Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson
Over Christmas I started to read New Grub Street by George Gissing and actually found it pretty dull (sorry George, it's not your best). I came across Almost English whilst I was browsing my shelves looking for something different and realised that it was basically a year to the day since I'd been given that novel in hardback. Shameful. I'm pleased I finally got around to reading it as it was the perfect book to bring the new year in with.
Almost English focuses on Marina and her mother Laura, as they both try to discover how to live and cope with their respective woes. Marina is at boarding school and wildly unhappy as she tries to make it to the other side of teenage life - post-virginity, with her life all mapped out. Laura is living with her estranged husband's Hungarian family having a failed love affair and barely making it through the day. There are some difficult subjects addressed in this novel, but in very subtle ways. Laura considers suicide and it is dealt with in such a way that it isn't overwrought or exaggerated. Similarly, the feelings and events that Marina contends with are not disproportionate to the actual teenage experience. I found certain elements of this novel frustrating - for example, the constant miscommunications and lack of communication between Laura and Marina. Though I do recognise that that element is essential to the momentum of the story. All in all, I really enjoyed this novel as I have enjoyed Mendelson's earlier work.
Miss or Mrs?/The Guilty River by Wilkie Collins
Wilkie knocks it out of the park again! Can this man do no wrong?! This collection of three of Wilkie's shorter works is brill. I made the decision not to read The Haunted Hotel this time because I had read it before and it terrified me (I'm not ashamed to admit), but the other two in this collection were top notch. Both stories have the typical Wilkie tropes - disguise, hidden identities, questionable female roles, manipulative males, secrecy and mystery. Miss or Mrs? was by far my favourite of the two. It has a hero you love to love, a strong (by comparison) female character that you really root for and a dastardly plot. Although not as good as some others, The Guilty River had a really interesting plot twist that had me thinking of The Moonstone (think: drugs and poison). I've got Armadale next on my list of Wilkie's to tick off.
What have you been reading recently?