The initial pages of Dickerson’s novel offer the reader a promising beginning, immersing the reader into a story brimming with mystery and espionage.The initial pages of Dickerson’s novel offer the reader a promising beginning, immersing the reader into a story brimming with mystery and espionage. Unfortunately this promise is short lived due to the plot’s shift in focus from mystery to romance. As a result of this shift, many plot lines that are initially introduced are suddenly dropped or are hastily concluded because of the emphasis on various relationship pairings that occur throughout the rest of the novel. As the novel concludes, the reader is left with many questions that are left unanswered. For example, the origins and source of Edgerton and Wilhern’s friendship, the source of Mr. and Mrs. Wilhern’s abhorrence and resentment of Julia, the fate of Garrison Greenfield, the plausibility of a twenty-four year old Eton College student, etc. A discerning reader could potentially speculate the answers based upon the crumbs of information offered. However the fact such prominent storylines are seemingly dropped for no significant reason, leads the reader to question, “How could this have happened?”
Forgiving readers could potentially overlook these plot inconsistencies if the story’s main characters could garner the reader’s sympathetic interest. In Dickerson’s novel this is not so simple, since the dialogue can have a negative impact on the reader’s first impressions of the story’s main characters. At the outset, Julia is seemingly portrayed as an intelligent, resolute and independent young woman, especially when paired with her sensitive, frivolous, and simpering cousin Phoebe. However once Julia speaks, it is immediately apparent that her conversation lacks substance and maturity, an understanding that is made further apparent by the cloying, effervescent wording of her first letter to Nicholas. As one scene builds upon the next, the distinction between Julia and Phoebe is not as clearly defined by the novel’s end.
Upon reflection, the other characters in this story don’t fair much better either. All of the characters’ emotional development is hindered by the romance plot, including the fallen woman story. The progression of the romance plot does a major disservice to this particular storyline. Instead of being depicted as someone who is taken advantage of due to her lonely state, the fallen woman is portrayed as being fickle in her relationship attachments, and thereby lacks sound character judgement. Her correspondence only corroborates this interpretation of her story, since she readily confesses that her romantic attachments were based upon the superficial “love at first sight.”
Initial impressions of the novel could seemingly lead the reader to identify A Spy’s Devotion as a satire of the romance genre. However I do not believe this was the author’s true intent. I don’t think the novel will positively engage a discerning reader; such readers would fair better with reading Georgette Heyer’s regency romance/mystery novels. Readers pursuing other novels by Dickerson would probably fair better by sticking with her fairytale retellings.
When reading this novel, it is easy to understand why it was adapted twice for the screen. The storytelling is highly entertaining and fast paced, andWhen reading this novel, it is easy to understand why it was adapted twice for the screen. The storytelling is highly entertaining and fast paced, and is supported by a fine cast of characters. I love grouchy, crusty characters and Jud Painter with his “wife” Prudie are among the best I have encountered.
Though the novel takes place over the course of four years, the time isn’t dragged out. It flies by, though many changes have occurred that mark its passage. The most recognizable happens to Demelza, who’ s only thirteen at the novels outset. Graham has portrayed her well in this novel, especially in regards to her relationship with Ross. Their relationship is a natural and gradual progression, one that’s respectful to her age and place within his household over those four years.
In regards to Ross, one aspect of his character that’s most prominent is a certain dislike to leave unfinished business. This holds true to all aspects of his life, and I think it is what mainly supports his feelings for Elizabeth. It’s not so much love that drives his thoughts about her, but his inability to see the relationship through to its natural end.
Like Ross, his cousin Verity has also experienced loss, and the passage of time has not lessened it. There is a common thread of stubbornness that runs through the Poldarks, yet the reader is not repelled by it. On the contrary, Graham expertly uses it to draw in the reader’s sympathy for these characters, even when the reader shouldn’t. The protagonists and antagonists are equally intriguing and their various conflicts only make the reader want to read more. ...more
The Crimson Petal and the White tells an ugly story. It’s very dark and even amidst all of the beautifully colorful late Victorian gowns and essencesThe Crimson Petal and the White tells an ugly story. It’s very dark and even amidst all of the beautifully colorful late Victorian gowns and essences of perfumes and potpourri infused throughout, nothing is really able to mask the harshness and vice that corrodes the London middle class society described.
