Category Archives: Romance

Swedish Eyres

‘There is a Jane Eyre in translation here,’ said the Resident IT Consultant as we discussed whether it would be suitable for Swiss Lady to read. You know, after fifty shades. Because it would have to be in Swedish.

I was surprised, but waited as he went to get it from the shelf.

He returned with the news that it was in English, as I’d expected it to be. I doubt Mother-of-witch read it in the original, but there was a time as she was learning English when she bought a fair number of novels in that language, some of which she did read. Lady Chatterley, for instance.

Hmm, that’s a thought. Would D H Lawrence suit a shades fan?

Jane Eyre translated by Gun-Britt Sundström

But thinking of Jane Eyre, I have no idea what the novel is like in translation. I only ever got round to reading those classics in English, which means I was much later than my [English-speaking] peers.

I looked Jane up. I believe she was translated at least three times, most recently in the 1990s. First time was soon after the book was published. And while the English doesn’t really date much, the Swedish would. Hence the need for more than one version.

You can buy a paperback for 55 kronor online, which seems reasonable. Translation by Gun-Britt Sundström. You can also read a short sample, which strangely enough is the mid-20th century one by Ingegärd von Tell.

Jane Eyre translated by Ingegärd von Tell

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Gripped, and wanting more

We met up for waffles, the Resident IT Consultant and I, GP Cousin and Swiss Lady. One has to get the waffles when one can, and it was a warm sunny day for it. As it had been for months.

As GP Cousin inadvisably tackled the Resident IT Consultant on the England win, Swiss Lady leaned towards me and said she needed to talk about books. This was very unexpected and a really unlikely thing. She had been reading – something she rarely does – and it was so wonderful she’d reread it, and read all the books and seen the film. As had all her friends.

I should have seen it coming. Fifty Shades.

I muttered something about maybe perhaps having to disown her now, but she was so happy this went un-noticed.

And then we spent a long time over waffles and fifty shades. Not sure she even realised I’d not read the books. But I was glad she’d been reading, and that she had enjoyed it. And, erm, learned stuff.

Forty years ago, newly arrived in Sweden, she had read Sigge Stark. I read Sigge Stark as a teenager, because the books were in our bookcase, and you tend to read everything at that age. They were bestselling romantic fiction in Sweden after the war.

So, I could sense a pattern for Swiss Lady. I rashly promised to find her suggestions of what to read next, preferably something not quite fifty shades. I have a few ideas, but would welcome more. It mustn’t be War and Peace, and not Solzhenitsyn, whose books apparently also got read at some point. Although Heinrich Böll had been all right…

It’s tricky. You don’t want to turn someone off late-found reading. At the same time you sort of want to save their soul.

Deception

My heart is still beating. I mean, that is obviously good, but it did go thump thump thump rather a lot towards the end of Teri Terry’s Deception, the sequel to Contagion. This, too, ends with, if not exactly a cliffhanger, then with lots of questions left unanswered. And there has been much deception, and probably will be even more in the last instalment.

Teri Terry, Deception

More people die. Lots more. So if this was real, I’d definitely be dead. And as in Contagion, Teri kills both good characters and bad ones.

The disease keeps spreading. The carrier knows it’s their doing, but for a long time no one else realises who’s the guilty party.

We gain a few more major characters, because all this couldn’t be left to Shay and Kai and Callie to sort out. Some of them die. Some don’t. Not necessarily the right ones. But I quite like the set-up over dinner one night when one character demands of another that she teaches them to kill. ‘Show us again,’ … ‘If anyone comes around with a flame-thrower I want to be sure how to do it.’

The bad guy has become more obvious in Deception. Unless he’s merely misunderstood, of course. But I don’t think so. And while believing that we all have some good and some bad in us, I’m not counting on this one rescuing us all in the end.

There is deception in most of us too. We don’t always admit to everything, and sometimes we deceive. Intentionally. All is fair in love and war?

If you want a dystopic thriller, Teri Terry is your woman.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We’ve recently celebrated the centenary of [some] British women winning the right to vote. It wasn’t for everyone, but it was a start.

Sally Nicholls has written a suffragette novel – Things a Bright Girl Can Do – and as we meet her three main female characters, well-off Evelyn, educated but threadbare May and working class Nell, many of us know that very soon there will be a war, and this won’t be exclusively about the rights for women to vote.

Sally Nicholls, Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We learn a lot about the suffragette movement – and I was reminded of why I always liked Sylvia Pankhurst the best – as our three girls go about campaigning for votes for women in their own different ways. What I particularly liked was that they have sympathetic people close to them; Evelyn’s young man, Teddy, May’s single mother, and Nell’s [literally] very poor parents.

And it’s not just votes for women. May and her mother are Quakers, and both Nell and May like girls best, discovering that they aren’t alone in this. Then there is the lovely Teddy, and the threat of the looming war.

After a quick march through protests and fasting in jail, war breaks out, and it’s much tougher than the way it’s usually described in fiction. Yes, young men go off to be slaughtered, but life in England is really hard, especially for people like Nell and her family, who have no money and little food, and someone is always unwell. Trying to remain a true Quaker is not easy, either, at a time when everyone seems to give up their principles for their country.

