Contemplative novel about independence, masculinity and growing up
I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the author.
“Limberlost” by Robbie Arnott is a bildungsroman novel about Ned, a fifteen year old boy who lives in regional Tasmania. His two older brothers are away at war and Ned, his sister and his father are alone on their apple orchard Limberlost without news. A quiet young man, Ned spends his summer shooting rabbits and saving money for a secret goal. Despite the stifled wartime atmosphere, Ned builds quiet connections with people in his family and his community and, with only the memory of his brothers to guide him, begins to find his own way to becoming a man.
This is an introspectively lyrical book about a young man who, despite a rich inner life full of dreams and worries, struggles to communicate with those around him. Although Arnott puts it to the reader to decide how much of Ned’s quietness is his personality or a product of his circumstances, one thing I really enjoyed about this book was how much effort his family and community put into listening to him. There were some very poignant moments scattered throughout this book and one of the highlights was the way Arnott engaged with the Tasmanian landscape and wildlife. Ned’s experience with a whale resonates throughout the book, re-examined through different lenses of memory and emotion. At the heart of the book was the tension caused by secretly helping an injured animal and Ned’s longing for a boat, and I loved the way all the characters reacted and interacted with Ned around his decisions. The innate warmth of the characters and their actions contrasts strikingly against their stiffness and outwardly suppressed emotions.
While I was entranced by Ned quietly navigating his way towards adulthood, I found the other chapters of him as an older man less compelling. While there were some interesting insights, I felt that Ned’s summer shooting rabbits was so perfectly self-contained as a story that I would have been satisfied had it been left with that.
A beautiful and gentle story and I look forward to reading more of Arnott’s work.
Historical fiction novel about the impact of colonialism on Wiradyuri people and country
Content warning: racism, colonialism, natural disaster, sexual harassment
I have read a few books by this author and I was really excited when her new historical fiction novel was released back in 2021. I picked up a copy from Read on Books in Katoomba while my significant other was running an ultramarathon, but it has been waiting on my shelf since then. I overestimated how many books I could read during the recent Dewey’s 24 Hour Marathon but this was the second in my stack of blue books and I was determined to read it.
“Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray” by Anita Heiss is a historical fiction novel set in the 1830s about a young Wiradyuri woman called Wagadhaany who lives in Gundagai and works for the Bradley family. Despite warnings from the local Wiradyuri people, the white settlers ignore warnings about building their town on the Murrumbidgee River floodplains and disaster soon strikes. As the waters rise, Wagadhaany and the Bradleys, who refused to leave, make their way to the roof of the house. Although her father heroically rescues many of the town’s residents, after the flood, the impact of colonialism is as strong as ever. The surviving Bradleys decide to move to Wagga Wagga and insist on taking Wagadhaany with them. Devastated to leave her family and her country, Wagadhaany must find a way to be true to herself and her culture while navigating the expectations of the various white people in the household.
This is a beautifully crafted, utterly readable story about the real and ongoing impact of colonialism. Despite the heroism, ingenuity and talent for droving displayed by the Wiradyuri people, they are slowly dispossessed of and excluded from their land. Wagadhanaay was an wonderful protagonist who grows in spite of adversity and finds her own ways to resist and connect with community. Having read “Talkin’ Up to the White Woman” some time ago, I felt like Heiss did an excellent job depicting the seemingly well-meaning, condescending yet ultimately self-serving early white feminism that ultimately perpetuates white power structures. In a way, this is almost worse than some of the blatant racism Wagadhanaay experiences and witnesses. As a reader, seeing Wagadhanaay’s labour and relationships being exploited in this way is utterly heartbreaking. However, Heiss’ use of research and empathy makes these situations completely believable. I also really enjoyed how she wove through Wiradyuri language throughout the book, and the generosity of including a glossary of Wiradyuri words at the back of the book.
A bittersweet novel that, while unflinching in its depiction of colonisation, radiates warmth through romance, family, community and culture and resilience in the face of adversity.
Historical fiction about the impact of first contact between Noongar people, British settlers and whalers
Content warning: colonialism, sexual assault
Last year, even though things were a bit hectic, I decided to take part in the Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. I was over-ambitious, and on a whim decided to make a stack of blue books from my to-read shelves/piles.
I decided to start with the largest book.
