By Mavis Cheek
Published by: Faber & Faber
Paperback edition: 336 pages
(Source: Public Library Borrowing)
GOOD THINGS I WISH YOU
By Manette Ansay
Published by: Headline Publishing Group
Hardback edition: 254 pages
(Source: Home Book Collection)
MY LOCAL LIBRARY:
Minet Library – http://www.facebook.com/pages/Minet-Library-Lambeth-Archives/182910281761857
The synopsis of the book ‘Amenable Women’ is that the main character, Flora Chapman, is in her fifties when her dashing husband, Edward dies in an accident. Flora seizes upon her new freedom and decides to finish writing on the History of the village which bears a reference to Anna of Cleves, Henry’s 8th fourth wife, unkindly called the Flanders Mare, which captures Flora’s attention and later her affection as she sets about her own research in the hope of elevating Anna’s place in history.
And the synopsis of the book ‘Good Things I Wish You’ by Manette Ansay, is that the main character Jeanette Hochmann who is in her forties and a single mother, feels that she is treading water as her recent divorce has knocked her sideways and is adjusting to life alone and is finding it much harder than she thought. She is also finding it hard going to find inspiration for her novel, which is based on the life of Clara Schumann, the wife of the celebrated composer, Robert Schumann, and she, Clara is also a brilliant pianist in her own right.
MY BOOK REVIEW:
This is a syntopical book review of ‘Amenable Women’ by Mavis Cheek and ‘Good Things I Wish You’ by Manette Ansay. And the reason I made this video Syntopical is because both books not only had the same premise: Historical Women versus Modern Women, as well as the common ground between them; they were all intelligent and strong women, but also because they both involved the Arts as a field of study too, that is a painting and classical music, which is part of the subject of Humanities and Sociology combined into these books. And I found this concept fascinating.
Although both of the main characters of the Modern Women are teachers, so the impression that you get from the books, regarding their personal relationships is their own self-rebukes: “I should know better” in the main characters attitudes, and this underlying self-annoyance runs through both books.
Therefore, it follows that the tone of the book each hit a slightly different note when reading it in a superficial manner, as it was that ‘Amenable Women’ by Mavis Cheek came across as ‘self-indulgent’. Whilst the book the impression of ‘Good Things I Wish You’ by Manette Ansay came across as ‘absent by default’. It also set the pace for the reading, as whatever mood you’re in, its set to make you feel that something is missing or out of step with your own lives.
But in itself these were not bad things, for in consideration it felt right for both books ambience. And both books had that element of wishful thinking to their overall premise. Although there was that feeling left as a residue thought, by the Reader thinking by the time you finished reading the books, that context was more about non-acceptance of the situation and of themselves.
Next I’d have to say as for the publishers to take note of is that: I have to take to task the typo errors, particular in ‘Amenable Women’, because it led to a slight confusion when reading the plot lines. And they were both found in the hard copy as well as the paperback edition, so it wasn’t picked up on to be correct before publication, firstly in the paragraph of:
“All Flora could think – and a tear came into her eye (which was a suitable reaction after all) was that it always had been like that for her – Edward never once told her she had done something well or prettily or cleverly…”
Thus Flora had nothing in common to that of the long-time widowed Stephanie Blount statement of “I’d been out into the garden for the first time since winter and dug a bed over, and was pleased with the result – then I came in and Gerald wasn’t there – no one was there to say Well Done, or to admire my achievement. That’s one of the hardest things, isn’t it?” She went on, ‘Learning to praise yourself instead of having someone there to do it for you?”
My point being; Stephanie Blount’s husband did praise her. Flora Chapman’s husband never did, and this has been mentioned by the character Flora, in the early part of the book too, that her dead husband never once had a good word to say about her, to her face nor speaking about her to others, and that what makes her grief compared to Stephanie’s more poignant.
So it wasn’t “always” been like that for her. Therefore sentence should have read:
“All Flora could think – and a tear came into her eye (which was a suitable reaction after all) was that it hadn’t been like that for her – Edward never once told her she had done something well or prettily or cleverly…”
That would have made sense to the story line, as one continued to read, without it being necessary to re-connect to the plot, so it wasn’t peevish on my part.
And the other typo was in ‘Good Things I Wish You’, where it said “Just moments earlier we had been close. He touched his wineglass,…” Since when does the word ‘wine glass’ become conjoined to be one word.