In regards to plot, the stories that make up the 900 pages of Faber’s novel are quite simple and could easily be summed up in a few sentences. But what makes Faber’s novel a compelling read is his ability to slowly unmask all of the façades of the London setting he describes, and how this in turn affects the personalities of his characters, forcing the reader to wonder how will these characters survive, and which ones will be able to escape from the city’s overbearing clutches.
Faber’s London is a living, breathing entity and is arguably the book’s most important character, inviting and providing intrigue and shelter, as well as helping or hindering discovery and/or escape. Through London’s manipulative hand, none are left unscathed. Faber illustrates this well.
That said, I didn’t entirely enjoy all of the storylines in this book. My favorite stories were associated with the minor characters. On the one hand, I loved the eccentric aloofness of Emmeline Fox. I also liked the awkward interplay between Caroline and Henry. These two stories worked well, and I wished more of the story could have been dedicated to them. On the other hand, I was rather disappointed with Sugar, one of the main characters of the novel. Even though Sugar is in some ways redeemed in the end, it is hard to forget that she did become something she should have despised. Compared to the strong-minded girl the reader is introduced to in the beginning, as the story progresses, Sugar’s character seems to regress when she meets William Rackham. I thought she had a stronger sense of independence and even though she does regain some of it, there’s a kind of mourning for what once was.
Agnes’ etherial qualities are the strangest sections of the novel, yet her story makes the reader wonder how many girls at that time were just as innocently ignorant of life. For me, her story was the most disconcerting in the book, however Faber does not portray her as a sympathetic character. Her story is equally as ugly and disappointing as the rest—but not for how the narrator chooses to end her story. Arguably, I’d say that she is the strongest character in Faber’s novel—steadfast in her beliefs to the end and beyond....
As for the men in this story, their proclivity to vice and dissipation is horrible and at times disgusting. William’s treatment of Agnes was truly deplorable. That said, Faber is at his best playing with façades when he describes his male characters. Even the most upstanding male figure in this story is plagued with a hidden vice that gradually eats away at their character like a disease. For these men, life becomes a game where only the strongest survive.
Despite its ugliness, Faber created an interesting tale, one that I’m looking forward to seeing on film. ...more
The Flight of Gemma Hardy really surprised me, though I must say, not in a good way. When reading through this book, it felt like this was the author’The Flight of Gemma Hardy really surprised me, though I must say, not in a good way. When reading through this book, it felt like this was the author’s first novel, and I was genuinely surprised that Margot Livesey is an acclaimed writer and author of a number of works. When you really consider and analyze the story of The Flight of Gemma Hardy—completely ignoring all of the book’s connections with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as a pure story, the plot of Livesey’s novel falls apart. The story itself is more fantastical than based upon reality, i.e. something that could have really taken place during late 1950s-mid-1960s, the time period when this story is set.
The crux of this book’s problem is the complete lack of communication amongst the characters. None of the characters outwardly express themselves or really discuss their feelings. There are lots of secrets in this book and not all of them are ever really resolved by the novel’s end. As well, this lack of communication forces the reader to wonder how is it possible for these characters to feel any sort of real and meaningful emotional connection. Ultimately, the more you think about these characters, their motivations, emotions, etc., their actions become all the more convoluted and strange. But what hurts the story even more is its immediate connection with Jane Eyre. Like the other Jane Eyre retelling I have read, April Lindner’s Jane, the connection between the two stories does more harm than good. In both retellings, the authors seem to be forcing a connection between the two main characters, without providing enough substance to really form a lasting connection between the two.
