Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Black Violin by Maxence Fermine


By Maxence Fermine
Published by: Acorn Book Company
Paperback edition: 105 pages
ISBN: 0-9534205-6-6


It is 1797 and Napoleon’s Army has entered Venice.  Among them is one Johannes Karelsky, a violinist.  For now he is a soldier, but his ambition is to write the most beautiful opera ever written.

He finds himself billeted with an old man by the name of Erasmus, a violin-maker.  One evening, Erasmus decides to tell Johannes the story of his life.  And settling into his favourite armchair, with a glass of grappa in his hands, he begins his tale.  The tale of the Black Violin.


This short novella, I found this a sweet yet sorrowful tale, both in terms of life played out and how gifts sometimes climax before realising their true impact, as obviously with a natural gifts there more to be explored.

I liked the passion made real in this book for their creative geniuses, in trying to convey how all-embracing it could be, to the point of madness and death, why, who knows, does it have to be this way, who knows, but its their inward and outward journey along with their triumphs that captivate the reader, as their lives entwine.

What I found odd though, was although Erasmus compared the black violin the his muse, Carla Ferenzi, and explaining that violins are like a female, in body and voice on (page 89), “because the violin is the only instrument that covers the full range of the female voice, from the soprano to the contralto. And there is even something of a similarity between the female body and the shape of a violin” which is fine, in itself as an explanation, but I would have thought only a few women are that petite, as there was still the cello that could be compared to a stout woman with a husky voice, but perhaps of not the same range of sound, so even in musical instruments there is variety in the body form, it must be noted.

But what stood out for me, was what did he, Erasmus knew of the female body!?!  He was in his workshop most of the time learning his trade, so there was no written clue that he could back up what he knew of the female body, if he went with Ladies of the Night, and some sentence was given to this within the book, I would’ve understood his statement, but in the context of this work, I couldn’t believe he could make this argument, even when questioned by the arrogant male visitor, whom I reckon had an inkling of Erasmus’ sheltered virginal lifestyle as a man dedicated to his craft of violin-making, as its a statement that a Master would say to an Apprentice in rota fashion in a metaphor for full understanding of the instruments concept muscially.

As there is the strong probability at the time, his muse, Carla’s body was fully clothed in this story throughout, that is, on the particular occasion when love struck Erasmus, Carla was in a black velvet material of that periods dress style, unless Erasmus happened at some point to see her naked, but highly unlikely as the social strata would’ve prevented this.

Herein the weakness of the plot, because I felt that the author was making this fit into the book from another musicians theory and tagged into this work, if Erasmus was made by the author to have said something different like “her body clothed in black velvet, was like a violin as an instrument of joy or sorrow, the full sensual drama, where the bow being likened to my hand which longed to caress her form to awaken more than she know of herself…” now that would have been romantic!

In a way yes, and relatable to the story line within page 92, when Erasmus has that kind of inspiration, for Carla’s body would’ve been as pale as her face, as Erasmus describes her, so perhaps therein the confusion, for I believe that, her carry case for the violin, once Erasmus made it, could’ve been black as to be aligned to her features, such as her hair and eyes being black, and to that of her black velvet dress, which done it for Erasmus to have such sentimental thoughts, whilst the inside the violin of ivory, as akin to her pale body, could have layed within it, waiting to be played. It would’ve made sense, for a black violin would be most liken, as Erasmus made it, is that to a totally black female, who happened also to have Carla’s golden singing voice, so it’s no wonder Carla rejected him and his violin!!

Although I did like both the main characters: Johannes and Erasmus, and the slowly built up camaraderie between them, until they were at ease with each other, but in a friendship of an intangible quality, that I’d find hard to explain, but I’ll have a go at what it wasn’t first as then to eliminate in my mind any realms of doubt.  I think it wasn’t the mentor/understudy type of what you sometimes have in theatres, for this takes a lot longer and energy to establish, being equals but one still having the upper hand in the relationship. Nor was it the archetype of old versus young swapping differing experiences with no apparent regard to its uptake in the future, this was solely focused on their over-riding passion for music but from two different areas of expertise.  I think their bond was more intense and came at a crucial point for both of them, a cross-road, one coming to an end, and the other transposing over it, to have a causation effect upon it, perhaps a kindred-spirit friendship would be more apt a term to affix to it.

