Month: October 2010

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Isn’t this portrait stunning? It was found recently in a Parisian apartment that had been locked up since the war, as its owner, a former demimondaine, as the French so nicely put it, never bothered to return once peace was declared. She died at the ripe old age of 91 a couple of months ago, and the executors of her estate discovered the existence of this palatial apartment that looked like Sleeping Beauty’s castle, left exactly as it was on the day it was abandoned. In a dusty corner was found the above portrait of her grandmother, a famous courtesan by the name of Marthe de Florian, painted by the legendary Boldini, who also painted one of my favourite portraits of all time. The painting, whose existence was unknown until the discovery, sold for a record 2.1million euros and how I wish it were in my possession; the life and vivacity of Marthe oozes from the canvas . Why I am prefacing a review of The Age of Innocence with this story, however, I hear you cry? Well, because when I read about the abandoned, cobweb filled room, frozen in time, it made me think of the absurdly rigid, old fashioned world of 1870s New York Edith Wharton describes, where modern ideas are resisted and tradition overcomes compassion. The inhabitants of this world may just as well be covered in cobwebs, as their lives are so sedate and uneventful that, despite their opulent surroundings, they appear colourless and motionless. It is a tragic tale that Edith Wharton weaves, but a gripping one at that, and I was absolutely memerised by it. This has become one of my favourite books of all time, and now I know I’ll never be able to get enough of Edith Wharton. She is sublime!

Newland Archer is a perfect product of Old New York; a member of one of the most prominent, historic families, he lives in the obligatory sumptuous brownstone on Fifth Avenue with his mild mannered mother and spinster sister, and languidly pursues the law as most gentlemen of his age and inherited wealth do. Newland is engaged to the young, beautiful, and equally impeccably bred May Welland, who is sweet and naive and always says and does the ‘right’ thing, as her similarly bland mother has taught her. Newland believes in the traditions and rites of the small and largely inbred society he lives within, and passionately defends any attempt to damage the thin web of social niceties and unspoken standards that holds his world together. No matter what, the rules of decency and honour have to be adhered to, regardless of what the individual may want. There is no place in Old New York for independent thinking, candid opinions, or passion. However, most of Old New York’s inhabitants have not the imagination or intelligence to know their lives lack these elements, and Newland Archer is one of them, until Countess Olenska arrives and turns his whole world on its head.

The Countess Olenska, May’s cousin, is a beautiful, vivacious, intelligent woman whose long period of living in more liberal European environs has made her innocent of the nonsensical, unspoken rules of the society she has reentered, and incapable of maintaining the shallow facade of her female relatives. She returns to New York after a 12 year absence, having left her brutish husband behind and bringing with her an air of scandal and intrigue that makes her an initial outcast, despite her being the granddaughter of the Dowager Empress of New York society, the grossly overweight and housebound Catherine Mingott. She speaks her mind, throws caution to the wind, does what she likes and refuses to bow down to the pressure of her social circle. Newland finds himself irresistably drawn to this woman, whose candidness opens his eyes to the hypocrisies and absurd conventions of the world he lives in.

Next to Ellen, May looks like a marble statue, deaf, dumb and blind to the world and all of its possibilites, and Ellen represents a life of colour,  spontaneity and vibrancy that Newland has never experienced but desperately wants. The pair strike up a friendship that is made stronger through Newland’s legal firm’s involvement in her divorce proceedings. However, Newland is forced, by his own realisation of how Ellen will be treated if she dares to divorce her husband, to advise Ellen against it, and she, trusting him implicitly, agrees. For Newland, this is the equivalent of signing his own death warrant; bound to marry May now there is no chance of Ellen ever being free, he sees, with despair, the long years of marriage to a woman with no mind of her own and no spirit stretching before him, dooming him to a life of quiet misery. Ellen leaves town and Newland marries May, but a year after their wedding, Ellen comes back, and this time, Newland is determined he won’t let Ellen go. However, running away from the only world he has ever known will not prove to be as easy as Newland hopes, and nor is May as blind as he thinks…

