Two excellent women and two okay men

cleopatras sisterCleopatra’s Sister by Penelope Lively
I have long loved the novels of Penelope Lively. Okay, I guess it has only been since 2009 that I first read her, but I became an instant fan and have read many of her novels in those seven years. This particular novel really deserves a stand-alone review, but I fear I will wait too long and forget everything I wanted to say about it. The first part of the book is split into three different points of view. Howard Beamish is a charmingly smart child who becomes a paleontologist, Lucy Faulkner is a charmingly smart child and becomes a journalist. The third point of view reads like non-fiction describing the history of the fictional north African country of Callimbia.

After Lively establishes adult lives for Howard and Faulkner with both of them having had a certain degree of success, she throws them together on a flight to Kenya that is mysteriously diverted to Callimbia which has recently undergone a coup. I don’t want to describe anything that happens beyond that, but it is gripping. Howard and Lucy are thrown into a crisis situation and soon begin to rely on each other.

I really loved this novel. I loved their childhood stories. I loved reading about the successes and failures of their adult lives, and I really got caught up in the emotional situation that brings the stories together. And Lively is a master observer with plenty of smart, witty insight to the human condition and relationships. I love her work and this one probably ties for my favorite with Consequences.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (re-read)
When an audio version of Excellent Women became available on audible I nearly lost my mind. There are about five Pym novels that have been recorded but this is the first and only one that has been available on Audible in the U.S. It was wonderful getting reacquainted with Mildred Lathbury and her post-war life in London. And it proved to me once again how great it is to re-read Pym’s work when one doesn’t have a preoccupation with what is going to happen next and the associated need to get to the end to see how it all works out. Pym’s observations and reflections on life are precise and economical without being clipped or unfeeling, and she is wryly funny.

 

To Walk the Night by William Stone
As always I was drawn to this NYRB Classics at the library by the fact that it was a NYRB Classic. But then I notice that it was a sort of sci-fi mystery novel published in 1937 which falls right into my recent penchant for vintage novels of those two genres. Two college friends are back at their Alma Mater where they discover a former professor murdered in a very mysterious way. The thing about a novel like this is that if it was written recently I probably wouldn’t be at all interested in reading it. It’s the combination of 1930’s period detail and the glimpse of the vintage sci-fi outlook that compelled me to pick this up and enjoy it.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
I’ve never read any Wells and, as I noted above, I have a bit of a predilection for vintage sci-fi. And what could be more vintage than reading about a time machine that was imagined by a Victorian author in 1895? The narrator, simply known as the Time Traveller, tells the story of what happens when he uses his newly built time machine to go into the future. What I found particularly interesting is that the author has the time machine go forward to the year 802,000. From my perspective this seems like a rather funny–and too huge–length of time in which to travel. It is more in the magnitude approaching geological time not human time. This may have perhaps been the point. It seems like Wells wanted to see what becomes of the human race when there has been sufficient time for them to evolve in the Darwinian sense of the word. What he finds is fascinating and, in my humble opinion, a little pervy. Makes me wonder if Wells was a pedophile. But I guess that is more of a side note than a focus. The book didn’t blow me away mainly because my time travel objectives and interests would be far different than Wells’.

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Two excellent women and two okay men

  1. heavenali May 15, 2016 / 3:16 pm

    Love the sound of the Penelope Lively. Pym is always good for a re-read.

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  2. Kate May 16, 2016 / 3:31 am

    ‘Makes me wonder if Wells was a pedophile’: I think you need to read more of the fiction of the 1890s to understand that how Wells described pre-pubescent bodies in this novel was more or less standard. This isn’t one of his great sf novels, though, for the plot flaws that you mention. I recommend The Invisible Man for really effective speculative writing and visceral horror.

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  3. Christy May 17, 2016 / 5:10 pm

    The Penelope Lively book sounds really good. I must remember not to confuse her with Penelope Fitzgerald in my head – I was thinking I had read something by Lively, but it was Fitzgerald’s book that I had read.

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  4. Susan in TX May 20, 2016 / 5:01 pm

    The only Lively I’ve read was City of the Mind, which I didn’t really care for. This one sounds a little more promising. Of course, I have a couple of her other titles on my shelf already — Moon Tiger and Family Album — maybe I should start with those to re-try her. It made me smile reading about your predilection for vintage sci-fi…that might be about the only sci-fi that I can handle. Have read a lot of Wells, but not the Time Machine. May have to read that one with my son this summer.

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