Category Archives: Frances Osborne

A Month in Books: February

Summing up their month of reading is something that I am seeing on a fair few book blogs now and there is something I really like reading so I thought ‘oh, I’ll join in’. It won’t be a really long blog as I have a manic weekend this weekend but I thought would be a little something to keep you all going.

Now having just finished Summer Crossing by Truman Capote literally a few minutes ago my total of books read this month is ten, I’d love to sneak another read in today but its not going to happen. This is despite having some really bad readers block during the month that sent my planned TBR and reading habits into a slight meltdown. Thanks to Susan Hill and some of her crime fiction I was soon sorted out. It also beats January as I read eight books in a slightly longer month and is also three more than I read in February last year.

This seems to have been an unintentionally crime based month with Susan Hill, Sophie Hannah and David Ebershoff. It has also of course been a month filled with Richard and Judy books which I know often get frowned upon for me however a fair few of this months best reads have come from their selection. I had read Kate Atkinson prior to this month so can’t count it, if I had read it this month it would have been my favourite book hands down. My TBR pile has gone crazy thanks to publishing houses and second hand shops, what was a pile of 702 books to read has in the space of a month gone to 754 which is verging on the excessive. Anyway here is a quick summary of my month, which from now on I shall do every month… it feels a bit like the Oscars.

New author I want to read ‘the works of’: Truman Capote (by new I mean one I haven’t read before)
Favourite character of the month: John Cromer from Pilcrow, Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Marianne Engel from The Gargoyle
Best crime: Hurting Distance – Sophie Hannah (so clever and so full of twists)
Best non-fiction: The Bolter – Frances Osborne
Surprise of the month: The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
Book of the month: The Bolter – Frances Osborne or Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote, both were wonderful.

What about you? What were your highlights of a fiction filled February? What are your plans for March? Me, I think my aim is to get a few more classics under my belt. I was also going to say that I would try and restrain the number of books that come through my door (not from publishers) but it’s my birthday in March and that invariably means lots and lots of book vouchers… hoorah!

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Filed under Andrew Davidson, Book Thoughts, Frances Osborne, Sophie Hannah, Truman Capote

The Bolter – Frances Osborne

Now you should all know that I have a small obsession about all things Mitford, which at the moment with the amount of books filled with letters, essays and diary entries from these sisters is very lucky for me. The Bolter by Frances Osborne has been on my book-radar for quite some time because of being part of my Richard and Judy Challenge and also because apparently the book is all about, Idina Sackville, was the inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Bolter’ in three of her novels. For this alone I know I would like this book, even though looking at some reviews have been slightly underwhelming…

Well I won’t hold back on this… I loved this book. However I can understand why some people out there might not like it so much, but more of that later. The Bolter can be summed up pretty much by its full title ‘The Bolter: Idina Sackville – The Woman Who Scandalized 1920’s Society and Became White Mischief’s Infamous Seductress’. This book promises to be full of gossip and scandal whilst taking a look at just what was going on in the rich upper classes in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It does exactly what it promises on that front with some very insightful tales even of royalty. It also lifts the lid further on ‘The Happy Valley’ (which I had no knowledge of prior to this book – but I have been looking up on the web like mad) in Africa where bed hopping, drug taking, suicide and murder along with attempted murder all took place.

These things were great, Frances Osborne makes a lot of affairs and bed hopping very easy to keep up with and digest. She also brings in some really interesting social history such as what could and couldn’t constitute the rights for divorce and what counted as adultery. She looked at the women suffragettes which were something that Idina and her mother Muriel were very much involved with. It also looks at how war affected people not just in terms of rations but in terms of love and affairs of the heart. All this was wonderfully written and all over too quickly. However for me it was the background on Idina herself along with her childhood, parents and the society she grew up in and how they made her into the character which she became that I found so fascinating.

Yes she was a sexual predator in some ways, no she couldn’t be faithful, married and divorced five times, loved to party and left her sons and husband but deep down her story is of struggle and tragedy and how people react to that. Plus she in historical terms as Frances (who is her great-granddaughter) finds, from her family alone regardless of society back in the day, is blamed for this and getting the real insight your opinion is changed. Her first marriage to her true love wasn’t a happy one after the war and he ended up marrying his sister’s best friend Barbie. Some of the names in this book are wonderful. If all the things that happened to her happened to most people they would have given up aged about 21. However Idina is incredibly strong and fights and pushes to get what she wants which you believe is actually a quite settled life just with lots of sex.

This book also did something that very few books tend to do nowadays (unless I am having trouble keeping up) which is to make notes. There are some wonderful quotes such as when Idina describes why she married one of her husbands ‘he had broad shoulders, a long attention span and an endless supply of handkerchiefs’ and facts that I felt I wanted to chase up and learn more about. I also laughed and smiled quite a lot too thinking that anyone who loves the words and works of Nancy Mitford would be right at home with this. It does appear she very much borrowed from Idina and her real story for her own fiction. I also actually felt very solemn when the book ended and quite moved.

