||[Sep. 22nd, 2015|09:17 am]
For the last two days karinmollberg has been shepherding us around Bordeaux, showing us her list of things worth seeing, being patient with us when we dashed off down side streets or into shops or down holes in the ground - and when I lagged behind because I had stopped to take a photograph, which was often. I've had a wonderful time, culminating in a gourmet dinner with fireworks, and I look forward to writing all about it with many, many photos. But I think that will have to wait until I have more bandwidth, and better picture-editing software.
While we're waiting, have a book post. I have been reading Sisters of Fortune by Frances McNeil, which will be reissued next summer as Halfpenny Dreams by Frances Brody (the name under which Frances publishes her Kate Shackleton murder mysteries).
Frances is a friend and a client: here's the page I made about the forthcoming reissues for her website. She was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the original edition because I enjoy her writing, so this isn't going to be an unbiaised review. But I wanted to write about the book, because it was such a great read and because I think it deserves a signal boost.
If you followed those links, you'll see that it's being marketed as a saga, a genre which has its readers but probably meets even more snobbery than the crime and F&SF which are my genre staples. It is not a multigenerational family history, it is not sentimental and although it is set in the past (the 1930s) it treats the period with a sharp-eyed sense of history, of how things worked and how people felt about that.
It follows the lives of two girls, who are not in fact sisters. Each of them could be described as a 'daughter of the Bank' Lydia because her mother abandons a repertory theatre company to marry the owner of Thackrey's Bank, Sophie because she lives in the slums of Leeds's Bank district. Their lives too are overshadowed by Thackrey's Bank. Lydia and Rosa narrate alternate chapters, at first as children and then as spirited young women. If you are looking for books with strong female characters in a historical setting, this one is full of them: not only Lydia and Sophie, and her sister Rosa, but Lydia's actress mother Phoebe and her friend Ada, May who runs a second hand shop, even walk-on parts like Rosa's friend Fenella.
Terrible things happen to both Lydia and Sophie, and they are not brushed off lightly. But there's so much verve and so much life in the telling, that the result is not grim and dark. If anything, the sequence of events, one blow after another and the heroines' response to them, has the heightened colour of melodrama - in a good way.
If we must classify books into genres, I can see why both publishers felt that the depiction of life at a certain place and time would appeal to saga readers. If you aren't one of those, consider it as a novel - or maybe a historical novel. But given the strength of characterisation of team Sophie and Lydia, I wonder whether Piatkus considered targeting the Young Adult market - I think it could have great appeal there, too.