One-Minute Book Reviews

March 1, 2010

An English Bride Walks Down the Wrong Aisle in Julia Strachey’s Tragicomic Novella, ‘Cheerful Weather for the Wedding’

A young woman’s anxieties about her wedding escape the notice of her oblivious mother

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. By Julia Strachey. With a new preface by Frances Partridge. Persephone, 118 pp., $18, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

Virginia Woolf rightly called this novella “extraordinarily complete and sharp” when she and her husband published it under their Hogarth Press imprint. One of its most unusual aspects is that Julia Strachey gives away its ending in her first line: She tells you that on March 5, Mrs. Thatcham, a middle-class widow, married her 23-year-old daughter to the Hon. Owen Bigham, a diplomat eight years her senior. She makes clear soon afterward that Dolly has married the wrong man.

How does Strachey create suspense after showing so much of her hand? In part, through her masterly use of theatrical techniques, which she studied in drama school. All of the action in the book takes place on Dolly’s wedding day at mother’s North Yorkshire home. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding has roughly the structure of a three-act play — with scenes before, during, and after the ceremony — and it rushes forward on a tide of clever repartee. For a slim book, it has a large and well-observed cast of characters: friends, relatives, servants, and a former suitor of Dolly’s who turns up hoping to plead his case. Strachey shows the bride in her white Edwardian bedroom before the wedding:

“All about the airy bedroom, maids of different kinds, in dark skirts and white blouses stooped low and searched about for stockings and garters, or stood warming satin shoes and chemises in front of the coal fire.”

But Strachey offers more than a catalog of domestic minutiae, however telling or amusing. Anglo-American literature abounds with heroines handicapped in courtship by the deaths of their mothers: Anne Elliott in Persuasion, Lily Bart in House of Mirth, Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding involves a lack of maternal guidance of a different sort. Hetty Thatcham is so dense and foolish, she is oblivious to her daughter’s anxieties about the imminent wedding. She doesn’t notice — or pretends not to see — that Dolly copes by hiding rum in the folds of her bridal gown.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a tragicomedy about the harm done by mothers who are too self-absorbed to understand — or even recognize — their children’s pain. And Strachey shows how that damage can sweep up people beyond the family. Dolly’s younger sister appears shocked to find the bride-to-be drinking rum out of a bottle in a bedroom minutes before the wedding. “I’m sorry to say it, Dolly,” she said, “but in some ways it will be a good thing when you are no longer in the house. It will not be so demoralizing for the servants, at any rate.” 

Best line: On a parchment lampshade with a galleon and leaves painted on it that Dolly receives as a wedding gift from Miss Dodo Potts-Griffiths: “The galleon and leaves were not, in any sense, painted from Nature, yet they were not exactly diagrammatic either. Rather it was though an average had somehow been arrived at of all the Elizabethan galleons and of all the leaves that had ever before been painted on a lamp-shade, and a diagram then drawn to represent this average.” 

Worst line: “ ‘However; s-s-s-s-s-ssh-sh-s-s-s.’”

Furthermore: Julia Strachey was a niece of Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury group. Partridge is the co-author of Julia: A Portrait of Julia Strachey (Little, Brown, 1983), co-written with her subject. Persephone Books reprints neglected 20th-century novels and other books, most by women.

Janice Harayda is a novelist, award-winning critic, and former book editor of the Plain Dealer. You can also follow her on Twitter at @janiceharayda. She satirizes American literary culture, such as it is, on her Fake Book News page (@FakeBookNews) on Twitter www.twitter.com/FakeBookNews.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 19, 2008

Wedding Gowns That AREN’T Strapless – A Book With More Than 200 Ideas

Brides are getting the cold shoulder from fashion designers. Strapless wedding gowns have become so popular that the mother of a recent bride told me you can find little else in many stores. And if bare shoulders don’t flatter your body type or you’re getting married in December in a church with iffy heating, you might need to design your own dress or spend extra time looking for one. Either way, you’ll find a bouquet of ideas for nonstrapless gowns in Philip Delamore’s The Perfect Wedding Dress (Firefly, $35). This handsome coffee table book has more than 300 photos of elegant gowns, only about three dozen of them strapless, worn by celebrities and others. If you’ve vowed to keep your shoulders covered for the ceremony, you’ll discover that you have lots of company among the brides who appear in the book in their wedding dresses. Among them: Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Jennifer Lopez, Liv Tyler and Princess Diana. You can read more about Delamore and The Perfect Wedding Dress here www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2006/12/07/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 8, 2007

Under the Neapolitan Sun — A Repressed British Soldier Has a Sensual Awakening in Anthony Capella’s World War II Novel, ‘The Wedding Officer’

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When love seasons the pasta sauce

The Wedding Officer. By Anthony Capella. Bantam, 423 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

The Wedding Officer gives unexpected life to a theme that English novelists have developed so often it borders on a cliche — that of the repressed Brit who has a sensual awakening in Italy. This love story isn’t on par with E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View and Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April. But it is popular fiction of a high order, or easy but intelligent reading that is far above novels such as Newt Gingrich’s Pearl Harbor.

