Wednesday, January 22, 2014

{reviews} her father's name & the golden child

I have just read two really enjoyable books in a row, and it would certainly be remiss not to share these. They were quite different books, but both made me laugh and reminded me why I love books.

Florence Marryat Her Father's Name (1876)

Leona Lacoste was a woman who would never give in—until she died.
I chose this one because I read a tantalising blog post on it by Catherine Pope, who has published the Victorian Secrets edition of the text. The novel is available free (e.g., archive.org), but this edition is well worth having - actually, I'd say indispensable - for the absolutely wonderful Introduction by Greta Depledge, in which she provides all sorts of contextualization on the author and the varied and often kooky themes of the novel. 

Basically, if you like 'sensational' novels and you admire a strong heroine (with admirable bosoms, "body supple as a cat-o'-mountain's" and "eyes of burnished bronze, like... the eyes of a spotted panther in repose") who scorns the conventions of polite society in order to escape a fate worse than death ("Bah! In a country where the girls marry at fourteen! But were she twelve it would make no difference. She is old enough for me." Ew.) AND clear her father's name of a heinous accusation, then this is for you.
"I am quite determined, father. I shall never marry. Marriage is slavery, and I was born free. I will never be such a fool as to barter my birthright for any man."
But wait, there's more: cross-dressing...
She commenced to stroll leisurely in the direction of the cabin as she spoke, and as Valera followed her, he could not help wondering at the easy grace with which she filled her part, and the admirable disguise it was, to which, however, the effeminacy of many of the men in those southern climates much assisted her.
... hysteria, sweaty sickbeds, effeminacy, a touch of Sapphism on the chaise-longue, duelling, travel, disguises, faint downy moustaches, guitar playing, ethnic stereotyping ("I shall not faint, doctor, I have too much European blood in me for that") and really tall women who smoke cigars. What more could you ask? 

This is my second Marryat, and I'm loving her more and more. I previously reviewed The Blood of the Vampire (1897), which was one of my 'best of 2012'. 

*

My second recommendation is by an author who made it onto my 'best of 2013', although I never managed actually to review that book. That was Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop (which all lovers of independent bookshops should read: what could possibly go wrong with one woman's ambition to bring a bookshop to her country town?). 

I'll try to do better with my second Fitzgerald: Penelope Fitzgerald's The Golden Child (1977):

       
'Three minutes to go... We are all quite clear, I take it. Slight accidents, fainting, trampling under foot — the emergency First Aid posts are indicated in your orders for the day; complaints, show sympathy; disorder, contain; increased disorder, communicate directly with my office; wild disorder, the police, to be avoided if possible. Crush barriers to be kept in place at all entries at all times. No lingering.'
What made me love this? I did wonder if my list of things that I love might only be applicable to me, but I hope not! The British Museum, a golden treasure from a lost civilization, a group of highly eccentric curators and academics, a quick trip to Russia, and a murder or two. No, surely there's universal appeal there?
Half over the sill, the eminent maniac was holding Untermensch by his two thin wrists, hanging him down outside while he sawed the wrists to and fro on the frame. The Professor’s voice came only faintly: ‘Spare me! I alone can read Garamantian!’
Waring Smith is the naive but practical assistant curating a huge British Museum exhibition (inspired by the Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition of 1972) of golden treasures from the mysterious civilisation that was Garamantia in Africa. 

Few know anything about the artifacts which were discovered by Sir William Simpkin many, many years ago: there is Professor Untermensch (Fitzgerald's names are brilliant) who has written the definitive study of the Garamantian script, Garamantischengeheimschriftendechiffrierkunst; there is "Tite-Live Rochegrosse-Bergson from the Sorbonne - the distinguished anthropologist, anti-structuralist, mythologist and paroemiographer" (anti-structuralist - still giggling about that; he also believes in "the irresistible impulse to stop thinking at all"); and there is, of course, Sir William himself, who refuses to visit the exhibition. Is this because of an alleged curse? The museum's Director sees the exhibition as a cash-cow, and Sir William as another source of funds which can all go towards his love of French "dix-septième" objets: "He particularly hated Oriental rugs, which took up an immoderate amount of display space." 

