I was so thrilled to bring Jo Pratt’s marvellous ‘Madhouse Cookbook‘ to your attention recently – it’s clearly a book which is needed in more households than just mine, and I’m delighted that several of you have ordered it since seeing it on here. (And, if you haven’t, it’s currently just £3 if you follow the link above – practically a steal.) But now it’s time to bring you up to speed on my other challenge for 2015 – reading a book a month.
The two novels I’ve read recently look pretty different, on the face of it. They’re both set in the 1800s, and they both straddle England and America, but the subject matters couldn’t be further apart. Erin Morgenstern’s ‘The Night Circus’ is a romantic, magical fantasy – that wonderful sort of escapist writing which teeters on the edge of believable and then snatches you away on a dream-cloud, where you have simply no choice but to trust the characters and situations. The story is of a pair of illusionists and the incredible ‘circus’ in which they operate – and, beyond that, I really can’t tell you any more for fear of spoiling it for you. Suffice to say, it’s a tale full of colour, imagination, magic, romance and life, and is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read.
By contrast, ‘The Last Runaway‘ (Tracy Chevalier), deals with the hardened, gritty realism of 1850s America – the slave trade, the Underground Railroad, quilts, whiskey and Quakerism. A young British Quaker girl finds herself in Ohio, unable to return to England, but with no family or identity in America. She starts to build her life around the strong convictions she has, starts to find a voice for her beliefs. This book taught me so much about America in the 1850s – and the British opinion of Americans back then. I loved getting to know Honor Bright, the heroine, and felt every emotion along with her.
One novel is fantasy, one is reality. But perhaps the two are more similar than they first appear. They both pick up the theme of running away – from situations, circumstance, and the expectations of others. Both books are, essentially, about individuals trying to break away from the life which is being dictated to them, and follow their hearts instead.
I love that two such different books can have this common thread. And in life, held together by the common thread of our own existence, we need a healthy balance of fantasy and reality as well. Too much fantasy, and we become useless to those around us, unable to function in community or relate to others. Too much reality and we lose our ability to imagine, to dream, to hope. My life has certainly been a good mix of the two recently – the gritty, hard stuff sitting alongside the joyful stuff that elevates me – and I hope yours has been too.