John Fowles - The French Lieutenant's Woman
Like other readers before me, I thought I was picking up a historical romance, fuelled by the iconic image of the woman (Meryl Streep) standing, windswept by the sea in the film version (which I haven't seen).
Yes... and no, no, no. Written in 1969, this is on one level a Victorian, very Hardy-esque (deliberately, given that it's set in Dorset), emotional novel about a gentleman who considers himself modern, yet finds his life upended and his mores challenged when he becomes infatuated with an 'outcast' woman, while engaged to an icon of young, pure Victorian womanhood. At the same time, the novel has an omniscient narrator ever ready to remind us that he is only pretending to be a Victorian author, and who steps in to analyse both the Victorian age and the conventions of Victorian novels. The technical term for this is, I understand, metafiction (a novel aware of its own fictional status). At this point, you are probably scrabbling for your TBR list, or scrolling down the page. I loved it. Definitely one of the best novels I have read this year.
Nancy Warren - The Vampire Knitting Club
It was free, so, with a title like that, how could I resist? It also has a bonus kitten (I mean, not literally, though my family would appreciate that). It was professionally written and engaging, but, and I say this without irony, it lacked soul. I might, however, read another in the series if I didn't have to pay for it.
Sue Monk Kidd - The Invention of Wings
I get to feel a little smug here, because I actually knew about Sarah Grimke, the American abolitionist and women's rights campaigner whose story is fictionalized in this novel. Sarah's progress from plantation owner's daughter to abolitionist is told in tandem with that of Handful Grimke, based very loosely on the slave girl Sarah was given for her eleventh birthday. Kidd does a worthy job of bringing to life Southern women whose stories deserve telling - slaves and the free women who risked both social standing and their personal safety to confront the status quo. Personally, I thought this novel was more mature than The Secret Life of Bees.
Dorothy L. Sayers - Clouds of Witness and Unnatural Death
I wasn't overly taken with the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Whose Body?, but I returned to the series, and really got into the second one, maybe because the cast was now familiar. After that, I went straight on and read the third. Sayers' gentleman sleuth solves two rather different mysteries in these novels. In the first, his brother is accused of shooting his sister's fiance; in the second, a chance meeting with a young doctor leads to his attempt to uncover the 'perfect' crime. (Sensitive readers be warned, Unnatural Death uses the N-word several times.)
Wishing American readers a Happy Thanksgiving (that's the American holiday I loved best when I lived there), and happy reading to all.