On Easter Saturday, I decided to do a spring edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf (on North Manchester 106.6FM) – after all, the clocks were changing, the birds were singing, and I’d even had my first sighting of a Flymo. And what says springtime more than flowers? So the show was devoted to books with the names of flowers in the title. As promised, here are details of the books I featured on the show.
(Admittedly, by the time I was doing the show, it was pretty overcast, and I left the studio to howling winds and rain. But I didn’t let that deter me.)
Got any good suggestions for books with floral titles? Add them in the comments below!
Clare Allan’s debut novel tells the story of the eponymous Poppy, a young mother who is sent for mental health treatment at the Dorothy Fish day hospital, through the eyes of a fellow patient, N (the narrator). Poppy is dragged into a Kafkaesque world of bureaucratic nonsense, as she’s forced to prove she’s mad in order to prove she’s sane. We’re led through this somewhat surreal labyrinth by N, our unreliable but utterly compelling narrator, to the powerful and unsettling conclusion.
People often seem surprised when they find out that this is one of my favourite novels – I guess it isn’t really my usual thing, but I love Emma Orczy’s tale of the dashing defender of French aristos. Set in 1792, the novel tells the story of a mysterious man known only by the little scarlet flower that serves as his emblem. Although it’s a bit weird to be rooting for the let-them-eat-cake aristocracy, it’s the love triangle between the foppish Sir Percy Blackeney, his Marguerite and the masked superhero that really captivates.
In case you didn’t catch it on the radio, the author’s full name was Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála Orczy de Orci. I apologize if my pronunciation was bit off.
Well… it wouldn’t be my radio show if I didn’t mention a werewolf or too. Andrea Cremer’s YA werewolf trilogy (which includes the sequels Wolfbane and Bloodrose) tells the story of Calla, the young alpha female of the Nightshade pack. Calla is a Guardian, sworn to serve the Keepers in their ancient battle with the Searchers… but is her world all that it seems? I really enjoyed this series – particularly the gradual unfolding of Calla’s dilemma. While it appears in the first book that this dilemma will be a love triangle, there’s a lot more complication to come in the sequels.
Orwell’s ‘savage and bitter book’ (according to Cyril Connolly) tells the story of Gordon Comstock, a man who ‘declares war’ on money (or rather, on the dependence on money). He quits his job as a copyeditor, moves into a grotty bedsit, and spends his time working a dead-end job and writing poetry (unsuccessfully). Gordon has a relationship with Rosemary, which is hindered by his lack of money – but also by the fact that he is a pretty unpleasant guy and behaves appallingly to her – and the romance of the ‘penniless’ existence soon wanes. Keep the Aspidistra Flying has its faults, but it’s still an interesting and challenging read.
It’s also interesting to look at the parallels between this book and 1984. Though they are very different books in a lot of ways, the two works share certain underlying themes that contribute to an overall sense of satire and critique that runs throughout Orwell’s work.
Another historical novel now… Dumas’s novel opens in 1672, and the murder of Johan and Cornelius de Witt by an angry mob. After this intense opening, the story takes place in the following eighteen months, when a competition to grow a black tulip is taking Haarlem by storm. A young man named Cornelius van Baerle looks like he might be about to achieve success, but he is abruptly thrown into prison. As Cornelius’s story unfolds, the connections between this and the murder of the de Witt brothers start to become clear. In the end, the elusive tulipa negra comes to stand for something bigger than itself, and the story of the competition is revealed to be a political allegory.
Okay… maybe one more werewolf before I finish… Although people might be more familiar with the TV adaptation (also written by McGreevy), Hemlock Grove was first published in 2012 (though it was already optioned for TV before this). The novel is set in a small town in Pennsylvania, where the closure of the local steel mill has created a vast gulf between the poor unemployed inhabitants and the rich Godfrey family who ‘own’ the town. The Godfrey family – glamorous matriarch Olivia, spoilt son Roman and disabled ‘monstrous’ daughter Shelley – have a dark secret, and are threatened by the arrival of the Rumanceks, a Romany mother and son who have secrets of their own. Throw into the mix a rogue werewolf picking off the town’s teens, rumours of sinister genetic experimentation at the Godfrey Institute, and the arrival of a monster-hunter, and… well… all manner of horror breaks loose.
To hear more about my thoughts on Hemlock Grove and the other floral-themed books featured in my springtime show, you can listen again here: