My Lockdown Books: Thirty

Between Two Seas was Marie-Louise Jensen’s first book and it’s exceptionally good.  I had some reservations about the believability of it after my first reading.  But then I did some research and discovered that what I’d thought were credulity-stretching coincidences were actually grounded in fact.

After her mother’s death, Marianne sets sail from Grimsby for Denmark in search of her unknown father.  The year is 1885 and the journey is fraught with danger and difficulty.  Most of the story is set in Skagen on the tip of Jutland and that’s where the title comes from.  In the late nineteenth century there was an artist’s colony there and Marie-Louise Jensen uses some of these artist’s as significant players in her book: Peder Kroyer, Anna Ancher and Michael Ancher amongst others.

I went to Skagen on the strength of this book and found that Marie-Louise Jensen had captured it perfectly.  The setting is very important to the novel but it was one of the things that troubled me on my first reading.  I felt that everything was made slightly too easy for Marianne but the presence of the artists and the newly-opened railway to the town actually make the plot completely plausible  (I am still envious of the speed at which Marianne learns Danish though!)

I’ve gone on to read all of Marie-Louise’s books and enjoyed them but this remains my favourite.

 

13th December

Back in the fifties and sixties career novels were all the rage, particularly those aimed at girls. I read them in the eighties and was first of all puzzled, and then fascinated, by them.  There was Jane, Young Author (!), Juliet in Publishing and Molly Qualifies as a Librarian (not by going to university, though, as I was planning).  Of course, these careers were only there to fill in the time before marriage inevitably ensued!  Hester: Ship’s Officer is one of The Bodley Head’s career novels.  It was published in 1957 and from a modern standpoint it’s absolutely hilarious.  But in spite of everything it’s a remarkably good story.  Many of these career novels (which I love and collect) are little more than tracts for different jobs but this has plot and character and everything!  The author is Valerie Baxter, actually Laurence Meynell, who wrote a lot of the better career novels.  Obviously I like this because it’s set on a ship.  Or, at least, that’s what you’d think.  Actually it takes Hester about half the book to get on board…

Between Two Seas is by Marie-Louise Jensen.  The author is half English/half Danish and the book is set in the two countries at the end of the nineteenth century.  The heroine is Marianne, the illegitimate daughter of Esther.  At the start of the novel they are living in Grimsby but the action really begins after Esther’s death when Marianne sets sail for Denmark in search of her unknown father. In my opinion, the book’s major strength is its description.  I’m predisposed to envisage the sea but Marie-Louise Jensen certainly created a clear setting for me in the north Danish fishing village of Skagen.  Having been there since reading the book (because of reading the book if the truth were to be told) I can see how well it was described.  My only slight problem with the book is that everything falls into place quite easily.  Marianne leaves Grimsby with limited money, speaking no Danish and not knowing where Skagen is but somehow she arrives with little difficulty.  I am also very envious of the ease with which she seems to master Danish.  I spent two years learning Norwegian, a very similar language, and I still find it pretty hard going in spite of a number of visits to Norway.  But my quibbles are professional; on a personal basis I really enjoyed reading it.

2012’s Bookshelf

The other day I was clearing out all the books I’ve received from publishers this year. Don’t worry; they all went to good homes. I dealt with the books for primary children first, as they were being given as prizes, and the picture books had already gone. So I was left with the teenage titles. One of my colleagues took them to pass on to a local organisation which is collecting gifts for young people who might not otherwise receive anything. Hopefully there will be lots of happy teenagers in Moray this Christmas.

But they’ll pretty much only be happy if they like dystopian novels or the paranormal/supernatural. Fairies, vampires, zombies, angels, werewolves and dark spirits of all kinds were clustered on my shelves. And I hate them all! I’ve never met one that I could enjoy reading about. I’m sure some of them are good books. In fact, I know they are. Take a bow, Joss Stirling. But I can’t get interested. Part of my problem is that I’m irritated by publishers jumping on the bandwagon and giving us more of the same – even when it’s badly written, plotted and populated. The dystopian novels aren’t quite as bad but I do think that they’re going the same way as authors run out of anything new to say. But Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy was interesting and I thought that Slated by Teri Terry was a great concept.

Once these genres were off my shelves, I was left with very little. Fortunately some of it was very good. Sophie McKenzie’s Missing trilogy was represented and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Similarly, I am loving Anne Cassidy’s Murder Notebooks. I’m surprised by both of these as I don’t particularly enjoy thrillers. But these are gripping without being a ridiculous strain on the nerves. More to my general taste were the historical novels by the likes of Mary Hoffman, Rosemary Sutcliff, Paul Dowswell and Marie-Louise Jensen, who is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine. And my small Australian collection: Garth Nix, Michael Gerard Bauer and Morris Gleitzman. I met the first two at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year and they were as lovely as their books. (I’ve met Morris Gleitzman previously and he is too!)

Clearly there are other brilliant books out there and I do understand that publishing is a business and it needs to be commercially viable. But my wish for 2013 is that more publishers will be brave and take risks – and that they’ll keep sending me their books!

Between Two Seas

The last book I read was Between Two Seas by Marie-Louise Jensen.  The author is half English/half Danish and the book is set in the two countries at the end of the nineteenth century.  The heroine is Marianne, the illegitimate daughter of Esther.  At the start of the novel they are living in Grimsby but the action really begins after Esther’s death when Marianne sets sail for Denmark in search of her unknown father.

In my opinion, the book’s strength is in its description.  I’ve not been to Grimsby or to anywhere (except Copenhagen airport!) in Denmark so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the description but it painted a picture in my head.  I’m predisposed to envisage the sea but Marie-Louise Jensen certainly created a clear setting for me in the north Danish fishing village of Skagen.

The problem I have with the book is its lack of depth.  Everything just seemed a bit too easy.  Marianne leaves Grimsby with limited money, speaking no Danish and not knowing where Skagen is but somehow everything falls into place and she arrives with little difficulty.  Fortuitously, as she nears her destination, she meets a local artist who shares her ability to speak French.  I agree that none of this is impossible but it’s too convenient and too quick.  I am also very envious of the ease with which she seems to master Danish.  I’ve been learning Norwegian, a very similar language, for a year and I’m still finding it pretty hard going in spite of a number of visits to Norway.

Even though I think the book is too slight, I enjoyed reading it.  Marianne is an engaging heroine, if rather undeveloped, and some of the Danish characters are very well handled.  I read my library’s copy of the book.  Will I buy a copy to add to my personal collection?  Almost certainly, yes.