The secondary character of Carla, I didn’t take that much too, I suppose it was because of her slight arrogance of being well-breed, as that came out from the pages, and I think the author captured the prima-donna archetype well here. Because who in their right mind would entertain seven young man at her home in the late hour of mid-night, to be found “lounging on a sofa, one leg folded and the other outstretched on a cushion” (page 87) with the men hanging on her every word, standing around her, Ladyship, would be the wrong word, but I suppose they had to give the title a white-wash effect to cover even these questionable situations.

I liked the steady pace that one naturally fell into as a Reader, as the style of the writing made you be in the mood of reminisce of your own passionate undertakings that might have turned out differently too, had one the time to pursue it, and one felt keenly that element of identification, perhaps not so much with Johannes, nor Carla, whom were performers of talent, but more so with Erasmus, who was more like those who are Artisans of their Craft skills.       


“ Erasmus had three precious possessions: a chessboard, which he believed to be magic, an ageless bottle of grappa, and a black violin.  The old man also had three special talents: he was the finest violin-maker in Venice, he never lost a game of chess, and he was the maker of the most exceptional grappa in Italy.  He made the latter in a still he had installed in a small room at the book of his workshop.  And that was how he spent his days: in the morning he would be found repairing or making violins, in the afternoon he distilled his grappa, and in the evenings he would play chess.  And thus, the whole day passed, every moment of it dedicated to one or other of his passions.  He was always doing something.  Something related to either music, or drinks or chess. 

When he drank, Erasmus would talk incessantly.  When he wasn’t talking about violins, he would talk about grappa.  When he wasn’t talking about grappa, he would talk about chess.  When he wasn’t talking about chess, he would talk about music.  And when he wasn’t talking about music, he wouldn’t talk at all.”

(Extracted taken from pages 38-39, The Black Violin by Maxence Fermine)


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The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahern


By Cecelia Ahern
Published by Windsor Paragon (2011)
Hardcover (large print edition): 419 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4458-6951-3



Lying on Lucy’s Silchester’s carpet one day when she returns from work is a gold envelope.  Inside is an invitation ― to a meeting with Life. Her life.

It sounds peculiar, but Lucy’s read about this in a magazine.  Anyway, she can’t make the date: she’s much too busy despising her job, skipping out on her friends, and avoiding her family.

But Lucy’s life isn’t what it seems.  Some of the choices she’s made ― and stories she’s told ― aren’t what they seem either.  From the moment she meets the man who introduces himself as her life, her stubborn half-truths are going to be revealed in all their glory ― unless Lucy learns to tell the truth about what really matters to her.

Lucy Silchester has an appointment with her life ― and she’s going to have to keep it.


This was a book chosen by my local library Reading Group, of the Chick-Lit genre. Did I enjoy reading it. Sort of, depends what you want to read into it. As the book ‘The Time of My Life’ by Cecelia Ahern, very much reminded me of the online tabloid newspapers, which shows on the internet, the celebrities latest exploits being written about, with added ‘reader comments’ who discussed, digested, dissected and disembowelled, then left the celebrity for dead with only a single pulse left beating, one actually reads those comments in a mode of ‘how best to proceed from here on end’ in terms of the amount of ‘leave her alone’ which is written by the fan avid followers, while the celebrity’s said agent picks up the phone to tip off the newspapers where their client is going to be and what their going to do next. Whose life is it anyway?

As its in a similar fashion in how to read this book. For there is a ‘responsive’ element, that brings out from the Reader certain muttered under the breath the comments of pearly wisdoms regarding what should and shouldn’t be done in those circumstances. As the overall content of the book gives you that impression every few pages of one happening to tsk, tut, tut, tsk, tsking about Lucy’s multiple situations.

The dialogue within the book, as thats what its mostly made up with, for there is very little descriptive aspects, but thats okay, because the reader is required to read the text in a fast pace, for example when the exchanges occur between Lucy and Her Life, and those were brilliantly executed, for it is comical and will have one smiling or laughing to oneself, and also those around them joined in too, and they weren’t bit part players neither, they’d all had very keen interest that they showed in her life and herself, wasn’t even borderline busy-body-ish but outright nosy-body-ish. They had a lot to say about Lucy, mostly behind her back.

