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Book Nook - 14-08-2017

Monday, August 14, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Good Mother
Danielle Steel’s books—which she brings out at an alarming rate—are somewhat like mainstream movies; you know just what to expect, the may have some mild surprises along the way, and then, to please the fan, they end exactly as on would expect them to.  She is a bestselling author because she knows her readers, who are not looking for literary writing, but for charaters (strong women, mostly) they can relate too.  

Against All Odds is about Kate Madison and her four children. Kate was widowed young and raised her kids by setting up a vintage clothing store that made her famous in fashion circles. Her mother, Louise, an outspoken and adventurous woman has been a constant source of support. She is around for Kate, but also spends her free time travelling to different places and collecting experiences.  Compared to her, Kate comes across as a boring drudge.

The children grew up and moved away and now each has a problem of their own. Eldest daughter Izzie, a career-oriented lawyer falls in love with a spoilt, rich, junkie Zach; her gay son Justin and his partner Richard want to have a baby through surrogacy when they aren’t financially or emotionally secure to start a family. Justin’s twin Julie, falls In love with a nice guy, Peter, who turns out to be a nightmare. The youngest son William, has never settled down and dates a succession of women, till he decides that a much older woman  is the one for him.

Dutiful Kate never married again and devoted all her time to her children; she also supported their choices, even if she disapproved.  She realizes with wisdom that her own mother passed on to her, that they have to solve their own problems; all she can offer is a patient ear and a home always open for them.  Apart from her mother, the one who stands by Kate is an old friend, Liam, whose wife does not stand in the way of their platonic friendship.

As can be expected from Steel’s books, the problems arise rapidly and are solved easily to the extent that people die obligingly at the right time.  She doesn’t waste too much time over exposition or character development, but expends the words she saves for the sake of pace in repetition. Of the characters she creates in this book, Loiuse is the most fascinating—when authors start writing more books about people in thee autumn of their lives, and refrain from making them whiny, then maybe a woman like Loiuse would get a book about her life and her travels.

Against All Odds
By Danielle Steel
Published by Pan Macmillan
Pages: 336


Excerpt of Against All Odds
(With permission from the publisher Pan MacMillan)

On a hot sunny day in June, Kate Madison drove her ten-year-old Mercedes station wagon through Greenwich, Connecticut, until she reached Mead Point Drive, and followed the directions she’d been given until she arrived at tall iron gates. She pressed a buzzer and said her name when a male voice answered. A moment later the gates swung open, and she drove slowly onto the property. The grounds and gardens were impressive and there were beautiful old trees lining the driveway. She had been in the area many times before, though never to this particular estate. The woman who had owned it was a well-known society figure who had only stopped going out shortly before she died, at ninety-two. Before that, she had been one of the grande dames of New York society, a generous woman who was best known for her philanthropy. She had no children, and had been on the best-dressed lists for years, mostly for her vast collection of French haute couture, which looked fabulous on her even at her great age.

The woman’s clothes were being disposed of by two nieces, who were finding the project far more tiresome than they had expected. Both were in their sixties and lived in other cities, and their husbands were executors of the estate.

They had already made arrangements with Sotheby’s to sell the jewelry, had consigned the furniture to Christie’s to auction, and were keeping some of the more important art. The rest was either being donated to museums or sold privately through a dealer in New York. And all that remained to deal with now was their aunt’s wardrobe, which filled three enormous rooms that had previously been bedrooms in her spectacular house. The deceased had been a small, very thin, elegant woman, and her nieces couldn’t imagine who her clothes were going to fit. The coats maybe, many of which were voluminous, and she had some magnificent furs, but the dresses were minute.

They had contacted Kate’s store, Still Fabulous, after reading about it on the Internet, when a friend in New York recommended it to them. Kate had disposed of the friend’s mother’s wardrobe too, and she’d been very pleased with the results. Kate herself and Still Fabulous had a golden reputation in New York as the best, most elegant resale shop in the city, located in SoHo. She sold clothing that she bought outright occasionally at auctions, or she sold things on consignment, so she had no initial investment. She only sold clothing which was in impeccable condition or brand-new. She had some wonderful vintage pieces, but most of what she sold was current and still fashionable. Her customers loved her store.

Opening it had been a dream Kate had had for many years before she finally could. She was adept at combing resale stores herself, out of necessity, and she loved the hunt for beautiful things. When Kate’s husband died when she was twenty-nine, leaving her with four young children, she had worked at Bergdorf Goodman for five years, first as a salesgirl, then as a buyer of designer clothes. She was well versed in new designer clothing too, but the thrill for her was in finding unique pieces, some vintage, some recent. And in the eighteen years she had owned Still Fabulous, she had gone to Paris many times to buy exceptional items at auction that others often overlooked. She bought only the most pristine items, in perfect condition, and they had to be still wearable and look chic. She liked older, more historical vintage pieces as well, but she bought them judiciously or took them on consignment, in case they didn’t sell. If they looked ridiculous, were out of style, or in poor condition, she didn’t want them in her store. She remembered many of the really beautiful and exceptional pieces she had sold, where they came from, and kept meticulous records of who she had sold them to. Her prices for important designer clothes were high, but fair.


Fighting Spirit
In her latest book titled The Duchess, Danielle Steel, creates a young woman who jumps over the hurdles placed in her path and experiences a lifetime of sorrow and joys before she is even out of her twenties.

In her foreword, Steel explains the archaic British law by which the eldest son (or nearest male relative in the line of succession) of a nobleman inherits the property, title and the family home. He can, if he so wishes, throw his sisters (and even mother in many cases) out of their home. At a time (in the nineteenth century), when no careers were open to unmarried women of noble birth, except as governess to wealthy children, the fate of girls was in the hands of their brothers or male relatives. (Primogeniture was abolished as late as 1925.)

Angelique is one such unfortunate woman. The daughter of the second wife of the Duke of Westerfield, who died in childbirth, she was brought up in luxury at Belgrave Castle and pampered by her father. Her two brothers, Tristan and Edward, hate her with an intensity she has done nothing to deserve.

She is barely eighteen, when her father dies, and she is evicted from her home by Tristan, his harsh wife and two nasty daughters. Worse, her brother sends her to work as a nanny in the home of a rich couple with four children. Overnight, from being the lady of a castle, she is dumped below stairs as a servant. Anticipating just this, her father, surreptitiously gave her a large sum of money, to tide her over any crisis, before he died.

Even with no experience with kids, she manages her duties with diligence, never letting her poise and aristocratic manner falter. When she turns down the advances of a friend of her employer, she is summarily sacked without a character reference, so she cannot get a job anywhere in England.  She goes to Paris, hoping to find employment, but the lack of that crucial bit of paper shuts all doors there too.

A chance meeting with a hooker Fabienne, whom she picks up from the street in wounded state and treats with kindness, gives her the idea of getting into what is called the world’s oldest profession. She sets up the finest bordello in all of Paris, patronized by the rich and powerful, but does not “go upstairs” with any one the men who are bewitched by the beautiful, intelligent and stylish woman. Steel’s portrayal of prostitution is rather strange and morally ambiguous. She writes about the girls with sympathy and a bit of admiration, but makes sure her heroine remains untouched. However, she does expose the hypocrisy of a society, in which men could do as they pleased, as long as they kept away from public scandal.

There are political upheavals going on in England and France, that Steel hints at, only to the extent that they affect Angelique and her girls. Though there is needless death, how the story ends is predictable—if it weren’t Steel’s fans would be disappointed.

The Duchess
By Danielle Steel
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Pages: 400

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