Tag Archives: Sylvia Brownrigg

Paperbacks to Look Out for in June 2018: Part One

Cover imageFewer paperbacks than I’d expected for June, which may come as a relief to some of you, but still rather too many to keep to just one post. I’ll start with André Alexis’ The Hidden Keys, a funny, clever and intricately plotted piece of storytelling full of puzzles within puzzles involving an honourable thief, a rich beyond imagining junkie and a treasure hunt. It’s a hugely enjoyable novel, a good old-fashioned caper which twists and turns in a baroque fashion as its many conundrums unfold. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and Scarlett Thomas’ The Seed Collectors.

Back in 2001, I was very taken with a novel called Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg. It was a love story, telling of the intense almost visceral affair between seventeen-year-old Flannery and her teacher Anne, ten years her lover’s senior. Pages for Her is its sequel written sixteen years later in which Flannery is married to a bombastic, self-centred yet affable sculptor. She’s surprised to be invited to a conference on women’s writing but as soon as she sees Anne’s name on the schedule, she’s determined to accept. What will happen when these two women meet after so many years? While not as riveting as its precursor, Pages for Her is well worth a read.

Phil Harrison’s The First Day is also about an intense affair beginning when pastor and family man Samuel Orr meets Anna, a young Beckett scholar. When Anna becomes pregnant their affair is made public with disastrous results. Thirty years later their son lives in New York, turning his back on his childhood and family until ‘the past crashes inevitably into the present, and Sam is forced to confront the fears he has kept close for decades’ according to the blurb. That New York lure is undeniable but it’s also an attractive premise.

The past also comes back to haunt in Elanor Dymott’s Silver and Salt, apparently. Ruthie’s father has Cover imagerecently died, prompting her return to his remote Greek villa from which she has been excluded for fifteen years. She and her elder sister settle into a sort of happiness, putting their dark childhoods behind them until the arrival of an English family and their daughter ’triggers a chain of events that will plunge both women back into the past, with shocking and fatal consequences. Devastating in its razor-sharp exploration of a tragic family legacy, Silver and Salt is the story of two sisters, bound by their history and driven to repeat it’ according to the publisher aiming it squarely at the summer reading market with that jacket.

That’s it for the first part of June’s paperback preview. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for The First Day and Silver and Salt, and to my review for the other two should any of them take your fancy. If you’d like to catch up with June’s new titles they’re here and here. Second batch soon…

Pages for Her by Sylvia Brownrigg: Flannery and Anne reprised

Cover imageBack in 2001, I was very taken with a novel called Pages for You. It was a love story, telling of the intense almost visceral affair between seventeen-year-old Flannery and her teacher Anne, ten years her lover’s senior. Since then I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Sylvia Brownrigg’s The Delivery Room, a very different novel. When I spotted Pages for Her on Twitter I immediately wanted to read it despite a niggling sequel worry. It’s a brave author who revisits her characters sixteen years after they emerged into the world but in this case, it’s a risk that’s paid off.

Flannery is now thirty-eight and married to a bombastic, self-centred yet affable sculptor, renowned enough to have an installation at the Venice Biennale. She’s the mother of six-year-old Willa whose conception prompted her marriage to Charles. Much to Flannery’s amazement, she loves being a mother if a little resentful of the hands-off Charles and bored by the circle of mothers she finds herself in. She has a bestselling memoir under her belt, a lightly fictionalised account of her search for the father she never knew accompanied by her lover Adele, best known for its raunchy sex scenes. Her more literary second book sank leaving little trace and now she’s blocked. She’s surprised to be invited to a conference on women’s writing but as soon as she sees Anne’s name on the schedule, she’s determined to accept. Meanwhile Anne has taken a lecturing gig on a cruise, hoping to lose herself in something different and turn her mind away from the rawness of her lover’s departure. A brilliant graduate student when Flannery knew her, she’s now a highly respected academic with a seminal work to her name and resolutely childless. When she’s asked to suggest a younger writer to invite to the conference, Anne thinks of Flannery. What will happen when these two women meet after so many years?

Brownrigg structures her novel into three parts. The first from Flannery’s perspective, full of domestic difficulties, love for her daughter and fantasies about Anne’s life. The second from Anne’s point of view, reflective on her long relationship with Jasper, her experiences on the cruise and her short stay with her sister in Venice with just a few thoughts about Flannery. The third section brings these two together for a reunion that one has longed for and the other has idly considered. It’s a very effective structure, neatly contrasting the two women’s lives, showing their affair from both sides and building a little suspense as we wonder how these once besotted lovers will find each other. Flannery’s character is particularly well drawn as she struggles with her egotistical husband while idealising the relationship she believes Anne shares with Jasper. It’s a pleasingly literary book, from the naming of Flannery and her daughter to the allusions scattered throughout, particularly in its final section. Brownrigg leaves the novel’s ending nicely open, possibly even enough to allow for a third instalment. That would probably be a step too far, although I’d be tempted to find out how Flannery and Anne get on in later life.