Hillingdon Libraries staff fifth literary challenge of 2016 was to read a book that has a female author, in honour of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Female authors are a relatively new breed if you think back to the Bronte sisters having to give themselves male aliases to get published.
This month we had eight reviews from library staff and two actually choosing the same book! Have a read and let us know if you agree.
1. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters is one of my favourite authors. Despite a tendency, in my opinion, to lose momentum once the stakes are established, I was enthralled by Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet and The Little Stranger. She’s great at atmosphere and historical setting, and so I expected to enjoy The Paying Guests… (drumroll) – and I did. The novel is set in 1920s London suburbia, and Frances shares a big house with her mother. Getting behind on the bills, they take in a young husband and wife as lodgers – paying guests in the parlance of the middle classes at the time – and Frances falls in love with the wife, Lilian. They begin an affair which takes a dangerous turn, and at this point The Paying Guests actually benefits from the sense that it might be a bit too long: it really adds to the tension as the passion and love between Frances and Lilian turns into suspicion and mistrust. I don’t want to say what happens, but suffice to say that the agony of suspense felt by Frances, Lilian and the reader reminded me of Crime and Punishment – a kind of exciting nausea. The ending is weak, but it’s a great journey.
4 out of 5 stars
By Darren – Uxbridge Library
2. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters..(again)
This beautiful book unfolds the story of a young girl in the 1920s living with her mother in a house in Camberwell which is haunted by the ghosts of her dead brother killed in the war and her father who has also died, Frances also feels like the living dead as she leads a colourless life constantly trying to make ends meet and spends every day just trying to produce a palatable meal. The only break in the monotony is when she goes to London to visit her friend who lives a carefree, bohemian life with her lover. Her social life consists of visiting her mother’s friends and shopping for food. Both mother and daughter decide to take in lodgers to help with the bills. The lodgers, Lilian and Lionel Barber are from a different background to Frances and they like loud music and drinking and dancing. The story continues with a portrayal of the passionate, dangerous affair upon which Frances and Mrs Barber embark. The story ends in tragedy and the most beautiful, precious love Frances has found turns into bitterness and recrimination. The writing is controlled and very intense and grips the reader to the very end.
5 out of 5 stars
By Marian – Northwood Hills Library
3. From My Sister’s Lips by Na’ima B. Robert
From My Sister’s Lips is an autobiography by Naima B. Roberts who has written several children’s books including “The swirling hijab and Ramadhan Moon”. I read From My Sister’s Lips after I met the author while working as a Children’s Librarian in Brent and we had invited her to the library. The book is a compelling read and the author talks about her journey into Islam. In her book she clarifies common misconceptions about Islam and includes experiences from other women who talk about why they became Muslims. The book also provides a rare glimpse into the lives of a community of women, most of whom are converts to Islam. I enjoyed the book, because it shows, that women in Islam are like many other women, confident, educated and diverse individuals, who support their families and local communities to the best of their abilities.
4 out of 5 stars
Farhia – Botwell Library
4. The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula Le Guin
This was one of the first fantasy adventures I embarked on, at the age of 10, and it is still one of the best. The three books, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan and The Farthest Shore, chronicle the life of young goat herder Sparrowhawk, who discovers he has magical abilities, is sent to a school for mages (I use the author’s word, to avoid any comparisons with Harry Potter), and sets out on an eventful path that leads to his becoming archmage of all Earthsea, and eventually to a confrontation with his own mortality. Earthsea itself is an archipelago comprising hundreds of islands, each named and mapped (any fantasy book worth its salt is nothing without a decent map). It is peopled by men, not elves, dwarves or orcs; and apart from the odd dragon, the forces Sparrowhawk has to face over the three books tend to mirror his own internal trials – take the nameless shadow he unleashes in the first book, or the faceless character from his past who leads him to the land of the dead in the last. For children’s books, these are intelligently written and have more to do with emotional and personal responsibility than pure sword and sorcery – but they also take the reader on a voyage round a world like no other. Le Guin has written further Earthsea stories, but these remain the original and best.
