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Amity & Sorrow
Amity & Sorrow
by Peggy Riley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A distinctive and thought-provoking first novel., 28 Mar 2013
This review is from: Amity & Sorrow (Hardcover)
The idea was intriguing, but it was the opening that captured me. A woman driving, desperate to escape her past, with her two daughters who were much less certain about whether they should go, whether they should leave the only home they had ever known.

After four days they stopped. Because, and only because, Amaranth crashed the car. She had no money and no idea what to do. A local farmer found them. He noticed their strange dress, their rather old-fashioned manners, but he didn't comment. He didn't want to get involved. But he did agree they can stay on his land just for a few days.

Amaranth was fleeing a cult, its temple was being destroyed by fire. She was the first of the fifty wives of the prophet, and mother of two daughters. Amity and Sorrow. Sorrow has a special place at their temple. She was the oracle, the one heard and then spoke the word of God. Amity had no such status, but she was good hearted, and she had a gift for healing.

Two stories unfold. The story of how Amaranth became the wife of the prophet, and all that followed. And the story of how she left and what followed. The narrative which moves fluidly between the present and the past, and though the story is harrowing it is told with sensitivity and understanding.

It offers much to think about.

Mother and daughters were pulling in different directions. Amaranth wanted a new life but couldn't let go of her memories and her old concerns. Amity wanted to leave the past behind, once and for all. And all Sorrow wanted to go back, and stay in the place where she new she belonged.

Amity and Sorrow had to cope with a world different to everything they knew. They had never spoken with anyone outside the extended family that grew around their father, the prophet before. They have never handled money, never been to school, never walked in the country. There were so many things that their life had not prepared them for. And yet they had such faith in the world. That faith was a welcome counter-balance to many disturbing truths that would emerged.

It worked because, for all the strangeness of the situation, the characters, their dialogues and their actions rang completely true.

The story unfolded slowly, growing in depth and complexity, and it pulled me in completely. I came to understand what had drawn Amaranth in to the cult, why she had stayed, and in the end why she had to leave.

The style, just a little formal, a little odd, suited the story perfectly. And the balance, between what was told and what needed to be worked out, was exactly right.

The story asked some difficult questions, and the final chapters offered a fitting conclusion but no easy answers.

But I don't have the words to explain, and I don't want to explain. If you're at all curious you really should find a copy of this book and consider them too.

Because the words that do come into my mind are these: a distinctive and thought-provoking first novel.

The Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof
The Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof
by Libby Dineley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.56

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh what a wonderful book!, 28 Mar 2013
This is lovely period piece, full of lovely characters, pieces of history, references to beloved books, clever plotting, well-chosen details ... and it's utterly, utterly readable.

And it begins with one governess. Anna Arbuthnot was a little to tall, a little too thin, a little too red-headed, and a little too poor to be successful in the marriage stakes. But as the eldest daughter of a widowed clergyman who had helped to bring up her younger bothers and sisters she was a wonderful prospect as a governess.

Her charge was Lottie, a nine year-old orphan who had seen off more than one governess in the past. her mother was long dead and her father, Lyndon Wilder had died more recently, in the Napoleonic Wars.

I loved Anna from the first, and she was well able to win over Lottie. Their relationship was beautifully drawn. In time Lottie revealed herself as a bright, imaginative child who much prefered actively exploring the world to sitting ar her desk and learning.

But Anna had to walk a fine line, because she was in a house in deepest mourning.

Lottie's grandmother, Lady Charles, was totally wrapped up in her grief for her eldest son. Nothing mattered, save Lyndon and his memory. Lord Charles was a little more clear-sighted, but he would do nothing that would upset his wife.

I understood that grief, it was tangible, but I also saw how selfish it was.

Anna and Lottie made friends with the neighbours. Mrs Kingston was a widow, and the only visitor Lady Charles would receive, as she had once hoped to marry Lyndon Wilder. And her son, eleven year-old Horatio, who was destined to join the navy, just like his father. Horatio and Lottie would become great friends, and Horatio had a very important tole to play as the story unfolded.

