The Engagements – J. Courtney Sullivan

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The Engagements – J. Courtney Sullivan

Finally a novel which is centred on romance yet does not take it as a given or sensationalise it!

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan is a breath of fresh air in a book market which continues to be saturated by hyperbolic declarations of love and stereotypical narratives.

Set over the course of five different decades The Engagements explores love through the lives of five individuals. First we are introduced to Frances in 1947, a talented copy writer who has chosen not to marry and puts all her effort into her career. Ironically she coins advertisements convincing men and women that a diamond engagement ring is a necessity rather than a choice. We then swiftly move to 1972 where Evelyn is reeling from her son and daughter in law’s recent marriage breakup, we then learn the unusual circumstances which led to Evelyn marrying her husband.

James is the main male character in the novel; he struggles to live up to his high school reputation which has an impact upon his marriage. He feels he is not good enough for his wife as they struggle to make ends meet in the 1980s. The exquisite Delphine (my favourite character) lives in Paris with her music loving husband Henri, she is then swept off her feet by a talented violinist. It leaves her wondering whether a marriage she once thought was stale and suffocating is ultimately a comfort to her. And to bring us into the modern era is Kate, a worrier who refuses to marry her long term partner and father to her child. She has an almost bohemian quality to her and her narrative focuses on her homosexual cousin getting married.

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I loved all the characters; I felt each narrative could have been developed into their own novel.  I especially loved Delphine; I felt Sullivan made her narrative so authentic and vivid that she made me wish I was French!

I am excited that there is a film to follow however I do hope that it stays true to the novel and is it not given a Hollywood makeover.

This is a book for all ages and  will be staying on my book shelf. It really is a fascinating read not only because Sullivan has researched heavily into all decades and societies she presents thus making it realistic but because we get a chance to gain an insight into private relationships and the institution of marriage. Sullivan encourages us to realise all partnerships are unique – what works for one couple may not work for someone else – relationships are private and special.

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Another aspect which got me really thinking was how we may believe and hope society has progressed but is this just an illusion? The fact Kate’s homosexual cousin is finally able to marry his partner due to the change in gay marriage laws obviously demonstrates progression and liberalism but Kate is still ridiculed just as Frances was in 1947 for not being married.

Essentially Sullivan presents the argument that a diamond ring is a bone of contention whether you have one or not and sadly this may always be the case.

 

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The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

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The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt has been on my reading wish list ever since it was first released, luckily I received it as a Christmas present.

I warn you this post is longer than usual as I LOVE this book!

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The story begins when the central character of the novel Theo Decker is a teenager living in New York with his mother who he has developed an extremely close bond with ever since his father walked out and left them. Theo’s life is quickly thrown into disarray when an innocent trip to a museum changes his whole life as his mother is killed by an explosion in the building. In a moment of despair and irrationality he takes a painting from the museum – The Goldfinch. What follows is an account of Theo trying to make sense of his life and the world around him without his mother and through the medium of art and culture.

As a vulnerable teenager he believes he has become a guest in people’s lives rather than a living and breathing individual. His father then makes an appearance and whisks him away from every last memory he has of his mother by taking him to live in Las Vegas with his seedy girlfriend. Here Theo meets Boris – a European misfit – who leads him down a path of drugs, crime and excess.

So much happens in this book that I could easily write about it all day, however if you have not read it yet I will not give too much away.

Considering that the book is well over seven hundred pages long I initially thought as with some longer novels that it would become tedious and the plot rather drawn out. This book is an absolute gem which does neither. Through charting Theo’s journey, Tartt adds so many dimensions and layers to the plot that even by the last page we are still discovering new thoughts and attitudes the characters have.  I should also mention that the book is not an extremely heavy read – I took just over two weeks to read it so do not let the size put you off.

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In truth it was not until the last twenty pages that I began to understand the significance the novel and its characters hold both in the book and in reality. For example I realised that one of the many things the novel does is conduct an argument between right and wrong as it pits a battle between what Theo ought to do such as marrying Kitsy and opposes it against temptation like being led astray by Boris.

