Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Bolter by Frances Osborne: A Real-Life Fascinating Train Wreck


I first heard the nickname "The Bolter" back when I read Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, which I loved. In that story, the narrator, cousin to a family of eccentric sisters loosely based on the Mitfords, has been abandoned by her mother, who has "bolted" to live with her lover, or new husband, or something like that.  Anyway, Mitford was inspired by an actual bolter -- the infamous Idina Sackville, a socialite who left her husband and two small sons to live in Kenya with the scandalous Happy Valley set: rich white settlers who drank, did drugs, and took multiple lovers between the wars. Idina married and divorced five times and was possibly the most famous of them all. 

Married at just twenty, Idina left her first husband to marry another man and start over in Kenya because of her husband's infidelities. Apparently it was extremely common for the British aristocrats (both men and women -- as long as the women had produced "an heir and a spare") to take multiple lovers, as long nobody talked about it publicly or had the poor taste to file for divorce, thus making it common knowledge. But when Idina's husband fell in love with her younger sister's best friend, she decided she would rather leave her sons (who could never be raised by another man) and start over in a new country. However, the wild behavior of the upper crust was even worse in the colonies. One of her ex-husbands was almost killed by his new lover in an unsuccessful murder/suicide, and her third ex-husband was eventually shot and killed by the jealous husband of his then lover. 

Dina with her third husband, Josslyn Hay, Lord Errol.
He was later shot and killed by his lover's husband.
All this made the news and was naturally terribly scandalous, both in Kenya and back in Britain. After she left her first husband, Idina wasn't allowed to contact her two young sons and didn't see either of them until they were in college. She had a daughter by her third husband, who was sent back to England to live with family there, and eventually became estranged because Idina's behavior and multiple marriages were just too scandalous. She did have stepchildren by her fourth husband that she loved very much, but eventually that husband also left her to marry another woman, taking those  children with him to South Africa. 

Idina's life was really tragic and quite fascinating, in a trainwreck sort of way. I had a hard time with her leaving her small children behind, but then of course I can't imagine what it would be like to have my husband having an affair with my sister's best friend either. (I guess I'm just not cut out for that crazy lifestyle.) She had to have known that eventually her bad behavior would eventually cut her off from her family, but she kept on doing it. 

Portrait of Idina by Sir William Orpen.
The Bolter was written by Frances Osborne, Idina's great-granddaughter by one of the sons of her first marriage. I can definitely imagine that having such an infamous ancestor would inspire you to write a book. I did enjoy this book though I have a few quibbles -- mainly that the author seemed to take a few liberties with the narrative of the story. Osborne writes about what Idina is thinking and feeling, or describes exactly what she does, without source material. But it's a pretty riveting story, though I did want to jump back in time and yell at her. I was also imagining Lady Mary from Downton Abbey though Idina was way more scandalous -- why hasn't this been turned into a miniseries? 

This is my first book completed for the TBR Pile Challenge 2019.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I Am a Camera by John Van Druten: Not Just Cabaret Without Music


In the past few years I've discovered how much I enjoy the theater. I do love movies, but there is something indescribable about seeing a live performance. I've been trying to see at least one play whenever I visit my daughter in New York, and since we've lived in Europe I've made a few trips to London, and I try to see shows on the West End as well (you can get half-price tickets the same day as a performance, and everything is first-rate). There is an excellent English-language theater in Frankfurt, which is just over an hour's drive away from me, and every season one of the four or five plays they perform is a musical. This year it's Cabaret, which I had never seen. I got tickets for myself and my daughter and we went to see it after Christmas. 

I also realized that my reading of classics is woefully lacking in plays, so I decided to add that category this year to the Back to the Classics Challenge. Written in 1951, I Am a Camera is the original play which was later adapted as the musical version of Cabaret. I was really quite surprised to see how much the musical differed from the original play (which was itself adapted from Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin). 

The original play is in three acts, set in Berlin in 1930. All of the action takes place in a boarding house owned by Fraulein Schneider, in a room first rented by a struggling writer named Christopher Isherwood. The title of the play comes from the first line of the novel Christopher is trying to write:

I am a camera, with its shutter open, quite passive. Some day all of this will have to be developed, printed, fixed.

Isherwood takes English-language pupils to pay the rent, but since he's nearly broke he moves to a smaller room. Through one of his students, Fritz, he meets Sally Bowles, an English cabaret singer. She's looking for a new place to live and takes over his old room, and they become friends. 

