Book Review: Staying On by Paul Scott #1977club

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Staying OnAbout the Book

In this sequel to The Raj Quartet, Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley cling to their bungalow in the hills of Pankot after Indian independence deprives them of their colonial status. Lucy, fed up with accommodating her husband, tries to assert her own independence.

In scenes both poignant and hilarious, she and Tusker act out class tensions among the British of the Raj and eloquently give voice to the loneliness, rage, and stubborn affection in their marriage.

Format: Paperback (pp.)                   Publisher: Granada
Published: 1978 [1977]                      Genre: Literary Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Staying On on Goodreads


My Review

Staying On is my book for the #1977Club organised by those great book bloggers, Stuck in a Book and Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.  This was a re-read for me of a book I read quite a few years ago now because it is a sequel to Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet series of novels that I really loved when I read them.    The Raj Quartet was televised as The Jewel in the Crown in 1984, introducing a number of actors who subsequently went on to great things, such as Tim Piggott-Smith, Geraldine James and Art Malik.  Staying On was also adapted for television in 1980, starring the wonderful Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson.

Goodreads tells me I gave Staying On three stars when I read it for the first time and I have to say my feeling towards it this time is pretty similar.  This is despite the fact that it was awarded the Booker Prize (as it was known at the time) in 1978 by a panel of judges chaired by Philip Larkin, no less.

The most successful character for me was Lucy Smalley who felt the most fully-rounded creation and engaged my sympathy more than the other characters.  It helps, no doubt, that the reader is party to more of Lucy’s thoughts and feelings than of the other characters.   In contrast, Tusker remains rather a remote, tragic figure.

Tusker’s declining health and concerns about her financial position should the worst happen prompt Lucy to reminisce about her girlhood, her first meetings with Tusker, their courtship, eventual marriage and move to India.  She recalls movingly her struggles to adjust to the strict social hierarchy of the British in India, and the petty rules and humiliations meted out to her by other wives.

Lucy is an engaging character because it’s clear she thinks of others whereas Tusker seems only to think of himself.  As Lucy observes, ‘He hears.  He listens.  But doesn’t let on.  And he rejects and obfuscates.  He rejects anything he hears which it doesn’t suit him to hear.’   I found it sad that Lucy and Tusker seemed to have stopped being able to communicate, to understand each other and appreciate their respective needs.  It’s not until very late in the book that we get an insight into Tusker’s feelings for Lucy, feelings he is sadly unable to express directly to her.  Her reaction to what she learns is very moving.

I felt that many of the secondary characters – like the awful Mrs. Bhoolabhoy – bordered on caricature.  However, most problematic for me was the handling of racial difference.  For instance, in the following quotation – and I apologise in advance if any of the terms cause offence – Lucy recalls that, ‘one of the earliest lessons she had learned in India was of the need to steer clear, socially, of people of mixed blood and she had quickly been taught how to detect the taint, the touch of the tar-brush in those white enough to be emboldened to pass themselves off as pukka-born.’   I appreciate that what is being depicted were different times (although the book is only set in 1972) but that word ‘taint’ brought me up short when I read it.

I also felt uncomfortable about what seemed like stereotyping of the different races, especially as I didn’t get a clear sense that I was being encouraged by the author to challenge such generalisations.  Lucy recalls, ‘She’d been told that the Eurasians (Anglo-Indians as they were then called) were very loyal to the British; that without them there would have been no reliable middle-class of clerks and subordinate officials. [….] they formed an effective and in-depth defence against the strange native tendency to bribery and corruption which, coupled with that other native tendency to indolence, could have made the Indian empire even more difficult to run than it already was.’

What Staying On does well is evoke the end of an era.  Tusker and Lucy represent the last remnants of a different kind of society, social order and way of life.  As Lucy confides in a letter to a friend, they are now literally the last of the British permanent residents ‘on station’ in Pankot.   Their situation has become precarious both financially and practically as plans for development of Smith’s Hotel threaten The Lodge which is their home.    As Tusker observes, “I still think we were right to stay on, though I don’t think of it any longer as staying on, but just as hanging on”.

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In three words: Moving, tender, elegiac

Try something similar…The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott


Paul ScottAbout the Author

Paul Scott was born in London in 1920. He served in the army from 1940 to 1946, mainly in India and Malaya. He is the author of thirteen distinguished novels including his famous The Raj Quartet. In 1977, Staying On won the Booker Prize. Paul Scott died in 1978.

