Nice to Meet You

So I am Obsidian Blue and  am very excited to join Moonlight Reader as her co-blogger! Many may know me from my jaunts through the Amazon discussion forums, Booklikes posts, or my reviews on Goodreads.

I am hoping in 2017 to not only discuss new releases, but also to review more science fiction/fantasy books as well. Every year I try to focus on a genre and for 2016 I chose to focus more on Young Adult and Contemporary Romance. I can say that for the most part that was a bit of a bust. Now I am very ready to start another genre. I also want to discuss some book related news that may interest the bloggers and readers out there as well. A lot of times the only way I heard about something on a site was when a blogger I followed commented about it.

And I really hope that we can have some fun with books in 2017. Moonlight Reader and I both enjoyed hosting Halloween Bingo this fall. And she did a fantastic job with her 20 Books of Summer contest that she ran this summer. I think what most of us really want is a place to go and comment and that fosters a real sense of community, and I hope that this blog becomes that place for you.

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.”

–Vera Nazarian

 

Meet the Co-Blogger: Obsidian Blue

co-blogger

I’ve been struggling with what to do with this blog for months now, while I’ve been simultaneously struggling with what to do with my booklikes account. Booklikes has been my primary bookish home since around 2013, but the site owners have gone missing and the site itself is in a constant state of disrepair and malfunction- although the user base is wonderful. Over time, many site users have simply ceased posting there because of the difficulty in using the site. Many of my favorite bloggers have fled the site, and have set up alternative homes elsewhere. So, while booklikes is clearly in its death throes, the readers who have been spending their time there are out in the world, finding each other and making sure that we don’t lose touch.

Lucky for me, one of my favorite people at booklikes and one of my best friends, even if we’ve never met in real life, doesn’t have her own blog. What that means is that I’ve been able to talk her into joining me here, at least on an interim basis, unless we decide to open up something new! This blog is going to be under remodelling for a while, as we reorganize categories and tags and add pages and menus so that her contributions fit right into the blog!

So, I’ve added Obsidian Blue (Blue for short) as a co-blogger here! I’ll let her introduce herself in due time, but I can guarantee that she is going to add a ton of interesting content and perspective to things. We’ve renamed the blog “Bookish Pursuits,” because she reads as eclectically and as widely as I do. I’ve never had a co-blogger before, and I’m really excited about having her around!

British Library Crime Classics – Death on the Riviera by John Bude

British Library Crime Classics – Death on the Riviera by John BudeDeath on the Riviera by John Bude
Series: British Library Crime Classics
on January 1, 1952
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 250
Goodreads
three-half-stars

When a counterfeit currency racket comes to light on the French Riviera, Detective Inspector Meredith is sent speeding southwards out of the London murk to the warmth and glitter of the Mediterranean. Along with Inspector Blampignon, an amiable policeman from Nice, Meredith must trace the whereabouts of Chalky Cobbett, crook and forger. Soon their interest centres on the Villa Paloma, the residence of Nesta Hedderwick, an eccentric Englishwoman, and her bohemian house guests among them her niece, an artist, and a playboy. Before long, it becomes evident that more than one of the occupants of the Villa Paloma has something to hide, and the stage is set for murder.

This classic crime novel from 1952 evokes all the sunlit glamour of life on the Riviera, and combines deft plotting with a dash of humour. This is the first edition to have been published in more than sixty years and follows the rediscovery of Bude s long-neglected detective writing by the British Library."

I discovered the British Library Crime Classics about a year ago and fell in love with the covers as well as with the concept of reprinting classic mysteries for new generations of readers. I recently read Christie’s entire canon of full length Poirot mysteries, and had a blast doing it, so I planned to dip into this new book list.

This is the fourth that I’ve read. Previously, I read:

I read these during the time that I was ignoring blogging, and I’m not sure if I will go back and post about them in more detail. However, suffice to say that Thirteen Guests & The Secret of High Eldersham were my least favorite, I enjoyed the Mystery in White but felt that it sort of collapsed near the end, and I really liked Death in the Tunnel, which is a classic locked room mystery.

Back to Death on the Riviera, though. This is the first I’ve read by John Bude, who seems to have been quite prolific, since BLCC has reprinted 5 of his books. Death on the Riviera was delightful – set in the south of France, Superintendent Meredith is dispatched to find and arrest a counterfeiter. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper golden age detective story without murder most foul, and in a surprising fashion, the murder in this book doesn’t take place into well into the story.