For reading this book, ‘The Time of My Life’ was like something out of and a cross between the ‘Friends’ television series, a cheesy-forgiveness-group-hug take on platonic relationships, and ‘Death Takes a Holiday’ a 1934 film classic, as Death learns about mortal life and love, but in book form only as in Cecelia Ahern’s ‘The Time of My Life’, that’s centred around that of one person, Lucy and Life instead. All of which the plot is acted out, in meeting with each other, as in a kind of supernatural way, similar to the tv series ‘Quantum Leap’ but with the twist, this book edition based on the female only travelling within her own lifetime, and her Life being named ‘Cosmo Brown’ in a modern version, all formed from a chick-lit genre kinda way. I think this is a book that wants to be turned into a film and trying hard to impress the movie executives in granting their digital manifested approval, as her wish come true, as we, the reader, zoom in and out of Lucy’s life.

And I say all that because there are few instances: the celebrity name dropping, and the heavy hinting of the actor, Gene Kelly being the ideal of a man because he was the working girls crumpet as “a real man” mentioned on page 220, and Clueless, X Factor, and endless others media mentionable that get a plug along the way too.

I can say all that ‘name-media-dropping’ myself, because justifiably, I’m merely reviewing, not broadcasting. The difference, is that I’m mentioning what the book is hinged upon in its context, which means that the reader can get a feel of what the book is about. Rather than trying, as the author did, to get the novel noticed about how much the character, Lucy Silchester, is up to speed on the visual media culture only for impressing purposes, that she is in fact, an adaptation of her own Life.

For when the character Lucy wants to give Life a makeover, that is her life as she looks at him like he needs one. And I think it’s because she had done everything else and run bored with her own life, supposedly at twenty-nine years old. Turning thirty, only wants money as her gifts from family and friends, most telling.

But as for her living her life, only through her messed up apartment, and moaning it wasn’t not being the same as in films and travel shows that she watches, which her Life tries very hard to point out to the character Lucy on page 376 “…they make life-changing decision in twenty-second montages. This is your Life.” That fell on deaf ears, the mute button was on and it was a commercial break, you might miss the good bit, so brew a tea and have a biscuit. For the book ran like it was exactly cinematic in printed form, for the whole four days it took me to read it like a soap opera. It give me that notion of reading a pretended lifestyle pattern: a boredom filled-out one, so lets fill it with activities that mean nothing, just so it looks good on paper so she could collect her girl guides badge, as referred to on page 179 within the book.  Even though her own life protested, not much good that it done him afterall, expect look good, and handsome like in the flesh, he got the makeover in the end.   

However, I have to take to task the brutal editing, the scene on the cutting room floor, except in this edited out by the computer deleting key, of the cat, of Mr Pan’s life, like it meant absolutely nothing to her, nor the book’s author apparently, it was merely there for status of capturing the attention of the ‘Higher Ground’ ploy, so’d you’d think Lucy a deep warm kind person, but all that was an act to collect deed points. Liken those people who purchase an animal merely to attract attention from the opposite sex to show outwardly a profess caring nature, but really it’s a front, and once out of sight, that animal is neglected. And it the end in this book, it was just to show Life how tough she was, (but NOT in my opinion! Low-life!), in making decisions regarding others in her life, literally, that is in getting rid of an entity that was small and dependent on humans for care. Why God bothered to make any human in charge of the animals is beyond me!! As that whole scene of the disregarded welfare, wasn’t supposed to be the emphasis of the book. Life wanted Lucy to start Living! Not get rid of her cat. I ask you. What happened to the logic?

For Lucy, the personality, gave more grief to losing her car to a scrap yard than she did a living breathing entity. And plus couldn’t even edit out her own ex-boyfriend, Blake, due to the fact him being a ‘habit’, and nothing more, to think about obsessively, so it would surprise any Reader, thinking whilst reading all this “but what would people think” wouldn’t be pleasant in hearing, just right now, as we read the turn of events regarding Lucy and Her Life in assuming we’d find her endearing to us. Some might, I grant you that. Yet her mother, Sheila, thinks the opposite of her own daughter, as she knows, from a mother’s instinct, that is, Lucy really doesn’t give a fig about what others are truly thinking, as long as Lucy appeals to them in personality and get her own way. And that’s the gust of the relationship aspect of the book.

