Celia Grant, a lady fallen on hard times, lives in a grotty apartment building in London, supporting herself financially. One day she happens upon the...moreCelia Grant, a lady fallen on hard times, lives in a grotty apartment building in London, supporting herself financially. One day she happens upon the young man in the adjoining room contemplating suicide, and saves his life, which he never forgets: 'I did not know her name until you told me just now; I saw her for only a few minutes; those few minutes, and her angelic goodness, changed the whole current of my life.' Adventures abound in this highly implausible novel: (spoiler alert) - expect stolen diamonds, long-lost relatives, crazy co-incidences, a circus, an unmarried mother and much confusion... But all comes good in the end.
I had never heard of Charles Garvice till I read Arnold Bennett's excellent 'Riceyman Steps', set in a second-hand bookshop just after WW1, where Garvice's works are mentioned more than once: 'popular modern novels, such as those of Ethel M Dell, Charles Garvice, Zane Grey...' I have since learned that he was one of the favourite authors of the era, churning out formulaic melodramas at a rate of knots. It's readable, but there's no depth whatever to the characters...the adventures made me think it's like Enid Blyton for grown-ups! (less)
Narrated by the sparky Dawn,a newspaper reporter in 1910s America, the novel opens with her ill in hospital. Her husband - the once charming Peter Orm...moreNarrated by the sparky Dawn,a newspaper reporter in 1910s America, the novel opens with her ill in hospital. Her husband - the once charming Peter Orme - is in an insane asylum, and she has been struggling to pay for his keep. Dawn goes to recuperate with her married sister and observes that 'being an old maid was a great deal like death by drowning a really delightful sensation when you ceased struggling.' But she also meets the wonderful Dr von Gerhard, a nerve specialist sent to treat her... But Dawn is a battler and soon resumes her career in Milwaukee, where her life is full of incident, some comic, some heartwarming and some tragic... This book really took off for me as I got into it, and I couldn't stop reading, wanting to know how it would all pan out for her. (less)
Chilling tale of one Evariste Gamelin, a poor artist in revolutionary Paris. On the one hand he shows humanity: caring for his old mother, willing to...moreChilling tale of one Evariste Gamelin, a poor artist in revolutionary Paris. On the one hand he shows humanity: caring for his old mother, willing to give up his bread allowance to a starving woman, and jealously devoted to the lovely Elodie. But his blind following of the Republic soon becomes apparent: 'We must put our trust in Robespierre; he is incorruptible. Above all we must trust in Marat. He is the one who really loves the people...he's not only incorruptible; he is without fear. He alone is capable of saving the Republic in its peril.' Against this dangerously naive youth, we meet his older neighbour, Brotteaux, a former aristocrat, now living in a garret and making puppets - but, despite his atheism, a good natured man, willing to risk his life for others. As Evariste rises up the ladder he becomes a magistrate, with power over the lives of many, even people well known to him...
Although written a hundred years ago, and set 250 years back, this is very much a relevant work; Gamelin made me think of Nazis who were reportedly kind fathers; of radicalized Muslim youths who had once been loving sons. As he tells Elodie: 'Scoundrels who betray their fatherland are multiplying unceasingly...And when we have sacrificed them on the altar of the fatherland, more of them appear, and more and more...So you must see there is no other course for me but to renounce love, joy, all the sweetness of life, even life itself.' The crazy world where months are re-named and dancing dolls declared anti-revolutionary (putting their seller's life at risk) is very similar to what we see in some extremist lands today. And it massively informed me about the Revolution, which we tend to portray simply as starving peasants rightfully rising up against a corrupt royal family. The different factions and the changes of direction under the Terror, when even the leaders weren't safe is all brought out. (Although I would encourage the reader to familiarise themselves with basic facts about the Revolution before reading - I got rather confused at times.) (less)
Written as a series of letters from Rose-Marie Schmidt of Jena, eastern Germany, to her 'dearest of all living creatures', English Roger Anstruther -...moreWritten as a series of letters from Rose-Marie Schmidt of Jena, eastern Germany, to her 'dearest of all living creatures', English Roger Anstruther - until recently a language student and lodger with her family. Roger has just returned home to his much wealthier family after declaring his love, and Rose's letters are filled with impatience for his replies. Within the first few pages, it becomes clear that Roger's constancy is fading fast, under his father's demands that he marry into the upper classes...and the relationship of the two undergoes a sea-change, with Roger becoming 'Mr Anstruther' for the rest of the book. And yet they continue to correspond, and Rose-Marie's wonderful personality begins to shine through in her letters. "What private things I tell you. I wouldn't if I were talking. I would be affected by your actual presence. bur writing is so different and so strange: at once so much more and so much less intimate. The body is safe - far away, unassailable; and the spirit lets itself go out to meet a fellow spirit with the frankness it can never show when the body goes too."
