A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley — Reread Review

I first read A Thousand Acres as part of an English Literature module on American Literature. If I remember correctly, it was the only book on the course that I could remotely stand, but before rereading it, I had absolutely forgotten quite how dark it gets! I’ve never seen or read King Lear, on which at least the premise of A Thousand Acres is based, so I can’t speak to whether the original play takes the same kind of twist.

On this reread, it took me some time to get into the story. I was reading an old university copy, littered with my notes from the time, and it was hard not to think analytically about everything that was happening. I did, eventually, get caught up in the plot and, as I mentioned, was taken aback by the twist. Once I got past wanting to analyse everything, the prose was compelling, drawing me quickly through the plot as it developed.

On the other hand, perhaps she hadn’t mistaken anything at all, and had simply spoken as a woman rather than as a daughter. That was something, I realized, that Rose and I were pretty careful never to do.

A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley

The characters and their relationships are definitely the best part of A Thousand Acres. We’re given a great sense of what it is to be Ginny, to have lived in the kind of farming community that Jane Smiley captures on the page. Almost everyone ends up hurting Ginny in some way, and I felt for her every time. The story isn’t a happy one, but I didn’t really need it to be. It felt realistic and every new twist felt earned.

The fact is that the same sequence of days can arrange themselves into a number of different stories.

A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley

The setting, as well as Ginny’s relationship to her father, reminded me of Salt Creek. There’s just something fascinating to me about that combination of overpowering nature, a challenging rural life and a frightening patriarchal figure. I think, if you enjoyed Salt Creek as much as I did, you should definitely give A Thousand Acres a go.

I can definitely see why I kept hold of A Thousand Acres through at least five moves! I’ve added Jane Smiley to my list of authors to investigate as I’m curious to see what else she might have written.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty — Reread Review

I like epistolary novels, though Feeling Sorry for Celia isn’t one of my favourites. It’s a fine book, but I think it’s outshined by the sequels, which I plan to review later. That said, I still find that the teen drama and romance pulls me through the pages and makes me want to keep reading until I get to the end!

The chicken pieces are in the fridge already, so they have had experience being there.

Feeling Sorry for Celia, Jaclyn Moriarty

The main characters are good: I like Elizabeth and Christina and their growing relationship. Seeing Elizabeth and her mum get closer is enjoyable, as well. I think I found Feeling Sorry for Celia hysterical when I first read it, because I’d never read anything else like it. These days, it just gives me a few gentle chuckles, but that might be because I’ve read all the jokes two or three times!

I found the lack of chapters kind of annoying, which is something I definitely wouldn’t have noticed when I read it as a teenager.

They don’t know why, but they think I’m weird anyway, so it’s good to occasionally do something inexplicable and sustain the image.

Feeling Sorry for Celia, Jaclyn Moriarty

Overall, Feeling Sorry for Celia is fine. It gives you the set-up for Jaclyn Moriarty’s other books, but I don’t think you’d really miss out by not reading it.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Finding Cassie Crazy.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire — New Review, Bookclub Edition

Seanan McGuire had come up on the Reading Glasses podcast, and at previous meetings of book club, as a great writer who packed an emotional punch. I’ve had Every Heart a Doorway on my TBR for ages and, were it not for lockdown, would probably have been leant a copy. Thanks to all of this, I went into Middlegame with relatively high expectations.

Even at the beginning, Middlegame‘s plot and structure are pretty complicated. For quite some time I had no idea what was going on, and how all the puzzle pieces related to one another, but in a good way! I’ve had this feeling before, where I don’t know what’s happening or how it relates but I know I’m having a great time being carried along for the ride. I recognised it from the first time I read On the Jellicoe Road, which is one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors.

It’s things like this that make these cuckoos so dangerous; there are bricks in their road to the Impossible City that are neither wind nor stardust but simple red stone, forged in the real world, where alchemy is a fantasy and immortality is an impossibility.

Middlegame, Seanan McGuire

It helps that the characters are easy to like. I cared about Roger and Dodger from the first passages written from Roger’s perspective. Seanan McGuire wrote them in such a way that I wanted them to be happy, I wanted them to be together and I wanted to learn more about them all at once. The strength of that desire carried the narrative for the first half of the book.

