Wednesday 15 February 2023

The Garnett Girls by Georgina Moore

As a teenager, Margo ran away from home to live with her older boyfriend, Richard. Their love affair continued, they married and had three daughters - Rachel, Imogen, and Sasha. Then one day Richard left, leaving Margo plunged into despair, and the girls having to fend for themselves. When she picked herself up, Margo vowed that her girls would never suffer as she had. So she brings them up to be well-educated, strong career women, to marry safe, dependable men, to create for themselves the life that she would have wanted, but somewhere long the way the girls, trying so hard to live up to Margo's expectations, lose sight of themselves and their own desires. Now young women, each successful in her field, they have to confront the impact of their father's sudden disappearance from their lives before they can find true happiness.

 There's been a lot of hype about The Garnett Girls  - the author is, after all, a publicist - but it's a stunning, captivating debut that definitely lives up to everything I've read about it. A warm, intimate story of the Garnett family - Margo the matriarch, and her girls, Rachel, Imogen, and Sasha - their loves and losses, the secrets they keep, and the younger generation's struggles for independence from their mother's overwhelming influence and expectations. In many ways, living up to Margo's standards has stunted her daughters' emotional development, and I felt it was telling that Rachel, Imogen and Sasha are more often seen as a trio - the Garnett girls - rather than as individuals and as women.

The story is not wholly set on the Isle of Wight but Sandcove, the family home, plays such an important part in the Garnett's lives that it's like a character in itself. It's the place they come to to settle family disagreements, to heal, to find themselves, to party on the beach till dawn. 

I loved every page - and I now want to live by the beach and drink cocktails every night.

Friday 10 February 2023

Emily Wilde's Encylopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Emily Wilde is a respected professor of fairy lore, a meticulous cataloger of the ways and tales of the Folk, but so far the much-desired position of tenure-ship continues to elude her. To obtain this she's embarked on a mammoth project - an Encyclopaedia of Fairies, which will collate all the information held on them, their world, and their interactions with humans. One last section is needed - a study of the previously unrecorded fairies of the northern island of Ljosland  - so accompanied only by Shadow, her faithful dog, Emily heads off on an adventure which will change her life.
Her approach on her previous field trips has been one of professional, detached interest, more attuned to the nuances of associating with the Fae Folk than the local villagers or her colleagues. She expects this project to be no different, but there are surprises in store for her - dangers, friendship, and marriage proposals from not one but two fairy kings!
Overall it's a light but enchanting story, with a backdrop of cold, snowy beauty contrasting with warm, cozy interiors, and perilous  encounters with the Folk to give it a little 'edge'.
Emily is one of those heroines - socially awkward, unintentionally rude, determined to keep even those who would help her at arms' length - that you'll either take to instantly, or not get along with at all. Reading between the lines of her field notes, and seeing the real Emily beneath that clumsy exterior, I was definitely on her side. Her colleague, Wendell Bambleby, who turns up uninvited, is the opposite - charming, handsome, making friends wherever he goes, just somehow too perfect - and actually I could see why he would irritate after a while. They don't seem like a well-matched pair but under her gruffness, it's obvious that Emily cares for him more than she'd like to admit.
I'm  delighted to see that there are plans for further Emily Wilde stories, and I'll be looking out for them.

Thursday 2 February 2023

The Witches of Vardø by Anya Bergman


Off the northern-most coast of Norway lies the small island of Vardø, site in the mid-seventeenth century of a notorious series of witch trials. Anya Bergman's novel brings us a fictional account of those times, seen from two points of view - that of wealthy Anna Rhodius, imprisoned in this remote fortress by her former lover, the King; and that of sixteen year ago fisherman's daughter, Ingeborg, whose mother is falsely accused of witchcraft. Ingeborg desperately wants to save her mother, and will go to any lengths to do so. Anna meanwhile is interested in protecting herself and negotiating a way to return to her former life. 

The numbers involved in the real trials were horrific (91 people executed over a period of years) but Bergman has reduced them to handful without losing any of the terror and helplessness that these women must have experienced. As is frequently the case, there's a trail of fear and misogyny behind the accusations - women denounced for 'seducing' married men, the local Sami people victimised for being 'different', anyone who vaguely steps beyond the rigid bounds of propriety being considered fair game. And the treatment of women in general, as totally subordinate to men, and threatened for voicing their own opinions, is unthinkable now.

Although I'd heard of many instances of witch-hunts, from Pendle to Salem, Scotland to Essex, I hadn't realised that the fervour for them had spread to Norway, apparently influenced by King James VI (Scotland) and I (England), and his writings on Daemonologie. Reading The Witches of Vardø led me off down a lot of wormholes, finding more about the historical events, and learning more about the remote landscape of its setting.

Manilla Press