I've been reading. This probably doesn't sound like an unusual activity for me to engage in, given that I live in a house full of books, but lately I've got out of the habit somehow, and whilst I've read the first chapter or two of a few books, they haven't grabbed me and have been abandoned with just the corner of a newspaper to show the point at which I gave up.
But a few weeks ago, I was at my parents, and I spotted a book which I'm sure I must have bought - it didn't fit in at all with Mum's usual chicklit fare and Jilly Coopers. It was Shadow Baby
, by Margaret Forster, a writer with whom I've had an uneasy relationship over the years. I've enjoyed some of her books, especially her biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and its companion piece, Lady's Maid, as well as some of her earlier fiction, especially Private Papers. But The Memory Box disappointed, seeming to promise more than it delivered, and I completed failed to realise that Diary of an Ordinary Woman was a work of fiction until the very end, when I nearly hurled it across the room, I was so cross. But that reaction demonstrates the power of her writing, and Shadow Baby engaged me to a similar degree. Although I did realise that this one was fiction, so it escaped my rage.
It's the story of two girls who are abandoned by their mothers as babies, Evie in 1887, and Shona in 1956. The narrative switches between the girls for several chapters, then between their mothers for a few more, then back to the girls, but it was Evie and her mother Leah who really came to life for me, and it wasn't until I found a nice hardback of Hidden Lives
in a charity shop (glossing over the fact that on arriving home I found a pristine paperback on my bookshelves....) that I realised why. Evie and Leah's story is based firmly on the mysterious story of Forster's own grandmother, with the missing parts of her grandmother's story filled in - the reason for Leah's abandonment of Evie was one of few parts of Shadow Baby which grated, perhaps because the rest seemed so true, and now I realised why - Forster's family never found out the truth of her grandmother's missing years and mysterious daughter. But I thoroughly enjoyed both books, and despite having several more dotted about which I've either never read or read so long ago I've forgotten them, I had to go straight to Amazon and order more.
Whilst on Amazon, I ordered a couple of books by Adele Geras - Made in Heaven
and Facing the Light
. I've heard both mentioned in glowing terms on various book blogs recently, and decided to give them a go. Well. I enjoyed them both, but I'm not raving about them, I'm afraid. The stories seemed to meander about, with huge amounts of padding and long descriptive passages I could have lived without. The two family secrets in Facing the Light were glaringly obvious from very early on - I kept thinking that it was all too obvious, and that there would be a twist, but sadly not. And Made in Heaven just made me even more determined never to have a big wedding. Ever. Even if it does all turn out (predictably!) well in the end. They were both pleasant reads, and I've ordered Hester's Story and the new one, the name of which escapes me, I'm just thinking perhaps I'm missing something, given that others seem to have enjoyed them much more than me. But it would be a very dull world if we were all the same, and other such platitudes.