By the second half, the picture on the box of the jigsaw puzzle is starting to take shape. I found it particularly interesting that it was the villains of the novel who were trying to bring magic back into the world. That’s usually the job of the heroes, so it was a neat inversion (though, I have to say, it’s not quite that simple).

This Dodger girl – who isn’t real, can’t be real; voices in your head aren’t real – is too exhausting to be a good imaginary friend.

Middlegame, Seanan McGuire

Caroline at book club suggested that Middlegame might be a kind of metaphor for the process of writing, which I thought was really interesting. You have to have the right elements, the right building blocks of plot and when it goes wrong, it’s possible you might need to go back a long way to find a small decision you can twist to get the outcome you want. I definitely want to reread the whole book with this in mind and also considering Edward’s idea that Reed was deliberately created to be a villain who would drive Roger and Dodger in a certain direction.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

The first time I ever experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it was the radio show. One of my parents presented the tapes to me on a very long, very boring drive through Oman. I’d never heard of it (though, it would later turn out that my headmaster had read an extract from it, though I believe he presented the story as his own). It didn’t seem, on the face of it, like something that I would enjoy. I wasn’t into space things, and at that age, some of the British things my parents found funny flew over my head. As I mentioned, though, it really was a very long drive, so I ended up putting it on out of desperation. And it was hilarious! I knew as soon as Arthur Dent descended into the basement of the planning office that I was going to have a great time.

‘You know,’ said Arthur, ‘it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space, that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.’
‘Why, what did she tell you?’
‘I don’t know, I didn’t listen.’

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

During the intervening years, I experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in other ways. I listened to the audiobooks, I watched the film, I listened to the third instalment of the radio series. I even went to a live revival of the radio series. Somehow, the one thing I never did was sit down and read the book, so it was exciting to revisit the story in a new form.

That said, most of my favourite bits of the reading experience are close to word-for-word the bits I’d mark as my favourite in the radio series. I know that later books in the ‘trilogy’ diverge more, whereas this book is pretty close to the original, so perhaps that’s to be expected. It’s hard to say whether the bits that are laugh-out-loud funny are because I can hear the voices in my head.

‘This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide was a fun and familiar read, with a few moments that took me right back to studying ‘Theory of Knowledge’ with Nickie. I think I’ll have more to say about the other books in the series. For now, the radio series is great, but if you can’t listen to that, read this!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next in the series: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh — Reread Review

I enjoy both historical novels and detective stories and so, of course, picking up The Wages of Sin from a work book sale was a foregone conclusion. On the whole, I think the historical side of things works better than the detective side. The situation of Sarah Gilchrist as one of the first female medical students is instantly interesting. The cast of characters, which include professors, their wives and landladies, other students and Sarah’s family are all intriguing, even if none of them are particularly deeply drawn at this point. I want to read more of Sarah’s story: I’m itching to see how she continues to cope with her past trauma, how her relationships blossom and whether she can escape marriage to Miles Greene.

He was naked to the waist, with a sheet of dubious cleanliness covering his lower extremities for the sake of those of us who lacked his gentlemanly attributes.

Wages of Sin, Kaite Welsh

The detective side of things is less satisfying. I don’t remember whether, the first time I read The Wages of Sin, I was suspicious of the character Sarah considers her prime suspect. This time around, certainly, I was convinced that he couldn’t possibly be the murderer. It’s not surprising that Sarah isn’t a very good detective – there’s no reason that she should be, since this is her first time in close contact with crime. Nonetheless, as realistic as it is that she keeps running into brick walls and being (somewhat successfully) warned off the case, it’s also a little frustrating.

I still felt fragile, like a glass ornament rather than a living, breathing woman of flesh and blood, but for once Julia’s beastliness had been aimed elsewhere.

Wages of Sin, Kaite Welsh

Ultimately, it wasn’t the murder mystery that kept me reading, and it’s not what I’d be reading any sequels for, either. That said, I still want to read the sequels, so clearly Kaite Welsh is doing something right!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.