Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reading in England

Jean Henry Mead's visiting my Blog tomorrow. I read her newest book, Murder of the Interstate, a short while ago and really enjoyed it. Don't forget to drop back here in the morning and read her post on Writing and Publishing a Novel. Meanwhile, back to some very English book reviews...

I didn't read as much as I expected while I was in England--more time spent catching up with family and friends, cups of tea and happy conversation, long-forgotten TV shows to share, walks with dogs, the amazing luxury of strolling along the prom and going shopping with my Mum... I really did have a really wonderful time! And, yes, I read a bit too. In fact, I read four books by English authors, twohttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif loaned from a friend of my Mum's, one given by my sister-in-law, and one for our book group back in Oregon (but I was too jet-lagged to make it to the meeting).

While I was reading the first book I had that slight feeling of being foreign--you know, when the accent's just a little bit different and you wonder if you're missing something so you start to listen too carefully. I thought perhaps I'd spent too much time away. But the second book and the third gave the same feeling. Then I suddenly realized what it was; those first three English novels were written in the third person omniscient mode, and I've grown accustomed to third person limited. Is that a transatlantic difference in style? I don't know. I did come to like the omniscient again, and the recognize they were doing it really well--not "head-hopping" so much as gently touching down and moving on. And the books were all great.

So here they are: four English novels read by an English American...

The first two are The Island and The Return, both by Victoria Hislop. Both feature quintessentially English women seeking their identity, and in both books the protagonist finds her future in the past. The Island follows the people living in and near a 1930s leper colony off the Island of Crete, and The Return traces the story of a Spanish family during the Spanish Civil War. Both books are beautifully researched and very evocatively written, bringing eras, people and places to vivid life, and creating fascinating contrasts with the modern world.

Next is The Outcast by Sadie Jones, an absorbing tale of repressed emotions, tragedy and hope among the middle classes of England in the 1950s. The narrative's tight and tense and the insights into character's conflicting emotions are truly haunting. A dark tale that scarcely lets up, but that somehow finds a way, in spite of everything, to let in the light.

And finally, there's The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey. I didn't even finish this one till I got back, but it's a wonderfully absorbing, fact-filled mystery with the most delightful characters and conversation, erudite, down-to-earth, and just plain fun. Truth is the reputed daughter of time, and the protagonists, laid up on his sick-bed, searches for the truth about that famous, so-very-English bit of history--the Princes in the Tower. I loved it.

Actually, I loved all four books and wish I'd had more time in England so I could have raided the bookstores and filled up my case. But I have to mention one final read which takes no book-case or suit-case space--Royal Wisdom, by Kate Petrella, which I loaded onto my Kindle before my flight. It's full of amazing, amusing, and oddly insightful quotes from the British royal family, and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing it with my Mum.

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