Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Pssst, come this way, have been dipping my toes over here..

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gone Fishing

Lax I have been. Forgive. Have gone fishing and will be back soon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

If With a Beating Heart - Jean Bedford

If with a Beating Heart tells the story of Claire Clairmont, the original Romantic Poet’s Groupie, or so biographers of Byron and Shelley would have us believe, however Bedford redresses this assumption by giving us Claire’s point of view, first by an eager young scholar eager to access her bounteous cache of primary Romantic Poet materials and then through Claire’s eyes herself.

The title takes itself from the enigmatic poem ‘To Constantina, Singing” written by Shelley about Clairmont:

Constantia turn!
In thy dark eyes a power like light doth lie

Even though the sounds which were thy voice, which burn

Between thy lips, are laid to sleep:

Within thy breath, and on thy hair

Like odour, it is yet,

And from thy touch like fire doth leap.

Even while I write, my burning cheeks are wet

Alas, that the torn heart can bleed, but not forget!

From the beginning the laudanum addicted Clairmont bristles at the robust egoism of the Young Scholar as he is employed as a curiosity by Clairmont to record her side of the story, never knowing whether she is portraying his idols of Shelley and Byron in the view he desires them to be. However, Clairmont, like a cat with a mouse, toys with the Scholar’s assumptions and stiff morality and allows him access to her journals whereby he slowly loses his obsession with the Romantics to somehow take away something of their spirit, and unshackles himself from a life that was inauthentic. The story in style is reminiscent of Henry James Aspern Papers.

Bedford too plays with the reader, by having us question the veracity of Clairmont’s own myth making, so that to the very end, Clairmont is elusive and fleeting, taking the truth with her to the grave, and as a reader are left to imbibe the spirit of the Romantics and live our own lives.

The rivalry with Mary Shelley, her sister is deftly written. As is Clairmont’s relationship with Shelley, though we never know whether they were intimate, another tantalizing twist that Clairmont and Bedford keep us curious about.

Clairmont famously seduced Byron and she bore his child. Most moving was the cruel conditions in which Clairmont was forced to give up her child to Byron and his true lack of care, resulting in him placing the child in a Convent and the child’s subsequent death at age five. This tragedy shapes Clairmont’s character, and we see what a dangerous game the Romantic’s played, giving everything up for Truth, Beauty and Love. However, Bedford leaves the reader knowing this, but the Scholar does not, unaware yet of the price that must be paid for ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ as Wordsworth wrote.

If With a Beating Heart precedes two other wonderful novels covering The Romantics, The Merciful Women by Argentine Federico Andahazi ( which tells Byron’s doctor and companion, Polidori’s story) and Passion by Jude Morgan ( which tells the story of the Romantics through Mary Shelley, Caroline Lamb, Fanny Brawne and Augusta Leigh) and sits equal beside them, telling Clairmont’s story beautifully and economically, without ever truly giving her beating heart away.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Jamrach's Menagerie - Carol Birch

A few weeks ago I finished reading this book, Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch, and it has stayed with me like salt on the lip after a day at the beach.

It is a wild tale of Jaffy Brown, a boy in Victorian London who finds himself as a child in the mouth of a tiger escaped from Jamrach's Menagerie - true place and true event, but spirals outwards as he takes to the sea to find a Dragon of the komodo variety no less. However, things go awry and (spoiler alert) Jaffy and his companions find themselves lost at sea in two small life boats and discover the true heart of darkness at sea.

The writing is terse, frightfully vivid, beautiful and un-relenting - the lost at sea chapters were hypnotic - until the reader too, was hallucinating rescue and imaginary banquets - which is quite a feat, as to the gripping desire to survive at the bequest of dying companions, which was black and horrific, yet never failed to stir empathy while making me feel sick.

The only curious thing that struck me as odd was the title, such a small part of the book, but then again, what do you call a book that deals with the wilds of man and cannibalism. I don't know.

A gripping and griping read. Worth reading. Though not on a cruise.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Wonderful World of Carson Ellis

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Wildwood by Colin Meloy from The Decemberists and illustrated by his other half, Carson Ellis.

The story was sweet and magical, but for me the illustrations were lovely little worlds, soft tones of grey in amidst the black and white, curious expressions on the faces, I found myself racing ahead, desperate for another picture. Here are some of the illustrations of Ellis, surely ready to enchant the next lot of younger readers that stumble across Wildwood, but beware, like the awakening ivy, may just suck you in.

Or check out her wonderful blog.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Portrait of a Lady - Emily Bronte

According to The Guardian, two unheard of, undiscovered portraits of the Divine Miss B, have surfaced. The bottom one has sold, but the other is for sale - wouldn't it be wonderful if it was her? Better than the flattened and amateur work by Branwell, as held at the National Portrait Gallery. Curiously, in the same month a re-discovered Jane Austen portrait has also surfaced.

I wonder if these portraits are true or just our wanting them to be, makes them so?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Artist on the Wing - A Card from Angela Carter

Just heard about this, another pick for 2012 - a biography in postcards about Angela Carter, written by her friend Susannah Clap, promised by Bloomsbury to "catch the artist on the wing". It is hard to believe it is 20 years since she has passed, and yet no biography. I remember discovering her books in 1991 and having that feeling of discovering a treasure and started reading her voraciously, only to discover a few months later that she had died. Sometimes I don't think we have got our head around what a brilliant artist she was and the influence that she has had, it as if a literary Goddess walked amongst us and we didn't know. Hopefully this book will bring back in a new form, so we can enjoy her writing, full of spit and spirit.