Actually, I’ve been on holidays, which is why I’ve been rather quiet on here. But in my new post-PhD life, I’m actually getting to read some books – yes! Incredible as that seems, I am now able to read novels and books not about seventeenth century France.
So I am happily working my way through a very big backlog. I started with Jesse Blackadder’s Chasing the Light, a novel based on the lives of three real Norwegian women who were the first women to travel to Antarctica (in the 1930s). Apart from being a splendid evocation of the time and the frustrations of these adventurous but constrained women, Jesse’s descriptive writing about Antarctica is gob-smackingly beautiful.
Then I finally caught up with Queen of the Night, Leanne Hall’s follow-up to This is Shyness, a YA novel I adored from a couple of years ago. Queen of the Night picks up the story of Wildgirl and Wolfboy and their next venture, after much misunderstanding, into Shyness – the suburb just a little bit like Collingwood, but where the sun never rises. Again, the world building is wonderful – familiar and yet not – and the two main characters have even more spark, and sparks, than in their previous encounter. I’ve read several other YA and middle-grade adventure tales set in real or imagined exotic locations over the past few weeks, from graphic novels to steampunk to historical fiction, and I don’t think any of them are as complete a world as Shyness.
In a totally different vein, I went on to Eleanor Catton’s Booker-winning The Luminaries, set on the wild west coast of New Zealand’s South Island during the Hokitika gold rushes. I read it in New Zealand, but about as far away from the wild beaches of Hokitika as you can get. There’s an awful lot to say about The Luminaries and I can’t do it justice here, but I will say that as someone who thinks a great deal about historical fiction and voice, I particularly admired Catton’s attempt – successful, I think – to recreate the feel and sound of one of the great Victorian novels, without bogging down the modern reader. You know where you are on the very first page, and that familiar Dickensian omniscient voice is sustained throughout this big book, without ever feeling weighty.
Speaking of gold rushes, I’ve also got sucked into rewatching Deadwood on DVD, in all its fabulously foul-mouthed Shakespearean glory. It’s a beautiful thing.
But now I’m reading my own book again – proofreading, to be precise. Goddess, the novel based on the life of Julie d’Aubigny, is due out in the middle of the year, and I have the typeset pages on my desk as we speak. So now it’s back to work.