I go through stages of reading books – for months I read nothing and then suddenly I get the bug and read book after book. This time the book that got me started again was Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
It’s a classic that has sat unread on my bookshelf for years and I’ve never been tempted. I saw the film years ago and thought I knew what to expect. I didn’t enjoy the film at all – it was overlong, dull and I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters. With the comparative sizes of the book (thick) and text (tiny) I also thought it would be a hard slog.
Well, now I’ve read it, and yes it’s epic, but in the best possible sense. I felt that it really transported me to the Deep South during the Civil War, and it genuinely conveyed what life was like; the attitudes and feelings of the people; and how a way of life was drastically changed. The selfish and annoying Scarlett O’Hara from the film comes alive on paper, and becomes someone to admire for her strength of will and her passion. It’s also incredibly romantic in a way that today’s disposable chick lit could never hope to replicate. I feel that I’ve gained an understanding about a time and place in history and with it a genuine desire to learn more about it to gain more perspective on the context of the story.
I would absolutely recommend this book – reading it has genuinely been an experience. I know it was a special book because I’m still thinking about it weeks later, and there aren’t many books that I can say that about. I want to read more books like this, where the writing is so evocative that I’m transported to a different time and place, and where the setting itself somehow becomes the star.
I followed this by reading Danielle Steele’s Granny Dan. I chose it because it was the story of a ballet dancer, and it promised similar things – an epic setting (Imperial Russia); a time of political unrest and radical change (the revolution); and an intriguing human story full of love and loss.
Taking the form of a story within a story I liked how it started, with a woman mourning her recently deceased grandmother and celebrating all the ways she was unique, but wondering about all the secrets she’d kept hidden from her time as a prima ballerina in Russia before she came to live in America. It then goes on to tell the story of “Granny Dan” from the beginning.
But in the end I was incredibly disappointed. In comparison to Gone With The Wind it was one-dimensional and contrived. The potential was so great for an epic historical romance and one that I should love – I love ballet, I’m interested in Imperial Russia, I love a good romance – but it was quite a short book and everything that was remotely interesting was pretty much skimmed over in favour of repetitive love passages that themselves lacked any depth. I don’t think I got a feel for what Russia was like around the time of the revolution, nor did I feel that much was conveyed about what life in a ballet company was like. In fact it felt as though there was very little factual foundation in terms of ballet terminology or historical reference. I probably could have written something similar myself from my pre-existing knowledge with no background research at all. Maybe this is what she did(?). I read it quickly because I was bored wanted it to be over.
So what to read next? I’d welcome any recommendations of books that you felt were really memorable, that really hooked you in and where you genuinely cared about the characters. Any suggestions??