Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Museum Guard

Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1938. Orphaned at the age of nine by a zeppelin crash, DeFoe Russet grew up in a hotel under the care of his magnetic uncle Edward. Now thirty, DeFoe works with Edward as a guard in Halifax’s three-room Glace Museum. By day, he and his uncle break the silence of the museum with heated conversations that show them to be ‘opposites at life’. By night, DeFoe spends his time trying to keep the affection of Imogen Linny.

[…]

When the Dutch painting ‘Jewess on a Street in Amsterdam’ arrives at the museum, Imogen becomes obsessed and abandons her life in favour of the ennobled one she imagines for its subject – even though being a Jew in Amsterdam is becoming more and more perilous as the clouds of World War 2 begin to gather.

I’ll say it now – this is not a happy book. While there are certainly many warm, happy and even funny moments, the book is overall actually quite unsettling. Much of it is relatable and familiar, and yet as the novel (and time) progresses the threat of war and the larger events of the novel itself loom over the residents of Halifax. Listening to the radio late at night, for example, turns into religious following of Ovid Lamartine, a Canadian reporter in Europe, as he discusses the increasingly dangerous situation in Europe.

The smaller details make this novel what it is. There is a huge amount of drama, heartbreak, betrayal and moral uncertainty in the book – all of which is countered by Norman’s incredible ability to bring the banal to the forefront. DeFoe’s coping mechanism is ironing – scenes of great drama are softened by piles of crumpled laundry. The Museum Guard paints the picture of a world dangerously close to destruction, and yet this isn’t the focus; in fact the novel ends before the war starts. There’s something poetic in this – we are left with the same sense of impending doom that the characters experience throughout the novel.

The way the novel ends and the setting leaves the reader in a very strange position – we cannot feel much hope for the characters, and the novel doesn’t give us any reason to have any; we know what is about to happen to the world in general, and any predictions we can make about the characters are not positive ones.

This is a very short review, I know, but this book really does speak for itself. The plot is incredibly odd, and yet remains real and raw. Norman has honestly left me speechless, and that’s definitely a good thing.

See you soon,

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I couldn’t think of (or be bothered to find) a good gif for this, so I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the book instead;

Life is full of dramas of the soul’s estrangement and reconciliation.

 


Review Wednesday | Book Review – The Hidden People (ARC Review)

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Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth – but was she really a changeling, as her husband insists? Albie Mirralls met his cousin only once, in 1851, within the grand glass arches of the Crystal Palace, but unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak, a village steeped in superstition.

Albie begins to look into Lizzie’s death, but in this place where the old tales hold sway and the ‘Hidden People’ supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just a step away . . .

 I received this book free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The blurb sounded interesting, and didn’t quite occur to me until after I was approved to read it that it was classed by Amazon as a horror. I am not good at scary books, so I did approach it tentatively after that. I feel like my own nervousness made getting into the book difficult; however I was soon hooked despite my cowardice!

Despite my own inability to focus, this novel was very good and definitely had an interesting premise. I feel like it was very realistic as a piece set in Victorian Britain; the language was largely convincing, although I wasn’t as sold by the Yorkshire accents. The story had the feel of a Victorian novel; I often found that I’d have to remind myself that it is a contemporary piece – I’m someone who’s read an awful lot of Victorian fiction, so I’d say that’s effective writing!

I personally wouldn’t have classified this as horror. While there was a lot of suspense, and there was certainly some horrific imagery, I was never really scared by it. As a massive wimp, I’m honestly quite glad of this! It works very well as a historical suspense or even a crime novel.  While the story was mostly uneventful, with the main events occurring before the main story begins and towards the end, it was very enjoyable and certainly worth reading for the sheer amount of detail and work put into it – it is obvious from the start that Littlewood’s story is the result of huge amounts of research, and is clearly a labour of love. I love a novel that clearly has a huge amount of background work behind it, especially when it is executed as well as this.

Overall, I found that The Hidden People was an engaging and detailed read, with plenty of twists and suspense. It made for a great read, and although I imagine for many the ending could be unfulfilling, I found it satisfying and very Victorian. The story cuts through the pastoral Victorian country life, showing an incredibly dark side to the simple, peaceful existence of the people of Halfoak and by extension many rural areas in the 19th century. The version I was sent, which will presumably be the same as the eBook edition when it’s published, includes author’s notes at the end describing the very real cases and folklore the story came from – most notably the case of Bridget Cleary. As I’ve mentioned before, Alison Littlewood uses this history and information very well, and I would definitely recommend this book.

The Hidden People is set to be published on the 6th of October. Pre-order here (UK).

See you soon,

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This shouldn’t make me laugh as much as it does. [x]


Book Review – The House I Loved

‘Rose Bazelet is determined to fight against the destruction of her family home until the very end; as others flee, she stakes her claim in the basement of the house on rue Childebert, ignoring the sounds of change that come closer and closer each day. Attempting to overcome the loneliness of her daily life, she begins to write letters to Armand, her late husband. As Rose delves into her memories, she reveals the secrets held within the walls of her beloved house.’

The House I Loved is set in Paris, 1869, towards the end of Napoleon III’s reign and the height of Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s ‘Renovation of Paris’.  The renovations saw whole neighbourhoods in central Paris demolished and rebuilt in line with Haussmann’s designs. Tatiana de Rosnay’s novel centres around one particular road, the rue Childebert – now part of the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Her protagonist, Rose Bazelet, lives on rue Childebert, in her late husband’s family home.

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Taken from the front of the book.

The novel is written in the form of an extensive letter, written by Rose to her late husband Armand. Rose is an elderly woman who is set in her ways and is incredibly attached to her home. She sees it as the last link she has to her late husband and beloved mother in law. She often reminisces about happier times, but ends up delving into dark, repressed memories of the house and her life.

Before I read it, I wasn’t sure about this book. While the time period and location seemed interesting, a closed setting such as the basement and the style of writing the book as a letter/series of letters is restricting and been done a lot. I found myself fortunately mistaken in many ways, but I did find it predictable in many ways. It is the kind of novel that you predict the ending of from the start of the novel. Although the story does go off into many tangents, these can also be easily predicted. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in small doses, but I managed to predict large portions of the novel, when I’d much rather be surprised in at least some small way.

Despite this, it was an enjoyable and emotional read. For historical fiction, it was easy to read but informative. If I could go back, I’d have read up on the context a bit beforehand – I knew nothing about it, and while the novel does explain it well I find that when reading historical fiction I prefer to know at least a small amount about the context in order to fully understand it. Tatiana de Rosnay does provide a good level of context and the text was easy to understand without knowing anything else about the time period.

See you soon,

Ro x