I liked Superintendent Meredith, and really enjoyed the supporting character, his subordinate, Freddie Strang, who manages to fall in love while on vacation. Their tale is intertwined with the inhabitants of the Villa Paloma, a sort of a Villa Americain style home where American heiress Nesta lives with her family and assorted hangers-on, including a fraudulent artist (no Pablo Picasso here), a wife in flight from her boring marriage, her caddish boyfriend, and Nesta’s pretty and down-to-earth Dilys, who ends up as Freddie’s love interest, and who is pretty clearly the best of a rather unsavory bunch.

Next up in this series for me is The Santa Klaus Mystery, by Mavis Hay. I already own The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude and Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne, so those likely won’t be far behind!

three-half-stars

Death In . . . the Andamans by M.M. Kaye

Death In . . . the Andamans by M.M. KayeDeath in the Andamans by M.M. Kaye
Published by Minotaur on 1960
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 272
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

Death in the Andamans is a masterpiece of mystery and romance from one of our most beloved authors. When a violent storm lashes the tiny Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, Copper Randal barely manages a safe return to Government House. She does get back in one piece with her hostess, Valerie Masson, Val's fiance, and handsome naval officer Nick Tarrent, but one of the islanders is unaccounted for when the boats return to harbor. Cut off from the mainland and confined to the shadowy, haunted guest quarters, Copper and the other visitors conclude that one of their number is a murderer. The killer must be found before the storm destroys all trace of any possible clues.

M.M. Kaye is best known for her best selling epic The Far Pavilions, a novel set in British Raj India and published in 1978. I was 12 when The Far Pavilions was published, and read it when I was maybe 14. It was an incredibly formative novel for me, igniting a love of door-stop-sized books and historical fiction.

As it happens, Kaye had published six mystery novels with romantic subplots prior to publishing The Far Pavilions, which I found when I went looking for more books by her, after polishing off her second major work, The Shadow of the Moon. Each of her mysteries is set in an exotic location that was part of the British Empire, except for her second, Death in Berlin. Death in the Andamans was the last of them, published in 1960. They are billed as a series, although each of them contains different characters and different settings, so the only commonality is in the theme.

Each book centers around a young, innocent, and attractive woman who is travelling to an interesting locale. The Andamans, apparently, are an archipelago of islands between India and Myanmar. I only know this because I googled it, having never heard of the Andamans prior to reading this book. The British established a penal colony there in the 1840’s, and the islands were occupied by the Japanese during WWII. They also figure prominently in the second full length Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four.

andaman

Death in the Andamans is set over Christmas and is a classic closed circle mystery. Copper Randall, the heroine, has inherited a small legacy, which she used to promptly throw up her job and accept her friend Val’s invitation to come out to the Andamans, where Val’s father is the British official in charge, living in Government House. Once she arrives, she meets Nick Tarrant, handsome naval officer and erstwhile swain.

On Christmas eve, a great storm severs contact between Government House, where our characters are trapped over the holiday, and the outside world. When one of the characters, an unappealing fellow with a whole raft full of enemies, turns up having been murdered, Copper, Val, Nick, and Val’s fiance, must solve the mystery and stay alive.

M.M. Kaye’s romance subplots are always extremely chaste, with absolutely no premarital hanky panky, excepting a possible kiss or two, in spite of the fact that we have four lusty young people running through corridors in their night clothes and otherwise behaving like they are at a slumber party. It’s refreshingly simple. The setting is wonderfully exotic, and M.M. Kaye’s descriptions are evocative of time and place.

This is the third of her Death In books that I’ve read this year. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be Death in Kashmir, which was the first I read. I’ve not yet reviewed that one, or the other, Death in Cyprus – which is my least favorite of the three, although it is still plenty entertaining. I, somewhat sadly, only have three left – Death in Zanzibar, Death in Berlin (the one I have queued up right now) and Death in Kenya.

four-stars

The Crime at the “Noah’s Ark” by Molly Thynne

The Crime at the “Noah’s Ark” by Molly ThynneThe Crime at the Noah's Ark by Molly Thynne
Published by Dean Street Press on 1931
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 220
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads

"There'll be blue murder here before Christmas!"

A number of parties heading for a luxurious holiday spot, are forced by severe winter weather to put up at the 'Noah's Ark', a hostelry they will share with Dr. Constantine, a shrewd chess master and keen observer of all around him. Other guests include bestselling novelist Angus Stuart, the aristocratic Romsey family, a pair of old spinster sisters, and a galloping major whose horseplay gets him into hot water - and then gets him murdered.

