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#Bookreview THE NIGHT BROTHER by Rosie Garland (@rosieauthor) For lovers of #historicalfiction (late XIX-early XX c), particularly British (Manchester) and those looking for novel explorations of issues of gender identity.

Hi all:

I know I told you I had caught up with my reviews, and it is true, but I keep reading, so today and tomorrow I share my most recent reviews. They are very different although both historical…

The Night Brother by Rosie Garland
The Night Brother by Rosie Garland

The Night Brother by Rosie Garland

From the author of The Palace of Curiosities and Vixen comes a bold new novel exploring questions of identity, sexual equality and how well we really know ourselves. Perfect for fans of Angela Carter, Sarah Waters and Erin Morgenstern.

Rich are the delights of late nineteenth-century Manchester for young siblings Edie and Gnome. They bicker, banter, shout and scream their way through the city’s streets, embracing its charms and dangers. But as the pair grow up, it is Gnome who revels in the night-time, while Edie wakes exhausted each morning, unable to quell a sickening sense of unease, with only a dim memory of the dark hours.

Confused and frustrated at living a half-life, she decides to take control, distancing herself from Gnome once and for all. But can she ever be free from someone who knows her better than she knows herself?

A dazzling and provocative novel of adventure and belonging, The Night Brother lures us to the furthermost boundaries of sexual and gender identity. With echoes of Orlando and Jekyll & Hyde, this is a story about the vital importance of being honest with yourself. Every part of yourself. After all, no-one likes to be kept in the dark.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Brother-Rosie-Garland-ebook/dp/B01N01U5ZS/

At the moment it isn’t available in the US but it will be published next month (I think!).

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Night Brother:

‘Rosie Garland writes in a tumble of poetry, desire and passion, as intriguing and delicious as the story she tells’ Stella Duffy

Praise for The Palace of Curiosities:

‘Garland’s lush prose is always a pleasure’ GUARDIAN

‘A jewel-box of a novel … Garland is a real literary talent: definitely an author to watch’ Sarah Waters

‘An alternately brutal and beautiful story about love and belonging in a vividly conveyed underworld, rich in carny phantasmagoria and lyrical romance’ METRO

‘Bewitching’ GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

‘Reminds me of Angela Carter’ Jenni Murray

Author Rosie Garland
Author Rosie Garland

About the Author

Rosie Garland is a novelist, poet, performer and singer with post-punk band The March Violets. An eclectic writer, she started out in spoken word, going on to garner praise as a performance poet. Her award-winning short stories, poems and essays have been widely anthologised, and her sixth poetry collection, As In Judy, is out now with Flapjack Press. She is the author of Vixen, a Green Carnation Prize nominee. Her debut novel, The Palace of Curiosities, won Book of the Year in the Co-op Respect Awards 2013 and was nominated for both The Desmond Elliott and the Polari First Book Prize. She lives in Manchester and is currently developing a new musical project, Time-Travelling Suffragettes.

http://www.rosiegarland.com/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK for providing me with an ARC of this book that I voluntarily chose to review.

Gender and gender identity are complex subjects and have always been, even at times when this was not openly acknowledged. Characters who change gender are not new (although not very common either): Virginia Wolf’s Orlando is perhaps one of the best known, and his/her fictional biography offers the reader a chance to observe historical events from the point of view of a character that is an outsider in more ways than one. Maria Aurèlia Capmany’s Quim/Quima uses another character that goes from male to female as a way to revisit the story of Catalonia, in an open homage to Woolf whom she addresses in a letter that serves as a prologue to her novel. Much more recently, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, a novel that deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize (and that I recommend wholeheartedly as I do the other two, although I don’t think Quim/Quima is easy to find other than in the original in Catalan), uses a similar plot device, although this time clearly addressing intersex and focusing more on the difficulties and struggles of living outside the gender norm (a subject the other two novels I mention don’t focus on).

What marks the difference between those books and The Night Brother is that rather than the main character living a part of his/her life as pertaining to a gender and, at some point, switching (similar to what happens in Kafka’s Metamorphosis although not quite as surreal), in this novel, the main character is both, male and female, and daily morphs from the one gender into the other, at least for a time. Edie is a woman (a girl when we meet her) who lives with her mother and grandmother in a pub in Manchester at the end of the XIX century, during the day, and at night she transforms into Herbert (or Gnome, as he prefers to be called), as if she were a shapeshifter creature of sorts, or a being from some paranormal genre (but that is not at all the feel of the novel). At the beginning of the novel Edie thinks of Gnome as her brother, always by her side, a wild creature who shares adventures with her (although we soon realise there is something peculiar about their relationship, as they seem to know what each other thinks without talking). Edie’s mother insists she is making Gnome up and is imagining things and although the girl tries hard to ignore it, unexplained things keep happening. At some point, she realises what the truth is (at least in part, as secrets are a big subject in this story) and discovers a way to keep her ‘brother’ at bay, although this comes at a heavy prize and it is difficult to maintain. Edie tries to live a discreet life and not get too close to people to avoid the risk of revealing her secret and that results in a sad and sombre life. When she becomes friendly with a gay co-worker and later becomes a suffragette, things get complicated and Gnome won’t stay put. I won’t discuss the plot in more detail to avoid giving any spoilers away.

