Nick HORNBY : State of the union - a marriage in ten parts

Tom and Louise meet in a pub before their couple's therapy appointment. Married for years, they thought they had a stable home life - until a recent incident pushed them to the brink. 

Going to therapy seemed like the perfect solution. But over drinks before their appointment, they begin to wonder : what if marriage is like a computer ? What if you take it apart to see what's in there, but then you're left with a million pieces ?

Unfolding in the minutes before their weekly therapy sessions, the ten-chapter conversation that ensues is witty and moving, forcing them to look at their marriage - and, for the first time in a long time, at each other.


It looks like the draft of a play : only dialogues, barely a few indications here or there, few characters. I'm a big fan of Nick Hornby, but here... the book is nice, not great, not up to what I expected. There were the grounds for a good story, yet it's under-developed, not as fun as his writings usually are, his characters not as deep and appealing. They could have been, with a lot more writing and pages.

It wouldn't be a long play, by the way, I read it in less than an hour and a half. Oh well, the next will be better, I hope ?


Aline BROSH MCKENNA and Ramon PEREZ : Jane

A reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre set in present day, written by acclaimed screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna and Eisner Award-winning illustrator Ramón K. Pérez.
Growing up in a broken home in a small fishing town, Jane dreamed of escaping to art school and following the allure of New York City. When that dream becomes a reality however, it’s not long before she feels out of place by the size of the city and the talent of her peers. She soon discovers her place as she begins to nanny a young girl named Adele, but that is upended when she falls for the girl’s father, Rochester, a sardonic man of power, wealth, and unexpected charm. Jane learns that in the world of New York’s elite, secrets are the greatest extravagance and she’ll have to decide if she should trust the man she loves or do what ever it takes to protect Adele from the consequences of his deception.


"Jane Eyre retelling" : this is what caught my attention and drove me to read this comic, because Jane Eyre is *my* book.

The drawings at the beginning were wonderful and made me want to pick up my own pencil, when Jane's childhood, such a discreet childhood, is brushed. But then, she moves to the big town and the drawings are harsher, thicker and I didn't like them as much. Personal taste.

I know it's hard to turn a very long book with a complicated story into a comic, my expectations weren't huge, I just hoped the authors had caught the spirit of it. But the story was a little different, Jane was different, the relationship between Jane and Adele were different, things and secondary characters were different.

I wouldn't have been bothered if... It sounded too modern. Like a contemporary romance with a pennyless girl falling in love with a tycoon who, of course, only has eyes for her. He's got companies, he's richer than rich, he's got a helicopter, all things that I don't care about and dont like reading about. She's an artist, but we don't see her paintings and they're probably not as original as the ones described in the original Jane Eyre. Personal opinion.

It lacked the depth of my favourite ever novel, is it that surprising ? No, of course not, but I'm glad I borrowed it at the library, not bought it. Now I can return it !


Bernardine EVARISTO : Girl, woman, other

Teeming with life and crackling with energy — a love song to modern Britain and black womanhood
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.

I was very excited to read this book, I'd heard so much good about it ! Then I read a few pages and wasn't excited at all any more. I was wondering if I wasn't going to DNF it ? But I kept reading. Then I was wondering if it was going to be just a 3 stars. 

Then... I don't know... I got used to her writing style ? (There is this character, that name, here's a summary of her story, here's what she does now and all that.) I got used to the unusual punctuation (not that bothersome, you catch up quickly enough). I think it started when Yazz got lessons on how to talk and convince people and her mother started regretting it ! And once I was in, I didn't want back out again. 

Those characters were straight, bi, lesbians, not responding to a label, young, old, rich, poor, artists, employees, town people, country people, there's a bit of everything for everyone. And the warmth I felt : Bernardine Evaristo could make the tears come to my eyes when she talked about a character I met 3 lines ago.  And she could make me laugh so easily ! Boy, did she make me vibrate to the stories and people she introduced me to. Many characters, but evolving more or less around each other, the parents, grandparents, children, relatives, friends. You get to see the different sides of one same situation and you understand their different reactions.

For once, I think the buzz this novel got was well deserved !


