The Lie by C.L. Taylor

I think I must have heard about crime fiction author C.L. Taylor where I usually do, over Twitter. With time, I saw how some fellow bloggers praised her novels, and when I found myself browsing Waterstones Cardiff last year I came upon her novel The Lie and I bought it.

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The reason to choose The Lie among Taylor’s novels was simple and easy: The story involves Jane, a young, female main character who lives in a cottage in rural Wales, works at an animal sanctuary, and has a dark past. As I was spending my last morning in Cardiff, unsure on when I could return to Wales, I decided it would be a great idea to buy something to remind of my good times there. Also if you follow me on Instragram, you know I am an animal lover and my love for The Puppy has him spoilt rotten. At first sight, The Lie seemed the perfect novel for me, and it was.

I could not put the book down from chapter 1 up until the very end. Jane Hughes has a supposedly common life in rural Wales until an anonymous person makes sure she knows her past is not buried. The back of the novel already informs readers of a dark turn in an international escape Jane and her friends embarked on five years earlier. Taylor masterfully tells both stories in first person, shifting between Jane’s present and past and making it easy for readers to follow the change in time and setting.

The present follows Jane as she tries to hide her past and rebuild her life in Wales. But the story about her past was made even more interesting by the dynamics between the four friends who embarked on the trip. As I was reading, their relationships reminded of Lena Durham’s TV show Girls, and how female friendship is achievable in a patriarchal context, yet complex. Meanwhile, the story set in the present keeps the reader interested in the past, but also in Jane’s evolution as a person. Who is she really? And what is she hiding? Is it possible to leave your past behind and start a new life?

The crime(s) in the book are outstanding, since Taylor questions what is a crime and how it should affect the people involved. Is Jane’s new life a crime? Does she have a right to create a new identity and lie to everyone in Wales about who she really is? But, things do not end there, and Taylor makes a magnificent use of crime fiction’s ability to question society by including violence towards animals as a crime that too many times goes unpunished.

The Lie is the first novel that I read by C.L. Taylor, but certainly not the last one. It is a gripping crime novel with a very interesting and complex female main character who engages in a diverse of relationships with other women (friends, mother-daughter, employer-employee). I would recommend The Lie to anyone who is looking for a page-turner and wants to be left wanting more, soon.

Marcella: Troubled Detectives, Green Parkas, and Fringes

Last June I started watching ITV’s new show Marcella after some people on my Twitter timeline mentioned it. Three episodes down the line bad reviews started to appear, with even The Pool criticising how Marcella’s parka was used to turn her into a television icon like Sara Lund and her jumpers. By that time I was travelling a lot and did not have much time to watch and enjoy the series. As I returned to them in my last week of my summer break, I rediscovered a fantastic television show with a defined aesthetic, and a new female detective to join the ranks of my television role models.

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International viewers will probably be surprised at Anna Friel’s performance, since the British actress is not really well-known in other countries. Friel does an amazing job at giving life to Marcella, stay-at-home mum and wife who returns to her job to the Metropolitan Police after her marriage falls apart and her children move to a boarding school. Right from the beginning Marcella identifies a pattern in a series of apparently random killings in the city when a colleague visits her to ask for some information from an old case she worked on in 2005. As the pictures of these new killings pick her interest she decides to return to the Met while her new colleagues question whether Marcella is actually a good detective or someone who cannot leave the past behind.

Rather than present these killings as a procedural series, Marcella‘s season 1 cleverly entwined police work and the characters’ personal lives in ways that sometimes seem confusing and may leave audiences wondering what is really happening. I highly suggest binge-watching this first season, as it is easier to make the connections between the vast number of characters and their sometimes secret lives. I was really happy to see some familiar faces such as Downton Abbey‘s Laura Carmichael in a very different role, as well as prolific television actress Nina Sosanya. The series was originally written in Swedish and later on translated into English by Hans Rosenfeldt, who was also in charge of the Scandi sensation Bron (The Bridge). This Scandi influence is overtly reflected on the night settings and the darkness that generally floods every scene.