“That Deadman Dance” by Kim Scott is a historical fiction novel about a young Noongar boy called Bobby Wabalanginy who befriends British settlers who arrive at what is now known as south-western Western Australia. Charismatic, intelligent and adaptable, Bobby initially plays diplomat and straddles two cultures who are getting along more or less peacefully. He learns to read and write English, and travels on whaling expeditions, and when he returns to his people, he satirises the newcomers through dance, for which he has a particular talent. However, when his friend Dr Cross dies, the impact of colonisation becomes increasingly felt by his people. Disease, environmental destruction, disrespect, exclusion from their own land and, eventually, murder eventually place Bobby in a situation where he has to decide whether to side with the settlers, or his own people.
This is a richly written, thoroughly researched novel that explores an example of colonisation that, despite being initially peaceful, nevertheless required the exploitation of Noongar land and people. Especially through Bobby Wabalanginy’s skill in dance, Scott shows how Noongar culture is living and responsive to current events. However he demonstrates that Bobby Wabalanginy’s diplomacy has its limitations, and his aptitude for diplomacy through languages and storytelling is not, of itself, sufficient to persuade the settlers to engage in treaty negotiations. It was interesting reading Bobby Wabalanginy’s perception of whaling juxtaposed against classics such as “Moby Dick“
However, despite the breadth of issues and detail included in this book, it was not always an easy book to read. The story flips back and forth between Bobby’s childhood and adulthood, and the chapters do not always feel naturally linked. Scott does not differentiate speech from the body of the novel with any punctuation, and as a reader, the sense is that you have to work hard to immerse yourself in the story.
An immersive and insightful example of historical fiction with a free form style that at times requires a lot of concentration from the reader.
Historical fantasy retelling of the fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“
Content warning: sexual harassment, controlling behaviour
After a very heavy audiobook and a bit of a hard time, I was in the market for a book that I knew would be heartfelt, enjoyable and have a (hopefully) happy ending and Juliet Marillier never disappoints.
“Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier is a historical fantasy novel and a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“. The story is about Jena, the second of five sisters who live an idyllic life in Transylvania and secretly visit another realm every full moon and dance all night with members of the magical court there. When their father goes away to recover from an illness, the older sisters are left in charge of the household and the family business under the supervision of their father’s cousin. Initially, things go well and level-headed Jena has things under control, even if people occasionally look at her a little askance with her pet frog Gogu. However, after tragedy hits, Jena finds that things are not going so well and finds it harder and hard to resist her second cousin Cezar’s attempts to take control of the situation. In her efforts to try to get things back on track, things get even worse and soon her eldest sister, the Other Kingdom and even Gogu are at risk.
This was a sweet, enjoyable book that took the famous setting of “Dracula” and reimagined it as a beautiful, magical forest setting. I really enjoyed the visits to the Other Kingdom and the warmth of the characters the sisters meet there. Jena was a very relatable character, eager to take on adult responsibilities but struggling to let go of the naiveté of her childhood. The onslaught of Cezar’s controlling behaviour was done really well, and Marillier captured the nuance of how small transgressions can soon turn into abusive behaviour. The prejudice expressed against the Night People provided an interesting overlay to the story.
Although this book was very enjoyable and was similar in style to many of Marillier’s other lovely stories, I felt that it was coded slightly younger than some of her other books I have read. There were some reveals that didn’t feel as surprising to me as in previous books, and I wasn’t sure if that was because the audience was intended to be a bit younger or not.
A sweet story full of heart that brought a traditional fairytale to life.
It is starting to get rather late in the year, and it occurred to me that I really haven’t been making much of a dent in any of the reading challenges I started at the beginning of the year. So I’m trying to at least tackle the StoryGraph‘s onboarding reading challenge. This book was from the “Popular this Week” when I was adding my books from the challenge, and happily I already had a copy that I had picked up from the Lifeline Bookfair some time ago. The cover is very eye catching, with embossed text, black and white silhouettes and a dash of colour with a red scarf.
“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern is a historical fantasy novel set in Victorian England. The book is about a travelling circus known as Le Cirque desRêves that arrives in towns around the world with no warning. It opens at nightfall, it closes at dawn, and the tents inside contain wonders that its visitors have never seen the like before. However, there is much more to the circus than meets the eye. At its heart is a contest, and the players nominated are Celia, the daughter of an enchanter, and Marco, chosen by a mysterious sorcerer as an apprentice. However, the masters did not reckon on the desires of their players, and the players did not reckon on the community that would grow around the circus.