Who is the masked intruder who causes such a commotion on the first night? Who has stolen Mrs van Dolen's emeralds, and who has slashed everyone's (almost everyone's) car tyres? And are the murderer and thief one and the same, or are the guests faced with two desperate criminals hiding in plain sight in the snowbound inn? Dr. Constantine, aided by two of the younger guests, is compelled to investigate this sparkling Christmas mystery before anyone else ends up singing in the heavenly choir ...

I really enjoyed this one! If you’re looking for a seasonal read, choose The Crime at Noah’s Ark!

Basic plot involves a group of people all unknown to one another who are snowed in at a country wayside inn. Emeralds are stolen, drunk assaultive men are murdered (and no one feels very sorry about it), and there is lots of lurking about and sneaking through darkened corridors. The main character is a likeable author, and there is a tiny bit of romance to go along with the mystery. I guessed a couple of the twists, and pretty much figured out whodunnit, but it was still tons of fun.

This is a very inexpensive treat – it’s $2.99 on kindle, and worth every penny. Kudos to the Dean Street Press for finding and bringing these lesser known golden age authors back into “print,” even if that print is pixels not paper – they have five other mysteries by Molly Thynne on offer, and I plan to read them all eventually. This is one of the best things about the ebook revolution!

Snowfire by Phyllis Whitney

Snowfire by Phyllis WhitneySnowfire by Phyllis Whitney
Published by Fawcett on 1972
Genres: Gothic romance
Pages: 288
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads

In this gripping new novel of love and danger, Phyllis A. Whitney spins into magnificent focus the icy weather and fiery passions of a chic eastern ski resort. The slopes are fine but for Linda Earle, who hasn't come to Graystones for winter sports, the atmosphere is terrifying. Seeking to clear her brother of a murder charge, Linda finds her search for the truth hampered by her attraction to the mysterious Julian McCabe. It was Julian's wife who had been murdered and now Linda's presence has aroused new terrors. Is Linda going to be the next victim?

In a lot of ways, I am the perfect audience for this book.

Phyllis Whitney is one of the big gothic romance authors from the 1970’s. This is the second Whitney I’ve read – the first being Window on the Square. Whitney writes in both a contemporary and a historical time period. Window on the Square is historical. This one is contemporary.

To understand why I am the perfect audience for this book, you must understand something of my childhood. I was born in the midwest, and my parents fell in love with skiing when I was very young. I recall chartered bus trips from Omaha, the place of my birth, to Breckenridge and Aspen, Colorado, with the kids bedded down in the front of the bus, while our parents – the adults – played cards, smoked cigarettes, flirted and drank cocktails in the back. It was a raucous good time.

We moved to Idaho specifically for the skiing when I was in the fifth grade, and I spent every weekend on the slopes. I joined junior racers and my high school ski team. I threw myself down the mountain as recklessly as possible, and warmed up in the lodge and made fun of the ski bunnies who got all gussied up for the purpose, apparently, of sitting in the lodge and being hit on by the ski bums.

I don’t know if Phyllis Whitney was a skier, but she nailed 1970’s ski culture, from the fondue to the snow bunnies to the apres-ski gluhwein.

fondue

Graystones, the house at the center of this book, was perfect – a Norman castle transplanted into the north woods. The mystery was engaging, with Linda, the heroine, going “undercover” as an apres-ski hostess to clear her younger brother, Stuart, who has been accused of murdering Margot, the wife of Stuart’s ski mentor, Julian.

Julian is the owner of Graystones. As in Window on the Square, Linda forges a connection with Adria, the small daughter of Margot, who believes that she has killed her mother – the parallels between this book and Window on the Square are notable. And, while I will admit that I think that WotS is the superior book, this one was quite enjoyable. The story comes to a climax on the mountain at night, with Linda fleeing, on skis, from the pursuing murderer.

Now, about the cover. I really like the cover that shows up on goodreads, but like a lot of these books, it was issued in other covers, and my actual cover is not available to choose! I think that the cover for this edition is a little bit misleading, though – because that dress looks like this would be a piece of historical fiction.

This, however, is my cover:

snowfire

Yes, it is just as crazy in person as it is in a photograph! So, this is a cheesy little book, but it is fun.