Captain James Gould arrives in Naples in 1944 with the thankless assignment of discouraging marriages between British soldiers and their distracting Italian girlfriends. His emotions collide with his duties when Livia Pertini becomes the cook for the Allied officers and prepares sumptuous pasta dishes followed by deserts such as baked pears with honey and rosemary. As James’s passions awaken, Mount Vesuvius emits ominous plumes of smoke, the bloodbath at Anzio approaches, and Naples resembles an open-air brothel overrun by prostitutes who sleep with soldiers to pay for their syphilis treatments.

As he tells this briskly paced story, Anthony Capella deftly balances history, gastronomy and the dilemma of a young intelligence officer at odds with more than the Axis powers and the local gangsters. And that mix helps to make The Wedding Officer the rare popular love story that may appeal equally to men and women. Anybody who doubts it needs only to read the first line of this novel and see if she — or he — can resist reading more: “The day Livia Pertini fell in love for the first time was the day the beauty contest was won by her favorite cow, Pupetta.”

Best and worst lines: This post will be updated, possibly by the end of the day, with these lines and more information on Capella’s work. I’m still in computer purgatory.

Published: May 2007 www.theweddingofficer.com and www.bantamdell.com

Furthermore: For information on the movie versions of The Enchanted April and A Room With a View, go to the Internet Movie Database www.imdb.com and search for their titles. Von Arnim was born in Australia and moved to England at a young age.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

May 28, 2007

A Totally Authorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Accidental Bride’ by Janice Harayda

10 Discussion Questions
The Accidental Bride
A Comedy of Midwestern Manners

Note: Because of the holiday, I’m taking the day off from reviewing and posting this readers’ guide to The Accidental Bride, my first novel. This differs slightly from the other guides on this site, because I haven’t reviewed the book and am instead using some of the material the publisher sent out when the book came out in hardcover. A guide to my second comedy of manners, Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004), appeared on March 14, 2007. You can find it by clicking either on the March posts archive or the Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups Guide category (although the guides to both of my novels, unlike the others on this site, are totally authorized). Jan

One month before her fairy-tale wedding to the third richest man in the second largest city in Ohio, Lily Blair is beset by doubts. She appears to have a charmed life – a budding newspaper career and a five-carat engagement ring from a wonderful man – but can’t decide whether to plunge headfirst into the security of married suburban life or follow her career dreams alone to New York. Her family and friends keep nudging her toward the aisle. But Lily has qualms about a wedding her mother wants to stage like a full-scale military operation. Amid the plans, Lily looks to Jane Austen for inspiration. Can she find what she needs in novels like Pride and Prejudice? The answer doesn’t emerge until the last pages of book that Publishers Weekly called “a witty and wise comedy of manners that pays homage to Jane Austen.”

Questions for Book Clubs and Others

1. Each chapter of The Accidental Bride begins with a quote from Jane Austen. How do these quotes relate to the plot? Do they serve different purposes in the individual chapters and in the novel as a whole? What are the purposes? You may want to compare The Accidental Bride to Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club.

2. Many reviewers noted that the humor in The Accidental Bride is satirical. What are some of the things the novel is satirizing? Does Janice Harayda satirize some of the same things that Austen does?

3. Satire can take many forms. For example, it can be gentle or biting (sometimes both in the work of the same author, as in Austen’s novels). How would you describe the satire in The Accidental Bride?

4. The first sentence of The Accidental Bride reads: “One month before her wedding to the third richest man in the second largest city in Ohio, Lily Blair awoke in the middle of the night and realized that she did not want to get married.” The author doesn’t name that “second largest city.” But you may know that it is Cleveland. (The largest city is Columbus, the capital.) Why you do think the author didn’t name Cleveland? Do you think she did this for legal, literary, or other reasons? How might your reactions to the novel have changed if the author had named Cleveland in the first line?