Lord and Lady Charles had another son. Thomas, was a major in the army, a career soldier who had never expected any other life. He didn't want to leave his men, but he knew that he had to go home. When he got there he found a mismanaged estate, depleted finances, and an unwelcoming household.

Thomas knew that he had to do something, that his brother was not the golden boy his parents believed him to be, but he knew that would never be acknowledged.

I saw that he was the man his circumstances had made him. A less favoured child who had had to make his own way in life, and who had developed a hard shell along the way. But I could also see he was a fundamentally good and decent man, and not entirely unlike his father. But his patience was finite ...

Lyndon's past actions and Thomas's present actions would have consequences.

There would be intrigue, drama, and just a touch of romance as the story played out. The writing was simple, but the wonderfully vivid drawing of the characters and the relationships made the story sing.

I spotted a few fortunate coincidences - mainly people being appearing at exactly the right place at the right - but not too many. What I would have liked rather more of was Anna's correspondence with her father. Her letters were wonderful!

You can read The Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof simply as a wonderful entertainment, but there is more there too, if you care to look for it. The story is rich in historical detail. And so much that is considered in that story - bereavement, family politics, how children should be raised, social inequalities - that is both important and timeless.

All of that is done so well, and it gives the story such richness.

It was wonderful company on a long train journey, and I'm inclined to say this is a book that could be appreciated both by those who already know and love the period, and by those who don't and are looking for a way in.

Catherine Carter (Bello)
Catherine Carter (Bello)
Price: £2.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and Theatre in the Reign of Queen Victoria, 18 Mar 2013
Catherine Carter is a beautifully written love story, set in London's theatre world in the latter days of Queen Victoria's reign. And it is a tour de force, balancing the recreation of a world, a cast of utterly real characters, and a perfectly constructed plot perfectly.

Henry Peverel was a successful, young actor-manager rising to the height of his power and fame. He was gifted and he was dedicated, but he was also proud and he did not care to have his authority questioned. Fundamentally though he was a good man, prepared to go out of his way to look after his friends and his company.

It was one of his company who asks him to give an audition to a young relation. She was an aspiring actress at the very start of her career: Catherine Carter. Henry's expectations were low, Catherine did not choose her audition piece wisely, but it was clear that she had a great gift.

And so she was offered a place in his company. Almost at once she loves and venerates Henry; but she believes that she can become his artistic equal.

Catherine had a great respect for Henry, and she could match him for talent ambition. He admired all of that in her, but he was a little less fond of her natural inclination to speak out when she felt something was wrong. It took time for the two of them to realise that those feelings of respect and admiration had grown into a deep and abiding love. By then they both had other entanglements, he with a leading lady and she with a young actor who had given the appearance of being a quite wonderful catch.

Their romance was far from simple. And it was complicated by their professional lives, which would so rarely run smoothly, side by side. All of this played out beautifully, and richly over four acts. And that richness and beauty came from so many things.

The cast was wonderful. So many different people, all with their own story, and all utterly real, three-dimensional human beings. I must just pick out a few. Belle the leading lady when Catherine joined the company, was lovely, a gracious, benevolent and regal queen. And a woman with the wisdom to appreciate what she had and to know when it was time to relinquish her throne and move on to other things.

Willy Palliser, Henry's friend since childhood, was a man who would turn his hand to anything, who would deal with even the trickiest situation with wit and intelligence. And maybe my favourite was Mrs Carter. At first I thought she was the worst kind of stage mother but, though she embarrassed her daughter at times, I came to see that she loved her, she was proud of her, and she supported her even when her daughters actions flew in the face of her own values and principles.

