Byatt, A.S. Possession: a romance. New York: Random house, 1990.

Reason read: Byatt was born in August.

Possession is nothing short of amazing. Byatt invites you down so many different rabbit holes it is impossible to predict where you will end up. Young
academic Roland Mitchell has an obsession with long-dead poet Randolph Henry Ash. He’s in competition with several other scholars researching Ash, all equally as obsessed. They all feel they “possess” the man. When you first meet Roland you cannot help but think of him as a spineless wimp; a bland soul without backbone. From the beginning, you are told he is an unwilling participant in his relationship with girlfriend, Val, by his reluctance to rock the boat with her. The real problem lies in the probability he doesn’t even want the boat at all. All he cares about is researching the life and times of Randolph Ash. This timid nature poses a real problem when he stumbles upon a new fact about Ash, something never reported before. So begins the mystery. Byatt takes us from Roland’s world to Randall’s world. Via letters, journals and poetry a secret is exposed. With the help of another young academic, Roland’s opposite in every way, Roland discovers the truth about his beloved Randall Ash. His own true self is revealed as well.

As an aside, I love concentric circles. I just finished a book about Virginia Woolf and she makes a mention here in Possession. Also, I just finished seeing Natalie Merchant in concert. Christina Rossetti pops up in Natalie’s music and Byatt’s Possession.

Quotations to quote: “The basement was full of the sharp warmth of frying onions which meant she was cooking something complicated” (p 19), “…It did not have for him the magnetic feel of the two letters that were folded into his pocket, but it represented the tease of curiosity” (p 49), and one more, “They sit at table and exchange metaphysical theories and I sit there like a shape-shifting witch, swelling with rage and shrinking with shame, and they see nothing (p 396).

Author fact: at the time of publication Byatt had written five fictions and several nonfictions.

Book trivia: the cover to Possession is a painting of Sir Edward Burne-Jones called “The Beguiling of Merlin.” I have to admit, Merlin is a little freaky looking.

Nancy said: Pearl said Possession is probably Byatt’s best known work but not her favorite.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 6).

July on Deck

July. Summertime. Lots of music (starting with you guessed it, Phish). Lots of running (hopefully all outdoors). Lots of travel, lots of play. Plenty of reading:

  • Milk in My Coffee by Eric Jerome Dickey (in honor of National Cow Appreciation Day on the 14th. I kid you not.)
  • Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill (#3 – to continue the series started in May in honor of Rocket Day)
  • The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan (#3 – to continue the series started in June for D-Day)
  • Cranford (AB) by Elizabeth Gaskell (in honor of Swan Upping. If you don’t know about this day, check it out. It’s fascinating. Or you can wait for my review when I’ll explain the practice.)
  • Black Faces, White Faces by Jane Gardam (in honor of Gardam’s birth month)

As an aside, I have read the last two Cotterills in a day each, so I know I need to add at least one or two more books to the list. I’m off to the great unknown for vacation so when I get back I’ll probably have to revisit this list.

Also, I should note that I won another Early Review book from LibraryThing, but since its not here yet I won’t promise to read it. šŸ˜‰


Bold Spirit

Hunt, Linda Lawrence. Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. Idaho: University of Idaho Press, 2003.

Reason read: I think it’s ironic that I am reading my first book in honor of Just ‘Cause the same year I chose not to participate. But, there you have it. Another irony is that this year Just ‘Cause is not doing their walk in May. It’s in June.

On May 5th 1896 Helga Estby and her daughter, Clara, embark on a cross country journey on foot to raise money for their impoverished family. Everything about this journey is fraught with risk. Consider the facts. First, her home life: Helga has nine children she must leave in the care of her out-of work-husband. As a Norwegian, this is a scandalous decision simply because women do not leave their families for anything. Second, the “scheme”: a wealthy yet unknown sponsor with ties to the fashion industry is offering a reward of $10,000 if Helga can walk from Spokane, Washington to New York City in seven months. Helga knows very little about this benefactor and the trip will be extremely dangerous. In addition, although this unknown sponsor wants to prove the physical endurance of women, she has a few rules.

  1. Helga and her daughter may only start out with $5 a piece. All other income must be earned along the way. [They end of selling photographs of themselves and doing odd chores.]
  2. They must visit each state’s capital.
  3. They must acquire the signature of prominent politicians
  4. Once arriving in Salt Lake City, must don a “reform costume” otherwise known as a bicycle skirt. This was an effort to display the latest fashion – a dress that was several inches shorter to give women “leg freedom” and was considered quite scandalous.
  5. They could not beg for anything – rides, food, or shelter.
  6. They could not pay for rides.
  7. They had to arrive in New York by early December.

This sets the stage for Hunt’s Bold Spirit but what emerges is a story about courage and commitment. Unfortunately, because Helga Estby and her family were so ashamed of her venture when it was all said and done, very little evidence of her walk was properly preserved. Most everything was willfully destroyed. As a result Hunt has to rely on speculation to fill in the gaps. Language like “they were likely”, “perhaps”, “it is possible”, probably”, and “they might have” pepper the entire book.

Book trivia: I like the design of this book a great deal. The photography is wonderful, too.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Walk Right In” (p 250).

Semi-Attached Couple

Eden, Emily. The Semi-Attached Couple & The Semi-Detached House. New York: Dial Press, 1982.

