Girl In A Blue Dress is British writer Gaynor Arnold’s story of Alfred Gibson and his wife, Dorothea.
Gibson is a barely disguised Charles Dickens and Dorothea stands in for his poor, benighted wife, Catherine. Talent, overweening ambition, and arrogance might be a recipe for artistic success but make lousy husband material.
The almost constantly pregnant Dorothea is cast aside early in the marriage, confined to the basement, while Alfred courts both fame and other women. Catherine tells the story, as she stands, unbidden, at Gibson’s funeral.
As memory piles upon memory, Dorothea rises from beneath their weight to launch a surprising one-woman revolution. Arnold certainly knows his Dickens, and biography informs his tale.
This made the Mann-Booker long list, but I don’t think it’s one for the historical fact-checkers. Just enjoy!
On the other hand, Alexander McCall-Smith, he of the very successful Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency books, seems to juggle a Dickensian-sized literary output and two challenging professions, without being a jerk.
Corduroy Mansions is the first novel in McCall-Smith’s new series of the same name.
Set in and around a London apartment complex, it has the McCall-Smith trademark collection of endearingly oddball characters, described with the whimsy and wisdom we expect from this master.
Canadian Jane Urqhuart is an award-winning poet, and novelist. Canadian Johanna Skibsrud is a first-time novelist, also a poet, and this year’s Giller Prize winner.
Neither writes for a readership seeking ease or speed. Sanctuary Line is Urqhuart’s seventh novel. It is a complex tale of the rise and fall of an Ontario farm family, one whose history stretches back to the “great-greats” though the main action takes place in the 1980’s.
Love, etymology, children’s poetry, a treatise on barn building, loss and decay, the war in Afghanistan, exploitative farm labour practices, and a yearning for redemption are all stitched and layered into this beautiful, uncomfortable quilt of a book.
Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists is another complex family story set in Ontario, this time in a tiny remnant of a town, leftover from the flooding of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Napoleon Haskell moves to the property of an old friend with whom he shares memories of an unspeakable Vietnam War experience.
Adult daughters accompany him and one, with her own demons to wrestle, decides to stay. The National Post reviewer urges readers to savour the “slow fuse” burn of the first half in order to reach the “explosive” second.
CIA agent John Wells reappears to save the day one more time in Alex Berenson’s new thriller The Midnight House. When veterans of a crack interrogation team start falling by the wayside, Wells is dispatched to find out who is responsible and why.
When his intrepid skills take him deeper into the intrigue, suspicion falls away from the prime suspects, Jihadist extremists, and lands much closer to home, within the U.S. intelligence service itself.
Berenson is very good at what he does and this is all quick fuse and multiple explosions.
Submitted by Leslie Davidson