Also another point to make was about the phrase “Flanders Mare” in the book ‘Amenable Women’ written on page 176, which I’d like to clarify, which I felt the book’s partly historical content didn’t address adequately because it would not have taken much research to realise that being called a ‘Mare’ back in Henry 8th’s time wouldn’t have been concluded as an insult, no, not at all.
For it’s an association of an analogy within the biblical text of “like my Mare.” Which could be found in verse 1.9 and it alludes to the sexual allusion given in the ‘Songs of Solomon’ and symbolised a time in the Orient, that the figure and nature of the horse, was not a beast of burden, but the cherished companion of Kings. The clue of this was in the actions of Anna of Cleves with her closeness to Henry the 8th engraved on her wedding ring that held the words “God send me well to keep”, and Henry the 8th made good on that vow, and she give him glad-tidings as by her duty and for that Anna of Cleves was cherished.
So there was no need for the author to have had such deeply held emotions to that of such a pretence in righteous indignation, which came across as being on a divisive feminist platform; this is one relationship that Henry the 8th cherished privately, away from the Royal Courts, but its like the author wanted to him to be seen right across the board in history; as a man who disliked all his Royal women and therefore women in general; all based on the hearsay gossip of slightly jealous Courtiers, using the double-edged sword of double-meanings in the English Language, such as they were, such as Horace Walpole, so fond of using to convey their insecurity tinged with admiration.
Thus instead of doing any kind of ‘re-dress’ in the name of ‘Sisterhood’, you won’t find one, not a single one offered in this book, it fell well short of any kind of defence for Anna of Cleves status in her womanhood, hence the inherent weakness of the book, it failed to deliver what it promised to do from out of the character of Flora. Although its to be noted that Anna of Cleves had a great fondess to Henry 8th that went beyond the call of duty to bear children etc., and of which she didn’t say one word against Henry 8th in all her years in England. Therein that says more about the dignity of Anna of Cleves, rather than the muck-raking tall-tell of said author’s book about the events. And I’d call it ‘re-dress’ to distingish it from the term of a ‘historical revisionist’ book, although I’ve no doubt some who read this book will be taken in by it as such: though it would be intended as to be mis-leading although easily done in fictional novels.
Therefore, on that, we really should put aside the conceived idea of feminism, ones own bias-ness regarding men’s hold on societal power and, whatever your religious views are, and take ‘Amenable Women’ as a light-weight historical romance chick-lit novel, instead of a book that’s would’ve given a polished historical-romance of note, that which reminds women of their place by the use of accurate facts.
And in addendum of things to be noted, there is a passage in the book on page 130, where Flora compares both paintings of Anna of Cleves to that of the painting Mona Lisa. And calls the Mona Lisa a ‘celebrity’ of a much famous beauty, well here’s an update: Mona Lisa was really round faced too. For much is made of women’s facial shapes, by other characters and Flora too within the book ‘Amenable Women’, as to be viewed apparently, less beautiful as to be called ‘bun face’ as a disparaging remark due to having a round face shape, and much is made of it that one can’t get anywhere in society due to having a round face as a woman, which was within the book ‘Amenable Women’ as a central theme. Thus for an update linked to this book see weblink to newspaper article here:
So the fact that the Mona Lisa’s face shape was phyiscally altered intentionally to appear oval, or heart-shaped, in its painted appearance, by the Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci, as a masterpiece, could be now considered a first in facial prejudice in known history? As his apprentice painted a true likeness to what her actual face shape was really was in reality: round and plump signifying health, honesty and some say wealth too during the Renaissance period. Does that make the author of ‘Amenable Women’ and the character Flora Chapman very much correct in how she is treated by others, due to her physical appearance facially; to the point of spite, and that society dislikes and discriminates against round-shaped faced women and in particular Western society? I hope not, but I have a sad feeling it is.
In addition, to these aforementioned themes, there is the concept within both these books, that is lamenting moods and forthright behaviour actually matched the dialogue that the main characters, Flora and Jeanette, were having with others, as to be interdependent, which is interesting, but for different reasons, that is, in the ‘Amenable Women’, Anna of Cleves has her own voice within the text that is italicised through a good portion of the book, whilst Flora just has her own thoughts to share of things she would have said but didn’t say, so she said something else instead, written in the line by line, left to right format, a horziontal format of speech, which is only really used in very few cases in society: cross-examination in Court, and television interviews, and written jouralism to name but a few examples of this type of one at a time communication.
