,” said Gammie.  “When I was a girl, we ate dirt all the time!  Now nobody does!”

“Why would you eat dirt?” I asked.  “Is it good for you?”

Gammie looked amazed by my stupidity.  “Of course it’s not good for you!” she shouted.  “It’s DIRT!”

“Whoop?  Whoop whoop?” said Hilda Watson.  This sound, a kind of startled interjection, was the sound Hilda made when she suspected that a response was required of her, even if she did not necessarily know what had been asked.

“Can you turn up the heat?” said Aunt Nora.  “It’s freezing in here.”

“Did they eat dirt over there in Yorkshire?” my grandmother shouted.

Hilda, who had begun her life in a tiny village in England, near the border with Lancashire, looked astonished.  “We had pudding on some occasions,” she said, her dignity intact.

“I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT PUDDING,” shouted my grandmother.  The Dodge had a strange device that has since gone completely out of fashion – the stick shift on the steering column – and Gammie kicked us up into overdrive as the car sped through Bryn Mawr.  “I’m talking about dirt!”

“Oh dear,” said Nora.  “I’m so, so, so cold!”

“I know what you’re talking about,” said Hilda to my grandmother.  “I don’t wish to discuss it.”

My grandmother shook her head. “You’re a ton of fun, Hilda.”

“I’m so, so, so cold!”

“There’s no reason to be rude,” Hilda observed.

“You think this is rude?” said Gammie. “You wait.”

Tell me if you reviewed this too!  And thanks to Eva for the recommendation!

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel

I love a memoir, y’all, and you know what I love more than a memoir?  A graphic novel memoir.  Delicious.  My library has a new section on their ever-growing graphic novels shelf, which is Biography.  When I went in yesterday (collecting films for my poor sick little sister and lots of excellent books for me), I took three of the five books from the new wee little section.  Including Fun Home – which I remember the library not having last time I checked, and I was well cross about it.

Fun Home is Alison Bechdel‘s memoir about her father, a closeted gay man who ran a funeral home and was (by accident or design) hit by a truck when she was nineteen.  In the book, she deals with his sexuality and her own, both their struggles with mental illness, and all sorts of things, painstakingly documenting everything with recreated photographs, letters, diary entries, and maps.

The structure of the book is loopy and self-referential, rather than chronological – she returns to crucial moments in her self-discovery and her discoveries about her father, several times in some cases, giving the reader more context each time.  I like this because that is what growing up is like – how you learn new things all the time, and then you come back to something familiar and you have to recast it in your mind, shedding the light of your new experiences on it.

I read an interview with Alison Bechdel where she said that she was nervous about herself as a writer when she began doing this book.  As I was reading it, I was struck by the elegance and thoroughness (for lack of a better word!) of the writing.  Where she’s describing scenes from her childhood, it’s very sensory, evoking the sounds and smells as well as, in the drawings, the sights.  And she is also very self-aware, exploring her own thoughts about and motives in dealing with her father – as an obsessive thought-examiner myself, I wondered whether this was another symptom of her OCD.

As I say, the writing was lovely, but there were times in the book when I thought there were too many words for the pictures – it got a bit frenetic sometimes, and I would have loved to have seen a few full-page or two-page spreads without any words in, to break up the words.

Oh, but she uses the word “perseverate”!  My anxious and obsessive (but self-aware!) family use “perseverate” all the time, just ALL THE TIME, but you don’t see it out there in the world all that often.  Shame because “perseverate” is one of those words that feels defining for my obsessive thinking – like my endless attempts to consider all the sides of any issue, and give a fair hearing to all viewpoints, it sounds like it should be a good thing, so close to “persevere”, which is a good thing.  But in fact it keeps going, past “persevere”, “perseverate”, doing it too much and it’s time to stop.  So I like seeing it being used.  Perseverate.

Bechdel makes use of myths and literature throughout the book – she talks about a book she read at a certain time in her life, then carries on talking about its relevance to her life, her sexuality, her relationship with her father, whatever – while the characters in the panel carry on discussing the book.  I am so impressed by this.  The captions shift focus, but the characters from her past are still paying attention to the literature, and she uses passages from the books/plays/whatever to deepen the meaning of what she says in the captions.  And I am not just praising this technique because there’s a chapter that features The Importance of Being Earnest, making beautiful use of Lady Bracknell’s lines.

