I've been entertained by Phillipa Gregory's Tudor novels, even if they do take some blatant liberties with history. When I saw Wideacre at the library, I thought, why not? The novel follows Beatrice Lacey from early childhood to her death in a first person narrative. The youngest of two children, Beatrice's gender means she can never inherit the treasured family estate, Wideacre, despite understanding how to run it better than her brother ever can. The novel tracks Beatrice's spiral into darkness as she plots to ensure that even if she cannot own the estate, her children will. Once beloved by the estate's tenants, she becomes hated and feared as she loses her good, common sense in her greed.
I kept hoping to like this book, but it was over the top with incest and bad behavior. I didn't buy Beatrice's transformation, and I felt that a lot of the bad behavior was repated too often. The reader isn't trusted, and the characters lack dimension--they end up being all bad or all good, very smart or very dumb. I didn't want to finish the book, but did so I coudl review it. It is the first in a trilogy, and Gregory's first novel, which may explain a lot, but I don't think I'll read the subsequent installments.
I also recently finished listening to Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I drive home on my long break between my second and third class to let Coco out of her crate for a bit. To make the extra driving palatable (an extra hour each day), I've been listening to books I might not normally read.
Quoyle's beloved but unfaithful wife Petal is killed in a car accident, leaving him alone with two young daughters. An unknown aunt comes to help him, and they move to the family home in Newfoundland. There Quoyle finally becomes a man, gainign confidence and a better understanding of his difficult childhood. Proulx does an excellent job creating the wrold of the novel. The closed-in feeling of the very small community, with all of its advantages and disadvantages is well rendered. At first I disliked being there, but the more I knew about the various inhabitants, the more I liked being among them. As I reflect on this, I realize that Proulx has given me the experience that I might have on moving to a small town.
Even though I understood that she emulated the region's speech, I did not care for the habit of dropping articles in the narration. That, along with short, choppy sentences in descriptive passages took me out of the narrative dream too often (maybe that was a good thing as I was driving, after all!). Because I listened to the book rather than read it, it may be that hearing those sentences was more distracting than they might have been otherwise.
Reading this book made me mindful of the importance of community in some books. The house, the place truly do become characters, and I admire the roundness Proulx gives to even the most minor of characters who populate the town.
The omniscient narrator moves between the early 1940s and the early 1950s. In the 1950s section, the narration follows Claire, a young English woman who has married Martin more to get out of her home than for love. She moves with him to Hong Kong where she becomes the piano teacher to Locket, the daughter of a prominent, wealthy Chinese family. There she meets Will, with whom she has an affair. During their affair, the novel shifts back to the 1940s, when Will first arrives in Hong Kong and falls in love with Trudy, a half-Portuguese and half-Chinese heiress. These sections are told in the present tense and follow their love affair (Trudy and Will), the Japanese invasion, and the betrayals that follow.
It was smart of Lee to change the verb tense in the two different times, and it makes sense to have the more distant one be present tense as I imagine Will playing the events over and over in his head as though they are still happening. The language and sentences are precise and elegant. It was a true pleasure to read this book. I liked the examination of human nature and behavior during war, and I felt the characters were well developed.
I'm now reading John Dufresne's Requiem, Mass and listening to The Nanny Diaries. Full reports to follow!