The story is told in the first person from the points of view of Edie and Gnome (although Edie’s narration has more weight for reasons that soon become evident to readers) and a final chapter from the point of view of Abigail, one of the suffragettes. This style of narrative gives the reader a good sense of how different the perceptions of the two characters are, their behaviour, expressions, and what reactions they elicit from others. The novel excels at depicting the Manchester of the turn of the century, its buildings, its neighbourhoods, its businesses, the savoury and unsavoury areas, the social mores of the era, the secret places where those whose tastes did not fit in with society at large met, and the atmosphere of the city and the times. We have ladies from good families, blue collar characters, prostitutes, ruffians, street urchins, policemen, publicans and everything in between, all beautifully observed. For me, this is one of the strongest points of the novel, and although I only know the Manchester of modern times, I felt as if I was wandering its streets with the characters at the turn of the century. The Suffragist rallies and their repression are also shared in great detail, to the point where we are one of the fallen bodies about to be trampled over, in a scene difficult to forget.

As the novel is told in the first person from those two character’s perspectives, it is important that they come across as fully realised individuals. For me, Edie is the more convincing of the two. This is perhaps in part due to her having more space (and also probably because I am a woman and find it easier to get into her shoes) and that allows us to understand better what goes through her head. I don’t mean she is a particularly likeable character (she refuses to listen to reason, she is hard and tries to close her heart to others and she does bad things too), but she is easier to understand and she grows and evolves through the novel, becoming… Well, I’ll keep my peace. However, Gnome remains impulsive, childish at times, and seems not to have a thought beyond getting his revenge and satisfying his needs. He is not a well-rounded character, and as a depiction of masculinity I found it very limited —although it makes sense if we view the novel as an allegory that turns on its head the old view of the genders, with women being close to nature, earth, the moon, natural beings, slaves to their hormones and anatomy, and men who were the intellectual beings, rational, controlled, dominant, the sun, head over feelings— but he is a force of nature, although not very likeable either. Edie’s mother and grandmother are intriguing characters, with her mother being a great example of bad motherhood (not only for what she does and the way she treats Edie but for what she tries to do to sort her problems, an extreme but not false ‘treatment’ on offer at the time), while her grandmother is the voice of reason, and we eventually get to understand her circumstances well. Although the ending is perhaps a bit rushed, it is satisfying and its message of tolerance and acceptance of difference is a very welcome one.

I’ve seen this book described as magical realism and as an allegory and both concepts are fitting to a certain extent, although I suspect this is a book that will mean different things to different readers and its interpretations will probably tell us as much about the reader as about the writer (as should be the case). I recommend it to readers interested in historical fiction (particularly within a British setting) of the late XIX c /beginning of the XX c, those interested in novels that explore gender and gender identity issues in new ways and who don’t mind a touch of the unexpected, and to anybody intrigued to try a fairly original take on the subject. A word of warning: there is some sexual content (only one scene and not the most graphic I’ve read, but it is there) and there is violence, particularly in the scene of the repression of the Suffragist event.

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins UK, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#Tuesdaybookblog #Bookreview The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson (@JSAauthor) A well-paced mystery that takes us back to a fascinating and tragic historical era

Hi all:

I have another review I’ve written on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team. I think you’ll love this one!

The Lover's Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson
The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson

The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery (Adventures of Zelda Richardson Book 2) by Jennifer S. Alderson

When a homosexual Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.

After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later. When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one it is and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it all.

Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.

** One of The Displaced Nation’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016 **

“Gripping mystery…the suspense is intensely magnetic and the characters equally captivating “ – BookLife Prize for Fiction 2016, No. 14 in Mystery category

“Well worth reading for what the main character discovers—not just about the portrait mentioned in the title, but also the sobering dangers of Amsterdam during World War II.” – IndieReader

“Jennifer S. Alderson delivers a mystery novel not quite like most. It’s not about stolen paintings, but about lives that were stolen… The Lover’s Portrait is a well-written mystery with engaging characters and a lot of heart. The perfect novel for those who love art and mysteries!“ – Reader’s Favorite, 5 star medal

“If you love history, a detailed mystery, and a lovely, yet not run of the mill heroine, then you will love The Lover’s Portrait.” – Author and blogger Vicki Turner Goodwin

“I highly recommend The Lover’s Portrait for artists, art lovers, history buffs, historical novel fans, and anyone else looking for a well-written, enjoyable read.” – Author Pamela Allegretto

This amateur sleuth mystery describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery draws on the author’s experiences gained while studying art history in the Netherlands and working for several Dutch museums.

