unreviewed round-up

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
Pub. Date: 1937
Source: Bought
Summary: Lord Copper, newspaper magnate and proprietor of the “Daily Beast”, has always prided himself on his intuitive flair for spotting ace reporters. That is not to say he has not made the odd blunder, however, and may in a moment of weakness make another. Acting on a dinner-party tip from Mrs Algernon Smith, he feels convinced that he has hit on just the chap to cover a promising little war in the African Republic of Ishmaelia.
Genre: Fiction, Satire
Recommended for: Fans of dark comedies who can get past 1930s racial overtones

Y’all know I love me some Evelyn Waugh! I had read this one as part of a week-long celebration I had in the works for his birthday, but never got around to it. That said, I’m still hoping to do some sort of Waugh Week in the future! Scoop is super short and, at times, incredibly funny – to the point where I was actually laughing out loud. That said, this one ultimately wasn’t my favorite of Waugh’s.

Scoop is Waugh’s take on newspapers and journalism, largely paralleling his own experiences. There’s a massive story in the Ishmaelian war and the Daily Beast needs just the right man for the job. John Boot, a famous novelist, is selected for the task, but in a rather hilarious mix-up, his distant cousin (who just happens to be a nature writer for the paper), William Boot, receives word that he’ll be traveling to the war-torn nation.

Someday I’d like to revisit this novel and see if my feelings have changed. It truly was incredibly funny and I loved the thrown-in references to Wodehouse, but certain scenes made me extremely uncomfortable. I understand that this novel was written in the ’30s and views were different decades ago, but the descriptions and word choices used for the Ishmaelians were too much for me.

Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
Pub. Date: December 30, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Ballantine Books!)
Summary: London, 1905: The city is alight with change, and the Stephen siblings are at the forefront. Vanessa, Virginia, Thoby, and Adrian are leaving behind their childhood home and taking a house in the leafy heart of avant-garde Bloomsbury. There they bring together a glittering circle of bright, outrageous artistic friends who will grow into legend and come to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. And at the center of this charmed circle are the devoted, gifted sisters: Vanessa, the painter, and Virginia, the writer.

Each member of the group will go on to earn fame and success, but so far Vanessa Bell has never sold a painting. Virginia Woolf’s book review has just been turned down by The Times. Lytton Strachey has not published anything. E. M. Forster has finished his first novel but does not like the title. Leonard Woolf is still a civil servant in Ceylon, and John Maynard Keynes is looking for a job. Together, this sparkling coterie of artists and intellectuals throw away convention and embrace the wild freedom of being young, single bohemians in London.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Epistolary Novel
Recommended for: Readers already familiar with these historical figures who won’t be confused by the lack of introductions

I love historical fiction. LOVE it. Even better is when it’s biographical fiction, taking real figures from history and telling their story. When it comes to this type of fiction, I’m always open to reading about the lives of people I’m not entirely familiar with. Vanessa and Her Sister revolves around Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and their group of friends. I know virtually nothing about these people – I have never read any of Forster’s or Woolf’s novels – but I was eager to discover just who this Bloomsbury Group was.

The first few pages should have sounded the alarms. Multiple pages are dedicated to explaining who the characters are, what their relationships are to the others involved, etc. This went on for numerous pages. At first that delighted me – I love when a cast of characters is presented. However, had I known that would have been my only reference for keeping these characters straight, I would have studied it closer – and perhaps jotted down notes!

Vanessa and Her Sister is an epistolary novel – which I hadn’t realized and didn’t garner from the summary. If I knew this story was going to be told through Vanessa’s diary entries, I doubt I would have requested a review copy. Because Vanessa knows these people, she never introduces them, so if you’re a reader like me who doesn’t know the first thing about these figures, you’re out of luck. Not only could I not keep the characters straight, but I also had a hard time following the story. Epistolary fiction can be hit-or-miss with me: I had to force my way through Dracula, but I loved The Supernatural Enhancements and I’m a Dear America fiend. Vanessa and Her Sister, unfortunately, was a big ol’ miss. Vanessa’s entries were so stilted it was a bit jarring and a little overwhelming. I never got a feel for the setting, characters, or story and stopped reading about just a few chapters.

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