One morning at the beginning of 2019, when I was in my London flat, the telephone rang.Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of The Crown, Anne Glennconner, Hachette Books 2020
If you feel like you need more after watching all of The Crown in one go, are a fan of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ or just want to see how the aristocratic one percent lives – this is your book.
Because Lady in Waiting Anne Glennconner (she’s Princess Margaret’s friend and Lady in Waiting) doesn’t only come from that category – pretty much everyone she knows does. And those that don’t, are celebrities through music, art and film – the only thing missing is the aristocratic element. Those are also the only people that aren’t related to her or her husband in some way — because in England royalty and the level below that — everyone is.
Anne (I honestly don’t know if she should get a title) lives through a large part of the twentieth century and goes through almost the same amount of houses as she goes through years – on many continents. With her anxious, aggressive, loud husband she has five children who provide their own problems, while she has to be head of the household of several households and take care of Princess Margaret in every possible way as soon as she’s around. In a fictional story an editor would have told the author to start culling this huge amount of detail, story lines and disasters 100 pages in. But this is someone’s life.
Mostly it just shows that heritage, money and a network won’t prevent you from suffering trauma, while simultaneously making you see how much of a circus it all is. Honestly, if this is her truth; give me fiction.
I AM NOT AS I ONCE WAS.
I’m so glad I gave this author another chance. The Fifth Season may have been a bridge too far or simply not the right book at the right time (when you read so many books, sometimes it’s weird to accept that you can’t ‘crack’ one right away), but girl, was The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms the cool, easy accessible fantasy you just might need.
With accessible I mean that the story line is (mostly) chronological, the lines drawn between good and evil are (mostly) clear and that the world building takes enough of a back seat to not confuse you about which surroundings you’re supposed to read a situation in.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms starts with an unlikely hero, a young woman brought to the royal family. But instead of letting her work her way through the fitting tropes, N.K. Jemisin quickly turns it around, and keeps adding little turns to the regular ideas.
What I really liked was the mythology used, and although this is the reason that does make the book less clean cut towards the end, by then you’ll be too enamored to want to give up.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin, Hatchette Book Group 2010
I’ve finished the bloody book.
And Dud Read in February goes to The Power. If there wouldn’t have been some well timed critiques read, I would have walked headfirst into disappointment, because so many people were so_positive about this one.
I mean, Margaret Atwood supported the author in this (at least, that’s what’s mentioned in the acknowledgments), critics mentioned a science fiction story that would make you question patriarchy, the poison of the male fragility, how power corrupts and so on. All that, and teenage girls managing to shoot electricity from their hands.
But then there’s the execution, and the execution is crummy. There’s no fiber, no rhythm, no connection between the characters, the chapters, the paragraphs. It’s an idea dump, sketches of world building that are deserted before you can imagine the image. There’s no push to care about these characters, the worlds they (try to) destroy or build up. It’s not refined enough to add men(‘s right activists) without making it feel like the story is excusing them, and the conclusion of Power Corrupts is clear from early on.
Just don’t bother; I’m sure there are books out there with similar themes that do manage to come out more balanced.
The Power, Naomi Alderman, Hachette 2016
History has failed us, but no matter.
Yes, a much better start for the new reading year than Acceptance. Much better than any recent books, and it’s January 24th. Anyway, Pachinko was lauded and I’m glad it didn’t disappoint me.
It’s a family epic of a Korean family, starting in 1910. Generation after generation takes you past living in poverty, living in a colonised country, war, prosperity and loss. There’s born family and created family and all the other connections that happen in society.
Sounds terribly vague? Simply because this is a book you should allow to overwhelm you, instead of going in with any expectations. “Meh”, you think, “a soap opera spread through time”, but that’s an insult. Pachinko is history, humanity, entertainment and mind boggling (the things I didn’t know as a white woman). Oh, and the descriptions of food might make you drool a little.
Pachinko is nominated for the American award ‘National Book Award for Fiction’. It has my vote.
Pachinko, Min Jin Lee, Hachette Book Group 2017
I opened my eyes.
Between okay and “why did I put this on my list” non-fiction, I previously had the wonderful Fates and Furies to lift my reading experience up. Now I can add Guardian of the Dead as a delightful breath of fresh air (nothing bad about non-fiction meant, it just has to work harder to blow me away).
This book (a debut novel) did. This isn’t just another YA novel. The usual suspects of love triangle, unknowingly perfect hero(ine) and lack of any friendships/relationships are almost non-existent (the author has a good excuse for the last one). But probably the most exciting thing was the use of Māori mythology. And not in an ‘ Oh, Ah, how exotic and strange’ way, but very much as a part of daily, contemporary life. It shows that there’s more to mythology than another version of Zeus messing up things.
Not that messing up doesn’t happen. Main character Ellie walks into a bite-more-than-you-can-chew situation that might turn into the end of New Zealand as we know it. Throw in frustrations about family, school, and body, add a crush (there is a slightly mysterious love interest), some female friendships and enemies, some unexpected magic and you get a maelstrom of entertainment.
Read it, love it hopefully as much as I do.
Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey, Hachette Book Company 2010