Lovesome by Sally Seltmann

lovesome.jpgTitle: Lovesome

Author: Sally Seltmann

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An offbeat and beguiling story of finding your own happiness.

My warm breath makes a beautiful fog in front of me. It’s times like this when I feel most alive. I feel free, and at one with the world and everything around me. It’s an invigorating version of euphoria. But I don’t want to arrive home to no one; I want someone to come home to.

It’s 1995 and 21-year-old Joni Johnson is fresh out of art school and loving her life. Working at Harland, a French restaurant, makes her happy – it’s as romantic as she is herself. Harland’s owner, Lucy, and chef, Dave, make her evenings both entertaining and complicated. By day, Joni sets up her easel in her backyard bungalow, turns on her music, and paints.

But when Joni’s best friend, Annabelle, arrives on the doorstep one night ecstatic in love, everything changes. The life Joni has built for herself seems lacklustre in comparison to Annabelle’s rising star. And when Annabelle makes a beeline for the one man who seems interested in Joni, it looks unlikely that their friendship will survive.

Tender, funny and romantic, Lovesome is a triumph.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseI received Lovesome as a surprise book – and it was one that I decided I’d give a go. Joni Johnson is twenty-one in 1995. She is an artist, painting by day, and waitressing by night, going through the motions of her life in her early twenties, following her dream but also working to support herself, while her best friend, Annabelle, is living overseas in London as a singer. When Annabelle re-enters her life, it is like a tornado has landed – a tornado where Annabelle moves from excitement and hyperactivity about her current boyfriend coming to Australia, to a tense disagreement about James, the photographer for an article on Annabelle. When Joni and James show interest in each other, Annabelle’s jealousy flares – so used to having men fall for her instantly, it seems that their once stable friendship might be falling apart.

Part romance, part literary and part coming of age, Lovesome is the kind of novel where the people you thought would fall in love, don’t, and where the falling in love happens when and where you least expect it to in the storyline. The first half to a third is Joni exploring her life and trying to work out who she is at twenty-one, having finished art school, and aiming for an art career, she finds herself working at eclectic Harland, where each room has a different theme for diners, and where the enigmatic and complicated Lucy, runs the restaurant. Each character is flawed – Joni seems to doubt herself at times, Lucy is all over the place, or so it seems until quite late in the book, where she reveals secrets to Joni she perhaps has not revealed to anyone else, and Annabelle comes across as selfish at times, interrupting Joni to talk about whatever is on her mind, leaving Dave, the head chef, as Joni’s confidant.

At first I wasn’t sure what to expect or think, but it is a coming of age story that reflects the way some young people find themselves and their passion, and the relationships that they are in and out of, platonic and romantic, family and work. It was a rather quick read, and at times quite compelling – i kept wondering which way things would turn, and how it would work out. As such, I felt it wasn’t the typical love story that it might be seen as – rather, a unique one where the love interest pops up quite late, and although it happens quickly, didn’t feel rushed at all, unlike some I have read – it felt natural, and worked well for Joni. The friendships between Joni, Annabelle, Dave and Lucy were just as strong as just as important – they showed that love can happen in a variety of ways for different people, and that it isn’t always romantic. Showing that friendship is just as important, if not more important, than a romantic relationship, as shown by Joni and Annabelle’s friendship, is a great thing to see in novels.

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Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth

BeautyinThorns_CoverTitle: Beauty in Thorns

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House/Vintage

Published: 3rd of July 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 465

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spellbinding reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the wild bohemian circle of Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets.

The Pre-Raphaelites were determined to liberate art and love from the shackles of convention. 

Ned Burne-Jones had never had a painting lesson and his family wanted him to be a parson. Only young Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a Methodist minister – understood. She put aside her own dreams to support him, only to be confronted by many years of gossip and scandal.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was smitten with his favourite model, Lizzie Siddal. She wanted to be an artist herself, but was seduced by the irresistible lure of laudanum. 

William Morris fell head-over-heels for a ‘stunner’ from the slums, Janey Burden. Discovered by Ned, married to William, she embarked on a passionate affair with Gabriel that led inexorably to tragedy.

Margot Burne-Jones had become her father’s muse. He painted her as Briar Rose, the focus of his most renowned series of paintings, based on the fairy-tale that haunted him all his life. Yet Margot longed to be awakened to love. 

Bringing to life the dramatic true story of love, obsession and heartbreak that lies behind the Victorian era’s most famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is the story of awakenings of all kinds.