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Blog Tour/Review: Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey

SuitorsAndSabotageTourBanner

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Suitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey.  I really enjoyed Cindy’s previous book, Duels & Deception, when I read it a while back.  And Suitors and Sabotage is more of the same – a lovely, light read with more than a few nods to that illustrious novelist, Jane Austen.  You can read my review of Suitors and Sabotage below.

WinIf you’re a resident of the US or Canada, there’s a giveaway with a chance to win a paperback copy of Suitors and Sabotage.  To enter, click here.  Entries must be received by 26th April, so don’t hang about!

Check out the tour schedule here for links to reviews by other great book bloggers, guest posts by Cindy, extracts and interviews with Cindy.


Suitors and SabotageAbout the Book

Two young people must hide their true feelings for each other while figuring out who means them harm in this cheeky Regency romance from the author of Love, Lies and Spies and Duels & Deception.

Shy aspiring artist Imogene Chively has just had a successful Season in London, complete with a suitor of her father’s approval. Imogene is ambivalent about the young gentleman until he comes to visit her at the Chively estate with his younger brother in tow. When her interest is piqued, however, it is for the wrong brother.

Charming Ben Steeple has a secret: despite being an architectural apprentice, he has no drawing aptitude. When Imogene offers to teach him, Ben is soon smitten by the young lady he considers his brother’s intended.

But hiding their true feelings becomes the least of their problems when, after a series of “accidents,” it becomes apparent that someone means Ben harm. And as their affection for each other grows—despite their efforts to remain just friends – so does the danger…

Format: ebook (331 pp.)           Publisher: Swoon Reads
Published: 17th April 2018       Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, YA

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find Suitors and Sabotage on Goodreads


My Review

‘In which a young lady finds her attention is drawn to her charming but rather serious suitor’s hotter younger brother.

Apologies to Cindy Anstey for my rather poor attempt to emulate her humorous chapter headings that playfully evoke the era of Jane Austen.  Some of my favourites include:

‘In which hands and fluff are subjects of a deep discussion.’
‘In which the words “dreadful” and “secret” are bandied about.’
‘In which a question about the question is questioned.’

Imogene (with that curious ‘e’ on the end) finds herself in a quandary.  She admires her suitor, the kind, charming, bookish Ernest, who lives up to his name in being serious and (whisper) at times perhaps a little dull.  As she confides to her best friend, Emily, ‘I never feel my heart race when our eyes meet.’  However, she knows her mother and father would strongly approve if she was to accept an offer of marriage from Ernest.

But….Imogene finds herself becoming more and more attracted to Ernest’s younger brother, Ben – a lively character, very easy on the eye and someone who shares Imogene’s interest in architecture and art, even if he’s no match for her on the sketching front.  Fortunately, Ben’s need to improve his drawing skills in order to progress in his architecture apprenticeship provides the pretext for him and Imogene to spend time together for some one-to-one tuition.

Imogene forces herself to fight against the attraction, especially once it appears it may test the bonds of friendship. ‘Ernest had so many stellar qualities that Imogene had made a list of them…a list she repeated every time her traitorous thoughts veered toward Ben.’ Keep repeating that list, Imogen!

Events take a darker turn when what start out as mischievous pranks progress to sabotage and acts that may endanger life or limb.  Uncovering the culprit provides a gentle secondary story line to the brotherly rivalry for Imogene’s affections.

I really enjoyed Cindy Anstey’s previous novel, Duels & Deception, and in this book again she provides insights into the social proprieties of the time.  For example, the contrast between ‘town manners’ and ‘country manners’, with the latter involving relatively more informality, much earlier hours of rising (except for those ladies who keep ‘town hours’ and rise late) and outdoor pursuits such as walks and picnics.  I was also glad to see a welcome return for the phrase ‘doing it up brown’.

Suitors and Sabotage was a lovely light read with some nice little touches of humour.  For example, I liked that the author has Emily remark, ’The wonderful aspect of books is that they wait for you…and are not in the least insulted if you deviated for a bit.’  How true!  Also, I loved the little in-joke as Emily comments, ‘I’m not at ease with the idea that someone under this roof has some sort of sinister intent.  That is something that happens only in novels, not in reality.’   

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley, publishers Swoon Reads and Giselle at Xpresso Book Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Light, charming, lively

Try something similar…Duels & Deception by Cindy Anstey (click here to read my review)


CindyAbout the Author

Whenever she is not sitting at the computer, throwing a ball in the backyard, gardening or reading, Cindy can be found – actually, not found – adventuring around the world with her hubby. She has lived on three continents, had a monkey in her yard and a scorpion under her sink, dwelt among castles and canals, enjoyed the jazz of Beale St and attempted to speak French.  Cindy loves history, mystery and… a chocolate Labrador called Chester.