This plot summary cannot hope to conjure up the sheer depth of emotion, of pain, and of sheer frustration Wharton manages to communicate in this magnificent novel of thwarted dreams, despairing disillusionment and unbearable regrets. Newland and Ellen share a love that enables each of them to be the best people they can be, fulfilled intellectually, emotionally and socially, and that they cannot be together is just as unbearable for the reader as it is for the characters. May is neither clever nor truthful; only rarely does she show a spirit that reveals a depth of feeling, and that spirit soon dies in the face of convention and social expectations. Their life together is one of unspoken frustration and dull routine, and the initial ardour Newland felt for May had faded long before their perfect wedding day. Both Newland and Ellen are crushed by the power of the society neither of them have the courage to truly turn their backs upon, and their passion and misery is truly heartbreaking to read about. Products of a world where dignity and honour are everything, and the consequences of a transgression can destroy an entire family’s reputation for generations to come, every action has to be governed by a strict moral code that allows for no deviation from the social norm. Those with the misfortune to possess independent minds and roving hearts are either ostracised or forced to live in a prison of their own making, and it is this prison that Newland occupies after his marriage to May, forever locked out from the life of richness and adventure he once imagined he might have.

The most devastating aspect of the entire novel, however, comes at the end, when Newland is speaking to his now grown son, who is marrying the daughter of a formerly disgraced banker who, in Newland’s day, it would have been unthinkable for an Archer to be associated with. In just a generation, the strict standards that prevented Newland and Ellen’s happiness have been torn down, and everything Newland sacrificed himself for has become irrelevant and pointless, laughed at by the liberated children of those whose youths were bound by the convention of Old New York.

This novel is exquisite, and moved me immensely, as I thought about all the people in the generations before mine whose lives have been dictated by a society that didn’t allow them the freedom they longed for. The Age of Innocence is so dense and rich and multilayered and fascinating; I genuinely couldn’t put it down, and felt bereft when I had finished. Edith Wharton was a master; a genius, even – of characterisation, and every page sizzles with the intensity of the doomed love affair between Newton and Ellen. If you haven’t read this yet, make it the very next book you read; I promise you won’t regret it. Last night I watched the Scorsese movie and was once again blown away by the magnificence of the story Wharton created; do watch the film, it’s an excellent adaptation, and very faithful to the novel. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes, which sent a shiver down my spine:

“It would presently be his task to take the bandage from this young woman’s eyes, and bid her look forth on the world. But how many generations of the women who had gone to her making had descended bandaged to the family vault? He shivered a little, remembering some of the new ideas in his scientific books, and the much-cited instance of the Kentucky cave-fish, which had ceased to develop eyes because they had no use for them. What if, when he had bidden May Welland to open hers, they could only look out blankly at blankness?”

*Updated to add: KarenLibrarian is the winner of The Girls from Winnetka! Please email me to arrange to have it sent out!*


The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty


I didn’t mean to have a week of reading books about the South by women from the South, but it just so happened that I took both Kaye Gibbons and Eudora Welty novels out of the library at the same time, and once I had got the taste of bourbon in my mouth I wanted more. Reading these two women, more than a generation apart, but writing about the same region, was incredibly interesting.  The close, almost stifling, family ties were the same in Sights Unseen as they are in The Optimist’s Daughter, and both novels also feature close knit communities, echoey old houses, eccentric characters and uncomfortable parental relationships. The influence of the culture, traditions and behavioural patterns of the South were unmissable in both, and reading them so close together made me realise just how marked the Southern identity is when compared to reading something set in, say, Boston, or New York. This has really interested me and I can see this leading off into a tangent of reading Southern novels. I already have Ellen Glasgow on my radar; I understand she was the doyenne of Southern fiction in her day, and I am looking forward to discovering her work.

Anyway, I digress. I have been meaning to read Eudora Welty for a long while, and I am very glad I finally did. Like Kaye Gibbons, she writes in a dreamy, haunting, beautifully descriptive prose that takes you to the balmy skys and weathered porches of Mississippi, where Laurel, ‘The Optimist’s Daughter’ of the title, returns after her father, Judge McKelva, unexpectedly dies after a routine operation. Laurel has already lost her husband and mother, and in early middle age, she lives alone in Chicago, many miles from her roots in rural Mississippi. When she comes to see her ailing father before his death in New Orleans, where he has travelled to be operated on by an old family friend, she meets her new stepmother, Fay, whose stupidity and selfishness is offensive and incomprehensible next to the intelligence, beauty and class of Becky, her deceased mother. Judge McKelva, a highly respected and formidable man, well loved by all of the townspeople, is feared to have lost his judgement in recent years, and Laurel can only agree as she watches the vain and spiteful behaviour of her stepmother worsen every day. Judge McKelva never recovers from his surgery, and the grieving Laurel and hysterical Fay, who can only whine over how Judge McKelva’s death has inconvenienced her, travel back to Laurel’s childhood home in the small town of Mount Salus to hold his funeral.

