Happy Monday

Happy Monday night! I have decided to start writing a weekly post on Sunday nights (today is a bank holiday so it’s basically Sunday) to try and combat the Sunday blues I battle with every week. My plan is to share a few things I’ve been doing or enjoying over the last week and update the side bar with my current favourite podcast, sewing project and book.

As this is the first one, I’m going to include things that I’ve been doing/enjoying in recent weeks too.

  • My usual pre-work blues have not descended today because I have spent the afternoon eating upsetting quantities of food with my beloved Laura. I made her watch Nanette and then we just talked and watched YouTube clips of musicals and Julie Andrews. Also… I only have 2 days of work between now  and 10th September….
  • I have literally just finished the last episode of Sharp Objects and I can’t really cope with how brilliant it was. I finished it less than 15 minutes ago so I cannot be articulate about it.
  • I love Angela Carter but I’ve given her a bit of wide berth since university when I wrote my dissertation on her. Then I watched Angela Carter: Of Wolves and Women on iplayer and reminded myself how much I love her writing. I’d recommend watching it if you don’t know much about her because it gives a nice overview of her life and the themes in her books – complete interviews with Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson. It’s prompted me to finally open the Angela Carter biography I received for Christmas!
  • My Favorite Murder was my gateway into the world of the True Crime podcast and I still love it very much, but I think my all-time favourite may be All Killa No Filla. Kiri Pritchard McLean and Rachel Fairburn are both professional comedians and they discuss their mutual fascination with serial killers between going off on hilarious, often filthy tangents. I just love them. I’ve listened to the podcast off and on but I’ve been listening constantly over the last few days while I’ve been doing housework and sewing and I am obsessed.
  • I’m going to a wedding on Thursday so naturally I am still working on my outfit… I’ve decided to make a By Hand London Kim Dress in a navy with an oversized polka dot. I’ve found it really enjoyable to sew. How well it turns out remains to be seen! I feel like I’ve got a bit over confident of late so I’m convinced this will be a dogs dinner and I’ll end up wearing something I already own or panic buying something on Wednesday.
  • This piece about Ed Sheeran made me laugh so hard. I think Ed Sheeran may be the most boring musician of all time and I really don’t understand his popularity.

And that’s been my week really! I hope you all had an interesting week and have some things to look forward to in the week to come.

What have been your highlights this week?

Evening Primrose by Kopano Matlwa

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Evening Primrose was recommended by lots of internet people I trust, and so when it came to compiling a Christmas list, I had to put it down. I didn’t actually know what it was about, but from the cover and the title, I got the impression that it was going to be the kind of book that is half poetry, half novel, with long lush descriptions of South Africa and beautiful, poignant bittersweet moments. It isn’t really anything like that.

Evening Primrose is actually a really angry political novel. It’s written as the diary of Masechaba, a young woman who has left her religious mother to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. However, the realities of being a doctor and working within the South African health system are not what she expected. As well as dealing with the pressures of being a doctor, Masechaba is also dealing with her own personal history, her brother’s recent suicide and the legacy of apartheid. She lives with a Zimbabwean doctor named Nyamba who opens her eyes to the xenophobia that exists in South African society, even in Masechaba’s own mother.

I was really impressed by how such a short book managed to explore gender, the legacy of apartheid, mental health, menstruation and more. The author Kopano Matlwa is a doctor herself and is currently studying for a DPhil and Oxford University, which makes the fact that Evening Primrose is actually her third novel all the more impressive.

I don’t want to give away everything that happens in the book because I found that not knowing what to expect made the book so much more shocking and moving. I finished the booked with tears rolling down my cheeks.

Mini Review: Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg

Pages for You cover.jpgI loved this beautiful, delicious book. It’s the kind of book you want to read in a day while lying next to a pool. It is about an intense affair between 17-year-old college freshman Flannery and 28-year-old grad student Anne at what appears to be Yale. Theirs is the kind of affair you (or at least I) expected to have at University – the kind of affair that turns you from a sensitive, thoughtful and gauche child, into a sophisticated woman. The kind of affair that will give you fuel for your novel, a couple of country songs, and will give you something to draw on when singing along with power ballads in the shower.

‘What would happen if I wrote some pages for you? Each day a page, to show you that I am finding our story, the story of how we might have been together, once. Of how we could be.’

The book is broken up into short chapters, about 2 or 3 pages long, which are the ‘pages’ in the title. They read like love letters or a sort of diary of the relationship – from the first meeting the breakup. The short chapters make the book feel like a collection of perfect little jewels of prose. Although it’s the kind of book you will want to gobble up within a few hours, the short chapters make it perfect for dipping in an out of throughout your workday – on your commute and lunch break.

Can you tell I liked it? There’s a sequel called Pages For Her which I have yet to read. I’ll report back.

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Jane Austen the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

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I bloody loved this book. I bought it while I was on a book crawl with Laura and her book blogger pals. As soon as Laura pointed out to me, I knew it was the book for me. Reading this was a very intense experience! It’s the reason I decided to do my Autumn of Austen blog series and has made me feel justified in my decision to base everything in my life on my love for Pride and Prejudice.

