Often I read classics in the summer.
So far, I admit it’s been light reading.
If 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.
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.
It is feather-light summer reading.