Noel COWARD : Private lives

Coward's wit and precision as a modern dramatist is nowhere better exemplified than in this classic modern play from 1930. Elyot Chase and Amanda Prynne (originally played by Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward), recently divorced from one another five years previously, arrive coincidentally at the same French hotel. They are honeymooning with their respective new spouses. Encountering one another by chance, each is at once horrified and fascinated by the other. Together they leave for Paris and begin a roundelay of quarrels and love intrigues that culminate in their getting back together. 


I thought I'd never seen anything by the much renowned Noel Coward until I learned that "Sérénade à trois", filmed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, was based on one of his plays. Watching an Ernst Lubitsch film is like reading "Private lives" : have a glass of champagne and enjoy the bubbles ! Forget about real troubles, the characters will distract you with their own problems of rich, idle people who don't have a care in the world.

It was an elegant, witty, funny time that I spent reading this short play (58 pages) about a couple who can't live together but can't live apart. They spend their time trying to get away from each other, marrying other people to try and do the sensible thing, falling back in love, fighting again, getting their spouses back and finally eloping together again. They're never bored and never bore us, but tenderness is also there.

I would love to watch the play with Anna Chancellor and Toby Stephens but it's only available on Digital Theatre, so if anyone has a tip ?...


My week in books #35


Click on the covers for the links to the reviews/Goodreads



Molly HUGHES : A London child of the 1870s

The first in a series of three memoirs. Molly Hughes writes of her suburban London Victorian family in the 1870s. In this first book she describes her happy childhood, growing up with her 4 brothers. She describes outings in London and holidays with her mother's family in Cornwall. Hughes notes details when describing people, places and things that make the story come alive. The foreward by Adam Gopnik tells the real, not so happy, story of what happened to her family.

I discovered this memoir through a readalong on Goodreads. I'd never heard about the author or the book, but I thought it would be interesting to see that period through the eyes of a "nobody" who experienced it first rate.

And I was surprised because, prejudiced as I was, I thought it would be a London childhood that would look like the ones in the paintings : stiff, severe, surrounded by serious adults and dark furniture. It wasn't ! The only thing that looked Victorian to me (except the high church/low church rivalry, the no traveling on sundays, Jane Eyre not being a proper book for children, etc) was this quote : "My father's slogan was that boys should go everywhere and know everything, and that a girl should stay at home and know nothing." - she had four brothers. The author doesn't mention precise ages or years, her memoir is built on themes : school, holidays in Cornwall, how the day went, the (numerous) pranks they would play on their own family or their neighbours, even perfect strangers ! 

The father was often away at work, but their mother was very easy-going, except when it came to religion. "No master seemed to have taught Barnholt anything, and all he brought home was detention-cards. "Never mind", mother used to say, "mark my words, he will be the first to earn his own living." And she was right."

The children were home schooled for a long time, but they seemed to be doing fairly well. They read a lot, loved books, even the "good books for children" : "death itself usually befell the leading characters. Indeed, the mortality among children was so great that Mina and I wondered how any of them remained alive to grow up."

Another quote about books : "Charles broke our rule of never discussing a book's plot with one still reading it, when he saw me one day deep in "A journey to the interior of the Earth." "Have you come to where they all die ?" said he. I read on, expecting the worst on every page, until the end showed them all alive and well. I went to Charles in no little heat. "Well," said he, "I never said they all died, I only asked if you had come to it. And if you weren't a little silly you would know that they couldn't have all died, or who was left to tell the story ?".

In undertones, we hear mentioned the alcoholism of women (if I had to stay home, spend my time gossiping with neighbours, embroidering and think of nothing but houses, menus and children, I would drink too !) and marital violence (aunt Lizzie). But honestly, it was a very happy childhood, with strong bonds between children and parents, lots of books and fun, except at the end. I read it with a smile on my face and would love to read the other two memoirs published by the author, "A London girl of the 1880s" and "A London home in the 1890s". Molly Hughes was born in 1866 and died in 1956, imagine all the changes that came through her life ! When I tell my children about my youth in the 20th century, I almost feel like we had a pet dinosaur, so...


Last week in books #34


I'm late again, sorry !!
Click on the covers to access the reviews or Goodreads