As part of the Once Upon a Time Book Challenge, this month I dug out my Complete Works (always a pleasure, one of those lucky sods who did the good plays at school and therefore has unending love for The Bard) and re-read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Love that play, and it was very revealing to me how much my sympathies change over time; used to think Titania was the be all and end all, now think all the characters are whiney and should shut up and get on with their lives, the play is merely a diversion, and that greater things are important than who ends up with who. This may be entirely cynical, but also would love love love to see a Brechtian working of the play as have a feeling it would turn out rather well…
I have also kept with the Shakespearean theme by reading A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, a truly wonderful book I am now going to wax lyrical about. This re-working of King Lear into the Great American Novel is truly beautiful writing, combined with innovative and inspiring character perspectives and a tragic but completely feel sable plot. The only only bit that jarred with me slightly was the re-imaging of Goneril’s poisoning of Reagan, but that did so in the original play and was only because I was so upset one of my favourite ever characters (older sister trying to keep peace with overbearing and manipulative father and precocious, silly sister, finally cracking under pressure-check!) would resort to murder over a man.
The book is set for the most part in 1970s Iowa, flat endless farmland made fertile through the hard work or pioneers for the benefit of future generations. Ginny, the books narrator, tells the story of her family, through weaving between the story of how her father Larry decides impulsively to split the farm between his daughters and the subsequent disowning of his youngest Caroline (who comes ac cross as just as much of a stuck up bitch (sorry I know its a bad word that hurts all women but only one could think of) as Cordelia did), and memories of their childhood on the farm. The theme of the land and ownership and exploitation of it being the downfall of the family is possibly my favourite thing about the book, I am love the sitting on the fence Smiley does about chemicals in farming; the probable cause of much of the families’ health problems, juxtaposed with vegetarian hippy Jess (v strange seeing name in print, especially with male character) being a weak willed man who jumps from one sister’s bed to the other breaking hearts and ruining his family in the mean time. By having Ginny narrate we only see the plot through her eyes, meaning we are given a biased view of how Larry treats his daughters, and I did have more sympathy with the sister’s for their treatment of Lear in the original play as a result. Smiley’s unreliable narrator is a wonderful device, I spent a good two hours after finishing the book (with a huge smile on my face) re-thinking the actions that took place and deciding on what I thought about them. You can see why it won a Pulitzer.
I have never even heard of this novel, it was donated to me for the Suitcase Library. Published in the early 90s it is likely I would never have heard of it unless someone recommended it to me, and knowing my love of Shakespeare I’m pretty certain my ‘bookish’ friends would have done. Just goes to show you shouldn’t rely on best-selling lists to find your fiction, I was fiveish when this book was published and this would have completely passed me by were it not for a very kind man who left me some really great books. This blog goes out to Mr Wragg, for making me have such a brilliant weekend, thank you sir.
This month I’ve also been reading The World According to Garp by John Irving (brilliant beginning, then ground to a halt so much I almost stopped reading before speeding up again, love Irving), The White Tiger for Book Club which cannot wait to discuss, Esther Freud’s Peerless Flats which was like an even more depressing 1980s version of Skins (couldn’t decide if I hated Lisa or just felt sorry for her, her mother’s hippy outlook made me re-evaluate how I saw my parents though, proud they let me get away with so much whilst teaching me utter contempt for those who pushed boundaries too far), The Distance Between us by Maggie O’Farrell, who I just love for After You’d Gone, but was quite disappointed with for this one (but got The Hand That First Held mine in hardback and it looks ace so I Don’t Care), The Sins of the Wolf by Anne Perry, lent to me by N, which was grand and am still plowing way through the Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, which is highly entertaining but a bit of a epic, also massive hardback beast so next to me bed book.
I’m currently also reading The Lost World by Author Conan Doyle, which is hilarious! Prof Challenger may be favourite character ever…