The weather’s been quite funny this past week, rainy and cool and windy, but then sunny and warm-ish - much like this morning. I think it will be a good day to stay inside and read!
I wanted to give you a quick update on my book club’s responses to The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. We all felt pretty much the same about the book: it wasn’t great, but it had so much potential to be a great book, if only Hill was more focused and developed various plots and characters more completely. I think we all had difficulty at the beginning, but then it sucked us in and kept us all turning pages until the end, which we agreed was a bit of a let-down. Still, it made for a great discussion.
Speaking of discussions, my volunteer book group met yesterday to talk about The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland. This detailed account of the life of Josephine Bonaparte, the first in a trilogy, was written in diary format and gave us an intimate look at the life of Rose Tascher, beginning with her childhood on a sugar plantation in Martinique, where she is told that she would have an unhappy marriage, she would be a widow, and that she would be queen. Shortly thereafter, she is betrothed to Alexandre de Beauharnais and moves to Paris. Thus begins her difficult and unhappy marriage, as Alexandre has many indiscretions and fathers several illegitimate children as well as his own legal son, Eugene and daughter, Hortense. The story unfolds and Rose’s political prowess is honed during the French Revolution, where many were imprisoned and/or executed for no apparent reason, and daily life was constantly in turmoil. When, near the end of the book, she finally meets Napoleon, the part of the story with which most of us are familiar begins. This book is the first in the “Josephine B.” series, followed by Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe and The Last Great Dance on Earth. I am not a fan of historical fiction - I generally find the text too lengthy, with every detail of the setting, customs and costume described. So I was not really looking forward to reading this book, and had put it on the book club list simply because Gulland's book has been sitting on my shelf for years so I felt it was time to read it. Well, it grabbed me right away. I was interested to hear from everyone at the meeting that they also felt the same way (two of the members got the whole trilogy in one volume from the library, but didn’t realize at first that it was all three books - they were wondering what I was thinking, choosing such a huge tome!). One member said it was “amazing”, that she read it in one day. Another member said the writing was amazing, that the story flowed so naturally, and that she often forgot to look at the dates, she was so carried along by the story. We discussed the diary format, and agreed that it kept the details to a minimum, concentrating instead on Rose’s thoughts and feelings about what was going on socially and politically. We all felt that Rose/Josephine was a very adaptable person, that she could adjust to and accept her circumstances fairly easily. We commented on the change of lifestyle for her at the beginning, when she left a beautiful, lush landscape where she could bathe in a pond whenever she wanted to go to dirty, smelly Paris, where she had one small bowl of water to perform her toilette. We talked about the changing roles of women, and how the salons, where anyone could be invited to showcase their talents or political views, a place for networking, were generally organized and run by women, and how Rose was instrumental in guiding the politics of her first husband and petitioning the government on behalf of those who were unjustly imprisoned. We talked about Napoleon, and wondered if he was passionate or calculating regarding Rose. We wondered why he changed her name to Josephine, and considered why she would marry him: perhaps because they were both politically savvy and ambitious, and could find a connection on that level, or perhaps because the future of her children depended on what family they came from, or even that she, a widow and 32, felt she may have few other marriage prospects. We talked about fate and circumstance, and wondered what her life might have been like had she never been told, at a young age, that she would be queen: would she have stayed in Martinique and married William, her childhood sweetheart, or would she have gone to Paris as she had originally desired? How much of her story was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and how much was fate or destiny? What a different history there may have been if she had never left her island home or met and married Napoleon. It was a great discussion, and one of the members who had the trilogy had actually already started the second book, another saying she wanted to read it at some point, too. I would give the book 9 out of 10.
And I finished an audiobook a few days ago, Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah. Oh my goodness, if you like books where secrets abound and all is not what it seems, then this is the book for you! Damon Blundy, well-known inflammatory tabloid columnist, is found dead in his home with a knife taped across his mouth and the words HE IS NO LESS DEAD painted on the wall with blood-red paint. DC Simon Waterhouse leads the investigation into the murder, but rather than focusing on the forensic evidence available at the crime scene, he seems more interested in figuring out the motive, why someone would murder Blundy in this particular way and what it all means. His main suspect is Nicki Clements, a woman who definitely has a secret, in fact, has many secrets, secrets she is actively trying to share not with her husband, but with first King Edward VII, then with Gavin, two men she connects with on a website called “Intimate Links”. Nicki displays some questionable behaviour and makes alot of odd choices, but is she capable of murdering Blundy in such a planned and calculated way? And if so, why? If not Nicki, who else in the large and varied cast of characters would commit such a calculated crime? Blundy’s wife, psychotherapist Hannah Blundy, a woman who claims her husband has never loved her, despite his caring, unerringly loving behaviour towards her right from the day they met? Times columnist Kieran Holland, a man constantly under attack from Blundy’s poison pen? Pot-smoking horror novelist Reuben Tasker? The list of enemies and possible suspects goes on and on, and DC Waterhouse and his team must wade through these possibilities to get to the truth. But, as you might expect, the truth is not what it seems and we are led along the twisting, turning path toward a conclusion that, while somewhat surprising, was for this reader rather disappointing - the “big reveal” did not really shock me. I had to suspend my sense of disbelief on a number of occasions, such as when the investigation team catch Nicki out in a number of lies while taking her statement and they just let her go rather than charging her with obstructing the investigation or trying to dig deeper to discover what she is hiding from them. Despite this, it was certainly interesting, and I looked forward to my opportunities to listen (one review that I read said that Hannah puts the “psycho” back into the term “psychological thriller”, and I totally agree!) This is the 9th book by Hannah featuring DC Simon Waterhouse and his wife, DS Charlie Zailer - I’ve read one of the previous books, Kind of Cruel, which I recall was “kind of confusing”, but still worthwhile. I am definitely interested in reading the other books in this “series” (I don’t think it’s actually a series, but close enough), and would rate this book 8 out of 10 simply for the complexity of the story.
I think it’s raining again, so I’ll close and start a new book… but what will I read? You’ll find out next week! Have a great day, and stay dry!
Bye for now…