And at the same time, Lucy, although not single-handedly, she had help in not hearing many home-truths, managed actually not to do any making of real life-changing transformation, regarding that is in turning her own life around, so to speak, in adjusting her path or being responsible, that was left aside, as was her much of moral conscience. The book began as it ended. Ambushed and under the rug, expect she most probably got that cleaned regularly.

For yet the character claimed she had loyalty, to her human friends, and if you buy that you’d buy anything, that depended upon her being Lucy the disaster only, in her child-like ways to entertain them, as her friends got on with the more serious and creative pursuits, which didn’t to me feel like a balanced give and taken relationship among them. She was supposed to be the clown among them, so wasn’t allowed to sort out her life onto an even keel. Therefore the reader was on a roll-coaster ride in a fair ground textually speaking. Thus author’s skill of writing ‘empathically’ was a cooled one, and if the author did desire to want to make this into a movie, this book surely needed to have a sympathy to the cause treatment towards Lucy’s plight, because I don’t think that it should’ve been written in the same vein as ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ by Sophia Kinsella, which deserved its superficial treatment in the film version. However, this book didn’t, it lost a potential to make a conscious statement on moral conduct of a virtue, called ‘honesty being a policy’ which is what the story overall premise was supposed to be about as to how you treat Life in general. Where did it go??

And in addition I’m also referring to the editing out of what happened in Claire’s life, of what happened to her in the end. We, the reader, don’t get to know anything. Which I found odd, because the author she made such a big deal of writing about her, to make an impact upon the reader, and showing that Lucy, begrudged the assistance her neighbour, that you are left wondering what became of her.

As Lucy used Claire, and only did so she could get girl guide points to impress her own Life with, because Lucy never really wanted to get involved in her life anyway, a point made right at the beginning of the book. The reader is left reading the outcome of Claire sinking into further depression over the loss of her one year baby son, and her life falling to pieces. And then nothing more. But does Lucy care, and should she care? Moral dilemma here. Do we, the reader, make of it what we will by such action. All of Lucy’s input was towards Claire, was that she said “I loved swings too.”, in the use of past tense, and the same as time-framed of age of Claire’s dead son. It was as if, upon reading this scene, that Lucy expected Claire to turn her affection towards her instead and suddenly and coo-coo or ahhhh at Lucy’s drama filled life, as if that going to make Claire feel any better.

Therefore, for me reading Lucy’s personality, was without doubt that of an attention-seeker, and her Life parasitic, in the same vein, as her ex-boyfriend, Blake, being narcissistic in his personality, and her sexual conquests vacuous in nature, like she had to make the effort for appearance sake, even her Life wanted to know when was the last time she saw any action.

I was left thinking when I finished reading that the personality Lucy was morally bankrupt as well because of her decisions and thought process, all she thought about was worming her way back into everybody’s affection regardless about the actual feelings that ran underneath, for she kissed it off in a blasé fashion. I kept feeling she just wanted to outsmart her own life, for the hell of it all: she tested, demanded, pussy-footed him. That is she hood-winked her own life. Sad.

But did it work. No. It became sadder still, unknown to Lucy. For there was the example of this, like that of Lucy’s own Life saying to her “…Have you been reading books again? I told you not to do that. They give you notions.”, written on page 374, but please note, Lucy only read magazines and newspaper articles, by the way, and not much else of great literature endeavours.

But then, its okay for the Lucy, the main character to have one-night stand with strangers because Lucy hasn’t been to bed with anyone for a couple of months, like that notion was okay, so what was that vice, not virtue, for what’s in that for Lucy contentment ― none, did it fulfil her, ― no ― baking food such as cakes and muffins did. But her own Life told her to forget that, would you believe it, after he made such a big drama about her not going after her dreams and what she wanted to do, from pages 209 until 213 of the book. What did matter?

Then Life turns it completely around, when Lucy says she wants to make a trade of business selling cakes, and both the Landlord and Life, after scoffing themselves silly with her baking efforts, tells her to forget such a silly notion. Some such guidance from Life, yeah ― not. So what does Lucy do in the end ― she goes off and works for the guy she had a one-night stand to do what: clean carpets. Yes you read it, correctly.