There is a lovely moment, near the end of the story, when Mrs Carter is able to draw on her own experience to help her daughter with an aspect of a role she found troubling. Her happiness at being able to give something to her daughter was so clear, and I shared in it. There were so many moments like that, when I recognised an emotion, a reaction, and incident, and they all helped the story to sing.

And of course there was the writing. It was elegant. It was literate. It showed such understanding, such wisdom, such compassion. And the perspective was perfect: near enough to see every detail, but far enough away to be wholly objective.

I could have stayed happily in this world for a very long time. But, of course, the story had to end. There was an obvious ending, but Pamela Hansford Johnson had the wisdom to pass that by and to offer something a little more complex that was utterly true to her characters. I applaud her for that.And now I can't help thinking that Catherine Carter would dramatise beautifully. I can see four hour long episodes ... it would sit well at 9pm on a Sunday ...

The Old Man in the Corner: Twelve Classic Detective Stories
The Old Man in the Corner: Twelve Classic Detective Stories
by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Old Man in the Corner, 14 Mar 2013
I must confess that, until quite recently, the only thing I knew about Baroness Orczy that she gave the world The Scarlet Pimpernel.But I learned that she gave the world much more than that. She gave the world The Old Man in the Corner, who might just have been the world's first armchair detective.

Emmushka Orczy was the daughter of Hungarian aristocrats. They took their family abroad, to Brussels, to Paris, and finally to London, to give them the education and the experience to stand them in good stead when they took their places in Hungarian high society.It was in London that Emmushka was enrolled at art school; and it was at art school that she fell in love with the man who would become her husband. And some time later, when the couple were living in somewhat straightened circumstances, Emmushka noticed that their landlady's daughter often received cheques in the post, in exchange for stories she sent in the post to magazines and newspapers. And she decided that she could do the same.

She decided to create a detective nothing like Sherlock Holmes. His first case was published in 1901 and it would be the first of many. And his cases would be collected and published in book form. The book I read was not the first to be published, indeed it wasn't published until 1909, but it collects the earliest stories and so I thought it would probably be the best place to start.

The Old Man in the Corner spent his days in a London coffee-house, studying newspapers and court reports, and solving crimes that had baffled the police using simple logic and reasoning. And he talked over each case with a Lady Journalist. Those crimes - fraud, theft, blackmail and, of course, murder - are diverse, but there is a common thread running through them all. They are crimes committed for gain - to preserve a reputation, to gain an inheritance, to rise in the world ... There were no crimes of passion, no habitual criminals in these pages.

But, given the constraints of the format, the twelve tales were wonderful diverse. A Russian millionaire drowned in the Thames! A forged will! A woman found dead on a train! An audacious street robbery! The locations moved from the streets of London, to Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, and even over the Irish Sea to Dublin. The characters came from all walks of life: a landlady who worked hard to get by; a young jewellers clerk, newly arrived from Germany; a poor young man taken up by a wealthy widow; one of the first generation of lady doctors.

I was pulled back to the period, I could see the places, I could believe in the characters. And, crucially, I wanted to know what happened!

There was a certain pattern to most of the stories - the criminal was never the most obvious suspect, the most obvious suspect was falsely accused, the criminal had an alibi but it could be broken - but there was enough variety, in the characters, the settings and the plot details to hold the attention.

It helped that the writing was simple and clear. And I always felt that Emmushka was of places she knew, people she might have met.The conversations between the Lady Journalist and the Old Man, who had buttonholed her first, and who had intrigued her sufficiently to keep her coming to visit her worked well. It was hard to argue with his logic, but sometimes the events he described seemed a little too unlikely.

The Old Man had a low opinion of the police but it would be fair to say that on the whole he couldn't prove his cases. You could say that way a weakness, or you could say that happens sometimes. At the end of some stories I thought `that was ingenious' but at the end of others I thought `that was unlikely.'

I'm not going to be rushing back for more, but I wouldn't rule out picking up another volume one day either.

