I did pretty well on the 20 books of summer challenge — better than I expected. Before September 3 rolled around I had finished 14 books. This number includes the last three books of Middlemarch and concludes it. Huzzah! That’s a pretty good run for me, especially considering how busy my summer was.
But September has proved to be busier yet. I’ve not even finished a single book this month. But in the spirit of finishing this up and moving on, I am going to mini-review the last three books I read as part of the challenge and say a few words about Middlemarch. And be done.
In this strange novella, published in 1808, the virtuous, respectable, and widowed Countess of O— finds herself unaccountably pregnant with her fourth child. Certainly the Marquise is aware of how babies are made, but she cannot recall the circumstances that have brought about her condition, and it puts her honor in serious question with her family. So she places an ad in the newspaper asking for the father of her child to present himself to her. The story is a bit more complicated that I am describing, but even a close reading left me puzzled. Most analyses infer rape by a Russian Count seeking her hand in marriage, but there is a strange scene with the Marquise sitting on her father’s lap kissing him deeply that was disturbing and suspect. It’s a short and interesting read, but I guarantee you will be going back to try to figure out what you missed. Let me know if you find it. 4/5
This thriller reminded me of a classic 60s-era James Bond with a dash of John Le Carré. Set in Zurich and the French Riviera, an Iraqi general is found murdered and a beautiful woman, the general’s mistress, is seen fleeing the scene. No one can find her, not even the police, until Peter Maas, a Dutch reporter with a troubled past, is put on the story to find her and figure out what happened. Maas succeeds in locating the luscious Lucia and discovers that the general was involved in planning a Kurdish uprising to overthrow the Iraqi government. Soon Maas tosses in the towel with his magazine, and he and Lucia are running a triple scam to sell the generals papers to three different international parties. Lots of safe houses, clandestine meetings, backtracking, aliases, etc. I’ve made this sound totally cheesy, but it’s really a well-written thriller of the period. 3/5
This is the third book I’ve read by Rowell, but my least favorite. A sweet and sincere young guy named Lincoln gets a job policing email for a company. He soon gets hooked on the very funny and confidential emails between two women — and of course he begins to fall for one of them. I loved the emails between the two women. The two come off as smart, clever, and relatable, but Lincoln was a bit TOO sweet and sincere to be believable. And the romance and resolution in the book were too pat and saccharine for my taste. It’s not horrid, but better suited as a good airplane or beach book. Light, quick, and utterly undemanding. 2.5/5
And last a few words about Middlemarch. I’m not going to review or rank Middlemarch. It’s one of those books the world doesn’t need my opinion on. I’m glad I read it, but I wish that I’d done so in a college setting under the guidance of a professor who could tease out the finer points and illuminate the themes and context in which Eliot was working. I’d read it again under such circumstances in a heartbeat, so I’ve got my eyes open for an online class or similar. That said, this website, created by a college prof who teaches Middlemarch and other Victorian classics, gives great pointers if you are reading it on your own.