Friday, January 31, 2020

Glamorous Powers by Susan Howatch

Glamorous Powers published 1988 is book two in Susan Howatch's acclaimed Starbridge series of novels.  These six books are set in the UK in and around the fictional town of Starbridge.  The subject matter is the Church of England in the twentieth century and each book centers on a different Anglican priest.  These priests have come to a crisis point in their lives and the drama is why?  What happened in their past to bring them to this point?

And so when Glamorous Powers begins it is 1940.  Father Jon Darrow who narrates the book is an Anglican-Catholic priest and monk.  He entered the monastic life in 1923 in response to a vision.  Darrow has psychic powers.  His visions torment him because he can never be sure if they are sent by God or the Devil and now seventeen years later another vision is telling him to leave the monastery and reenter the world.

Prior to becoming a monk, Father Darrow had an active life.   He married young and had two children, Ruth and Martin.  He became a chaplain in the navy spending more and more time away from home.  He was at sea when his wife Betty died and his children didn't see much of him growing up.  As Darrow tells us he was not cut out for family life:

" I had no idea that the daily routine of marriage would be so hostile to sustain a rich inner life.  Nothing had prepared me for such chaos ...  Betty was seldom still.  She was always rushing hither and thither, continually invading my psychic space, laughing, crying, endlessly chattering .... And then the children came.  Of course I was pleased and proud, but the noise, the mess, the constant destruction of any interlude which encompassed peace and order"

But now Father Darrow is heading back into the world and so we follow him as he remarries less than six months after leaving the monastery.  We follow his attempts to reconnect with his grown children and as he tries to fit in as the new pastor at the parish in Starbridge.  Problems occur because Darrow's Anglo-Catholicism is not appreciated by his parishoners who want nothing to do with "Romish practices".  So he's got alot on his plate.

Glamorous Powers is the second book in Howatch's Starbridge series.  The first novel Glittering Images centered around Rev. Charles Ashworth a young man who suffered a bit of a breakdown.  Father John Darrow played a somewhat minor role in the first novel as the man Ashworth comes to for spiritual counselling.  And in the first book I was quite taken with Darrow, a strong, charasmatic, compassionate man whose life we know very little about.  Glamorous Powers is the novel where we find out everything we ever wanted to know about him and, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

I ended up preferring Rev Charles Ashworth in Glittering Images to Father Jon Darrow in Glamorous Powers.  I had empathy for Ashworth who had suffered a real tragedy in his life seven years prior in comparison to the trials and tribulations of Father Darrow which in many cases are of his own making, particularly  the problems with his grown children.  But though Darrow can be annoying and rather selfish, he is not boring.  Susan Howatch is a master at creating intriguing, complex characters and so in a few months I am eager to begin book three in the series, Ultimate Prizes, where it is now the late 1940's and our next cleric, the Archdeacon Nevill Aysgarth, is having his own issues to contend with.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara

I started hearing about Michelle McNamara's I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer about a year ago.  The Golden State Killer had unleashed a reign of terror throughout California (over 50 rapes and 13 murders) from 1974 to 1986.  He had never been caught and the author, Michelle McNamara, wanted to change that.

She started pursuing him on her blog True Crime Diary, then in articles she wrote for Los Angeles Magazine.  She scoured the internet following leads, met with detectives who were impressed with her determination and gave her their case files.  The detectives trusted Michelle because they realized that like them she wanted to catch this killer and bring justice to his victims.

Michelle McNamara was working on I'll Be Gone in the Dark when she died in 2016.  She was only 46 and the cause of death was an undiagnosed heart condition made worse by prescription drugs.  In 2018 her husband the comedian Patton Oswalt got I'll Be Gone in the Dark published to wide critical acclaim and a few months after the book's publication the Golden State Killer was finally caught.

I enjoy True Crime Books and there are some excellent writers in this genre: Ann Rule, Joseph Wambaugh, Vincent Buglosi and I would add Michelle McNamara to that list.  She is a very engaging narrator as she draws you in, telling the story of the California towns where the killer operated, telling us about his victims and the detectives who sought justice.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark is also part memoir.  Michelle writes about growing up in Oak Park, IL, her family and friends, her desire to be a writer and when she was fourteen the event that changed her life, a young woman murdered two streets down from where she lived.  Michelle didn't know the woman but while the rest of the neighborhood was horrified they moved on but for Michelle it was a life changing experience and an obsession with unsolved murders was born.

Michelle McNamara was halfway through writing I'll Be Gone in tne Dark when she died and her editors gathering together her notes have done a reallly fine job.  The book doesn't feel half finished.  Michelle's obsession to catch the killer is also a testament to the internet and how much research on any subject that interests you is possible just by using the search engine.  It's a shame we won't have future books from Michelle McNamara but there is I'll Be Gone in the Dark which I am glad I read and recommend.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

2020 Back to the Classics Challenge

Thank you Karen K at Books and Chocolate (please see the link to her website under Blogs I Follow) for taking on the 2020 Back to the Classics Challenge  I was debating about whether I wanted to do the Classics Challenge this year but when I learned a few days ago that the Challenge was on a big smile appeared on my face.

The Challenge prompts us to read great books we otherwise would never have read.  Even those books that weren't my cup of tea I'm still proud I read them.  But also I have read some wonderful books New Grubb Street by George Gissing, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and this year who knows what new suprises await.  So thank you once again Karen K.

19th Century Classic - Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - This is a book I've been curious about n which Jane Austen pokes fun at the world of gothic novels.  Austen was as far from being a gothic writer as one can get and so I will be interested in what she has to say on this topic.

20th Century Classic -  The Plague by Albert Camus - I read The Stranger two years ago and Brian at said that The Plague is even better so I definitely want to give this novel a try.

Classic by a Woman Author -  Middlemarch by George Elliot - I've never read her before and Middlemarch is not only her best book but one of the greatest  classics ofi world literature.

Classic in Translation - Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant - Ruthiella at Booked for Life chose this book two years ago I think for her Back to the Classics Challenge and she gave it high praise so I definitely want to check it out.

Classic by A Person of Color - Narrative of the Life of A Slave by Frederick Douglass.  A definitive biography of Frederick Douglass has recently been published.  He was a giant of American history but before I read his biography I should read his classic autobiography.

A Genre Classic  - The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green.  A classic mystery novel written by a woman in the 19th century.

Classic With a Person's Name in the Title - Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - I've been hearing about this book forever.  It's a slim little book and yet it has gone on to be one of the great classics of world literatur so I'm curious.

Classic with a Place in the Title - To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - I loved A Room of One's Own but I have heard that To The Lighthouse though a great book is difficult.  My plan is not to rush through a book like this but to take it slow.

Classic with Nature in the Title - The Jungle by Upton Sinclair - When this novel was published at the turn of tne 20th century it alerted the public to the terrible conditions for workers in Chicago's meat packing industry.  The book made quite a splash with Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill weighing in.

Classic about a Family - The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkinton.  Saw the movie which I was quite impressed with and the book won the Pulitzer Prize back in the 1920's so I want to give it a read.

Abandoned Classic - Dracula by Bram Stoker - I've made attempts to read this novel over the years and the parts I've read are very well written but 50 or 60 pages in I end up putting it down amd I'm not sure why.

Classic Adaptation - Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - A number of films have been made of this novel but I've never read the book.

I wish everyone a Happy and Healthy New Year!