Since the coronavirus measures have started, reading has become my go-to distraction. Four of the many books I have read so far are stories about women – about rich and eccentric art patrons, a burned-out lawyer starting to volunteer at a women’s refuge, a woman with a particular character who slowly reveals her past and a Swedish maid, turned model, turned immigrant to America who looks back at her life by using her red address book. Summer is the perfect time for a break to read. Maybe these four books will make it onto your summer list?
Eleanor Oliphant works as an assistant at a graphic design company in Glasgow. She is academically well educated and has certain standards to herself but also applies them to others. She does not like to socialize with her colleagues and knows how people talk about her. The way she dresses and talks is very particular and she spends her weekends alone in her apartment with a bottle of vodka.
At first, I found her character really annoying, she has a know-all attitude and does what her mother has always told her: look down on people. Hence, she thinks she does not need friends. She is “completely fine”, as she repeatedly says. And then Eleanor falls in love. At a concert, she discovers Johnnie Lomond, a local singer, and her life changes. Clues slowly emerge about her past and I learned why Eleanor behaved the way she did.
I could not put this book down – the characters are incredibly well crafted and after I overcame my initial reservations about Eleanor, it is hard to not to sympathize with her. Without spoiling the story, I loved her personal development throughout the book and especially the ending, because it is not the kitsch love story you may expect.
Whether you love Venice or not, this is a book for all those who love architecture and the stories behind the buildings. Moreoever, this book introduces the reader to three women who owned a palazzo in Venice. The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice today is the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. It is located directly at the Canale Grande and has become a fixed part of the city and a must-visit during a Venice trip.
Initially, the Palazzo dei Leoni was owned by the Venetian family Venier and was meant to become one of the grandest buildings along the canal. But it has never been finished. Since the start of the 20th century, the palazzo was in the hands of three very interesting, wealthy and eccentric women: Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and later on Peggy Guggenheim.
The three women actually never really met each other, they share many character traits, common friends and visions for the palazzo. They were art lovers, socialised among the art crowd and even patrons of the arts. Throughout the book you will meet personalities such as Man Ray and Gabriele D’Anunzio who were all close with one or all three of the women. I would also say that all three of them were probably equally eccentric. And because they were all not Venetians and famous for their lavish lifestyles and parties, they were on the one hand sights of Venice themselves, yet at the same time, the locals raised their eyebrows about them.
Definitely a must read if you love to travel and architecture and to read stories about female patrons of the arts.
Doris is the main character in Lundberg’s “The Red Address Book”. But she is not a young protagonist going on an adventure. She is already 96 years old and her adventures lie in the past. As she herself describes it, she is “waiting for death”. There are two things left about which she still feels passionate: her weekly calls with her niece who lives in America and a red book which was given to her by her father who she lost as a child. This address book should help her remember “all the names that come and go”. When somebody dies, she crosses them out. Recently, she was crossing out a lot of names.
The book is written in two perspectives: the first one is in present-day Stockholm when Doris breaks her hip and her niece flies over to take care of her. The second one is about Doris’s past. When she was 13, she became a maid. In the 1930s, she was a model in Paris and then she moved to New York where she had to experience poverty and the Second World War. But whatever happened to Doris, she always met people who helped her out and she made it back to Sweden.
The Red Address Book takes you on Doris’s journey across Europe and the Atlantic but it is also a beautiful story about love in all its forms. Spoiler alert: keep some tissues for the end. Definitely a must-read.
Solène is a successful lawyer who always did what everyone expected from her. She cannot even tell why she chose that career path – she just performs, tries to give her best and enjoys the benefits of making a lot of money. But after a traumatizing event with one of her clients, she has a breakdown and is not able to go back to work.
Solène starts volunteering at a shelter for women where she helps them draft and write letters – to the authorities and to their families. The book is written in two narrative strands: the first one is in present-day Paris and deals with Solènes personal story and experiences at the shelter. The second one is about Blanche Peyron, who I would call a heroine: Peyron is a real person who was committed to her work for the Salvation Army at the turn of the last century. She fought for her vision for a better future for everyone, and women in particular, and founded the refuge in Paris which is the main location of the book.
I particularly enjoyed Solène’s journey: a successful lawyer who is forced to make a drastic career change and reassess her lifestyle. She slowly needs to build up trust and get to know the women at the house. At first, they had their reservations about her, but slowly they warm up to her. The book takes the reader on multiple journeys – Solène’s and Blanche’s, but also the one of the women who sought shelter in Paris.
Laetitia Colombani previously published “The Braid” – which I also highly recommend. Les Victorieuses will not disappoint either.
Colombani publishes in French but “The Braid” was also translated into English. I could not find an English translation of Les Victorieuses as yet. I read it in German, but I guess that it will be translated into English soon as well.
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All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received.