Hello… it’s been a while.
I haven’t really felt like blogging – my master’s just emotionally drained me and I turned to bookstagram as a way of sharing content (@bookishbyron_). I want to get back into writing about books, especially as I loved it so much, and it was a way of expressing my passion for classic literature. So… as a way to fill in the all of those months of silence, let’s talk about the books I’ve been reading during lockdown.
The Murder of Harriet Monckton
I bought this rather chonky book last year and I’ve been putting it off because of it’s size. I’m not usually bothered by big books; I’ll happily pick up a 1,000 page novel and read it. I just wondered how you could drag out a murder mystery for 500 pages?
I was stupid to put it off for so long.
It’s set in 1843 as we follow an investigation into the mysterious murder of Harriet, who was found poisoned behind her local chapel. It’s based on a true story – I don’t exactly know how much of it was fictionalised, but it was bloody brilliant. I was kept in suspense the whole time, and didn’t see that final page plot twist (oh, god, so good). I wasn’t phased by the general slowness of the story, and I enjoyed being able to dip in and out of different perspectives.
Just a really great book.
So, I might not be reading Victorian classics, but I’m still making a conscious effort to read older titles. The Nun, published in 1792 by Denis Diderot, is a French classic. Suzanne is a young girl forced by her parents to enter a convent and take holy orders. It mixes madness and sadistic cruelty with nascent sexuality.
I think, ashamedly to say, this is my first translated text? If not, it is definitely my first French classic. And I loved it. Why haven’t I read more of this kind of stuff?
It was an excellent insight into the conflicts of religion, especially how corrupt an seemingly idyllic institution can truly be. Religion can prey on people, especially when they are young and innocent, and lacking that worldly experience. Suzanne is a victim of forced devoutness, making her vulnerable to those who are powerful. Diderot, considering he’s a male writer, did an exceptional job when it came to the conflicts of womanhood and their subsequent sexuality.
I’m so glad I stumbled across this one!
The Daylight Gate
We all know I’m a sucker for witchy reads – bonus if it’s based on the Pendle Witches. Jeanette Winterson ticked all the boxes with this one. It’s a relatively short read, only 220 pages, reimagining the Pendle Witch Trial of 1612. There’s the mysterious gathering of 13 people on Pendle Hill, the pompous antagonists Roger Nowell and Thomas Potts, and the question of whether these people were truly witches or not.
I loved it. Obvious, right?
It blended together the supernatural and the superstitious, which actually complimented one another really well. Granted, I wasn’t too keen on the jumper narrative – incredibly short chapters that brush over certain details and which go from one character to another isn’t my type of style – but I didn’t mind so much in the end. I got the gist.
Honestly? Just great.
The Doll Factory
I haven’t really been reading Victorian classics; I’ve been turning to neo-Victorian or historical fiction set in that time period as a way to fill in the gaps. Elizabeth Macneal’s debut, The Doll Factory, hit all the right spots for me.
It had a Victorian setting, featured the Great Exhibition of 1851, had the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, had a free-thinking female protagonist who wanted to break into the traditionally male art scene, and channeled an eerie gothic undertone.
Do I need to say more?
Macneal’s writing is nothing short of phenomenal, taking us to places we didn’t expect and writing brilliant characters who felt authentically Victorian but who didn’t conform to what was often expected of them. It’s definitely a new favourite of mine, and will undoubtedly make it to my favourites of 2020. I can’t wait to see what other work she does – I hope it’s just a good as this one.
Girl, Woman, Other
Now this one was a surprise to me. I only finished reading this one late last night, but it really packed a punch. This is Britain as you’ve never read it. Girl, Woman, Other follows “twelve very different characters on an entwined journey of discovery”.
It’s a very hyped book (which are the ones I usually hate), and it’s in that modern style, with the little to no grammar and constant line/paragraph breaks, but I didn’t actually mind it. It broke up the stories into easily digestible chunks. If it was in the traditional style of writing (long blocks of text), I think I would have eventually grew bored.
I sped through this. It was subtle but powerful. I couldn’t recommend it enough!
Even though I’ve worked through the pandemic, I’ve had so much more time to read and reflect on the books I’ve chosen. I’ve managed to read 40 books since the beginning of lockdown, which I’m pretty impressed with, if I do say so myself.
What have you been reading during lockdown? Recommend me your top pick.
Thanks for reading, Lauren X