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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The first hippies: Passion by Jude Morgan



Atheism, republicanism, free love and even vegetarianism - the Romantic poets believed in all or some of these. Compared with these free-thinking rebels even the Bloomsbury group look like conservatives! They didn't just believe in these ideas they acted on them upsetting the whole of England with their scandals. This is why they are often called the first hippies.

Jude Morgan in her evocative novel, The Passion, weaves a wonderful story around 'the second generation' of these Romantic poets, i.e. Byron and Shelley and their loves. The novel sweeps from the attempted suicide of the famous feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, through the scandal-ridden loves of Byron and Shelley to the tragic end of the era. The novel is filled with interesting characters: crazy Lady Caroline Lamb obsessed with Byron; Augusta Leigh, his too affectionate sister; Annabella Byron, his vindictive wife; and Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein. The author presents these characters vividly sometimes using the trick of writing from the first person point of view which enhances the novel.

The writing is rich and multi-layered providing an excellent picture of the era. Ms Morgan is e equally at home with the debt-ridden, poverty-stricken early life of Mary Shelley; the high society of Byron and Lady Caroline Lamb; and the scandalous summer that Mary and her half-sister and Byron and Shelley spent in Switzerland.

This is a huge book but well-worth reading especially for anyone who likes the Romantic poets and historical novels.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Some Bitter Taste


A taught thriller set in the fascinating city of Florence, Some Bitter Taste by magdalennabb is well worth reading. The likeable, but extremely serious hero, Marshall Gaurnaccia, is forced to investigate the murder of a middle-aged woman with a mysterious past. His investigation leads the reader into an involved plot which involves the Holocaust, unrequited love and family feuds. Sarah, the murdered woman, has many secrets in her past which makes finding the motive and the murderer very difficult.

When the Marshall also has to investigate a robbery from a rich and dying man, he regards this as somewhat of a nuisance because he really wants to discover the murderer but the twists and turns of these two convuluted plots keep the reader guessing until the end when all becomes clear.

Florence is like another character in this book. Well-described and vivid, the different areas of the city are known by the author inside-out. The heat and humidity, the crowds, the secret lanes and the beautiful gardens and villa are all painted with a clear brush.

I'll definitely be reading more by this author!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Nelson's Daughter by Miranda Hearn

England celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar this year and commemmorates its greatest hero Lord Nelson. All Nelson asked in return for his wonderful service to his country which saw him defeat Napoleon was that his country take care of the love of his life, Lady Emma Hamilton and his daughter, Horatia. To its eternal shame, his country failed to carry out his wishes although this was partly Emma's fault - the government thought that she had money already because of her spendthrift ways and she also annoyed important people in a position to grant her a pension.

This is an excellent book which tells Nelson's love story from the point of view of his daughter, Horatia. Miranda Hearn paints a vivid picture of Emma's love affair with Lord Nelson and her miserable decline into grief and alcoholism, cared for by the long-suffering Horatia. A richly atmospheric novel, it captures the romance and splendour of Emma's days in the sun so that one can almost see the carriages arriving at the door and the luxuriously laden tables of the dinner tables and balls she was famous for holding. The description of her addiction to drink is almost enough to turn one off drinking at all.

The author tells a reasonably accurate account of Nelson's story and captures the inconsistencies of his character well. Miranda Hearn also doesn't desist from criticising Nelson at times describing his nasty treatment of the Italian rebels and Emma's feelings about it.

The addition of the charming character of the Egyptian maid, Fatima, who befriends Emma and Horatia, adds a charming element to the story.

This novel deservedly won the Orange Prize for Fiction.