Thus after bragging about her educational background, her linguistic mastery, her adventurous nature, throughout the book, this is want it comes down to in her life. And not because she wants to that job, but is only doing so to impress upon her one-night-stand that she’s capable of a manly kind of occupation, that is she wasn’t a soft-touch, hapless or kooky in her ways, from a relationship that was purely a sexual conquest to being with, and the chance of that suriviving in terms of getting his Life together? He won, she lost out, in her own life but she didn’t see that it was okay not to be the fun-filled person all the time, and mundane doesn’t have to be taken to extreme. Some such Life, I write and say sardonically.

Now what was that about commitment towards her OWN life, that was rattled on about for most the book, regarding the ‘Time of Her Life’ yep, like that really happened, its was more the TV Reality show of a ‘wanna-be’ more than likely, because it’s an easier choice, the promenade journey of Life.


“It’s business and pleasure,” Life said with a big smile so that the lack of information didn’t seem at all rude.  I needed to learn from him.  Little pieces of information were better than lies.” (page 195, ‘The Time of My Life’ by Cecelia Ahern)

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A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood


By Christopher Isherwood
Published by: Vintage Books
Paperback edition: 152 pages
ISBN: 978-0-099-54128-8


Minet Library –


A Single Man is the story of George Falconer, an English professor in suburban California, who is left heartbroken after the sudden death of his lover, Jim.  With devastating clarity and humour, as George is determined to carry on with his lifestyle, evoking the unexpected pleasures of life, as well as the soul’s ability to triumph over loss and alienation, due to separation and the death of a loved one and watching a friend dying in a hospital bed, alone. And what say of him when its his turn? As George himself says “The Future ― that’s where Death is.”


This was a book chosen by my local library Reading Group, I enjoyed reading it, although for all the vastly wrong reasons. As I never hate a book, I think I wouldn’t be a book reviewer of honesty, that is in a very direct manner, as also to remain impartial, because I don’t look at a book fancifully, that being in what its trying to say or convey to the reader.  As in any book I dislike, usually I find that it still has a message and that sense of communication of some kind, even if the entire book irks me, it’s usually one that I get a perverse sense of enjoyment out of its content, as to be unforgettable, least not justifiable engaged with tempered hostility, which for me, is the best to read, for it brings out my passioned filled reading like nothing else. I get to say a lot more about it, then I intended, which sometimes you can’t say of a ‘good book’ without running the risk of being short-changed emotionally to be bereft.  

I’ll start off saying that this book ‘A Single Man’ is a plain speaking short novel, which is a contemporary book of post-modernism (1950-1970) in its content. The cover illustration of the book (see picture on the left), I felt wasn’t right as to the content of the book, as George himself was in his fifties, yet only saw youthful fleeting shadows of his former self, when he was young or in his prime, when he looked in the mirror or when visiting the gym for a work-out.  Therefore, I felt this cover jacket of the book mis-leading, to the reader thinking George was a young man going through this passage of his life, and didn’t match the publisher being Vintage either, I know the irony isn’t lot on you listening/reading to this part, of old, elderly or vintaged. Was it trying to convey George as some sort of self-applied Greek God of Apollo type on the cover? That is he’s going through a mid-life crisis.

And of the main character, I didn’t like George that much, as he made me question his personal motives, all the time, because of his behaviour, and not his intellect, and that intention of what he was about wasn’t revealed whatsoever, he was singular indeed, which captures his essence within the phrase of ‘what you see, is what you got’ very well, but wasn’t necessarily in any particular order of character, that one could say you’d figured him out. His whole being was only that of a personality shape-shifter, and I think he knew it, hence his mood-swings which where all over the place.  And the author set this right for the book’s main character to hold the story together in such a novella.  I sensed that the author didn’t want any close to the bone examination of George’s character, only that of one’s expectation of him to express himself suitable well for us to identify with him, and that’s all. But I won’t oblige.

And I didn’t like the patriotic hypocrisy within the book of the things George said, as he slides to and from so easily, from Americanism, colonial as well as the material era of when this book was first written, to a British nostalgia and parental patronising attitude, to the loathing of Europe, but George, quotes Greek God mythology to the students taking his English class at a college campus, like he was born an Italian as Cesar in principle of a panto-dame out of season, that is, all carried out as a sham in performance, to show some superficial elitism to impress others with his beguiling sense of self-importance in how he ‘came across’ to them. Thus each subject he mentioned was picked for that purpose of a desired effect, he was a man on the picket fence, but not the picket line, as you read on wards with the book, a cop-out stance.  

