TBR July 2016Two books read quite a long way apart. While both are about a place, and both are about large families, uncles and cousins, both have forbidden and long-lasting love and both were, in fact, page-turners, it did get me thinking about what makes a classic, because of course The Mill on the Floss is a recognised classic and The Inn at Eagle Point is a piece of summery, light reading. I haven’t really made my mind up – a classic is meant to be timeless of course, but as we move further into the 21st century, how much can we identify with a woman who is brought up to be an accessory to men and to be beholden to her family for her safety and morals? But it does remain that Mill on the Floss was the deeper and more satisfying read. Anyway, here are my reviews, plus a few notes and a sneak preview of the maximum I’ll do for All Virago / All August (not representative of what I will actually do, I’m sure)

Sherryl Woods – “The Inn at Eagle Point”

(9 August 2015)

First in a series and a good scene-setter for a Debbie Macomber-like small town community novel. Well, done, with family conflict as Abby O’Brien Winters comes home to Chesapeake Shores, the town her dad and uncles built, to help her younger, slightly wayward sister restore the inn back to being a lovely hotel. There’s conflict with old boyfriend Trace, but he’s essentially a good chap, trying to persuade his dad that his sister would be better off taking over the town bank. There are some family issues and some mild peril around Abby’s (very well done) small twin daughters and their father. A big party and set piece at the end both resolve most of the plot and set the stage for sister Bree to be the centre of the next novel – cleverly, this book has a large set of siblings and some cousins, allowing for a nice linked series to develop.

This was on my separate pile rather than my 20 books of summer pile. It was picked up when I was in a depressive slump after the Brexit vote. Fortunately, I’ve managed to get my normal reading going now, although it was a nice welcome and easy read.

This book would suit … fans of Debbie Macomber’s series set in small communities.

George Eliot – “The Mill on the Floss”

(26 September 2015)

After having spent decades only reading “Middlemarch” and then being given a copy of “Daniel Deronda” by a good friend and loving that, I’ve been gradually working my way through Eliot’s works, with a little rule that I can only buy a new one when I come across it in a charity shop. I’ve done “Adam Bede” since then and have a copy of “Silas Marner” bought earlier this month, so not many to go now.

So I’d never read this stunning novel, and it was a delight – and a page-turner – from start to finish. I thought I knew the ending just from that way that you absorb classics and almost think you’ve read them, but I’d actually got it almost completely wrong. While it is a rural tragedy with a moral underpinning, and very reminiscent of Hardy in these respects, it’s a deep and satisfying, character-based novel where the tragedy, while inevitable, is still shocking.

I loved the web of aunts and uncles which holds Maggie and Tom and their rather hapless parents in a sort of net of sisterly and in-law rivalry, discussions on parentage and family and disapproval / grudging approval. Although there’s not such a web of larger society as in “Middlemarch”, there is the incidental but gradually more and move pivotal character of Bob Jakin the packman, an attractive and charming character reminiscent of the Reddleman in “The Return of the Native”.

Maggie is a masterful portrait of the dangers of allowing a girl to grow up basically outside society and then thrusting her into it, outside her own comfort zone and area of knowledge: she brings the thrill of the exotic other – especially compared to her sweet, blonde, tiny cousin – into their limited society and attracts too much of the wrong kind of attention, then not knowing what to do with it. While she’s feisty and far from passive, the limited opportunities she has to decide her own fate, combined with her brother’s sour and hard view on life, mean that it’s inevitable that she will make a wrong step. Both try to deny their own characters, one more successfully than the other – the most rounded character is that of Philip, ‘deformed’ in body but following his artistic ways, although his fate is not a great one, either.

The two suitors are contrasted beautifully in a wonderful novel of pairs and echoes, where Maggie’s only real sin is perhaps caring too much what her brother thinks of her, and Eliot carefully dissects the effect of their father’s combative and aggressive personality and their family ruin on their own personalities and relationships with each other and their social milieu.

This was Book 10 in my 2oBooksOfSummer project.

Well, half way through 20BooksOfSummer, although I fear more than half way through the time period allowed. I have also read Philip Eade’s “Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited” but that was for Shiny New Books so you’ll have to wait for a link to that one later on. I’m now going to get back to the Kynaston book, as well as reading another review book for Shiny. But I think I’ve got a weekend off (shhh).

This represents the maximum I could read if I read nothing else and August was three months long.

This represents the maximum I could read if I read nothing else and August was three months long.

In other news, there has been discussion about All Virago / All August in the LibraryThing Virago group, so I’ve pulled out all the Viragoes and Persephones (well, the Persephone) in my TBR and made A Lovely Pile. “The Reef” and “Hudson River Bracketed” are on the 20BooksOfSummer list and of course one of the five books in “Pilgrimage 4” will be read in August. And I kind of have to read the Thirkell, don’t I, give its title. But it won’t be ALL Virago / All August this year, as I still have a fair few other books in the 20Books pile.

I know Kaggsy has “Hudson River Bracketed” ready to read, and I’m pretty sure Heaven-Ali has read both the Persephone (“London War Notes”) and “The Song of the Lark” – have any others of you read any of these?