The Only Problem

Muriel Spark

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I bought this book because I had read and enjoyed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie after watching the picture. This book is quite a departure from the other. It is the story of a wealthy man who lives a solitary life to be near a painting of Job. He is fascinated by Job’s story and plans to publish a monograph on the subject.

His estranged wife, whom he left because of her kleptomania, is now a terrorist wanted by the police. The police don’t believe him that he has no contact with her or knowledge of her whereabouts.

That’s the bare bones of the story. Miscellaneous people drop in and out of the story without adding much interest. All in all I wonder why she bothered to write about them.

Inside the Victorian Home

Judith Flanders

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If you ever wondered what it would be like to be a Victorian woman, this book will answer your questions. I say woman, because the home was peculiarly her domain. Designed for a man’s comfort and ease, it was the woman’s responsibility to make it  a place of retreat and refreshment for him. To this end, the women worked endlessly, day after day.

Every aspect of the home, from the bedroom to the street outside, was a constant battle with dirt and dust. Hours every day were spent washing, dusting and cleaning in an effort to combat soot and dust. Hampered by up to 37 pounds of clothing, the woman battled against her foe. The kitchen was especially dirty, and the war on bugs and rats was a losing one.

I can’t imagine having my whole life revolve around cleaning the way a Victorian woman did, even though she did very little of herself, delegating the tasks to her servants. She had to supervise, train, hire and fire an endless troop of servants. All this effort must, of course, be hidden from her husband. Not a word of complaint must pass her lips to upset him.

Her life was an endless round of toil, and she spent the greatest proportion of it at home, especially once the children arrived. Reading this book made me so thankful I live when and where I do.

In This House of Brede

Rumer Godden

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I wonder why its so hard to write a good novel about nuns? This is a highly romanticized and dramatized novel about contemplative nuns that shows its age, and not in a good way. Written in 1969, it tries to be modern, but just like the nuns in polyester pantsuits, it tries too hard to be modern and doesn’t succeed.

Philippa Talbot, holder of high office and much responsibility, leaves her life to try her vocation as a nun of Brede Abbey, a contemplative order. At her age, mid-40s, she’s old to be a nun and struggles with the life. Eventually she perseveres and takes solemn vows just as the Vatican II changes are coming in. She eventually goes on to become the superior of a daughter foundation in Japan. The nuns of Stanbrook Abbey, upon which the book is based, were reluctant to cooperate with Ms Godden, an oblate of the Abbey, in the making of the book.The result is a superficial look at religious life.

If you, as I do, don’t understand the attraction of the lifestyle, this book won’t help you. It’s very unrealistic. Rumer Godden seemed besotted with religious life, writing also Black Narcissus, a novel about Irish nuns in India, and Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, a book about French sisters.

All in all, I think Margaret Fraser came closer to understanding the religious life in her Dame Frevisse novels. They’re just ordinary women trying to get along.

The Tree of Hands

Ruth Rendell

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Every time I finish a Ruth Rendell book, I swear I’m not going to read another. Her villains really get under my skin and take up residence in my mind. Then one of my subscription services offered a few of her titles at a low price, and I found myself seduced into buying them. I’m glad I did because I found out that that they aren’t all straightforward murder mysteries, but they all show her wonderful ability to craft unforgettable characters.

Chief among them is a woman whose young son dies in hospital. Her mad mother kidnaps a replacement child, and the woman cannot force herself to return him. The second  character is the boyfriend of the missing child’s mother, who is suspected of killing him. Third is a former boyfriend of the child’s mother, who is planning his greatest theft and getaway.

By the end of the book, Rendell has wrapped up all three of the stories in this most intricately plotted ending that is still satisfying. Now that I realize that Ms Rendell can write a book without unbalanced killers, I am more willing to take a chance on her. Especially at $1.99 each.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

Marjane Satrapi

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I never would have read this story if it had been text based, but the delightful pictures Marjane draws makes it irresistible. In Persepoli 2 she continues her engaging story with this account of her life in Austria and eventual return to Iran. She doesn’t fit in too well in Austria. She doesn’t speak German fluently and never feels at home in her own skin. She is unable to fit in with extended family and is not able to make friends easily. This book tells the tale of her struggles, ending with her return to Iraq. She finds that in spite of her parents’ love for her and her love for them for her grandmother, that she doesn’t fit in with them either. She has outgrown Iraq. I’m sorry that volumes 3 and 4 are not available in English. I look forward to read the further adventures of Marjane.

Victoria

Daisy Goodwin

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This very readable account of Victoria’s early years is timed to coincide with PBS’ Masterpiece presentation. It hits all the high spots to those familiar with Victoria’s life, adding some imaginary conversations and physical reactions to Albert that hint at Victoria’s sensual appreciation of him as a man. It never hints at how utterly boring her court and her private life were, but instead puts its focus on the joy of being a young queen in love.

The Black Dahlia

James Ellroy

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I heard the author on the radio and bought the book under the misapprehension that it was new. I was surprise to find it was written in 1987. The main character, a police officer, reminds me of the main character in the move LA Confidential, which I enjoy very much. I suspect my enjoyment was due to the casting, for I am a big Russell Crowe fan.

The first half of the book is enjoyable, but the second half bogs down in the deterioration of the two policemen involved in the investigation. It has answers to who killed her, but since it is fiction it is impossible to know whether the killer is someone real or a figment of the author’s imagination.

Defenseless

A. J. Rose

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Every book I have read by A. J. Rose is something different. From hard-boiled murder mysteries, to a light-hearted romance, to this story. Kyle and Jesse love one another and are planning a marriage. Jesse’s family is accepting and supportive, Kyle’s family not so much.

Then when they are waiting for their ride to arrive after a Pride event, their life changes forever. Brutally attacked on the street by bigots, Kyle and Jesse attempt to put their shattered lives back together. Attempting to deal with their physical injuries, anger, depression, and shame, the two struggle to cope with their demons. The whole thing culminates in a courtroom drama, as the perpetrators are brought to justice.

With every book. A. J. Rose gets better and better. I look forward to her next.

Coromandel Sea Change

Rumer Godden

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This book was originally published in 1991, but reads as if it were written much earlier. We are not given the time frame in the book, but it feels timeless. It  tells the story of a young couple, Blaise and Mary Browne, who are spending their honeymoon at Patna Hall on the Coromandel coast of Indian.

At the center of the story is Auntie Sanni, owner of the hotel. She gives the sense of having seen it all and accepts everyone as she finds them. Unruffled, she takes everything with a calm sense of someone at peace with herself.

Life is not so unruffled for the young newlyweds. Blaise, in fact, is a bit of a brute. He is completely untouched by the beauty of Indian and resents his young wife’s visceral response to its charm. He especially resents her involvement with a young politician, and gives her grief for her activity in his campaign. Life in Indian can be ugly as well as beautiful, and the Brownes experience both sides.

This lovely story held my attention until the final page. I especially liked the descriptions of the physical beauty of Indian and the variety of people involved in Patna Hall.