April 25, 2008

Holiday Reading

My boy and I have just come back from a wonderful week away. We travelled to gorgeous Kiama on the NSW South Coast and had a very relaxing time walking, talking, eating, drinking and (of course) reading.

I managed to get through a few books in our time away, This Charming Man - Marian Keyes, Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier and Daphne - Justine Picardie were the main ones.

I am a huge Marian Keyes fan and I was really looking forward to reading This Charming Man (I had bought it as soon as it was released but had hidden it at home so that I couldn't delve into it before my holiday!). I must say though, I was a little disappointed with this novel. The story is told from the perspective of 4 different women - Lola, stylist to the rich and obnoxious but currently taking a break from her career, Grace, journo with a heart for the real life stories, Marnie, Grace's sister and wife and mother and Alicia, fiance of the "charming man" in question.

I really enjoy this narrative style that Marian has used for a few of her books - you get the chance to pick up the individual voices of the characters and see the story from different points of view. The only problem was that I didn't really connect with any of these characters to the point that I have in past Keyes novels. This leaves the story. While I certainly support discussion and exploration of the main issue the author brings to light in this novel (domestic violence) I'm left feeling a little empty regarding the outcome of the story. The novel is certainly a lot heavier and more emotionally draining than most Marian Keyes other books - even though she has written about "heavy" issues before - alcholism and drug addiction, death etc... I just got the feeling that in order to do the issue justice in "This Charming Man" Marian might have left some of her humour and character development behind. I feel a little tough in my review - domestic violence is certainly an issue that we should be discussing and addressing in the community - I'm just wondering if a Marian Keyes book is the best way of doing this?? Having said this - I'm still a huge fan and will no doubt be on board when her next book comes along.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was a book I wanted to read before I read Justine Picardie's Daphne. I remember studying Rebecca in an English Literature class during my first year of university quite a few years ago now but I honestly can't remember now if I had to actually read the book or just watch Hitchcock's film - or both! I was engrossed by the novel and the journey of the second Mrs de Winter - even though she made me want to scream with frustration at times! I had to keep reminding myself of the time in which the novel was set and the behaviours and appearances that would have been appropriate for a young woman of that time. I think the character of the landscape and the house interested me more than the actual humans - this is very unusual for me - I'm definitely more of a character than setting reader normally. Having now done some further reading into du Maurier I realise how important this landscape was to her life and how it was a driving force and inspiration for her writing - I certainly picked up on this as her reader and I am very interested in now reading more of her work.

Daphne by Justine Picardie was another beautiful looking book that I was saving for my holiday. When I first saw the book I was enchanted by it's cover (would anyone think less of me for my confession that this is often why I buy books??). But it was the description of the book that really made me buy it:

It is 1957. The author Daphne du Maurier, beautiful, famous, despairing as her marriage falls apart, finds herself haunted by Rebecca, the heroine of her most famous novel, written twenty years earlier. Resolving to write herself out of her misery, Daphne becomes passionately interested in Branwell Bronte, the reprobate brother of the Bronte sisters, and begins a correspondence with Alex Symington, an enigmatic Bronte scholar and bibliophile, as she researches a biography. But behind Symington's respectable scholarly surface is a slippery character with much to hide, and Daphne becomes embroiled in a literary mystery where truth and fiction become indistinguishable. The last untold Bronte story, Daphne is a story of obsession and possession; of stolen manuscripts and forged signatures; of love lost, and love found.

The third main character in this novel, who the above description fails to mention, is a young woman starting her PhD thesis on du Maurier and the Brontes. I am a newly enrolled PhD student myself and while the content of this novel interested me greatly I think I also wanted to connect with another student struggling to juggle thoughts, ideas and theories into a researchable topic - even if that student was fictional!

This book was beautiful, haunting, lovely and engrossing - one of those books you can't put down but at the same time you don't want the end to come. It is written in alternate chapters or sections by each of the three main characters, Daphne, Symington and the nameless PhD student. The similarities to the constructs of "Rebecca" are obviously present - but the author is not attempting to hide or disguise these in any way - it is clear that Rebecca - both character and book - is a fourth character in Daphne. Each of the characters are compelling and true - you feel connected to their lives and their choices. In the acknowledgements at the end of the book Justine Picardie talks about becoming "utterly possessed by the story" involving the Bronte manuscripts - I can see why! It is a wonderful mystery that is gorgeously told by Picardie. It has inspired me to read further in the du Maurier and Bronte world.

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