5. Lily, the heroine of The Accidental Bride, doesn’t want to see a psychiatrist because she doesn’t think many therapists are as wise as writers like La Rochefoucauld, who said, “In love there is always the kisser and the one who gets kissed.” What does this saying mean? Is there a “kisser” and a “one who gets kissed” in The Accidental Bride?

6. Lily also admires another writer who says “love is an agreement on the part of two people to overestimate each other.” Do you think that writer was being serious or facetious or both?

7. A critic for The New York Times wrote in her review of The Accidental Bride that “Harayda is an astute social commentator.” That is, she is saying some things about our society in addition to telling a story. What are some of the things you think she is trying to say?

8. In novels about women in their twenties, the men are often cads. That’s especially true of the heroines’ boyfriends. Lily’s boyfriend, Mark, is different. He is a kind and thoughtful man who is trying to understand the woman he loves. How does this affect the plot and other aspects of the story?

9. Mark is trial lawyer who is forced to defend a company accused – with good reason – of age discrimination. Do you see any parallels between Lily’s situation and that of the older people in the lawsuit (called “Geezers” and “Geezerettes” by their employer)?

10. The Accidental Bride belongs to the genre known as the “comedy of manners,” which consists of fiction that tweaks the customs of a particular group (often a group that is — or sees itself — as upper class). The humor in this genre tends to involve wit and charm instead of slapstick or physical comedy. A classic example is Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. What are some other plays, movies, or novels that are comedies of manners? Why do you like them?

Praise for The Accidental Bride
“Satire with heart … In a style that careens from Austenesque to Corporate Memo-ese, Janice Harayda has written a farce that dissects the farce of the matrimonial ceremony. Lily is a charming character.”
— Olivia Goldsmith, bestselling author of The First Wives Club

“A thoroughly entertaining first novel.”
— Joyce R. Slater, Chicago Sun-Times

“Sparkling with wit and humor, this is a story that charms.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Harayda’s first novel has plenty of snappy, witty dialog, humorous scenarios, and sexual innuendo.”
Margaret Ann Hanes, Library Journal

“A frothy comedy … Harayda is an astute social commentator.”
— Maggie Galehouse, The New York Times

“Harayda is quick with a quip and merciless at sniping at an unnamed Ohio city … Residents of that city may not find this funny, but everyone else will.”
— Michele Leber, Booklist

“Vigorous wit, playful homage to the winsome heroines of great nineteenth-century novels, and a charming, irresolute heroine make this tale of a woman who doesn’t want to get married an unusually filling trifle.”
— Karen Karbo, San Francisco Chronicle (“Recommended” book)

“Harayda’s sense of the humorously absurd, combined with her gift for timing and fun, make this book readable and fun … Did I ever put it down? No. I read it at breakfast, at dinner, in the bubble bath. I got to liking Lily and wanted to find out what would happen.”
— Wendy Smith, San Diego Union Tribune

“The former book editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Harayda has made Lily a displaced reporter. This gives the author a wonderful chance to skewer newsroom types … half the fun for the reader is helping Lily sort out her misgivings [about her wedding] and figure out which are real and which are only flutters.”
— Kit Reed, St. Petersburg Times

“The Accidental Bride is a worthy counterpart to … Bridget Jones’s Diary [Harayda’s] hand at social satire rivals Austen’s … Lily Blair is a charming heroine … The reader is pleased to go along for the ride.”
Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

“Nicely skewers today’s over-the-top weddings and the whole wedding industry.”
— Linda Brazill, The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

“The Accidental Bride is a delightful romp of a book, both funny and wise and very much a story for our times. In Lily Blair, Jan Harayda has created a contemporary character who outdoes the best of Jane Austen’s most memorable women. When feisty Lily comes to terms with one of the biggest decisions of her life, the reader can do nothing but cheer.”
— Ruth Coughlin, author of Grieving: A Love Story

“True laughs and true lover abound in this galloping romanic comedy. Jan Harayda goes after the smug assumptions of suburban weddings and the absurdity of ‘mandatory’ matrimony. The wit is civilized, the heart is romantic, and the wisecracks are indeed wise.”
— Steve Szilagyi, author of Photographing Fairies

“The Accidental Bride is a charmingly witty, modern-day satirical tale of a woman trying to keep her balance as she teeters on the edge of matrimony.”
Charles Salzberg, co-author of On Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place

Vital Statistics
The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy. By Janice Harayda. St. Martin’s/Griffin, 304 pp., $13.95, paperback.

To invite Janice Harayda to speak to your book group in person or by speakerphone, please use the e-mail address on the “Contact” page of www.janiceharayda.com and write “Book Club” in the subject heading of your note.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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