Sunday, 14 December 2014

My Downton Abbey Addiction

Confession: I have gobbled up the whole of the Downton Abbey series over the past two months.

I resisted it for ages, but by episode two of the first series I was hooked. And as I come to the end of what's available (I'm up to episode six of series five) I am steeling myself for going cold turkey. What is so gripping about it?

The beating heart of Downton Abbey is the conflict between cherishing the beauty and quality of what exists now and seeing what needs to change for the sake of future happiness and success.

This is deliciously expressed by Granny and Mrs Crawley duelling it out, albeit in a friendlier fashion by series five. Granny savours all that her family has, and their status in society, and Mrs Crawley can see how deeply flawed and unfair the current situation is.

The upstairs clan can be seen as the conscious mind - the team that gets to call the shots, and take action out in the world. Lord Grantham's goal to uphold convention is undermined by his daughters, who are agents of change. Their desires for love and authenticity naturally undermine the status quo.

The family is closely connected to the downstairs team (the unconscious) which works tirelessly on their behalf. This conscious/unconscious element means it is deeply satisfying when there is recognition and increasing understanding between upstairs and downstairs.

On another level, just being in those beautiful settings and listening to the character's distinctive voices is a pleasure. I am truly reluctant to leave this world.

Hear hear, to Julian Fellowes, for creating a series with such depth and glamour!


To avoid accidentally jumping ahead, here's the order of the Downtown Abbey series, including the Christmas specials:

- Series 1 and 2
- Christmas at Downton Abbey (released Christmas 2011)
- Series 3
- A Journey to the Highlands (released Christmas 2012)
- Series 4
- The London Season (released Christmas 2013)
- Series 5
- A Moorland Holiday (released Christmas 2014)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

My top five novels for 2014

It's that time of year, when I start reflecting on the books I've read - and thanks to my Facebook books listing, I can now recollect the titles without straining my brain!

My top five for 2014 is a mix of two new authors, for whom I will definitely be checking out their previous books,  two new books by a couple of  known authors (to me), and a surprisingly fabulous return to an oldie but a goodie.

So here they are:

New authors I have recently discovered and highly recommend:
David Nicholls, whose recent book is 'Us'. The topic sounds tortuous ... a family on the verge of break up, taking a tour of Europe. But, like Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect), the male narrator has an original and serious-yet-comic voice which I loved.

Lauren Fox's 2012 novel 'Friends Like Us' also has a great first person narrator, on what could also have been a rather tired subject - a young woman being jealous of her best friend's boyfriend. The ending stunned me.

Known authors with new books I highly recommend:
'I See You Everywhere' is Julia Glass' third book (published 2008), and tracks the lives of two sisters, and their relationship. Again, this book packs emotional punch and the ending is a cracker.

I loved Karen Joy Fowler's 'The Jane Austen Book Club' and always keep a look out for her new books. Her most recent one 'We Are Completely Beside Ourselves' includes a really original, thought-provoking topic which I would not usually read about (a chimp growing up in human household), but which is emotionally gripping and deeply thought provoking.

Known author, known novel I highly recommend:
I bought an ebook reader (a Kobo Glo) in September. I know, I am an extremely late adopter of this great technology! The first book I read on it was Pride and Prejudice. It's still fresh and funny, and I still cared about the characters, even though it was first published more than 200 years ago (in 1813).