I re-read the last few pages over and over trying to gain a sense of meaning from it as there is so much to take in but then I realised that is exactly what Tartt is trying to say –no person ever looks at art the same way or has the same emotion towards it – we should take whatever message or thought we want from the novel, there is no right or wrong; maybe this applies to morals too.

Before I get all essay-like I will say that I honestly believe Tartt has created a masterpiece; it’s a modern classic. One sentence can evoke a wealth of emotion; something I think is quite hard to find in a modern author. She has created a novel which is so much more than just a story, like The Goldfinch painting itself it is not just a picture on a wall; it chronicles growth, emotion and is transcendental.

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I feel this novel represents beauty through art and the need for over whelming desire but I think it also reflects our modern day society, where items and in this case The Goldfinch can be bought and sold just to obtain wealth, power and status. However through this rather depressing thought we see glimmers of hope and connections as art can be passed down through the generations evoking similar emotions the previous person had when they first saw the painting, novel or play. A notion I truly believe will occur when people are reading this book in a hundred years’ time.

The Ultimate Valentine’s Read

The Ultimate Valentine’s Read – Jane Eyre

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As it is Valentine’s Day tomorrow I thought I would share with you my favourite romance novel EVER, which just so happens to be my favourite book in the whole entire world.

I feel I should start by saying I am not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. It might seem odd then that I am writing this post but here is my argument; why do we need one day of the year to give each other presents and celebrate our love for a boyfriend / girlfriend etc? You would not have heard of all of the commercialism for this day in Charlotte Brontë’s time which leads me nicely on to, in my view the best romantic story of all time – Jane Eyre.

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I wrote about this masterpiece for months on end and watched numerous adaptions for my dissertation but I still love this book. It is not your typical romance, which is why I absolutely adore it, in many ways I guess it could be considered an anti-romance! Here are my ten reasons why Jane Eyre is the perfect romantic read:

  1. Set in rugged and bleak Northern England this is not your typical scene for a romantic novel, this is a hint of the destruction and wildness which is to come.
  2. Jane Eyre makes the perfect romantic heroine; naïve, innocent and emotional but by the end she becomes headstrong, courageous and a real force to be reckoned with by adhering to her principles. By sticking to her guns she doesn’t just find love, she is valued and has a sense of belonging.
  3. The über obvious – Mr Rochester. Brontë describes him as having ‘…deep brown eyes, strong features, firm grim mouth…’ He’s passionate and powerful in comparison to the likes of Mr Darcy. He’s far more complex and tortured and definitely more fascinating.
  4. The gothic element included in the novel involving Rochester’s former wife adds intrigue and mystery to the tale. No longer is the novel sugar coated and smelling of roses, it’s gritty and foreboding.
  5. The suspense, flirtation and longing Brontë creates early on between the pair builds throughout the novel: ‘Good night, my…He stopped, bit his lip and abruptly left me’. 50 Shades of Grey this is not.
  6. Let’s face it unless you’re name is Elizabeth Bennett or Juliet Capulet the kind of fairytale romance Brontë creates at the end is simply stuff of pure fantasy. ‘I have something in my brain and hair, in my blood and nerves, that assimilates me mentally to him’.
  7. Love is demonstrated in not so obvious ways such as Jane running away and consequently sticking to her values and Bertha’s madness is a sign of her infatuation and obsession with her former husband.
  8. We root for Jane Eyre throughout the novel, she is the underdog, she is ungainly, poor and not very attractive. It’s her personality and the transformation it undergoes which shines through.
  9. It has transcended time, we are still absolutely obsessed with Mr Rochester and the adoration Jane has for him.
  10. Jane returns to him when he is blind and failing in health – love rules all!

 

I know what I’ll be reading this Valentines.

 

Here are some Valentine’s biscuits I made 🙂

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