Tag Archives: London

Sarah Waters – The Paying Guests (2014)

PayingGuestsWith her novel The Paying Guests, Waters looks at postwar 1920s London, but through a very unique lense. We are first introduced to the Wray family, spinser Frances and her mother who live together alone in a townhouse. Due to the deaths of the men in the family, Frances and her mother are forced to rent out a room in their house to a young couple, Leonard and Lillian Barber. While initially Frances is suspicious of the the couple, she then strikes up a friendship with Lillian which develops into something much more.

Without giving too much away the story is essentially about the blossoming friendship and eventual affair that occurs between Lillian and Frances set against the backdrop of 1920’s London, a time in which class and gender structures were very much in flux. While I very much enjoyed the story as well as Waters’ writing style, so much of this book seemed so very long. There were parts that dragged on forever without ever really coming to a conclusion. Waters’ writing is great, but the editor really should have cut this book down about 100-200 pages. The unnecessary dialogue and inner thoughts detracted from the rest of the book.

As a feminist scholar specializing in female sexuality in Victorian England, Waters certainly knows her subject and sets the scene beautifully. She is not unfamiliar with creating a dramatic story and does so quite well. Even though the book runs a bit long in places, it is still a worthy read and a great piece of historical fiction.

Advertisements

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Americanah (2013)

americanahI don’t think there are enough words to accurately describe how much I loved this book. I wasn’t familiar with Ngozi Adiche until I heard about this novel and now I cannot wait to read more of her work.

Essentially Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu and Obinze who are young and in love when they leave their home in Nigeria and head west. While Ifemelu ends up in America, Obinze, finding post 9/11 America closed to him, takes up a dangerous life in London as an undocumented immigrant. While the story is about the relationship between these two characters, Ifemelu’s journey is by far the more compelling.

The story of Obinze sheds important light on racism and the danger that undocumented immigrants live in every day, but the plot involving Ifemelu, who is despite her academic success is forced to grapple with what it means to be black, is by far the most important part of this novel.

The title itself refers to Ifelemu’s journey from Nigeria, to the hallowed halls of Princeton, and back. Once back in Nigeria she looks at everything through the eyes of an American leading her friend to call her an Americanah.

Ngozi Adiche grapples with the issues of race, love, and identity in such a brilliant and beautifully written way, grasping the nuance often involved with tackling such issues. As an African Americna female herself, she is probably able to draw on her own experiences to make this novel as rich as it is. I really don’t have much else to say, this was definitely one the best books I’ve read all year.

Jennifer Worth – Call the Midwife (2002)

CalltheMidwifeThis is a story of London’s East End as told by Jennifer Worth, a former district nurse and midwife working in the 1950s. Worth’s memoirs are not only a look at the conditions of London’s working class, but are also a heartwarming story of women, friendship, and motherhood.

While originally working as a district nurse, Jennifer Worth soon became a midwife working alongside number of plucky and at times, eccentric nuns. The love and respect she feels for these women becomes quite clear throughout her writing as she speaks of their warmth and tenderness compared to the sterile and harsh environment of working in the hospital. Her stories of births are normally humorous and uplifting, but at times the stories of some of her patients are heartbreaking. Worth befriends a pregnant prostitute and helps her give birth, only to have the baby taken away. She also meets an old woman she originally dismisses as crazy, before she learns that the woman was in a workhouse where her five children died. I will admit, reading some passages left me completely stunned.

Worth’s memoirs while mostly being about her time as a midwife is also somewhat of a medical history. Prior to the modernization of healthcare and the popularity of hospital births, giving birth remained entirely in the female sphere of influence, mostly involving midwives. A lot of what Worth talks about seems foreign to us now, but in the 1950s, especially among the lower classes it would have been commonplace.

I loved Worth’s memoirs and highly recommend this book.