On arrival in Mount Salus, Laurel is treated like the prodigal daughter by her old friends and neighbours, including her bridesmaids and friends of her parents. Wrapped up in their comforting arms and drawn back into the small, loving community she left behind, Laurel finds solace in her grief, and the opportunity to reminisce about her parents and the life they shared together in the house that Fay has already begun to desecrate. In the meantime, the detestable Fay continues to make a show of herself, and when her loud, abrasive and idiotic Texan relatives show up for the Judge’s funeral, her destruction of the sanctity of Laurel’s memories appears complete. However, in her vapidity and mean mindedness, Fay is unable to release that she has no empathy and no ability to truly love, and Laurel’s understanding of the richness of a life filled with love and treasured memories can never be destroyed by her, no matter how hard she might try to take everything Laurel holds dear. Though Laurel chooses to leave behind Mount Salus, she carries everyone in it, and the experiences she had while there, in her heart, and it is this realisation that memories and love are held not in other people or in possessions, but in her own body and soul, that gives Laurel the freedom to move on and begin again.

The Optimist’s Daughter is the sort of novel that people who like plots complain about, because nothing of note really happens. However, in charting the journey from Laurel’s raw grief and anger to emotional freedom and forgiveness, Welty has drawn a remarkably succint and moving portrait of love, memory and grace that gave me much food for thought and truly moved me. Laurel’s exploration of her parents’ relationship, of her mother’s last days, and of the love their house contained, was so powerful, and so vivid. Welty’s haunting scenes of Laurel systematically destroying material objects that belonged to her parents and husband initially shocked me, and I failed to understand the point she was making. However, on re-reading, I came to understand that she was showing how unnecessary things are when all is said and done; for what do they mean when the person who gave them meaning has gone, never to return? Instead, they gather dust in forgotten drawers and cupboards and become nothing to those who find them again. Rather than clutter her life with the relics of a past that is done with, and that has been sullied by Fay’s influence, in destroying what was her anchor to her past, Laurel has been freed to carry her love and memories in her heart rather than in her hands. This gives her the permission she needs to leave Mount Salus behind; with nothing to tie her there anymore, now that Fay is living in her parents’ house, she can live the life of her own choosing.

This whisper-light, brief beauty of a novel is astounding when considering the true weight of the messages it carries. Eudora Welty had a formidable talent, and I was in awe at how magnificently she portrayed the warmth and conviviality of the Southern psyche when compared to the coarse and inconsiderate behaviour of Wanda ‘Fay’ and her family, who strike such a discordant note in the novel that I cringed when they appeared on the page. The world she describes comes alive off the pages, and the delicately, exquisitely drawn character of the tender yet brave Laurel, bowed down but not defeated by the slew of painful losses she experiences, was a true delight to discover. I can’t praise this gem of a novel enough, and Welty is another new discovery I will definitely be exploring more of.

Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons

The New York Public Library is my new best friend. On a Tuesday after work I usually pop into the Mid Manhattan branch to change my books, and I enjoy spending a pleasant twenty minutes or so choosing my reading material for the next week. The joy of using the library rather than buying books in a shop is that I am free to try a variety of books outside of my usual favourite genres and authors without worrying whether I will have wasted my money, because I don’t have to spend any! Last week I was in the G section looking for Ellen Foster, and they didn’t have it. In fact, they had every Kaye Gibbons book BUT Ellen Foster. So, I took a chance and picked up Sights Unseen, as its southern setting and mother-daughter relationship topic sounded interesting and non demanding. I was right about the interesting part, but totally wrong about the non demanding; though it’s a short book that I read in just a couple of days, it was so rich and emotive and fascinating that I ended up using far more brain power in absorbing it and thinking about it than I had expected. Kaye Gibbons’ writing style is strangely addictive, and engrossing, and I am now eager to try the other novels of hers that sit on the library shelves.