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MARCELLA EPISODE 7 Pictured: RAY PANTHAKI as DI Rav Sangha, CHARLIE COVELL as DI Alex Dier, JACK DOOLAN as DC Mark Travis, NINA SOSANYA as DCI Laura Porter and ANNA FRIEL as Marcella.

The first season focuses on a series of murders that resemble one of Marcella’s most challenging cases. As she brings together her past and the present, her team of colleagues will post some very interesting moral questions to the audience with Marcella’s responses being the most extreme. How are can the police go to solve a crime? Is it right to harass a criminal on parole in order to prevent him from doing more harm? In questioning suspects, where is the line between pressure and torture? The feeling of instability and blurred lines is made more intense by Marcella’s blackouts and the stress she is under, both professionally and personally.

In the glimpses we are given into Marcella’s personal life, we get to discover a middle-aged woman, a terrific yet complex DS, and a troubled mother and wife who is dealing with her recent separation. It was refreshing to see a female main character come undone at times yet returning to work with all her strength, because that is what really drives her. Motherhood plays a key role with Marcella’s kids struggling with the separation as well, and blaming their mother for it. One of the most interesting relationships was the attempt at a civil relationship between Marcella, her husband and their kids. Despite her betrayal, Marcella herself recognises her partner’s good parenting and tries to make the situation as easy for the children as she can. However, this does not mean she lets herself be a martyr, and she comes up with the truth when she decides she does not have to carry the weight world on her shoulders.

Marcella’s personal life also includes her house and her closet, full of practical and comfortable clothes with her green parka being an icon. The Pool criticised the way Marcella’s parka is used to construct the character and sell clothes to the series’ female audience. I must disagree after I bought myself one for this winter completely unaware of where I had gotten the idea of replacing my worn out and ragged parka with one that looks uncannily like Marcella’s. Clothes have become iconic in crime fiction, a genre that is more a character study than a mere procedural, with the main characters’ clothes becoming references to the general public: Sherlock’s hat, Sarah Lund’s jumpers, Temperance Brennan’s jewels, Stella Gibson’s blouses. And now Marcella’s green parka, with that wonderful fringe of fur framing the hood, protecting its wearer of the cold London weather.

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The same could be said about Marcella’s deep auburn hair, which comes out with some coppery highlights depending on the light. And her fringe, which I am sure has inspired more than one woman to get that shoulder-length and fringed hairstyle that can so easily become a comfortable ponytail yet look glamorous. I also appreciated how the colour worn out throughout the season, so that by episode 8 Marcella’s roots were easily visible. It is sometimes difficult to connect with female main characters when they have been working for weeks without a break and they still look red carpet perfect. Marcella’s hair is almost always up, trying not to get in her way, and looking dry and not so-done and one would expect on a television show.

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Marcella is a new step forward in crime fiction television shows with a female lead. The dramatic turn of her personal life gives Marcella depth and a story the audience can relate to. Her return to work after her stay-at-home period is also something to highlight, as some of her colleagues openly show their reservations at Marcella’s return. Is she still a good detective? And can she cope with her personal traumas and the new investigation? This first season is a successful attempt at constructing an iconic and troubled female detective with needs and failures and a non-normative morality, with a personal and professional life in which female sexuality comes out as something natural that only Marcella herself can define.

It was recently announced that ITV is producing a second season to be broadcasted in 2017. I cannot wait to see the challenges and moral dilemmas Marcella has to face. If season 1 finished with her admitting ‘I don’t know who I am anymore’, one can only expect season 2 to be yet another character study of a beloved character that, I’m afraid, we haven’t gotten to know at all yet.

10 Books of Summer Re-Cap

Now that summer is mostly officially over it is time to check how many of the 10 books I listed for my 10 Books of Summer Project I read (spoiler alert: not many!). You can check my original list here.

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And the answer is 4. This is why I don’t usually join challenges: even though I love the idea of reading from a list, when it’s time to pick up my next book I usually go by intuition. I feel the need to read this or that and no other book will do. However, I have to admit that sticking  to Cathy’s project made me read books and authors I knew I had to read but I kept putting back on my list or pile. In case you’re interested, here are the links to my reviews:

After You Die by Eva Dolan: high-quality and diverse crime fiction.