The Landower Legacy by Victoria Holt

The Landower Legacy by Victoria HoltThe Landower Legacy by Victoria Holt
on 1984
Genres: Gothic romance
Pages: 373
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads

Green-eyed Caroline Tressidor has the whole world at her feet. But at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee, Caroline lets slip a secret. It is nearly fatal.

Caroline's promising future dissolves without her knowing why. Her search for answers violates the iron rules of Victorian society. It takes her to the wild moors of Cornwall and pits her against her shy, pretty sister.

It also brings her the man of her dreams, Paul Landower. . .dark, mysterious, trapped in his own past. . .a past that may include a legacy of murder.

This one is hard for me to review, because it was not a bad read, but it absolutely did not live up to the promise of the genre/cover synopsis. I can’t really characterize this book as gothic, as there was almost no suspense at all. If I were pressed to put a genre on this book, cover and description nothwithstanding, it would probably be historical romance, or maybe family drama. I’m not really sure.

So, let’s get to my complaints. When I read a gothic romance, I am expecting that the heroine will be put in significant danger by someone who wants to keep her from succeeding in attracting the hero. There might also be some perceived light supernatural elements, even if it turns out at the end that they were just plain old human avariciousness or jealousy. A bit of haunting perhaps, or some lights appearing and disappearing in the woods. That sort of thing.

There should also be a secret that is coming back to haunt someone – usually the Hero. And then, last but certainly not least, there should be some sort of a large country home or chateau that is the center of all of the action.

So, with this book, all of the elements were here: a haunted mine shaft where black dogs appear when someone is in danger, an impoverished hero who is trying to save the estate that has been in family since the 15th century, and a number of secrets possessed by a number of characters.

The problem with the book is that none of these three things really had anything to do with each other. I am accustomed to seeing them used as plot devices, but their disconnection from one other made them just that much more obviously the gears to keep the plot moving forward, and it felt really unnatural. So, as a gothic, it didn’t work for me. There wasn’t one moment when my pulse quickened and I felt like the heroine was really in danger. The one point of danger ended up being so quickly over and easily resolved that it just fell flat.

Also, maybe it was the fact that I had just read a book using the same plot device that I hate that Holt used in this one, which meant that I figured out the “twist” the first time that an allusion to it was raised.

This sounds like I hated the book, but I didn’t. It was disappointing, but I actually really liked both the heroine, who was pretty tough, and Aunt Mary, who was a hoot – an independent woman who was running an estate (really successfully) at a time when ladies weren’t supposed to do anything more strenuous than fainting. And Catherine’s perfectly planned and brilliantly executed revenge on the man who jilted her (for her wealthy but weak sister) was delightful!

The romance though, was pretty unconvincing for me, and since I can’t abide cheaters, I was less than enamored of the married Paul Landower. I get it that he felt like he’d been trapped into marriage because his wife was a wealthy woman who bought herself a husband by leverage his family’s poverty against him. But, you know what? Them’s the breaks, dude. If you sell your soul for cash, you don’t get to complain when the purchaser decides she wants the benefit of her bargain. Women had been doing just this for generations in the time period in which this book is set. Plus, he was a terrible father to his very young son, which made him all that much more unlikeable.

A new blog project

As I’ve done several times over the life of this blog, I’m shifting focus. I’ve been disinterested in blogging for months – I’m not sure what exactly is going on with my lack of motivation, but I’ve decided to give this one last effort. If this doesn’t work in getting me interested in blogging again, I’m probably going to shut down.

So, I’ve changed the blog title to “It Was a Dark And Stormy Night,” and I’m planning on focusing on the darker side of human nature. I’ve always been attracted to crime novels, especially the golden age detective story. But, right now, what I’m most interested in is gothic lit, especially gothic romance, such as Victoria Holt. I have such fond memories of curling up, particularly on a winter eve, with a heart-pounding tale of star-crossed lovers and haunted manor houses. So, those are going to be the focal points of this new project. I’m still planning categories and tags, and trying to decide exactly where I am headed.

Generally, I want to focus on the following genres/categories:

Gothic romance: new gothic or gothic romance that is represented by Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, Dorothy Eden and Madeleine Brent. Some of these authors have had their backlists published as kindle books, so they are easy to obtain, some are available used through various websites. In this modern era, even out of print books are relatively easy to get my hands on.

Golden age mystery: Including Agatha Christie: I did a Poirot project not long ago, and read them all. I posted about some of them, but most of them got by me without a write up and I am ready for a reread in any case. This category also includes Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham.

