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Two Disappointing Novels: ‘Rose Under Glass’ and ‘Ghosted’

Rose Under Glass by Elizabeth Berridge **

I have waxed lyrical about Elizabeth Berridge since discovering her work back in 2020. I have been delighted and charmed by her novels and novellas, and expected the same feelings to continue as I worked my way through her oeuvre. Sadly, this was not to be. On picking up Rose Under Glass, which was first published in 1961, right in the middle of Berridge’s writing career, I found a story and a set of characters which were sadly most underwhelming.

Set in London’s ‘colonies of artists and writers’ in the late 1950s, Rose Under Glass centres upon Penelope Hinton, who has recently been widowed. Her husband, a famous artist named Jamie, was struck by a lorry after watching a cricket match: ‘… and the third day’s play still to go. That last thought worried her long after the funeral was over: he would never know the result of the match.’ Something which also – for some reason – ‘amazed and affronted’ Penelope was that a fortune-teller had predicted just this occurrence a little while beforehand.

What follows for Penelope is a desert of loneliness, as the majority of her friends belonged to herself and Jamie, and her three children live away from home. Berridge comments: ‘It was the first time that loneliness came to mean more to her than a word read, an emotion other than intellectually felt. She seemed to be the walking embodiment of it, the smell of it was sharp on her, and she developed an extra awareness. She could smell it on other people, like a secret illness, see the hollowness and fear behind walking, talking shapes… It frightened her into madness.’ At this point of the novel, I had high hopes, thinking that Berridge would provide an astute exploration of Penelope’s new state, and the toll which it had upon her. However, Rose Under Glass soon spirals into something else entirely.

Penelope meets Pye Rumpelow, the interestingly named proprietor of a chain of launderettes; he is immediately intrigued by her, and a strange – and not altogether believable – relationship is soon built between the pair. There is also another part of the story which I disliked, and could not suspend my belief enough to invest in. This occurs when Penelope decides, for no particular reason, to leave the flat which she and Jamie shared, inviting Jamie’s illegitimate son, Spencer, who lives in the Wales countryside with his wife and two young children, to move in. Spencer’s wife, Nika, was the only character who seemed to have some heart and realism to her, and the only one in which I felt a sustained interest in throughout. I soon lost my sympathy for Penelope, who acted merely upon strange whims, and relied upon everyone around her far too much. As Penelope does, the majority of the characters in this novel felt more like caricatures than sharply drawn, three-dimensional individuals; strange, as this is something Berridge usually excels at.

For me, the story in Rose Under Glass was far less compelling than I was expecting, particularly from an author whose work I so often admire. This story in particular seems to show its age; it feels almost musty in places. There is a lot about it which also seems forced; it is as though Berridge wanted to insert some kind of drama into the plot, but almost did not know quite how to go about it, and went much too far in consequence. I thought that an extended portrait of a woman grieving after her husband’s untimely death could hardly have failed to be poignant and moving – but somehow, this is exactly what Rose Under Glass fails at.

Ghosted by Jenn Ashworth ***

I have read most of Jenn Ashworth’s books to date, and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. I was therefore quite excited when I found out that she was releasing a new novel, 2021’s Ghosted. I did not even read the book’s blurb before requesting it from my local library, which is testament to how much I like her writing. However, upon reading the novel, I must say that I feel rather disappointed.

When, on an ordinary morning Laurie’s husband Mark disappears in the northern English city they call home, she tells nobody. She carries on as normal, spending this time carrying on with her cleaning job at a local University, and visiting her increasingly confused father. Laurie drinks too much, and does not take care of herself. She has very few close connections, and it is clear that an unspoken event in the recent past has had an enormously negative effect upon her.

When she does report Mark missing, nine weeks after his disappearance, the police are highly suspicious. The account which she gives of events raise further questions. She reflects: ‘I promised them I didn’t know anything that would help them. I emphasised again: his mood was unremarkable. Our interaction was commonplace: one morning in an entire series of them.’

Ghosted feels lacklustre, particularly as it reaches its conclusion. I found myself expecting a certain ending, which happened exactly as I had envisaged. There was none of the surprise here which I have found in Ashworth’s other books, most notably in A Kind of Intimacy and Fell. I found Ghosted to be quite obvious, and the denouement fell short of what I expect from Ashworth’s writing.

The blurb of Ghosted, and many of the reviews, mention the ‘dark humour’ within it, but I did not find this to be the case at all. Ordinarily, I really enjoy books which feature unreliable narrators, but I did not believe in Laurie at all. As the narrative went on, I found myself less and less interested in her, and she did not feel three-dimensional enough to carry such a story.

I must stress that I did not hate Ghosted. It was fine as a novel, but if this was the first of Ashworth’s books which I had read, I doubt that I would have been hugely keen to pick up anything from her back catalogue.

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The Book Trail: From Roundabouts to Mountains

For the start of this edition of The Book Trail, I have chosen a quirky novel which I reviewed back in April, and very much enjoyed.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads in order to generate this list.

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1. The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
‘Who is the Roundabout Man?  He doesn’t look like a tramp, yet he lives on a roundabout in a caravan and survives on the leftovers from a nearby motorway service station. He calls himself Quinn, the name of a boy in a world-famous series of children’s books, but he’s nearer retirement than childhood.  What he hopes no one will discover is that he’s the real Quinn, immortalised as a child by his mother in her entrancing tales about a little boy’s adventures with his triplet sisters. It is this inheritance he has successfully run away from – until now. When Quinn’s reclusive existence is invaded, he has to turn and face his past, and all the uncomfortable truths it contains about himself, his sisters and, most of all, his mother.’

