I don’t know about you but I found that there was definitely food for thought this month with our theme of Reputation. From the devilish deliciousness of Becky Sharpe from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Sarah Vaughan’s brilliant female characters in her latest thriller, Reputation, to a wonderful cast of women of many talents, skills and much courage in Kate Mosse’s Warrior Queens and Quiet Revolutionaries, their voices whether in fiction or in real life, show women of agency, women unafraid to speak their truth, taking centre stage and exploring reputation and integrity. With the exception of Thackeray (and I feel we ought to give him a bit of credit here as he writes about the plight of women so well for a 19th century man), as Kate Mosse writes so succinctly, it’s the importance of ‘Women keeping other women’s stories alive’ but it’s also writers exploring just what it means to be a woman. It seems that that fundamental question of reputation is something that doesn’t change, does it?
Here are some fabulous further reads which reflect all we’ve been chatting about this month.
First on the list has to be another of Sarah Vaughan’s brilliant thrillers, Anatomy of a Scandal. You’ll have heard us talking about it this month with the author herself. It’s already a Netflix series starring Sienna Miller, Michelle Dockery and Rupert Friend and is a complete gem of a book – pacy, plenty of plot and characters who will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The marriage of a high profile and charismatic politician, James, is thrown into turmoil when he stands accused of a terrible crime. His wife Sophie is convinced of his innocence and desperately seeks to protect her family from the lies which threaten to destroy everything. She’s good at keeping secrets – she can do it again. Kate is the barrister prosecuting his case, out to prove that justice is a long time coming. Power, privilege and political elite, this is a scandal that will rock Westminster but what of the women caught at the heart of it all?
From courtroom drama to courtly society and the murky underworld of pleasure palaces, the gin-shops of Covent Garden and elegant townhouses of 18th century Mayfair. Laura Shepherd- Robinson’s Daughters of Night follows society beauty Caroline Corsham as she discovers a woman who’s been mortally wounded in the bowers of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. When the magistrate and Bow Street Runners refuse to investigate, Caro decides to seek justice for the victim and throws her own reputation into jeopardy. As Caro hunts for the murderer, we follow her into a world of artifice and deception, uncovering secret lives and hidden corners of Georgian society. Will unravelling the mystery lead to her own undoing?
A fictional treat from Kate Mosse. The Taxidermist’s Daughter explores the place of women in early 20th century society in a beautifully gothic novel. Twenty-two year old Constantia Gifford lives with her father in a decaying house that was once Gifford’s world-famous museum of taxidermy. What led to the museum’s closure is never spoken of, nor is the accident which robbed Connie of all memory of those days. It is 1912 and in a Sussex churchyard, villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will not survive the coming year are thought to walk. In the shadow, a woman lies dead. As Connie tries to discover who is responsible, the memories from her own vanished years begin to rise to the surface.
What if the crime committed against you is the one which robs you of your truth? We all think we know the story of Circe. In this stunning mythological and truly unforgettable tale by Madeleine Miller, we hear her in her own voice. A daughter is born to Helios, god of the sun and the mightiest of Titans. Rejected and relegated to the shadows, Circe discovers she has a power all of her own. Perceived by the gods to be a threat, she is banished to the island of Aiaia where she learns how to harness her gifts and stand alone. When the mortal Odysseus arrives on the island, Circe finds herself risking everything she knows. In a man’s world, this is her song. She is woman, witch, myth, mortal, outcast, lover, destroyer and above all, survivor.
Fast forward to the present and if it’s a deep dive into the ups and downs of persona when it comes to social media that you’re after, then I’d heartily recommend Underbelly by Anna Whitehouse. It’s the story of Lo and Dylan, two mothers who meet in the playground and whose lives become entwined. All perfectly polished Insta posts and armchair activism, Lo is the ultimate middle-class mother whilst Dylan is struggling to survive as a single mum on a zero-hours telemarketing job from her flat. Underbelly brings together the complexities of female friendships and the dark side of the Internet.
Last but not least, if you enjoyed our chat about anti-heroines, women taking control of their own stories and some of the interesting questions which were unearthed about how we view each other as women, then this is a two-fold recommendation. Firstly, Viv Groskop’s Lift as You Climb: Women and the Art of Ambition really lifts the lid (see what I did there) on perception and explores what sisterhood really looks like these days. It’s empowering as well as entertaining, asking us what we can do to make things better for other women and considers how to do that without disadvantaging ourselves. Viv’s chart-topping podcast, How to Own the Room (she has a fantastic book out on the art of brilliant speaking with the same name) is an absolute must too. Her interview with bestselling author of Daughter of Fortune and The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende, led me to recommending another brilliant book which looks at how we view ourselves as women to you too – Allende’s The Soul of a Woman.
As ever, Rebecca L and I would love to know what you think of November’s Are You Sitting Comfortably so do get in touch if there’s a favourite among these or one you think should be a must-read.
Happy Reading x
A huge thank you to our wonderful sponsor Julia Brendel who loves a good book and a beautiful design as much as we do!!! A truly joyous coming together of books and talented artists happened this week when one of Julia’s rooms was picked up by the glorious S J Axelby (see our review on her amazing new book “Interior Portraits” last month) for her Instagram Room Portrait Club. See below for a few wonderful interpretations of Julia’s design by numerous amazing artists.
Julia is offering 30% off all table linens today so head over to her website, sign up to her newsletter and get Christmas table ready xxxx