My review pile of books read, mostly some time ago, and needing to be written up before I forget them is too big, so here’s some shorter pieces to deal with said pile!
Book Group report – The Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan
Following on nicely by association from last month’s Hašek by being partially set in Prague, Buchan’s novel turned out to generate a good discussion, yet wasn’t a book we loved. Told in a dual timeline at first, Prague in 1986 and Paris now, it adds another 1996 strand later in the novel. The story follows 20-year-old Laure, who is half-French, half-Yorkshire, and goes to work as a nanny for the Kobe family in Paris, moving with them to Prague. There, a few year’s before 1989’s Velvet Revolution, Laure meets and falls for Tomas, a musician, puppeteer and activist, and as a foreigner puts herself and Tomas even more in the spotlight even though they are careful. Of course, this romance is doomed, and Laure who escapes, but is accused of betraying him although she didn’t, will always wonder what happened to Tomas. In her life after Prague, she sets up in Paris, running the titular museum which carefully exhibits items representing broken promises – unused tickets etc. The period in between Tomas and the set-up of the museum comes in the second half and explains a lot.
What we liked: The depiction of living in Prague in the 1980s before the Velvet Revolution in 1989, with everyone watching and informing on everyone else at times it seemed, was well done.
Where we had problems: The Museum in Paris felt a contrivance – I thought it was more of an art installation than a museum. Some of the dialogue was ropey – especially with May, a US journalist shadowing Laure at the museum for a feature. The disjointed way it flitted from 1986 to now to 1996 so often made it hard to follow sometimes. We also questioned Petr Kobe’s motives.
Lots to discuss in this novel – so that made it a fair book group choice – if not an outstanding read. Emily said not to rule Elizabeth Buchan’s other books out, some are very good. For me this was a borderline DNF – I read about 155 pages fully, then briefly skimmed the rest.
Corvus paperback, 410 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via our affiliate link (free UK P&P)
Atalanta by Jennifer Saint
It was refreshing to move away from Troy completely for Jennifer Saint’s third novel (after Ariadne and Elektra) and a recent glut of Trojan retellings. Atalanta is a mortal heroine who I was aware of in name only.
Exposed on a mountainside as a baby, she was raised by a mother bear with her cubs, the goddess Artemis watching and protecting her. As she grows up, she swears her allegiance to Artemis, who teaches her to use a bow and she becomes a very fleet of foot. It’s time for her to make her mark on the world, and Artemis sets her up with a place among the band of heroes on the Argo, on Jason’s voyage to find the Golden Fleece, where she’ll have many rivals in the crew, including Heracles, needing to prove her worth all the time – which naturally, she does.
I enjoyed Atalanta as much as Ariadne, if not more. Saint explains in the press release that in the traditional texts Atalanta gives Jason her bow and doesn’t go on the ship, but Saint wrote her in. She has other adventures after the Argo, so it’s not such a big deviation. To which classic heroine will Saint turn next?
Wildfire hardback, 357 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)
An Astronomer in Love by Antoine Laurain
Translated by Louise Rogers Lalaurie and Megan Jones
I think this is the first Laurain novel, and I’ve read them all, that has a true dual timeline, but, as always, Laurain links his plot via an object. That, in this case is a telescope belonging to Guillaume le Gentil, who was Louis XV’s astronomer. 1760 is a key time for gentlemen voyagers, explorers and scientists, and Guillaume is about to set sale for Pondicherry in the Indian Ocean to observe the Transit of Venus (when the planet passes in front of the sun – like a lunar eclipse, occuring twice eight years apart every 243 years.) The other strand occurs in the present day, where Xavier, an estate agent, is given the telescope by the new owners of an apartment he’s sold. Looking out through it he spies a woman who happens to have a zebra in her apartment. It turns out she is looking for a new apartment, and Xavier knows that his own would be the one for her. Maybe he can engineer a swap, but the telescope gives him away as a voyeur, although really he is anything but.
So we have a typical Laurain romance in the present day, and adventure on the high seas in the past, which fit neatly together in the end. I’d say this is at the top of the middle if I were to rank Laurain’s work, and I’ve read them all. Very enjoyable.
Gallic hardback, 288 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)