It’s the end of Lizzy Dening's second month of reading exclusively female authors as part of the #readwomen2014 challenges and she's followed the assorted wives of Ernest Hemingway, been reunited with characters from her childhood, and even dipped her toes into a thriller. Here are her February reads...
1. How To Be a Heroine: or what I’ve learned from reading too much, by Samantha Ellis
If you’ve ever fallen in love with a fictional character (come up, ‘fess up – we all had a thing for Little Women’s Laurie, and don't get me started on Mr Darcey...) this is the book for you. Ellis trawls back over her childhood bookcase to see how well their tales stand up to a more mature eye, and, most importantly, whether the heroines she admired are all they’re cracked up to be. Some of them, moor-wandering Cathy from Wuthering Heights for one, don’t seem such good role models in the cold light of adulthood, whereas others are the kind of gals you'd welcome round for a bottle of wine or two. You go, Lizzy Bennet.
Ellis’ tone is warm and welcoming – like chatting to a big sister, if your big sister happens to be an Iraqi Jewish playwright – and there’s a nice mixture of stories you’ll recognise, as well as more niche books which I’ll now be rooting out like a pig seeking literary truffles.
2. Mrs. Hemingway, by Naomi Wood
Ernest Hemingway was a skilled writer who changed wives about as often as he poured himself a chilled martini. This lyrically written novel is a fictionalised account of the four Mrs Hemingways, beginning with sweet-natured Hadley, through passionate Vogue writer Fife, to ballsy war correspondent Martha, and finally more subdued Mary, who I can't help feel got a raw deal of things. Each chapter is written through their point of view, with Wood easily fleshing out each wife into distinct characters, and follows the dispiriting pattern of Ernest’s love life: affair; current wife finds out; he ums and ahs over a g&t, until... a new wedding.
I really enjoyed the variety of voice and vivid settings (mental note, must move to Havana), but finished feeling no more sympathy for Ernest himself than I had at the start. Possibly a result of seeing from the viewpoint of jilted women, but his charms were lost on me – and perhaps Wood too.
3. Blackout, by Emily Barr
One of this year’s Galaxy Quick Reads – all £1 and designed to be read, you guessed it, quickly. Happily, out of the six titles, five are by women, and Emily Barr’s thriller was by far my favourite. It’s not a genre I usually read, but as the story opened with a woman in a Paris hotel room, in strange clothes and with no recollection of how she got there, I was hooked for my whole lunch break. Plus these mini books are super handbag friendly – be gone, novel-carrying backache!
What have you been reading this month? Let us know by tweeting us at @Grazia_Live using #readinglady