But then things start to go awry and Waring Smith is dragged in well over his head:
And the Museum, slumbrous by day, sleepless by night, began to seem to him a place of dread. Apart from the two recent deaths, how many violent ways there were in the myriad rooms of getting rid of a human being! The dizzy stairs, the plaster-grinders in the cast room, the poisons of conservation, the vast incinerators underground! And the whole strange nature of Museum work, preserving the treasures of the dead for the curiosity of the living, filled him... with fear.
The Golden Child is black humour at its best - gentle, ridiculous and wonderfully well written. 

25 comments:

  1. You have just added two books to my list, and I can't decide which I want to read first. I think the Marryat may win out - between the burnished bronze eyes and the wonderful list starting with "hysteria, sweaty sickbeds, effeminacy, a touch of Sapphism on the chaise-lounge"... I have Fitzgerald's The Bookshop on my TBR stacks, but I've managed not to collect any of her other books yet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just feel so lucky to have had two totally spot on reads in a row, both with that touch of kookiness. It's really made the January-going-back-to-work ordeal so much happier! I hope you manage some Fitzgerald - I'm a huge fan now of her 'not quite sure where this is going' style. She's such a great find.

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  2. The Fitzgerald does sound good but like Lisa I think the Marryat wins. It sounds hilarious!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Charlie - there are times when only a sensational novel will do, and I'm so happy to have found another reliable author, especially one who likes to play with gender roles.

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  3. I've never read anything by Florence Marryat but I love sensation novels and Her Father's Name sounds like a great one. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She's a great find, and incredibly prolific, so I look forward to discovering more gems. I see there's one called The Fate of Fenella: even the title is bewitching! If you like an oddball take on the vampire novel (and it came out the same year as Bram Stoker's rather more famous go) without any gore but with plenty of weirdness, I'd recommend Blood of the Vampire. A silly (in a good way) read!

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  4. I *love* the sound of the Marryat book! Thanks for reviewing it - must investigate....!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think Marryat is going to be my new Mary Elizabeth Braddon: so nice to see a press bringing these back into circulation. Thanks for dropping by Karen - enjoy your reading week.

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  5. They both sound awfully good, Vicki. I think especially the second but really, both of them! They will go on the list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The second one really was a marvel - like a perfect mix of culture and crime! I hope you manage to clear your wishlist a lot quicker than me! ;-)

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  6. Vicki, glad you loved these. Whilst I want to broaden my horizons this year, I'll be honest I don't think these two will do it for me. Next time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a deal! Though as I'm currently reading a 100 year old book about a nice modest young lady who goes to a ladies' college, I'm guessing that's not going to be it! ;-)

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  7. I must make sure to read more Fitzgerald this year - I loved The Bookshop and At Freddie's (though less keen on Human Voices). I think I have The Golden Child somewhere, and it sounds brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been so lucky with my first two Fitzgeralds - I shall look for At Freddie's. Given your thoughts on Lolita, perhaps we can see why the bookshop of The Bookshop ended as it did?! ;-)

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  8. Both of these sound perfectly offbeat! I need to read more lesser known Victorian writers - thank you for the link to Victorian Secrets, I've been spending some of next months salary! I've already bought a copy of the Golden Child for a curator friend

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for visiting, Victoria - I was thinking of rereading some Wilkie Collins to handle my Victoriana craving, but now I've found Marryat and Vic Secrets...! And the Golden Child is brilliant - the descriptions of the curatorial staff are just wonderful.