Connect with Cindy

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Throwback Thursday: The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Vol.1 by Collins Hemingway

ThrowbackThursday

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Renee at It’s Book Talk.  It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago.  If you decide to take part, please link back to It’s Book Talk.

JaneAustenToday I’m revisiting a book I read in 2017 for a blog tour but was published back in 2015 – The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen by Collins Hemingway. The book re-imagines the life of England’s most well-known female author by exploring what might have happened if she had ever married. It shows how a meaningful, caring relationship would have changed her as a person and a writer.  It also takes her beyond England’s tranquil country villages and plunges her into what the Regency era was really about: great explorations and scientific advances, political foment, and an unceasing, bloody war.

If my review below piques your interest, you’ll be pleased to learn that volume two was published in 2016 and the third and final book in the series in November 2017.


The Marriage of Miss Jane AustenAbout the Book

Everyone should marry once for love – even Jane Austen.

Jane Austen, single and seemingly comfortable in the role of clergyman’s daughter and aspiring writer in the early 1800s, tells friends and family to hold out for true affection in any prospective relationship. Everybody, she says, has a right to marry once in their lives for love.  But when, after a series of disappointing relationships, the prospect of true love arrives for her, will she have the courage to act?

In such times, can love – can marriage -triumph?

Praise for The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen

“What if Austen, who penned so many classic love stories, found her own romantic match? Ashton Dennis fits right into the Austen universe, while this Jane remains true to life, an intelligent and determined young woman. The writing is Austen-ian, and Hemingway has a talent for witty banter and wry observations that would make Elizabeth Bennet proud. An enjoyable first novel in an imaginative, well-researched series.”  (Kirkus Reviews)

“A skilful portrayal of a…literary icon takes this historical romance on an imaginative journey of the soul. … Insight and intuition, along with meticulous research, have created a believable version of her character in this tender story of Ashton and Jane. … Excellent character development enhances the plausibility of the scenario. Background, motivation, eccentricity – everything that constitutes a personality allow these fascinating people to step off the pages in lifelike form.” (Julia Ann Charpentier, Foreword CLARION Reviews, 4 stars)

“All readers of Jane Austen wonder what Jane’s life might have been like had she married, or had money. The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen explores these intriguing possibilities. It also depicts Austen in a rapidly changing world, connecting her to important aspects of the era-war, slavery, industrialization, and new modes of travel. Hemingway’s book raises many ‘what if’s’ in his thoughtful and thought-provoking portrayal of Jane Austen falling in love.” (Susannah Fullerton, author of A Dance with Jane Austen and Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice)

“[An] engaging and remarkably convincing romance. …Wry, observant, laconic – much like Jane Austen herself, without ever dipping into pastiche or mimicry. … Hemingway, with the lightest touch, builds up a thoroughly convincing alternative history for Jane. …[A] thoughtful re-imagining of Austen’s love life.” (Joceline Bury, Jane Austen’s Regency World)

Format: Hardcover, ebook, paperback (200 pp.)  Publisher: AuthorHouse
Published: 20th June 2015                                          Genre: Historical Fiction

Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, Vol.1 on Goodreads


My Review

The author has created a fun, light and affectionate tribute to Jane Austen alongside speculating on how her life might have turned out had she married and delivering an engaging historical romance.   The book captures the spirit of Jane Austen’s appraising eye of society, its foibles and – to modern day eyes – its bewildering rules of etiquette.

Jane and her sister, Cassandra, despite neither of them being that old, find themselves on the way to being consigned to the ranks of spinsterhood.

‘She was in her own clique, of course, along with Cass, that of women who were stylish, if overly stale.  Her invitations no longer came from young men who were on their way up in society but from older men who had stalled or were in decline: unmarried clergy from poorly endowed parishes or lately widowed men of middle age and anxious finance.’

It doesn’t help that their branch of the family is relatively poor and dependent on the support of more well-off relatives for both money and accommodation, moving from house to house of acquaintances and distant family members.  As Jane writes, ‘Like travelling minstrels, we earn our victuals by entertaining our hosts and helping with the odd family tasks.  One afternoon chasing the children around, two witty rejoinders, and three darned stockings will earn a meal, by my estimation.’