4 out of 5 stars
Paul – Uxbridge Library
5. In a German Pension by Katherine Mansfield
It’s many years since I read anything by Katherine Mansfield so essentially I came to her fresh. In a German Pension is a series of stories linked by some recurring characters at the pension, including the first-person narrator of some of them, based partly on the author. Mansfield spent time in such a pension before the First World War, sent there by her family after a series of romantic/sexual escapades. Some of the stories focus on romantic/marital relations, the females getting the worst of it. Others contrast the Germans’ fussiness, physical ailments and obsession with diet with the cooler, more cynical approach of the narrator. it is as if a modern woman had found herself in a Jane Austen novel. The best story, “The Child-Who-Was-Tired”, is both imaginative and shocking, but all are rewarding.
4 out of 5 stars
By Mike – Eastcote Library
6. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
‘Zeitgeisty’ is the word to associate with Helen Fielding, whether it be of her life or works & heroines: author, ethos, time & place, characters & themes are contemporary & very much of the here-&-now. She is not a writer of historical fiction, nor does she indulge in fantasy, young adult or other sub-genres.Her territory is squarely ChickLit of the most-superior kind, exemplified superlatively by Bridget Jones & her trilogy!
I have not read Cause Celeb (1994), which is described on Wiki as a satire to do with celebrities & refugees in a fictional East African country. This was based on personal career experience as a foreign journalist correspondent in the 80s, & thus sounds like a work which may have ‘authenticity’ or ‘truth’ value of a political kind. Jumping to Olivia Joules & The Overactive Imagination (2003)- horrendous title!-, which appeared after the first two Bridget novels of 1996 & 1999, I can say that I remember nothing of this ‘comic spy novel set in Miami’ & elsewhere, except to say that I must have been disappointed, underwhelmed & let down after Miss Jones’s successes in both book & film…
But, of course, it is for Bridget & her antics that Fielding & her works will be immortalised. Most of you will be familiar with the hapless heroine, & it seems fair to say too that only Renee Zellweger could have nailed the part so brilliantly! For the books, which were based on Fielding’s columns in The Independent & Telegraph in the 90s, these are comic writings which make one laugh, cry, recognise the resilience which comes from the struggle with adversity, & (finally) The triumph of true Love! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh…. Read the Bridget trilogy, forget the other two, & look forward to the third Jones helping some time soon in a cinema near you- 16 September, in fact!
5 out of 5 stars
By Len – Harefield Library
7. The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah (Writing as Agatha Christie)
I am one of the biggest Hercule Poirot fans and read most of his adventures. Agatha Christie has a unique way to describe her settings and characters and I particularly enjoy reading the ‘Old English’ and well mannered language, without the need for swearwords and abstract phrases. Sophie Hannah has managed to adapt Agatha Christie’s style very well and Hercule Poirot was at his best. The story kept me engaged and I was unable to stop reading until I discovered the murderer and the many twists at the end, made it worthwhile staying up late for. The Monogram Murders shows Poirot as he is taking his customary Thursday night supper at Pleasant’s Coffee House. As he is busy positioning the cutlery, water glass and napkin on the table, a terrified young woman bursts into the restaurant. She tells Poirot that she knows that she is going to be murdered but begs him not to punish her killer, as this crime must never be solved. Of course, Poirot can not allow this to happen. The book has surprised me in many ways and I believe that Agatha Christie would have been proud of Sophie Hannah’s novel. I can’t wait for the next one to be written.
5 out of 5 stars
By Franka – Hayes End Library
8. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
Written in the 17th Century when travel writing was at its height, this book played on several popular themes at the time. Slavery, travel, wealth and foreigners were looked at in a way that was very advanced for its time.
Aphra Behn was a popular playwright and novelist in the late 1600s, part of the gap between Shakespeare and novels. Bawdy, free-thinking, perpetually broke, perversely royalist, and probably atheist, she fell badly out of favor in the next few centuries and is now making a comeback.
I loved this book for its fierce bravery and raw subject matter that was looked from an angle that had never even been thought about at the time. An African Prince, who is captured, tortured and separated from his true love is described as handsome, feeling and intelligent (rather gratingly he is portrayed as the exception to the general rule though).
It is not an easy book to read and it took me a while to get into it, but my admiration for Aphra Behn is huge and the story is well worth it.
4 out of 5 stars
By Lara – Harefield Library
All of the above books are available to borrow from Hillingdon Libraries – why not pop in and have a look!
Thanks for reading.