This month’s reading consisted pretty much entirely of required reading. Not that I did not enjoy myself; as you will see I’m rather enthusiastic about a couple of the books!
Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca
‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’
Ancient, beautiful Manderley, between the rose garden and the sea, is the county’s showpiece. Rebecca made it so – even a year after her death, Rebecca’s influence still rules there. How can Mxim de Winter’s shy new bride ever fill her place or escape her vital shadow?
A shadow that grows longer and darker as the brief summer fades, until, in a moment of climactic revelations, it threatens to eclipse Manderley and its inhabitants completely…
Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece weaves a special magic that no-one who reads it will ever forget.
(Back cover of Arrow 1992 paperback)
Oh wow. I really enjoyed this book. What amazes me most is how consistently I liked it all the way through, despite the annoyance and frustration the main character stirred in me. And there was even a plot twist I didn’t see coming! I highly recommend this; it’s gothic suspense with a dash of romance if you feel inclined to see it – and I hasten to add that I didn’t really much see it – and very engaging after the couple first chapters. I thought it was going to be a chore to read, as this was assigned reading for the romance novel exam I’m taking in a few days, but I ended up devouring it.
Helen Fielding: The Bridget Jones Omnibus – The Singleton Years
Bridget Jones’s Diary
Bridget Jones’ Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud daily chronicle of Bridget’s permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement — a year in which she resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and learn to program the VCR.
Over the course of the year, Bridget loses a total of 72 pounds but gains a total of 74. She remains, however, optimistic. Through it all, Bridget will have you helpless with laughter, and — like millions of readers the world round — you’ll find yourself shouting, “Bridget Jones is me!”
The Edge of Reason
The Wilderness Years are over! But not for long. At the end of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Bridget hiccuped off into the sunset with man-of-her-dreams Mark Darcy. Now, in The Edge of Reason, she discovers what it is like when you have the man of your dreams actually in your flat and he hasn’t done the washing-up, not just the whole of this week, but ever.
Lurching through a morass of self-help-book theories and mad advice from Jude and Shazzer, struggling with a boyfriend-stealing ex-friend with thighs like a baby giraffe, an 8ft hole in the living-room wall, a mother obsessed with boiled-egg peelers, and a builder obsessed with large reservoir fish, Bridget embarks on a spiritual epiphany, which takes her from the cappuccino queues of Notting Hill to the palm- and magic-mushroom-kissed shores of …
Bridget is back. V.g.
Yet more reading for the romance exam! This omnibus, as may probably be inferred, contains the two first Bridget Jones novel, Bridget Jones’s Diary and The Edge of Reason – as many may know, a third one came out last fall.
I’ve seen the movies countless times and really enjoy them, and so when I finally had a no-options excuse to read the books, I jumped at it. It has been truly enjoyable: I find Bridget easy to relate to (as who hasn’t been on a diet, or worried about relationships, or made resolutions that go forgotten the next day?) and felt Fielding catches very well the essence of what it is like to be a woman. I also find Bridget less silly and ignorant than she is portrayed in the films; she may not know geography or politics, but she references culture aptly and easily, which appealed to me very much.
A fun thing is also that Bridget’s way of writing her diary is very catchy, and I found myself imitating her style unconsciously for about a week after I’d finished reading.
These books are absolutely good fun, so if you’re in need of something light and easy to read yet relatable, it’s a good option. And I don’t mean just relatable to women, despite what I said of thinking it a very good insight into a woman’s world; my father, the creature who thinks anything I enjoy is, by default, silly and useless, enjoyed this book. He recommended it to me when I once mentioned I might like to read it. So it’s not just women who get it.
Pamela Regis: A Natural History of the Romance Novel
The romance novel has the strange distinction of being the most popular but least respected of literary genres. While it remains consistently dominant in bookstores and on best-seller lists, it is also widely dismissed by the critical community. Scholars have alleged that romance novels help create subservient readers, who are largely women, by confining heroines to stories that ignore issues other than love and marriage.
Pamela Regis argues that such critical studies fail to take into consideration the personal choice of readers, offer any definition of the romance novel, or discuss the nature and scope of the genre. Presenting the counterclaim that the romance novel does not enslave women but, on the contrary, is about celebrating freedom and joy, Regis offers a definition that provides critics with an expanded vocabulary for discussing a genre that is both classic and contemporary, sexy and entertaining.
