It's a rare novel that sucks me into its world as quickly as this one did but I was captivated from the opening lines of The True and Splendid History...moreIt's a rare novel that sucks me into its world as quickly as this one did but I was captivated from the opening lines of The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters. I thoroughly enjoyed this story of seven follicly blessed sisters who are born into poverty in rural Ireland but who are able to find fame and fortune, thanks to the one and only thing which they all have in abundance - their hair. The sisters' story is narrated by Manticory, the middle sister of the seven, and the writer in the family. Hers is an appealing voice and I warmed to her almost immediately. I enjoyed her observations and way of telling their story, even if I did long for her to show some backbone at various times throughout the novel.
It's a story that's as relevant to today's world as the one in which it is set, which is that of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a time when long hair was the ideal of feminine beauty and allure. It's a story about making the most of what you have, what little talent you have, and turning that into something marketable, it's also about exploitation and commercialism. At the same time, it looks at seven sisters who don't really have any outside friends besides one frenemy but who also don't always or (in some cases) ever get on with each other and who are themselves split into different factions within the one family, but are all dependent upon one another, increasingly so, as their fame and fortune waxes and wanes. It's fascinating to see how they each view the world and how they are open to manipulation from both within and outside the family circle. It's a book about love and loss and the impact that those can have on family bonds and sibling rivalry.
This is the first Michelle Lovric novel that I've read to date but I'll now be getting to her others on my TBR shelf very quickly indeed. I am hungry to read more of her wonderful, lyrical writing, and to dive in and lose myself in her storytelling. She's now firmly on my list of must-read authors. This novel was excellent. I can't recommend it enough to you.(less)
The lawyer in me really enjoyed this and had me giggling throughout, as well as becoming that annoying person who finds something so funny that she fe...moreThe lawyer in me really enjoyed this and had me giggling throughout, as well as becoming that annoying person who finds something so funny that she feels she has to read out passages to anyone around to listen. I can see this book appealing to lawyers and non-lawyers alike. It's really a novel for anyone, who's ever thought one thing or imagined themselves doing or saying something but actually said or done the complete opposite or something far more conciliatory when it came down to it.
One of my favourite things about this book is how we get to read not only what Frank actually says but also what he's thinking, thanks to the clever use of footnotes throughout the book. And yes, they take a bit of getting used to, initially, but it's well worth sticking with the small (and sometimes even smaller) print, especially the further into Frank's story we get, when he begins to piece together what happened before his accident and decides how he deals with and acts on that information.
I know that some people might not like Frank or might think him a bit of a pushover but I could see how he might have become the way he was on the treadmill of the type of contractual work he was doing, succumbing to family pressure and having had his early brilliance blunted by the reality of life's knockbacks, disappointments and sheer ordinariness. Anyone can lose their way in life. I thought the way that the story developed worked well and I felt that there was a certain balance and symmetry to it. I wanted the worm to turn and I thought the way that he did so was very fitting.
I think we've all skimmed over or entirely skipped reading terms and conditions when signing up to things in the past, but this novel wryly shows how and why, when it comes to your own life, that might always be the best thing to do. It's always best to read the small print!(less)
Having enjoyed Maggie Shipstead's debut novel, Seating Arrangements, I was looking forward to seeing what she would follow that up with and Astonish M...moreHaving enjoyed Maggie Shipstead's debut novel, Seating Arrangements, I was looking forward to seeing what she would follow that up with and Astonish Me didn't disappoint in the slightest. I suspect I may have especially enjoyed it because it's set in the world of ballet, which I've loved ever since having ballet classes as a little girl, and I was only too happy to get the chance to delve back into it again. (I also think it helped that I'd just finished reading Christos Tsiolkas' Barracuda, which also deals with gifted individuals and the sacrifice and dedication required when trying to excel at something you love doing, and also the frustration felt when you don't quite achieve your goals. They're a good book pair!)
Astonish Me focuses on Joan, and it follows her and her family, friends and neighbours, and ballet colleagues and rivals, switching back & forth from different points in their lives between the early 1970s up to 2002, until all the pieces fall into place. And yes, they might have fallen into place a little too neatly at the end but it worked for me. I think that's because I really felt for her as a character, and even though I didn't always like the choices she sometimes made, I could see that they eventually got her to where she should have been when she first took them!
Astonish Me is an excellent read. Maggie Shipstead writes so well and so assuredly that Astonish Me seems like an effortless accomplishment, in much the same way that you don't see the hours and hours of practice and repetition and bleeding feet when a ballet dancer performs flawlessly on stage. It's a dazzling novel and one that I got thoroughly caught up in reading.(less)
A mesmerising adult fairy tale. This is easily one of the best novels I've read so far this year. Jessie Burton's debut quickly drew me in to the stor...moreA mesmerising adult fairy tale. This is easily one of the best novels I've read so far this year. Jessie Burton's debut quickly drew me in to the story of Nella (Petronella) Brandt who arrives on the doorstep of her marital home in a wealthy part of Amsterdam, not knowing very much about her new husband whom she only briefly met at a somewhat disappointing wedding ceremony. She doesn't exactly get the reception or start to married life that she expected either and, left to her own devices, she begins to furnish the miniature of her new home that her husband gifts her shortly after her arrival. But this triggers an unusual unravelling of secrets within the house and it's really interesting to see the changes it brings about in Nella herself. The detail and description of the period and Amsterdam at the time is excellent, the characters are wonderfully drawn and the story sucks you in and didn't let this reader go until she reached the final page. I loved this book and would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and especially to those who enjoyed Deborah Moggach's Tulip Fever or Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring.(less)