This is a sweet, intricate novel that leans into the romance, whimsy and transience of circuses. Morgenstern creates layers and layers of magical spaces, exploring the limits of magic and imagination. As the circus grows more and more intricate, we begin to see the toll on Celia and Marco, and those around them. I think my favourite part of the book was Bailey’s story, a young boy who falls in love with the circus, and I felt that Morgenstern handled his arc so delicately and so satisfyingly.
While I liked the writing and I enjoyed the premise, I think I found the overarching plot less compelling. The romance seemed to rely on predestination rather than real chemistry. There were things that I wanted to know more about, like the nature of the man in the grey suit, and there were things that I probably could have taken less of, like the listing of the various experiences in the circus which, while creative and beautifully described, did not necessarily contribute much to the plot.
A captivating book with an appealing premise that was a little light on with story.
Walaupun saya tinggal di Indonesia untuk jumlah enam tahun, dan belajar Bahasa Indonesia di SD, SMP, SMU dan Universitas, sebelum ini saya belum pernah membaca buku novel dalam Bahasa Indonesia. Waktu saya masih remaja, bapak saya kasih kepada saya “Harry Potter dan Batu Bertuah”. Saya coba membacanya, tetapi kosa katanya terlalu susah dan saya tidak mebaca lebih dari si kembar Weasley yg ditemu pertama kali oleh Harry Potter di kereta api Hogwarts Express. Saya pernah dengar tentang buku ini dari teman-teman dan penulis lain (khususnya tentang hal realisme magis). Walaupun ada terjemahan Bahasa Inggris, saya punya keinginan untuk membaca buku ini dalam Bahasa Indonesia. Saya sekarang membaca beberapa buku untuk proyek tulisan dan buku ini ada tema relevan. Oleh karena itu, saya pesan edisi Indonesia.
“Cantik Itu Luka” ditulis oleh Eka Kurniawan adalah sebuah novel tentang seorang perempuan bernama Dewi Ayu yang tinggal lagi sesudah dua puluh satu tahun kematian. Novel ini menjelaskan kenapa Dewi Ayu menutuskan untuk mati sesudah anak perempuan keempatnya lahir. Berbeda dari kakak-kakaknya, anak perempuan ini sangat jelek dan sebelum mati, Dewi Ayu kasih satu hadiah: nama Cantik. Terus, kita membaca tentang hidup Dewi Ayu sebagai orang Indo di kota Halimunda. Halimunda diokupasi oleh tentara Jepang pada Perang Dunia II dan Dewi Ayu terpaksa menjadi pelacur. Sesudah perang, Dewi Ayu menjadi pelacur yang paling terkenal dan dicintai di Halimunda. Dia punya tiga anak dari tiga bapak berbeda dan setiap anak lebih cantik dari pada yang lain. Akan tetapi, masa sesudah perang merupakan kesempatan untuk mendapat kemerdekaan dari Belanda dan membayang negeri baru. Ada tiga cowok yang menjadi sangat berkuasa pada waktu ini: Shodancho, Kamerad Kliwon dan Maman Gendeng. Siapa yang menang perang untuk jiwa Indonesia dan menikah anak perempuan cantik Dewi Ayu?
Novel ini mencerita sejarah Indonesia dari perspektif unik. Dengan pergunaan realisme magis dan tema yang mengerikan, Eka Kurniawan menunjukkan peristiwa yang paling jelek pada periode Perang Dunia II, Revolusi Nasional Indonesia, Penumpasan PKI dan mungkin juga Petrus. Tokoh-tokoh Dewi Ayu, anaknya dan suaminya mengalamkan peristiwa ini dengan berbeda dan jelas bahwa orang perempuan sangat mudah diserang oleh tentara, preman dan bahkan keluarganya. Dewi Ayu sangat praktis, dan tanpa emosi dia menderita dan mengambil tindakan untuk memastikan dia dan anaknya aman. Kadang-kadang ada peristiwa yang tidak bisa dijelaskan seperti orang yang hidup lagi, cium yang berapi, babi yang menjadi manusia dan kutukan yang tidak bisa dipatahkan. Eka Kurniawan menggunakan hal ini untuk membuat emosi Halimunda semakin keras. Gaya menulisnya sering seperti dogeng.