Livesey increases the age disparity between her Rochester and Jane: Hugh and Gemma. Here, there’s an age gap of twenty-one/twenty-two years, with Hugh already well into his forties when he meets Gemma. Livesey pronounces this age gap through her characterization of Gemma. For a young woman, Gemma is still very much a child. She fails to understand the symbolism of his actions, i.e the significance of the bird feather he gives her—completely dismissing it like a piece of trash, even expressing her displeasure to him. Yet after meeting with him two or three times, she believes she has found someone she understands, someone she considers to be “her equal.” Now, with that in mind, how can one express that Hugh’s feelings are truly honorable? When thinking about it, Hugh just seems to be a man facing a mid-life crisis, seeking someone with whom he can “sate his lusts.” But even so, what kind of man would continue to pursue a childlike girl, who completely fails to understand him? Given the title, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, and the story’s comparison to Jane Eyre, the outcome of this relationship is obvious: Gemma finally gets scared. Yet, given Hugh’s position and the fact that he is an adult male living in the late 1960s, I find Hugh’s reaction to Gemma’s flight completely unrealistic. Hugh’s actions overstep certain boundaries that no real man would ever take if placed in Hugh’s situation, unless the man happened to be a close relation to Gemma, e.g. parent or guardian. Hugh’s choices don’t make sense, and his feelings toward Gemma seem to increasingly manifest into an unhealthy obsession.
Emotionally, Gemma is a still a young teenager. She is moody and acts on impulse without thinking about the possible outcomes or consequences of her actions. She never questions people or her situation. She readily breaks people’s trust for her own personal gains. As well, once she forms an opinion about someone or something, she is loath to change it. Developmentally, she is not ready to handle the situations in which she finds herself. In some ways, she reminds me of Agnes Rackham from The Crimson Petal and the White. Though while Agnes has excuses for her changeable disposition and unworldliness, Gemma does not. In regards to sociability, Gemma fails to bond with people. The one person I would have thought that Gemma would want to form a connection with, i.e. Hugh’s niece, she doesn’t. Strangely, Gemma here remains passive than reactive, stating she has no desire at attempting to form a bond with the little girl, seemingly believing that it should have been the little girl’s place to make the first move. It is really strange, and so unlike Jane Eyre’s relationship with Adèle.
The ending of this book is abrupt and completely drab. Its sudden cleanliness is so drearily dull and unsuitable. The ending reads like a child’s fable with the inevitable promise of growth and development after hardship. Yet given everything that happens over the course of this novel, the probable outcome of this Jane Eyre retelling shouldn’t be warranted. Honestly, this story needed additional spice to make up for Gemma’s silliness throughout. I felt Gemma’s story should have ended with dramatic and ironic flair, with one of those wonderfully evil bad ends. It would have been more fitting, a good way to shock the reader from a relatively dull story.
Overall, I think that The Flight of Gemma Hardy illustrates one of the worst faults an author can make: creating a weak, almost lazily crafted work. The decision to extend and elaborate on plot details rather than develop interpersonal relationships between her characters was a poor choice on the author’s part. Unfortunately, these extensions to the basic Jane Eyre plot only enhance the improbable nature of this story. ...more
When I first came upon the title Code Name Verity, I was really looking forward to reading it. I generally do enjoy war stories, both on film and in bWhen I first came upon the title Code Name Verity, I was really looking forward to reading it. I generally do enjoy war stories, both on film and in books, and Code Name Verity offers something different for younger readers with its focus on women WWII pilots. I thought this would be rather interesting. However, I am sorry to say that I was rather disappointed with the story.
Part of my disappointment stems from Elizabeth Wein’s author’s note, stating that she was weaving fact with fiction in order to make a good story—stretching ideas and events in order to make them seem plausible. I don’t entirely understand why she did this...I felt she could have easily changed the setting to the latter part of the war, i.e. after 1943 when women pilots in the ATA were permitted to fly without restriction. This setting choice, I ultimately felt to be a detraction to Wein’s story. As Wein’s story stands, pilot Maddie is constantly skirting around rules and regulations to do what she wants most: fly. For me, Maddie’s constant bending of the rules made the story seem more and more implausible as the story progressed, especially since Maddie’s punishment for her court-martial offenses are at most a slap on the wrist. Maddie’s poor judgment in decision making detracted from the seriousness of the story and the events taking place. Had the story been set at a later point in time, Wein could have focused more on the kinds of missions these women pilots faced, which would have lead to more intrigue, and made for a more interesting story from Maddie’s point of view.
Thus, characterization also hurts the storyline. Maddie is essentially a child placed into a position of power. She doesn’t seem ready to take on the responsibilities she is given. She is easily influenced by her own desires and her peers. Conflicted thoughts often lead her to follow the wrong track. Though she does feel culpability for her choices and their consequences, at times it feels insincere and almost flippant. Whenever she feels bad, she is ready to “bawl” at a moment’s notice. Even though the reader is not really meant to feel this way about Maddie, over time I couldn’t help but feel a lack of sympathy towards Maddie’s constant outbursts of emotion. Yet regardless, Maddie somehow manages to survive and make the best of her situation. In this sense, she reminds me of Liz Grainger from the BBC series Wish Me Luck.
