I read some great fiction and short stories in July.
Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)
This book was originally published serially in 8 parts in 1871 ans 1872. The story is set in the fictional town of Middlemarch between 1829 and 1832 and runs roughly on two tracks, although they intersect frequently. The novel begins with Dorothea Brooke, a very young woman who, with her sister, Celia, has been raised by an uncle on the death of her parents. She is pretty uninterested in the expectations put upon her as a woman and instead is more interested in intellectual pursuits and improving the lives of the poor and exploited. She makes a very big mistake and learns from it as the consequences gradually become clear to her. This part began as a long story revolving around the character of Dorothea and those who are in her orbit.
The second storyline revolves around a young doctor, Tertius Lydgate, who is new in Middlemarch. He has some newfangled ideas that the older generation of doctors does not like, which creates tension. He befriends the Vincy family. He also makes a big mistake that causes him suffering. This part of the book was meant to be the novel Middlemarch until Eliot realized she should intertwine both storylines into one book.
When I read classics, and particularly Victorian classics, I am always struck by how many things sound exactly like what is going on today. The technology and channels of communication are different, so these things happen in different ways today, but it’s still the same stuff. For example, virtually everyone in the novel, no matter their class situation or occupation, was always focused on keeping up appearances and hiding things that would cause people to look down on them. They didn’t have social media influencers, but there were influencers of another kind in the form of gossip. Word (whether true or not) didn’t get around as quickly as it does today, but it did get around and changed people’s lives in profound ways.
I really enjoyed this book. I could relate to some of the feelings expressed by Dorothea in particular. There were some funny bits, too, which made me laugh.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
We were in the charity shop one day, dropping off a couple of books when I saw this on the shelf. I'd been looking at it for months in e-audiobook and e-book on the library site, but it's too long for me to want to read/listen in those formats, so I never borrowed it. But there it was, so I bought it, figuring I could read it right away and donate it back so I wouldn't have to move it. As it happens, since there's no wee free library in Dungloe, we ended up sort of creating on on a shelf in between the sets of doors that make up the entrance to the old church where the library is housed. We would put books on an empty shelf with a 'free books' sign on top and they got taken, so we added more. This book ended up on one of those piles. It's a good book.
Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor
This is an epistolary novel which consists of letters between friends and business partners. One is a Jewish person who runs an art gallery in the US and the other is his partner who goes back to Germany as Hitler is coming to power and falls under his spell. It’s a chilling but important work, particularly now.
The Last Resort by Jan Carson
This is a collection of linked short stories, each told from the perspective of a different person. All of them are set in a caravan park in Northern Ireland, located on the edge of a crumbling cliff. This is a new addition to the library’s e-book collection. I loved it!
Learning to Talk by Hilary Mantel
This is a collection of short stories I picked up in a charity shop a couple years ago. The last story is an excerpt from her autobiography, which was published shortly before this. It was clear from that how biographical the previous stories were. They all revolved around childhood experiences. This is a good collection and well worth reading.