I’m sharing my reflections on two novels, published a few years ago about retired schoolteachers who are forced to reappraise aspects of their pasts. Julia Garnet, a former history teacher in South London, has her epiphany in Venice; former maths teacher, Olive Kitteridge, stays in her home town in Maine. Both women have hidden their vulnerabilities beneath a steely shell. Both demonstrate it’s never too late to learn.
Meanwhile, we plod on, making the best of what freedom we have. For those of us who live primarily in our heads, the pandemic is no excuse to shirk. So, on the reasonable assumption I’ll survive to implement them, here are my goals and plans for the coming year.
Two novels that have sat on my bookshelves for a while, the first waiting to be read, and the second loved and waiting to be re-read. Written by acclaimed female novelists – the first British and the second, Canadian, now deceased – read on to see what this unacclaimed female novelist, also the author of a fictional biography, thought.
Two novels featuring sex and psychotherapy: can you guess which one I couldn’t finish? The other is both entertaining and educational, so put your feet up and read on.
Large gatherings at country houses are common enough in fiction, but these two recent reads, both involving family secrets, couldn’t be more different. It’s not so much that the first is set in England and the second in Japan, but one’s crime and the other literary translation. But even within those genres, they’re oddballs. In a good way? Read on for my thoughts!
A novel and a novella featuring twins pulled apart when one is targeted to be a pawn in a war they don’t fully understand: in the first, nineteen-year-old Londoners; in the second, boys in an unnamed Arab country brainwashed into self-sacrifice at only nine.
I’ve recently read these two memoirs which celebrate the fortitude of the authors’ mothers, especially in later life. Both stories are precipitated by a death: in the case of Alison Jean Lester’s memoir, it’s her mother’s confrontation with terminal cancer; for Geoff Le Pard, it’s the revelation of a new side of his mother’s character on becoming a widow. Both are touching tributes, peppered with poetry and humour.
These two novels deal with the aftermath of situations that had caught (fictional) media attention told from the point of view of a woman who tried to do her best. In the first, a political scandal has led to the titular Chief Executive’s early retirement; in the second, an abducted girl is returned to her mother. Of course, the aftermath isn’t quite as the protagonists expect.
Only one of these three recent reads is classed as a horror novel and, although not my usual genre, it turned out to be my favourite of the three. But we don’t need to evoke the supernatural to scare ourselves: there are real-life horrors in each of these stories. In the first, a translation, war has killed many and put the survivors’ lives on hold. In the second, set in rural Cumbria, the spooky happenings are extra disturbing for a man with unprocessed memories of violence from childhood, as well as his helplessness in the face of his wife’s agonising three-day labour. The third is a 1960s classic set in a horrific – but typical of its time – psychiatric hospital where the regime seems designed to make a bad situation worse.
Two recent reads set in medieval Europe, where reluctant heroines must confront obstacles both spiritual and tangible to take a chance on happiness with the man they love. The first is set in Britain and the second, two centuries later, in France. Both include St Margaret as a minor character, but I was rooting for the maids on a mission, hoping they’d save their loved ones, and themselves.
As night arrives ever earlier across the northern hemisphere, and Europe returns to lockdown, there could hardly be a better time to curl up with a book. If you have a UK address, you can enter a competition to win a signed copy of one of my novels and five other novels I’ve read and enjoyed.
No, I'm not going to mention the election, although I read the second of these two novels as a certain world leader screamed for the count to be suspended in some states and accelerated in others. And I wouldn't want to speculate on whether the status of these fictionalised ordinary Americans might shed some light on how half the country lost its mind. But I do love a story that upends the American dream. Where is the space for those who don’t strive for success and fame? Where do the American Asians fit in the narrative? Prepare to be provoked and entertained!
Adoption aftermaths: Helen and the Grandbees, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? & Red Dust Road
I suspect I’m drawn to adoption narratives because of the way they can make concrete a vague sense of loss and yearning some of us feel as a result of early maternal neglect. It’s one of the themes of my forthcoming novel, Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, and its follow-up, 100 Candles, my current WIP. In fact, I read/reread the two memoirs reviewed in this post as research for the latter. The other book is a debut novel offered to me by the publisher.
I’m sharing my thoughts about three recent reads set in communities slightly apart from the mainstream: the first two in contemporary residential care settings and the third in a dystopian future world. In genre they’re also slightly apart from my usual fare: the first mass-market commercial fiction; the second, a translation (and therefore closest to my usual); the third, cyberpunk. Each offered something to intrigue and enjoy.
When I selected my reading for Black History Month, I didn’t realise that three of the four books had a connection to Jamaica. Nor did I realise that one would obscure black history as much as it illuminates. While three books are around ninety-seven short of composing a timeline, they’re listed here in chronological order of the events they portray. Scroll down for links to my reviews of other books (mostly fiction) I’ve read in recent years.
I’ve recently read two novels about women whose damaging childhoods lead to adult relationships where they can’t manage to separate psychologically from someone who fails to meet their needs. In the first, a French translation, the enmeshed relationship is with a man who is less than a partner but more than a friend. The second, set in India, centres on a toxic mother-daughter relationship, a common theme in my reading and writing, which has sparked this week’s 99-word story.
These two recent reads are about marriages under severe strain. In the first, set in the southern USA, a woman turns to a mutual friend when her husband is sentenced to twelve years’ in prison for the crime of being black in the vicinity of a sexual assault. In the second, set in the UK, a family is in crisis as a result of the husband and father’s combat PTSD.
These two novels defy easy categorisation, but I’ve paired them for the combination of depth and humour, innovative structure and switching points of view. Both feature the dynamics of family and coupledom, and a holiday – the first in Scotland, the second in Italy – with destructive consequences.
finding truth through fiction
Annecdotal is where real life brushes up against the fictional.
Annecdotist is the blogging persona of Anne Goodwin:
slug-slayer, tramper of moors,
author of three fiction books.
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I don't post to a schedule, but average around ten reviews a month (see here for an alphabetical list),
some linked to a weekly flash fiction, plus posts on my WIPs and published books.
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Anne Goodwin's books on Goodreads
Sugar and Snails
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ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.56)
GUD: Greatest Uncommon Denominator, Issue 4
ratings: 9 (avg rating 4.44)
The Best of Fiction on the Web
ratings: 3 (avg rating 4.67)