Review: A Proper Education for Girls by Elaine di Rollo (Vintage)


A Proper Education for Girls by Elaine di Rollo
Published by Vintage and out now in paperback

Out of the three books I’ve been reading about women in different situations in history the only one so far I’ve finished so far, and I might not finish the other two if I’m being completely honest, which says more about me as a reader than the books themselves. Part of it is going to come down to how connected as a reader I can be to a characters situation and how that makes me feel and part of it is that I’m more excited by the extraordinary than the ordinary.

And A Proper Education For Girls is extraordinary but at the same point it makes a serious comment on how women have been seen and how far we’ve come. In other words, I was entertained and educated but didn’t feel like I was being preached to. I really felt that I was in these characters shoes.

All this is making A Proper Eduction into some serious and stiff tome but far from it. Lillian and Alice are the bright twin daughters of the eccentric and rich Mr Talbot, who resides in a massive mansion filled with innovations, armour, botanical specimens and a sprawling collection of curiosities. So the environment is far from ordinary. The women in the girls lives are a collection of Aunts who keep warm and play cards in the tropics of the palatial greenhouse.

This leaves Mr Tablot as the dominating parental influence and at a time where women had a place this doesn’t  give either girl with much freedom. But both of them overcomes their situation in the most surprising and fascinating way.

Lillian married and packed off off with a missionary to India where who is expected to be the little wife but having a sickly and weak husband means you either do it yourself or you don’t get vary far in a place like that. And Alice has her rather large hands full with looking after the collection at the house. Both should be occupied enough not to cause Mr Talbot any more trouble.

Thankfully, Mr Talbot has forgotten that he’s given them curiosity and individuality that once out can’t be suppressed. And that’s where the novel takes us on a journey where each woman from there own trying circumstances grow and fight through the disapproval around them.

There is also an exploration of Victorian double standards when it comes to woman by seeing them as both Ladies (in terms of needlework and fashion and other feminine pursuits) and those supplying the more animal needs of Gentlemen.

The whole way through I found myself routing for both to succeed for very different reasons though I got it completely wrong as to what I thought would be the best ending for them. That’s my problem for being a man and a romantic I guess.

Elaine di Rollo has created her own historical world and allowed Lillian and Alice to educate and inform this reader about how people shouldn’t be constrained by what other people think and it’s all done with a fun look at the world and the people that make it up. For it’s moments of needed darkness there are several moments of pure joy  especially when both succeed in their own individuals ways.

Debut [not a] Review: The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

The Electric ChurchTitle: The Electric Church
Author: Jeff Somers
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 20 September 2007
Price: £9.99
Review Copy

Normally I put down books that I don’t enjoy, stick it on the little list on the sidebar and move on. But there has been a lot of hype for The Electric Church so I can’t really just let it drift off.

It all comes down to a question of style (examples of Somers writing can be found here and here) and a matter of taste (mine and not Somers). And Somers prose style is not to my taste. I found it a little cold and more tell and little show.

But it’s probably just me because as mentioned in a previous post it has already got some good reviews.

I’m afraid I didn’t get past the first 30 pages so I there is not a lot more I can say but it’s not for me 🙁

Debut Review: Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey

Blood KinTitle: Blood Kin
Author: Ceridwen Dovey
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Published: 12 July 2007
Price: £10.99
Review Copy 

Blood Kin is a depressing novel. The story starts from the view points of a President’s barber, chef and portrait artist who are being held captive in the President’s Summer Residence after a coup in an unnamed country where the President has been has been replaced by the Commander. 

None of the characters are likeable from those mentioned above to his barber’s brother’s fiancé, his chef’s daughter and his portraitist’s wife, each of whom tells a part of the story from their own point of view. 

The technique of interweaving chapters from varying points of view makes for an interesting exploration of the situation, which is not as simple as it first appears. They are more than a barber, chef and portrait artist. Their lives are intertwined with the President though not in ways that you’d immediately imagine.

Because it is such a dark novel it’s hard to find any enjoyment from it. It is a not a novel read for entertainment. This is a novel of exploration. It is a novel of power and corruption and those who are attracted to it, their motivations and the lies they delude themselves with. 

For all it’s bleakness it’s still worth reading as Dovey manages to build a story where each of these characters is revealed as creatures to pity as well as despise. They are in some ways victims of circumstances who seem to have no choice but to follow the path laid out for them.

Though if I do have one reservation it does seem a little too fantastical in parts especially some of the ways their lives come together. But then people of power aren’t that grounded in reality.

Overall, Dovey is an intelligent storyteller who delves a little too deep into darkness to make this entertaining though it is a thoughtful and haunting novel which makes me think of Evita without all the singing and dancing.

Debut Review #0

everydeadthing_.jpgEvery Dead Thing
John Connolly
Coronet Books
Published 2000

John Connolly has created a dark and flawed detective with Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. After the murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of the Travelling Man, seemingly Parker  will stop at nothing to find him.

In Every Dead Thing we follow Parker from the streets of New York to swamps of New Orleans and the bodies pile up. He’s looking for a missing girl but instead finds more than he probably wanted to know.

Charlie Parker is not your classic detective. He is violent and dangerous. He moves easily with the criminals that as a police man he would have been duty bound to arrest and convict.

The power of this first-of-a-series novel is the pace. Nothing lingers too long but no details are skipped either. The descriptions of bone and rotting flesh are pungent and stomach churning but like any good horror you’re unable to look away. John Connolly shows you the reality behind murder and those who find pleasure and business in committing it.

This review was originally published on NextRead in Oct 2006