Archives for posts with tag: Geraldine Brooks

I’m that excited right now. I just read Geraldine Brooks’ review of Hilary Mantel’s new novel, Bring Up the Bodies. Isn’t it funny how literary loves intersect?

The Guardian also have an extract of the new novel and there is the full first chapter from the Readings website.

       

Wolf Hall is in my top 5 favourite books of all time, and Hilary Mantel one of my very favourite authors. Wolf Hall is a stunning book and everyone should read it, especially if you think you hate Tudor history.
Now to find myself a copy…

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I certainly hadn’t intended on reading a novel about the American Civil War. But then again, I’m not really sure why I was all that suprised since it is stated plainly on the back of the book. I think what captured me initially about this book was the idea of following the father of the March family from Little Women (one of my favourite movies when I was young).

What Brooks did beautifully in this book was to portray the complexity of history, the good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad. I often wonder what the Civil War was really about, as poor, uneducated men could surely not have been mobilised to fight a war on behalf of an oppressed and enslaved people. If not, then what were they really fighting for? This book highlights the same idea, that while many individuals were mobilised by ideals of emancipation, the majority were just fighting someone elses war. This is how the overt and barbaric racism could exist within the Union army, and also how African Americans could fight for the Confederates.History is always a complicated thing, and stark depictions of the ‘truth’ never appeal to me.

I was interested in tracking the power relations throughout the book, particularly between Grace and March. In the beginning he is awed by her, then comes to rely on the ideal of her as faultless perfection, in this representing all African Americans needing to be saved from their enslavement. Finally, Grace takes back her power, telling March forecfully “We have had enough of white people ordering our existence! There are men of my own race more versed in how to fetch and carry than you ever will be. And there are Negro preachers aplenty who know the true language of our souls. A free people must learn to manage its own destiny.”

The language is, as in Year of Wonders, matched to the time in its spirit. My boss was looking at the book and noted how Brooks uses language, where she melds in the use of technical language seamlessly to give you a sense of the time without being a flashy know-all. “Less skillful pickers had to grasp the boll with one hand and pluck the staple with the other.” I have no idea what a boll and staple are, but you get a feel for what it means in the context of the paragraph which I really admire.

This book is marketed as a love story, yet I really don’t know who the love is between. Surely, most obviously, it is between Marmee and March. Yet there is also March and his ideals, there is Grace, and the children and the adults of Oak Landing. Yet, where do his beautiful girls fit in? The ones that I loved when I was young; Jo, who I felt I wanted to be when I grew up, Beth with her goodness, Amy, who I actually never really felt any effection for and Meg who always seemed to me like my own older sister.Perhaps the true love was that which Marmee points out; his fabrication of the truth in his letters home to his little women “How he must have toiled over those pages, denying himself the satisfactions that come with unburdening the heart, censoring his every sentiment so that I could continue to think only the best of him and cast his situation in a tolerable light. And I had been ready to condemn him, for what had been, perhaps, a daily act of love.”

I really appreciate what she did to the characters of Marmee and March, as she points out in the afterword “Nobody in real life is such a goody-goody as that Marmee.” and so she wasn’t. She had an admirable temper, was passionate in her early love for her husband and yet, was also secretly and subtly racist. This racism isn’t anything to be admired, it was just a feature of her I didn’t really expect and certainly one that isn’t present in other depictions of her.

This was, once again, a beautifully written story about something actually very tragic. Yet, as with Year of Wonders, it didn’t wallow in depression, it merely sifts through the complicated realities of life.

Now reading: In between books! Quick! Find me a book!

This is one of those books. Those books you see in shops, hear mentioned on the radio, friends sometimes talk about them and you think, maybe I’ll read it someday, maybe I won’t. One of those books you might not have read, but then circumstances lead you to and then you’re so glad that you did. I loved this book, it was so beautiful and enjoyable and horrifying and wonderful and I’m so very glad that I did read it.

While the narrative was compelling and kept me reading, I most enjoyed the relationships Brooks developed between those in the village. Mostly I think I reveled in the illumination of love between the characters that she described so warmly. Anna’s love of her husband Sam, the way she adored her beautiful babies, her love of her friend Elinor and the possibility of love, briefly, with the tailor. As well as  relationships, Brooks did a beautiful job at creating a vivid portrait of individuals within the community. In my mind I also keep returning to the Gowdie women, Mem and Anys, and the way that their memory refused to be suppressed after their horrific murders, murders that demonstrated the incredible power that transgressive women can have.

I also greatly admired the use of language that Brooks employed, playing around with the old words of the local dialect without providing explanation of what they meant, instead leaving the reader to make sense of them in their context. I am not sure of the providence of the words, but I feel that they added greatly to the parochial nature of the tale, a story so grounded in the land and the tradition of the region.These were the details that I so enjoyed about the book, the colour that she added to the life of the miners and their families, the traditions of small villages and the lives of those that it is often so difficult to find about in history, of women. This book is a beautiful example of historical fiction done properly and a wonderful testament to the memory of the brave community who sacrificed so much to protect the communities around them.

For a story that was set in a quarantined community, strangely enough the book never made me feel claustrophobic.  I think perhaps the inner life of Anna prevented me from feeling the walls closing in and I only remembered at the end, when Anna rides Anteros through the neighbouring village after the quarantine has been lifted, how isolated they really were.

The book took what I thought was a very unexpected turn towards the end. I thought I had an inkling as to what would happen once she helped the mother Bradford deliver her baby safely. I thought that she would take the baby, move to another place and start a new life. I didn’t really anticipate the extent to which that life would change and it was bizarre but wonderfully so. Also, the revelations of the Rectors true nature shocked and disturbed me, making me sad for poor Elinor and angry that the Rector was really just had a cold heart the whole time. I think I felt that I had been duped by him, sensing a small part of the betrayal Anna must have felt after devoting so much of her life to the Mompellions.

Ultimately, I think what the Brooks achieved was to illuminate the world of women, and of one woman in particular. To give her flesh, colour and life and to give her confidence and capability. She illustrated through Anna the way that ordinary people become extraordinary through exceptional circumstances.

Now reading: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

postscript. I think, perhaps, that it might be a bit strange that I took such a warm feeling away from a book that was actually quite grim and brutal and was set during a plague. Maybe we’ll put that down to me reading this during the time that I became an Aunty.