Akan tetapi, buku ini tidak mudah dibaca. Walaupun memang ada banyak kosa kata yang saya belum tahu (sesudah selesai buku ini, saya mengisi tiga buku catatan dengan kosa kata Bahasa Indonesia!), itu bukan masalahnya. Masalanya sebetulnya tema. Ada banyak kekerasan, banyak perkosaan dan banyak hal yang didaftarkan di atas yang sulit dibaca. Walaupun saya paham ada hal yang harus didiskusikan, Eka Kurniawan menulis tentang hal jelek dengan terlalu banyak perincian, dan saya merasa tidak nyaman membaca buku ini.
Walaupun ini buku yang penting dan menarik, itu juga buku sulit dan sering mengerikan.
Literary novel about an Indo woman, her family and the soul of Indonesia through 19th century history
Although I lived in Indonesia for a total of six years, and studied Indonesian in primary school, high school and university, before now I have never read a book in Bahasa Indonesia. When I was still a teenager, my dad gave me a copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. I tried to read it, but the vocabulary was too difficult and I didn’t read further than the Weasley twins met for the first time by Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express train. I had heard about this book from friends and other writers (especially about the issue of magic realism) Although there is an English translation, I wanted to read it in Bahasa Indonesia. I’m currently reading several books for a writing project and this book has relevant themes. As a result, I ordered an Indonesian edition.
“Beauty is a Wound” by Eka Kurniawan is a novel about a woman called Dewi Ayu who lives again after twenty one years of being dead. This novel explains why Dewi Ayu decided to die after her fourth child was born. Unlike her sisters, this girl is extremely ugly and before dying, Dewi Ayu gives her one gift: the name Beauty. Next, we read about Dewi Ayu’s life as an Indo person in the city of Halimunda. Halimunda was occupied by the Japanese army during World War II and Dewi Ayu is forced to become a sex worker. After the war, Dewi Ayu becomes the most famous and beloved sex worker in Halimunda. She has three children from three different fathers and each child is more beautiful than the next. However, the time after the war is an opportunity to achieve independence from the Netherlands and imagine a new nation. There are three men who become very influential during this time: Shodancho, Kamerad Kliwon and Maman Gendeng. Who will win the war for the soul of Indonesia and marry Dewi Ayu’s beautiful daughters?
This novel depicts Indonesia’s history from a unique perspective. With the use of magic realism and horrifying themes, Kurniawan whos the most ugly events during World War II, the Indonesian National Revolution, the Indonesian Communist Purge and perhaps even the Petrus Killings. The characters of Dewi Ayu, her children and their husbands experiences these events differently and it is clear that women are especially vulnerable to the army, thugs and even their own families. Dewi Ayu is very practical, and without emotion she endures and takes action to ensure that she and her children are safe. Sometimes there are events than cannot be explained like people coming back to life, fiery kisses, pigs who become people and curses that cannot be cursed. Eka Kurniawan uses these elements to make Halimunda’s emotions even more intense. His writing style is often like fables.
However, this book is difficult to read. Although there is plenty of vocabulary that I didn’t know yet (after finishing this book, I had filled three notebooks with Indonesian vocabulary!), that wasn’t the problem. The problem was actually the themes. There is lots of violence, lots of rape and lots of the things listed above that are difficult to read. Although I understand there are things that need to be discussed, Eka Kurniawan writes about gross things with far too much detail, and I felt really uncomfortable reading this book.
Although this is an interesting and important book, it is also a difficult book that is often horrifying.
Historical fiction retelling of the Labyrinth set in Crete in World War II
Content warning: war, sexual assault, family violence, torture, sexual harassment, disability discrimination
I received a copy of this eBook courtesy of the publisher.
“The Crimson Thread” by Kate Forsyth is a historical fiction novel and retelling of the story of the Labyrinth from Greek mythology. The book is about a young woman called Alenka who lives in Crete with her mother and younger brother. During the Nazi occupation of World War II, she is part of the local resistance. When German paratroopers land on the island in 1941, Alenka saves the lives of two young Australian men: childhood friends Jack and Teddy. However, the war is far from over and as the fighting intensifies on land and off, it becomes harder and harder to know who to trust.