Whilst in ‘Good Things I Wish You’, its different, as you can see in the video here, for Clara Schumann has letters, pictures and fictional thoughts, Jeanette meanwhile has differing kinds of dialogue, in what could be considered normal, and he, the character of Hart, doesn’t find this amiss neither, as stated on page 37 that of Jeanette observation, it reads: “But Hart wasn’t listening, intent on his own thoughts. This was something I could understand. All my life I’ve been accused of not paying attention when, in fact, I have been listening with that other, inner ear.” And when I read this section of the book, I said to myself ‘YES!!!’ because its something I’ve also have been accused of, and do as well, that is, listen with an inner ear, whilst someone is talking to me, and very much feel vindicated about this way of conversing, thus I understood this method of communication well which Jeanette used as natural as breathing.
Also in this method of non-verbal communication, that is after listening with that ‘inner ear’ which is rapid in picking up alot of nuances from the other person when hearing what they have to say, and in its reply in speech from that person who has an ‘inner ear’, it comes across as centric because of knowing what to say as to its appropriateness. As Jeanette doesn’t interrupt, well not very much and not on purpose, but in the flow of intensity that conveys a twinned understanding for them both; Hart and Jeanette, that they as in conversing are both in turn are being intellectually and stimulated by it.
As you can see (in the video above showing those particular pages for example) when in written form speech is given by the vertical column of talking, without the need for the precise technique of ‘say first, then you say second,’ followed strategically patterned like to be that of a horizontal conversation, which is a dry and blandly muted approach as to be awkward, when used by those who aren’t well versed in social skills, unfortunately, compared to that of the vertical spoken pattern which can be poetic and harmonic of the spoken word in its delivery when hearing it. Therefore the type of vertical conversation to me, is the common language that is spoken in society in general where there is informality and a close association to what is phrased as ‘a meeting of minds’, whereas also when its combined with the ability of using that ‘inner ear’ it thus becomes quite advanced and a sophisticated method of the communications skills repertoire.
As this style of common talk can be authenticated, as an approach of communication which is termed ‘poetic duels’ as stated “…not all performances are produced by individuals; some are more dialogic in form and are evaluated by audiences accordingly. [For in one sense it can be seen as a collaborative performance, embracing ‘canonical’ instances, [and in] almost all cases the performers display their skills in a range of ways, including cultural allusion, intertextual reference and poetic parallelisms. [And this] particular aesthetic value of the performance and the particular enhancement conferred on [the listener/reader, is the] essentially cooperative spirit of the interaction, the mutuality of the performances, together with the fact that the performers are channels for the culture rather than the innovators with the culture. Bowen suggests that the dialogic nature of the duelling presents ‘an idealized and socially salient image of social interactions…” (page 45, ‘Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk; by Ronald Carter, published by Routledge, in 2004)
However, what shocked me about both of the books narrative were certain passages, which wasn’t a twist, although the turn of events was unexpected, and I never saw them coming were two instances of brutal, barbed and could be hotly contested by a physiotherapist as to the root causes, for it must be a common feeling it these passage end up in the books, and taken for granted but shouldn’t be, because they seem to be festering unchallenged and needs to be addressed which were written:
In ‘Amenable Women’ in the book’s paragraph on page 114, it was what Pauline Pike otherwise known as ‘Pink Lips’, who was thinking these thoughts, which read: “Flora Chapman was in Paris, not she, and that hurt. In fact it made her see red. Having a married lover was quite a challenge and she had expected some kind of reward for it but no – nothing – gone, gone, gone. And then the woman – whom she and Edward giggled over calling Bun-Face – had the cheek to say that she had a lover anyway. Or the possibility. She did not deserve one, she did not, she did not. And Pauline Pike, who worried away at the information as if it were an itchy scab, did.”
Whereas in ‘Good Things I Wish You’ in the book on page 178, it was the passage between Cal, Jeanette’s ex-husband, and herself which went: “Sometimes he reminds me of you,” I said. “The way he likes to talk about things. The way he likes to debate.” The way he holds himself aloof. In a moment, I’d say that, too. So I said, “But what about you? Your girlfriend, I mean Tell me what she’s like.” Even though I was looking right at him, I never saw it coming, Cal put down his empty cup. “She is absolutely nothing like you. Do you think I would make the same mistake twice?”
I was left having to put the books down at that point, and uttered out loud a surprised expletive. For these were unexpected moments within the books. As the one in ‘Amenable Women’ has all the hallmarks of the term ‘misogender’, that is to exhibit a hatred of one’s own gender. Although in ‘Good Things I Wish You’ it had all the hallmarks of the term ‘Male Inadequacy’, that to exhibit a loathing of another due to capabilities.
