This is the (fictionalised) story of Lizzie Burns, the Manchester Irishwoman who worked in the mill owned by Friedrich Engels, and became his common-lThis is the (fictionalised) story of Lizzie Burns, the Manchester Irishwoman who worked in the mill owned by Friedrich Engels, and became his common-law wife while he developed his social philosophies with Karl Marx. McCrea creates a rich voice for Lizzie, who emerges as a warm, witty and pragmatic heroine. The novel is perhaps a little too long though, as the second half dragged for me....more
What a great premise - Angela Davis writing on the great blueswomen as precursors of black feminism. Just over half of this book is devoted to her stuWhat a great premise - Angela Davis writing on the great blueswomen as precursors of black feminism. Just over half of this book is devoted to her studies of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday. Arguably 200 pages is not enough, and while her analysis is sound, it feels a bit rushed. There could perhaps have been more background material on the blues era, and a more detailed explanation of Holiday's status as a transitional figure. Even Nina Simone could be included to make the circle from personal to political complete. But while a little disappointing, it's still a good read and essential to the subject. In the second half, Davis transcribes Rainey and Smith's great, poetic blues songs which is a treat in itself. ...more
Before her series of edgy YA novels, Megan Abbott wrote a series of historical mysteries, mostly set in 1950s Hollywood. In what is basically a long sBefore her series of edgy YA novels, Megan Abbott wrote a series of historical mysteries, mostly set in 1950s Hollywood. In what is basically a long short story, Abbott makes a welcome return to the dark side of Tinseltown....more
Suspense novel set in 1960s New England, narrated by Eileen, a twenty-something misfit who works in a boys' prison and longs to escape her abusive, alSuspense novel set in 1960s New England, narrated by Eileen, a twenty-something misfit who works in a boys' prison and longs to escape her abusive, alcoholic father. Shades of Patricia Highsmith and Shirley Jackson, with dark humour offsetting the gloom. ...more
A decent, workmanlike biography with some good research, but also some noticeably large gaps. It's greatest value is as the only full-length biographyA decent, workmanlike biography with some good research, but also some noticeably large gaps. It's greatest value is as the only full-length biography of Novak to date, alongside Larry Kleno's pictorial book, Kim Novak on Camera. Interestingly, each chapter ends with quotes from Novak herself - which often contradict the official version of events. ...more
H.E. Bates' 22K-word novella, Dulcima, was first published in 1953, and is akin to a mid-century Tess of the D'Urbevilles with rather less moral certaH.E. Bates' 22K-word novella, Dulcima, was first published in 1953, and is akin to a mid-century Tess of the D'Urbevilles with rather less moral certainty. It was filmed in 1971 with Carol White and John Mills, and both versions are well worth your time. ...more
The final volume in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series rages like a cyclone. The first part deals with the unravelling of Elena's love affair with NinThe final volume in Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series rages like a cyclone. The first part deals with the unravelling of Elena's love affair with Nino, the second with the disintegration of Lila. You will discover who the 'lost child' of the title really is, although it could apply to any of these characters. No happy endings here, only the transcendence of real art. Ferrante has the ability to get under one's skin, and reaching the end of what is surely one of the great literary events of the decade seems rather like how the Victorians must have felt after completing a Dickens serialisation, or the three-volume assault from the mysterious brothers Bell. In modern terms, it's like reaching the climax of a TV drama that has commanded your utter devotion. And the only consolation I can offer is the certainty that you will read this again and again....more
Edward Chitham is one of my favourite writers on the Brontes, and I greatly admire his dogged research. Of particular interest to me was the story ofEdward Chitham is one of my favourite writers on the Brontes, and I greatly admire his dogged research. Of particular interest to me was the story of Hugh Prunty, grandfather to the famous Bronte sisters. The story of his early life - being farmed out to a cruel uncle who was himself a foundling - bears an obvious resemblance to the plot of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Even more interesting to me personally was that Hugh spent these difficult years in the Boyne Valley and Louth, where I spent summers as a child, and where many of my own relatives still live....more
Reading Clarice Lispector for the first time is like falling in love. Each of her stories is a rare jewel. Shocking, funny and wildly imaginative, thiReading Clarice Lispector for the first time is like falling in love. Each of her stories is a rare jewel. Shocking, funny and wildly imaginative, this collection is a landmark, reclaiming her as one of the underrated voices of the twentieth century....more
This isn't a great book but it's a good read, and invaluable as a resource for the tragic life of Carol White, one of the most undervalued actresses iThis isn't a great book but it's a good read, and invaluable as a resource for the tragic life of Carol White, one of the most undervalued actresses in British film. ...more
The Forgotten Flapper is an historical novel, based on the true story of one of Hollywood’s earliest stars, Olive Thomas. With only one full-length biThe Forgotten Flapper is an historical novel, based on the true story of one of Hollywood’s earliest stars, Olive Thomas. With only one full-length biography published to date, author Laini Giles conducted her own extensive research, and has retold Olive’s story in her own voice, bringing the ingénue with the mischievous grin vividly to life. Olive was a quick learner, impulsive and generous. On camera and on location, she was a risk-taker, one of the pioneering talents who made Hollywood the world’s film-making capital.
Unfortunately, Olive’s ambitions were often derailed by her chaotic love life. In retrospect, her marriage to Jack Pickford was doomed from the start. While Jack may have been Hollywood’s original bad boy, and their marriage was marred by immaturity, the other men in Olive’s life were little better. But though her romances may have ended in tears, they were filled with passion and adventure.