The publishers of the book, should also note the typo error on page 70, as it states: “for the very simple reason that an American motel-room isn’t a room in an hotel, it’s the Room, definitively, period.” It should have read: “for the very simple reason that an American motel room isn’t a room in a hotel, it’s the Room, definitively, period.”  Even my grammar checker in Microsoft word program picked up on that. And the reason I point it out was as an iconic one dimensional transgression into symbolism. I do expect standards to be maintained, even at a minimalist level in a novella. Thank you.

The character George’s attention to the minutiae details of his own ‘life-style’ was very symbolic, and somewhat it left you not having or being a progressive style of expressing concern for the character. That is George was making a statement in everything he said or did, thereat it didn’t set any trends of thought, but rather enforced whatever came to his mind upon the reader. It shouted whether or not you like it, this is the real George in words, but not in George in his actions, or the way he choose to live out his life pattern, was ruddy well down to him and not the author, but here in this book there is a snippet of what it could be like for him, as it stated on page 38 “It knows at least three dozen of his best anecdotes. But here, in broad daylight, during campus-hours, when George should be onstage every second, in full control of his performance! Can it be that talking-head and the chauffeur are in league? Are they maybe planning a merger?” but George channelled it out, to the reader of the book, as a worn collateral communications medium of a non-entity, that the author has called George. It knows that its name is George.

It’s not a book where, once you finished it you’ll come out of it with any of the ‘feel good factor’ that is so USA, Californian sunshine as a clique or could the word be clinquant. No. You’ll most likely come out from reading this book piqued and ruffled by the experience, due to his cynicism with life in general. On purpose. Perhaps. No doubt. The post-modernism of unsettling the Establishment. Though I must say, did we ever have an ‘Establishment’ period of writing styles reflecting the society anyway. Was it all about social profaned adult angst spilled over from teenage years. Notice that wasn’t a question either, but a statement comment of implied, explicit, conjure on my part, and should be taken as such, because I’ve written as an informed Reviewer only looking at this contemporary book of post-modernism.

However, ‘A Single Man’ did try to make you think much about the environmental and the political issues, but this I felt was a distraction, as that could be displaced anywhere and anytime even in dystopia novels, and was simply used as a ploy of crafting unrest to the intellectual safe as houses ignorant, with the aim of distrusting society as a whole, rather than the individual construct that made up the social world, similar to what Germaine Greer did to the sixties post-feminist movement, she trivialized it all using pop-culture catch-phrases, intellectually, but of course, which appealed to a certain section of women, whom saw an opportunity to make alot of noise around themselves. 

And to be honest, even though I read it, those issues don’t interest me that much, because I inevitable consider them to be that of the ‘white noise’ within the plot, that some authors what to get over, as to say how they are political or environmentally are on the pulse of what makes any ‘issue’ a credible one, and thus in touch with the common people in their concerns, if they ever had one, but only if it makes good reading, and only from a certain social class perspective, being considered worthy enough (George-skeptism applied) to them to warrant that of an educated sparid, no, think could also be, sprayed rantification. You’re welcome.

What I didn’t like much of is the pop-culture aspects either. For what the hell is ‘Sarah Lawrence trained’? that the author writes about a female character on page 68, that is never explained. I hadn’t a clue, to be honest, and it seemed that one should be in the know of these things as you read it, and I emphasis the point of ‘as you read it’ as the text implies you should. But you aren’t, and when a book makes you look it up on the internet, I felt that I shouldn’t have had too, to find out that it’s a private women’s USA college campus in the state of New York. Either say it and while you’re at it explain it, or don’t bloody say it at all, as I don’t want to do a personalised author’s pub-quiz on it. I felt like the author was writing for a particular audience: the ‘Harlem Intelligensia’, which was called the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ during the 1920-1930s, but during the 1940s-1960s was more likely to have formed another period of cultural enlightenment, hence the term given ‘Harlem Intelligensia’ which would’ve appealed to such persons of ilk-type pursuits, and also because George, the English man, the personality that he was, liked American black women and men of a certain class and type.

