Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt / Over Glassy Horizons by Nico Reznick / Daughter Of Earth And Water by Noel Gerson

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Dave bought a copy of Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt as we both enjoyed his previous novels, The Sisters Brothers and Ablutions. I got to 'borrow' it through Amazon's Household Sharing setting for Kindle ebooks. All three of DeWitt's novels are very different and Undermajordomo Minor is almost a fairytale in its style. The story centres around teenager Lucien Minor, who is known as Lucy, as he starts in his new job as a man-of-all-work at a distant castle. I am not sure exactly when or where Undermajordomo Minor is meant to be set and it doesn't really matter. Lucy travels by train, but other elements of DeWitt's world could be medieval Grimm. The castle has the same kind of fairytale timelessness. Its weirdness and the proximity of a nearby village frequently reminded me of the wonderful Gormenghast novels although Mervyn Peake wasn't named amongst other authors in an afterword.

There are some intriguing characters in Undermajordomo Minor. Lucy's mother at the beginning of the book is only to pleased to be rid of him and it was refreshing to read a farewell scene without any gushing emotion. Lucy's attempts to impress his ex-flame Marina are fun, and I thought the thief Memel was one of the most interesting creations. The mad Baron is simply bizarre. None of the portrayals I thought were particularly deep, but this is in keeping with the novel's style, and there are some fascinating descriptive passages which really brought scenes to life. I found it easy to envisage scenes such as the train carriage, the castle interiors, the glorious banquet and the Very Deep Hole. I didn't think Undermajordomo was quite in the same league as DeWitt's previous books, but it is still a very enjoyable read.

Over Glassy Horizons by Nico Reznick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I was blown away by Nico Reznick's first novel Anhedonia which I read a few weeks ago so was eager to take advantage of a temporary free download of this volume of her poetry entitled Over Glassy Horizons. The twenty-six poems span fifteen years of her writing and a wide range of subjects from advice to other poets to sexual frustration to the mindlessness of modern life to Piers Morgan's American reinvention of himself. I did find the whole collection to be a bit hit and miss for me and didn't feel I completely understood works like 41, but others are surprisingly vivid and inventive.

My personal favourites are Goldfish Smile which examines perceptions of freedom, Starting Over where a couple move house but fail to make a new start, and Paisley Lassie which is a very moving portrait of an elderly woman in a nursing home. Reznick also penned a long poem, Whimper, in response to Allen Ginsberg's famous Howl which I hadn't previously read but have now found online in order to really appreciate Whimper.

Daughter of Earth and Water by Noel Gerson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I downloaded a copy of this biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Noel Gerson when I saw it advertised in an Endeavour Press e-mail newsletter last year. The book was first published in the 1970s and has now been re-released as an ebook. I thought it made an interesting companion to Glorious Apollo, the novel about Byron I read recently, as there are crossovers where Byron and the Shelley's lives intertwined. It is also perfect timing for me to read this book now as the Endeavour Press virtual Historical Fiction Festival is taking place this week (18th - 22nd April 2016).

Gerson obviously did a lot of research for Daughter Of Earth And Water so was able to both describe many aspects of her life and to discount theories put forward in previous works. She talks about the inspiration for and writing of Frankenstein (I really must read that one day!) as well as Mary's other novels, stories, translations and poetry. I had no idea that she was such an accomplished and intellectual author, easily the equal of her poet husband. Gerson goes into detail about the scandal of the Shelley's early pre-marriage relationship and the philosophical influence of Mary's father, William Godwin, which enabled her to live such a relatively free life for a woman at that time. I was amazed at, and little jealous of, their extensive European travels, especially as everyone seemed to be permanently on the verge of bankruptcy, but the tragedies they endured would try anyone's sanity.

Gerson's writing style is a little dated as is to be expected and the book is let down by frequent typos which I think are caused by automated reading of faded print in an original copy. Mary's friend Tom Medwin gets renamed Toni Medwin, and letters often start with 'my clear'. None of the typos make the book difficult to understand, but the carelessness is distracting and all the instances would be easy to catch and correct if the final copy had been proofread.

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1 comment:

  1. Feedback from Nico Reznick via Twitter: her poem 41 was written about George Bush Sr.