The novel is written in the same light style as Sally’s other books, and it works, despite the difficult topics of suffrage, war, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In fact, I feel it works better for having this sweetness about it, as the reality of the war years hits home.

You come to love these characters, and you discover that death isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen.

Ghost

Several things happened while I was reading Helen Grant’s new novel, Ghost.

I had an early e-version of this Gothic thriller, and I’d been describing to Helen how well it worked reading on the iPad. As I restarted, it sort of began scrolling the pages on its own. As I looked, I saw first a name, and soon after, a place. Both were familiar to me from what I’d been reading so far. ‘Damn,’ I thought. I didn’t want that to happen, and I didn’t want an accidental, electronic, spoiler.

But as I arrived at the end of Ghost, none of those things had appeared in the text, although something closely related to both had in fact happened. And as I got to the last line, there was a ghost of a flicker in my mind, reminding me of some other story. Except I can’t now think what, or even if. It was just rather ghost-like.

Helen Grant, Ghost

This is a beautifully written book. Not that I’d expect anything else from Helen Grant. It was hard to put down, and I did so as seldom as I could get away with. I wanted to bask in this quirky tale about the teenage Augusta – Ghost for short – who’d spent all her 17 years living with her grandmother, in secret, in a rambling but derelict house in Perthshire.

It’s a happy life, but frustrating and lonely, until the day Ghost’s grandmother goes shopping and never returns. And then 19-year-old Tom turns up. Both teenagers are equally shocked by the other, and together they have to try and make sense of Ghost’s strange existence.

Her quiet life in the Scottish countryside continues, while the reader waits for the bombshell that must surely come. What will it be, and when?

You’ll be surprised. At least I think you will be, if you have no unravelling pdf on your hands. Or, could it be that all copies of Ghost will have some kind of ghost inside? Not necessarily the same for all, but you know, some other-worldly hint.

Helen Grant is masterly at quietly worrying her readers.

I will – probably – be OK soon. I’m just not used to psychological thrillers.

The Roman Quests – Return to Rome

Who’d have thought, that time about 15 years ago, when I discovered the [first] three Roman Mysteries in The Book People’s catalogue (yes, sorry about that) and felt they’d be perfect for my young reader of crime, who also happened to love school subjects such as the Romans, the Egyptians, and so on, that there would be another 27 books from Caroline Lawrence (so far), or that my young crime-reader would meet her (after all, she was an American…), or anything else?

I certainly didn’t think.

But here we are, with the – surely – last of her Roman adventures, Return to Rome. I was glad to see my second generation Roman adventurers back home, and in the company of some of the older characters. I like things tied up, and I would say Caroline has tied pretty well, and I think she’d find it hard to untie and continue. It is very satisfying when you know what happens to all your beloved characters.

Caroline Lawrence, Return to Rome

And yes, this is a spoiler, but you didn’t think Caroline would kill everyone off, did you? What we get is more history, learning more about Roman times, both in Britain and on the continent, while seeing how our young friends act in the face of adversity, and how they discover who they are and what they want in life.

While Roman Britain was interesting – and I especially enjoyed seeing Caudex in his natural habitat – I’m sure we all agree that we like Rome, and Ostia. And luckily, not all emperors are bad. Even Domitian had some good points.

So, our ‘old’ Roman friends did what adults do, and our younger Roman heroes are growing up, falling in love. Personally I’m relieved that Miriam’s twins were found. But they will always be a reminder that Caroline does kill when she needs to.

Helped by love

It made a great impression on the young Bookwitch. During those years when I devoured [almost] everything I found on the shelves at home, I came across this book, the title of which I no longer remember. While it looked a little boring, I read it nevertheless, and discovered that it was actually very good. Very romantic. And I know I re-read it later on, as I always thought of it as a ‘proper book.’

Older and wiser, I discovered when looking at it again, that it had originally been published by Mills & Boon. Oh dear. Well, I had known no better. But it just went to prove that translating a book and giving it a cover that doesn’t hint at anything light or lurid, makes it look like a real novel.

Written by Mary Burchell (pen name) it featured a young secretary who tricked her boss to marry her. Obviously for all the right reasons, but he didn’t know that at the time. Being an honourable man, he did the honourable thing and married her, once she had been compromised (via a conveniently ‘faulty’ door handle). You can tell how much I remember, even this long after!

Anyway, they obviously fell in love. There were one or two misunderstandings, as there should be. It ended happily. One detail I often think of is how our heroine is chauffeur-driven to wave her new husband off as he travels the world on business, departing by boat from Southampton. The kindly chauffeur covers her with a travel rug, so she won’t feel the cold…

‘So where am I going with this?’ I hear you ask.

There was a short letter in the Guardian last week, telling us about the real Mary Burchell. She was really Ida Cook, and with her sister Mary Louise, she rescued refugees in the 1930s, financing the operation with money from writing those romances.

I now feel really proud of my early Mills & Boon author. I’m glad she did so well with her over one hundred romances, and that she used the money for a good cause. And I’ve never felt apologetic about reading that old, nameless, book. I enjoyed it, and it left a lasting impression on me. (Something which can’t be said of the countless romances I consumed at a later stage.)

And as the writer of the letter said, who’d have thought that eighty years later we’d still need Safe Passage?

(I believe it was Wife to Christopher, from 1936.)