Monthly Archives: September 2019

#Bookreview ‘The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins #historical

Sara CollinsThe Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins tells the story of a Jamaican woman enslaved as a child, exploited by two men and subsequently accused of murder in Georgian London. I am left with the feeling that this debut, though full of lush description and a distinctive heroine, is an ambitious story that would benefit from being given some air to breathe.

Frances Langton, house-slave at Paradise, a Jamaica sugar cane plantation. Frances Langton, housemaid in the home of a London scholar. Frances Langton, the mulatto murderess. Which is the real Frannie? A woman born into slavery in Jamaica then transported to London and gifted to another master, in each place she is studied and manipulated by two men who cannot agree on the pigment of negro skin, the intellectual capacity of blacks and whether they can be educated. There are hints about things that happened to Frannie in her past, things that she did to others – leading I think to the description of the book as ‘gothic’ – some of which are explained by the end, some of which remained vague to me.

This is Frannie’s story, told in her voice, written as she waits in gaol for her trial and written for her lawyer. But we never actually meet this lawyer, he remains a cardboard cut-out so Frannie’s version of the truth remains unverified.We read the sworn testaments of witnesses at her trial, are they the truth or spoken with prejudice and ulterior motives? The book is really two stories – Frannie’s exploitation at Paradise by two men who fancy themselves scientists, and her London lesbian love affair and the murder – that don’t fit together convincingly.

The best thing for me about the book is the character of Frannie, unlike anything I have read recently. The depth of research is evident in the detail but the pacing is unpredictable – Frannie’s voice in the beginning is spellbinding but the middle section is soggy – and I’m intrigued by the scientific exploration of racism. I wanted less of the laudanum addiction and romance between Frannie and her mistress and longed for the trial to be used as the spine on which to hang Frannie’s slave story. A slow read, but definitely an author to watch.

If you like this, try:-
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar
The Convenient Marriage’ by Georgette Heyer
The Cursed Wife’ by Pamela Hartshorne

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON by Sara Collins @mrsjaneymac #books via @SandraDanby

A poem to read in the bath… ‘My Life’s Stem was Cut’ by Helen Dunmore #poetry

What a glorious, gentle, heartbreaking poem this is about dying. Helen Dunmore, novelist, poet, winner of the Orange Prize, died too soon on June 5, 2017. In a slim volume of poetry, Inside the Wave, I found ‘My Life’s Stem was Cut’. I defy you to read it without feeling a combination of sadness and hope.

Helen Dunmore

[photo: Caroline Forbes]

Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘My life’s stem was cut,
But quickly, lovingly,
I was lifted up,
I heard the rush of the tap
And I was set in water
In the blue vase…’

Helen Dunmore



Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
Because I Could Not Stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson
Japanese Maple’ by Clive James
I Loved Her Like the Leaves’ by Kakinonoto Hitomaro

Read my reviews of Helen Dunmore’s novels, The Lie, Exposure, Birdcage Walk.

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A #poem to read in the bath: ‘My Life’s Stem was Cut’ by Helen Dunmore via @SandraDanby

Great Opening Paragraph 119… ‘Peter Pan’ #amwriting #FirstPara

JM Barrie“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up. And the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!” This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”
‘Peter Pan’ by JM Barrie

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
A Month in the Country’ by JL Carr 
These Foolish Things’ by Deborah Moggach 
Far From the Madding Crowd’ by Thomas Hardy 

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
PETER PAN by JM Barrie #books via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Long View’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard #literary #marriage

Elizabeth Jane HowardThe Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard is not so much a ‘what happens next’ novel as ‘what has happened in the past to lead to this situation’ story. It is a novel about choices and where they can lead. Howard tells the story, backwards from 1950 to 1926, of the marriage of Antonia and Conrad Fleming. As the story starts, the marriage seems doomed and you cannot help but wonder how these two people ever got married in the first place. In fact, once I finished it I was tempted to read it again from back to front.

The first paragraph is a masterful example of scene setting. It opens with a dinner party to celebrate the engagement of Julian Fleming to June, who has secretly spent the afternoon alone at the cinema. As Antonia considers the complicated marital affairs of her son – and her daughter, Deirdre, who is pregnant by a man who does not love her – I wondered how her own marriage must have shaped her children’s handling of relationships and how hers, in turn, was shaped by her parents. I found Conrad an almost totally unsympathetic character, indeed in the first part he is referred to simply as Mr Fleming. ‘One of his secret pleasures was the loading of social dice against himself. He did not seem for one moment to consider the efforts made by kind or sensitive people to even things up; or if such notions ever occurred to him, he would have observed them with detached amusement, and reloaded more dice.’