This was an excellently researched book that seamlessly wove together two Cretes: the one of classic mythology and the modern one of the mid-20th century. The pacing in this book was superb. There was a lot of really challenging themes, and Forsyth knew exactly when to allow moments of tension and moments of tenderness. Some of the scenes were so poignant or full of perfect timing that they brought me to tears. The parts of the book that are hardest to read are those that are true either to the Nazi occupation of Crete or the events following Ariadne helping Theseus to navigate the Labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur in Greek mythology. Forsyth’s writing is so vivid in these moments, using motifs and metaphors that span millennia, and appealing to the universal human experience.
Alenka was such a relatable character, trying to do her best in extremely dangerous and ever-changing circumstances, including in her own home. My heart broke for her over and over. Conversely, the friendship and rivalry between Jack and Teddy was a fascinating exploration of class, disability and entitlement in Australian culture. All of the characters felt incredibly well-rounded with histories, motivations and unique personalities propelling them towards the final conflict. Forsyth has written about her experiences growing up with a stutter and writes with power, authenticity and flexibility about Jack’s stutter and how it waxes and wanes depending on the situation and his state of mind. This topic also has a particular significance to my family. During World War II, my grandfather’s twin brother’s aeroplane was shot down over Crete and never recovered. I understand the inspiration for Forsyth’s book came from her own family connection to Crete.
I have reviewed quite a few books by Forsyth on this blog, and I think this is her best yet.
Quite some time ago I started collecting these beautiful Penguin by Hand editions. There were six books written by women published with embossed covers inspired by different types of craft. I have three in my collection (so far) but have only reviewed “The Help” and “The Postmistress“. This book is just as beautiful as the others with a gorgeous tactile embossed design inspired by cross-stitch. I actually can’t believe it has been over five years since I last reviewed a book in this series. I feel like I have picked this one up and put it with a handful of books to read on several trips, but it has never made it to the top of the pile until now.
“The Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafak is a novel within a novel. The first story is about a mother called Ella who lives with her husband and three children. Her days are mostly spent on housework and preparing elaborate meals for her family. Despite being in the family home day in, day out, her family seem to be drifting away from her and her life feels meaningless. However, when she gets a part-time job reading for a literary agency, suddenly everything changes. The first book she is asked to read, the novel within this novel, is called Sweet Blasphemy by an author called A. Z. Zahara. This, on the other hand, is a historical fiction story set in today’s Iran in the mid-1200s about a Persian poet called Shams who befriends and becomes the spiritual instructor of an Islamic scholar known as Rumi. At the beginning of the story, we learn that Shams had a pivotal impact on Rumi’s poetry and that he was murdered. As Ella reads the story of Shams and Rumi, she begins to feel more and more inspired by love and decides to email the author.
I am no expert in poetry, but this book has just reaffirmed to me the strength of Iran and Persia‘s poetry tradition. My favourite parts of the books were by far the Sweet Blasphemy chapters. Shafak uses a range of characters to examine different parts of Persian society: a novice, a beggar, an alcoholic, a sex worker, Rumi, members of his household and even the person who killed Shams. There was an incredible magnetism between Shams and Rumi and even if their relationship was strictly platonic, it certainly felt very romantic. I also really enjoyed Shams’ rules and how each rule tied into the theme of each chapter. It was also a fascinating history of the origin of whirling dervishes.
I did find, however, that I was much less invested in Ella’s story. Somehow compared to the historical significance of Shams and Rumi and the mark they made on poetry and religion, Ella’s difficulties with her family, love life and career just weren’t as engaging. I could see that her story did serve to bring modern relevance to Shams and Rumi, but I’m not sure it was enough to keep me compelled.
A beautifully written novel, especially Shams and Rumi’s story, but a little unevenly paced.
Historical fiction novel about family and political upheaval in Taiwan
Content warning: torture, mental illness
I bought this book in keen anticipation of attending one of my favourite book clubs: the Asia Bookroom Book Group. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend on the day, but I nevertheless was very keen to read one of this year’s set books.