The Forgotten Flapper is a racy, action-packed read. It is beautifully designed, with each chapter beginning in a different setting, and sections divided into ‘intermissions’ and ‘reprises’, befitting a real-life silent movie. Reflecting the legend that Olive’s ghost haunts the New Amsterdam Theatre, the novel begins and ends with two amusing, and bittersweet chapters, as told from ‘beyond the grave’. The rest is effectively a fictional memoir, but I would have liked to hear more from the spectral Olive Thomas.
The book also includes an extract from Laini Giles’ next project, The It Girl and Me, chronicling the rise and fall of Clara Bow from the perspective of Daisy DeVoe, the secretary who befriended and ultimately betrayed the star, in one of the last great scandals of early Hollywood.
There has been a great deal of controversy over the circumstances of this book's publication (which may be justified), and also a great deal of hysterThere has been a great deal of controversy over the circumstances of this book's publication (which may be justified), and also a great deal of hysteria about its content - which, I would argue, is not justified. Essentially, Go Set a Watchman was the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, but although the main characters of Scout and Atticus are the same, it is very different in many respects. Firstly, it is set in the 1950s, with Scout returning to her hometown as the civil rights movement is gaining momentum. Mockingbird, on the other hand, focuses on Scout's childhood during the Jim Crow era.
Although Mockingbird's publication coincided with civil rights, and subsequently became something of a liberal beacon, Watchman is far more political in its focus. By portraying an older Atticus, frightened by change and reverting to the same prejudices he once challenged, Lee chips away at his heroic status. Some readers will be upset by this, and indeed some seem unable to distinguish the boundaries between fiction and unreality. I think the movie of Mockingbird, with Gregory Peck's Oscar-winning portrayal of Atticus, was more simplistic than the book and is probably more culpable for this tendency towards Atticus-worship than Lee herself. It seized on the civil rights angle, which while progressive for its time, was only one aspect of Mockingbird.
Watchman certainly complicates Lee's legacy, but while she doesn't exactly resolve this dichotomy, by smashing the 'white saviour' myth, Watchman certainly opens up a more nuanced dialogue than has existed for decades. Can a man be good, decent, and also fundamentally racist? Could a principled lawyer also, by upholding the system, be part of the problem? Of course he can, yet many readers (mostly white, I suspect) refuse to accept this. Lee's handling of the issue is rather didactic, but her conclusion is important: that we must be willing to listen to others, to engage with them, even when their attitudes seem abhorrent. As with Mockingbird, the final message is one of love. In the early 21st century, when America can claim the symbolic victory of a first black president, and yet everyday racism is still rife, Watchman may have found its moment.
So if its treatment of racism is more daring, is Watchman better than Mockingbird? No, it isn't. By pitting Scout against the older generation of Finches (plus a half-hearted marriage plot), it omits many of the elements which made Mockingbird a masterpiece. There is no Boo Radley here, while Jem and Dill are only mentioned in retrospect. The Radley storyline, in particular, introduced a more personal take on intolerance which Watchman lacks. With so many flashbacks, it's hard to settle in one era: and Lee's style, in Watchman, is more telling than showing. And yet there are many small instances of beautiful writing here, and much of the wry humour that made Mockingbird so delightful, and is an early manifestation of Lee's self-professed wish to be 'the Jane Austen of Alabama.'
Lee's editor was absolutely right to sense her genius in Watchman; and conversely, she was also right to guide her to its fruition in Mockingbird. Watchman, while not in itself a great novel, shows the first flowering of a great American author. It might be loosely compared to Charlotte Bronte's first novel, The Professor, which was rejected by publishers. She went on to write the masterpiece, Jane Eyre, and The Professor would be reissued after her death. Like The Professor, Watchman is a 'coming of age' novel, and clearly autobiographical - perhaps a little too much so. But for any true admirer of Harper Lee, it is well worth reading....more
Books about Marilyn Monroe are practically a genre among themselves. Astrid Franse, owner of the archive of the Blue Book Modelling Agency, has collabBooks about Marilyn Monroe are practically a genre among themselves. Astrid Franse, owner of the archive of the Blue Book Modelling Agency, has collaborated on this book with Michelle Morgan, author of one of the best biographies,'MM: Private and Undisclosed.' Emmeline Snively, who founded the agency, kept a detailed file on her star pupil, Norma Jeane Dougherty. While many people - usually men - claimed to have 'discovered' Monroe, Snively (who had more input than most) always saw their work together as a collaboration. This is both a biography of Snively, a self-made career woman in an era when that was still rare, and a study of a hopeful, relatively untroubled period in the future Marilyn Monroe's life. After reading it, I had a much better understanding of Marilyn's modelling career, and her relationship with Snively. It provides a much-needed backstory to her early photo-shoots, and also includes a handful of images never seen before. Beautifully written and presented, this book has both style and substance, and while it may not tell the full story of Marilyn's life, it will be a must-have for dedicated fans....more
Dover Thrift have published an attractive, and affordable reissue of John Huston's 1930 play based on the legend of Frankie and Johnny, including theDover Thrift have published an attractive, and affordable reissue of John Huston's 1930 play based on the legend of Frankie and Johnny, including the original illustrations by Miguel Covarrubias. It is quite short, having been conceived as a puppet show, with music by George Gershwin. Nonetheless, Huston would later give a first edition copy to Marilyn Monroe, whom he said would have been his perfect Frankie. This version also includes alternate versions of the ballad, and Huston's interview with a neighbour of the 'real' Frankie. ...more