The wonderfully insightful review I had written of Denise Mina’s outstanding Garnethill has somehow vanished. I’m sure it is my fault; I probably pushed the wrong button somewhere.
Anyway, this is a great and unusual murder mystery set in a seedy, struggling Glasgow. This was Denise Mina’s first novel, and it was also the first book in her Garnethill trilogy. Maureen O’Donnell is compelling protagonist. Maureen has had a tough life, and it doesn’t seem to be getting much better when her married lover is found murdered. She is worried for herself and her brother and starts getting curious. She doesn’t really know how to investigate a crime, but she keeps poking around and thinking it through. This is one of those great books where a very flawed and undisciplined character is thrust into a dangerous situation and thrives! I rooted for Maureen O’Donnell every step of the way. Her good heart, her curiosity and her previously untapped intelligence and good heart make her a stellar heroine. There was enough hanging at the end of the book to suggest that the other two books in the Garnethill trilogy will be equally compelling.
Fredrik Backman, the author of the remarkable A Man Called Ove, has written another remarkable novel, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Told from the point of view of Elsa, a grieving seven-year-old girl, this novel brings together an odd collection of characters who are struggling with their lives. When Elsa loses the one person who “gets” her, she is forced to look elsewhere. The story is in the nature of a quest, with frequent references to Harry Potter, Spider-Man and other fantasy figures. Elsa is a remarkable, heroic child, who faces bullying and grief with a compelling mixture of stoicism and sarcasm. This is a wonderful book! It celebrates quirkiness, bravery, compassion and holding oneself accountable. I loved it!
Samantha Ellis is a playwright, journalist and avid reader of novels featuring intriguing women protagonists. It is a fine book that discusses Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Predjudice, Gone with the Wind, Valley of the Dolls, Franny and Zooey, and a host of other classics;and that is the feast we have been given here. Ellis, the British born daughter of Iraqi Jewish refugees, populates her book, How to Be a Heroine – Or What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much, with an energetic roster of literary heroines. Some, like Elizabeth Bennet, are pretty much completely wonderful without being annoying about it. Others, like Scarlett O’Hara, are pretty reprehensible but their boldness and determination still take your breath away. Many are insecure and of course most of them have been dealt a bad hand in life. Ellis does a masterful job of looking at all these girls and women and their stories as she describes her own efforts to break free of a confining family and learn to be bold. Ellis’s views change as she grows and makes her own way. Indeed her defense of Mrs. Bennet as an inherently practical woman has considerable merit, although I will always have a soft spot for Mr. Bennet. In any event, Ellis increasingly loses patience with the “good girls” and is more inspired by the brave and the bold, even if they are self-centered and obnoxious and their behavior is outrageous.
This book made me wish I had read certain classics, such as Anne of Green Gables. I don’t think I’ll read up on Scheherazade, but Ellis’s evaluation is intriguing. Ellis’s discussion of all these powerfully drawn heroines also gave me pause in some cases — perhaps my initial readings were too glib. It is definitely time to reread a few of these great books and to try at least a few of them for the first time.
Most importantly How to Be a Heroine reminded me how important it was for me to be able to read about strong women and their stories. They inspired me and caused me to think outside the confines of my own life. Feminism didn’t just happen — millions of us were inspired by reading about strong girls and women who dared to be brave and rescue themselves. Hopefully How to Be a Heroine will give you the same powerful memories of your own reading adventures and obsessions.