Sunday, 20 August 2017

Review: Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life

Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a biography, nor does it pretend to be, of Anne Bronte; it's a passionate, well-written defence of the oft-neglected third Bronte sister. Ellis argues that this Bronte was not the patient, sweet-natured mouse that she is often portrayed to be, but instead was a radical - daring to focus on reality where her sisters retreated into their respective fantasies.

Given that there's actually very little known facts about Anne's life, Ellis has to resort to lots of "perhaps" and "maybes" and infers a significant amount from Anne's works (including her letters) - meaning there's a lot of guess work. But, I think this makes for a far more interesting book that would otherwise be a slim volume that added nothing new to the much-told Bronte story.

What I didn't like is that she paints Charlotte Bronte to be the villain of Anne's life, who she accuses of dismissing her little sister as a wallflower and rubbishing her second book. I just don't think that's fair (I am biased; Jane Eyre is my favourite book of all time) because while Charlotte was highly critical of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, she was also trying to defend her sisters from various critics and, as Ellis herself notes, was in a constant state of self-denial (ie. she had serious issues). . Plus, ultimately, Charlotte - however close she may or may not have been to her youngest sister - knew Anne far better than Ellis can possible do from letters and diaries etc.

Ultimately, this call to arms puts the spotlight firmly on a woman who had the misfortune to be a sister to not just one but two icons of 19th century literature. Undoubtedly, were if not for Emily and Charlotte, Anne would be recognised as an icon herself (even she hadn't died of TB aged 29). With this book, Ellis lets Anne stand on her own two feet rather than in the reflected glory of her better-known siblings.

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Friday, 18 August 2017

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall years ago, but decided to re-read it in preparation for reading Samantha Ellis' biographer of the somewhat neglected third Bronte sister Anne.

This powerful novel was ground-breaking in its time (a bit too ground-breaking - no-one liked it) charts the story of a woman forced to make difficult choices to protect her son. The dilemmas she faces make you realise how restricted women's lives were back in the 19th century. (Your job was basically to marry and produce offspring. If your marriage was horrific, you had very little choice but to make the best of it).

It does suffer by comparison with the novels of the better known Brontes as it lacks the passion of those works. That said, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a much more realistic account of what would happens if a Byronic hero looks your way and, certainly, the main character (and thus, Anne) would argue that passion is over rated.

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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Review: Star Struck

Star Struck Star Struck by Val McDermid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another easy read featuring the Private Eye Kate Brannigan. It really doesn't matter what the crime is about - you know that Kate will solve it without too much difficulty (particularly as she always seems able to rely on a crew of mates with various talents to help her).

There are only six books in this series (this being the last), which I think is probably a good thing. I struggled with the previous novel, Blue Genes (artistic license gone too far), and there's only so many times you read about a character's desire for vodka and pink grapefruit juice without getting a little fed up of it!

While I suspect McDermid's Tony & Carol series will be too grisly for me (they are significantly more violent than this series), I do want try some of her other series.

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