Between Two Seas by Marie-Louise Jensen

Standard

Word Press

The book began with someone emptying a chamber pot in Grimsby in the 1880s, which wasn’t particularly auspicious; but it did improve! It was a story about a girl going to Denmark to find her long-lost father: the main plot was rather unconvincing, but it did include some nice descriptions of life in a fishing town in late 19th century Denmark, and some Danish words which I already knew and plenty which I didn’t.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Advertisements

Cajun by Elizabeth Nell Dubus

Standard

This tells the story of two Louisiana families, one descended from Acadians expelled during the Great Expulsion and one descended from French aristocrats fleeing the Revolution. It takes their story up to the First World War.

What there was of it was well written, but it was under four hundred pages long and trying to cover the lives of seven generations of two families in a relatively short book inevitably meant that rather a lot got missed out. The Louisiana Purchase itself wasn’t covered very thoroughly: we seemed to get to the War of 1812 with very little having said about the fact that Louisiana was now part of the United States. Reconstruction was covered in a fair amount of detail, but the Civil War itself wasn’t. Not a single mention of anyone empting chamber pots on Union soldiers’ heads! Very little about the build-up to the Civil War either, come to that.

What struck me most, though, was the portrayal of the Great Expulsion. Don’t get me wrong: it was a terrible thing to do, and one of the greatest stains on the history of the British in North America. Not to mention the fact that, due to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, everyone thinks it was entirely down to the British rather than being due to both the British and the New England colonists. However, Elizabeth Nell Dubus did make it sound even worse than it was, suggesting, for example, that families were separated deliberately, rather than becoming separated in the chaos. Is this the story that’s been handed down in Cajun culture, as stories of the Boer War have been handed down in Afrikaner culture? It’s a controversial subject, and there was no excuse for what happened – and really it’s strange that it did happen: certainly nothing of the kind ever happened in Quebec province when that was ceded to Britain.

Anyway – that, as I said, is a controversial subject. A less controversial one is the fascinating story of the unique culture of this part of Louisiana; and this book depicted that very well.

Word Press

The Musketeers – BBC 1

Standard

Word Press
I’ve finally seen all of this, and I wish now that I’d watched it in the first place, instead of boring old Mr Selfridge! I really, really enjoyed it – all good old exciting, swashbuckling drama, and good fun to watch! Not many points for historical accuracy – poor old Louis XIII was depicted as being a) rather a prat and b) devoted to Anne of Austria – and you really couldn’t take it too seriously (especially when d’Artagnan was commissioned into the Musketeers as a reward for killing Vinnie Jones!), but it didn’t take itself too seriously so that was fine.

I did keep wanting to call D’Artagnan “Dogtanian”, half-expecting Milady to appear as a cat and totally expecting “One for all and all for one, muskehounds are always ready,” to be played at the end of each episode, but that’s a compliment to the series, LOL – I always loved Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds!

In summary – a thoroughly entertaining series, and I’m very glad to hear that a second series has already been commissioned.

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

Standard

Word Press

I first came across Philippa Gregory when my then best friend read “Wideacre” way back in the 1980s, but for some reason I’d never read “A Respectable Trade”, first published in 1995, until now. It tells the story of a group of slaves brought from Africa to Bristol in the 1790s, and the relationship between one of the slaves and his white, upper-class English mistress, married to a Bristol slave trader who invested unwisely and ended up losing all his money. Novels which concentrate on slavery within Britain are unusual, and novels which show a relationship between a male slave and a mistress even more so … it doesn’t seem particularly realistic, but then a novel about a relationship between a female slave and a master would seem realistic enough.

It was an interesting story, well told. The disappointment was the ending. Our Heroine had “delicate” health, consisting of “weak lungs” and a “weak heart”, and conveniently died whilst giving birth to her lover’s child. All that vague “delicate health” stuff, and conveniently dying rather than dealing with social ruin, is very Victorian – it doesn’t work so well in a novel set in the 1780s and written in the 1990s!

Good book – shame about the ending, though!

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

Standard

Edmund de Waal is the son of an English country vicar descended from a Jewish banking dynasty whose founders moved from Berdychev to Odessa (I’ve put “Berdychev” rather than, as he did, “Berdichev”, but I’m sticking to Odessa with a double s!) and then split into a Paris branch and a Vienna branch, both fabulously wealthy and well-connected … until the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the rise of the Nazis. The focus on the book was his investigation into the history of a collection of Japanese “netsuke” (miniature sculptures) which he’d inherited from a great-uncle who’d moved from Vienna to the USA before settling in Japan, and which his great-uncle had in turn inherited from a relative who’d mixed with all sorts of artistic luminaries in Belle Epoque Paris.

I think I’d have preferred a straight history of the family rather than the focus on the history of the netsuke, but it was still a very good read, and a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of a family which went very rapidly from humble beginnings to a position of great wealth and influence in the fascinating worlds of late 19th century and early 20th century Paris and Vienna, and the scattering of its survivors and their making of new lives for themselves in different parts of the world.

Word Press

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Standard

This told the story of a Quaker woman from Dorset who emigrated to Ohio in the 1850s and became involved with the Underground Railroad. The author did an excellent job of describing the moral and practical dilemmas involved without being either critical of those who were unwilling or unable to help the runaways or too preachy in support of those who did. She also did an excellent job of telling the story of her main character as well as the story of a difficult period in history, and also of depicting the life of a Quaker female at that time.

Although the importance of Oberlin College in African-American history is well-known, the crucial role of Ohio in the Underground Railroad is perhaps less so, and deserves more attention. This wasn’t a particularly long or detailed book, but it was certainly a very interesting one.

Word Press

The Blue and the Gray by John Leekley

Standard

Word PressNothing like an American Civil War/War Between The States novel for a bit of relaxation! This one seemed like a missed opportunity, though – probably because it was written more for TV than as a novel. The idea of a family split by civil war isn’t particularly original but it’s one which does usually work well, and the main characters in this book were all fascinating … but the book was so short and so rushed that I didn’t feel that I got to know any of them as well as I’d have liked to, and that some of them had all sorts of stories in their past which I never got to learn.

The TV series aired in America in 1982, so I don’t suppose there’s any chance now of the author going back to the characters and writing a prequel or a sequel, but it’d be wonderful if he did!