The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
Houghton Mifflin 2007
Blackstone Audio, 2007
narrated by Anne Flosnik
7 hours and 18 minutes
Maggie O'Farrell was on my 2022 list of Must-Try Authors and this was the perfect place to start - a book that has it all! A propelling plot, fully-developed characters, and beautiful writing made this reading experience a real pleasure. Family secrets, a Victorian insane asylum, and a setting in Scotland further added to the appeal.
I started out reading this book on my kindle, but added in the audio when I discovered that it's currently free in the audible plus catalog. I listened on my walks and read in every spare minute at home. The perfect ending packs a punch! Now I'm ready for more Maggie O'Farrell. Do you have a favorite to recommend?
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
W. W. Norton Company, 2016
(originally published in 1966)
Wide Sargasso Sea has been on my wish list and my Classics Club list for years. The novel is, of course, an imagining of Bertha Rochester's life before she became the "madwoman in the attic" in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. It offers the reader an opportunity to look at Brontë’s story from a different perspective. Since I reread Jane Eyre last summer, it made sense to pick up Rhys's novel while the details are still fairly fresh in my mind.
The writing in Wide Sargasso Sea is as lush and atmospheric as its Caribbean setting and is what I most appreciated about the novel. The story shifts viewpoints between Antoinette (as we learn Bertha prefers to be called) and a young Englishman we assume to be Rochester. Both are sympathetically portrayed, especially Antionette, but I found the storyline to be slow and a bit confusing at times.
Pick this up if you love beautiful writing and are curious to learn how the "madwoman" may have come to inhabit Mr. Rochester's attic.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's Press, 2021
audio edition narrated by Julia Whelan
Mcmillan Audio, 2021
15 hours and 2 minutes
This novel of the Dust Bowl novel is the July selection for a library book group I plan to join next week. It's about Elsa Martinelli, a farmer's wife in Texas who, after being abandoned by her husband, takes her two children and leaves to find work/a better life in California.
This story is laden with misery... misery on the farm in Texas as the land gradually dies, misery on the journey west and in the filthy, disease-ridden migrant camps of California, and finally, the misery of surviving at the mercy of big cotton growers. Since this is a Kirstin Hannah novel, the pages turn quickly... but the misery is unrelenting!
I'm sure, for the most part, this is an accurate representation the time, but to me it bordered on being emotionally manipulative. So while I compulsively tore through The Four Winds, it mostly made me want to reread John Steinbeck's classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. I need to be reminded how a master handles the same subject. I'm also planning to watch The Dust Bowl, Ken Burns PBS documentary.