Whether it's descriptions of her life of scrimping and saving (with no hint of self-pity) - humorous accounts of her attempts to run a vegetarian household - or of more serious thoughts: on the impossible position of girls of good family who don't marry; on Mr Anstruther's ingratitude as he sulkily goes off on a trip to Italy; on books and religion; of her feelings, both joy and occasional depression. But will the two ever meet again and renew their relationship? After the first, rather saccharine letters, I was hooked, and felt I knew Rose-Marie and her world personally.
In 1520, Denmark's king Christian II secured his position by instigating the notorious Stockholm Bloodbath. Ultimately, however, this 'highly gifted b...moreIn 1520, Denmark's king Christian II secured his position by instigating the notorious Stockholm Bloodbath. Ultimately, however, this 'highly gifted but despotic and unstable ruler' (Prof T K Derry, cited in Insight Guide to Denmark) was imprisoned for the rest of his life.
Jensen's novel is the story of the life of one Mikkel Thogersen, an impoverished student, who goes through life in the king's service: 'Throughout his life Mikkel had felt that his fate was wedded to the king's. It was as if their paths were ever converging. the closer Mikkel had come to the king, the farther the king had fallen!' This is quite a lyrical book; the Danish countryside, rural life of the 16th century, love...and against this the brutality of life: violent battles, animals slaughtered, the coldness and bleakness of winter. Although I've given this 3 stars for enjoyability - found my concentration drifting at times - I must just say that it does remain with you when you've finished. Worth reading. (less)
Stephen Carey has been left in charge of six brothers; with no finances, he alone has levered them into respectable positions in middle-class Irish so...moreStephen Carey has been left in charge of six brothers; with no finances, he alone has levered them into respectable positions in middle-class Irish society. Only the youngest is still completing his medical studies in Paris, so when Stephen learns he has become engaged to Isabel, a penniless local girl just out of convent school, he meets up with her to tell her firmly that it cannot be. Yet he finds himself falling in love with the outspoken and beautiful Isabel, despite being a family man himself... Set in turn-of-the-century Waterford, this is a story of bourgeois Catholic life - the dances, house-parties, gossip and need for a woman to get married - and the near-impossibility of breaking out from conventions. I found this a compelling read - the depiction of Ireland is convincing plus right up to the end we're not sure what's going to happen. As Stephen observes: 'When I was twenty I thought Waterford the narrowest hole on God's earth, and myself the one man who was going to step outside it. But' - he gave a quick despondent shrug of the shoulders - 'I went under like the rest. There's a big machine called expediency, and we are its slaves. We oil it and polish it and keep it running, every man and woman of us; and if by chance one of us puts his hands behind his back and says he won't feed the monster any more, what happens? Does the machine stop? Not at all! It's the deserter who goes under.' (less)
Set in 1600s France, where the Catholics (led by Cardinal Richelieu) and Huguenots are struggling for supremacy, Johnson based his novel on a true-lif...moreSet in 1600s France, where the Catholics (led by Cardinal Richelieu) and Huguenots are struggling for supremacy, Johnson based his novel on a true-life story. A Catholic priest - young, handsome, charismatic and who has broken his rule of celibacy - comes to the notice of his superiors. Some are jealous; others oppose him for political reasons, since he has written pamphlets against Richelieu, and seems to be somewhat on the side of the Huguenots. When an apparent case of possession occurs in the Ursuline Convent, he is held responsible...
Narrated in part by a fairly sympathetic onlooker, Daniel Drouin, in the form of a journal, Johnson conjures up a fearsome world where demons can be used to accuse a man. (less)