From everything that I have read it seems that Noel Perrin single-handedly revived an interest in Emily Eden’s The Semi-Attached Couple, calling it “what to read when you run out of Jane Austen.” He mentions this in his book, A Reader’s Delight and again in The Washington Post.

The Semi-Attached Couple is a humorous and witty look at a Victorian couple who didn’t exactly marry for love. Surrounding their romance, or lack-thereof, is busybody family members, a cultural protocol for decorum, and good, old-fashioned Victorian society standards. Of course, Sarah married too young and Lord Teviot married too quick. Neither understands the other and isn’t sure of themselves. There is plenty of gossip, secrets, and satire in The Semi-Attached Couple.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in two different chapters. First, “The Book Lust of Others” (p 34), and “Viragos” (p 227). Pearl basically says the same thing in both chapters: Emily Eden is a recommendation of Noel Perrin (as mentioned before).

Mutual Friend

Busch, Frederick. The Mutual Friend: a Novel. Boston: David R. Godine, 1983.

While this book received rave reviews from publications like The New York Times and The Village Voice I didn’t enjoy it. Maybe it was the raw violence. Or the disturbing sex scenes. I’m not sure. I found it troublesome. Probably the best part was the mastery of voice. For the most part, the entire story is told from the point of view of George Dolby, Charles Dickens’ right hand man. There is a chapter told by a maid and another by his wife…But, let me back up.

The Mutual Friend is the story of Charles Dickens at the height of his fame and the end of his life. While on his book tour Dolby is his tour manager, friend, guardian and sounding board. It’s Dolby who mostly reveals the drama in Dickens’ life. The health-draining stress of the tour, his practically nonexistent marriage, troubling health issues, oppressive poverty, and faltering ego. But, not all of The Mutual Friend is told from Dolby’s point of view. Probably the most disturbing chapter is that of Barbara, the maid. She starts out as a prostitute who prefers women. When Dickens looks for a Jewish maid, Barbara works her way into his household and seduces his son. Another chapter is told from the viewpoint of Dickens’s wife. The demise of their marriage is sad and poignant.

From Kate’s chapter: “He approached me, then, and his scented breath, the cologne he wore, the smell of the lavender sachet with which his clothing was fragrant, all came down to me as a rush of memory floods upon the heartsick widow who opens and closes her solitary cupboard to remind herself that once she was someone’s wife” (p 84).
Another disturbing line: “…and I looked at the dazzle on the surface of the river and saw what lay beneath – the bones of dogs, the limbs of babies, the sewage of civilization” (p 161).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Frederick Busch: Too Good To Miss” (p 48).

May (2009) is…

May is huge. Absolutely huge and positively late. So out of control! A 60 mile walk for Just ‘Cause has had me busy. The end of the school semester has had me frustrated. May also means time with my mom – which I simply cannot wait for. A retirement party for people I barely know. The pool opening. A birthday party with sushi and laughter. My kind of gig.

For books it is:

  • Off Keck Road By Mona Simpson ~ in honor of becoming a Wisconsin becoming a state.
  • Bordeauxby Soledad Puerolas ~ in honor of Cinco de Mayo
  • Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan ~ in honor of American Jewish heritage month
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson ~Ā in honor of teen pregnancy month. Note: this book is not actually about a teen pregnancy but the book is recommended for teens. I’m stretching this one a little, I know!
  • The Victorians by A.N. Wilson ~ in honor of Queen Victoria
  • Where the Pavement Ends: One Woman’s Bicycle Trip Through Mongolia, China and Vietnam by Erika Warmbrunn ~ in honor of National Bicycle Month
  • Quarter Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser~ in honor of Memorial Day.

There is also a LibraryThing Early Review book. Forgive me if I can’t plug the name right now.

The Awakening (w/ spoiler)

AwakeningChopin, Kate. The Awakening. New York: New American Library, 1976.

If I had a tag for “feminism” this book would be under it. Actually, it’s more of a long short story than a book. Only 125 pages long Kate Chopin tells the story of discontented, tragicĀ Edna Pontellier. A wife and a mother she is dutiful as both until a younger man awakens her inner rebel and sex goddess. You can see it start slowly when she states, “I feel this summer as if I were walking thrugh the green meadow again; idly, aimlessly, unthinking and unguided” (p. 17). It grows stronger when she disobeys her husband, “Another time she would have gone in at his request” (p. 33). Finally, theĀ ultimate of rebellion reaches its peak when she is seduced by another man, Arobin. “He did not say goodnight until she had become supple to his gentle, seductive entreaties” (p. 100).

BookLust Twist: While Pearl doesn’t think anything really happened with Edna (” …poor Edna Pontellier…who doesn’t actually do anything but suffers the consequences anyway.” More Book Lust,Ā Wayward Wives p 232), I strongly disagree. What Edna doesn’t do is be a good mother to her kids (they’re shipped off while she pretends to be an artist), or a good wife. She moved out of their home while hubby’s away. He’s left making excuses to save face (said the house was being renovated and that’s why his wife took up another residence).

In the end Edna commits suicide. She knows she’s not a good mother. She knows she isn’t a faithful wife. She can’t have the man who truly awakened her sexuality. Trapped in a life she cannot conform to she walks into the sea never to emerge.