A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett

ISBN: 0140366881

This is one of my all-time favourite books. It is mostly set in a boarding school, which bodes well to start with, and it has the word ‘princess’ in the title, and yet it is so much more than a heart-warming children’s tale. But warm the heart, it certainly does.
Sara is a little girl, left in a boarding school under the tutelage of strict Miss Minchin, after her rich upbringing in India. Things naturally turn for the worst, but even in the most tragic of circumstances, Sara shows an immense resolve to be optimistic. It is her beautiful imagination that saves her.
This is a novel that I grew up with and it inspired me to not become dragged down by circumstances; things could always be worse. This book is powerful. Burnett’s characters are charming and their sparkling interactions leap from the page like confetti. Sara’s stories, in particular, bring light.
If anybody has dampened spirits, let them read this book, for they will be cheered.
Rating: 9/10

Lady Oracle – Margaret Atwood

ISBN: 0860683036

In true Atwood style, this novel is both intelligent and highly readable. Atwood’s prose is addictive and so real that I wanted to write ‘YES!’ all over the margins of this book. This tale is spun around yet another absorbing protagonist, this time a red-headed writer, Joan, who used to be fat.
This heroine is honest and tells us what she thinks, even when she isn’t sure what this is herself. Self-discovery seems to be a recurring theme for Atwood (at least among the ones I have read so far), and Joan strives to find her identity through her relationships with others. First through a difficult relationship with her mother, then girls at school, and then through a series of relationships with men.
And yet, Joan hides huge parts of herself in each relationship, which makes this, perhaps, more a novel about perception than identity. This book is entirely relevant, frequently funny, and often bizarre. It gets a hold on you and grips you by the shoulders until you reach the last page, when you will be begging for more.
Rating: 8/10

Rapture – Carol Ann Duffy

ISBN: 9780330433914

This collection of poems is heartbreakingly accurate. Duffy writes about the rapture of being in love as something that is to be revelled in, something that is all-encompassing and something that is inescapable, for good or for bad.
Duffy performs the impossible feat of writing new love poetry with poise, skimming past cliché like a dragonfly on water. How she did it, I don’t know, but I’m mighty glad she did. This collection is modern without being twee, it is sensual without being crass, it is universal without being vague.
These poems are like her earlier collection The World’s Wife has had its juices squeezed out and crystallised into a single glass heart. Anybody who has ever been in love, out of love, or looking for love should read this. It will resonate.
Rating: 9/10

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

ISBN: 9780140274219

This slim volume is wrought with life clamouring to get out. Rhys’s novel is a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and is set oceans away in 1930s Jamaica. Centring on Mr. Rochester’s first wife, Antoinette, we get a while new perspective on Bronte’s novel, like switching on a light in the attic.
I can only describe this book as colourful; the garish colours of the backdrop drip from the page and stick us to the prose. The atmosphere Rhys evokes in this setting is sultry as the hot, thick Jamaican air; the tone is like a silent scream.
And yet it is so very real; the details are intricate and personal, so that we cannot help feeling empathy for this character we have locked away for so long. The very lines of this book act as prison bars that Antoinette is fighting to break out of; and she does. Rhys’s character escapes from this novella and stays with us, haunting our reading of Jane Eyre in the future.
Rating: 8/10