Tag Archive for 1800s

Book Review: My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning The story sounded like it would be interesting, but the book just didn’t deliver. I thought I would be reading about a real person, not a character “inspired by” a real person. And I didn’t really expect the heavy focus on the main character’s childhood. It just didn’t really keep my interest, and parts of it felt superfluous, like the whole orphan train episode. (Would they really have sent a kid out West and then just let them go back to New York?)

The writing style also got in the way quite often. Not only did it feel a bit stilted at times, but the use of dashes instead of proper quotations for dialogue, as well as the asterisks on certain words, kept slowing me down and pulling me out of the story.

Book Review: The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov

The Collector of Worlds by Iliya Troyanov I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish this book, especially after the writing style seemed a little too full of itself, maybe even pretentious. And full of unfamiliar words — either outdated or foreign to me — that required a quick search of the dictionary to keep me going. It reminded me of other German historical fiction books I’d tried to read and quit on, but I kept going.

I am glad that I persisted, because it really was an enjoyable read. Not having known anything about Sir Richard Francis Burton, I became intrigued by this English explorer who was curious about the world and the people in it, and set himself apart from his fellow explorers in many ways.

The story is split into three main sections, each focusing on a different place Burton visited: India and Pakistan, the Middle East, and Eastern Africa. Each section switches between Burton and other individuals, either servants who helped him in his travels or outsiders trying to figure him out. We see his attempts to learn more about the places he visits and the people he meets, including his difficulty in sharing his interest and curiosity with his fellow Englishmen.

The only downside to the book is that it can take some work to get through, so don’t expect a bit of light reading. Some sections get a bit weighty in philosophy or theology, either due to the content or the flowery writing. And it’s best to have a dictionary (or the Internet) handy, since the included glossary — which I found a bit too late — didn’t have definitions for everything, and sometimes the meaning isn’t clear from the context.

That said, I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction that features traveling or a great adventure as the main theme. Although it wavers a bit towards the end, the story is a pretty intriguing one that kept my interest throughout.

Book Review: Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey I’d seen mentions of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey a few times last year, mostly related to it being nominated for a Booker Prize, which the author has won twice before. I finally got a hold of it at the library — it was surprisingly on the shelf, after having many holds placed on it — and found it to be an enjoyable book overall.

The book’s perspective switches between that of Parrot and Olivier, two men with have been on very different paths in life, but who find themselves thrown together on a voyage to America. Parrot, essentially orphaned as a child in England, has managed to travel to various parts of the world with a rogue Frenchman (often referred to as Monsieur), and has a talent for engraving. Olivier is a son of French nobles whose lives were very much affected by the Revolution, and yet still don’t care for the notion of democracy.

Olivier’s parents want to get Olivier away from growing problems in France, so he is sent to study and write about prisons in America, with Parrot as his servant/secretary. The book contrasts their perspectives on the things they counter on this trip, as well as the conflict between the two men.

I did like the changing perspective at first, to show how different Parrot and Olivier saw the world. I did lean towards Parrot’s side more and didn’t care as much for Olivier, who felt very strongly about classes and how a society should be.

However, some of the book was a bit jarring, like various flashbacks that would share something of the character’s past, but only in snippets. There were also a few instances where parts of the present jumped a bit, not fully explaining how something had happened.

Otherwise, I thought it was an interesting read, and the style and time period made me think of other books I enjoyed, like Heyday by Kurt Andersen or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.