Sights Unseen is the story of Maggie Barnes’ manic depression and the struggle of her family to cope with it, told through the eyes of her now adult daughter Hattie. After fifteen years of recovery and a happy, full life, Maggie suddenly dies falling down stairs, and Hattie, her father and brother, feel great anger and sorrow at losing the woman they loved when she was enjoying her life to the full and looking forward to so much. This prompts Hattie to look back and consider the often painful childhood she experienced in having a manic depressive for a mother, and now she is a mother herself, she considers how Maggie must have felt in being unable to connect with and enjoy the family life Hattie does. Moments that most marked the family’s life are described in searing detail, and Hattie grows to view these events not from her then childish eyes, but from her mother’s, enabling her to feel compassion where before there was just disappointment and anger.

The Barnes family lived in a small, tight knit North Carolina town in the 1950s, where Mr Barnes, Hattie’s father, was a prominent citizen and very wealthy. Maggie and Frederick, Hattie’s parents, are very much in love, and Frederick is devoted to his vibrant, intelligent wife. When she gradually begins to display manic symptoms, he does everything he can, with the help of his father, who also adores Maggie, to keep her in check and safe from harm, but after Hattie’s birth, the situation gets so bad that they struggle to control her. Pearl, a black servant with knowledge of how to take care of mentally disturbed charges, is taken on to look after Maggie and the children, and she becomes a calming influence in the house, and a mother to the children Maggie is completely unable to care for.

Hattie keenly feels the loss of the type of mother she wishes she had, and the childhood she knows, even at a young age, she is missing out on. Unlike her school friends, she can’t have friends over after school or host birthday parties and sleepovers; in fear of exposing her mother’s true condition to the world, all people outside of the family must be kept away. Hattie doesn’t get hugs or kisses from her mother; they don’t bake together or share secrets or go shopping for clothes; all of these activities are done by Pearl, who becomes the mother Maggie’s illness has prevented her from being. Freddy, Hattie’s older brother, deals with the situation by lashing out at his mother and hiding in his room, where he buries himself in his school work. On the rare occasions when Maggie is lucid, she does her best to become the ‘real mother’ she so obviously wants to be, but this isn’t good enough for Freddy, who has grown to hate his mother and the damage she has done to their family, and Hattie can’t enjoy it, frozen with fear that she will return from school to find her mother mad again.

As the years go by, the intervals between Maggie’s episodes get smaller and smaller until she is almost permanently mad, and it is only when she manages to escape the house and reveals to the small town where they live her true condition that she is admitted to hospital for help. When she comes back, she is cured, but the wounds her madness caused in her children remain, and it is these wounds that Hattie explores in the novel after her mother has died. Now she is an adult, she can see that she wasn’t the only one hurting, and that her mother’s inability to express love for her children or be the mother she wanted must have been incredibly heartbreaking for her, too, with no way to stop the mania that ravaged her mind and body for so long. Hattie can also appreciate the immense love her father had for her mother, in giving his life over to the protection and preservation of hers. The frustration and anger Hattie felt towards her mother as a child are released after her death, as she can remember now the moments when her mother’s love reached through the madness. She can recall several occasions where, with the viewpoints switched, she can see how hard her mother must have struggled to overcome the illness that was controlling her mind, and these insights are very movingly written. These ‘sights unseen’ show a mother who loved consistently, and whose silent frustrations and devastating grief were unseen by her children, who sadly only saw a mother who frightened and embarrassed them.

I found this a strangely hypnotic, beautifully written novel that drew me completely into the Barnes’ world. Kaye Gibbons is a wonderful writer and I am so glad I have now discovered her, even if it wasn’t by the means I wanted. However, there were aspects of this novel that didn’t quite work for me; there are a lot of family members whose behaviour is strange, in a way that I’m sure is significant; there is her Aunt Menafee and Aunt Lawrence, a married couple who hate each other, Mr Barnes, her grandfather, who dotes on Maggie and hates everyone else, and Miss Josephine, her grandfather’s sister in law, who, much to Aunt Menafee’s distress, is apparently dating the widowed Mr Barnes. These family members feature prominently in the novel, and constantly under appreciate Maggie’s illness, but seem to have little else to do outside of this, other than signify disfunction and disorder elsewhere in the family. Hattie’s brother Freddy’s seclusion from family life and anger at his mother is interesting but doesn’t go anywhere; this could have become a very interesting exploration of the differences in coping methods within dysfunctional families, but it wasn’t, and just kind of hung there, undeveloped. There is also no real conclusion, or point, to Hattie’s reverie of her mother’s life and her childhood; the last fifteen years of her mother’s life were very happy and they had reestablished a strong relationship, so it wasn’t as if Hattie hated her mother at the beginning of the novel and had grown to love her by the end.