In these books studying the women was an enlightening experience, particularly the thoughts that ran through their minds, even of the writers, to put pen to paper. For example on page 43 of ‘Amenable Women’, the author writes about women’s virginal smells as Flora tells of her own: “She tried wearing musky scent (a winner apparently, if you marriage is jaded for it apparently reproduces the female aroma though Flora could not recognise her own which was more, to put it kindly, of the sea)…” or rather a fishy, ocean smell that emanates from women generally unless they’re using a chemical to dry them out as well as to delineate such a natural smell, I mean people keep going on about “fake, not real, hiding their true selves, false advertising etc” yet, when it comes to their virginals, who’s to say these same people abide by that same organic, natural ethos that they try to impose on others when it comes to their genitals.
Whilst in ‘Good Things I Wish You’ it was that of assessing a women for on her attraction, rather than her beauty, which is something I found responsive and ran a chord with me, for on page 37, the passage read “At last Hart said, “She must have been a beautiful woman this Clara, to interest a twenty-year-old man.”, “More like compelling.” “A beautiful woman is always compelling.” “But a compelling woman isn’t necessarily beautiful,” I said. “I’ve got a photo of Clara taken in 1854, just after Robert’s suicide attempt―” “You have an actual photograph?” I am a rational person. “Okay, a copy of a photograph. My point is that, as many times as I’ve looked at it, I still find it deeply affecting.” The photo shows a thirty-five-year-old woman more beautiful than any girlish image, but untouchable, unreachable, her gaze that of a stone. Her eyes are hollowed by weariness. Her shoulders slump. One gets the sense that, as soon as the exposure is complete, she’ll quickly turn back toward whatever darkness lies waiting for her full attention.”
The other ‘Syntopical’ elements that came together in these books was this disaffection and distraction from what the women really wanted to embrace in their lives, yet the comprises that were there, still wasn’t enough for the women to fully engage in their pursuits without there being some frustrations and resentments felt. And usually, it’s because the women in their chosen field are considered ‘superficial’ even thought that same pursuit is considered as having ‘gravitas’ when men do that same pleasure, passion and purpose within their lives.
Therefore, overall, with both books being read back-to-back, and not as stand alone novels, even though they could be, I think they’d be suited as companions novels, due to the exploring the deeper social issues, for I could see so much for that of Women studies, academically, as for example comparing that of the Historical Women, mentioned in these books, as opposed to that of Modern Women from a sociological approach. Which I think makes these book ‘consequential’ and ‘significant’ for the Reader, as they were also the key words mentioned within the book, regarding how the women wanted to be viewed by society. And what I liked about the women, was that they weren’t ‘successful’ in the sense that they’d got everything in their lives right in every sphere, these matters were left frayed around the edges, but I admired the fact that there was their own levels of ‘accomplishment’ for each woman whether historically or those of modern times, that they felt they must pursue for personal development and to connect.
Therefore, the question posed is: How does a ‘consolidated woman’ of quality, such as: Anna of Cleves, Clara Schumann and the Mona Lisa, as to be self-assured from the Historical perspective of Women, compare to the qualitative aspect of what can only be termed to coin a phrase ‘comes with a recommendation’, such as with: Flora Chapman, Pauline Pike, and Jeanette Hochmann, in regards to the Modern Woman. Who falls short and who fares better in the social world?
“When I am able to practice regularly, then I really feel totally in my element; it is as though an entirely different mood comes over me, lighter, freer, and everything seems happier and more gratifying. [The activity] is, after all, a goodly portion of my life, and when it is missing, it seems to me all my physical and spiritual elasticity is gone.” ― Clara, in her diary, 1853 (page 123, ‘Good Things I Wish You’ by Manette Ansay)
“But a lively portrait is not simply a clever illusory likeness captured in paint or pencil, it is a portrait that has captured the indefinable essence of the subject’s human qualities ― where the artist’s eye and the artist’s understanding of psychology combine in a likeness that is only a moment away ― a breath ― from stepping out from the frame. When — if — they do step out — the viewer is sure that he or she will know them.” Within the book this was quoted from Wilfred Clement’s extracted 1958 lecture on the Northern tradition in portraiture: Holbein, the English Face and the Anna Portrait. (page 122, ‘Amenable Women’ by Mavis Cheek)