The Doll Factory (2020) by Elizabeth Macneal was this month’s pick of my library’s online reading group.
This was an odd book, not at all what I would usually choose but I am really glad that I read it.
I can only describe this book as so many other reviewers seemed to have done also: Gothic, Victorian, creepy, full of descriptions of squalor and cruelty, and featuring one character that is a very sick man. However, I really liked how the author used the time and settings – both in the London underbelly and amongst the Pre-Raphaelites – to set off the characters’ different views of life, and I liked the investigation of the male gaze from at least three different points of view.
I very much appreciated the ending, too, but if nothing else I really liked the atmosphere that the author was able to conjure up, even if it was creepy and bleak.
Flights (2007) by Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk may have won the Booker Prize in 2018 but just felt like a never-ending book. Thankfully, it had an end after all.
It’s been a while since I met a book that felt so painfully slow, disjointed, uninteresting, and absolutely not my jam.
The odd thing is, that parts of the book felt like I should have loved it because those parts did remind me of the writing of Ali Smith … except that where Smith manages to be evocative, Tokarczuk sounded sarcastic to me.
I guess the point of Flights was to show how everything, all the world is in transit or transition in some way, but the sheer number of different snippets of stories – there were no real stories in this book, at least none that had a beginning, middle and end – just made me loose interest very quickly in any of them.
Couple this with a style that, while very lyrical, was experimental to the point of just throwing out a lot of, not platitudes, but statements like they were supposed be universal truths without questioning them. I just could not find anything in this book that would engage, amuse, entertain, or even interest me at all.
It may be that the author tried too hard. It may be that the book just went over my head. Whatever.
The one unforgivable effect that this book had on me was it bored me stiff.
But at least I can count it towards my Around the World reading project.
Bleeding Hooks (1940) by Harriet Rutland was the last of Rutland’s books on my shelves, and the second of only three books she wrote. I loved Blue Murder and liked Knock, Murderer, Knock! by the same author and wanted to read the last of her books also. There are only three of them available and I am so sad that Rutland didn’t have a more prolific writing career because I love her style of writing.
Well, this was very middle of the road and the weakest of Rutland’s three books. However, the ending – if you can call it that – made me laugh.
I had issues with this book from very early on, which started with the description of Mrs Mumsby: while she was a deeply unpleasant and greedy character, this was very often described in terms of her being fond of food and fat. So, much so that it seemed like a necessary correlation.
Of course, I’m reading this in a different time and can say that – on behalf of those of us who are fond of food and fat – corpulence does not mean that a character is a horrible person.
There was also the use of the “Chinaman” or person with “foreign” looks as the exotic, but I glanced over this as this was a Golden Age mystery and it was not actually used (that I noticed) as a derogatory feature.
What I did like about the story was that it was unusual in telling of a father who single-handedly raised his son from 6 months of age. That’s not something that happens often in a GA mystery, especially in that it even mentions that he resisted the recommendations of giving the boy into care.
I liked that.
What really made me laugh and annoyed me in both measures, however, was the ending. Was this really an ending?
I won’t say more about it but it turned a 2* read into a 3* read for me.
Overall, tho, it is very sad that Rutland never wrote any more books and we only get to see her wicked sense of humour in the three books that are left to us and that, thankfully, Dean Street Press have taken the trouble to bring back into print.
Other reviews posted this week:
What I Believe – Bertrand Russell
The Witness on the Roof – Annie Haynes
Red Ellen: The Life of Ellen Wilkinson – Laura Beers
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works – William Shakespeare (see The Will’s World Project)