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman: My first Lippman! A complex novel, half legal thriller, half character study, and very American – in a good way.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem: an auto-biography on travelling and becoming a woman.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton: This project was definitely an opportunity to read great authors for the first time. My first Wharton, but absolutely not my last.

I would like to thank Cathy Brown at 746 Books the opportunity to join and all the hard-work behind the scenes. I am very happy with my reading, even though it is not remotely close to what I expected to read! Can’t wait to join next year.

If you also joined the 20 Books of Summer project, feel free to leave a link below. We’d all love to see what you read🙂

 

 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

One of my goals for this summer was to read one of the best American novelists, Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937). I was torn between two of her most famous novels The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920), but I was keen on making use of the school’s library during the summer semester. One last hurried visit to the library helped me make the decision, as The House of Mirth was available on the public section and ready to be brought home.

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The House of Mirth has been a controversial and shocking novel ever since its publication in 1905. It tells the story of Lily Bart, a young New York socialite who, at 29 and still unmarried, is both admired for her beauty and criticised for her single status. Despite her looks, and her charm, Lily was brought up by a superficial mother who made of Lily’s beauty her supposedly only attribute. After her debut at the age of 18 Lily has had many suitors –one of them an Italian prince – but decided not to settle down. The novel takes place on her 29th year, as she struggles to make sense of her waiting, her present and her future.

Even though the idea of becoming an ostracised spinster at age 29 may seem a joke in 2016, when Wharton first published The House of Mirth she shocked the American public by exposing the dark truth behind young women. Wharton openly questions the validity of marriage as a tool for women to lead a socially respectable life through the eyes of Lily, who sees how the husbands of her friends flirt with her. Not only that, but she also sees her female friends engage in affairs with younger men not so behind closed doors as we may believe in the 21st century. Lily, as an outsider and spectator, questions whether she wishes to follow this path, and why she cannot live alone like her male friends do.

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Edith Wharton (Undated) From Beinecke Library, Yale University

From a feminist point of view The House of Mirth is a subversive novel that stands with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) as a subversion of traditional and patriarchal narratives. Both Wharton and Chopin created female main characters that offered readers a different take on marriage and motherhood. Throughout the novel we are presented with Lily’s love for life and her need to open her wings and escape the golden cage of marriage and traditional femininity. In her own awakening, Lily ponders on her role and her agency realising she is not free to act upon her wishes with Wharton’s fixation on capitalist femininity as a double-edged sword that compromises beauty and limitations:

“She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.”

“She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making.”

“I was just a screw or cog in the great machine I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else.”

In her search for happiness and agency Lily encounters a suitor that could make her happy were it not for the social restrictions and her own upbringing. In the height created by the last days of Victorian morals and manners and the American capitalist system, could a woman brought up to be beautiful forget her upbringing and marry for love? Wharton makes Lily’s search for love as interesting as possible by including money, social status, and traditions into the equation. Far from perpetuating a traditional view on romantic love, Lily ponders practically on who to marry and the reasons to do so, or not.

“Don’t you ever mind,” she asked suddenly, “not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?”

The struggle between her own desires, society’s expectations and her social, historical and economic context creates one of the best novels in American literature. Lily Bart is the first attempt by an American female writer to create a strong, subversive woman who wishes to live her life according to her own desires and needs. As a crime fiction reader, I could not but see Lily as a first attempt at creating Amy Dunne, from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, although this comparison may be far-fetched and highly influenced for my love for Flynn’s novel. In any case, throughout the novel we see how Lily’s attempts fail and life erodes her will and her lively attitude:

“She felt a stealing sense of fatigue as she walked; the sparkle had died out of her, and the taste of life was stale on her lips. She hardly knew what she had been seeking, or why the failure to find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the loneliness about her.”

