This is a charming children's book with good educational value. My grandchildren (5 and 3) love it and ask me to read it over and over again. They knoThis is a charming children's book with good educational value. My grandchildren (5 and 3) love it and ask me to read it over and over again. They know it by heart and now read it to each other. The illustrations are lovely, the rhymes are funny, the story is involving, and it has a satisfying ending. What more could you want. ...more
An extremely well-written fictionalised account of the life of England’s Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, this book presents the events of Anne’sAn extremely well-written fictionalised account of the life of England’s Queen Anne, the last Stuart monarch, this book presents the events of Anne’s life from her childhood to the death of her only surviving child in 1700, two years before she succeeded to the throne. The story is told through a sequence of short chapters, related mostly from Anne’s perspective, and extracts from her correspondence, most of which are real documents. As with historical fiction in general, especially that which is told in such a subjective way, we can’t be completely confident in the historical accuracy of this imagining of Anne’s thoughts and opinions, but it is certainly congruent with what we know and what we can infer from the sources.
Anne is perhaps not the most obvious candidate to feature as the central figure of a story set in such a turbulent period of history. She is arguably the least interesting of the colourful Stuart monarchs, and most non-historians probably know little about her other than her weight problem, and the numerous stillbirths and miscarriages. She is a pathetic rather than a heroic figure, yet the author has successfully handled the risks this entails well, and created a work which is gripping and ultimately deeply moving. We might not find much that is likeable or admirable about Anne - she is querulous, too easily offended, obstinate, and a bit dull-witted too, with only a limited understanding of the political events of the time, yet it is impossible not to feel sympathy for her.
From her earliest years she suffered poor health and personal insecurities which corroded her self-esteem, leaving her lonely and desperate for friendship, The intensity of her attachments must have seemed absurd and sometimes embarrassing to her closest friends, especially Sarah Churchill (a witty and sparkling character with whom Anne would eventually fall out) . Her childhood was not obviously unhappy: there is no suggestion that her father (James II) and her stepmother (Mary of Modena) were cold or uncaring parents, but Anne distrusted them and ultimately estranged herself from them because they were Catholics (or Catholic sympathisers - James was still nominally Protestant at the time). In Anne’s unsophisticated black and white view of the world, this put them on Satan’s side in the struggle for the soul of England, and it was this perception that led her to support the assault on James’ throne by her brother-in-law, William of Orange (and she soon falls out with him too).
And then there are the lost children – 17 of them, mostly stillborn, a few lost in infancy, with her one surviving child dying at the age of 11. Even in a period where life was much more fragile, and child mortality particularly high, the scale of these losses must have been exceptional, and emotionally devastating. Tragically she believes that she herself must be to blame for her misfortunes and comes to view them as a punishment for the betrayal of her father. The book ends with a heart-wrenching cry of despair to Sarah Churchill: “How shall I bear my life, Mrs Freeman?”
Notwithstanding the ever-growing darkness of the journey and the apparent extinguishment of all hope of happiness at the end, my experience of this novel was a positive one. It is by no means entirely bleak, thanks to the short episodic structure which keeps the narrative taut and well-paced ensuring that readers don’t find themselves floundering in endless detail (as does frequently happen with a lot of historical fiction). Anne can be lively in the company of people she trusts, and there is plenty of wry humour and ironic comment to enjoy, mainly when the perspective shifts away from Anne to that of a more impartial observer.
Overall this is an excellent achievement by Joanne Limburg. Out of potentially unpromising material, she has woven a compelling and emotionally involving tale and brought to life one of British history’s most unappreciated monarchs, and made her deeply sympathetic. ...more
I picked this up because I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on longer fiction these days - presumably because I've been spending far too long reaI picked this up because I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on longer fiction these days - presumably because I've been spending far too long reading fragmentary stuff on the internet. So I figured that reading short stories, by various writers, might be a good way to wean myself back onto longer fiction.
I can't fault this collection as an instrument for the above purpose - six stories by six of the (early) twentieth century's most illustrious and luminous writers - Graham Greene, Katherine Mansfield, E M Forster, D H Lawrence, Joseph Conrad and Saki - each story entirely different in character and style from the others, each with its own perspective and singular insights into human life. A miner's wife waits with growing apprehension as her husband is late returning from work, and tries to dismiss her fears by persuading herself that he will be drinking away his wages in the pub; a gang of boys engage in the nihilistic and painstakingly methodical destruction of a neighbour's house; two middle-aged women try to come to terms with the death of their unpleasant father. The most riveting contribution comes from E M Forster with "The Machine Stops", an uncannily prescient glimpse of a future which is utterly static and sterile, where human individuality and thought has been destroyed with the advance of technology - astonishingly written in 1909, even before the invention of television, let alone the internet.
