Partial Eclipse – Lesley Glaister

partialeclipse
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This book presents two twinned, parallel storylines of women suffering imprisonment.

In the main story, Jenny, a young girl in solitary confinement, reminisces about her lost love affair with Tom, an older man. There are hints that this love affair is the cause for her imprisonment (but I won’t get into that!). Solitary is dismal, as expected, but also lets Jenny’s mind wander, and we get the entire story of her affair with Tom, of her relationship with her grandmother, and her descent into passion and madness.

Jenny often speaks of color, or the lack of it, in her prison cell, fantasizing about a palette of paints. Her mental life is rich, which offers the reader a glimpse into her psyche. At first you wonder if Jenny was somehow wronged. Is she a victim of exploitation? Or is she psychotic?

In her mind, Jenny tells herself the story of Peggy Maybee, a distant ancestor who was imprisoned for trying to steal peacock feathers to give her infant son. Peggy is put on a prisoner transport ship and sent to Botany Bay, and desperate conditions, mutiny, and horrible punishment await her on the ship. I enjoyed her story as much as Jenny’s, despite the cruelty and depravity that Peggy had to endure. Her story is brutal and devastating.

I would describe Glaister’s writing style as modern gothic. There’s the subtle psychological disintegration, the haunting sense of place, the character-driven plot. She describes one item, like grey scrambled eggs, or the thin nubbiness of the bedspread, and you get a sense of the entire room, of the mood and atmosphere, of the dinginess, or newness, or oppressiveness. There’s a dark, introverted quality to the perspectives of both Jenny and Peggy.

This book was a riveting tale of blind passion. Jenny is, at first, very sympathetic, but as her story progresses she becomes less reliable, which only makes the book that more interesting. Anyone who’s had their heart broken will be able to relate to Jenny’s story, but her innocent infatuation turns dramatically into violent obsession. And yet, Glaister’s writing is so multifaceted that even in the end, as twisted as Jenny is, you still rally for her.

5 stars all way ‘round.

 

Five Authors – a reading pathway

 

While looking at my Goodreads “most read authors” list, I was surprised to see that most of my most-read authors are women. Much to my chagrin, Stephen King has the top spot (thanks, fiery and quickly-extinguished high school obsession!). I haven’t read everything these women have written, but I have read a handful of each, so I have a general idea of what to recommend when someone says, “I’ve heard of her! Which one should I read first?” When asked this question, my inclination is to shove the entire oeuvre in their hands and overwhelm them, but in the interest of keeping friends, I’ve chosen The One to recommend from each of my five ladies.

 

mycousinrachel
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Let’s start with Dame Daphne, Daphne du Maurier, my north star, my totem, my patronus. The obvious answer, the one everyone has read, is RebeccaBut no! As enchanting as Rebecca is, go deep and start with My Cousin Rachel. It’s more subtle, it has the most unreliable narrator, and it’s delicious. And after you read My Cousin Rachel, you still have Rebecca to look forward to.

 

 

 

 

fingersmithcover
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Mi amore, Sarah Waters, is quite possibly my favorite living writer (sorry, David Mitchell, there’s only room for one). I posted on Litsy recently that I just want to grab her face in my hands and gush, “Thank you for writing books!” Sarah Waters has such talent for detail, such exquisite writing. She makes you live her characters. You adore their loves, you anguish over their indiscretions, you obsess over their failings. I inhaled her latest, The Paying Guests, but if you’re a Waters newbie, I’d recommend Fingersmith. Summary: deception, betrayal, twists. And that’s all you should know about the book before you open it. It’s best to go in blind. One reviewer called it “lesbian Dickens,” but I’d just call it amazing.

 

alias-grace
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Margaret Atwood. Her actual name should be The Margaret Atwood, as she is grand enough to deserve the article. Or maybe, like Beyonce and Madonna, just Margaret. She’s famous for The Handmaid’s Tale, which is that one high school required book that kids have actually enjoyed. If you’ve never delved, I would recommend starting with Alias, Grace. It’s historical fiction, which is a bit of a branching out for Atwood, but it includes the nuances, mystery, and psychological twists that are in all her works. It’s the 19th century, and Grace is accused of murdering her employer and his mistress / housekeeper. But did she? Is she a victim or a fiend? She tells her story to a psychologist and he’s never quite sure if he can trust her narrative. Atwood’s writing is juicy; the small details add up to an enthralling story. I can’t recommend her highly enough. I want to stand on street corners and pass out her novels like religious tracts.

 

olive-kitteridge
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And next up, Elizabeth Strout. Going to have to recommend the gold standard, Olive Kitteridge. It reads as several interconnected stories revolving around one crotchety retired schoolteacher. Strout touches on the minor incidences of daily life that reflect the grander issues of aging, marital discord, and disappointments. It’s bleak, but not without hope. The miniseries starring Frances McDormand is excellent as well. (But read the book first.)

 

 

 

 

stiff-cover
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Finally, for my non-fiction-reading friends, there’s the inimitable Mary Roach. She’s ridden the Vomit Comet, she’s attended a school for mediums, she’s undergone electrode-tracking sexual stimulation on camera, all for the sake of her art. And in every photo I’ve seen of her she looks like she’s having a blast. She is the Jack Bauer of scientific journalism. Informative, entertaining, and definitely hilarious, Roach’s books are always a pleasure. I’d start with Stiff: the Curious Life of Human Cadavers for your first Roach romp.

 

 

There are also other female authors who have captured my heart (and I want to devour everything they’ve put on paper): Kate Morton, Emma Donoghue, Jeanette Winterson, Joanne Harris, and Vendela Vida.

I’ve given you a jumping off point. Go discover!

The Lightkeepers – Abby Geni

This may be my favorite book that I’ve read this year.

lightkeepers
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The story is told through the eyes of Miranda, a photographer recently accepted into a program that finances biologists on the Farrallon Islands, an uninhabited archipelago off the coast of California. Miranda joins 6 biologists on the islands, some who have been there for many months, or even years, studying local shark, bird, and seal populations. The seven of them share a small cabin, often assisting with each others’ work, spending their evenings together dining on their limited provisions, and studying their findings. What they don’t share, however, is anything about their pasts. That’s the unspoken rule on the islands, and Miranda doesn’t really know who she has been stuck with in this remote location.


The book is interspersed with educational explanations of the animal populations, which I found interesting, and, later, useful in helping to understand the human relationships among the seven scientists. Geni pulls no punches in demonstrating how at the core we really are all just animals, and our basest nature is really our true self.

A large portion of Miranda’s story is told in letters to her deceased mother. At times the book reads like a memoir. This book is a commingling of biological observation of sharks and seals with emotional introspection and speculation of the motives of the biologists. After a crime is committed and accidents befall some of the inhabitants,  the passions of the biologists begin to overcome their objectivity. Different perspectives of these events come through, and the reader, like Miranda, is left wondering who is trustworthy and who has something to hide.

Geni has created a book with a claustrophobic atmosphere that blankets the entire story. The overall feeling of the Farrallon Islands is grey and bleak, but also exotic with the thrill of the newly discovered. The world of the islands is tempestuous and isolated. The animals are beautiful to observe, but as the story unfolds, the cruelty and callousness of nature is revealed that underlies it all.

The Lightkeepers is beautiful and raw. I couldn’t look away from the pages. It has the soulfulness of literary fiction, the wonder of natural observations, and the haunting qualities of a gothic mystery. I highly recommend this one. It’s one of my absolute favorites. Put on a warm cardigan and pull the sleeves over your hands. Grab a mug of hot tea and curl up with an afghan. You’ll need some warmth to overcome the hardened chill of this riveting story.