All in all a marvellous book which I would recommend to Mitford fans and particularly people who wouldn’t normally pick up a non fiction novel. This book has made me want to know so much more about the era and the other people mentioned as well as more on Idina herself and you cant ask more than that from a good book (this also happened with The 19th Wife which was fiction based on fact but a completely different subject) I am really pleased that Frances Osborne is writing more.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Frances Osborne, Nancy Mitford, Review, Virago Books

The Richard & Judy Challenge

So it was announced this week what the Richard & Judy Books 2009 are. I have to say Amanda Ross (some people believe Richard & Judy have a say also, some don’t, I don’t comment) has chosen possibly the best selection this year that I have seen. Is this something to do with the fact they have moved onto the TV channel Watch, which ironically no one does seem to be watching? Either way the selection looks really varied and has real promise.

I know some people think that Richard & Judy is low brow reading, the choice all popular fiction and the like. I have to say I disagree. Firstly I think that anything that gets people out there reading is a good thing. Secondly I have to admit that some books I have truly loved have come from these selections (though not the summer ones from experience so far bar The Island) books like The Shadow of the Wind, Half of A Yellow Sun, Mister Pip, Restless, The Lovely Bones, Notes on A Scandal, Arthur & George and The Time Travellers Wife have been on their lists. I’ve loved all of those. So I am setting up the Richard & Judy Challenge and aim to have read them all way before each on is done on the telly (not that I will see it anyways) so here is the list, in case anyone has been on Mars, ha.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn’t belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man – and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home – and leave him fearing for his own life.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)
It is midnight on 30th June 1860 and all is quiet in the Kent family’s elegant house in Road, Wiltshire. The next morning, however, they wake to find that their youngest son has been the victim of an unimaginably gruesome murder. Even worse, the guilty party is surely one of their number – the house was bolted from the inside. As Jack Whicher, the most celebrated detective of his day, arrives at Road to track down the killer, the murder provokes national hysteria at the thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing.This true story has all the hallmarks of a classic gripping murder mystery. A body, a detective, a country house steeped in secrets and a whole family of suspects – it is the original Victorian whodunnit.

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson (Canongate)
The nameless and beautiful narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. But in fact it is only just beginning. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly burned mercenary and she was a nun and a scribe who nursed him back to health in the famed monastery of Engelthal. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

When Will There Be Good News – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)
In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr. Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried. Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, “The 19th Wife” expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Bolter – Frances Osborne (Virago)
On Friday 25th May, 1934, a forty-one-year-old woman walked into the lobby of Claridge’s Hotel to meet the nineteen-year-old son whose face she did not know. Fifteen years earlier, as the First World War ended, Idina Sackville shocked high society by leaving his multimillionaire father to run off to Africa with a near penniless man. An inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s character The Bolter, painted by William Orpen, and photographed by Cecil Beaton, Sackville went on to divorce a total of five times, yet died with a picture of her first love by her bed. Her struggle to reinvent her life with each new marriage left one husband murdered and branded her the ‘high priestess’ of White Mischief’s bed-hopping Happy Valley in Kenya. Sackville’s life was so scandalous that it was kept a secret from her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne. Now, Osborne tells the moving tale of betrayal and heartbreak behind Sackville’s road to scandal and return, painting a dazzling portrait of high society in the early twentieth century.

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (HarperPerennial)
In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans — his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he’d regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place — the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city’s most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriends Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city’s first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck’s dream and Chuck’s sense of American possibility — until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend’s activities and ambitions.’ Netherland’ is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship. With it, Joseph O’Neill has taken the anxieties and uncertainties of our new century and fashioned a work of extraordinary beauty and brilliance.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

December – Elizabeth H. Winthrop (Sceptre)
Eleven-year-old Isabelle hasn’t spoken in nine months, and as December begins the situation is getting desperate. Her mother has stopped work to devote herself to her daughter’s care. Four psychiatrists have already given up on her, and her school will not take her back in the New Year. Her parents are frantically trying to understand what has happened so they can help their child, but they cannot escape the thought of darker possibilities. What if Isabelle is damaged beyond their reach? Will she never speak again? Is it their fault? As they spiral around Isabelle’s impenetrable silence, she herself emerges as a bright young girl in need of help yet too terrified to ask for it. By the talented young author of FIREWORKS, this is a compelling, ultimately uplifting novel about a family in crisis, showing the delicate web that connects a husband and wife, parents and children, and how easily it can tear.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits – of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude – and frailty.

So who is up for the challenge and will be joining me? Don’t all rush at once! Doesn’t anyone else think this is a strong line up? I have already read two of the books (both the Kate’s) but think at the moment the most exciting ones are The Gargoyle and The 19th Wife, I also think Netherland will be my downfall. Just something tells me it might not be quite me, we will see though!

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Filed under Andrew Davidson, Beatrice Colin, David Ebershoff, Elizabeth H. Winthrop, Frances Osborne, Jesse Kellerman, Joseph O'Neill, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Richard and Judy, Steven Galloway