A Quick Inventory of Books

You know where the road to good intentions leads and I seem to have been on it for a while.  Although I have renewed online library books from the Libby site, more often they are returned unread.  How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell is the latest ebook I have on my Libby shelf, but I think maybe I’ve already figured it out.  The list of books returned stays on the site, admonishing me for neglect, and I’ve forgotten why I decided to check out the titles in the first place.  Have you read any?  Should I try again?

  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma
  • The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin

I have read and finished Bob Woodward’s RAGE, and it offered more than I wanted to but should know.  Things are worse than they seem.  I followed by watching the new not so fictionalized cable presentation of The Comey Rule and my appetite for facts ignored by the general population gave me indigestion.

My books from Powell Book Store finally arrived by slow boat, but Trust by Susan Choi was disappointing.  I have hopes for Jill McCorkle’s Life After Life, with a review from Elizabeth Berg promising magic.  I could use some.

The Authenticity Project by Claire Pooley is an iBook on my phone, as well as The Secret Book and Scone Society, recommended by a friend.

On my to read list (I still have good intentions):

  1. Monogamy by Sue Miller (on the NYT Sunday Review
  2. The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey (a favorite author)
  3. The RBG Workout by Bryant Johnson

The House on Fortune Street

Four lives intersect with secrets and betrayals in Margot Livesey’s The House on Fortune Street.  Each character has an affinity to a literary master – Keats, Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and Charlotte Bronte.   Their modern lives from London to Brooklyn, carry the weight of these authors’  flaws and the influence of their lives and work.

Livesey divides the book into four parts, with each character taking turns as the narrator: Abigail, the owner of the house and a young amoral actress and playwright whose childhood as a virtual orphan has trained her to fend for herself; Dara, Abigail’s friend from college days at St. Andrews, who taught her civility and loyalty; Cameron, Dara’s father who left when Dara was ten years old to protect her from his horrible secret; and Sean, the all-but-dissertation candidate at Oxford, who abandons his wife and his research on Keats to write a book on euthanasia when Abigail decides to charge him rent for living with her.

Sean quotes Keats and imagines parallels to his own life; Abigail’s early days mirror Dickens’s “boyslaughter” life – when part of his childhood was destroyed by the irresponsibility of his parents; Cameron, an avid photographer of young girls, sees himself in Lewis Carroll’s famous pictures of Alice; and Dara becomes a Jane Eyre, betrayed and vulnerable – but not as strong as Bronte’s literary heroine.

Each section ends with a cliffhanger, but the fortunes of all in the house come together in the end – tragically.  Not an uplifting tale, but Livesey’s language is witty and compelling and her literary allusions informative.  I found this author when I read her children’s book, The Flight of Gemma Harding, with lives similarly influenced by circumstances and just plain luck.



The Flight of Gemma Harding

Does this sound familiar?

A ten-year old orphan is adopted by her mother’s brother.  When her uncle dies, her cruel aunt mistreats her, and her mean cousins find every opportunity to torment her.  Finally, she is sent off to a boarding school where her life becomes even more miserable as she finds herself an indentured servant to earn her board and tuition. Eventually, she becomes the governess to a precocious young girl in the care of her handsome and rich benefactor.  It is no accident that Margot Livesey creates a modern-day Jane Eyre in her gothic romance –  The Flight of Gemma Harding.

Like Bronte’s heroine, Gemma is feisty, smart, and determined to have a better life.  Fans of Jane Eyre will recognize familiar scenes, but Livesey carefully modernizes the tale with clever historical updates. Gemma yearns for a university education (doubtful that Jane ever could aspire to that in the 1840s), but most elements are the same – except for one important difference.

Mr. Sinclair is not Mr. Rochester, despite his similar handsome and rich attributes.  When 18-year-old Gemma flees on her wedding day from 41-year-old Hugh Sinclair, no lunatic wife haunts the attic.  His sin is still deceit, but Gemma’s perception makes it seem worse.  He suddenly is no longer the idealistic hero she had imagined.

“It’s not as if I have another wife, or a mistress, or a child.  I did something wrong when I was eighteen.”

No spoiler here, but the revelation of Sinclair’s fumbling left me yearning for the brooding Rochester.  As the story continued, I found myself checking my memory – missing the original.

Livesey focuses on Gemma’s coming of age tale – making the book more readable to its young adult audience.   In Livesey’s version, the heroine finds her heritage and her fortune in Iceland.  And, of course, lives happily ever – after she grows up a little.  The ending is not as dramatic as Jane Eyre, but retains the elements of romance and possibilities.

I remember listening to an updated song with my parents as they remembered its original version – so much better, they thought.  Having never heard any other, I did not understand their anxiety – until later when I heard theirs.   The Flight of Gemma Harding has all the romantic elements for an easy read, and Livesey’s eloquence kept me reading to the end.   But will readers who have never read Jane Eyre know the difference?  Will they know what they are missing?

Related Article:  Jane Eyre