In this edition I will be talking about PRINCESS ELIZABETH’S SPY, by Susan Elia MacNeal, and AUTUMN, by Ali Smith, as well as briefly recapitulating about and linking to my earlier February reads. But first, a word from my ego and superego, brought to you by my id.
I’ve a good reason for being a few days late with February reflections: I’ve been revisiting and reevaluating my life, an undertaking which has required being present in each moment of my physical reality, an effort which — while rewarding, illuminating, and renewing — results in a need for peaceful, quiet disconnecting, a positive sort of hermiting born of self-affirming and nurturing considerations rather than those triggers of fear and panicked retreating which have so often been the driving forces of my life.
But, I will spare you a fifteen-hundred word blathering about my personal journey and get on with being my book blogger self. The first of the two books from February about which I’ve not yet written was:
Princess Elizabeth’s Spy (Maggie Hope Mystery #2), by Susan Elia MacNeal, Paperback, 352pp, 2012, Bantam
What a pleasure it is to get reacquainted with old friends. I read of WW2 heroine Maggie Hope’s inadvertent adventuring into spydom in December of 2016 in Mr. Churchill’s Secretary and fell quite in love with both character and author. I’d discovered Susan Elia MacNeal on Twitter where her delightful posts and irresistible smile kept popping up in my feed because many of the bookworld types I follow followed her, and so, eager to sit at the table with the cool kids, I followed too. Good decision, as was the decision to start following her Maggie stories. I was captivated by the first installment and quickly availed myself of this second exploit of Maggie’s. It was just as enchanting and exciting as the first, with which it shares well-drawn and memorable characters, surprising and rapid-heartbeat plotting, and the author’s deft and witty facility for language, as well as a seemingly effortless ability to evoke the time period and supply historical context in a hugely entertaining manner. In addition to all that, there are many friendships, love interests, and family dynamics played out in ways that feel entirely human and contemporary; in short, you’ll be enlightened and moved by the stories and who can resist a re-imagining of pre-coronation Elizabeth and her mischievous sibling, Margaret, as children at Windsor Castle where Maggie is sent — much to her disappointment having wanted to head to the front for dangerous undercovering —to pose as a tutor and protect the princesses from a Nazi plant embedded somewhere in the castle. Ripping good page turner here. I’ve already gotten number three lined up, saved, I don’t want to lose Maggie as a pal and there are but seven novels — the last of which is not yet published.
My next and final read of February is also part of a series of standalone novels about the seasons. This, the first, is:
Autumn, by Ali Smith, hardcover, 272pp, Pantheon, February 2017
This is my first reading of Ali Smith, who I know is greatly admired, much awarded, and multi-nominated for the Booker Prize, and so I felt uncultured and obtuse to have found this book merely okay and tried to figure out if it was me or the novel?
It’s a post-Brexit take on culture, full of trenchant and witty observations, composed in a collage-like, non-linear way in writing often lyrical, approaching poetry. Elisabeth and Daniel, 69 years apart in age, love one another deeply, and bond over a shared love of literature and a staunch determination to maintain their moral centers in spite of what seems to be a disintegrating society and the decline of civilization. Listen:
I’m tired she says.
It’s only two miles, Elisabeth says.
That’s not what I mean, she says. I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it. I’m tired of the violence there is and I’m tired of the violence that’s on its way, that’s coming, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars. I’m tired of how those liars have let this happen. I’m tired of having to wonder whether they did it out of stupidity or did it on purpose. I’m tired of lying governments. I’m tired of people not caring whether they’re being lied to any more. I’m tired of being made to feel this fearful. I’m tired of animosity. I’m tired of pusillanimosity.
I don’t think that’s actually a word, Elisabeth says.
I’m tired of not knowing the right words, her mother says.
From all the gorgeous syntax of this novel, that was the sole passage I marked. Which, perhaps, explains why I found this novel only okay; because that passage hits so close to my heart, my soul, my life-journey right now, it threatens to upend my recovery from a lifetime habit of sorrow. So, take my “okay” with a grain (or entire shaker) of salt. I’ve long been the kind of tired above limned, and I am working on waking up. I strongly suspect it wasn’t anything wrong with Autumn which made me okay it, but, rather, something going right with me which made me not quite ready to revisit the sort of existential fatigue upon which this novel is built.
Now that I’ve taken care of those, let me say this: I read twelve novels in February and TWO OF THEM were five-star wonders for me.
There was the glorious and totally new, exciting, riveting Running by Cara Hoffman about which I waxed rhapsodic, CLICK HERE.
And, what was my book of the month — and I suspect, the year — the so good it seems impossible and requires instant re-read to verify its gorgeousness, Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, about which I went on and on and on, CLICK HERE.
So, there you have it, my February wrap-up in under 1000 words (not counting the quotation from Autumn), who am I? Well, I promised in my introduction I’d spare you blathering about my personal journey and I’m going to honor that except to share this: I haven’t opened Twitter in four or five days, even removed it from my phone so I wouldn’t accidentally click it out of habit. I haven’t read a newspaper or watched TV news. I have devoted myself to family, friends, cooking, cleaning, catching up on me, organizing and writing, and doing self-analysis, practicing confession without penance, as I’ve come to think of it, in which I am thinking (and writing, because that’s how I think) about my life, the parts that hurt, the scenes I have seen and held in a negative, fearful darkness, and finding the love and light in them, looking at them until I am no longer afraid, until I can live inside them, seeing them and acknowledging them without judgement of me or anyone else. I don’t want to be so presumptuous as to think there are things to forgive; I want to evolve beyond thinking there is a need for forgiveness, to live in a reality where I believe there is Love and Light in EVERY action, no matter how distorted that Love and Light becomes. I want to spend the rest of my life focusing on that Love and Light.
So, don’t know when I’ll be back (or, if I’ll be back) on social media, and, for now, here I am, going.
Thanks for reading.