Books I read this week: May week 1

Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik was compared to Sharp Objects, The Secret History, and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which made it a must read for me. However, unlike The Rabbit Back Literature Society (see the last post), those descriptions weren’t accurate at all in my opinion. If it reminded me of anything, it was V.C. Andrew novels.

Grace’s younger sister Nica is found dead in a graveyard, and though a culprit is quickly found, Grace doesn’t think he’s really the one who did it. So she sets out to find out who really killed her sister, and if she discovers who the father of her own unborn child is along the way, that would be great, because she doesn’t remember having sex. Ever. The story has lots of twists and turns and while Grace’s character is fairly well fleshed out, the others move around the story without clear explanation. That could work, given that everything is from Grace’s perspective, and she doesn’t know or understand where everyone else is coming from, but some of it is maddeningly vague. The book is full of the inappropriate parent/child boundaries and crooked sexual interactions that V.C. Andrews was known for. It mostly works for what it is, though there was a whole section at the beginning where the timing of things was very unclear. And there is an utterly maddening section where sex with an unconscious person is explained away by the victim as “foolish, not forced”. But there are some good parts, and it does an impeccable job of illustrating teenage sister life, the struggle to understand each other, to cover for each other, to love each other desperately and still feel like there’s nothing you can do to save the other. So if V.C. Andrews is your cup of tea, go for it. Just please don’t give it to a seventh grader (how did we get away with reading those books so young???).

It’s telling me that, once again, I’ve disappointed her, have said something wrong, something nobody else would wish to have said, have failed, in the most fundamental of ways, to get it.

The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret by Catherine Bailey is seriously fascinating. Bailey was researching for a different book (about the experience of villagers in WW1), using the family archives of the 9th Duke of Rutland (John Henry Montagu Manners) when she discovered that three distinct time periods (including the one she needed) had been removed completely from the archives. No letters from those times were left in any of the various sections of the archives despite the thousands and thousands of pieces of correspondence. Since the information that she needed wasn’t available, Bailey became intrigued with what happened during those three periods of time, especially as she was told that the Duke died in the rooms where the archives were kept under lock and key, refusing medical assistance for pneumonia because he “needed to finish” something. It becomes clear that he painstakingly found and destroyed every paper dealing with three incidents, and Bailey is determined to discover that they were. And her search is so fascinating. Following her detective work is one part of it, and then watching her discoveries is another as the real life of the Duke and his parents becomes clear.

We’ve been watching Game of Thrones, and as I read about the different things that happened in the family I couldn’t help but cast the Lannisters into the roles of the Manners family. There’s so much intrigue and hurt and purposefully misconstrued readings of situations, and so much call on duty. Duty to family is everything, the family line must be preserved. It could be the war cry of both families.

I came away having learned so much about England and the peerage before and during WW1, and I love books that make learning like that seamless. I really highly recommend this one.

‘What went on up at the castle never went out the doors,’Gladys Brittan, the wife of the Duke’s butler, remembered. ‘The castle- by that I meant the family- was the castle. It was nothing to do with anyone else.’ Gilkes, a cockney, ant the police were outsideres as far as the servants were concerned; they belonged ‘out the doors’.

‘Her grace is raising tally-whack and tandem all over London,’ wrote Lady Desborough, who disliked Violet intensely and was thrilled at her disappointment.

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