Pamela Regis is Professor of English at McDaniel College and the author of Describing Early America: Bartram, Jefferson, Crévecoeur, and the Influence of Natural History, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
(Back cover of the University of Pennsylvania Press paperback 2007)
There is no contest: Regis’s book is without a doubt the most quoted study on romance novels, certainly since its first appearance in 2003. I have probably mentioned the book before, as I think highly of it and find that it contains interesting and important information about the romance genre. If you are interested in the subject, this book is an absolute must-read. It is well written, clear, and explores the genre at length, although towards the end (and the year of its publishing) the analysis becomes slightly more difficult to find in the description and discussion of the newer novels.
I adore it, and have just recently acquired my own copy – I got sick of getting it from the library as I often feel the need to quote it in one conversation or another.
Margaret Atwood: Lady Oracle
Joan Foster is a secret writer of Gothic romances. When her outrageously feminist book, Lady Oracle, becomes a bestseller, everything in her life changes.
To escape her deteriorating marriage, her affair with an artist, and the criminal urges of a fan, Joan embarks on an act that is at once her most daring and creative: she fakes her own death and begins a new life.
With a much-needed respite from her life, Joan Foster begins to examine it – in this compelling, ironic, and touching novel by Margaret Atwood, one of today’s most acclaimed authors.
(Back cover of Fawcett Books 1990 paperback)
And another exam book. I must say I find the back cover description slightly misleading – the book starts much less dramatically. This, like Rebecca, I started to buy into very early on, and could relate to the main character Joan even more than I did to Bridget Jones; Bridget resonates on a more general level, Joan on a personal one. This is also the first book by Atwood I have read, and I really liked it. She is clearly very in control of her craft, as the bits of Joan’s Gothic romances seem to me perfectly genre-appropriate, yet her general style is nowhere close to that style of writing. There is a faint element of the occult, which I did not care for, although I’m certain if I think about it more I’ll see a clearer connection between the Gothics Joan writes and the novel itself.
Nora Roberts: Sea Swept
After years of fast living and reckless excitement, Cameron Quinn is called home to help care for his adopted brother Seth, a troubled young boy not unlike Cameron once was. Dark, brooding and fiercely independent, Cameron finds his life changes overnight as he has to learn to live with his brothers again.
Old rivalries and new resentments flare between the passionate Quinn boys as they try to set aside their differences. But when Seth’s fate falls into the hands of Anna, a tough but beautiful social worker, the tide starts to turn. She alone has the power to bring the Quinns together – or tear them apart…
(Back cover of Piatkus 2010 paperback)
This novel is the first one in the Chesapeake Bay Quartet, and is the first contemporary American romance novel I remember ever reading. Regis discussed the whole series in A Natural History of the Romance Novel, and I got intrigued.
Again, the back cover leads you slightly astray. It seems to imply a relationship drama involving Anna and all the three grown-up Quinn brothers, something that does not happen; from the start, this is clearly the story of the courtship of Anna and Cameron.
Anyway. It took some getting used to the idea of a contemporary setting after all the Regencies I’ve read, but not as much as he cultural difference between the UK and the US. The language tripped me up and made me pause from time to time, although naturally less and less the more I read. The romance itself is nice, and the mix of family relationships and business with the romance worked very well. Roberts is clearly a good writer, and the prose flows effortlessly. My only qualm is the fact that, as a part of a series, even though the courtship plot is completed, there are so many loose ends left hanging that it annoys me. I may read the second part in the series, but we will see. In any case, it has been a good exercise in broadening my reading habits a tiny bit and getting out of my absolute comfort zone (i.e. Regency) when it comes to romance novels.
Leo Tolstoy: What Is Art?
Read for an exam in Comparative Literature: we got to choose a classic of literary criticism, and I went with Tolstoy for two reasons. One, because I like his writing. Two, because I knew this one includes a rant about how horrible and not artistic Wagner’s operas are. No one resents like Tolstoy!
I recommend this one, if only for the amusement factor. The first third is a bit of slow going as he goes through pretty much every book and essay written on the subject of aesthetics, but once his gets going with his own thoughts and examples it gets interesting. Note also that the first appendix is titled, ‘More bad poetry’. I dare you not to be fond or at least amused by this grumpy Russian.
Published: 1898 (original title Tshto takoje iskusstvo)
Translation: Mitä on taide? By Martti Anhava 2000
Emma by Jane Austen
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
I meant to be finished with Emma by today, but after reading compulsively all month I’ve found it hard to concentrate in the last couple of days. I’m starting to pick up pace again, however, and hope to be done with both Currently Readings by the end of next week. You know, just in time for Text Analysis II, which includes reading a novel a week and writing essays of them…
Anyway. Onwards to March! I’ve got an essay to co-write, two exams to take, and lecture journals to write!