(I’m not!  Really!  I mean, do I like it when a book makes reference to Oscar Wilde and how he is funny and brilliant?  Yes!  But do I require more than that to be happy with a book?  …Well.  No.  Actually.  Pretty much, you compliment Oscar Wilde and I am going to look upon you with favor. However, Fun Home would have been great without featuring The Importance of Being Earnest.)

And my perennial problem with memoirs: The Family.  In her acknowledgements, Bechdel thanks her mother and brothers for not trying to stop her from writing this book.  I had to go look up interviews with her – she says that she did let her family read it, and changed some of the things they objected to, and argued for keeping others.  Quote:

Bechdel indefatigably researched her family during the seven years it took to create Fun Home, whose title refers to their common abbreviation for “funeral home.” When her mother found out she was doing a book, Bechdel was cut off: ” ‘No more information about your dad,’ ” Bechdel remembers her saying. “She felt quite betrayed. And justifiably so. Essentially I used information she had given me in confidence over the years.” Currently, although “it’s painful for her to have the information out there,” her mother, Bechdel said, “also understands writing and the imperative of storytelling, and there’s a way that she respects the project, despite her discomfort.”

Eeek!  I feel so anxious about this when I read a memoir!  I am a very private person, and if I had had all these problems in my marriage and my life, I sure as hell wouldn’t want the whole world to know about it.  And look, neither did the mum:

I do feel that I robbed my mother in writing this book. I thought I had her tacit permission to tell the story, but in fact I never asked for it, and she never gave it to me. Now I know that no matter how responsible you try to be in writing about another person, there’s something inherently hostile in the act. You’re violating their subjectivity. I thought I could write about my family without hurting anyone, but I was wrong. I probably will do it again. And that’s just an uncomfortable fact about myself that I have to live with.

I am glad that she acknowledges this – at least part of my concern about memoirs is that the writers aren’t giving any weight to their family’s privacy, and Bechdel, with characteristic self-awareness, makes note that what she did was problematic.  On the other hand, Fun Home is very wondrous and if Alison Bechdel had felt the same way I do about (her mum’s and her own) privacy, it would never have existed.  So I don’t know. Does this bother you when you read memoirs – whether the family wants their secrets aired in public?

Other reviews: things mean a lot, Farm Lane Book Blog, A Life in Books, The Written World, Books for Breakfast, Valentina’s Room, Musings of a Bookish Kitty, A Striped Armchair, Bookish, and tell me if I missed yours!

Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault

I will preface this by saying that I can understand how you might not like Mary Renault’s writing. But I like her a lot, and this, the first of her books about Alexander the Great, is the first thing I ever read by her. It takes us from Alexander’s childhood through to Philip of Macedon’s death, and it is a damn good book. I love how Mary Renault makes silence and implication work for her: how something will happen, and you don’t think anything of it, and then the characters react in a way that makes you go back and look at it again, and reassess. To me this is very pleasing.

After rereading Fire from Heaven for the first time in a while, I am beginning to suspect that I was not paying any attention to it any time that I read it before. There are so many things that I didn’t remember ever reading! In past readings, I got that Alexander was fierce and loyal and awesome – still definitely true, incidentally. Mary Renault’s Alexander is one of my favorite characters ever, partly because I think Alexander the Great was cool and partly because Mary Renault does an excellent job on him. I always think it must be so difficult to write a character with charisma like a cult leader or a great general, so you really believe people would follow them, and it must be even harder when it’s a real historic character. And Alexander in this book is so great I would almost follow him to war and I am a pacifist. So.

The relationships with the other characters, I definitely picked up on that – his friendship (etc) with Hephaestion (they’re sweet), the initially simple love/hate split for his mother and father, respectively, that gets more complicated as he gets older. I love how we see this change for Alexander. As a child, his mother means security and his father is a threat. When he gets older, he develops a certain level of respect for his father in war, and finds his mother’s constant demands more and more difficult. (And more and more, if I am remembering The Persian Boy right.)

The politics though? I would say the vast majority of the political machinations going on in this book were new to me on this reread. As a younger reader, I managed to pick up on nearly all the character moments while completely tuning out what was going on around them. Like how Philip was conquering things, and how he wanted to use the Thebans to get to the Athenians, and the Thebans took him (but not Alexander!) off guard by throwing in their lot with Athens. And how an old lover was responsible for Philip’s death. Total shock to me this time around.

