The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers

This was probably one of the first books that called me when I saw the Orange Prize longlist. A modern heroine explores a Victorian murder mystery with a Dickensian connection. It sound like it could be great.

And I did like The Twisted Heart – just not in the way I expected.

You see it wasn’t the kind of story I expected. I was expecting a mystery to be set up, investigated and ultimately resolved, but it didn’t quite work like that.

The main focus was on a short and significant period in one young woman’s life. Kit. I liked her, I recognised her, and I could easily imagine chatting with her.

Kit was a post-graduate student in Oxford, researching the murder of a Victorian prostitute. A murder remarkably similar to the death of Nancy in Oliver Twist. Why?

She’s bookish and happy to live a quiet life, but she does wonder if maybe she ought to be more sociable. And so she goes to a dance class. Where she meets Joe, a maths professor.

A relationship emerges on rather unsteady feet. Kit is distracted by her research and Joe is distracted by his troubled elder brother. Or is it something more?

And that’s about it. There’s not too much plot, but the pleasures of this book are in the execution.

Rebecca Gowers writes beautifully.

Her  characters are real, with just the right amount of quirkiness, and they have some wonderful thought and exchanges.

Their various relationships are caught perfectly too: the domestic intimacy of Kit and her flatmate Michaela; the unbreakable bond between Joe and his brother; the awkward, evolving relationship between Kit and Joe.

The story dances lightly along. Did it need a literary mystery? Maybe not.

But all of the talk of Dickens and Victorian murder was engaging and clearly well researched. Joe picked up his copy of Oliver Twist; Orson, Kit’s graduate student was eager to get involved; I’d reread it myself, if I could only find the time!

No real resolution though – just a theory to fit the facts.

Soon after that the book finished: some strands were tied up nicely, while others just drifted off. Such is life.

And the Twisted Heart is a slice of life, rather than the tightly plotted novel that the cover seemed to promise. And, for me, it succeeded on those terms.

It wasn’t the great book I’d hoped for, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless.

Library Loot

I really didn’t mean to bring home so many books this week, but there have been  too many great books on the shelves. Some I resisted, but there were four I just had to bring home. And now my ticket is full, so there will be no more loot until I take something back.

Here are those irresistable books:

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

“1920. The Great War has been over for two years, and it has left a very different world from the Edwardian certainties of 1914. Following the death of his wife and baby and his experiences on the Western Front, Laurence Bartram has become something of a recluse. Yet death and the aftermath of the conflict continue to cast a pall over peacetime England, and when a young woman he once knew persuades him to look into events that apparently led her brother, John Emmett, to kill himself, Laurence is forced to revisit the darkest parts of the war. As Laurence unravels the connections between Captain Emmett’s suicide, a group of war poets, a bitter regimental feud and a hidden love affair, more disquieting deaths are exposed. Even at the moment Laurence begins to live again, it dawns on him that nothing is as it seems, and that even those closest to him have their secrets ….”

Ilove the period, I loved the concept, so I ordered the book as soon as it appeared in the catalogue.

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

“Olivier is a French aristocrat, the traumatized child of survivors of the Revolution. Parrot the son of an itinerant printer who always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant. Born on different sides of history, their lives will be brought together by their travels in America. When Olivier sets sail for the New World, ostensibly to study its prisons but in reality to save his neck from one more revolution – Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil.”

Another book that sounded just perfect. I didn’t order it because I knew that a copy was bound to appear sooner or later, and this week it did.

The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers

“When Kit goes to a dance class she is hoping simply to take her mind off her studies. Soon it looks like Joe, a stranger she meets there, might do more than that. But when Kit uncovers a mystery involving the young Charles Dickens and the slaughter of a prostitute known as The Countess, she is sucked back in to the world of books, and discovers how Dickens became tangled up with this horrendous crime.”

This was the bookthat called me loudest from the longlist for the Orange Prize. I love a literary mystery and the opening chapter already has me hooked.

Secret Son by Laila Lalami

“When a young man is given the chance to rewrite his future, he doesn’t realize the price he will pay for giving up his past…Casablanca’s stinking alleys are the only home that nineteen-year-old Youssef El-Mekki has ever known. Raised by his mother in a one-room home, the film stars flickering on the local cinema’s screen offer the only glimmer of hope to his frustrated dreams of escape. Until, that is, the father he thought dead turns out to be very much alive. A high profile businessman with wealth to burn, Nabil is disenchanted with his daughter and eager to take in the boy he never knew. Soon Youssef is installed in his penthouse and sampling the gold-plated luxuries enjoyed by Casablanca’s elite. But as he leaves the slums of his childhood behind him, he comes up against a starkly un-glittering reality…”

Another book longlisted for the Orange Prize. I wasn’t sure when I first read about it, but so manypeople have been so positive about this one that I just had to pick it up.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which book should I go for next? And which are you curious to know more about?

And what did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.