In order to keep this review free of spoilers, I will not discuss the ending, although it is not difficult to imagine for feminist readers. To those who have read it, I would love to hear your opinions, and those of you who have not, The House of Mirth is one of the best contemporary novels in the Western tradition. I cannot still understand how Wharton was not included in any of the programmes in my English and American degree. If this were the case with anyone, I would encourage readers and students alike to pick up Wharton’s books on their own as they are a pure joy to read. And if you are not a literature student, this book will change your life as well as it portrays a long-lost time of decadence, over-spending, and the rigid and the still contemporary battle against a system of values that tried to restrict women to their roles as wives and mothers.

This is review #4 for my  20 Books of Summer project

I’m Back!

Hi, everyone! Just a very quick update to let you all know that I’m back from my little break having spent four wonderful days at the beach after finishing my teaching duties. Activity at Books & Reviews will resume this week, and meanwhile I will try to catch up with all your new posts and updates. I hope you are all having a nice and smooth return to school or work. See you soon!

Elena x

A Little Break: Summer 2016

Dear all,

This summer has been exceptional in many ways. One of the reasons was that I got to keep researching during July to finish some very important work on my thesis that granted me an ‘Excellent’ grade from my university on my yearly plan. After that, I had planned on taking a few weeks off to read, review and recharge. But life had other plans and I was offered a part-time job that would pay for my university fees for the upcoming year. I also happen to love the job, and the two students that I get to tutor. However, this has meant staying in my hometown and working all mornings Monday to Friday. As you can imagine, this means early mornings, and half the time off to do all the things that I had planned, and no time to spend part of my break near the sea, where I am at my happiest. So, while I try to make the most of Spain’s heat wave while teaching, and my free evenings I have been reading less, and not writing at all. I have been meeting with friends, going for long walks, and trying to remember that this is how my Summer Break’16 looks and I should enjoy it.

I will get back to blogging and reviewing as soon as I can, as soon as I recharge and go back to my routine. But for now, it’s all about freedom, sun, and unexpected plans. I hope everyone here has a happy August and we’ll see each other soon!

Best,

Elena

My Life on The Road by Gloria Steinem

As a feminist, I know there are certain books and certain authors that I should read in order to be as informed as I can about the previous struggles and the many successes of feminist. The reason to impose such a view on myself comes mainly from my love for books, rather than an external obligation. Imagine the internal conversations I had with myself when I realised that I had never read by Gloria Steinem, one of the key figures in feminism and activism in the 20th century. Imagine my reaction when my beloved Margaret Atwood – who I think can do no wrong – recommended Steinem’s autobiography My Life on the Road, as one of the books of 2015 in a list for The Guardian. Imagine,  again, my surprise and my delight when, after talking about this to the boyfriend, he bought me My Life on the Road for no other reason than love for my feminist reading.

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My Life on the Road is not a typical autobiography, and I would have not expected anything different from Gloria Steinem, someone who has never done things by the book. Even though she covers everything from her childhood to her current life as a feminist celebrity, she approaches events from a point of view: Her travels. She credits her father for her love for adventure, and she describes how the whole family would get into the car and travel – with no budget – to a destination her father chose randomly. With such a childhood, it is not a surprise to find that Steinem had not spent more than 8 days home during her life, and that she did not create a home until the 1980’s, when she was already in her fifties. It was only fitting then, that I took this book with me on my week to Bath and Cardiff and I started reading it at the airport in Barcelona, among huge amounts of diverse people heading to their destinations all over the world while I wondered what kind of lives they led.