I was so in the mood to read this! Maybe I will get crazy and finally read The Mask of Apollo as I have been meaning to for quite some time now. I like Mary Renault. Her heroes are heroic, and the ancient times act real in her books.

An open letter to Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go

Wow, Patrick Ness, color me super impressed.  Way to create a distinctive, consistent, memorable voice for your protagonist.  That isn’t easy.  I have not read a book where I enjoyed the narrator’s voice so much since, mm, The Book Thief, and before that The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  Which are two of my all-time favorite books.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is based on a fantastic premise, that the aliens in this settled world have given the settlers the disease of Noise, which killed all the women and left the men able to hear each other’s thoughts; and then the youngest boy in the settlement of Prentisstown finds a girl.  A live girl!  The book is fast-paced and exciting and frightening.  The title is perfect.  The relationship between Todd and Viola is utterly real – all the relationships are, actually, and even though this is a plot-driven book, damn, Patrick Ness, you just nail those emotional moments every single time.  Like this?  (Major spoilers in the block text below, so skip to the subsequent paragraph if you haven’t read the book.  Even if you don’t care about spoilers – if you haven’t read the book, you won’t know how great this is because all the context isn’t there, but trust me, it is great.)

Ben nods again, slow and sad, and I notice now that he’s dirty and there’s blood clotted on his nose and he looks like he ain’t eaten for a week but it’s still Ben and he can still read me like no other cuz his Noise is already asking me bout  Manchee and I’m already showing him and here at last my eyes properly fill and rush over and he takes me in his arms again and I cry for real over the loss of my dog and of Cillian and of the life that was.

“I left him,” I say and keep saying, snot-filled and coughing.  “I left him.”

“I know,” he says and I can tell it’s true cuz I hear the same words in his Noise.  I left him, he thinks.

Ouch.  Also, chills.

And you know what else, Patrick Ness?  Since I have gotten started talking about the good things about your book, and how it’s just everything that’s great about being great?  What else is, hooray for you, portraying a gay couple without making a big thing of it – we know they’re a couple because they act like a couple, not because you (the author) gets all THESE ARE TWO GAY PEOPLE THAT ARE GAY; they are just a couple, and that is nice, and it is normalizing, and there should be more of that going on in literature.  Oo, and, okay, also?  Aaron was about the dreadfullest villain I ever read about in my life.  (That isn’t a spoiler – you can always tell he’s insane.)

Here’s the thing, Patrick Ness.  You already did it!  You already created Todd’s voice!  You did it using only your words!  Your achievement is a remarkable achievement, because it is damn hard to create a voice like that, and you did it ever so beautifully.  Why, why, why did you need to do that silly dialect thing?  “Yer” is not necessary!  “Cuz” is not really necessary either!  And I can assure you that there is no possible world in which “conversayshun” would ever be necessary, because that is how the word is already pronounced.  It’s not an accent.  It’s how you say the word.  And “an asking” instead of “a question” is both silly and jarring.  It mildly chagrins my dazzle to see you relying on dialecty crutches this way, when Todd’s voice, and the atmosphere of the world you’ve created, are already just about perfect.

Since I am having a moan anyway, here’s my other (teeny-tiny) gripe, which contains massive spoilers.  I feel like the Big Prentisstown Reveal could have happened sooner.  At least part of it could have happened sooner.  I say, tell about how they killed all the women earlier on in the book (have one of the townspeople tell Todd, or something) – we pretty much figure that out anyway, right?  It’s part of the emotional arc of the story, but it’s not the central part.  The reveal you want to save for close to the end is that Prentisstown keeps on killing their own, to allow the boys to become men.  That is what’s crucial to the events that occur immediately after Ben tells it to Todd – plotwise and emotional-story-arc-wise.  Plus, if we already had the reveal about the women, we would think, okay, we’re done, now we know why nobody likes Prentisstown, and then the other thing would really slap us in the face, because it is pretty chilling.

(I mean, it wouldn’t slap me in the face.  I would already know because I would have read the end (as indeed I did!) and found out what was what.  This was helpful to me in making judgments about where each reveal should have occurred.  Reading the end: the Way, the Truth, and the Light, verily I say unto ye.)