 

2. The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth
‘It’s Friday in the Leeke household, but this is no ordinary Friday: the Leekes are Lancastrian Mormons and tonight they will be welcoming back their son Gary from his two-year mission in Utah. His mother, Pauline, wants his homecoming to be perfect. Unfortunately, no one else seems to be following the script.  In turn, the members of the family let us into their private thoughts and plans. There’s teenage Jeannie, wrestling with a disastrous secret; her peculiar elder brother, Julian, who’s plotting an exit according to his own warped logic; their father, Martin, dreaming of escape; and ‘golden boy’ Gary, who dreads his return. Then there’s Pauline, who needs a doctor’s help but won’t ask for it.  As the day progresses, a meltdown looms. Except that nothing goes according to anyone’s plan, and the outcome is as unexpected as it is shocking. Laced with black humour and giving an unusual insight into the Mormon way of life, this is a superbly orchestrated and arresting tale of human folly and foibles and what counts in times of crisis.’

 

3. Idiopathy by Sam Byers 16066898
Idiopathy: a novel as unexpected as its title, in which Katherine, Daniel, and Nathan—three characters you won’t forget in a hurry—unsuccessfully try to figure out how they feel about one another and how they might best live their lives in a world gone mad. Featuring a mysterious cattle epidemic, a humiliating stint in rehab, an unwanted pregnancy, a mom–turned–media personality (“Mother Courage”), and a workplace with a bio-dome housing a perfectly engineered cornfield, it is at once a scathing satire and a moving meditation on love and loneliness. With unusual verbal finesse and great humor, Sam Byers neatly skewers the tangled relationships and unhinged narcissism of a self-obsessed generation in a remarkable, uproarious first novel.’

 

4. The Professor of Poetry by Grace McCleen
‘A poem wrapped in brown paper. A man, a woman, a city, and a past that must not be remembered.  Elizabeth Stone, a respected academic, has a new lease on life. In remission from cancer, she returns to the city where she was a student over thirty years ago to investigate some little-known papers by T. S. Eliot, which she believes contain the seeds of her masterpiece; a masterpiece that centres on a poem given to her when she was eighteen by the elusive Professor Hunt…  But as the days pass in the city she loves and her friendship with Professor Hunt is rekindled, her memories return her to a time shadowed by loneliness, longing and quiet despair, and to an undeclared but overwhelming love. Paralysed by the fear of writing something worthless, haunted by a sense of waste, Elizabeth Stone comes to realise she is facing the biggest test of her life.  As in her acclaimed debut The Land of Decoration, Grace McCleen gives an intense evocation of place, an unflinching portrayal of a character by turns comic, absurd, and disturbing, and a powerful sense of the transcendent within the ordinary. Profound and hypnotic, The Professor of Poetry devastates even as it exhilarates and echoes long after it has been closed.’

 

158144045. The Retrospective by A.B. Yehoshua
‘An aging Israeli film director has been invited to the pilgrimage city of Santiago de Compostela for a retrospective of his work. When Yair Moses and Ruth, his leading actress and longtime muse, settle into their hotel room, a painting over their bed triggers a distant memory in Moses from one of his early films: a scene that caused a rift with his brilliant but difficult screenwriter—who, as it happens, was once Ruth’s lover. Upon their return to Israel, Moses decides to travel to the south to look for his elusive former partner and propose a new collaboration. But the screenwriter demands a price for it that will have strange and lasting consequences.  A searching and original novel by one of the world’s most esteemed writers, The Retrospective is a meditation on mortality and intimacy, on the limits of memory and the struggle of artistic creation.’

 

6. Dolly City by Orly Castel-Bloom
‘A fable of the comic-horror of modern urban existence seen through the eyes of Doctor Dolly, a woman alone in an alienating city. Dolly mounts a solitary, crazy and comic protest against warmongers and bureaucrats, adopting a son along the way.’

 

7. Homesick by Eshkol Nevo 2210309
‘This heartwarming, charming and clever first novel dips into the lives of each of the inhabitants of a village in Israel.  It is 1995 and Noa and Amir, a student couple, have decided to move in together. Noa is studying photography in Jerusalem and Amir is a psychology student in Tel Aviv. They choose a small apartment in a village in the hills, midway between the two cities.  Originally called El-Kastel, the village was emptied of its Arab inhabitants in 1948 and is now the home of Jewish immigrants from Kurdistan. Not far from the apartment lives a family grieving for their eldest son who was killed in Lebanon. The younger brother left behind, Yotam, forgotten by his parents, turns to Amir for support.  Further down the street, Saddiq watches the house while he works at a building site. He knows that this house is the one from which his family was driven by the Jews when he was a boy, and to which his mother still has a rusty key. Despite friendships that develop and lives that become entwined, tensions among this melting pot of characters seem to be rising to the surface.  This enchanting and irresistible novel offers us windows into the characters’ lives. Each comes from somewhere different but we gradually see that there’s much about them that’s the same. Homesick is a beautiful and moving story about history, love, family and the true meaning of home.’

 

8. The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev
‘Set in a small rural village prior to the creation of the State of Israel, this funny and hugely imaginative book paints an extraordinary picture of a small community of Ukrainian immigrants as they pioneer a new life in a new land over three generations. Narrated by Baruch, a grandson of one of the founding fathers of the village, this lyrical novel transcends time and place by touching on issues of universal relevance, showcasing the skill of a master storyteller who never fails to entertain.’

 

 

Have you read any of these books?  Which is the most quirky book which you have read of late?

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