Sunday, August 3, 2008

I Wrote with Freedom and Courage: Secret Scribbled Notebooks by Joanne Horniman

PhotobucketI wonder if I read enough about the lives of other women whether I would find out how I want to live my own. Whether I’d feel surer about what I wanted to do with myself…I feel like I have been waiting my whole life for something to happen. For someone to come along and change me. Or for a grand event, like in an opera—lots of shrill singing and fancy costumes.

But now I want to choose the way I live my life

The big question is, How?

I unabashedly, wildly, ecstatically love this book.

That's why I've put off writing up Secret Scribbled Notebooks, penned by the magnificent Joanne Horniman, for so long. How could I possibly describe this story so close to my heart, this story about growing up as warm but expansive as its setting, the guesthouse named Samarkand?

Kate O'Farrell is perfectly ordinary--17, red-haired and be-freckled, possessing beautiful feet, three notebooks, and a fig tree in which she writes. Red for lists, music, favorite words, and writeups of the books she so loves. Blue for her scant memories of the family that left her, and the one that didn't (her sister Sophie and Samarkand's caretaker, Lil). Yellow is her wonder book, where she looks outside of herself at the events of her life, weaving them into the mythic tale of a woman who eats Turkish delight, tames a fox spirit guide, and works for a publishing house where the editors sing together at lunchtime.

This isn't a book where all that much happens, but at the same time, so much does. Sophie has a baby girl, Hetty, whom Kate loves enormously. After a chance meeting at the local used bookstore, Hope Springs, Kate meets the mysterious Alex. He is her first love, and she puzzles through the intricacies of her relationship with a boy who courts her with mint tea, fresh from the garden, and possesses little more than a typewriter and past as cloudy as her own. Her best friend Marjorie is a vintage darling with Louise Brooks hair who loves physics equations and cake baking in equal amounts, and they quake at the looming exams, ones that will decide Kate's fate. She grows, changes, and passionately loves life; every page has a turn of phrase, an observation that catches my breath and makes me sigh.

Secret Scribbled Notebooks
is a story for book lovers. Sophie quotes Oscar Wilde, Lil hides from the guests with chocolates and novels, and Kate falls into the embrace of great literature, who finds that "kissing a book was like hugging a tree. It made me feel better." She reads Anais Nin and Virginia Woolf and Sei Sonogan, finding her thoughts mirrored in literature.

There are several threads that run through the novel: the sisters' missing parents, the question of Sophie and Hetty's future, and Kate's own reluctance to leave what little family she has, questioning if she even has the right to do so. Each reaches its own satisfying, if not always oblique, conclusion. You will ache when you put down this novel, as it hurts to leave her behind--but you will smile, for the gift of having known Secret Scribbled Notebooks. It's the best book you've never read.

PhotobucketI am thrilled to tell you that a companion book from Sophie's point of view, My Candlelight Novel, will be released on the first of September. Currently looks like a Australia-only release thus far, but you may have luck with UK book distributors--I'll be checking The Book Depository like a fiend till it's out. I also like Gleebooks, but shipping from Australia's gone a bit out of my budget--if you can, try them, they've got an excellent selection and are so good to international customers.

*Secret Scribbled Notebooks at GoogleBooks
*Joanne Horniman's other books are Mahalia and Little Wing (companion novels about a young man raising a baby on his own, and the mother's year without her child), as well as A Charm of Powerful Trouble (a sensuous, evocative novel about a slightly mystical family living in a rainforest, which ties for the number one book in my heart next to this one. It also has major points for featuring a Non-Miserable Lesbian Character.)
*Some of the books Kate reads: A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf. The Diaries of Anais Nin, Volume 5. Nausea, by Sartre. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. Good Blonde and Others, by Jack Kerouac.
*The title of the book is from Jack Kerouac's "Belief and Technique for Modern Prose:" "1. Secret scribbled notebooks and wild typewritten pages for yr own joy"


carey said...

ok, i know i said elsewhere that i've been meaning to read this book since i first heard you mention it--but now from this review i know that the protagonist looks like me *and* has a similar name, and i am egotistic enough to find that a very important reason for reading a book. :)

Lisa Clark said...

Wowzers - turns out, Miss R, that you are now my official go-to girl for every book I'm ever going to read again. Fact.
I LOVED the Dakota book - her style was awesome, have ordered the others you said I'd love if I like that and am now gonna have to order this book as it sounds amazing!

Thanks for being the best review girl ever!!

Big hugs...

L x

celerysoda said...

I came here via Carey's blog and have enjoyed poking around... I like the sound of this book and am reserving a copy from the library right now!

Clicky Web Analytics