Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson

On the surface, Edith and Bruce Ottley seem like the perfect Edwardian couple – respectable, presentable and well mannered. However, in reality, Edith begins to feel a little bored with her marriage since Bruce is a man with many eccentricities and absurdities. Edith’s husband seems to complain about everything and everyone and he thinks too well of himself. Luckily, Edith’s friend Hyacinth Verney is there to bring a little excitement into Edith’s dull life. Hyacinth is a beautiful and glamorous young woman whom everyone adores and admires. She appears to have the perfect life, except that the young woman is madly in love with someone who doesn’t show any interest in her. Hyacinth cannot really understand why the man of her dreams doesn’t seem to admire her like everyone else, thus she tries to do everything in order to win his attention. After many misunderstandings, heartaches and jealousies, Hyacinth and her beloved are finally united.

Love’s Shadow is a classic comedy of manners and it deals with the affairs of the heart and their consequences. Ada Leverson masterfully explores the different facets of love – the love between friends, unrequited love and being in love. Furthermore, her novel draws a lucid portrait of married life, while revealing all its oddities, enigmas and obscurities.

Love’s Shadow is packed with charm, wit, hilarious dialogue, eccentric characters and superb writing. Since the novel is set in the past and in England, it was the perfect book for me. I just loved everything about this book and I had to laugh many times while reading it. There are just so many witty remarks and funny characters in Ada Leverson’s novel that you can’t help but adore it! I liked all the characters except for Bruce Ottley since he is such a peculiar and unlikeable man! (However, I think that it was the author’s purpose to portray him that way). Bruce is so obnoxious and so full of himself – he never seems content and he always finds fault with everything and everyone. I can fully understand why Edith is bored with him, since Bruce is so annoying with his attitude and outrageous behaviour. He thinks of himself as a ‘man of the world’ when in reality, he is lazy, odd and ignorant. Furthermore, he treats his wife as if she were an object and a servant. Bruce thinks that Edith is not clever, but the truth is that she is more intelligent than he could ever be. However, Edith has to keep things to herself, because wives at that time couldn’t take the liberty of opposing their husbands. But she still gets her own way quite often, because she is clever enough to let Bruce believe that he’s in charge, when in reality, Edith has the upper hand when it comes to their marriage.

Love’s Shadow was a pure delight and an enjoyable read and I recommend it to everyone out there who likes to read books set in the past and to everyone who likes to read about gender roles.

Andreea

The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt

The Children's Book by A. S. Byatt

The Children’s Book spans the Victorian Era through the end of World War I and centers around the artistic Wellwood family and their friends.

Olive Wellwood, a popular author of children’s books, lives with her husband Humphry and her seven children in an idyllic cottage where the Wellwoods host Midsummer parties and meet with their artistic friends. On the surface, the Wellwoods seem like the perfect family, but as the novel unfolds, we learn that nothing is quite as it seems. The Wellwoods have many dark secrets, and when these are unveiled, the consequences are damaging for everyone. But Olive and Humphry are not the only ones in this situation, as their friends also seem to have a few skeletons in the closet: unwanted pregnancies, infidelities, illegitimate children and hidden pasts are only a few of them.

Even though the novel is called The Children’s Book and Olive Wellwood is an author of children’s books, this is not a book for children. It’s a novel about the relationship between adults and children, but it’s also a novel about art and creativity and the author skillfully shows us how this creativity and the need and passion to create can destroy both, adults and children.

The Children’s Book is a complex dark novel, which is hard to summarize, since it does not center on a main character, but rather focuses on a large cast of characters. The detailed book gives the reader a social, historical and cultural account of the Victorian and Edwardian Era and it draws a rather disturbing family portrait of that time. A. S. Byatt touches on various themes such as socialism, women’s suffrage, education, pottery and puppetry, but her novel also focuses on subjects such as sexuality and incest.

I have heard so many good things about this book in the past, therefore, I really wanted to read it. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it and I was very disappointed with this novel. I expected this book to be outstanding and in my opinion, it was not. I know that The Children’s Book has been greeted with praise by many critics and readers, but I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. The author has introduced too many characters in her novel and thus, the reader easily becomes overwhelmed and cannot fully connect with them. Furthermore, the book contains too much background information on the characters and the author provides us with too much historical information and with too many comments on ideologies and political events. The Children’s Book is told in excessive detail and the author feels the need to describe everything to the reader, from clothing to meals and puppet shows, and thus, these descriptions detract from the story. I also didn’t like the themes presented in this book; I suppose I am too conservative, but there is too much talk about sex / sexuality / sexual desires in this novel. I disliked reading about subjects such as adultery, secret parentages, illegitimate children, pornographic pottery (which reveals acts of incest) and other bizarre things. All in all, I think that the book is too disturbing and sickening for my taste. I am sure that other readers will like this book and even think that it’s excellent and masterly, but in my opinion, its themes are too revolting and the novel is overloaded with information and focuses on too many characters.

I would like to thank Knopf Publishers for sending me a copy of this book.