Saturday 14 December 2013

Winter novels

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg looking down at her old dress.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

I've never given a book away before so it's about time I did.  Little Women is a perfect Christmas read and you can almost feel the New England snow as you read it.  This is a new Penguin Threads edition which features hand-stitched cover art.  I'll randomly pick a name from the commenters on this post to receive an early Christmas present!

I would love to have visited Asia House in London last month to hear Amy Tan talk about her new novel The Valley of Amazement on a rare visit to the UK, but I couldn't get the time off work.  I've written before about my admiration for Amy Tan.  The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife and most of all The Hundred Secret Senses are some of my favourite novels.

Sadly The Valley of Amazement is not vintage Tan.  It gets off to a great start with young Violet Minturn growing up in her mother's Shanghai courtesan house at the turn of the 20th century.  Tricked into becoming a courtesan herself she is befriended and protected by Magic Gourd the sparky former courtesan who knows all the tricks of the trade and tells it like it is.  There are quite explicit details about the degradation of women in courtesan houses and their will to survive.  This part of the novel is very powerful but when the story moves on to Violet's mother and her history it becomes formulaic, overlong and the ending is far too neat.

That said, Magic Gourd, the ageing courtesan with a heart of gold is a wonderful character who reminds me of Kwan from The Hundred Secret Senses

Despite my aversion to 'weird twins' in fiction I very much enjoyed Curtis Sittenfeld's story of twins who share a gift for predicting dark events.  Sisterland is narrated by Kate who is married with children and tries to disown her gift.  The unconventional Vi positively embraces it and sets herself up as a psychic.  When she predicts an earthquake and becomes something of a small-town celebrity after appearing on the Today show, Kate whose husband works as a geological scientist and dismisses Vi's prediction as nonsense is deeply embarrassed.

Sittenfeld is particularly good on teenage angst and Kate's account of being invited to a slumber party at the age of 13 and messing around with a Ouija board which turns dark and ominous is very well written.  I won't give away the ending but I'll just say beware of October 16th!

2013 has been a great year for fiction.  Best of all was Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch of which more later.  Merry Christmas and see you all in the New Year!


rhonda said...

Little women a new edition wonderful Christmas

melissa said...

Lovely post. Lovely photos. Makes me want to go to the library. :)

Cath said...

Merry Christmas, Nicola. Your winter novels look super. I've gone into casual & comfort reading as we do the Christmas preps. Currently reading one of Anne Perry's Christmas mysteries and er... Winnie the Pooh. :-)

Anbolyn said...

I saw Amy Tan back in October at the Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, AZ. She was a very entertaining speaker, funny and wise. I loved her, but had a hard time with The Valley of Amazement and didn't finish it.
I started The Goldfinch and liked it, however I got sidetracked by Elizabeth Taylor novels.
Merry Christmas!

Bellezza said...

Thank you for tha chance to win Little Eomen, however I have a copy (with a less beautiful cover) and so someone deserves this more than I.

I have been increasing ingle disappointed in Amy Tan's books, beginning with Shanhai Girls after which I have stopped reading her altogether. Not surprised this latest is overlong and formulaic.

Can't wait to discuss The Goldfinch with you. Long will it be in my mind, as is The Secret History. That Donna...!

Bellezza said...

Oh I'm sorry about all the typos...I shouldn't use my iPad with out checking what random letters its left out, or inserted!

Alex said...

I loved the Sittenfeld. It was her first book for me and I now want to go back and read everything else she's written. 'The Goldfinch' is on my list for Christmas when I will have the time to give it the concentration it deserves.

JoAnn said...

So many wonderful books... I look forward to reading The Goldfinch in early 2014. Merry Christmas!

Eva said...

That Sittenfield sounds intriguing! I wasn't bowled over by Prep and never tried the one about the president's wife (subject matter didn't appeal to me), but this one sounds like it could be right up my alley! Merry Christmas, and next year I want to pay more attention and come up with an Advent reading list for December. (You don't need to enter me in the giveaway, as I still have my childhood copy of Little Women, albeit not nearly as beautiful!)

mary said...

I share your aversion to weird twins which always seems a cheap and easy trick to pull. I've just been watching the TV adaptation of The Thirteenth Tale - great cast, but too far down the weird twin spectrum for me!

Lilacs said...

Yes read a very disturbing book called The Twins once, it left me a little spooked, I am looking forward to reading The Goldfinch though. Happy 2014.

Vintage Reading said...

Rhonda, thanks for visiting.

Melissa, thanks I do enjoy photographing books for the blog. I suppose it's the middle-age version of a selfie!

Cath, Winnie the Pooh? I'm intrigued!

Anbolyn, I do envy you seeing Amy Tan, I would love to hear her speak (watched clips on you tube). Despite not loving VoA she's one of my favourite writers.

Bellezza, think it was Lisa See who wrote Shanghai Girls, but I would agree. After the first three outstanding novels Tan's work has not been as good, but she has suffered from Lyme's Disease I believe which must have affected her writing. I believe we will have another fantastic novel from Tan in the futre.

Alex, you are in for a treat with Sittenfeld. Loved Prep and the Man of My Dreams! Do post your thoughts.

JoAnn, look forward to your Goldfinch post.

Eva, do post on the Sittenfeld if you read it. I very much enjoyed it.

Mary, I thought The Thirteenth Tale (novel) started brilliantly and then wandered a bit. Yes, weird twins are not my cup of tea!

Lilac in May, I hope you post on The Golfinch!