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  9. I love Penelope Fitzgerald's writing, how nice you do too! And Florence Marryat sounds ace. I note you have been reading 'A College Girl' by Mrs George de H V, I hope you review it, I read it and several of her books a very long time ago but sadly can't remember them very well and am unsure in which box in my parents' attic I can find them... So no pressure but I'm relying on you. Heh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Helen. A College Girl was great fun: "Newnham girls are not half careful enough about their appearance, and it tells against the cause. A perfect woman, nobly planned, ought to be as clever as she is—er—dainty, and as dainty as she is clever." I think I might need to work on my daintiness! ;-)

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    2. Yes indeed!

      If feminists were just a bit daintier, we'd be living in a utopia of equality by now! Tsk!

      [considers brushing hair]

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  10. I've just ordered your recommendation of Farthing by Jo Walton. The Marryat sounds interesting, too. Love the cover.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks jenclair! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did - I still have the rest of the trilogy to go, and am looking forward to them.

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  11. What a grand post! However did I miss it first time round?! It - and the comments (ie. "considers brushing hair") - are marvelous. THANK YOU. (All of you!)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I guess we'd still have to brush our hair if we were cross-dressing like our Marryat heroine, and then face the dilemmas of dandyism.

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  12. I just came across your lovely blog post - I'm so glad you enjoyed Her Father's Name (and also The Blood of the Vampire). It's really good to see that Marryat has a whole new audience - she'd be delighted!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm dying to read more of her now -- I love all those pent up themes that never quite speak their name, and the ludicrous melodrama, and basically everything. You've done a great service bringing these back to us, Catherine!

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{READ IN 2016}

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  • 90.The Visitor - Lee Child [K; rr]
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  • 79. Kill You Twice - Chelsea Cain [K]
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  • 73. I Regret Everything - Seth Greenland [K]
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  • 61. Murder Every Monday - Pamela Branch [K]
  • 60. Below Stairs - Margaret Powell
  • 59. Human Flies - Hans Olav Lahlum [K]
  • 58. Dash and Dingo - Catt Ford & Sean Kennedy [K]
  • 57. Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948 - Noah Berlatsky [K]
  • APRIL
  • 56. Ravished - Amanda Quick [K]
  • 55. Garden of Lies - Amanda Quick [K]
  • 54. Captain Jim - Mary Grant Bruce [K]
  • 53. Five Wounds - Katharine Edgar [K]
  • 52. Tragedy at Law - Cyril Hare [K]
  • 51. The Fallen Angel - Daniel Silva [K]
  • 50. A Dark & Twisted Tide - Sharon Bolton [K]
  • 49. Like This, For Ever - Sharon Bolton [K]
  • MARCH
  • 48. New Finnish Grammar - Diego Marani [K]
  • 47. The Feast - Margaret Kennedy [K]
  • 46. A Month in the Country - J. L. Carr [K]
  • 45. The Eyes Around Me - Gavin Black [K]
  • 44. The Silent Pool - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 43. The Fingerprint - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 42. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant - Jenni Ferrari-Adler (ed.)
  • 41. A Time to Keep Silence - Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • 40. The Crime and the Crystal - Elizabeth Ferrars
  • 39. Eternity Ring - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 38. Through the Wall - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 37. Wax - Ethel Lina White [K]
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  • 32. Live Alone And Like It - Marjorie Hillis [K]
  • 31. Ice Station Zebra - Alistair Maclean [K; rr]
  • 30. Strange Weather in Tokyo - Hiromi Kawakami [K]
  • 29. The Sittaford Mystery - Agatha Christie [K; rr]
  • 28. 4.50 From Paddington - Agatha Christie [K; rr]
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  • 19. A Taste for Death - Peter O'Donnell
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  • 17. An American Girl in London - Sara Jeannette Duncan [K]
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  • 15. The Defector - Evelyn Anthony
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  • 13. The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer [K; rr]
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  • 9. The Nebuly Coat - J. Meade Falkner [K]
  • 8. Seven Little Australians - Ethel Turner [K]
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  • 3. Ibiza Surprise - Dorothy Dunnett [K; rr]
  • 2. Rum Affair - Dorothy Dunnett [K; rr]
  • 1. Tropical Issue - Dorothy Dunnett [K; rr]