As such, it felt oddly aimless, and I did feel a little bit confused as to the point of it, but it was still a fantastic and moving novel that I greatly enjoyed, and which swept me away into a world I have read little about before. Kaye Gibbons’ portrayal of mental illness and the devastation it wreaks is superb, and the many ‘sights unseen’ the novel explores were very thought provoking when considering how children can so completely and heartbreakingly misunderstand parents, and how anger can blind people from seeing anything of the other side. Despite its flaws, I would highly recommend it, and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

Dead People and Chips

Another weekend, another cemetery. I just can’t get enough of dead people! Before you label me as a morbid freak, please let me assure you that I don’t usually go to cemeteries every weekend, and the fact that I have spent consecutive Saturdays visiting cemeteries does not say anything about my state of mind or soul. It is merely coincidence, coupled with autumnal colours and a need for green space, that have led me to parks of eternal repose on these two sunny weekends in October.

This past Saturday, I didn’t have to go too far afield for my fresh air and gravestones fix; just a ride on the R train to Sunset Park in Brooklyn, and I was at Green-Wood Cemetery, resting place of many famous 19th century Americans of whom I had never heard, along with a few I had, such as Louis Comfort Tiffany and Henry Ward Beecher. I was expecting an experience like at Highgate in London, with romantic overgrown vines and tumbledown catacombs, but Green-Wood couldn’t have been more different. Despite recent storm damage, it was impeccable, largely because it is still a working cemetery. Spread across 400-odd landscaped acres of hills, lakes and beautiful foliage are thousands of graves and mausoleums, dating from the early 19th century to the present day. In wooded glades nestle tiny house-like mausoleums, some complete with stained glass windows, glimpsed through tiny chinks in the padlocked doors protecting their long dead inhabitants from the prying eyes of the outside world. In open, grassy glens, at the side of ornamental lakes, there are statues of angels, pointing triumphantly to the skies. Some graves celebrate the achievements of those who lived long, happy and successful lives; other, tiny, crumbling graves, depict heartbreakingly short lives, and the grief of the parents they left behind.

Green-Wood is an oasis of calm, filled with beautiful reminders of an age when death and mourning were of an elaborate and much more central importance to society than they are to us today. Autumn was an especially beautiful time of year to visit, with the grass beginning to be covered in the red-gold leaves from the abundant trees and the gentle sunlight providing a pretty, hazy glow. I was in raptures, and there was so much to see and explore that it would be impossible to do it all in one day. I was surprised it wasn’t a more popular attraction; in its heyday, in the mid 1800s, it was second only to Niagara Falls as a tourist destination in the US. On Saturday, there were just a few people milling around, many of them visiting newer graves of more recently deceased relatives. As such, it really is an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and I can imagine it being a delightful spot to bring a book on a summer’s afternoon.

After lots of fresh air and walking around, there’s nothing an English girl wants more than a plate of fish and chip shop chips and a mug of tea. Thankfully, in Brooklyn, there is a cafe called Chip Shop, an English restaurant which serves delicacies such as Fish and Chips, Sausage sandwiches, Steak and Kidney Pie, and Scotch Eggs, not to mention mugs of proper tea, with milk and everything. Off to this heaven we headed, and I gorged myself on fish, chips, HP sauce and PG Tips. It was divine!

The following day, an English friend and I were taken back to Brooklyn by more well meaning Americans, who marched us to the Chip Shop’s other location on Atlantic Avenue. After a pleasant sunshiney stroll down this pretty street, filled with delightful antique shops, farmer’s markets, delis and shops stocking all manner of lovely things you didn’t realise you needed until you saw them looking very enticingly at you through the window, we stopped for lunch.  This time around, I had a sausage sandwich and a lovely mug of tea, and I felt like I was back at my mum’s. It was just what I needed.

On the walk back to the subway we succumbed to delicious icecream from Blue Marble – I had blood orange sorbet, but the pumpkin was equally delicious – and then we headed back to Manhattan, bellies full and homesickness cured. Another lovely weekend in the Big Apple; who knows what the next one will bring?!