The irony of what the author wants you to feel, I think is still lost on you, the reader, as you think in the context to the way George spits it out, that something is wrong with going to such an educational institute for a woman, especially one that been around since 1926 which has the motto ‘Wisdom is Understanding’, is it just pure reverse-snobbery on his part. As George says about her on page 70 that of her being the “kind of bully who likes being challenged; it smoothes the itch of her aggression.” Now to whom does that possibly remind you of, as an illustration, during the post-feminist movement during the sixties onwards? To name but, for example purposes, a few women, such as he could be refering to as: Germaine Greer, Julie Burchill or Janet Street-Porter? Perhaps all free three. Their work happens to be so readily, easily, and accessible, in the public domain.

Therefore can you blame the character in the book called Charlotte for speaking her mind either, as a counter-culture figure, as she says on page 110 “…No, Geo, cross my heart, I am honestly not being bitchy! I wouldn’t have put up with it, either, in the long run.  Women like that ― we’ve simply got to hang on to our roots.  We can be transplanted, yes – but it has to be done by a man, and when he’s done it, he has to stay with us and wither ― I mean water ― I mean, the new roots wither if they aren’t watered.” Now even when drunk, she makes perfect sense, even to George! As he liked her wonderful lack of perception. For irrelevant she wasn’t. 

Although, you do get the feeling that he, being George terminally, doesn’t like those other aforementioned type, and a certain class of female, but prefers the dominance of being male, in a twisted game, to subdue them anyway, to his whimsical whims in playtime, that they still had to please him in some way, even though he’s a closet homosexual, the social-contrary-hard-to-believe thought, was not lost on me however, as to his unease to his all-conquering attitude to which ever gender was before him. And whilst we’re talking about gender, metaphorically speaking, I actually at one point in the story, thought the sea and beach was gay or bi-sexual, at the very least, and that’s why the book was based there, refreshing notion isn’t it. 

And what got to me, was in regards to his bereaved grief, that some I could see what he was getting to as an insight into this process, but in other instances within the book, I felt the ‘how could he!’ as I got nearer the end of the book. For George, in the process of moving on with his life meant replacing someone who he apparently was supposed to care for deeply, with someone just like that of the lover he lost. And for some reason that rubbed me up the wrong way, once I finished the book, and I apologise for those who are sensitive towards the sentimentality of death, but I thought, glad he never got the chance. Hence for me anyway an apt one for the title, excuse pun, as to the way George remained in that status throughout the book.

So, what I felt when I finished the book, was that George, the one that over-hyped, had been playing some kind of parlour game, as he was doing with the female character Charlotte when he was drunk, and when he was sober wouldn’t remember any of it, but you would, as he’d hoped you would to remind him of it, hence the book, when he was long gone, you’d be saying things at the dinner party “and George said in the book A Single Man and I quote…”  It left the after taste of a hang-over, where’s the ice-pack for my forehead. 


“Well ― to put it crudely ― it’s like Plato; it’s a Dialogue. A dialogue between two people. Yes, but not a Platonic dialogue in the hair-splitting, word twisting, one-up-to-me sense; not a mock-humble bitching-match; not a debate on some dreary set theme.  You can talk about anything and change the subject as often as you like.  In fact, what really matters is not what you talk about, but the being together in this particular relationship.  George can’t imagine having a dialogue of this kind with a woman, because women can only talk in terms of the personal.  A man of his own age would do, if there was some sort of polarity; for instance, if he was a Negro.  You and your dialogue-partner have to be somehow opposites. Why? Because you have to be symbolic figures ― like, in this case, Youth and Age.  Why do you have to be symbolic? Because the dialogue is by its nature impersonal.  It’s a symbolic encounter.  It doesn’t involve either party personally.  That’s why, in a dialogue, you can say absolutely anything.  Even the closest confidence, the deadliest secret, comes out objectively as a mere metaphor or illustration, which could never be used against you.”

(extract taken from pages 124-125, ‘A Single Man’, by Christopher Isherwood, first published in 1964)

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Filed under Contemporary, Reading Group

‘Amenable Women’ & ‘Good Things I Wish You’


By Mavis Cheek
Published by: Faber & Faber
Paperback edition: 336 pages
ISBN: 978-0-5712-3896-5
(Source: Public Library Borrowing)

By Manette Ansay
Published by: Headline Publishing Group
Hardback edition: 254 pages
ISBN: 978-0-7553-2990-8
(Source: Home Book Collection)


Minet Library –


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.


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)

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Filed under Historical, Romance