This is very much a novel of its time in which middle-class women had limited choices. As a young woman, Antonia lacks the strength to break out. She is timid, feeling she has proved unsatisfactory for both her mother and father. ‘She grew up, therefore, feeling, not precisely a failure so much as an unnecessary appendage.’ Her mother bemoans her lack of interests [Antonia does have interests, simply not those of her mother] and her father her lack of intellect [but without stimulus of career or education]. We see the transition from hopeful, eager young girl experiencing first love, to weary, middle age when the ‘trees ahead so horribly resembled the trees behind, and the undergrowth of their past caught and clung and tore at them as they moved on’.

This is Howard’s second novel. I am most familiar with her later ‘Cazalet Chronicles’ series and there are some key comparisons to be made in the writing style. Sentences in The Long View are longer, paragraphs longer, and the style not as simple and nuanced as the later books. Viewpoint also shifts within paragraphs, a technique she changed for the Cazalets. This is not to say this spoiled my enjoyment of The Long View, it is perhaps an observation for writers rather than readers, but it shows an interesting development in the author’s writing style. And I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Antonia’s horse rides in Sussex, countryside in which the Cazalet’s house, Home Place, is set.


Read my reviews of Howard’s ‘Cazalet Chronicles’:- The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off, and All Change.

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE LONG VIEW by Elizabeth Jane Howard #bookreview via @SandraDanby

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Unaccompanied’ by Simon Armitage #poetry

The Unaccompanied is Simon Armitage’s first poetry collection in more than a decade during which he wrote drama, translation, travel articles and prose poetry. This collection doesn’t disappoint. It’s a mixture of familiar Yorkshire moors and sea, urban depression, Nature and human nature, globalisation and social media. His poems are accessible; at times witty and sad, they set the big questions of life against the small familiar details of every day.

Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage [photo: Paul Wolfgang Webster]

My favourite poem from this collection is ‘The Unaccompanied’. A walker at night stops to listen to the sound of singing, songs about mills and mines, myth and the mundane. It is a poem about heritage, about traditions spanning generations, from father to son, of the fathers that went before. It reminded me of traditional fishermen’s choirs, still popular on the East Yorkshire coast.

Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Wandering slowly back after dark one night
above a river, towards a suspension bridge,
a sound concerns him that might be a tune
or might not; noise drifting in, trailing off.’


Simon Armitage


Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:-
A thousand years, you said’ by Lady Heguri
Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari
Digging’ by Seamus Heaney

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A #poem to read in the bath: ‘The Unaccompanied’ by Simon Armitage via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Those Who Are Loved’ by @VicHislop #Greece #historical

Victoria HislopThose Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is the story of Themis Koralis from 1930 to 2016. Set in Greece it tells the troubled history of the country through the Second World War, occupation, Civil War and military dictatorship. They are harsh years; the country, its people and families are divided by beliefs, poverty and wealth. It is a long book, 496 pages, and a lot of history is covered.

Themis has two brothers – Panos and Thanasis – and a sister, Margarita; they live with their grandmother in the Athens district of Patissia. Their father is a merchant seaman and hardly comes home, their mother Eleftheria is in a psychiatric hospital; both appear briefly. Central to the home is Kyría Koralis. I enjoyed the descriptions of these early years in the apartment, the meals, the squabbling teenagers, Themis and her friendship with Fotini. But political beliefs are dividing the country and as the arguments grow in the Koralis apartment, they also divide the siblings. The divisions only get worse under German occupation, leading Panos and Themis to support the communists in the fight against the Nazis. Thanasis however becomes a policeman. Margarita, working in a dress shop, is secretly in love. Their political views, forged as teenagers, impact on the rest of their lives.

At times I struggled with this book, other sections I enjoyed. Perhaps this is because the linear narrative is driven by historical events which Hislop felt bound to include, and is not dynamic or character-driven. There are many peripheral characters who disappear without another mention and I found the middle section particularly slow, as if Themis is treading water before reaching the next phase of her life. The novel is effectively the life story of Themis, the history of Greece during her lifetime and its effect on her, and it includes a fascinating account of the post-WW2 communist rebellion in Greece, my knowledge of which was rather hazy. At times it is difficult reading and it is certainly thought-provoking; extreme views with two uncompromising sides unable to meet in the middle, quickly deteriorating to violence, cruelty and abhorrent behaviour.

Hislop is my go-to author for novels set in Greece. I finished Those Who Are Loved wishing she had chosen a specific phase of Themis’s life to concentrate on rather than the full 86 years. For me though, her subsequent novels cannot rival her debut The Island which I really must re-read again.

Read my reviews of The Return and The Sunriseboth by Victoria Hislop; and The Storya collection of short stories edited by Hislop.

If you like this, try:-
Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd
Freya’ by Anthony Quinn
Quartet’ by Jean Rhys

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THOSE WHO ARE LOVED by @VicHislop #bookreview via @SandraDanby