How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto

I love the film of How to Make an American Quilt, I love to quilt, and I greatly enjoy reading about women’s experiences of life. So reading the book behind one of my favourite films and one that compares quilting to the complicated emotional lives of women was something I was very excited about. I’ve been having a bit of a reading slump lately – I’m missing my own bulging bookcase of unread middlebrow mid century British fiction, and everything I brought with me/have acquired to read is very earnest and literary and intense. I am so tired most of the time these days that as much as I would love to plough my way through, say, Moby Dick, or ponder the injustice of the treatment of American Indians by reading I Buried my Heart at Wounded Knee, at the moment I just don’t have the stamina. I wanted something I could relate to, something that would interest me, and that would be just a little bit cosy. So I picked up How to Make an American Quilt on my most recent trip to the library. I was expecting to be wrapped up in a warm quilt of Southern drawled cheesy romance with a hint of feminist overtones, but I didn’t get what I expected. Whitney Otto’s novel is very different to the film; more intellectual, certainly, and also less romantic, coherent, and well characterised. It’s very good, but I have to say, I did prefer the film to the book. It’s not very often you’ll hear me say that!

Unlike the film, while the story is narrated by Finn, Winona Ryder’s character, she is not the centre of the novel and we hear little about her own life. Instead, she functions as nothing but a vessel through which the stories of the women in her grandmother and great aunt’s quilting circle are told. Each of the women’s stories are prefaced by a short chapter on quilting methods and patterns, woven with historical details that provide further context for the eras each of the women have lived through. These instructions also have metaphorical relevance for each of the stories that follow them, with the different types of stitching and patterns described providing a deeper meaning for each women’s approach and experience to life. Despite living in a quiet backwater in California, each of the women have rich, fascinating and often painful stories to tell about love, hopes, dreams, and disappointments. Hidden beneath the exterior of their humdrum, uneventful lives in tiny Grasse, ‘near Bakersfield’, are souls that have seen and experienced more than Finn could ever have imagined.

The premise of the novel is to explore the different facets of women’s lives, the unpredictable nature of the heart, and the many ways in which humans love, as Finn works out what love is, and whether she can commit to her fiance Sam. The stories each of the women tell, about infidelity, bereavement, bitterness, jealousy, grief, abandonment, an inability to commit and a fear of losing their own identity, were heartrending in their honesty, and in their regret. Love has the power to destroy as much as it does to enrich, and some women gave their hearts wisely, and were blessed by their choices, while others were left embittered and alone with their shattered dreams.

What I found most interesting about the novel was how the love lives of each woman were intrinsically entwined with their identities. Their lives had been built around the men they had loved, and still loved in some cases, dictating their actions, forging the paths they took, and forming their personalities and outlook on life. Sophia, abandoned by her husband and betrayed by the dreams they once had, grows a bitter heart. Marianna, abandoned by her father, cannot commit to loving a man. Glady Joe, having never experienced the heights of passion her husband does, retreats into an indifferent and prickly cocoon. Hy, loving and loved, is scarred by the death of her husband. The centre point of these women’s lives, the thing they all revolve around, is love, or the lack of it. Without love, they would be nothing. It reigns supreme over all of them, and maps out the stories of their lives. Most of the women have achieved little for themselves, and have lived lives surrendered to the wishes and dreams of their husbands or lovers, living small lives in a a small town. They have regrets, and these are often painful to confront, but in the telling of their stories, like The Girls from Winnetka, they can come to a peace with themselves, and their own unruly hearts. Love is painful, but it is also healing, and forgiving. This capacity to love against the odds is what makes each of these women’s stories extraordinary, and I was left in awe of how much the human heart has to give, and how close it can come to destroying itself in the process.

This is a short novel, with only brief windows into the lives of each of the women in Glady Joe’s quilting circle. It is powerful, and profound, and has an individuality to it that I enjoyed. However, it was too lacking in spirit to make me love it. I wanted the story to be the same as the film. The film’s strong story line of Finn working out what she wants from her life through hearing the many and varied dreams and disappointments of these elderly women in her grandmother’s quilting group has a romance and a completeness that I love, and go back to time and again. I was disappointed that the book lacked any insight into Finn at all, and failed to connect the women well enough to bring across the bonds of friendship and kinship that the film oozes from its very pores. In its artful composition, in its clever metaphors and feminist discourse, the book loses the warmth the film portrays, and instead, becomes a slightly too clinical exploration of the human heart. I found it a shame, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, that the book doesn’t follow the film’s storyline. I think then it would be a much deeper and more profound reading experience. As it stands, it’s still an excellent read, but don’t expect the cosy rocking chair on the porch style story that you see in the film. Perhaps if I had have had different expectations, I would have enjoyed it more. Sadly, I’ll never know!