To be read books July 2014Two books from my July reading as I seem to have had a few busy days workwise and preparing for some friends visiting for a university reunion. So we’ve got two novels here, one a new one by an author I’ve loved before, and one the second in a series, kindly loaned by a friend.

Jeffrey Eugenides – “The Marriage Plot”

(21 January 2014)

A birthday present with an apposite title in the year I was getting married! On the front I read “One Day with George Eliot thrown in” which didn’t fill me with anticipatory glee, as I very much disliked “One Day“. But I also very much enjoyed the author’s “Middlesex” (I don’t seem to have ever posted a review for that one – must have read it before I started reviewing online), so I forgave it that. The “One Day” reference seemed to be shorthand for us meeting some fairly unlikeable characters at university who we follow through a few more years (not 20), and who include a man and woman who are friends, but we will them to get together. But that’s where the comparisons would end, and the university setting reminded me more of a campus novel, a genre I really like.

I very much enjoyed the satire of English departments and people’s sudden affiliations to branches of literary theory such as semiotics, and it was nicely evocative of student egocentricity. The depictions of bipolar disorder for which it has been rightly praised were well and minutely done, and may well help people coming to this topic with unfamiliarity – I’ve read quite a lot of descriptions of mental health issues so this maybe lacked the impact others might find.

Good on the minutiae of friendships, sibling relationships and academia, but it seemed ultimately a bit of a cold book (a theme at the moment – see below) and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did “Middlesex” (although more, happily, than “One Day”).

Mary Hocking – “Indifferent Heroes”

(Borrowed from Ali)

I still can’t quite work out why I had the first and third of this series but not this one! Anyway, a kindly loan and I was away.

It did feel, reading this second volume on the Fairley family, that Hocking created the series just to invent a range of characters and then put them through the various experiences of war, from battling bombs and family relationships on the Home Front to becoming dispossessed and homeless in various ways to facing physical and mental trauma in Europe, North Africa and the Far East, to finding a role and a place that might not be repeated – all mixed up and triangulated to produce a portrait of the war.

It’s thus very cleverly if a little dispassionately done – like Taylor and Pym, Hocking is not particularly empathetic or sympathetic towards any of her characters – maybe only Alice Fairley, the writer, who still ends up having to beat a lonely path through life. I can see her like a war general, pushing them around a map with one of those sticks, trying to see how they cope during and then after the war, as the hasty marriages made for one reason or another start to have to face day-to-day reality.