~*~

aww2017-badgeKate Forsyth’s fortieth novel, Beauty in Thorns reimagines the Sleeping Beauty fairy tail, using the well-known version of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and the world of the Pre-Raphaelite artists and poets working to free art from the conventional prison that the Victorian world tried to isolate and suffocate it in. The stories of Ned Burne-Jones and his wife, Georgie, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his many affairs and obsession with model Lizzie Siddal, William Morris, and Ned Burne-Jones’s daughter were all caught up in this life of perfecting art and the paintings of Briar Rose, and the betrayal of lovers and husbands, rushing into the arms of muses who wished to tear them away from their families. The lives are tragic and romantic, hopeful and realistic, showing the depths and flaws of these characters.

Sweeping across the latter half of the nineteenth century, we meet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, and New Burne-Jones as they enter the art world and find models for their paintings, and they fall in love and out of love. Rossetti’s favourite model, Lizzie Siddal, falls ill during a sitting and following her illness, becomes addicted to laudanum and uses her addiction to the drug and obsession to pull Rossetti towards her, and their tragic relationship faces many ups and downs, the final tragedy striking suddenly and harshly amongst the group of friends and lovers.

Whilst the men painted and had their works exhbited and commissioned, the women wrote poetry and painted too, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sister, Christina, author of poems such as Goblin Market, making a few appearances, and other authors, such as Rudyard Kipling, appearing as infants, part of one of the families, and eventually, as Kate_Forsythadults in the world of art and poetry their parents raised them in. Lizzie, Georgie, Janey and the other models share in their jealousy of each other, and desire to have the men they love to themselves, but they are more than that – they wish to be recognised in their own right as artists and poets, not just wives and mothers, or lovers and models. Beauty in Thorns is a novel full of complex characters whose desires in all aspects of their lives drive them, and influence the decisions they make. I found Georgie and Ned’s story to be the most hopeful – they stayed together through thick and thin, and Georgie didn’t sacrifice her sense of self to become a wife and mother. It is a story of women who fit into their time period, but at the same time, step out of the conventions they were born into and forge their own paths, sometimes separate from the men in their lives, sometimes alongside them, and at times, they do both, creating intrigue within the plot, pulling the reader along towards the conclusion of a story filled with tragedy at times, but hope at others.

Each peripheral character impacted dynamics too, and the group was shaken at times of death and tragedy, but pulled through, showing the strength of family and friendship, not just romantic love in the Pre-Raphaelite community. Even the well-known authors mentioned by name or who make brief appearances such as Rudyard Kipling bring an interest to the story, and cement the setting with mention of their works and inspirations, perhaps hinting at other possible stories to be told. I was unaware of Rudyard Kipling’s familial link to the Pre-Raphaelites prior to reading this, and I hope to be able to look further into it, and read his works, and Christina Rossetti’s works, in a new light.

Beauty in Thorns is a book of beauty, from the cover to the story and characters within. It weaves a magic spell around the reader, and using the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, there are hints as to who the Sleeping Beauty of the Pre-Raphaelites was: Was it Lizzie Siddal, perfect even in death? Or Margot Burne-Jones, her father’s muse, and the child he desired to keep at home, young and innocent, free from the heartbreak of love that he and his friends had experienced? Or is it both, Lizzie sleeping, Margot awake, yet feeling as though she isn’t, and longing for love to awaken her? Having read the novel, I think both are Sleeping Beauty in a way, and Kate Forsyth has conveyed this through beautiful language and imagery that flows delightfully across the page and envelops the reader as though in a warm, comforting blanket.

In each of her books, Kate Forsyth works magic with her words, weaving a spell around characters – whether inspired by real people, imagined or a fictional yet believable image of a historical figure, artist or poet – and creating a world to escape into. Her historical fiction is exceptionally well researched, and Beauty in Thorns is no exception. Using history and fairy tales as inspiration, Kate Forsyth has created a world that I didn’t want to leave, and a book that I wanted to savour yet devour at the same time. I ended up devouring it in two days, as I often do with her books. This is usually the sign of a good book for me, and an intriguing story that combined many themes of family, love, friendship and tragedy, much like The Beast’s Garden, which I am hoping to read again this year.

Another exceptional novel from one of Australia’s favourite storytellers, a true master of the story, Kate Forsyth, Beauty in Thorns is sure to appeal to lovers of historical fiction, fairy tales and Kate’s other works. I look forward to her future novels as well.

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