There's a tendency for bestselling series to get longer and more bloated with each book, and unfortunately Les écureuils de Central Park sont tristesThere's a tendency for bestselling series to get longer and more bloated with each book, and unfortunately Les écureuils de Central Park sont tristes le lundi (The squirrels of Central Park are sad on Mondays) is no exception. It's the longest of the trilogy, clocking in at 960 pages in mass market paperback, and it has very little plot. Joséphine needs to get started on a new book, but lacks inspiration - until she finds a diary from the 1960s in the communal bins of her apartment block. The diary itself, written by a young man who falls under the spell of Cary Grant when he comes to Paris to film Charade, is beautifully written, and I really felt that it was wasted as a plot device for a weak novel - I would have loved to read an expanded version as a novel in its own right. (I found it odd that while the male diary-writer's crush on an older man was sensitively and sympathetically portrayed, the other gay characters appearing in Squirrels seemed always to be presented as figures of fun). Apart from that, the main focus is on Hortense, now in the early stages of her career as a fashion designer. The similarities between Hortense and her grandmother Henriette really come out in this book, although they have no scenes together. Both of them are seen drinking a citron pressé - Hortense because lemon juice is good for her skin, Henriette because it's cheaper than alcohol. Henriette, obsessed with saving money in the wake of her divorce, does a sweep of luxury hotels every morning while the rooms are being cleaned so that she can steal unfinished bottles of wine and mini pots of jam; Hortense, on a student budget, uses the self-service till at the supermarket and unblushingly rings up every item as potatoes. The difference between them is that while Henriette has always survived through dependence on men, Hortense doesn't want to rely on anyone but herself - which is affecting her love life. While her icy facade shows signs of melting, Joséphine finally begins to assert herself. It's satisfying to see and ultimately saves Squirrels from being a book too far. But only just....more
La valse lente des tortues (The slow waltz of turtles) finds Joséphine installed in a luxurious apartment in the well-to-do quarter of Passy, once a PLa valse lente des tortues (The slow waltz of turtles) finds Joséphine installed in a luxurious apartment in the well-to-do quarter of Passy, once a Parisian suburb, absorbed into the city as it expanded in the nineteenth century. Balzac meets Elizabeth George in this enjoyable sequel, which revolves around the unmasking of a serial killer who strikes repeatedly in Josephine's neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Hortense goes to London to study fashion, Zoe falls in love, Iris's marriage falls apart and Josephine struggles to conquer a forbidden attraction. While the crime story was fascinating and convincingly written, that was more than could be said for some of the subplots (Hortense's encounter with Russian mobsters and Henriette's attempt to kill her ex-husband's new wife via voodoo come to mind)....more
No, not THAT Joséphine. Katherine Pancol's bestselling trilogy has nothing to do with nineteenth-century empresses. It's the story of single mother JoNo, not THAT Joséphine. Katherine Pancol's bestselling trilogy has nothing to do with nineteenth-century empresses. It's the story of single mother Joséphine Cortès and her journey from put-upon suburban divorcée to confident, independent woman of substance.
The first novel, Les yeux jaunes des crocodiles (The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles) opens as Joséphine's husband Antoine, who has been struggling to cope with his redundancy, walks out on her to start a new life on a crocodile farm with his mistress. Joséphine has to break the news to her daughters. The elder, Hortense, is a cold, ambitious little madam, and the younger, Zoe, is sweet-natured and adorable. It reminded me of the opening of Mildred Pierce, with Joséphine, like Mildred, left as the sole provider. Joséphine is hampered not only by her modest salary as a researcher specialising in the twelfth century, but by an inferiority complex installed by her ice queen mother Henriette and spoiled, glamorous sister Iris. She starts writing the historical novel which will make her a publishing star for a most unusual reason: Iris has announced a plan to fill her days by writing a novel but can't think how to set about it, so she gets Joséphine to do it for her.
Crocodiles does more than take Joséphine from zero to hero, it sets up a gallery of characters, many of whom have secret lives or pasts. Katherine Pancol throws in plot twists and revelations like a Mad Men secretary mixing up a batch of eggnog before the office Christmas party. Yet amidst these not always realistic shenanigans, the most sympathetic of her cast are always good company, easy to identify with, even inspiring. The end result is as if Joanna Trollope, Marian Keyes and Olivia Goldsmith had sat down to write a novel together. Crocodiles is a funny and observant revenge novel with a heroine as loveable as a Disney princess. No wonder it's sold nearly two million copies....more
In 1815, Jane Austen published Emma, dedicated by permission (or rather command) to the Prince Regent, who was Austen’s highest profile fan, keeping aIn 1815, Jane Austen published Emma, dedicated by permission (or rather command) to the Prince Regent, who was Austen’s highest profile fan, keeping a set of her novels in all his residences. What is less well known is that during Queen Victoria’s reign, the Prince’s beautifully bound presentation copy of Emma was relegated to the servants’ library. And apparently it wasn’t too popular there, which is why it remains in excellent condition today.
Despite attracting patronage from aristocracy and royalty, Jane Austen was never among the bestsellers of her day. She chose not to write in popular genres such as Gothic and historical fiction, and while authors such as Ann Radcliffe could sell their work for thousands of pounds, her earnings were in the hundreds. In the 1820s, with her works out of print, it seemed she was destined to fade into literary history. So how did the world learn to appreciate her?
Claire Harman opens this entertaining meta-biography with a preface establishing Austen’s current place in popular culture. She then tracks Austen’s reputation chronologically through her lifetime and on to the present day. What I found most fascinating: the influence of Austen on the long-forgotten “silver fork” novels of the 1820s; the important role nostalgia for a pre-industrial past played in reviving interest in her work; how the unflattering sketch of her by her sister Cassandra had to be “Photoshopped” to make it appeal to Victorian readers; the popularity of her books in First World War trenches and why men think the heroes and the romance in her books are unrealistic. There’s thorough coverage of the 1990s spate of dramatisations and the seemingly endless stream of prequels, sequels and spin-offs. Harman quotes Sourcebooks editor Deb Werksman as saying that Austen’s relatively small body of work left her public forever wanting more: “‘Anything that will evoke the work of Jane Austen becomes very appealing.’”
I did have some reservations about Jane’s Fame: its recitation of the myriad Austen references in popular culture sometimes reads more like a list than an analysis. As Harman suggests, the more pervasive such references become, the less meaning they retain. Also, not all of the images Harman discusses are illustrated (or easily findable online) – although these gaps may be down to the rights-holders rather than the author. That said, this is an essential read for any ‘Janeite’ - or anyone seeking to understand Austen's global popularity. ...more