Feb. 12th, 2012

stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
To paraphrase Jonathan Coe's introduction, Rosamond Lehmann's last novel that's actually readable. Something of a disappointment, considering how much I enjoyed 'Dusty Answer'. I think I was slightly misled by the blurb, which implied that the novel was centred on two sisters, Madeleine and Dinah, following the death of Rickie, Madeleine's husband and Dinah's lover. Which it sort of is, but... An awful lot of the book deals directly with Rickie, who really felt like the least interesting character. I much preferred the tense scenes between Madeleine and Dinah, and there were several other characters I'd like to have seen privileged, particularly Dinah's husband Jo, who sounded absolutely fascinating and then just disappeared, and her lover Rob, who were the nearest Lehmann got to a lower-class voice. So, yes: less of Rickie, more of everyone else, please.

stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
The autobiography of a missionary nun in Thailand. I was expecting this to be terrible in all sorts of ways, based on the cover art and the choice of 'Siam' over 'Thailand' in the title - not to mention the tagline 'She faced the cruelty and squalor of a backward land with courage and devotion torn between obedience to her vows and the convictions of her heart' - but actually found myself drawn in by an honest and sympathetic account of vocation and charity. This makes sense, I suppose: the author had actually been there, and the copywriter hadn't.

In actual fact, Lightwood describes the challenges she faced with humanity and humour, be they poisonous frogs in the bathroom or learning the language. She rarely generalises about the people she works with, and I certainly came away with the impression that the overarching problem is not culture but poverty. She treats other religions with respect.

Teresa Lightwood gives a whistle-stop tour of her life, touching lightly on the parts that are less relevant to the story of her work in the Far East, but giving just enough background context. Particularly in the early chapters, where the realities of convent life were explored, I could not help remembering Karen Armstrong's 'Through The Narrow Gate' - though Lightwood seems to have found the experience less oppressive than Armstrong.

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pass this one on without reading it. It's good to be surprised sometimes.



stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)

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