British Library Crime Classics: I am in love with these editions and am really interested in getting to know some of these authors that have been neglected for many years.

In addition to those two main categories, anything that falls under the general umbrella of horror, mystery, espionage, supernatural or gothic is fair game over here, from Nordic Noir without a hint of supernatural, to YA horror/paranormal, including books like The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey, The Replacements by Brenna Yovanoff, or Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough.

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

Nightingale Wood by Stella GibbonsNightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons
on 1938
Genres: Literary Fiction, Romance
Pages: 387
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Unavailable for decades, Stella Gibbons's Nightingale Wood is a delightfully modern romance ripe for rediscovery by the many fans of Cold Comfort Farm.

Poor, lovely Viola has been left penniless and alone after her late husband's demise, and is forced to live with his family in their joy­less home. Its occupants are nearly insufferable: Mr. Withers is a tyrannical old miser; Mrs. Withers dismisses her as a common shop girl; and Viola's sisters-in-law, Madge and Tina, are too preoccupied with their own troubles to give her much thought. Only the prospect of the upcoming charity ball can lift her spirits-especially as Victor Spring, the local prince charming, will be there. But Victor's intentions towards the young widow are, in short, not quite honorable.

I have not read Gibbons’s most famous novel, Cold Comfort Farm. One of my goodreads groups focuses on dead authors, and we are doing a genre challenge, so this novel won the poll for our February romance genre group read. I fell in love with the cover, and being completely shallow, I was excited to read.

Nightingale Wood was published in 1938, prior to the beginning of WWII, and is set near the end of the interwar period. It is marketed as a Cinderella-style tale. There are three main female leads: Viola (the Cinderella of this tale), Tina, and Hetty. Viola is the widow of Teddy Wither, who is brother to Tina and the rather awful Madge, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Marge Dursley, from her over-sized, inelegant tweed-clad frame, to her obsession with dogs.

My favorite character is the bookish Hetty, cousin of the charming Victor, who lives at Grasmere. Viola, Tina and Madge all live at the neighboring manse, The Eagles. I really love books set during this time period – it was period of immense social and cultural change, and these changes make for great fiction. The roles of girls and women are in constant flux.

Of the three female leads, Tina has, for me, the most satisfying romance. Lady Chatterly style, she takes up with the chauffeur, Saxon. Saxon is an interesting character – he is ambitions, talented, and quite the up-and-comer. She is a full dozen years older than Saxon, and is both wily and unconventional. The resolution of their story is convincingly lovely, in spite of the obstacles they overcome to find happiness.

Viola is a bit of a wet hen – conventionally dissolving into tears at the drop of the hat. But, she rallies nicely to help out an old friend, and her happy ending is both deserved and pleasing, if not very romantic.

Hetty was my favorite character, but her romance was the least satisfying – volatile and capricious. I would have loved a full length book with Hetty as the main character, and I was not pleased with the way that her story ended.

I enjoyed this one enough to seek out more books by Gibbons.

three-half-stars

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

The Song of the Lark by Willa CatherThe Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
Published by Vintage Classics on 1915
Genres: Classics - by women
Pages: 448
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads

"The time will come when she will be ranked above Hemingway." --Leon Edel

In this powerful portrait of the self-making of an artist, Willa Cather created one of her most extraordinary heroines. Thea Kronborg, a minister's daughter in a provincial Colorado town, seems destined from childhood for a place in the wider world. But as her path to the world stage leads her ever farther from the humble town she can't forget and from the man she can't afford to love, Thea learns that her exceptional musical talent and fierce ambition are not enough.

It is in the solitude of a tiny rock chamber high in the side of an Arizona cliff--"a cleft in the heart of the world"--that Thea comes face to face with her own dreams and desires, stripped clean by the haunting purity of the ruined cliff dwellings and inspired by the whisperings of their ancient dust. Here she finds the courage to seize her future and to use her gifts to catch "the shining, elusive element that is life itself--life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose." In prose as shimmering and piercingly true as the light in a desert canyon, Cather takes us into the heart of a woman coming to know her deepest self.

Willa in Winter 2

Richly imagined, Cather’s third novel is an exploration of the passion of the artist and the strength of youth. Her main character, Thea Kronborg, child of immigrants from Moonstone, Colorado, has all of the brazen energy and boundless potential of her prairie town. She is the exceptional child in a family of many children, the others quite ordinary, a girl so relentlessly herself that the triumphant arc of her life has a feeling of inevitability, in spite of the many obstacles that she must overcome with the force of her mind and character.