Sally lives a rather fast life, and always seems to be hungover, struggling for money, and though she and Christopher never become romantically involved, he's always there for her. He observes the highs and lows of her life over the course of about a year, with the looming backdrop of growing anti-Semitism and the Nazi party. 


If you've seen the musical, you might be surprised at how it's changed from the original play. Some of the major plot points about Sally are there, but in the musical, she and Christopher become lovers. All the scenes in the original play take place in the boarding house -- there's nothing in the cabaret and in fact, Sally is hardly working as a singer at all. 


In the musical, the landlady has a sweet but probably doomed romance with one of the boarders, a Jewish fruit-seller, which isn't in the story at all -- she's actually anti-Semitic. There's also a sub-plot in the play about Christopher's student Fritz, and his love for a Jewish girl Natalia, the daughter of a department store owner; and there's an interesting plot twist about Sally in the third act. 


Despite the changes, I do feel like the musical captured the characters of Sally and Christopher, and their struggles and feelings of desperation in prewar Berlin. The growing threat of the Nazis and the rise of Fascism is equally present in both versions -- it's not exactly the focus of either story, but it's definitely an important factor. I really liked both versions -- the English Theater in Frankfurt is first-rate, and I'm hoping to see more plays there this year before I return back to the U.S. 




Here's the video preview of the production in Frankfurt. 

I was also very happy to find an online version of the script for I am a Camera through a website called Archive.org -- anyone can sign up for an free account and check out digital content, from libraries worldwide. I've just started using it but I've been able to get some items that I would normally have found through Inter-Library Loan, which is tough to get overseas. I highly recommend it if you have trouble finding rare items. 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Alexander's Bridge: For the Hard-Core Willa Cather Fan


Last year I waited until the bitter end to complete my own reading challenge, and I am determined that I'll read way ahead this year for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I have thrown myself headfirst into my TBR piles this year and have already completed three books for the two challenges for which I've signed up (BTCC and the TBR Pile Challenge). 

Published in 1912, Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather is her first novel, and the last of hers for me to complete (except for the short stories). It is the story of Bartley Alexander, a successful American engineer, famous for creating unbuildable bridges. The story begins in Boston, where an old schoolmate Lucius Wilson has come to visit. Wilson meets Alexander's beautiful and gracious wife Winifred, and learns all about Alexander's success and how they met while he was building a famous bridge in Canada, his first big break. 

Soon after, Alexander travels to London for work, where he is reunited with an old flame, an Irish actress named Hilda Burgoyne. They had been madly in love years ago, but Alexander broke things off when he met and married Winifred. Hilda has now become very successful and she and Alexander keep meeting. One thing leads to another and soon they're having an affair which lasts off and on for several years, as Alexander travels back and forth between London and America, working on various jobs. The bridges that he builds are a metaphor for his struggles to connect his two lives. He loves both women and can't bear the thought of living without either of them. 

The book started out a little slowly but picked up when Alexander went to London and met up with Hilda. I think I appreciated it more because I've been to London a few times since moving overseas, and have been able to go to some of the theaters in the West End, so I could really picture that part of the story. The plot is very simple, but I didn't find the characters as compelling as in some of her later novels like Lucy Gayheart which I read last year. (Of course it's Cather's first novel and so it's not surprising.) I did find some of the writing beautiful and insightful. 

This was a very quick read -- I literally read this entire book in one sitting on an airplane (and it was a fairly short flight). It's not my favorite by Willa Cather but if you're a fan of her work, it's worth reading. 

I'm counting this as my Classic Novella for the Back to the Classics Challenge. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Back to the Classics 2018: The Winner


Sorry for taking so long to post this (I've been traveling and it's nearly impossible to edit posts without my laptop). But without further ado, the winner of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 is.  .  .  . 


Allison @ Climbing Mount To Be Read !!!!!!!!!!!!


Allison won a $30 gift card from Amazon.com! Congratulations! And many thanks and congratulations to everyone who participated in this challenge -- more than 180 people signed up, and 55 people completed the challenge. Most of them finished all twelve categories, a record! 

And every one of us crossed a bunch of classic books off our to-read lists! I hope everyone enjoyed all the new books and authors they discovered. I hope all everyone has signed up for the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge -- I'm already working on my new reading list and can't wait to see what everyone else is reading! 

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic Play


Please link your reviews for the Classic Play here. This is only for the Classic Play category. This includes any play that was written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible in this category only.

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section. If you like, you can include the name of your blog and or/the title of the book in your link, like this: " Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (A Raisin in the Sun)."

Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic From a Place You've Lived


Please link your reviews for the Classic From a Place You've Lived here. This is only for the Classics From a Place You've Lived category. This includes any classic set in a city, county, state, or country in which you've lived, or by a local author. Examples for me would include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany).

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section. If you like, you can include the name of your blog and or/the title of the book in your link, like this: " Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Cross Creek)."

Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic From Africa, Asia or Oceania


Please link your reviews for the Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia) here.  This is only for the Classics From Africa, Asia, or Oceania category. This includes any classic set in Africa, Asia, Oceania, or Australia, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); and On the Beach by Nevil Shute (Australia). 

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section. If you like, you can include the name of your blog and or/the title of the book in your link, like this: " Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Things Fall Apart). 

Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic From the Americas or Caribbean


Please link your reviews for the Classic From the Americas or Caribbean here. This is only for the Classics From the Americas or Caribbean category. This includes any classic set in either North or South America or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude (Columbia/South America). 

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section. If you like, you can include the name of your blog and or/the title of the book in your link, like this: " Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (In Patagonia). 



Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic Novella


Please link your reviews for your Classic Novella here. This is only for the Classic Novella category. This includes any single work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages. 
   
If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Ethan Frome)." 


Challenge Link-Up Post: Very Long Classic


Please link your reviews for your Very Long Novel Here here. This is only for the Very Long Novel category.  This category is classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.
   
If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (War and Peace)." 




Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic Tragic Novel


Please link your reviews for your Classic Tragic Novel here.  This is only for the Classic Tragic Novel category. This is basically any novel with a tragic or sad ending. 
   
If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Jude the Obscure)." 


Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic Comic Novel


Please link your reviews for your Classic Comic Novel here.  This is only for the Classic Comic Novel category. This can be any novel that is humorous or satirical; since humor is subjective, it's up to the reader to decide. If you think Crime and Punishment is funny, go ahead and use it, but please explain why in your post.
   
If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Three Men in a Boat)." 


Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic in Translation


Please link your reviews for your Classic in Translation here.  This is only for the Classic in Translation category.  These should all be classics that were originally written in a language other than your primary language; that is, if you are a native English speaker, it should be a classic written in another language other than English.  If you are not a native English speaker, it could be in English (or any other language, other than your primary language). If you want to read the book in its original language, that's fine too!

If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Les Miserables)."


Challenge Link-Up Post: Classic by a Woman Author


Please link your reviews for your Classic by a Woman Author here.  This is only for the Classic by a Woman Author category.  If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section. If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Jane Eyre)."

Challenge Link-Up Post: 20th Century Classic


Please link your reviews for your 20th Century Classic here.  This is only for the 20th Century Classic category.  All books in this category must have been published between 1900 and 1969 to qualify as classics (except for posthumous publications.  If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Gone With the Wind)."

Challenge Link-Up Post: 19th Century Classic


Please link your reviews for your 19th Century Classic here.  This is only for the 19th Century Classic category.  All books in this category must have been published from 1800 to 1899.   If you do not have a blog, or somewhere public on the internet where you post book reviews, please write your mini-review/thoughts in the comments section.  If you like, you can include the name of your blog and/or the title of the book in your link, like this: "Karen K. @ Books and Chocolate (Cranford)."

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

TBR Pile Challenge 2019: My List



After much agonizing, I have finally settled on a list of books for the 2019 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Adam of Roof Beam Reader. I decided to go with all non-fiction this year after realizing how few non-fiction books I'd completed last year (only 7/100, pathetically small). 


So here are my choices, a mixture of memoirs, biographies, and social history.


Here are the titles, in case you can't read them (not in the same order as pictured):
  1. An Unlikely Countess: Lily Budge and the 13th Earl of Galloway by Louise Carpenter 
  2. One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens
  3. Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood 
  4. Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham
  5. Slipstream by Elizabeth Jane Howard 
  6. A London Family 1870-1900 by Mollie Hughes 
  7. Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester 
  8. Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee 
  9. Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" Letters, 1936 to 1949, 
  10. The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson 
  11. Millions Like Us: Women's Lives in War and Peace by Virginia Nicholson 
  12. The Bolter by Frances Osborne. Completed 1/08/19.
Alternates:

Period Piece by Gwen Raverat 
Bluestockings by Jane Robinson

So that's my list -- some very long (the Wharton bio is more than 700 pages!); some short, and I've wanted to read all of them for a long time! All of them were written by women, except for The GWTW Letters which is edited by a man (Margaret Mitchell wrote all the letters). 

So what do you think of my list? And which one should I read first? Bloggers, are you signed up for the TBR Pile Challenge? What's on your list?