Monday, July 9, 2012

Frances Osborne

Frances Osborne is the author of two biographies, Lilla's Feast, and The Bolter, which was an international bestseller and is now being developed into a mini-series. Her new book, a novel, Park Lane, is set in the same, Edwardian, period and was published in the UK and US last month.

Recently I asked her what she was reading.  Her reply:
I have recently bought a kindle. Still, there’s nothing like a real book, paper and all. The best books to read are one that have been read before. I enjoy seeing where pages have been thumbed and crinkled. I feel it connects me with previous readers. Though dog-ears I find hard to forgive.

For all that, I move around a lot and my kindle enables me to carry several books with me. I do however then find it easier to commit a cardinal sin of reading more than one book at once. The jury is still out on whether that ‘channel-flitting’ makes reading less-engrossing. Anyway, if I hear about a book – or a real tome lands on my desk – I can’t resist dipping into it straight away. So my kindle is in a pile of books on the floor by my bed.

Let’s take a look. At the bottom is Pure by Andrew Miller. I love historical fiction that takes you into the detail of the past – you feel you are learning history as well as enjoying the psychology of the story. Pure is the fictional account of the eighteenth-century removal of a cemetery from central Paris to the catacombs. It is told from the point of view of Jean-Baptiste Barratte, a young man from outside Paris who is being given the chance to prove himself to the government. But, apart from the story, partly driven along by the gruesomesness of the task, it was Miller’s language and power of description that captivated me. You can feel and smell eighteenth-century Paris (not where you’d rush on a romantic vacation) as you read it. Still there are some images of beauty: ‘Clouds tangle in the Paris chimneys.’

What was particularly extraordinary for me about reading this was that, mid-book, I found myself in a crypt of a church in Rome (the Capuchin Crypt, under Santa Maria della Concezione) which consisted of a series of chambers decorated with human bones that had been removed from a cemetery. This brought home the enormity, both psychological and physical, of the task. An hour later, I was underground in the Roman catacombs, which were used as burial chambers. In theory all the human bones have now been removed. Nonetheless, my nephew and son managed to find some, and when I returned to Pure that evening, my stomach was churning.

I have just re-read The Pankhursts, by Martin Pugh, which tells the story the extraordinary mother and daughters who battled from women’s right to vote in the Downton Abbey era. I am in awe of the suffragettes, and my new book, Park Lane, is a novel partly about them. What is so striking about is the sheer relentlessness with which they had to struggle to achieve their aim. Women, armed with clubs, entered pitched battles with policemen, and starved themselves to death in prison afterwards. It is easy to think of the suffragettes as glamorous, floating around in white muslin and broad-brimmed hats. Instead, it was a bitter struggle. Sadly, not only against the government, but the Pankhursts found among themselves – over which would be the most effective campaign to achieve their aim.

Then there’s the kindle but, perhaps proving a point or two, it is an old, worn, hardback that is grabbing my attention right now. It is Gulliver House, by John Leggett. I laid my hands on a copy as I will shortly have the huge privilege of being interviewed by him in Napa, as part of my book tour for Park Lane. Gulliver House is a treat. This is partly because it is about the world of publishing and, as a writer, I devour all insights therein. But it is also the story of a man making his way through life and marriage in the post World War Two world, and the impact his decisions make. However, as I am only on page 85, I can’t tell you much more than that, yet. Right now, he has just decided to leave the cosiness of his first post-service employer for the shark-infested waters of a big firm…
Visit Frances Osborne's website.

The Page 69 Test: Park Lane.

My Book, The Movie: Park Lane.

--Marshal Zeringue