“Green Island” by Shawna Yang Ryan is a historical fiction novel set initially in late 1940s Taiwan. Shortly after delivering his fourth child at home, an attentive and energetic young doctor called Dr Tsai is disappeared by Chinese Nationalists after speaking at a community meeting in favour of democracy and Taiwainese representation. Years later, he returns a different man to a family who almost don’t recognise him and a community who shuns him. Nevertheless, he forms a close relationship with his youngest daughter and takes a keen interest in educating her. As the years progress, the unnamed daughter finds herself married and in a comfortable situation in America. However, the tension and surveillance of mid-century Taiwan is not over, and as she is forced to revisit her father’s decisions and ask herself what she would do to protect her family.
This is a well-written and challenging novel that says as much in the scenes we don’t see as it does in the scenes we do. Rarely do people who have been disappeared return home alive, and Dr Tsai’s experience challenges the reader to consider the impossible situation a person is placed in, the extremes they are pushed to through torture and threats, and how far they will go to survive. There was a pivotal scene in the book where Dr Tsai is convinced that he is being followed and kept under surveillance, and his family dismiss his concerns as paranoia. However, it transpires that his instincts were correct and he was being watched, and this experience is repeated for his daughter.
Yang Ryan also explores the idea of betrayal and living with your decisions long after they are made. I also quite liked the juxtaposition between the narrator’s life in Taiwan and her life in America, and how in some ways it seemed so easy for her to slip into this sophisticated, erudite, American lifestyle and yet how difficult it was to escape the reach of Taiwanese politics. Yang Ryan weaves in themes of intergenerational trauma and the impact of tension in households on children. I found that the sessions with the psychiatrist were some of the most illuminating in the book and they leave you wondering what difference access to mental health support and financial security would have made to the narrator and her family back in Taiwan.
However, this was not always an easy novel to read. The focus is certainly on the characters and themes of family and while I certainly could understand the impact of the Martial Law Era, I found it difficult to understand the history of it. This is almost certainly a result of my ignorance, and I think if you are reading this book it would be worth doing a bit of background reading to help understand the broader historical context. Although a key character in the book, I found Jia Bao quite unfathomable and there were a number of tense scenes involving him, the narrator, her husband and Jia Bao’s family that I struggled to make sense of. The narrator has a complicated relationship with him and as a reader, I was left with a disconcerting sense of missed opportunity.
A compelling and tense novel that explores the emotional and moral toll of living under an oppressive regime.
Romance novels set in the Regency era recently adapted into a TV series
Content warning: spousal rape
Unless you have been living under a rock (no shame if you have!), you will have heard of the hit TV series “Bridgerton“. This lush, colourful TV series reimagines the Regency era of the United Kingdom’s history as racially diverse with characters of colour in leading, powerful roles instead of relegated to servitude or slavery. I was looking for my next running book, and I saw that the book that inspired the series was available as an audiobook. I was really interested to see how the original compared to the adaptation. I didn’t realise at the time that the second season was just about to be released. After binge-watching it (ahem, twice), I had a bit of a family health emergency that involved a lot of driving to and from hospital. With so much stress and time in the car, I decided to listen to the second book as well, so today I’ll review both books.
“The Duke and I” by Julia Quinn and narrated by Rosalyn Landor is the first book in the “Bridgerton” series. The story is about Daphne Bridgerton and her eight siblings Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory and Hyacinth who belong to a wealthy family in England in 1813. The Bridgertons are a tight-knit family and known for their parents’ decision to choose names based on letters of the alphabet corresponding with their birthday. As the sister of a viscount, there is a lot of pressure on Daphne to marry well. However, it is her second season out in society and she has yet to secure interest from any eligible suitors. When she manages to fight off the interest of a very ineligible suitor, she has a chance meeting with Simon, an old friend of her brother Anthony who also happens to be an extremely eligible duke. Simon has sworn never to marry, but the two agree to pretend to be courting to keep the women away from Simon and pique the interest of the bachelors in Daphne. However, once they start spending more time together it becomes harder and harder to distinguish between what is pretend and what is real.