The First Book of Calamity Leek
The First Book of Calamity Leek
by Paula Lichtarowicz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary name, an extraordinary world, and an extraordinary story., 13 Mar 2013
Calamity Leek lives a closed world, in a sheltered rose garden surrounded by a high brick wall, one of twelve `sisters' being brought up by the grand, imperious `Mother' and her loyal second-in-command, `Aunty'.

Their way of life, everything in their world is governed by a book they must learn by heart. It defines their history, their culture, their view of the world beyond the wall. Everything. And what a strange world it is, with its own dialect, distinctive naming conventions, and a lifestyle that is an odd mixture of the mediaeval and the boarding school.

At first I really wasn't sure if I was in the past, the present or the future. But as the story progressed I saw patterns I picked up subtle hints, and I came to understand exactly where I was. That was so well done. The story was told entirely from Calamity's point of view and yet I both could see what was going on and understand that she could not.

One day Truly Polperro did the unthinkable. She climbed and climbed so that she could look over the wall into the wider world. The world where she and her `sisters' would be going one day to make changes for the better. And then she fell.

What did Truly see? Did she `injuns' who patrolled the great forest beyond the world? Did she see `demonmales'? The girls' was to one day go beyond the wall, to help in the fight against the evil hoards of `demonmales' who made the world such a dreadful place.

Truly was gravely injured and in no state to say much, but she made it clear that what she saw was not what she had expected. Opinion among the `sisters' as to just what it was and just what they should do was sharply divided.

Calamity was their leader, the keeper of the book, and she kept faith with `Mother' and `Aunty' and everything they had taught her. But Dorothy was a bright girl, a rising star, and she wanted to look further and find out more. Who would prevail?

I hoped and prayed that Calamity would recognise the reality of her situation before before it was too late.Her credulity, her faith in everything she had been taught, was heart-breaking. Her world was an extraordinary place, bringing together British traditions, Hollywood musicals, European folklore, and a wealth of little touches from here, there and everywhere. It so inventive, so unique and so beautifully realised.

And those girls! They had their own vocabulary, distinctive turns of phrase, there were so many things that made them distinctive. But I understood the different roles they played in their community, how their relationships worked, and all of that rang so very true. They were real human girls, especially as they chattered and squabbled.

This wasn't an easy book to read, I had to come to terms with a different world, I had to consider so many ideas that were being thrown into the air, I had to take in so many details, but I found that close attention was richly rewarded.The language, the intensity, the originality. I really can't compare this to any other book.

I've said a little about the world of Calamity Leek, and there is much, much more to be learned from reading her story. There were a few things that didn't quite work, a few small flaws in the logic, but overall the story succeeded. And very much on its own terms. The richness of the prose, the wealth of ideas, the promise that was always there of much more to come, kept me turning the pages until the very end. A wonderful end that brought everything together beautifully.

She Rises
She Rises
by Kate Worsley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a story of love, adventure, identity and secrets, 13 Mar 2013
This review is from: She Rises (Hardcover)
I was captivated first by a wonderful cover, then by an intriguing epigraph, and then by two stories, at first seeming simple, that twisted and turned together in ways that were wonderfully unexpected.

First there was Luke. He was just fifteen when he found himself in the wrong place at wrong time, and was press-ganged into the His Majesty's Navy. There was no way out, and he found himself sailing away on a warship. He had to learn fast, what was required of him, who he could trust. He was a the beginning of an extraordinary adventure, but he could only think of the girl he had left behind.

And then there was Louise, a young dairymaid who was presented a wonderful chance to better herself. She became a lady's maid in the household of a sea captain, and she began to search for her brother who had last been seen in the same harbour town. But she was somewhat distracted from that search by the young lady she served, who behaved in ways that were quite unexpected. As did Louise...

It's difficult to say more than that about the story without giving far to much away

She Rises is a story of love, adventure, identity and secrets.

And all of this in a world that lives and breathes. The houses and the streets of a harbour town. The taverns and the docks. The ships that set sail into the wider world.

