My Year in Books: 46-50

Well, I’ve reached fifty books. Reaching fifty is always easy, it’s the next fifty that’s always far harder. I guess now would be a good time to do an analytic post. Y’know, to see the breakdown of what I’m reading. I’ll concatenate the data and make a post about it here. This post is going to be a short one however. Three of the five books are Shakespeare plays and (as you know by now) they are reviewed separately. Richard II and Romeo and Juliet are reviewed hereKing John will be reviewed here.

It’s no secret that I have become quite enamoured with Maeve Binchy this year. After I devoured her first novel, Light A Penny Candle, a few months back I decided to see what her shorter fiction had in store. It is with an air of sadness that I then have to write that I didn’t really enjoy The Lilac Bus (1984). The book is less a novel but more a series of short stories about a group of people. The central conceit is that there is a bus, a lilac-coloured bus, which drives from Dublin to the small of village of Rathdoon every weekend. Each person who takes this bus is gifted, by Binchy,  with a vignette on their lives. We go from person to person, seat to seat, to discover who’s hiding what – every person has a story to tell.

I read the blurb of this one and thought it sounded fascinating. I usually enjoy character studies. However, Binchy just didn’t seem able to connect everything together. After reading some people’s stories you are left questioning what exactly is the overall narrative here. The answer is that there is no narrative. The entire book is disjointed and there is no flow what-so-ever. It is also quite clear to read that Binchy had a lot more fun writing about some characters than others. I will say that there are a couple of good stories in here and they are typically Binchy so they definitely alleviate this novel of most of its downfalls. My overall feeling toward The Lilac Bus is ‘meh’. It could have been so much better.

Before you read my review, siddle up to your mother and ask her about the goldfish scene in Lace (1982). Watch her blush. I doubt there is a woman alive who lived through the 1980s without reading or watching Lace. The novel opens with one of its most famous scenes, the young actress, Lili, has gathered four women to a hotel room in New York. The four women were childhood friends and have all made waves in their respective careers. Lili stands above them and delivers her killer line, ‘Which one of you bitches is my mother!?’. A classic is born.

I went into Lace well-aware of its infamy. The numerous sex scenes present in this novel gave way to a new genre, the bonkbuster. However, Lace is far more than just 750-pages of erotica. I would genuinely call it a feminist classic. After the Lili’s confrontation in the first chapter the novel jumps back to our four ‘mothers’, Maxine, Kate, Judy, and Pagan, in their teens in a boarding school in Switzerland. We then follow their lives as they all become highly successful and influential women. This is where the underlying feminism becomes present. This is a novel about women owning their own lives. There is literally one prominent male character and he is an actual barbarian. Lace is The Women’s Room meets Deep Throat.

I think it is obvious that I adored this novel. It has sold three million copies for a reason. However it is quite of its time. I doubt we’ll never have another Lace. New editions of Shirley Conran’s bibliography were re-published after the phenomenon of 50 Shades in order to show the world exactly how erotic bestsellers are done. Conran was ordained ‘queen of the bonkbuster‘ a few years back and I can definitely vouch for that title. +


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