We've been back in the UK for about two weeks, and I am still trying to catch-up with myself. The perils of being self-employed, and then daring to take some time off! I finished a few books before I went away that I intended to review but didn't manage it in time so, in the interests of committing something finally to keyboard, I will just give you some quick thoughts.
Love Falls by Esther Freud
Love Falls by Esther Freud was so disappointing. Freud is a lovely writer and has created an engaging and largely believable main character but the plot is so weak and the themes so thin. A major event happens to the heroine but her reaction is preposterously inadequate. Major question marks in two of her relationships are also treated just as so much wallpaper to her life; emotionally nothing rings true. Paragraph by paragraph the reader expects so much more on the evidence of the decent prose on the page, but when one looks back on the whole book, the promise is never fulfilled. It is a pleasant read, and certainly not a waste of time, but not one to rush out and acquire.
The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter
As a teenage feminist I would have relished the explorations of gender and power in The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter, but at 36 I just found it tedious, and very much of a type. It also suffered, as I found the H G Wells' War of the Worlds did, from being in the vanguard of a certain type of literature. Whilst, unlike Love Falls, it was not short of themes, everything seemed so cliched, though much of it no doubt was not so at the time of publication (1977). Pink glows, phallic symbols, womb imagery, birth imagery, main character male "Evelyn" changed to a female character "Eve" - yawn, yawn. It fared very badly in comparison to the Yann Martel novel Self, which I read earlier this year and, I thought, dealt with gender, sexuality, and identity in a far more interesting and engrossing way. The main character in The Passion of New Eve, Evelyn, is set up as a chauvinist swine from the start, and one with no redeeming features at all, so do we really care what happens? No. Rather a fatal fault that one. The Martel in contrast is, though violent, such a warm and vital book with a flawed but humane male/female lead character about whom one cannot help but care.
Should you read it? Well, yes, as like Wells' War of the Worlds I think it is important as a literary stepping stone, so if in your reading you like to acquire an 'overview' it is a must. If you have a strong stomach for violent books then it is certainly worth reading in close proximity to Yann Martel's Self. Read The Passion of New Eve first if you can though, else it will suffer by comparison. As to its readability, whilst in many ways The Passion of New Eve is a much better quality book than Love Falls, if you are not interested in feminist theory or literary history I think time has left it with little to be recommended for pleasure, whereas Love Falls for all its literary faults is actually a perfectly acceptable read. If you just want a good read and are not interested in literary history then leave The Passion of New Eve alone; on enjoyment terms it is a waste of time.
If you have reviewed The Passion of New Eve or Self please leave a comment and I'll add some links here as I think they are such interesting pieces of literary history dealing with similar themes, and indeed plot devices, some thirty years apart.
Frederica by Georgette Heyer
Thank goodness for Georgette Heyer and Frederica. I always know what I am going to get, and am never disappointed. A great tonic for too much work!
One of her Regency historical romance classics the heroine is Frederica who at 24 is 'on the shelf' in marriage terms but determined that her beautiful sister Charis will not throw herself away on a country gentleman without having at least one London season. Frederica is managing rather than mercenary, wanting only for Charis to have the chance to be 'comfortable' financially as well as happy in her marriage. With both parents dead, and three brothers to take care of too on their limited allowance, Frederica applies for help to a distance relation, the Marquis of Alverstoke who is as rich as he is bored. Unlike his relatives, Frederica does not ask the Marquis for money, just guidance in the ways of the London ton, and he is gradually drawn into her family and the adventures of Frederica's younger brothers Felix and Jessamy. You don't have to be a genius to see where all this is going to lead, but Heyer does it so well. The characters and their relationships are believable with sibling love and rivalry, and the romances developing naturally; it might be a stock romance but there are no black and white quick fixes here. The sub-plots twist and turn, and the boys are well developed little characters and a great plot leaven for all the match making. We might see where Frederica and the Marquis are going, even before they do, but one has so much fun watching the family and the minor characters that time whizzes by and you can't put the book down.
As always with Heyer it is a warm and funny read, a great page turner, but not too sugary sweet in the romance department. This is my fourth reading of Frederica, which when I was 12 was the first Georgette Heyer I had read. This fourth reading was as pleasurable as the first, and there are few books you can say that about. If you have never read any Georgette Heyer then Frederica is as good a place to start as any and would be a great read for a 12-14 year old who has shown some interest in BBC costume dramas but is not quite ready to deal with reading Jane Austen. In fact I think the fact that I had about 10 Georgette Heyers under my literary belt really helped me 'get' Austen when I first read Pride and Prejudice. I heartily recommend both Heyer and Frederica.