The Memory of Us is a historical novel loosely inspired by the Beatles’ song Eleanor Rigby. Beginning in late 1930s Liverpool, the novel tells the story of Julianne Westcott and Kyle McCarthy, divided by religion and social class but united by love. Their star-crossed romance unfolds over several decades as Kyle’s vocation to become a Catholic priest, and Julianne’s family’s desire for her to make a socially advantageous marriage to a wealthy man, clash with the obvious attraction between the two. Then war intervenes and takes both their lives in a direction no-one — including this reader — expects.
I found the characters and their love story compelling, believable and (sometimes) sad. The historical setting was a bit more uneven for me. I know the author is a devout Catholic and I feel that her knowledge of chuch culture, even in another country and era, rang true. However, she’s also a modern American woman, and often the voice that comes through — whether it’s Julianne’s voice as a first-person narrator, or the voices of various characters in dialogue — sounds more like a modern American voice than like an Englishwoman of the 1930s. Dialogue in historical fiction is very hard to do correctly; all of us writers who attempt to travel to the past struggle with it. Though I felt the dialogue was the weakest point in The Memory of Us, it didn’t stop me from reading the novel in a couple of sittings and getting very immersed in the characters and their story. I’m expecting more historical fiction from Camille DiMaio in future and I will definitely be checking out her other work.
I bought Buffering as a Christmas gift for my teenage daughter and read the book in a day or so before wrapping it to give to her. Then she unwrapped it and read the whole book on Christmas day, so it’s safe to say it’s a very engaging read.
Hannah Hart is a YouTube star of whom my daughter is a big fan. I’ve been slower to come round to loving her; I’ve always liked her warm, frank, funny persona in her videos, but because she has so many young teenage fans, I’ve always been leery of the fact that her main channel is called “My Drunk Kitchen” (yes, it involves her cooking while slightly tipsy) because I feel like it normalizes alcohol use for teens. So I’ve seen (and I guess still see) Hannah Hart having a bit of a mixed message as a role model for young girls, which I think is a by-product of the fact that a lot of today’s young YouTube stars never set out to be role models. They started doing things online that they and their friends found fun and interesting (Hart made her first “Drunk Kitchen” video as a joke to cheer up a depressed friend), and along the way acquired legions of fans, many quite young, who look up to and admire them.
Buffering is a very well-written, frank memoir about Hannah Hart’s own life and her coming to terms with the weirdness of internet celebrity. She grew up in an environment that include a toxic mix of conservative religion (Jehovah’s Witnesses, mainly her father and stepmother), mental illness (her mother), neglect and outright abuse. It’s a pretty horrific story, very matter-of-factly told. As you read through Hart’s account of a very challenging childhood and adolescence, her coming out as lesbian, and her stumble into online stardom, it’s hard not to like this warm, confused, honest young woman — even if you might wish she would cook more and drink less when your kids are watching.
I got interested in Lucrezia Borgia after watching most of the series “Borgia” and reading Sarah Dunant’s novel Blood and Beauty. Although C.W. Gortner’s novel makes some different choices in interpreting various events around the controversial Borgia family, the picture of Lucrezia that emerges from all these tellings is similar: an initially innocent and naive young woman who, because her father is the Pope, finds herself in the centre of a complex web of intrigue. As she is bartered on the marriage market with little concern for how she feels about any of her potential (or actual) husbands, and as her family’s fortunes rise and fall, Lucrezia finds she has to become a bit of a politician herself to survive.
I would have liked it if this novel had given more time and attention to Lucrezia’s later life, which I find fascinating but which is seldom addressed in fiction. Her early life and first two marriages (one ending in annulment after four years, the other ending after only two years in the highly suspicious death of her husband after he became a political liability to the Borgias) were very turbulent, and along with the events surrounding her father and brothers, this is the usual terrain writers seem to focus on with Lucrezia. However, she was married at 22 to her third husband and the marriage seems to have been relatively happy (if not faithful on either side); she and Alfonso d’Este had eight children together, ran their duchy, and survived the fall of the Borgias. Lucrezia died at 39, so nearly half her life was spent as Alfonso’s duchess, and this period seems like it would be a fascinating field for fiction. However, C.W. Gortner ends his very engaging and readable novel at the midpoint of Lucrezia’s life. I want to read the rest of the story, and hope that someone will write it.