Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Becoming obsessed with our favourite authors. . .

I think many of us who are passionate readers go looking for advice and wisdom as much from our favourite authors as any self-help guru. I think of that scene in Mike Leigh's movie Career Girls when one of the characters waves a copy of Wuthering Heights around, her thumb randomly selecting a passage to channel Emily Bronte's messages from beyond the grave.

In Rosalind Brackenbury's new novel, Becoming George Sand, Maria is a happily married academic living in Edinburgh and working on a biography of the flamboyant and passionate 19th century French writer George Sand. Happy that is, until she meets a young, sexy colleague in a bookstore and the two begin an affair. All sorts of logistical problems ensue as Maria discovers how difficult it is to commit adultery in these modern times. And she wonders, how did George Sand ever manage all of her affairs (with Chopin and Alfred de Musset, among many others), take care of her children, and still find time to write multiple novels? As she continues her research Maria follows in the steps of her heroine, seeking inspiration from Sand's life to enable her to make tough choices in her own. In particular she retraces (with her husband) the memorable and miserable trip Sand and Chopin took to Majorica and this literary pilgrimage has a definitive impact on Maria's marriage. This was a very enjoyable novel to read; lighter in tone than say, Michael Cunningham's The Hours, but similar in reflecting on the ways literature and past lives can influence or shed insight into the moral conundrums of today. And it will have you searching out some of Sand's own work. For some added fun, you can combine a reading of this novel with a couple of films that explore aspects of Sand's life. The stunning Juliette Binoche plays her in Children of the Century, which focuses on her relationship with de Musset. Then you can switch to the fabulous Judy Davis in Impromptu which looks at her affair with Chopin (played unfortunately by a miscast Hugh Grant who irritatingly coughs his way through the entire film). Still, Emma Thompson is terrific in this movie as a silly, rich, society woman desperate to belong to this bohemian crowd that delights in making fun of her. Both films are available on DVD.

And coming at the end of September is a novel I'm looking forward to reading - Stephanie Barron's The White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf - a mystery involving the discovery of Woolf's last diary, which sheds light on her relationship with Vita Sackville-West and the wonderful White Garden that Vita and her husband created at Sissinghurst Castle (I've visited this famous garden and it's definitely worth a trip if you are ever in Sussex). You might recognize Barron's name from the many popular mysteries she has written starring Jane Austen as her sleuth. I haven't read these, but I think I may be reading my first ever vampire novel. Coming later this fall is Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford. The premise is that Austen is alive and well, living as a vampire and bookstore owner in upstate New York. But she's frustrated that she can't capitalize on the royalties from her previous novels and her new book is being rejected by publishers everywhere. Yeah, I'll bite.

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