In search of something light

Posted October 11, 2020 by Lory in brief reviews / 19 Comments

Looking for a book to lighten my mood, I tried and discarded a number of candidates, from contemporary and historical rom-coms to fantasies to classic mysteries. Nothing held my attention for long: too crude, too contrived, too anachronistic, too dated. Would I ever find something to brighten up my reading life?

A couple of tried and true favorites came to the rescue: Margery Sharp (the appropriately named Something Light) and Barbara Pym (Jane and Prudence). Compared to the plodding and half-literate writing I sometimes come across in popular fiction of today, these two ladies always write with real style and distinction, but not a touch of pretention. Perfect light reading that does not insult the intelligence, if you can look past the mid-century assumptions about gender roles.

I’ve taken a long break from Jane Austen retellings, but I also tried a couple of those — and found  Unmarriageable to be a worthy entry in this overcrowded genre, as well as an addition for my Reading All Around the World project. Soniah Kamal has updated the story of Pride and Prejudice to twenty-first-century Pakistan, a setting that is in some ways very far away from Austen’s and in other ways very close, with a similar pressure on women to marry, rigid social rules and codes, and tension between outer wealth and inner moral worth. The updates of the characters are fun to follow; even their names are entertaining.

Just a few things felt off to me: what was perhaps meant as sardonic wit from Alys, the Lizzie Bennett character, came across as too harsh and angry; the Mr. Collins character was too positively portrayed, being wealthy, successful, and generous instead of a sycophantic creep; and it was beyond the bounds of belief that Alys, a high school English teacher who opens the novel with a lesson on P&P, would not notice that her life has started to uncannily resemble her favorite book.

Otherwise it was a literary romp that also gave a fascinating view into life, and especially marriage customs, in Pakistan. I especially loved how at the end every single female character got her own business or profession at which to shine. That’s the kind of update I like to see!

Have you found any light reading lately to lift your spirits?

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19 responses to “In search of something light

  1. Yes, the Louise Penny mysteries. While their subject matter is not always light, they have an optimistic outlook on the world and they’re easy to read.

    • I’d like to read those but the waiting list for the earlier volumes is so long at the library. Maybe I need to just buy some paperbacks.

  2. I’ve been reading some Diana Wynne Jones novels and before that a trilogy by Nadiya Hussain (Bake-Off contestant with a ghostwriter) which have given me the light reading I need between heavier non-fiction books

  3. I’m definitely in more of a light reading mood at the moment, even though ideally I wanted to read some spookier books throughout October.
    I haven’t read too many Jane Austen retellings, but Unmarriageable definitely looks interesting!

  4. I loved Unmarriageable so much! I thought the parallels between the original and new settings worked very well. Like you, I couldn’t believe the main character wouldn’t notice the similarities though 🙂

  5. I also really enjoyed (and reviewed) Unmarriageable. I am very picky about Jane Austen wannabes but this passed my (imaginary) test. I agree she should have recognized the parallels in her own life but maybe that would have distracted from the narrative.

    My most enjoyable, escapist reading this year has been Louise Penny’s Three Pines books, which I highly recommend. You know you are obsessed when you don’t want to return your library books (it helped that they were checked out for three months!) and have to purchase your own copies.

    For fans of Downton Abbey, I recommend a series set during WWI by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. The first book is called Goodbye Piccadilly.

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