That said, I did like Queenie. In essence, she is everything Maddie isn’t in terms of character. Even though they are roughly the same age, Queenie is so much older in regards to experience and is fully able to assume the responsibilities given to her. She is a girl who doesn’t mess about. Perhaps this difference in temperament is the foundation for their mutual attraction and friendship. However, I did find some fault with Queenie’s story as well. Though Wein does dip slightly into the emotional and psychological effects of imprisonment, for the most part, Wein provides a surface telling of the events. Her writing style is not as severe as the stoic monotone of Sebastian Faulks in Birdsong, but it does veer close to a reporter’s writing style with its detailed description of facts and events taking place during wartime. I honestly did not mind the descriptions of piloting, etc., yet at the same time, I also found myself wishing Wein could have developed the psychological aspects she does allude to in the story.
I will end on a positive note. I really liked how Wein ended her story. It is the perfect place. It doesn’t force additional complications and emotions that I felt would have had no real place in the story, especially given everything that had happened. Wein definitely made a good choice....more
I was pleasantly surprised at how well Trobough crafted the beginning of her book. She was almost Dickensian in the characterization of her charactersI was pleasantly surprised at how well Trobough crafted the beginning of her book. She was almost Dickensian in the characterization of her characters. Everything described is so visual...the little boy left behind, scared by the sudden appearance of the dark figure with the egret feather peering at him through the bushes...the soothing quality of the dark figure’s voice...the image of Fiona and Glory, two old ladies who are essentially the female version of the Odd Couple, finding little Victor...it’s wonderful! The writing is so vivid and real. It is well done.
However, the momentum Trobough developed during the first third of her novel somehow manages to dissipate as the reader progresses through the latter parts of the book. I think the main reason why the first section of the book worked so well, is its focus—the story centered around the boy and those two elderly ladies who adopt him. Together, they made an amusing trio. Though as the story progresses, Trobough continuously adds to her supporting cast of characters, which in turn, helps the story lose its focus. Rather than the prior focus on character, the story becomes heavily focused on plot, told from different points of view. Because of this, the characters became flat and listless, almost shadows of their former selves, as the plot meandered to its end. Too much happened, causing the story to feel cluttered. I found this change disturbing.
As well, I think all of the shifts in time and the addition of the various storylines of these new characters contributed to a major story error—an error I truly hope the editors were able to catch before the final printing. The story begins in 1924, when little Victor is around 18 months to two years old. Yet around the time of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 1941), Fiona describes Victor as being only sixteen and too young to enter WWII. Between that period of time is seventeen years, and given Victor’s age in 1924, it would make him eighteen, almost nineteen years old—certainly old enough to enlist without the need to fake his age. I sincerely hope the 1924 date in my copy was a misprint.
While I did enjoy some aspects of this novel, considering the work in its entirety, I don’t feel that it met my expectations. I was rather disappointed by it. That said, I do think if the novel was broken up into shorter pieces, i.e. short stories about small town life collected into one volume, Trobough would have had a much better work. The short story format would have given her more room to develop her characters as well as her plot. In the short story format, there would be a lesser chance for her to lose momentum in her storytelling. ...more
When I first finished Birdsong, I honestly did not know what to say. My thoughts were jumbled and I wanted to wait until I could see the film versionWhen I first finished Birdsong, I honestly did not know what to say. My thoughts were jumbled and I wanted to wait until I could see the film version on PBS to see if it would offer a different perspective to aid in my reading and interpretation of the book. I will say that as a first impression, some aspects of the novel did not sit well with me and I was particularly interested in seeing how a screenwriter would/could attempt to film these particular sections of Faulks’ novel. After watching the film, my curiosity was left unsatisfied since these sections were omitted for the most part. While I will say that the film does build up some elements that were lacking in the novel, particularly the relationships between various characters, the film does somehow manage to maintain the same dull emotional distance I felt when reading the story.
