SUNDAY SHOUT-OUT: RICHARD FLANAGAN AND THE COUNTESS OF CARNARVON

SHOUTOUT

Is there ever such a thing as too many books? I don’t think there are too many books to read, but there can definitely be too many to review. Often I’m sent books and, with an already sagging review shelf, these unsolicited books often often don’t fit in to my schedule. Other times, I am unable to finish a book I intended to review (for various reasons), or I don’t have time for a full review. Sunday Shout-Out aims to acknowledge these books and the publishers who have sent them to me.

Sunday Shout-Out is a bookish meme hosted by Monique of Write Note Reviews. If you’re a book blogger and you want to join in, just:

  • Share the title, author, blurb and image from a book (or more than one) you want to acknowledge
  • Share the genre, price and link to the publisher so readers can follow up if they like the sound of the book
  • Ping back to Write Note Reviews in your post.

1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (fiction RRP $32.99) – published by Vintage Australia and sent to me by Random House Australia. The Narrow Road To The Deep North, Richard Flanagan

August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever. This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.
A novel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love, this book has been hailed by reviewers as “an immense achievement” (The Australian), a “profound meditation on life and time” (Adelaide Advertiser) and a “masterpiece” (The Guardian). Despite these brilliant reviews, the book didn’t grab me (I made several attempts), so I’m reluctantly setting it aside as a “did not finish”. It’s just not fitting my reading mood at the moment and sometimes you have to know what is and isn’t for you. If you’re keen to read this one, check out the reviews on Goodreads for more thoughts.
 2. Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey by Countess of Carnarvon (non-fiction RRP $29.99) – published by H&S Nonfiction and sent to me by Hachette Australia.

Cover of Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess Of CarnarvonLady Catherine and the real Downton Abbey tells the story of the beautiful American heiress who lived at Highclere Castle, the setting for Julian Fellowes’ award-winning drama Downton Abbey. Glamorous and wealthy, Catherine became the toast of London society when she travelled across the Atlantic in 1920 to marry the Earl of Porchester, or ‘Porchy’, as he was known. At just 19 Catherine had to learn how to organise and host the lavish banquets and weekend house parties that Porchy so loved. She found herself suddenly in charge of the more than eighty staff working at Highclere Castle, and persuaded her husband to improve their living and working conditions. But things were far from perfect. The demands of running such a large household were greater than Lady Catherine had expected. Her new husband gradually revealed himself to be a scandalous rogue, squandering their money and pursuing silent movie stars across London. When WWII broke out, there was yet more turbulence, with Highclere transformed into an American airbase, and host to several hundred soldiers, as well as fifty young evacuees from East London. Drawing on rich material from the archives at Highclere, including beautiful period photographs, Lady Carnarvon transports us back to the thrilling and alluring world of the real Downton Abbey and its inhabitants.

Lady Catherine and the real Downton Abbey is a fascinating real-life look into a world I adore on TV. Real-life certainly had its fair share of dramas; life for Lady Catherine was far from boring, if not quite what she expected when she married an earl. It’s interesting, well-researched, but a little short on the emotional front, making for a dry read. Don’t expect the tears evoked by the TV series – the book is testament to the renowned British reserve. For that reason, I didn’t connect with the book in the way I hoped I would, and eventually found the detail a bit of a slog. This is the second book about the real Highclere (Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey is the first) ; I’ve heard good things about the first, so if it comes my way I’ll give it a go.

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What do you think? Do either of these sound like something you’d read?