The premise of the book is that most modern readers have Austen all wrong. Many of us have fallen for the image of Austen as a quiet, spinster aunt who wrote witty but unthreatening novels about young women who in love with wealthy men. Kelly argues that we have no reliable source for that idea of Jane Austen and that if we go to her novels, we see a very different woman. Kelly devotes a chapter to each of Austen’s finished novels, picking up on the references that would have been familiar to Austen’s first readers and filling in the social and political context that we are missing 200 years after Austen’s death.

Through her close analysis of Austen’s novels, Kelly paints the picture of a Jane Austen who was extremely politically engaged, concerned with the treatment of women, the hypocrisy of the church, the effect of enclosures on ordinary people and many other issues. Our lack of familiarity with things like the eighteenth and early nineteenth century Church, inheritance law, and the literature of the time, means that we miss many of her subtle references. Modern readers, for example, are unlikely to have read the Mysteries of Udolpho and therefore just don’t fully get how misguided Catherine Morland is in Northanger Abbey. Most of us are unaware that many of the characters in Mansfield Park share names with prominent slave owners, and we aren’t living through the Napoleonic wars with companies of militia taking over our towns. I will say that Kelly goes into some very in-depth literary criticism, which I love, but may not be to everyone’s taste. However, if like me, you are an ex-literature student, this will make you squeal with joy. It’s the best part of doing an English degree without even having to write an essay.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to all Austen fans. I will warn you that it may make you feel differently about certain characters and books (I’m looking at you, Edward Ferrars), but that might be worth it if you want to love Austen even more.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

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Well before his arrival in Cincinnati, everyone knew that Chip Bingley was looking for a wife.

Quite by chance, I have chosen a book from The Austen Project as the first post in MY Austen project. The Austen Project is a series where modern authors have rewritten Austen’s novels, presumably in honour of the 200th Anniversary of her death. So far four have been published: Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid, Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible which is her retelling of Pride and Prejudice. If I’m completely honest, I was not at all interested in any of these books. I saw the Sense and Sensibility one day and wondered why anyone would even attempt to rewrite Austen’s work. It feels like the height of arrogance to write a version of one of Austen’s novels and keep the title! In fact, I was outraged and offended by the very idea. Then Eligible appeared as a 99p Kindle book, and I thought I’d give it a chance…

So, there are two key things that Curtis Sittenfeld does to change Pride and Prejudice – firstly, she moves the story from the Hertfordshire to Cincinnati, Ohio, and secondly, she makes Jane, Lizzy, Darcy, and Bingley about 15-20 years older than the original characters in Austen’s novel. Making the characters older makes sense. Unless you are part of some deeply religious sect, being unmarried at 22 isn’t a sign of failure. In Eligible, Mrs Bennet’s real concern is whether her daughters will produce any children.

Like Pride and Prejudice, Eligible starts with Darcy and Bingley arriving in the Bennet’s sisters’ world. But they are not two gentlemen from the north of England, they are two doctors, and there is the added excitement of Chip Bingley* being a minor celebrity having starred in a Bachelor-style dating show (called, you guessed it, Eligible). Elizabeth and Jane live and work in New York (as a journalist and yoga teacher respectively)  but have recently returned to Cincinnati for a family crisis. Lydia and Kitty are in their early twenties and obsessed with CrossFit, while Mary is fairly reclusive and spends most of her time lurking in her room studying.

I’m not going to say anything else about what Sittenfeld has changed because the joy of this book is finding out how she has translated the novel into modern-day America. As a Pride and Prejudice obsessive, it’s a delicious treat to be able to experience the story in a slightly different way. It’s not my favourite book ever, and it definitely won’t be for everyone. But this book made me cackle with glee on a packed commuter train I think that’s as good a recommendation as you can get.

*Yuck to Chip. Why on EARTH do Americans use Chip as a nickname for Charles?

An Autumn of Austen

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Welcome to my new blog! I have decided to start off with a series dedicated to my first love, the greatest novelist of all time – Jane Austen.

I have loved Jane Austen since I was six-years-old and the 1995 Pride and Prejudice aired on the BBC. I still remember how it felt to watch it for the first time – I remember how it felt to hate Mr Darcy and think that Wickham seemed to be quite fun! I still feel the same little fizz of excitement when I hear the theme music. And ever since I was six years old, I have hoped to wake up and find that I’ve miraculously become Elizabeth Bennet overnight.

Twenty-two years on, I am still as devoted a fan as ever, I have seen countless adaptations and studied her books up to degree level, but I have not tired of Jane Austen. As this year marks the 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, I have decided that there is no better tribute than to spend Autumn re-reading all of her novels, re-watching adaptations of her work and enjoying Jane Austen in as many forms as possible. I always love to spend autumn re-reading beloved books, watching costume dramas and eating casseroles so why not make it into a project! I’m not going to write any posts on the novels themselves, I don’t think anyone needs to read a review of Pride and Prejudice (my review would just be OMFG! I LOVE IT SO MUCH), but I will share reviews of Austen inspired/related things.