Once I get started complaining, I can’t stop, so here’s my last complaint.  Patrick Ness, WHY ARE YOU BRITISH?  And also WHY DID I NOT READ THIS BOOK SOONER?  My sister has just now returned from Ireland, and if I had read this book like, like two days sooner, I could have told her to buy me the sequel, which is out in the UK now but not out in the US until September.  I really loved the books I read last week, but I would have loved them a few days later, and then I could have had The Ask and the Answer on Thursday when my sister comes all the way properly home.

To conclude, Patrick Ness, you are awesome, and future books would not suffer if you eighty-sixed the fakey dialect bit.  Also (spoilers!  Spoilers!), given that this book turned me into an emotional wreck, you, um, you could go ahead and have it turn out that Ben is still alive.  And, um, I mean, Cillian too.  That would be fine.  It wouldn’t mess up anything!  I would be happy!  Todd and Ben would be happy!  We would all be happy!  I wouldn’t feel like you had cheated!  Just if you wanted to have it turn out that way.  I only mention it.

Kisses and hugs,
Jenny

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
Bart’s Bookshelf
books i done read
Becky’s Book Reviews
Confessions of a Bibliovore
Fantasy Book Critic
Librarilly Blonde
The Well-Read Child
Wands and Worlds
YA Reads
YA Fabulous
Karin’s Book Nook
The Page Flipper
Reading the Leaves
Bookannelid
Lisa the Nerd
Kids Lit
Bitten by Books
Books and So Many More Books
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Let me know if I missed yours!

Sisterland, Linda Newbery

Ah, Linda Newbery. I’ve been meaning to read one of her books for about a year and a half – I very vaguely remember wanting to buy it at the Foyle’s on the South Bank when I was there in January 2007 with the family. Something with clocks.

Sisterland is about a girl called Hilly who has a problematic sister that’s got a crush on a racist kid (British kids are scary! I’m never raising my kids in England cause those British kids are way too frightening!), and her grandmother has got Alzheimer’s and is forever talking about someone called Rachel (on account of how she was secretly Jewish when she was a kid and she had a sister called Rachel who she lost touch with), and also there’s Hilly’s BFF Reuben who has a crush on a Palestinian kid called Saeed, and Hilly gets a crush on Saeed’s brother Rashid.

I enjoyed this, but my God, it dealt with a lot of issues. In that ostentatious way, like, And now, I will be dealing with the issue of – racism! Hey, don’t worry, homosexuality, you’ll get your turn! And look at the Holocaust crowding in on the side! Hold your horses, Holocaust, you’re our main event! I’m all in favor of YA books Dealing with Issues and everything, but I thought that Ms. Newbery was too clearly trying to Deal with Issues, rather than just letting them happen as they happened. And there was a lot going on here, so that none of them were really very thoroughly handled. Lots of juxtaposing of different kinds of intolerance, but not enough to where you really had time to get a ton of sympathy for anybody dealing with the intolerance.

Still, it was good. Not as good as I bet that book of Linda Newbery’s is that I saw at the Foyle’s but my library doesn’t have and I can’t remember its title and will thus never find it … but pretty good.

Shadows Return, Lynn Flewelling

My amazing sister went and bought me a copy of this before it was supposed to come out (which was today, I guess).  Foolish Books-a-Million (not my bookstore chain of choice) put it on the shelves before its release date, and brilliant Anna bought us each a copy.  Joy!

Darling Alec, darling Seregil, I support their relationship so much!  They are so much more satisfying than Ki and Tamar turned out to be (although I strongly supported that relationship also)!  And now they’ve – um.  You know.  Returned.  As the title may have implied to you.

What had happened was: They’re back in Rhiminee, doing all petty thieving, and then, omg, the Nasty Army Chick Queen sends them on a mission to fetch her little sister away from Aurenen, and while they’re off trying to accomplish the mission they are totally kidnapped!  And separated!  And sold into slavery!  Because a very, very wicked man wants Alec’s blood because of how he’s half Hazadrielfaie, and he makes a creepy thing with Alec’s blood, and meanwhile Seregil’s old! wicked! treacherous! lover comes back and is a great big poop to Seregil.

Yes, since you ask, I was looking forward to this more than I realized.  I was enchanted to have Seregil’s old!wicked!treacherous! lover showing up at last, though I would be happier if he seemed in any way lovable (right, right, the younger guy’s flattered by the older dude’s attentions, na na na, but does he have any pleasant qualities at all, ever?), and I was very pleased that people are finally interested in Alec’s creepy ‘faie tribe.  Lynn Flewelling’s been such a tease about that up until now.  People would bring it up, and I’d be like YES LORD WE ARE GOING TO TALK ABOUT IT, and then they’d veer away from the subject, and it was exactly like Cold Comfort Farm at the end when Aunt Ada’s talking with Flora and then she turns around to answer an question about cows.  So I was glad that we’re having some serious focus on that.