In fact, Jane and Cassandra have begun to think that love and marriage is something they will never experience since both have suffered the tragic loss of men for whom they had felt affection.  ‘Cassandra’s expression shaded from thoughtfulness to entreaty and finally pain. “Shall we never find love?” she asked.  “Is it over?  Are we never to be happy?  Never to embrace the kindness of a man, the blessings of a child?”’

However, Jane does have an admirer: Ashton Dennis, a wealthy young man.  However, although she likes him she can feel no romantic affinity with him as he has little interest in literature or the arts.  His focus seems only to be on the business of running his family’s estate.  And Jane could never love or consider marriage to a man like that could she?

When Ashton leaves for the Caribbean to “find himself”, as we might describe it these days, he and Jane strike up a lively, witty correspondence, which makes up Part 2 of the book.   Jane provides him with news from home about current affairs and scientific developments.  This provides the opportunity for the author to give the reader a fascinating insight into events of the time such as the Louisiana Purchase (the sale of Louisiana by Napoleon to America), the progress through Parliament of the Anti-slavery Bill, and the scientific and technological discoveries of Humphrey Davy and Richard Trevithick.   Jane even relates an encounter with the young fossil-hunter, Mary Anning.   Over the months he is away, reading Ashton’s letters in response to hers, Jane gradually starts to see a different side to him.

As well as the story of Jane and Ashton, there is much for lovers of Jane Austen’s novels to enjoy with many scenes alluding to plot lines, characters or events in the books (although at the time this book is set she has yet to be published).  So, for example, we have Ashton’s warning Jane off any marital interest in him much in the way Lady Catherine de Burgh tries to do with Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice…and taking possession of the most famous line from that book to boot.

“A single man in possession of a good fortune does not automatically need a wife – not from your class.  It is a misconception from which both you and your mother suffer.”

The author also captures the witty, acute observations readers have come to expect in Austen’s novels.

On being asked her view of a potential match for Ashton: “She is the sort of person who professes a love of books without reading, and who is lively without wit. Yet – Mr Dennis – I am not the person to ask about marriage.  I live on the corner of Old and Unattached.”

On dealing with marriage proposals: ‘Every polished young woman has a dozen stratagems to deflect the purpose of an unwelcome suitor.  One practices firm but gentle rebuffs in front of the mirror almost as often as one practices coquettish ways of saying yes to the proper man.’

I also loved this little joke about writing a book as Ashton reacts in amazement that Jane has written a novel that has been accepted for publication: ‘To think that you have spent – what, a year, more? – to compose a work on a single topic, about a set of characters, is beyond my ken.  I salute you, madam!’

This was a fun, engaging, well-written book that captured the spirit of Jane Austen’s books and which I really enjoyed.  I received a review copy courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Light, affectionate, romance

Try something similar…Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey (click here to read my review)


Collins HemingwayAbout the Author

Whether his subject is literature, history, or science, Collins Hemingway has a passion for the art of creative investigation. For him, the most compelling fiction deeply explores the heart and soul of its characters, while also engaging them in the complex and often dangerous world in which they have a stake. He wants to explore all that goes into people’s lives and everything that makes them complete though fallible human beings. His fiction is shaped by the language of the heart and an abiding regard for courage in the face of adversity.

As a non-fiction book author, Hemingway has worked alongside some of the world’s thought leaders on topics as diverse as corporate culture and ethics; the Internet and mobile technology; the ins and outs of the retail trade; and the cognitive potential of the brain. Best known for the #1 best-selling book on business and technology, Business @ the Speed of Thought, which he co-authored with Bill Gates, he has earned a reputation for tackling challenging subjects with clarity and insight, writing for the non-technical but intelligent reader.  Hemingway has published shorter non-fiction on topics including computer technology, medicine, and aviation, and he has written award-winning journalism.

Published books include The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen trilogy, Business @ the Speed of Thought, with Bill Gates, Built for Growth, with Arthur Rubinfeld, What Happy Companies Know, with Dan Baker and Cathy Greenberg, Maximum Brainpower, with Shlomo Breznitz, and The Fifth Wave, with Robert Marcus.

Hemingway lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife, Wendy. Together they have three adult sons and three granddaughters. He supports the Oregon Community Foundation and other civic organizations engaged in conservation and social services in Central Oregon.

Connect with Collins

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WWW Wednesdays – 18th April ‘18

WWWWednesdays

Hosted by Taking on a World of Words, this meme is all about the three Ws:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Why not join in too?  Leave a comment with your link at Taking on a World of Words and then go blog hopping!


