As I write this, I'm looking at my 'just read' pile with an element of horror because it appears it's taken me almost seven days to read one slim practically-a-novella and a YA book. Yikes. Still, as we're here...
Gentlemen and Ladies by
Susan Hill is, it appears, not the kind of book one reads quickly. It
is also not at all what I expected. I'm used to the dark intensity of
her horror and detective fiction, whereas this felt more like the few
Barbara Pym novels I've read than anything else. Set in the '60s, in a
rural community of gentlewomen of straightened means it is, in some respects, a comedy of manners.
It's Hill's third novel (did you know she had her first book published when she was in sixth form? This almost warrants an interrobang) and Gentlemen and Ladies does give the sense of a young, talented writer imitating her peers and influences with a rather serious face.
said, it's still a formidably accomplished novel. From the moment one
of the characters suffers what is essentially a panic attack I was recognising the
bleak psychological realism I recognise as Hill's trademark. Still, I noticed that her authorial voice is both less ruthless and less
compassionate than it later becomes. She is as scathing as one would
expect a comedy of manners to be towards the despicable, the silly, but her connection of 'unsympathetic' and 'mental illness' troubled me, as
did the ease with which she 'lets off' her 'good guys'. Then again, the
gentleness is probably a good thing. We don't want me left sobbing into
my spotted hanky, again.
to conclude this over-long review - good book. A little dated, and
unexpected, but worth a read, especially if you have not yet sampled Hill because horror and crime are not
Have to say, I don't read a lot of YA any more, by Fearless by Cornelia Funke makes the cut based on recommendation from a trusted source (thanks Jem!) and it's a total treat. The sequel to Reckless, it's an adventure quest in a world where fairytales are real. Sound clichéd? Alright, but this is dark. Reading
it as an adult, I can see just how pitch-bloody-black the premise
behind this novel is. It isn't an adventure quest, it's a story about
the industrial revolution, about the dirtiness of empire building, the
force of social segregation and racial intolerance. It's an all out,
vicious, political narrative masquerading as a kid's fantasy novel/ love
story. Okay, vicious is a relative term - it is still YA - but
there is some really clever stuff happening here, and - as folklorist
and adult - I do love playing 'spot the reference.'
My only gripes are a slow and slightly fragmented start (a problem that I also had with Reckless) and
trouble telling the characters' ages. This is, after all, a YA book
about adult stuff, and while the MC is apparently 25, this isn't always clear from his actions and behaviours. Still, a
While I'm here and talking about YA, I'm going to chuck in a review/shout-out for Namesake by Isabelle Melançon and Megan Lavey-Heaton: a beautifully drawn and utterly compelling webcomic that - if you don't like screen reading - can also be purchased in trade paperback.
It tells its story so well that even a foul-mouthed darkness junkie
like myself didn't realise it was PG rated until I'd read over a third
of what's online. These days I just hang around waiting for it to update.
Obviously, the form and genre might throw up a few problems for some
readers (eg, as the story develops, I'm noticing the threat and darkness
are being kept in much tighter parameters than I might otherwise like) but it's fun and its fresh and it's clever. Well worth your time.
Wow! That was positive! Have a good week.