I read this book in about an hour and a half.  I actually was having serious difficulty putting it down.  Every time I had to put it down, I felt like I was peeling my eyeballs off the page.  (You’re very welcome; I’m glad I could share that delightful image with you.)  And then I finished it and I felt really sad because it’s going to be another several months before more books come out that are nothing but total pleasure and joy.  I should have read it more slowly and enjoyed it more thoroughly.  Like when I was reading one issue of Sandman a day (until I got too suspensey in the middle of A Game of You and totally abandoned the whole one-a-day scheme).

My one major complaint was that there was not enough chicanery.  I like Seregil because of all the mad chicanery he carries on.  Chicanery!  Also, it’s a nice word.  But this book was not big on the chicanery.  Everyone escaped in the end, but they weren’t doing a bunch of sneaky clever cunning things.

Oh, and I just want to say, for the record, Thero and Klia?  No.  That’s a big fat sack of – NO.  I vote NO to that relationship.  I have it on record and I will not back down, just like that time I said I forever hated Ben on Felicity and the writers would never ever be able to make me like Ben better than Noel with the cute eyebrow tic.  (Er, but then they did.)

Fingersmith, Sarah Waters

I have mixed feeling about this book.  I really do.  Because on one hand, I enjoyed it a lot and I liked all the twists and turns it took.  Except that um, when part one ended, it wasn’t quite what I expected, because I’m a big romantic, and although I (of course) had already read the end, it didn’t so much let me in on all the stuff that was going to happen in the middle.  And I was all going along, dee dee dee, and all of a sudden it was part one ending and WHAM KIDNEY PUNCH.  Seriously, that’s the way you people like to read books?

I don’t get it.  Why would you want that?  So that when they repeat the serpent’s tooth line later, you feel a joyous twinge of recognition about what happened earlier on?  I had that joyous twinge of recognition, and first I thought, oh, hey, this must be why people don’t look up what’s going to happen, but then I remembered that it was far outweighed by the unpleasant surprising thing that happened earlier.  And, y’know, if you knew what was coming, you’d have appreciated that line the first time around, and still appreciated it when it was reiterated.  Just saying.

Ugh.  I don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen.  Unless it’s an emotional moment.  I don’t like finding out what emotional moments are going to happen – like, if I were reading the Harry Potter books for the first time, I wouldn’t at all mind being told that Lupin is going to (spoiler) die ultimately, but I would be very very furious with someone who told me, I don’t know, the story of how Lupin and Harry have that argument they have in the seventh book.  Likewise, I want to know that Wesley’s going to (spoiler) die at the end of Angel (HA!  SERVE YOU RIGHT!), but I don’t in any way want to know whatever touching moment Social Sister was going to tell me about but I stopped her because I don’t want to know these things.

Well, and that’s why I got cross with Fingersmith.  I felt like it cheated me.  I read the entire emotional end of the story, got cross because I was still angry with Sue for being such a lying bitch, and never saw anything coming that was coming.  Besides which, I couldn’t really get behind a romance that occurs between two such unpleasant characters.  I know I know, necessity and oppression and Victorian girls had no choices, but I don’t care!  They were just too unpleasant!  I was interested in what was going to happen but I was not in any way invested in their romance.

I sort of was.

But mostly not.  Because of how unpleasant they both were.

I liked Fingersmith a lot.  Like Sarah Waters’ other books – I wouldn’t buy them but I am happy to know the library has them, and if I reread them enough times I may well grow to love them deeply and purchase them all for my personal library.  Except Tipping the Velvet which has been my least favorite so far.  And I care enough to read Affinity (spiritualism! woooooooo!) and check Amazon to see if she has any new books coming out.  And enough to give her a favored authors tag.  Sarah Waters writes well and tells me lots of interesting things about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England; and I am all about the seamy underbelly of Victorian England.

Now I’m all interested in Victorian erotica.  How totally interesting.  If I were going into academia, I would be studying Victorian erotica.

…That might be hard to get a job in.  English 4069: Victorians <3 Porn.

Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters

I liked Night Watch enough that I got all of Sarah Waters’s other books out of the library in the hopes that I would be getting a grand new favorite author.  Tipping the Velvet was evidently her first, and I didn’t like it as much as Night Watch, sadly, but I still totally enjoyed it.  So much I stayed up until three last night finishing it even though I have a paper to write today.  I’m doing that straightaway after I write this.

Lots of interesting Victorian underworld in this book.  I spent a lot of this book trying to work out what all that mad Victorian slang was about, which was jolly.  Though I did get fed up with Nancy when she was window-shopping at the tobacconist and the dude came up and talked to her and she was dressed as a boy and she like totally talked back.  I was in my room going “Well that’s just GREAT, Nan, you WINDOW-SHOPPING HUSSY.  Hope you’re enjoying offering that UNEQUIVOCAL SEX INVITE with all that crazed WINDOW-SHOPPING TALKING you are doing.  He is OBVIOUSLY trying to pick you up and that might be okay if you weren’t a GIRL, you humongous MORON.”  Not really fair to get so cross about it.  She didn’t know.

I got seriously worked up about Nancy’s behavior and what I wanted to happen.  Like Florence?  I was against Florence from the beginning.  Why’s everyone always ending up with snotty righteous uninteresting people?  It was like that time Dorothea married Casaubon, only more ugh and no dashing young Will for her to hook up with later.  What if Jane Eyre had married St. John?  Ugh.  About forty pages into the book I went and read the end, and there was this random-ass Florence character I’d never met, so I took against from the beginning, and when she finally showed up I was like PFFT, Florence, I hate that bitch.  So it was good really that she was such an aggravatingly virtuous character and I didn’t have to reconsider my early unfriendly assessment of her.

Well, that’s neither here nor there.  Sarah Waters is a good writer.  Tipping the Velvet was good.  We’ll see, won’t we, whether my fondness for her survives reading her other two books.  I’m saving Affinity for last because it’s about spiritualism.  I like spiritualism.  Hester Whatsherface received a whole play all from Oscar Wilde.

Night Watch, Sarah Waters

Recommended by: A Life in Books, sort of, in that she said she loved anything by Sarah Waters and I randomly grabbed Night Watch when I went to the library.

I don’t know if it’s just because I love Britain in World War II or what, but I really, really loved Night Watch.  It was swell.  I so much didn’t want it to end that I put it down and left it alone for ages before returning to it today and finishing it all up in one gobble.

Basically it’s about four (Kay, Viv, Helen, Duncan – yes, four) people in London during and after World War II.  I am really shocking rubbish at plot synopses, but there’s not a lot more to say on this one.  It’s all about them, and it goes in three sections: one in 1947, one in 1944, and one in 1941, in that order.  So you’re reading to find out how things came about, rather than to see where things are going.  In a way I really like this – I love those films or episodes of TV shows where you see people carrying on doing things, where you see things that are clearly significant but you don’t know why, and then they flash back to a previous thing and you find out why it was so significant.

Which is why I loved this book to pieces all through the 1947 section and the 1944 section.  It was just the 1941 section that I thought fell off a little bit.  In a way, it felt really unnecessary – we find out how Kay and Helen met, how Viv and Reggie met, and what happened with Duncan and Alex.  And it was a bad finish to the book, I thought.  Not that I wasn’t interested to know all these things, but that it was a bad way to leave it, because we weren’t finding out anything that washed backward over the rest of the book and imbued it with new meaning, which I guess is what I was hoping for.  The 1944 section did this gorgeously to the 1947 section, but the 1941 stuff?  Neg.  I was sad and let down and depressed.

Oh, but I really liked the book anyway.  Okay, it didn’t end with a bang, but it was mighty interesting all the same.  And I love the Brits during World War II.  Finest hour, man.  Sarah Waters draws these interactions with such nuance.  I was in love with it.  Actually it reminded me a lot of The Charioteer, and I swear it’s not just because they’re both gay-themed WWII books; it’s the delicacy of the relationships and conversations.

Yay for Sarah Waters.  I checked out her other three books from the library, so I will let you know about those.  I was sad to find there were only three.  I know she’s only 42 and there’s no reason she should have dozens of books all written and if she did it might not suggest something flattering about the quality of her writing, but still, I liked Night Watch a lot and I wished there were lots more like it.  I’d like to give her a Favored Authors tag but it seems premature.