Merry late Christmas, happy New Year everyone! I can happily say that I have now completed the challenge I set myself of reading at least one book per month this year, having finished the last book on the 27th. Below, I discuss the 7th, 8th and 9th books I read in 2016.
Going back to these middle three stories on a December evening, it seems like forever since I read them back in the hazy days of Summer. I discovered each of these works in different ways; the Agatha Christie I wanted to read as I had only ever read one novel by her before this one. The F Scott Fitzgerald short stories were given to me as a present years ago and I had been moving them from flat to flat ever since. And I picked up The Versions of Us spur of the moment in Waterstones as I knew straight away it was really up my street.
The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side by Agatha Christie
I picked this book up from a stall at my favourite market in Bristol. This is the first Agatha Christie I have read which features one of her famous detectives. The Miss Marple in this story is quite a bit older and already well known as a detective, however, so I do want to go back and read more of the younger Miss. Marple’s mysteries.
I did actually guess who committed the crime and what their motive was quite early, but throughout the novel there was a lot of misdirection which planted the seed of doubt in my mind. Without spoiling the plot, I can say that it was a great, multi-layered example of the plot writing skill that has made Christie’s well-crafted tales so popular and timeless.
Aside from the mystery element, another thing that is done well is the fleshing out of the characters and the setting. There are a lot of characters in the story but they don’t simply appear as fillers of space within the story; effort has been put in to give them personalities and contexts. Miss. Marple’s dislike of her nurse, Miss Knight was also very amusing and added another dimension to a well known character.
In addition, I thought it was fascinating to see the 1960’s influences in the characters and the society they inhabit as Christie’s work is so often connected with the earlier periods of the 1930’s/1940’s.
Magnetism by F. Scott Fitzgerald
These short stories are compiled as part of a Penguin series called Great Loves, so are all love stories in one way or another.
‘The Sensible Thing’ concerns a young man who quits his job and travels across the country to check that the girl he wants to be with has not changed her mind.
The theme of unrequited love continues in ‘The Bridal Party’ which follows a man attending the wedding celebration of his former lover who ended their relationship due to his financial circumstances. This one includes ideas of new money, the stock market crash and marrying for financial gain instead of love.
‘Magnetism’is the title piece of the collection and features a movie star who faces problems with his marriage, unwanted affections from other women, and threats of blackmail…
Last is ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’ which was my favourite of all the stories. This one is different to the other three in tone, character and plot. It is about a young girl, Bernice, whose cousin, Marjorie, helps changes her mannerisms and appearance in a ‘Taming of the Shrew’/Pygmalion style to aid her popularity. However, Bernices’ rising popularity makes Marjorie jealous and she sets out to embarrass Bernice. This story really got me as I was fascinated by how well Fitzegarld could paint a picture of these naive and vane girls and also explore the power of hair in society and girlhood.
In all of these varied works I think there is the pervasive sense that love; of people, money and status, can be quite hopeless and destructive.
The Versions Of Us by Laura Barnett
I have read much comparing this novel to the film Sliding Doors or the books The Time Traveller’s Wife or Life After Life, but what it made me first think of is my favourite quote which is from Great Expectations. In this, Dickens describes how the interconnected ‘chain’ of events through which we are all bound together is always formed in one small moment. This idea, that each small decision we, or others, make can create paths in our lives, fascinates me.
An interesting thing Versions of Us did for me was to help my think of the elderly characters as people first and foremost and not, as society often does, as just old people. I think older people are often overlooked or infantilised, but when Eva and Jim age I still see them as the same young people with their lives ahead of them we are first introduced to.
I definitely cried at points during the novel and also felt at times that I didn’t entirely like the main characters so I think it was brave of Barnett to give her characters’ freedoms to not always act how they ought to and to have flaws.
The novel is problematic, however, and a friend did tell me that they had started to read it but gave up quite early as it is not easy to keep up with the various stories and many, many characters that have accumulated by the end. To overcome this, I wrote myself a note to remember which part was which and kept it in the book.
If you have read any of the above books, do let me know and feel free to give this post a like if you enjoyed it 🙂