I liked Luke from the start. It took me a little longer to become involved with Louise. It didn't help that she was addressing one person - 'you' - but soon I realised who 'you' was and I understood.

That story was effectively told, the prose style distinctive and suiting it perfectly. Like the sea, it had quiet times, but there other time when waves rose and fell, and those moments quite took my breath away.

The way in which Luke's and Louise's narratives came together was unexpectedly wonderful and, though the change of gear was a little clunky, but it raised the story to greater heights.

I saw influences, some fine authors and some wonderful books, but She Rises has a spirit, a character, a reason for being that is entirely its own.

There were more than enough good things for me to forgive its few failings, keep turning the pages, and feel sorry that now the story is over.

In Diamond Square: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
In Diamond Square: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
by Merce Rodoreda
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Story Begins In Diamond Square, 10 Mar 2013
Now this is lovely. A beautifully told love story, that grows into the story of a family, and then into something bigger and deeper. A compelling tale of life before, during and after the Spanish civil war.

And it was a bestseller in the 1960s, it was translated into more than twenty, it became a beloved classic, and now that I have read every word I can easily understand why.

Natalia was a shop-girl, with a fiancé, living in the working class quarter of Barcelona in the early 1930s. Her life changed at a fiesta in Diamond Square. She met Joe, she danced with him, and he told her that she would be his wife within the year.

He was right. They did marry, and they had two children: a son and daughter.

I warmed to Natalia from the start. Her voice was so warm and so honest, and I could hear her voice. It was clearly so important to her to tell her story, to make everything clear, and it felt as if she were speaking to a friend.

Natalia realised that life would have ups and downs, good times and bad times, and that she had to accept that and focus on what was important. Her home and her family. And she did make the best of things, though she was rather inclined to dwell on things, suffering in silence. I wished she had spoken up for herself a little more because there were times when her husband needed telling!

Joe bred pigeons. It started with just one, an injured bird he found in the street, and that one bird led to many, many more. Joe and the children loved the birds, but Natalia hated them. The noise, the smell, the feed, the dirt, every time she had to go into the loft space.

When the war erupted, Joe left to fight the Fascists and Natalia was left behind, struggling to make ends meet when her employers said they didn't want the wife of a troublemaker in their house, not knowing how she was going to manage to feed her children.

And when the pigeons flew away, because nobody came to feed them, Natalia hardly noticed. The war years were such a struggle for her, and for everyone around her. And after the war her life would be very different.

Natalia said little about her feelings, preferring to speak of what she was doing and what was happening in her world. And yet I understood her feelings. The way she wrote about her husband, her children, her parents, her in-laws, made them so very clear. Her words had such intensity, and she described everything wonderfully well: the home she made for her family; the streets of her home quarter; her employer's grand home; the shelves full of different goods in the grocers shop; Natalia noticed every detail.

In Diamond Square is simply one woman's life. She doesn't consider the politics, the bigger picture, she simply relates what happened to her, what she did, how she lived. And that is enough, because she lived through such a significant period in her country's history, and because her works are so lovely and they illuminate her life quite beautifully.

The Night Rainbow
The Night Rainbow
by Claire King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.48

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just wonderful ..., 13 Feb 2013
This review is from: The Night Rainbow (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I put down my copy of The Night Rainbow a few days ago and it is still tugging at my heartstrings. Tugging because inside its pages I met a child whose voice, whose world, whose entire existence was so utterly perfectly realised.

We met in southern France in a blisteringly hot summer when Pea - short for Peony - was just five and a half years old. She spent that summer outside, running wild in the country and in her own imagination, with her little sister, Margot, in tow.

Maman stayed inside. She was heavily pregnant and she had withdrawn from the world, since she lost a child late in an earlier pregnancy, since Papa was killed in an accident. Pea tried to help, tried to be good, tried to draw her mother back into the world, but nothing worked.