Related subjects include: women sleuths, historical mysteries, amateur sleuth books, murder mysteries, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), travel fiction, suspense, art crime, art theft, World War Two, art history.

https://www.amazon.com/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lovers-Portrait-Mystery-Adventures-Richardson-ebook/dp/B01EVVS0RI/

Author Jennifer S. Alderson

About the author:

Jennifer S. Alderson worked as a journalist and website developer in Seattle, Washington before trading her financial security for a backpack. After traveling extensively around Asia and Central America, she moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. There she earned degrees in art history and museum studies. Home is now Amsterdam, where she lives with her Dutch husband and young son.

Jennifer’s travels and experiences color and inform her internationally-oriented fiction. Her first novel, Down and Out in Kathmandu: adventures in backpacking, is a travel fiction adventure through Nepal and Thailand. The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery, her second book, is a suspenseful ‘whodunit?’ which transports readers to wartime and present day Amsterdam. Both are part of an on-going stand-alone series following the adventures of traveler and culture lover, Zelda Richardson.

Review and discuss her books on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/JenniferSAldersonAuthor), Twitter (@JSAauthor) or Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/JennifeSAlderson).

For more information about the author and her upcoming novels, please visit: http://www.JenniferSAlderson.com

My review:

Thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team and to the author for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily chose to review. (If you are a writer and are interested in getting first-class reviews do check here).

I love art but cannot claim to be a connoisseur and I’ve never been to Amsterdam (well, I stopped at the airport to change planes once but that was that) but I can reassure you neither of those things prevented me from enjoying this solid mystery set within the world of big art museums and exhibitions, with a background story that would comfortably fit into the genre of historical fiction.

The story is written in the third person but from several characters’ point of view, although it is easy to follow and there is no head-hopping as each chapter, some longer and some shorter, is told from only one character’s point of view. There are two time frames. Some chapters are set in 1942 and tell the story of an art dealer from Amsterdam who is being blackmailed by one of the Nazi occupiers due to his homosexuality. In 2015, Zelda, the intrepid protagonist, is trying very hard to get into a Master’s Programme that will qualify her to work in museums and agrees to help with some very basic editing tasks for an exhibition of art objects confiscated by the Nazis that has been organised in an attempt at locating the rightful owners of the paintings. Readers get also a good insight into the thoughts and motivations of other characters (the evil nephew of the original Nazi blackmailer, Rita, the owner of one of the portraits in the exhibition, Huub, the curator of the exhibition…), although we mostly follow Zelda and her adventures. Although this is book 2 in the series, I have not read the first one and had no problem getting into the story. Zelda at times reflects upon how she got here and we learn that she moved from working with computers to a stay in Nepal teaching English and finally Amsterdam. In effect, I felt the novel was better at offering factual information about her than developing her character psychologically. I was not sure of her age but at times she seemed very naïve for somebody who has travelled extensively and has held important jobs, not only with the mystery side of things but also with her personal life, but she has the heart in the right place, and I appreciated the lack of romance in the story.

The different points of view and time changes help keep the suspense going, as we have access to more information than Zelda, but this can sometimes make matters more confusing (as we are not privy to everybody’s thoughts and there are a few red herrings thrown in for good measure). The author is also good at keeping us guessing and suspecting all kinds of double-crossings (perhaps I have been reading too many mystery books and thrillers but I didn’t trust anyone and was on the lookout for more twists than there were).

The setting of Amsterdam, both in the present and in the 1940s is very well depicted and, at least for me, the wish to go there increased as I read. I really enjoyed the description of the process of documentation and how to search for the provenance of artworks (the author explains her own background and its relevance to the subject [very] in an endnote that also offers ample bibliography)  that is sufficiently detailed without getting boring, and the background theme of the fate of art and the persecution of Jews, homosexuals and other minorities in occupied Europe is brought to life in the memories described by several of the characters and also the fictionalised entries of the art merchant. It is not difficult to see how a book about the research of actual works of art could be gripping too, and the fictionalisation and the mystery elements make it attractive to even more readers.

This is a gentle mystery, with no excessive or graphic violence, with an amateur sleuth who sometimes is far too daring and impulsive (although otherwise there would not be much of a story), with a great background and sufficient red herrings and clues to keep the suspense going. I suspect most readers will guess some aspects of the solution, but perhaps not the full details, and even if they do, the rest of the elements of the story make the reading worthwhile.

A good and solid book, an interesting intrigue that combines present and past, set in a wonderful Amsterdam and the art world, with likeable and intriguing characters,  but not heavy on the psychological aspects or too demanding.

Thanks so much to Rosie and the wonderful members of her team (don’t miss their reviews), thanks to the author, and thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, CLICK and REVIEW!

 

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