The early part of the book concentrates on her time spent in Moonstone. Even as a child, many of her friends and acquaintances seem to recognize in Thea something to be nurtured. Dr. Archie, the unhappily married town doctor, introduces her to great writers, and spends time with her – in an entirely uncreepy way, thankfully – helping her intellectual development along. Her mother ensures that she has what music lessons are available, and private space in which to practice, which is a luxury in a home of at least five children. Thea herself possesses all of the engaging hubris of the child, confident in her future.

Of this child, laying in her attic room, at home, Cather says:

Life rushed in upon her from that window – or so it seemed. In reality, of course, life rushes from within not without. There is no work of art so big or so beautiful that it was not once contained within some youthful body, like this one which lay on the floor in the moonlight, pulsing with ardour and anticipation. [page 129]

Thea is a character who bursts with possibility. I can’t help but contrast Cather’s writing with Edith Wharton, another woman who was writing very different books at nearly the same time, and compare Thea to Lily Bart. Where Lily is frozen and constricted, an expensive piece of carved marble, Thea is red-blooded and expansive, fully human. Where Wharton’s characters are limited by complicated societal rules, Cather’s characters, like her landscape, are boundless and free.

When Thea is 15, her family, along with Dr. Archie, arrange for her to leave Moonstone to study music in Chicago, after she inherits a small life insurance policy from a friend. She finds herself on the train, headed east:

She smiled — although she was ashamed of it — with the natural contempt of strength for weakness, with the sense of physical security which makes the savage merciless. Nobody could die while he felt like that inside. The springs there were wound so tight that it would be a long while before there was any slack in them. The life in there was rooted deep. She was going to have a few things before she died. She realized that there were a great many trains dashing east and west on the face of the continent that night, and that they all carried yong people who meant to have things. But the difference was that she was going to get them! That was all. Let people try to stop her! She glowered at the rows of feckless bodies that lay sprawled in the chairs. Let them try it once! [page 200]

Thea bursts off the page, with her her self-confidence, her fearlessness, and her prodigious talent. Cather writes the western experience better than any other author I have ever encountered, with the possible exception of Wallace Stegner. Growing up under open skies has an impact on her characters, and she ensures that the reader understands this. You look at the world differently when you’ve lived in a place where you can stand and mark the curve of the world untouched by signs of civilization.

It was over flat lands like this, stretching out to drink the sun, that the larks sang — and one’s heart sang there, too. Thea was glad that this was her country, even if one did not learn to speak elegantly there. It was, somehow, an honest country, and there was a new song in that blue air which had never been sung in the world before. [page 202]

Her time in Chicago moves her further along the path to musical success, and one of her teachers discovers that rather than piano, it is her voice that is truly remarkable. Ultimately, over the next several sections of the book, Thea leaves Chicago, studies in Germany, and returns to New York a fully-fledged opera singer. I am again reminded of Wharton – her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence begins in an opera house, where Newland Archer is knuckling under to the societal pressure that he must marry, and he must marry a young woman who is, in many ways, the polar opposite of Thea Kronborg. When Cather speaks to Thea through Fred Ottenburg, Thea’s married lover and greatest supporter, she might be speaking about May Welland:

Don’t you know that most of the people in the world are not individuals at all? They never have an individual idea or experience. A lot of girls go to boarding school together, come out the same season, dance at the same parties, are married off in groups, have their babies at about the same time, send their children to school together, and so the human crop renews itself. Such women know as much about the reality of the forms they go through as they know about the wars they learned the dates of. They get their most personal experiences out of novels and plays. Everything is second hand with them. Why, you couldn’t live like that.” [page 327]

Among Cather’s longest books, The Song of the Lark moves quickly through Thea’s development as an artist and represents a remarkable character study of a young woman who is unbowed by convention. As I continue with my Willa in Winter project, I plan to return to some of the themes that Cather is developing in this book, as my understanding deepens through further reading. I’ll end this review with Thea’s words:

She rose impatiently and walked to the edge of the cliff. “It’s waking up every morning with the feeling that your life is your own, and your strength is your own, and your talent is your own; that you’re all there, and there’s no sag in you.” [page 290].

I can’t help but feel that Willa Cather had no sag in her, either.

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