Today, I want to talk books. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Vanessa Chu, a reader who got in touch via Twitter. We stood outside an (unexpectedly) closed bookstore on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive and gabbed about Victorian England, the research behind the Agency novels, and books we loved. I recommended some of my favourites and realized that if, like Vanessa, you adore Victorian novels and C19 history, you might be interested, too.
I’m a huge fan of John Sutherland because he talks about literary matters in a way that makes them irresistible to non-academics. Among his many books are 3 that analyze puzzling questions in Victorian fiction: Is Heathcliff a Murderer?, Can Jane Eyre Be Happy?, and Who Betrayed Elizabeth Bennet?. They’re absolutely addictive. I dare you to pick up one and not gallop the whole way through.
I adore Dorothy L. Sayers’s detective novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and am on a bit of a mission to make everyone read them. They get better as the series continues but if you’re a stickler for starting at the beginning, the title you want is Whose Body? Jill Paton Walsh’s continuations are also excellent and I’ll be reading the prequel, The Attenbury Emeralds, that’s published later this month.
Vanity Fair (the novel! not the magazine!) by William Makepeace Thackeray is extraordinary – that’s news to nobody, since it’s a canonical Victorian novel. But I find Thackeray’s comprehensive vision absolutely fascinating and VF is one of the few C19 novels to depict brown-skinned people in and about London. VF‘s narrator is quite often nasty about them – this is no PC, celebratory acknowledgement of non-whites in England – but their presence is pervasive and quite possibly dangerous.
I’m sure there are more books I mentioned, but they’re slipping away from me right now. Vanessa, if you’re reading, can you remind me in the comments?
And now, I want to talk about a debut novel that had me laughing aloud with pleasure and up well past my bedtime. Here’s my full disclosure, for what it’s worth: Stephanie Burgis and I first met about 18 months ago, when she wrote to me after reading A Spy in the House. My delight in her debut novel, A Most Improper Magick, may well be tinted by her appreciation for my work, our growing friendship, and the fact that she has one of the warmest online presences I’ve ever encountered. You can’t fake that stuff. So please consider yourselves advised. Oh, and I bought the book myself.
So. On Sunday evening, on my way up to bed, I thought, “I’ll just dip into the first few pages. Maybe I’ll read it tomorrow.” STEPHANIE BURGIS OWES ME 3 HOURS’ SLEEP. My gritty eyes aside, AMIM is an absolute pleasure: a whirlwind adventure, a cheeky homage to Jane Austen, a lively tribute to sisterly love and solidarity, and an assured, beautifully paced, pitch-perfect romp. Discerning readers of middle-grade and YA fiction, this ought to be on your wish lists. It’s out now in the UK, and will be published in the US (as Kat, Incorrigible) in April 2011. You won’t regret it.
And how about you, dear readers? What books would you recommend to me?