Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Review: Girl Reading, Katie Ward

Girl Reading

Katie Ward

Virago, 2011

Seven portraits. Seven artists. Seven girls and women reading. A young orphan poses nervously for a Renaissance maestro in medieval Siena, and an artist's servant girl in 17th-century Amsterdam snatches a moment away from her work to lose herself in tales of knights and battles. A young woman reading in a Shoreditch bar catches the eye of a young man who takes her picture, and a Victorian medium holds a book that she barely acknowledges while she waits for the exposure. Each chapter of this richly textured debut takes us into a perfectly imagined tale of how each portrait came to be, and as the connections accumulate, the narrative leads us into the present and beyond - an inspired celebration of women reading and the artists who have caught them in the act.

Rating this book made me conscious of how I'm not entirely sure rating books is always useful. At times, when I was reading it, this book felt like a 5 star read. Other times, I wanted to throw it out the window and move onto one of numerous other books sitting there, imploring me, "Cut your losses. Come join us."

The blurb sums the book up neatly - seven stories, all focusing on a girl (or woman) reading. These stories are interspersed throughout history, crossing time and place to bring different - unlinked - characters into focus. The final story is the connecting point, but for me that didn't really alter my view of the book. It's an interesting way of drawing things together, and it made me conscious of myself as the reader of these stories (and essentially, I suppose, as another 'girl reading'), but it's not a twist, and it doesn't change what has come before. The final story was actually my least favourite - I didn't feel like I needed things to be drawn together, and it was the least compelling part for me.

Most of the stories I really enjoyed. Ward is a great writer - not showy, but evocative and considered, and the stories are well-crafted. My favourite story was Jeannine's (Shoreditch, 2008), perhaps because of it's contemporary setting, and I enjoyed the stories featuring the psychic sisters (Victorian England), and the Dutch servant. The opening story, set in 14th century Siena, didn't grab me so much, so perhaps the book and I didn't get off to the greatest of starts.

The problem was that I felt like I should be enjoying it more than I was. It's worth mentioning that the speech isn't in speechmarks at any point, and although I can see how it might be effective (in an immersive sort of way), it's actually quite irritating, and I kept having to stop to work out who was speaking. It's a very good book, but not one that grabbed me and held on. I felt lukewarm towards it throughout (probably with the exception of Jeannine's story), and knowing that the characters would only be around for a certain amount of pages meant there was never much investment in them. It felt like a book you should be able to immerse yourself in, and yet there wasn't enough appeal for me to give myself up to it - instead, I found myself willing the end to come so I could read something else.

I don't want to end on a totally negative note, because this is a well-written collection of stories, capturing various points in time and exploring the emotion and actions that lie beneath. As a woman who reads (and reads and reads), it was nice to see a kaleidoscope of other women doing exactly the same thing, and what might be going on behind the scenes.

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library (on my mum's recommendation).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments and cookies always welcome!