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review 2020-06-29 07:57
The Furies by Natalie Haynes
The Furies: A Novel - Natalie Haynes

TITLE:  The Furies


AUTHOR:  Natalie Haynes



"When you open up, who will you let in?

When Alex Morris loses her fiancé in dreadful circumstances, she moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Alex takes a job at a Pupil Referral Unit, which accepts the students excluded from other schools in the city. These are troubled, difficult kids and Alex is terrified of what she's taken on.

There is one class - a group of five teenagers - who intimidate Alex and every other teacher on The Unit. But with the help of the Greek tragedies she teaches, Alex gradually develops a rapport with them. Finding them enthralled by tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge, she even begins to worry that they are taking her lessons to heart, and that a whole new tragedy is being performed, right in front of her...




I liked the writing style and the idea was interesting, but at the same time not particularly original.  Some of the character's actions/reactions didn't seem quite plausible.  This would probably make a decent movie.

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review 2020-06-22 05:54
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
The Jane Austen Society - Natalie Jenner,Richard Armitage

A diverse cast of characters varying in age, origin, occupation and social status band together to preserve the former estate of Jane Austen in postwar England. It has a similar charm to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but in my opinion it's a little less bubbly in tone, a little more somber.


There are several obvious parallels to story lines in Austen's books, including but not limited to a broken engagement (Persuasion), inheritance laws favoring male relatives instead of direct female descendants (Sense and Sensibility), and falling in love with a cad (multiple Austen novels, if not every one of them). I had some minor quibbles with narrator Richard Armitage (of The Hobbit movies fame) but in general he does a great job with the different accents and voices required for the characters.


While the story's pacing can feel a bit slow, I was rooting for the characters to achieve their goal and to find happiness in spite of personal losses and hardships. There are a few twists and a surprise pairing that I didn't see coming, and the delightful, heartwarming ending made me bump this up from 3.5 to 4 stars. I wonder if it's time for me to reread another Austen novel.

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review 2020-06-12 06:50
The Great Escape by Natalie Haynes
The Great Escape - Natalie Haynes

TITLE:  The Great Escape


AUTHOR:  Natalie Haynes



"It's the summer holidays and Millie's bored stiff. Every week, she has to clean windows with her dad at a nearby laboratory. But she's sure something weird is going on inside. Then, one day, a cat comes hurtling through the lobby towards her and asks her for help."




Enjoyable and entertaining.  Light and fluffy.  Kids and cat to the rescue!

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review 2020-06-09 11:27
'The Jane Austen Society' by Natalie Jenner
The Jane Austen Society - Natalie Jenner,Richard Armitage

A must-read for Austen fans and anyone who enjoys character-driven fiction with hope at its heart.



I bought 'The Jane Austen Society' by Natalie Jenner on the basis of the title and cover alone. I'm a sucker for Jane Austen and books about Jane Austenish things, both because I love her novels and because I'm fascinated the devotion of Jane Austen's fans.


I'm glad I didn't read the publisher's summary first because it might have put me off and then I'd have missed out on a good read and a new author.


The first part of the publishers summary was encouraging, with some reservations:

'Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.'

It offers a book focused on Jane Austen fans and set in the currently fashionable (by now verging on over-used) historical setting of England in 1945. An 'unusual but like-minded' group who 'band together' sounded quirky and jolly, which would have been OK but it suggested that 1945 in England was being positioned as a time of renewal and optimism rather than as a time of huge social conflict, widespread deprivation and collective PTSD.


The next sentence was discouraging:

'One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists.'

The book is set in 1945. Austen lived in Chawton from 1809 to 1817. How is that one hundred and fifty years ago? This left me hoping that this was an oversight by the marketing department and that Natalie Jenner had paid more attention.


I'm happy to say that five chapters into 'The Jane Austen Society' I could already see that this was not the glib, light and instantly comforting book in period dress that had been marketed to me. It was something much better.


The scope was broad, the pace was measured and the tone was sombre, almost melancholy. Everyone's story was edged with grief or the threat of grief and the period was not romanticised and the research was meticulous both in terms of the 1945 setting and of Austen's works. 


This is not a book about a set of quirky villagers who band together to do something jolly. They are people marked by war and loss who have Austen as their common thread. Her books are their refuge and her flawed characters, passionate, stubborn, blind to their own needs or the needs of others, are valued companions who are all the more welcome because they are guaranteed a happy ending.


They don't come together to found the Jane Austen Society until nearly halfway through the book and when they do, it's not a light-hearted let's-throw-a-party kind of thing, more a route for some seriously depressed people, who each find solace in Jane Austen, to achieve some sense of agency for themselves through engagement with the real world in a way that honours Austen.


It was a sombre book that felt real to me. Austen's books and her association with the village in which the main characters live were a source of hope, offering the possibility of community and perhaps happiness.


Many of the challenges facing the people in the Society mirror those of Jane Austen's characters: we have property being entailed away, spirited women being courted by charismatic but dangerous men, long-held but unspoken passions, shy men with good hearts and vulgar men with money but no manners. The people in the Society aren't Austen's characters in modern dress but I had a lot of fun lining up their situations, attributes and relationships with the characters up against the characters in Austen's novels, in a sort of Fantasy Football way.


Surprisingly, the relationship that had me thinking most about the parallels with Austen's characters is between two Americans: a successful movie star and leading lady, Mimi Harrison, who has a passion for Jane Austen and a ruthless millionaire turned studio owner, Jack Leonard, who, despite his obsessive pursuit of her, Mimi initially refuses to take to her bed. 


I was fascinated to see how Jack, a man with an acute insight into the weaknesses of others but who avoids all introspection, and who is paying attention to Austen as a strategem for getting in Mimi's head, admires what he sees as Austen's attraction to bad boys.  Jack never reads Austen's novels. He has a screenwriter write treatments of 'Sense and Sensibility' for him and finds himself admiring Willoughby and wondering why Austen gave him such a happy ending. Jack, of course, is a 1940's version of Austen's bad boys, but with a twist. He has Wickam's passions and Darcy's self-discipline, a frightening combination,


There's also a scene where the studio head pulls a Harvey Weinstein on Mimi, who fends him off. The contrast between his attempt at rape and Jack Leonard's patient but relentless hunt for submission turns Jack from bad guy to something more complicated.


This ability to recognise how complex people are is one of the things that attracts the various members of the Society to Austen's work. In one of the many discussions of Austen between the members of the Society, they speculate on what it must have been like to see people as clearly as Austen does, with their sillinesses and their veniality and small pettinesses all on display, and yet still be able to write about them with compassion and even give them some hope of happiness.


I think that combination of insight and compassion and hope is the defining attribute of this book. 'The Jane Austen Society' is a lovely piece of writing about a small group of people and what they know and are able to feel and say about themselves and each other.


Its clean, calm prose lets us see the world through their eyes, amplified by the different things each of them gets from reading Austen and the way they see Austen's characters.


There's a lot of grief and pain and awkwardness but there is also a backdrop of quiet hope.


I became completely engaged with these people and found myself hoping for a happy ending for each of them.


I recommend the audiobook version of 'The Jane Austen Society'. Richard Armitage's narration is perfectly judged and increased my enjoyment of an already enjoyable book. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear an excerpt.




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text 2020-06-01 20:08
Reading progress update: I've listened 574 out of 574 minutes.
The Jane Austen Society - Natalie Jenner,Richard Armitage

What a satisfying read. It captured my imagination and my emotions and kept me reading all day to see if people's hopes would be realised.

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