The Lightening Conductor

I have so many things to tell you that I scarcely know where to begin. First let me announce that I am in for an adventure–a real flesh and blood adventure into which I plump without premeditation, but an adventure of so delightful a kind that I hope it may continue for many a day. I know you’ll say at once, “That means Woman”;  and you’re right.

I definitely have Melody to thank for introducing me to A.M. and C.N. Williamson. I picked up a few on Bookmooch a while ago, and a sick day seemed the perfect excuse for a musty old book, though I had to look up online which one came first. The Lightning Conductor it was.

the lightning conductorI’m not going to summarize too much because it’s not necessarily a book where things happen (plus, you can read that here). Suffice it to say that young American heiress Molly Randolph, while embarking on a European tour with her Aunt Mary, is smitten with an automobile she sees, and happily agrees when the owner offers to sell her both the car and the chauffeur. The car turns out to be a clunker, and the chauffeur absconds with the money when she sends him to the next town over for new parts. Luckily, she is met on the road by the Honorable John Winston, out for a ride in his own snazzy Napier. He is as smitten with Molly as she was with the car. On the spur of the moment he decides to pass himself off as his own chauffeur, Brown, and offers up his services to the Randolphs. Molly gratefully agrees. She engages him for her entire trip through France and Italy, and finds him pretty much indespensible.

It’s hard not to like a novel with Molly as a main character, or to see why Jack is in love with her. she begins a letter to her father “Dear Universal Provider of Love and Cheques,” and ends another “Your sinner, Molly.” She is irrepressible in her enthusiasm, while at the same time appreciating the beauty and history of the sights they take in. Jack, meanwhile, is having a rougher time “slumming it,” and spends half his nights reading up on the next day’s tourist sights to continue enthralling Molly with his knowledge. Eventually his double life catches up with him in a funny case of mistaken identities, but all ends well in the end and he and Molly can finally admit they’re in love.

It wasn’t until the last third of the book, when they reached Italy, that I started to get tired of the travel descriptions and began skimming for the next plot development, but that may also be because I read most of the book in one day. After a while, reading letters about charming villages and historic chateaus and beautiful views is like looking at one too many of someone else’s vacation photos. (It did remind me of this recent news tidbit.) Overall, though, it was an entertaining read with likeable characters. It was a fascinating look at early cars, with interesting bits about social class distinctions as well. Plus, I always enjoy a good epistolary novel.

I believe the other Williamsons’ book I have, The Princess Passes, also includes Molly and Jack as secondary characters, though I don’t know if I can handle another car trip just yet.

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Published in: on December 10, 2012 at 8:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

[This is an older draft I’m polishing up and publishing. Exhibit Q of how the more I love a book, the harder it is to write the review, because I don’t think I’ll do it justice without slipping into mush. Also, I wrote this whole post and lost it, and am now really frustrated.]

I think most people have by this point heard of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Sometimes I think I put off reading oft-mentioned books because I’m afraid to be disappointed by the build-up, but this one lives up to the hype 110%.

guernsey literary and potato peel pie societyI’ve tried a few times unsuccessfully to write this review, and usually end up just rereading parts of the book instead, so I’m going to do things a bit differently. Here is a list of things I liked about the book and why.

  • WWII setting: I’ve always been fascinated by this time period as a backdrop, perhaps because all the terrible things happening still allow the true strength of humanity to shine through. In this case, I had no idea about the German occupation of Guernsey. (To be honest, I don’t think I could have even told you that it was an island. Despite a lot of reading, my knowledge of British geography remains shamefully jumbled.) It’s amazing to think that they were cut off from the rest of England during the war.
  • epistolary format: When a book written in letters is well done, it changes my attitude towards first-person from tolerance to delight. The letters allow glimpses into the characters as they reveal their thoughts and dreams, and the nuances of their different relationships with each other. They vary from careful reflection to the heat of emotions in the moment. I wish that written correspondence with more than 140 characters was still popular today.
  • tone: As one would expect from being set immediately after the war looking back, the book has it’s fair share of tragedy; however, the overall impression is that the characters all exhibit remarkable irrepressibility and hope. I would love to be friends with Juliet and Sidney. It’s also easy to see why Elizabeth with cheerful determination was the center of the little circle on Guernsey. The book also has a gentle humor, from Juliet’s witty charm to the zany Isola. It’s one of those special books that just makes you smile, despite the sections that might bring tears to your eyes.
  • research: Part of the plot and structure of the book relies on anecdotal incidents, and I’m left wondering how much is based in fact. Mary Ann Shaffer mentions in the afterword that she spent years researching the occupation of the Channel islands after learning about it on a visit to Guernsey. I’m tempted to look into historical resources more myself; this site seems to have some good options. I’m sure the real island residents were just as resilient as those described here. It might be fun to try to make potato peel pie as well.
  • bookishness: As the title would suggest, books are woven throughout the narrative: central in that Juliet is a writer, and that a common love for Charles Lamb is the reason she and Dawsey first correspond, but also in more subtle ways. Fiction and non-fiction alike allow characters to retain their humanity in troubling times, and also provide a lens through which they view themselves and the world.

I must have reread almost the entire book by this point, and I’m sure that this is one I will treasure and reach for again throughout my life.

Published in: on September 30, 2010 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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