What surprised me most about this book was the fact that it’s described as a romantic, epic love story. The emotions felt in this story are not what I would consider being akin to love. Or if this is love, it is truly an ugly form: self-abasement and curiosity mixed with selfish, lustful yearnings...duplicitous acts and manipulations. Even our main character Stephen doesn’t know how to characterize his feelings. All Stephen knows is that whatever he felt for Isabelle was the only real feeling he has ever had for another human being; and the war helps him define this feeling as “love.” As for Isabelle—and the same could be said for her sister Jeanne—something else takes precedence over matters of the heart. Both have ulterior motives that drive them towards Stephen, who ultimately seems to become a pawn in their little games. Comparing Birdsong to the other Faulks novel I have read, The Girl at the Lion d’Or, Faulks’ portrayal of women is not very flattering.
One of the worst parts of Birdsong was the characterization of Elizabeth, the protagonist in the 1978-79 sections of this book. I really don’t know what to make of her, she seems to be a mass of contradictions. Ultimately, I thought her obstinately stupid and I honestly found it difficult reading these particular sections of the book. I feel that there is something gravely wrong when a woman is more concerned about soiling new towels when she is about to give birth than about the wellbeing of her newborn child:
“‘The towels,’ she sobbed, ‘you’ll stain them.’ He gathered a pile of newspapers from the fireplace and spread them on top.”
I think Faulks wanted this scene to be beautiful and heartfelt—Elizabeth finally gets the child she has always longed for and gets to fulfill a legacy. However, little details like this, almost make this important event an awful farce. It chilled me. Also, I found these sections to be the weakest part of this novel. In some ways, they prevent the reader from finding out what really happens to Stephen at the end...what happened between him and Jeanne...does he really learn the truth...was he forced to be in the position we find him at the end. The summation that is given is not at all satisfactory and leaves the reader with even more questions that are not answered by the novel’s close.
I think perhaps the main reason why this book is so acclaimed is how Faulks describes war. He does succeed in portraying war in minute, graphic detail. He is very precise, down to the way soldiers can destroy each other, evident in Stephen’s interactions with Weir. Yet, the descriptions are at the same time cold and distant. Faulks writes stories like a news correspondent. He reports facts, while maintaining a distance. Even though the reader sees, the reader doesn’t feel it happening. Though I do think that this is how some people do experience a war—not real...can’t believe it’s happening to them...detached. However, these war sections of the novel are not the only sections that read like this. The entire book—the romances and Elizabeth’s personal quest—read the same way. Birdsong is written with the same monotone, dull voice with no real attempt at differentiation. I just think this is Faulks’ personal style since The Girl at the Lion d’Or reads the same way.
All said, I was really looking forward to reading this novel, however I was ultimately left disappointed by the story. ...more
If, like myself, you’ve never read a Georgette Heyer novel, this novel is a good place on which to start. Her writing is so much fun. It’s pure entertIf, like myself, you’ve never read a Georgette Heyer novel, this novel is a good place on which to start. Her writing is so much fun. It’s pure entertainment. She takes some of the best aspects of 18th Century literature, writing in the style of Henry Fielding and Frances Burney, also throwing in a bit of Jane Austen for good measure.
This is a book purely written for the enjoyment of plot…no heavy themes, just good fun amusement. I absolutely love the description of Sylvester with his Hepzibah scowl—that villainous look mixed with a heart of pure gold. It’s wonderful! But the one character who steals the show is his six-year old nephew, Edmund. Going by looks, Edmund appears to be an angel with his blond curly hair and blue eyes. Yet underneath that angelic exterior is a mischievous little imp: “When Uncle Vester knows what you did to me he will punish you in a terrible way! said Edmund ghoulishly. […] Uncle Vester will grind your bones! […] To make him bread.” ;-) But my favorite little scene is when a French lady enamored by Edmund’s beauty goes up to him “planting a smacking kiss on his cheek. “Petit chou!” she said, beaming at him. ‘Salaude!’ returned Edmund indignantly.” Oh boy! ;) When Edmund’s politely told that his little comment wasn’t a very civil thing to say, he states in a satisfied tone, “I didn’t think it was.” :-)
Yes, the heroine, Phoebe Marlow is a bit silly and impetuous, but the book’s so devilishly good you can easily forgive her. I had so much fun reading this, and definitely expect to read more of books in the near future. ...more