Currently reading

WaltScott_Prussian BluePrussian Blue (Bernie Gunther#12) by Philip Kerr (hardcover)

It’s 1956 and Bernie Gunther is on the run. Ordered by Erich Mielke, deputy head of the East German Stasi, to murder Bernie’s former lover by thallium poisoning, he finds his conscience is stronger than his desire not to be murdered in turn. Now he must stay one step ahead of Mielke’s retribution.

The man Mielke has sent to hunt him is an ex-Kripo colleague, and as Bernie pushes towards Germany he recalls their last case together. In 1939, Bernie was summoned by Reinhard Heydrich to the Berghof: Hitler’s mountain home in Obersalzberg. A low-level German bureaucrat had been murdered, and the Reichstag deputy Martin Bormann, in charge of overseeing renovations to the Berghof, wants the case solved quickly. If the Fuhrer were ever to find out that his own house had been the scene of a recent murder – the consequences wouldn’t bear thinking about.

And so begins perhaps the strangest of Bernie Gunther’s adventures, for although several countries and seventeen years separate the murder at the Berghof from his current predicament, Bernie will find there is some unfinished business awaiting him in Germany.

Staying OnStaying On by Paul Scott (paperback)

In this sequel to The Raj Quartet, Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley cling to their bungalow in the hills of Pankot after Indian independence deprives them of their colonial status. Lucy, fed up with accommodating her husband, tries to assert her own independence. In scenes both poignant and hilarious, she and Tusker act out class tensions among the British of the Raj and eloquently give voice to the loneliness, rage, and stubborn affection in their marriage.

 

Suitors and SabotageSuitors and Sabotage by Cindy Anstey (eARC, review copy courtesy of Swoon Reads and Xpresso Tours)

Shy aspiring artist Imogene Chively has just had a successful Season in London, complete with a suitor of her father’s approval. Imogene is ambivalent about the young gentleman until he comes to visit her at the Chively estate with his younger brother in tow. When her interest is piqued, however, it is for the wrong brother.

Charming Ben Steeple has a secret: despite being an architectural apprentice, he has no drawing aptitude. When Imogene offers to teach him, Ben is soon smitten by the young lady he considers his brother’s intended.

But hiding their true feelings becomes the least of their problems when, after a series of “accidents,” it becomes apparent that someone means Ben harm. And as their affection for each other grows – despite their efforts to remain just friends – so does the danger…


Recently finished (click on title for review)

The Black Earth CoverThe Black Earth by Philip Kazan (Uncorrected proof copy, courtesy of Allison and Busby)

1922 – When the Turkish Army occupies Smyrna, Zoë Haggitiris escapes with her family, only to lose everything. Alone in a sea of desperate strangers, her life is touched, for a moment, by a young English boy, Tom Collyer, also lost, before the compassion of a stranger leads her into a new life.

Years later when war breaks out, Tom finds himself in Greece and in the chaos of the British retreat, fate will lead him back to Zoë. But he will discover that the war will not end so easily for either of them.

White HousesWhite Houses by Amy Bloom (eARC, courtesy of NetGalley and Granta Books)

In 1933, President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt took up residence in the White House. With them went the celebrated journalist Lorena Hickok – Hick to friends – a straight-talking reporter from South Dakota, whose passionate relationship with the idealistic, patrician First Lady would shape the rest of their lives.

Told by the indomitable Hick, White Houses is the story of Eleanor and Hick’s hidden love, and of Hick’s unlikely journey from her dirt-poor childhood to the centre of privilege and power. Filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love, it is an imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent.


What Cathy (will) Read Next

TheGoodFatherThe Good Father by S. R. Wilsher (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

In 1994, nine year old Effie and her twelve year old brother Ajan, endure the horrors of life in the besieged city of Sarajevo after the loss of their parents. Desperate to help preserve their city, Ajan becomes involved with a criminal gang among the makeshift defenders. When Effie is forced to flee alone, she must survive long enough to reach those outside of the city who have come to help. But the influence of those pursuing her is such that not even the soldiers of the UN might be able to save her. Any hope of a future for Effie eventually lies with only one man, Captain Nathan Lane.

It is 2017, and an attempt is made on the life of Foreign Secretary, Caroline Hardy. As the Security Services hunt for her attacker, the reality she is only a bit part player in the affair doesn’t occur to anyone. Not until her daughter, Mia goes missing and is implicated in the disappearance of a well-connected lawyer. As the focus switches to Mia, a secret that Caroline has kept hidden for a long time threatens them both, until there becomes only one place she can turn, to the man who shares her secret.