I'm happy to say that these stories have been a wonderful reminder of the joys and pleasures of real reading. I'm not quite ready yet to tackle Tolstoy again but this collection has given me a good start....more
If you're thinking of reading or buying this book, please don't be put off by my comments, for despite some flaws, there is much to enjoy in this storIf you're thinking of reading or buying this book, please don't be put off by my comments, for despite some flaws, there is much to enjoy in this story - set before and during World War 1 - which is both interesting, and well-researched.
One of my quibbles was the pacing in the first half of the story, which seemed plodding and repetitive, taking too long to set up the scene and establish the relationship between the two characters - too many encounters between them where very little happened to move things along. The pace eventually picks up, and I found the remainder of the book much easier to get through.
But the principal problem I found with this novel was weak character development. In particular I found both Eva, the heroine, and Christopher, her lover, uninvolving and irritating, and I never felt the pathos of their situation.
Not caring about the main characters can of course be a big obstacle to actually finishing a book, but this one is fortunately redeemed by a well-handled historical and social setting which provided an entertaining and informative backdrop to the main plot: the emergence of the suffragette movement; the appalling "white feather" women who took such grim pleasure in the public humiliation of men who had not yet enlisted to fight; the war itself and the experiences of nurses at the front. And we even get a voodoo midwife!
On the whole, this is a pretty good first novel from Susan Lanigan, and I would like to thank Real Readers for sending me the book for review ...more
I found this book grim from start to finish, a one-note misery-fest chronicling the bleak and joyless lives of girls and women in a society where everI found this book grim from start to finish, a one-note misery-fest chronicling the bleak and joyless lives of girls and women in a society where every aspect of their existence was ruled by ritual and formality, and any form of spontaneous self-expression was suppressed by rigid cultural norms. This was the setting, and if that sounds miserable enough there is far worse to come as the story develops and the lives of the main characters become more and more wretched and unhappy right to the end of the story. Even sad stories can have uplifting moments, or little epiphanies that make you feel you got something out of it, but this one never stops shovelling on the sorrow. Perhaps it might have worked as an oral history testimonial, but as a piece of crafted fiction it's turgid and soul-destroying. ...more
Oh dear, where to start with this ridiculous book. Rarely have I read anything so lacking in accomplishment.
Firstly, if a writer is going to populateOh dear, where to start with this ridiculous book. Rarely have I read anything so lacking in accomplishment.
Firstly, if a writer is going to populate her story with supernatural characters like vampires, witches and daemons, the least she can do is spin some intrigue or sense of terror around them, and build a dark world and atmosphere of mystery for them which is congruent with their actions. It's what Shakespeare does in Macbeth, Mervyn Peake in Ghormenghast, even J K Rowling in the Harry Potter stories.. Yet the characters' lives in this novel seem even more humdrum than mine. Never have creatures of the night been so dull. They go to the library, they jog, they drink tea, they play billiards, they attend yoga classes - with Elton John playing in the background!! (I'm honestly not making that up) This last scene in particular I found hilarious – but I don't think I was meant to – it all seems to be in deadly earnest, and therein lies another of the book's weaknesses.. If you are going to have your vampires et al doing mundane things in mundane settings, and you don't have the skill to make them frightening, then the only way out is to make them funny. But they're not funny either, at least not intentionally. It just feels as if a rather dull and unimaginative person has tried to use her own day to day life as the basis for a piece of romantic wish-fulfillment, but has completely failed to bring any animation to it.
Secondly, after reading over 100 pages, I still couldn't discern any actual plot-line, possibly due to the author's insistence on laboriously recording all the banalities and minutiae of the characters' lives, no matter how inconsequential – what they were wearing, what they were eating, every gesture, every twitch of an eyebrow, each time the heroine arranges her hair, or blows her nose.etc.etc…. so that any narrative thread the book might possess is buried in a ton of blubber, which makes one wonder what the editor was doing.
Finally the writing style is jejune and toe-curlingly awful expressions seem to pop up on every page – two examples – "God he was beautiful" (the witch on the vampire); "she's a highly respected historian of alchemy" (the vampire on the witch)….. Again, a decent editor should have eliminated these.
I don't often leave a book unfinished, but I can't bear to go any further. Stories of magic and the supernatural can be very entertaining, even for the least superstitious and most rational of readers. They can ignite and expand the imagination, but desperate sterile nonsense like this can only shrink it. ...more