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Reading wrap-up - April 2020

April was a full month of lockdown in France, and I once more turned to books for escape - think hefty volumes, faraway locations and a drop of magic or time travel, with one foray into comedy that didn't quite work for me.

Outlander T. 5: The Fiery Cross, by Diana Gabaldon

This book fits two criteria of escapism. 1. It is long (LONG). 2. There are lots of literary open spaces. Being stuck at home doesn't bother me usually, but in April I suddenly got this strange but fierce desire to go on an adventure. So instead, I picked the wide landscapes and open skies of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. This fifth tome came to me via a book swap with a friend. It's the first one I've read in English, but I had no problem with the transition. Gabaldon's writing style is detailed and vivid. One could argue that an author does not need to describe every detail of every second of every scene in order to make the reader feel like they're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the characters, but I'll tell you that I didn't mind spending 1800+ pages in another time and another place. Obviously, this being a fifth tome, I can't tell you anything about the plot or even the location. I'll tell you that I hadn't particularly liked tome 4, but this one was more pleasant. I enjoyed the relationships between the characters and their evolution, not so much the many gruesome descriptions of various medical conditions & operations. Some of them felt simply pasted onto the story to impress. There were a few very far-fetched developments in the plot, but the last few chapters were so beautiful and so moving that I nearly shed a tear and forgave the author completely for the rest.

Ça peut pas rater!, by Gilles Legardinier

(For my English-speaking readers, this one hasn't been translated. Its title would be something like: "This can't go wrong!")

This is a comedy that made me feel miserable. It's the story of a woman who's just broken up with her abusive boyfriend and is bullied by her boss while trying to find a man who will finally treat her like a human being. There were some funny scenes, and this author never disappoints with his writing style & character portrayal, but the first part was so bleak I thought I was depressed until I understood it was how the book made me feel.

The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon

This book encompasses much of what I want fantasy to be. Its characters are real, flawed and human. The setting is original but not confusing and blends together many different influences to create a universe far from the usual medieval-European castle. There are female knights, soldiers, governors, and the cast is diverse. The multiple storylines were so well managed that one character never took over the others. They each had their own voice, and it was delightful to see one of the narrators from another's point of view. I may not have loved everything in this book but it doesn't matter, because the overall impression it left on me was that this is an important book. There needs to be more like it. Books about humanity. A humanity in which women don't have to fight to be recognised as equal to men. About magic, yes, but in which magic isn't as important as choices, which leads us back to the idea of humanity. There are dragons, but I read them as almost secondary. If you're looking for a one-shot, feminist, fantasy novel with intricate world-building and lots of representation, then this may be one for you.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

This book made me go through a real roller coaster of emotions. I just fell in love with the writing style, at the same time simple, touching, quirky and pinpoint precise. Some passages really hit home.

Others made me want to throw the (e)book across the room. In these strange times when I over-react quite easily, some plot points made me furious. The novel was published in 1868-1869, so I really shouldn't have taken matters to heart, but the condition of women was so outrageous back then, especially after reading the feminist gem that was The Priory of the Orange Tree, that I just needed to vent and shout my anger and frustration at the world. Sorry friends.

Reading this made me appreciate Greta Gerwig's adaptation so much. I went to see the movie without having read the book, which helped me a lot with putting faces on characters. I loved the few changes the director made to the story to update it ever so slightly!

If you've either read the story or watched the movie, what are your thoughts? Is it a childhood favourite like it seems to be for many people? Should I have read it fifteen years ago with child's eyes and then revisited it as an adult?


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What did you read in April?

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