Book Review #23: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

It’s been a while since I’ve read fiction that has absorbed me to the point of ignoring everyone else. I love books that utterly pull you in so that all you ant to do is lie on your bed, or curl up on the sofa and read. Water for Elephants was so good that despite it being on my Kindle, I didn’t even knit while I read and I finished it in 24 hours, which is no mean feat if there are 4 children and a house to deal with too!

The story follows Jacob, a young Polish origin vet in America who experiences a huge life changing tragedy and runs away to the circus, quite by accident. (As you do!) The book is a snapshot of life in a travelling circus in 1930′s America, the brutality, the incestuous relationships within people, the partition between performer and worker and the camaraderie that lies along side all the darker elements of a group of people pressurised into being together all the time. Jacob experiences all of these things, fresh from the real world and able to see things with both the clarity and naivety of being a young man with ideals and ethics that have not yet been corrupted.

Water for Elephants is also a love story, a tangled tug of war and an exploration of numerous twisted characters and relationships. It is beautifully narrated by the 90 year old (or 93!) Jacob, sitting out the end of his life in a care home and alongside the story of his past, is a delicately drawn picture of how life can end for even the most vital of people, people who had a youth which seemed it could never end in solitude. The brief and touching friendship that develops in that part of the story is heartbreakingly and heartwarming.

I’m incredibly grateful to Cara at Freckles Family who invited me to her book group and recommended this to me. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Book Review #20 Lady Chatterley’s Lover – DH Lawrence

Even if I was academically up to the task, (which I’m not!) a review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in terms of themes, message and relevance to the world wouldn’t suit this blog for one and is hardly a world requirement for another ;) The literary world does not need to know what Merry thinks of a classic in order to sell more of it :lol:

Probably more relevant is what I got from it anyway. And that was a lot; my age old apathy about reading ‘classics’ or ‘worthy’ books was not so in force here, as I read another DH Lawrence as an S Level book while in my final English A Level year. I loved Sons and Lovers, one of the few books, along with Cider with Rosie, that really spoke to me in those years. Perhaps it is that I like a connection to an author who write autobiographically or partly so; I seem to remember really enjoying the Sheila Hocken books about Emma and Blue Above the Chimney’s too. Plus DH Lawrence was writing about a landscape familiar to me, as I grew up in Nottinghamshire and in fact went to the school opposite his too. As did my uncle. (And Ed Balls, but we won’t dwell on that!)

So, having enjoyed Sons and Lovers, I did expect to enjoy Lady Chatterley – and I did. What really struck me though, was my preconceived ideas and also the hang over of ideas and misconceptions and downright prejudices that lurk in my brain.

What I thought I knew of Lady Chatterley was that it was a book about a woman who has an affair with the gardener and that it was salacious in the extreme at the time it was published. I’m a bit old to get the trembles from that and didn’t expect it to be exactly shocking in this day and age (it isn’t, unless you could the talking to willies bit!) but what I didn’t know was anything about why she has the affair or how it ends.

What Lady Chatterley really is is “desperately lonely and unhappy woman who wants to be adored, held and have a baby” something many if not most women can probably relate to at some point. And what really struck me is that buried somewhere in my brain is still some outdated, repressed private school and middle class notion that if a woman has an affair, it is her failing and her fault and she’s in the wrong and if the affair is saucy, it’s probably sordid and she’s just a no good from the start.

I love the book on many levels, the characters, the language, the rude and brutal sexuality of it, the coal miners and the images of pit heads and dirty villages I can still recall. But what I liked the most was it reminded me again to keep my mind open, not judge, check why I believe why I do – and celebrate myself for being a woman who loves rude and dirty passion, deserves to be wanted, acknowledged and respected for herself (I am) alongside cuddling, being loved and longing for happiness.

Book Review #18 A Perfect Proposal by Katie Fforde

Katie Fforde has long been one of the authors I rely on for a cheerful easy read that makes me feel good. I bought my first book of hers, The Rose Revived, when I was at college and it has remained one of fail-safe favourites through the years. Up until a few years ago, I read each one as it came out and always enjoyed them; then there was a period of time when her heroines became women ahead of me in their time line and I couldn’t relate and a couple of novels where perhaps I had read too many by one person and they lost their magic. On reflection, I think that says more about where I was at the time and how my reading changed; I wanted to be surprised more and stretched more and perhaps you shouldn’t look for that in books which are unashamedly chick lit :)

Katie is a friendly soul on Twitter and I’ve been enjoying chatting to her, which motivated me to download some of her back catalogue on to my Kindle. A Perfect Proposal is a return to her ‘young slip of a thing’ characters and, with daughters growing up around me, they are somehow appealing again. It feels like the days of working in cafes might be behind me, but they probably aren’t far off becoming part of household life again and Sophie was believable, if something of a cautionary tale in how not to become a pushover. The story had a flavour of American, New York life to it, reminiscent of some of Jane Green’s novels, which made for a change of scene that was fun and if the love story twists didn’t stun me into gobsmacked silence, there was plenty of familiar ‘oh god, will this work out… is he a rat or a duck?’ to it. The two older members of the cast, around whom the plot revolves to a greater extent, were lovely – I wanted to go and meet them – and I was giggling at the description of a really hideous element to Sophie’s family, who made a cameo appearance :lol:

What I missed for a while in her stories was some of the “let’s do the show right here!” immediacy; I loved the way her original books focused on detail down to ‘clean the boat, make the tea, what the hell am I doing on this side of town with no money?’ – it always feels like I am right in the book when a story is like that, the nitty gritty of problem solving and life all laid out to sink right into. A Perfect Proposal had more of that again and I enjoyed it more for the descriptions of train journeys and trying to find places to stay for the night.

I’m back to enjoying her books again and am now rightly pleased to have several more that I can wile away the Summer on – hurrah for Kindles and Katie Fforde!!!