Classic Read: The Ladies of Missalonghi

ladies2I recently revisited an old favorite, a  short novel set in Australia in the early 1900’s. The Ladies of Missalonghi, a tale by Australian author Colleen McCullough, has a rather dismal start. Missy Wright, a thirty-three year old spinster, lives in the town of Byron with her widowed mother and crippled aunt. The three women scrape along in genteel poverty, the victims of manipulative and greedy richer relatives. Their days are always the same: meager meals, chores, and the endless handicrafts that they create to fill the empty hours.

Missy, who believes her lack of beauty and lack of money have doomed her to never marry, has one escape from the dreariness of her life. She borrows novels from the local lending library and imagines the most spectacular adventures in her mind. The librarian, a distant relation named Una, is bright and vivacious and very interested in Missy, who is generally considered a non-entity by her other relatives.

Slowly, as Missy interacts with Una, she begins to change. She stops letting local shopkeepers push her around. She stands up against a rude and condescending cousin. She takes walks alone in the bush, experiencing the beauty of her natural environment, an experience that has always been denied her in the interest of keeping her “safe”.

Missy’s evolution is an unconventional fairy tale. No one rescues her; she saves herself. Una is an example for Missy to follow rather than a fairy godmother who grants requests. There is a prince of sorts–John Smith, a mysterious newcomer to the town of Byron who is not searching for a princess but running from his past.

This short tale can be read in one sitting. Through-out the story, I kept  wondering if Missy’s newfound strength would backfire. Could she possibly stand up to an entire town, not to mention a tradition of systematic discrimination against the poor widows and spinsters in her family? Would those richer relations turn and crush her? Would her mother and aunt, who are so steeped in family tradition, even support her in her quest for freedom? There were a few surprises before I discovered the answers to these questions.

This light yet lovely tale is enjoyable.  A recommended read for those who like light romance with descriptive settings.

Louise Reads: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman, 39 and a professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. His lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not “wired” for romance. Logically, though, he concedes to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner through an exhaustive 16-page survey he has designed to scientifically eliminate all incompatible candidates.

Rosie Jarman would never make it past page one of Don’s survey. A smoking, drinking, disorganized vegetarian, she is completely unsuitable. Yet Don feels somehow compelled to use his expertise in DNA analysis to assist her with a project of her own – identifying her biological father. An unlikely friendship develops between them as they work together on The Father Project.

In The Rosie Project, Don is our narrator, and seeing the story from his point of view is part of the charm of this book. Similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night -Time and Silver Linings Playbook, the narrator of this story is wired differently than most people.  To say Don has social difficulties is an understatement.  In an early scene, Don is discussing a lecture he’d recently given at the university:

“Claudia asked whether I’d enjoyed the Asperger’s lecture… [I] told her I had found the subject fascinating. “Did the symptoms remind you of anyone?” she asked.  They certainly did. They were an almost perfect description of Lazlo Hevesi in the Physics department.”

Fans of the television series “The Big Bang Theory” may notice some similarities to the character Sheldon Cooper from that show.  For example, in a scene where Don is explaining his scheduled meal system to Rosie after a meeting at a restaurant goes comically awry:

“So you cook this same meal every Tuesday, right?”
“Correct.” I listed the eight major advantages of the Standardized Meal System:
  1. No need to accumulate recipe books.
  2. Standardized shopping list – hence very efficient shopping.
  3. Almost zero waste – nothing in the refrigerator or pantry unless required for one of the recipes.
  4. Diet planned and nutritionally balanced in advance.
  5. No time wasted wondering what to cook.
  6. No mistakes, no unpleasant surprises.
  7. Excellent food, superior to most restaurants at a much lower price (see point 3).
  8. Minimum cognitive load required.

Debut novelist Graeme Simsion has written a warm-hearted, laugh-out-loud funny, and surprisingly poignant story. No huge surprises, The Rosie Project follows many of the tropes that are the stock-in-trade of romantic comedies,  but I was still caught up in the story from the first words and it never lagged or disappointed. A feel-good book that delivered!  Audiobook listeners will enjoy first-time narrator Dan O’Grady’s performance, his Australian accent (the story is set in Melbourne) added an authentic touch.

If you like The Rosie Project, you may also enjoy:

The Big Bang Theory starring Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons, Simon Helberg, and Kunal Nayyar

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon