Postmistress and some Remarkable Creatures (again)

It seems a long time since last July when I started this blog and I mentioned it, but I’ve just reread ( for a Book Group) Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Remarkable Creatures

I really enjoyed this book when I read it about a year ago, and have enjoyed re reading it. I actually listened to the first four chapters on a “Playaway” a pre loaded MP3 player borrowed from the library. It is good listening to a book, and this was an unabridged version. On the other hand, 9 hours is a long time to listen with headphones, so I read the rest very fast.

This novel is good however you treat it. It has conflict between classes, gender expectations and religious/creationist beliefs. It explores the frustrations of women who do not expect to marry and therefore lack a role. It also looks at the class and gender distinctions which mean that the first person to dig up the fossils gets the least credit for them. There is a little romance, but really this is about the struggles of two very different women to be taken seriously. It is a sad book, but also a triumphant book as the whole scientific world is rocked by a girl who cannot represent herself. It is a much more satisfactory book than the others I have read by this author, and is fascinating even for those with no scientific background.

My other book for today is The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.

I first mentioned this book a while ago. It is a good book, harrowing in parts, sad, but also very interesting. I think its strongest section is the broadcasting from London in the Blitz by a fictional (though apparently based on fact) Frankie Bard, a female journalist who becomes very involved in the lives of many others by her broadcasts, her journeys and her eventual  return to America. The character of Frankie is well drawn, reflecting the problems of a woman in a place where war is so close, so personal. I thought that these sections are really well written. What really lets this book down, in my opinion,  is the American angle, which is where the novel becomes a very mournful book. I think that Blake’s descriptions of the Blitz and the displaced persons are excellent, and well written. The American sections are sad, sentimental and so slow. I know that this is an American writer, and it is a valid view of the War as it affected most of the world, but I found that it lacked the insight, the interesting drama of the rest of the book. I think that there are times when it slides into melodrama, which is disappointing.

What do you think?

War Rooms – and books

Silence from Northernreader for the last few days; have been down to London! A post Christmas break was called for, and the ultra organised Husband had booked train tickets and Travelodge in October. While not the height of luxury, it was definitely central. Buses and taxis got us around at varying levels of cost, and we discovered some interesting eateries/pubs. We enjoyed “Giraffe”, a chain of family friendly cafes which were very friendly.

Our main destination was “The Cabinet War Rooms”, a preserved series of rooms used by Churchill and his senior staff during World War Two. Husband had been there a few years ago, but a Churchill Museum has been added since then.  It is a fascinating place; full of the atmosphere of just what it was like to work (and nearly live) under London during the Blitz. Many recordings were made of the staff who worked there, even the bits and pieces of notes, abandoned sugar rations and phones were still on display. There were maps pinned up, phones all around , the beds made up ready for their on call occupants. The Churchill museum attached to the building is absorbing, with working interactive displays, recordings of speeches, photos, letters (including correspondence with Unity Mitford over the annexing of Austria). All very interesting stuff. Thankfully there is a very accessible cafe part of the way round.  It is a very good museum, for anyone with even a passing interest in twentieth century history.

Some book blogs I read have long mentioned the virtues of Virago Modern Classics. They are dominated by books written by women. Some of them are worthy, some of them (of the limited number that I have read) fascinating; covering the same sort of ground as Persephone books, with some overlap in authors.

One of their best known titles is Mrs Miniver by Jan Struther.

This probably would come under the title of a worthy book; not a great emphasis on the war (though there are chapters on getting the family’s allocation of gas masks and some letters on the blackout etc) It records family life of the time; the sort of family that employs staff and has two houses. Perhaps its significance is in its propaganda value as the basis for the film Mrs Miniver which is widely credited for altering public opinion in America regarding entering the Second World War. I have the dvd of the film which won awards so I may see a different side of this book.

I’m also half way through The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.

This is an excellent book, on a small town in America and the height of the London blitz. It is a sad, even harrowing book. It is, nevertheless excellent thus far. It is everywhere at the moment and very well worth picking up and trying. No lending it out until I’ve finished!