“What should a woman read in May?” I asked myself, sitting cross-legged in bed and gazing at a pile of books.
This is a tough question, since I have so many books on the TBR, but I’ve been reading widely and wildly lately, so here are four quick recommendations.
First up, there’s T. C. Boyle’s comical, sad, satiric novel, Blue Skies, which centers on a family dealing with climate change on both coasts. Cat, a hard-drinking young woman whose fiancé constantly travels for his job, lives a lonely life in a rickety beach house in Florida, where the sea is rising and the streets are usually flooded. Her parents and brother live in idyllic California, which is not idyllic anymore: it is on fire all the time. Boyle has a flamboyant imagination but this novel is disturbingly realistic, and what has not happened seems likely to happen soon. This is a fast read – one for the dystopian novel collection.
And then there is Sarah Caudwell’s witty, smart mystery, Thus Was Adonis Murdered, first published in 1994 and recently reissued by Bantam. Caudwell was famous for never revealing the sex of the narrator, Hilary Tamar, an Oxford don and amateur sleuth who applies scholarly methods to solving crime.
In this comic novel, the scatterbrained Julia Larwood, a London barrister who shares an office with Hilary’s friends, has gone to Venice on an Art Lovers’ tour, hoping to meet an attractive man. She writes very funny letters about her dream man to her friend Selena, which Hilary and the others chortle over at lunch. But then there is a disaster: Julia is accused of murdering the man. Her friends know that clutzy, disorganized Julia could never have committed a murder, but proving it is problematic.
Have you heard of the 19th-century writers, E. O. Somerville and Martin Ross? These two Anglo-Irish women co-wrote novels under the above pseudonym. I recently read The Real Charlotte, a disturbing novel about the dangers of jealousy. Charlotte Mullen, a clever, unkind, middle-aged, well-to-do spinster, is extremely jealous of her much younger second cousin, Francie Fitzgerald, who has come to live with her. The lively Francie attracts every man in sight, including Mr. Lambert, an estate manager on whom Charlotte has a crush. What horrors Charlotte manages to accomplish are almost beyond imagination.
I am thoroughly enjoying The Essential Peter S. Beagle, a two-volume collection of the award-winning author’s short stories. As a child I loved his novel, The Last Unicorn, and am delighted to find the same feats of imagination in his short stories. In “Lila and the Werewolf,” a young man, Farrell, is distraught to learn that his new girlfriend, Lila, is a werewolf. Farrell’s gift is for acceptance, but the problems of lycanthropy multiply speedily. In a sweet, comical story, “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros,” a rhinoceros follows the professor home from the zoo. The animal insists he is a unicorn, which the professor tells him is impossible. The two live together for years and argue constantly about philosophy. Is the rhinoceros/unicorn real? Yes, I believe ! More on the stories when I get to the second volume.
And what are you reading? Anything I should add to the TBR?
4 thoughts on “Recommended Reading: “Blue Skies,” “Thus Was Adonis Murdered,” “The Real Charlotte,” and “The Essential Peter S. Beagle””
Well here are three: Alba de Cespedes’s Forbidden Notebook, a seriously meant exploration of the realities of family life from the wife/mother/woman’s POV (1949); Sayers’s Gaudy Night, very interesting as a mystery, and
outstanding a literary and about women wanting a career however comically expressed, with a (to me) convincing edgy romance at the center; and now Janice Hadlow’s unexpectedly genuinely felt book on Mary Bennet’s behalf, the Other Bennet Sister (Scots writer).
Thanks for the recommendations! I admired the disturbing Forbidden Notebook, adore Sayers, and am intrigued by your description of The Other Bennet Sister. Thank you!
Somerville & Ross wrote fine comic stories – The Experiences of an Irish R.M. (Resident Magistrate), adapted for TV with Peter Bowles.
I knew Sarah Caudwell. She was an expert crossword-solver and Times Crossword Competition finalist. Her father was Claud Cockburn and her mother Jean Ross – the inspiration for Isherwood’s Sally Bowles – and both were dedicated communists.
I loved the TV adaptation of the Irish R.M. I do remember having a paperback edition with Peter Bowles on the cover, which presumably I enjoyed and thenI gave away. I do want to read more Somerville & Ross, though I doubt there’s much in print.
Gosh, Sarah Caudwell must have been wickedly witth. I am not surprised to hear she was an expert crossword Just think: Sally Bowles as your mother. I always think of her as Liza Minellie.