Season 1 of the TV series drew heavily on the main elements of this book, and while not identical, the stories certainly followed a very similar path. I think I actually preferred book Daphne in some ways: the focus was less on her beauty and grace, and rather on her personality and gumption. I felt that apart from his race, the duke’s character was very similar in both the original and the adaptation, and considerable time was spent on his backstory and his ongoing anger and shame about the way he was treated as a small boy. One of the features of the TV series is the ensemble cast and we get to see snippets of many of the Bridgertons and other characters as well as the main romance. In comparison, the book had a much narrower focus, and we barely get a glimpse of the other characters at all. I found the writing of the first book reasonably compelling and Quinn goes into a lot more depth when it comes to some of the more compromising situations the characters find themselves in. I enjoyed Landor’s narration and felt that she did an admirable job distinguishing between the different characters with dynamic voices.
Not to be an English purist, but it became swiftly clear to me that the author, although trying to emulate a Jane Austen-esque tone, is herself an American. Using phrases such as “off of” in place of “off”, saying “spit” in both present and past tense and referring to buttocks as “fanny” (which any Australian is going to raise an eyebrow at” did break the illusion for me a little. The audiobook included a little additional epilogue about the characters much later on, and I’m not entirely sure that it added much to the story.
Without trying to give too much of the plot away, I did want to mention a pretty universal criticism of both the book and the TV series. There is a particular scene in the book where one male character is drunk, and one female character takes advantage of this and has sex with him. It is pretty clear from the story that he was likely unable to give consent and had he been sober would not have consented to the sex. The scene in the book was far less ambiguous than the corresponding scene in the TV series (where the male character is not drunk but is certainly reluctant and feels there has been a considerable betrayal of trust) and it left me feeling very uncomfortable that there was not much remorse or condemnation of this act which fell within the definition of spousal rape. Instead, the reader is left with the sense that the ends justify the means. I felt that had the genders been reversed, it would have been completely unacceptable and while the book was published over 20 years ago, it really isn’t an excuse.
“The Viscount Who Loved Me” by Julia Quinn and narrated by Rosalyn Landor is set in the following year, 1814. This time, the story is about Anthony Bridgerton, a viscount who inherited his father’s title at just 18 years old and notorious rake, who has finally decided to marry. The caveat, however, is that he has decided that the marriage must be business only and that he will absolutely not fall in love. Half-sisters Kate and Edwina Sheffield have come to London to be presented to society in the same year. Dedicated older sister Kate is determined to find her beauty of a younger sister a successful match and Edwina is determined to have Kate’s approval. However, when Edwina catches Anthony’s eye as a sufficiently beautiful and intelligent woman, Kate refuses to consider someone with such a bad reputation as suitable for Edwina, no matter how wealthy and powerful. As Anthony persists in courting Edwina, he and Kate spend more and more time together and soon find that first impressions aren’t always correct.
I found the second book far less engaging. The chemistry between Kate and Anthony was lukewarm at best and what little tension there was resolved very early in the book, with many, many chapters spent on self-realisation rather than any meaningful plot. In fact, the plot was in many ways very similar to the plot of the first book with themes of compromising positions, love growing over time and the man withholding something until he realises his love for the woman. The writing seemed even less inspired, and I lost count of how many times characters “murmured” or “swallowed convulsively”. Quinn goes into absolute minute detail in her scenes, labouring over each character’s thoughts and observations. I felt that she was hamming up the English imitation a little much and wasn’t quite able to capture the humour or irreverence of other American writers writing about England like Connie Willis or Mary Ann Shaffer. Again, there was an extra epilogue in the audiobook that again, didn’t add much.
In contrast, Season 2 of the TV series was absolutely fantastic. Kate was reimagined as Kate Sharma who travels from India with her younger sister to try to find a match in London. The Kate of the TV series, played by Simone Ashley, was haughty, imperious, spirited and stubborn and is as fun as she is frustrating to Anthony. The way culture was woven into the story has attracted a lot of discussion, and questions of authenticity and consistency aside, it certainly added to the richness of the show. Anthony, played by Jonathan Bailey, brought a smouldering intensity to the character that generated white hot sparks against Ashley’s Kate – a testament to his acting skills as he is gay in real life. The pacing of the TV adaptation was exquisite, with the incredible tension between Anthony and Kate maintained throughout the entire series. Similar to the first season, the rest of the characters all have engaging and interactive stories so the romance is not in a vacuum, and I especially enjoyed the Queen’s interactions with Eloise and Edwina.
Although I was looking for something light-hearted during a particularly difficult time and this book certainly met that criteria, I think I will stick to the TV series from now on.