Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sisters by Danielle Steel

In this very weak novel from Danielle Steel we are told the story of a year of emotional tumult in the lives of the four Adam’s sisters. The youngest is twenty-one year old Candace known simply as ‘Candy’ around the world due to her super-model status. Next is twenty-six year old Annie a perpetual art student thanks to the financial support of her parents, after studying for art degrees in Rhode Island and Paris she is now living in Florence to learn painting techniques of the old masters. The second oldest sister is Tammy, twenty-nine who having studied television and communications is now the producer of a successful television show in Los Angeles. The oldest sister is Sabrina, thirty four a high flying lawyer.

Having been introduced to the girls chapter by chapter and repetitively given information about the life of each sister they all descend upon their family home in Connecticut for the traditional Fourth of July celebrations with their parents Jane and Jim, the archetypical happily married couple. It is over this weekend that their lives are torn apart by tragedy. The sisters decide that to get the family back on track they will live together under the same roof for a year, something they have not done altogether at once for many years. Maybe this is why they always get on as adults when they meet up how will they all cope. It is a sad but disappointingly weak storyline which I felt was padded out tremendously by the repetitions mentioned earlier continuing throughout the novel. At least we learn that it all worked out ok, they coped with living together again, just about, as they rebuild their lives over the next year with the inevitable happy ending.

Although I have been reading the novels of Danielle Steel as light relief for over thirty years I am now seriously wondering why I continue to do so. She may be a prolific and popular author but I think the time has come to remove her novels from my wishlists and spend more time reading other authors that I enjoy more.

Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard

Set in a Spanish ex-pat community this a tense thriller written with sarcastic wit that explores to quote from the text , ‘a social economy based on drug-dealing, theft, pornography and escort services from top to bottom a condominium of crime’.

Charles Prentice arrives in this strange community to discover just why his brother Frank, manager of the local sports club as confessed to a charge of murdering five people in a house fire! Everyone, apart from the local police, is so sure of his innocence that Charles decides to do some investigating of his own. His questioning causes all sorts of attacks upon him as he discovers a strong undercurrent suggesting that there are much more complex things of concern to the community than the death of five people!
At first Charles is sickened by the behaviour of the residents he meets but gradually he is drawn into their world. The person who has the most disturbing effect upon him is Bobby Crawford the club tennis coach who changes Charles Prentice just like he did his brother Frank before him. So much so that he accepts his logic without fully understanding that he is becoming involved in a bizarre social experiment.
A clever totally unexpected ending, though afterwards when I was still thinking about the novel I realised it was the obvious one, just that I had missed the hints!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani

I have now read a few of Adriana Trigiani’s novels and this one has to be my favourite amongst them, a charming but sad love story. Perfect reading material if you are in the mood for some romantic escapism.
The heroine Lucia Sartori a seventy year old single lady tells the story of her life to the only other single lady living in the same apartment block as her, twenty five year old Kit Zanetti. Lucia was the only daughter growing up in a large Italian-American family in Greenwich Village, New York in the 1950’s when family values were still of great importance. As in her other novels Adriana Trigiani displays a talent for descriptive writing that brings the era alive.

The Peacock Emporium by JoJo Moyes

I did enjoy this eventually; it took for me an exceptionally long time to read, over a week. I found it very slow and it took me ages to feel involved enough in the story to want to read much more than a chapter at a time. The first few chapters are important as they introduce the reader to the history of the heroine’s family background. At the time this may seem irrelevant but persevere and read beyond this and it will all click into place.
The protagonist is Suzanna Peacock who with her husband has returned to live in the small country town of her birth. An emotionally disturbed young woman she has a lot to come to terms with in her life, especially her past and the way her mother though long dead still seems to affect her happiness. The only place Suzanna seems to be comfortable with herself is in the Peacock Emporium the shop she opens and it is here we learn the stories of the complex cast of characters that are drawn to the Emporium. A series of dramatic events threaten Suzanna’s stability but in true chick lit style there is a happy ending.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning

First published in 1974 but despite knowing this author from The Balkan and The Levant trilogies I had never come across this title before. It was drawn to my attention when I read a review by a friend; she then very kindly sent me her copy.

A tale from the last days of the British Empire, When Hugh Foster a failing script writer takes a temporary post with the Foreign Office; on the island of Al-Bustan in the Indian Ocean his marriage is already very rocky. After eleven years of married life he and his wife Kristy, a writer herself, are leading somewhat separate lives and Hugh seems somewhat surprised that she had agreed to go with him. This posting is to be an opportunity for them to start afresh.
Settling in to their new life in Al-Bustan is no easy task as they find themselves surrounded by snobbery and political scheming by people who just do not want to accept either of them into island society. They are both treated appallingly but particularly Kristy, one could not help feeling sorry for this weak and pathetic couple. It was so annoying when they put up with such treatment, especially at the hotel where they had to deal with the most terrible humiliations!
An extremely tense and sad ending to a novel that although I found exasperating at times I could not help but like as it is so well written.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Clothes On Their Backs by Linda Grant

The narrator of the novel is Vivien Kovacs the only child of Hungarian immigrant parents, Ervin and Berta who keep themselves to themselves and are even secretive about their past with their own daughter. It is a tantalizing portrait of life for this family in 1970’s London, it is only after Vivien is grown up and once again living back at home after a personal disaster that she decides to discover her roots. Using snippets of information she has overheard as a child she discovers her father’s estranged brother Sandor. This sets off a chain of mainly tragic events but at least she learns the truth about her family.

This paragraph from the novel sums up for me how Linda Grant used clothes in this novel as an allegory of personalities.
‘The clothes you wear are a metamorphosis. They change you from the outside in. we are all trapped with these thick calves or pendulous breasts, our sunken chests, our dropping jowls. A million imperfections mar us. These are deep flaws we are not at liberty to do anything about except under the surgeon’s knife. So the most you can do is put on a new dress, a different tie. We are forever turning into someone else and should never forget that someone else is always looking’

The clothes descriptions are a clever use of imagery which I felt painted a very vivid portrait of not only the clothes but helped bring the characters personality and appearance alive on the page.