Article published on August 25, 2015.
I know it’s a privilege to have the pick of the proofs as they come through my letterbox and I try not to abuse it but sometimes there’s no resisting. So I recently put Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Far North to one side and wondered what excuse I would give at reading group next week. I can only tell the truth: yes, it’s a good book but it just wasn’t engaging me and anyway, two proofs had arrived, both of which I really wanted to read.
I’ve begrudgingly had to put Laurie Graham’s The Night in Question at the top of the ‘next to read’ pile because the pull of Jennifer Donnelly’s These Shallow Graves was just too strong. I am rubbish at remembering books I’ve read until someone else starts to talk about one in particular and then my memory kicks in and I can venture opinion. So I could not tell you now what happens in Ms Donnelly’s A Gathering Light other than that it was a Recommended Read in nb22 back in July 2004 and that just mentioning the title brings back, well . . . a nice warm feeling. I know that doesn’t sound very persuasive but it was enough to make me zero in on her new story of Josephine Montfort, former tomboy in one of New York’s society families back in 1890. Aged 17 she is already destined to marry the rich heir of another society family – of lesser standing and keen to add to their ‘bloodline’ by association with the Montforts.
I haven’t finished yet – I’m sneaking this preview in when i should be proofing nb86 – but I’ll be amazed if that relationship even reaches an engagement. And the reason? Well, Jo is a young woman with a brain and a desire to have a purpose in life rather than settle for furnishings and fabrics, dances and gossip, and have nothing to do with business or the realities of life. The word ‘sex’ doesn’t appear to have been invented yet – at least not for Jo and her peers.
So how convenient that a mystery comes along albeit tainted with personal trauma. Her father accidentally shoots himself in his own study while cleaning a hand gun. Of course he didn’t. It was suicide, obviously. No it wasn’t – it was murder. And we’re off and running with handsome Eddie Gallagher who Ladbroke’s won’t give you odds on when it comes to Jo’s marriage prospects.
If I tell you A Gathering Light won a Carnegie Medal you’ll probably realise this is yet another YA book but, believe me, I read, well start, loads of books and it’s rare that I’m gripped like this. I think part of it is – being a grown up (well there have to be some advantages, don’t there?) I can see where this is going. Suffice to say, there’s just been a broom closet incident that was as chastely erotic as that scene where Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll are divesting themselves of their wet clothing while handcuffed together in The 39 Steps.
So, a new book that’s put the smile back on my face that I want to pick up again as soon as I can. More to follow shortly although I’ll have to be careful about giving the plot away.
Guy Pringle, 25th August 2015
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Hot Key Books, hbk October 2015
The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag