Summer “Light” Reading

Often I read classics in the summer.

So far, I admit it’s been light reading.

the eustace diamondsIf you’re looking for a charming, intriguing, light classic, try Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds.  This is the third in the Pallisers series, but it is also a stand-alone novel.  The beautiful, charming, rich heroine, Lizzie Eustace, is not the gracious society hostess she seems:  she is a pathological liar and manipulator, who, after the death of her husband, Sir Florian Eustace, refuses to return a £10,000 diamond necklace to the family estate.  Is it a Eustace family heirloom, or is it hers?  The lawyers cannot decide.  And the scandal of her keeping diamonds dissuades her suitors from wooing her:  her fiance, Lord Fawn, drops her;  she proposes repeatedly to her cousin, Frank; and hopes Lord George, one of her guests, her “corsair,” as she calls him, will propose to her. And then the diamonds are stolen, and some think Lizzie stole them herself (she did not), and others think Lord George did.  There are many subplots, such as Lizzie’s cousin Frank’s engagement  to a very nice governess, Lucy Morris, but Lizzie and the diamonds are of paramount interest.

This is not my favorite Trollope, but it is fun to read, and qualifies as beach reading.

Invisible Ellen by Shari Shattuck2.  Shari Shattuck’s Invisible Ellen is “fat lit.”

Why would you want to read a novel about a fat person?

Try because 27.1% of American adults are obese.  And I’m still reeling from the guy at the British Museum who said, as though I were not right in front of him, that I was immense.  (I’m fat but fit.)

The first few chapters of this novel are controlled and taut, and are vaguely reminiscent of the opening chapters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. But unlike the colorful doughnut-popping character Ignatius Reilly in Toole’s novel, Shattuck’s Ellen is invisible.  This is partly metaphorical, but there is also a tad of magic realism here.  People do not see her.

Terrified of social contacts because of her past in foster care, she stays in her apartment, binge-eating all day, when she isn’t spying on her “pets,” neighbors who live across the way, a drug dealer and a single pregnant woman.  In the manner of Harriet the Spy, Ellen writes down her observations in her notebook.  And at night she works as a janitor at Costco, where she observes the sleazy boss sexually harassing a Russian immigrant.

But suddenly Ellen gets involved.  On the bus, a blind woman named Temerity sits beside her, and talks to her as though Ellen is not a freak.  Intrigued, Ellen gets off the bus and follows her.  And when two men attack Temerity and take her purse, Ellen trips up one of the thieves, pounds him, and gets the purse back.

And then the plot takes over, and the narrative rolls from serious literary fiction into likeable pop.  Ellen and Temerity become friends and get involved in doing good to Ellen’s “pets.”

The first third of this uneven novel is more enjoyable than the rest, but it is still a fun read.  And I must share some humorous quotes.  When Temerity and her twin invite Ellen to lunch, she shudders at the thought that they might serve her salad.

Normally, by this time in the a.m., she would hae consumed several times the recommended daily allowance of carbohydrates as determined by the, in her opinion, far too fervent Food and Drug Administration, whose tidings of gloom were constantly being broadcast on her little radio.  She’d listened with lukewarm interest to their warnings about calories per day, fat percentages, and fiber intake and had been left with a sense of indifferent futility.  Those limitations seemed more fantastical than the thrift-store paperbacks with the long-haired, half-naked supermodel pirates on the cover.  Neither the novels nor the labels on her food interested  her, and they struck her as equally absurd.

So funny!

It is feather-light summer reading.

6 thoughts on “Summer “Light” Reading

  1. I’ve yet to embark on a Trollope – I’ve been circling him for a while, but haven’t taken the plunge. Would this maybe be a good place to start??

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  2. I of course think Trollope’s Eustace Diamonds not light reading. The comedy is sardonic, the outlook seemingly cynical; Trollope hates Lizzy Eustace. You left out the Lucy Morris plot — a Jane Eyre story where she (like the second Mrs de Winter) is bullied by a corrosive-tongued employer but wins the dubious hero, a corrupt oops I should have said compromised politician-lawyer, Frank Greystock. Some claim we are to think Lucy has had sex with him the way Lily Dale is said to have had sex with Crosbie: engagements assumed this.

    Another sub-story is that of a couple where they pretend their grown daughter is the woman’s niece and in the effort to coerce the girl to marry a man she has an active distaste for drive her litterally mad. It does have a rare bedroom scene between an unmarried couple (Mrs Carbuncle is the woman’ s name and Lord George de Bruce Caruthers his). And then there is the chorus of Pallisers.

    Actually it’s an absorbing powerful book — especially the chase after the diamonds though Trollope tells us where they are early on — to make fun of readers who read to find out the secret and also Wilkie Collins.

    And there are serious themes as one might imagine from all this.

    Ellen

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  3. The Eustace Diamonds was my gateway Trollope book, and I’ve recommended it to a few friends who also subsequently fell down the Trollope hole. It’s been twenty years since I’ve read it. This blog post makes me want to pick it up again.

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  4. Karen, some of my favorites are Can You Forgive Her?, Orley Farm, and He Knew He Was Right. (They’re all good in different ways.) The Eustace Diamonds is also excellent.

    Ellen, I was just writing a very short piece, so, yes, I stuck to the main plot, just barely squeezing in a mention of Frank and Lucy Morris. It is a fascinating book, and I think Trollope sort of fancies Lizzie: she is such a bitch, but so charming. He loves to hate her. And, for the rest of you, let me add that Ellen is the author of an excellent book, Trollope on the Net, about her experiences leading an online discussion of Trollope’s books.

    Liz, I knew this could be a standalone book! And now I have proof. Trollope is so entertaining, and such a great writer, and I see how this could be your gateway book. I THINk my first Trollope was Can You Forgive Her?, after watching the Pallisers series on TV. But I might have read The Warden before that. It’s a long time ago…

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  5. I listened to Eustace Diamonds last winter and not until now did i twig to Mrs Carbuncle and Lord George being Lucinda’s parents. I will have to look at my real book this weekend. Now it really squicks me out given how poor Lucinda was run mad by the pair of them. Especially Mrs Carbuncle was completely odious to her! Having just finished Portrait of a Lady it also reminds me of Pansy’s future with Mme. Merle and the appalling Osmond trying to force her into a rich marriage. Just hope Isabel will be able to help her, at least to get back to the convent when Pansy is run mad in her turn. Thanks to Ellen for alerting me to this!

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  6. Gina, Lucinda is one of my favorite characters in Eustace. She is the most sympathetic of that bunch, that’s for sure. And Lizzie doesn’t do a thing to help her.

    Oh God, Madame Merle. That was sad, wasn’t it? Portrait is actually my favorite James novel.

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