As they wandered in the countryside Pea and Margot met a man who had withdrawn from the world too. He was called Claude, and his dog was called Merlin. He took an interest in the girls, he was kind, but he kept a distance.

There is sadness and loss threaded through the lives of Pea, Margot, Maman and Claude. It never quite goes away, but nor does the sense of how wonderful the world is, and what a grand thing it is to be alive.

There's little that can be said about the story that doesn't say too much. But I can say that it is beautifully constructed, with gentle twists and turns that are never obvious but always right. And I can say that it is told in a voice that is captivating and so very, very real. A voice that always rang true.

Pea pulled me into her world, and she made me see and feel things as she did. I felt the sun beating down. I saw the parched grass and the meadows full of flowers. I tasted the baguettes that were delivered every morning, the peaches that were there to be pulled from the trees. And she made me want to be five and a half, to take such delight in the world, to notice so many important things, to be caught in flights of fancy and amusement, to watch the strange ways adults behave from the sidelines, and most of all to have the faith in the world that comes from living in the moment.

But though I saw the magic in Pea's life I saw the danger too, the loneliness and that neglect. Light and shade. That made me want to be a grown-up again, so that I could talk to people, so that I could do something to help. I don't know what, but I had been drawn in, and I cared. Because Pea's acute childish observation, the wealth of detail, the myriad observations, allowed me to see adult emotions and sitautions that she couldn't comprehend.

There were just one or two moments when I wondered if Pea was just a little wise, a little too capable for her age. But maybe that was the result of her life and situation. I was caught up in Pea's world, and in her life, from the first page to the very last. And she still hasn't quite let go.

And, of course, for all of this to work so beautifully, there had to be an intelligent and sensitive writer working in the background: Claire King pulled the strings quietly, invisibly, and I am intrigued to see what she might do next.

The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War
The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War
by Lara Feigel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars London, Literature and WW2, 22 Jan 2013
I was smitten with `The Love-charm of Bombs' from the very first time I read about it. The prospect of seeing London in the Second World War through the eyes of five remarkable writers - Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, Rose Macaulay, Hilde Spiel and Henry Yorke (who wrote under the name Henry Green) - was simply irresistible.

And I was pulled in from the very first page, into the Blitz. I found Rose Macaulay, who had already lived through the Great War, driving an ambulance; Elizabeth Bowen and Graham Greene serving as ARP wardens - making sure that the blackout was maintained; and Henry Yorke in a team of auxiliary fireman.

The picture that is painted - of dark skies, empty streets, damaged buildings - of community, fear, exhilaration, uncertainly - is extraordinarily vivid.

For a moment I wasn't sure that this was going to work - the telling of stories of real people, constructed from their letters and diaries, from the writings of their contemporaries, and from historical records. It felt strange to read that Elizabeth (Bowen) walked out on to her balcony and stretched, but I held on and soon I was caught up, in a story that reads like a novel, that sometimes spins off into history, into biography, into literary analysis.

Four of the principals moved in the same literary circles - Virginia Woolf, J B Priestly, Rosamund Lehmann, Evelyn Waugh and May Sarton are among those who mix and correspond with them - but Hilde Spiegel lived a very different life. She was a wife, a mother, exiled from Austria to South London, trying to establish herself in a new world, trying to find just a little time for her writing. Her story, of which I had known nothing, was fascinating and a wonderful counterpoint to the stories of the other four.

In an uncertain world, passions ran high. Graham Greene and Henry Yorke had both evacuated their wives and children to the country and both behaved as single men might, taking up with other women. Their stories seemed similar at first, but that only highlighted how different they were as they moved in different directions and revealed different attitudes. Elizabeth Bowen met Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie who would be the great love of her life, though she remained married and he would marry another.

But Rose Macaulay's story was sadder. She lost her sister and her lover to cancer, and she lost her home, her letters, her books to a German bomb. My heart broke for her.