Jane Semour The Haunted QueenJane Seymour: The Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens #3) by Alison Weir (eARC, NetGalley)

Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and, as an adult, Jane is invited to the King’s court to serve as lady-in-waiting for Queen Katherine of Aragon. The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumours of Henry’s lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn – who is also lady-in-waiting to the queen – all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a painful incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.

But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures his new queen – altering the religious landscape of England – he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King’s affection and earn favour for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son or will she meet a fate similar to the women who came before her?

Book Review: White Houses by Amy Bloom

White HousesAbout the Book

In 1933, President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt took up residence in the White House. With them went the celebrated journalist Lorena Hickok – Hick to friends – a straight-talking reporter from South Dakota, whose passionate relationship with the idealistic, patrician First Lady would shape the rest of their lives.

Told by the indomitable Hick, White Houses is the story of Eleanor and Hick’s hidden love, and of Hick’s unlikely journey from her dirt-poor childhood to the centre of privilege and power. Filled with fascinating back-room politics, the secrets and scandals of the era, and exploring the potency of enduring love, it is an imaginative tour-de-force from a writer of extraordinary and exuberant talent.

Format: ebook, hardcover (240 pp.) Publisher: Granta Books
Published: 1st Feb 2018 (ebook), 24th Apr 2018 (hardcover) Genre: Historical Fiction

Pre-order/Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find White Houses on Goodreads


My Review

Opening in 1945, shortly after the death of President Franklin D Roosevelt, Lorena Hickok, known as ‘Hick’, recalls her first meetings with Eleanor, the development of their relationship and her move into the White House.  What follows is a series of flashbacks to the years they shared together.

One such flashback is to a train trip during which they share their most intimate secrets and childhood memories.  Eleanor’s stories take only a few minutes of reading time.  Hick’s take much longer.  Indeed the story sharing scene seems to act as a pretext for a long section depicting the traumatic events Hick endured as a child, her escape from an abusive home, her time spent with some delightfully eccentric circus folk and her eventual move to a career in journalism.  At the same time, it charts the awakening of Hick’s sexuality and her growing realisation that marriage was never going to be a route she would take, that ‘Women were not interruptions, for me.’

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved the way Hick’s early life was written about but I wasn’t expecting it would form such a focus of the book.  Throughout the book, I felt I was getting to know Hick a whole lot better than I was getting to know Eleanor, who always remained somewhat elusive as a character even during flashbacks to scenes in the White House.  At times, Hick’s adoration for Eleanor serves to make that undoubtedly great lady appear a little like a saint on a pedestal.  ‘I loved being the brave and battered little dinghy.  She loved being the lighthouse.’

I really liked the narrative voice the author created for Hick with its sharp dialogue, witty wisecracks and waspish putdowns.  ‘I’d met Wallis Simpson.  Twice.  She wasn’t pretty.  She was a skinny rough-houser from a shitbox Southern town but she had done a phenomenal job of remaking herself, vanquishing good looking rivals, and turning a genial, not stupid, sort of spineless royal into her love-slave.’   

What I also admired was the convincing, heartfelt and sincere depiction of the love between two women.   There were lovely little intimate moments that revealed the women’s affection for each other.

‘She smiled when she saw me coming and I did the same.  When we had breakfast together, I sometimes took a sausage off her plate.’ 

‘And when I was the object of her love, when her eyes lit up across the room, when she touched her fingertips to the pulse at the base of her throat, to mark the spot for me, to mark herself, I thought that there was no sacrifice I wouldn’t make.’

As a story about the relationship between two women at a time when such relationships had to remain largely secret, White Houses scores highly and there was a great deal that I enjoyed about the book.  The true nature of Eleanor and Lorena’s relationship has been disputed by historians over the years and the author freely admits that White Houses is a ‘work of fiction, from beginning to end.’

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Granta Books, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Tender, intimate, moving

Try something similar…Carol by Patricia Highsmith (click here to read my review)


Amy BloomAbout the Author

Amy Bloom is the author of Come to Me, a National Book Award finalist; A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Love Invents Us; and Normal. Her stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Short Stories, The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, and many other anthologies here and abroad. She has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Vogue, Slate, and Salon, among other publications, and has won a National Magazine Award. Bloom teaches creative writing at Yale University.

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