I was surprised to find out that My Life on the Road  only portrays some of Steinem’s travels inside the United States of America rather than her world-wide travels. I was a bit disappointed at first, since I have never been to the States, and I thought I would not be familiar with the interests and motivations behind her enterprises. I was partly right, and partly wrong. Even though I would have love to read about her travels around the world examining the very different ways in which feminism is articulated, she spent a good part of her autobiography giving a voice and making sure we learn about Native American feminism. As a European, we do not get to hear much about the struggles of Native Americans in general, and Steinem goes beyond the all-masculine idea we have of them and presents readers with feminist leaders to whom people like ex-president Bill Clinton thanked for their contributions. Native American feminists are present all over the world, but Steinem devotes a whole chapter to one of them: Wilma Mankiller, who Gloria approaches from a candid perspective both as a friend and as a feminist and introduces readers to a different approach to life:

You cannot think yourself into right living. You live yourself into right thinking – Native Elders

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Yet, I think the book’s real power to inspire and change women’s life is how Gloria Steinem has lived her life. Even though Mankiller sadly passed away in 2010, we are presented with Steinem’s grief, and how she moved on. Death is present in Gloria’s life as much as her desire to change women’s situation all over the world. While reading, I was reminded that life is both good and bad, but we have a choice to surrender or to keep going. Steinem did not make it California to see her father before he passed away after a bad car accident, and she has regretted this her whole life. But rather than letting it stop her from living, she has learned from the experience and she has moved on as better as she could. Throughout the book we are reminded that we can give up, but we do not have to. We are reminded that life is hard work, but that hard work has its rewards.

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A behind-the-scene look at Gloria Steinem’s work at the National Women’s Political Caucasus

One of those rewards – probably the most important – is love. Not romantic love, not love in a traditional, white-wedding way. But love for the people in our lives, and love from them in return. Feminism has the difficult task of trying to dismantle the wide-spread idea that women cannot be friends with other women, because we bicker, and we fight, and we get jealous. Luckily, Steinem’s life of female friendships is proof enough to deconstruct that myth. Being on the road does not mean to be alone, and Gloria’s friends appear at the turn of every page to remind the reader that women can work together successfully. Not only that, but if we support other women who are fighting for women’s rights, and if we help them, we will all benefit in the end. Steinem makes no effort to hide her dislike for those who do not fight for women’s rights, and her political alliances with politicians such as Bella Abzug and Hillary Clinton is patent. I was surprised to read about Betty Friedan’s grudge towards Steinem, and how Gloria herself does not distinguish between Republicans and Democrats, but urges women to forget those labels and support those who will fight for their rights.

In fact, many questions have three or seven or a dozen sides. Sometimes I think the only real division into two is between people who divide everything into two, and those who don’t.

I can’t recommend My Life on the Road enough to every woman out there. Gloria Steinem is a key figure in Western feminism, and although some of her recent comments have been controversial, she is a woman who knows who she is and she is not apologetic about it. At one point I found myself reading about one luxurious Thanksgiving spent with the then partner – who remains wisely unnamed, because this is Gloria’s story after all – in Palm Springs with three very powerful couples, among whom she quotes a snack mogul. It included limousines, private planes, and a private concert by Frank Sinatra. I realised then that I was not reading any feminist biography, but about a very privilege’s one. But, after all the hard work that she has done, could it be otherwise? Should it be? Was it cynical of me to expect less of one of the key women for the feminist movement in America? I do not have an answer, but I believe women should be rewarded for the hard-work they do. Gloria Steinem has done her share, and I am very happy she is giving us the opportunity to peer into her life, and remind us that life is good, and we have the power to make it good for others, but also to ourselves.

Altogether, if I had to pick one place to hang out anywhere, from New York to Cape Town and Australia to Hong Kong, a bookstore would be it.

My Life on the Road is personal, yet well-researched. There are notes, at least 10 for each chapter, and an index, so that anyone looking for specific information regarding anything, from abortion to Florence Kennedy, will be satisfied. Every chapter is also introduced by a picture of Gloria with someone who inspired the chapter – and she makes no distinctions between her mother, with whom she had a troubled relationship, to international politicians – so that we are reminded of the people in our lives, and the importance of love, support, second-opportunities and change. Because, if there is a theme that infuses the book is change, be it through activism, travelling, deaths and births, different jobs, or by simply letting ourselves be free, enjoy life, and break way with traditional ways of being and thinking. But – in Gloria’s spirit– don’t let this review tell you what My Life on the Road is. Go out, find a copy, and experience it for yourself.

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This is review #3 for my  20 Books of Summer project