Lara Fiegel wove their stories together beautifully. She wisely kept her style simple, focusing on the stories and the facts, her writing had exactly the right momentum, and the perspective was wonderful. I can't quite explain it, but she brought me close those real lives without ever making me feel I was intruding.

But even better was the writing about the books that were written during the war or inspired by it. Elizabeth Bowen's feelings about her relationship with Charles Ritchie are echoed in `The Heat of the Day' and `A World of Love'; Henry Yorke's experiences in the fire service inform `Caught'; `The End of the Affair' has some - but not all - of its roots in Graham Greene's wartime relationships; and Rose Macaulay walked through the ruins that she would not be able to write about until many years later, in `The World My Wilderness.'

Lara Feigel's love, curiosity and knowledge shine, leaving me eager to read more by and about all those she writes about, and applauding what she has accomplished with this book.

In the end the story moves beyond the War, looking at the consequences and the rest of the lives of the five principals. The War had changed their lives and the end of the War would change them again.

There is so much here, so many fascinating details that it is impossible to pick out points to focus on. This is a book that I will go on thinking about, read again, and come back to when I pick up the books I've been reading about. But I need to shout about it now, because it's wonderful!

`The Love-charm of Bombs' has left me in awe of Elizabeth Bowen, drawn to Rose Macaulay, more interested in Henry Green and Graham Greene than I ever thought I'd be, and curious to read more about the life of Hilde Spiel.

Time, I think, to read and re-read their work, and then come back to this book ...

The Chaperone
The Chaperone
by Laura Moriarty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Chaperone and the Silent Movie Icon, 20 Jan 2013
This review is from: The Chaperone (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm usually wary of novels, set in a period within living memory, that use real people, who lived and breathed, as characters, but there was something about this book that called me. And I'm very glad I did.

Of course this isn't the story of Louise Brooks, silent movie icon; it is the story of one woman who crossed paths with her in one summer that would change both of their lives.

It opens in the early 1920s, the in Wichita, Kansas, where housewife Cora Carlisle has undertaken to act as chaperone to the teenage Louise Brooks, who is heading to summer dance school in New York. At first it seems to be a study in contrasts: Cora is conventional, prim, proper, and always aware of proprieties, while Louise is headstrong, confident and determined to experience everything the world has to offer. But it soon becomes clear that the truth is more complicated than that; that Cora had quite unexpected reasons for wanting to come to New York, and that there was much more to Louise than it had first appeared.

Laura Moriarty handles all of this very well. Her words feel right and are so easy to read that I always felt safe in the hands of a very capable storyteller. She brings the period, in both the small town and the big city, to life. And she weaves in so many themes - racial segregation, prohibition, sex and sexuality, family and identity - in a way that seems completely natural and right.

But I am wary of saying too much, because I think the developments that moved the story forward and developed the characters are best enjoyed first hand. They sometimes took me by surprise but they always made perfect sense.

It was lovely to watch Cora's journey; so many of her opinions and attitudes changed as she saw more of the world, and as I saw this and as I learned more of her history I grew to like, and admire, her more. She began as an unremarkable small town housewife, but as the story unfolded she became even interesting than her young charge.

When the summer in New York drew to a close Cora made an extraordinary decision. The story should maybe have ended there, it would have been a wonderful ending, it would have left so much to think about. But it didn't.

A shorter second act carried the story forward, through the rest of Cora's life. The contrast between Cora, who defies convention but keeps up appearances, and Louise, who in unconcerned about either, is fascinating but there are problems. The years rush by, there are none of the intriguing questions that underpinned the first act, and thought the story is plausible - and Louise's real life has clearly been well researched - it is a little more difficult to believe that what went before.

It said much that was interesting, and I was fascinated to see the future unfold, but it wasn't quite as strong as what had gone before. Maybe a simple afterword would have worked better.

But I still have to say that The Chaperone is a gem: a wonderfully readable story of two fascinating women with much to say about their lived and their times.

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