First, More Than Love Letters by Rosy Thornton. This is an epistolary novel and therefore qualifies as my book three for the Postal Reading Challenge 2014 which is being hosted by The Indextrious Reader.
I think this was Rosy Thornton's first book. I've read a several of her others and enjoyed them very much, particularly Tapestry of Love. More Than Love Letters is easily up with that in the enjoyment stakes, albeit a very different kind of book. It's actually an epistolary novel but as I find it hard to get my mouth around that, let's just say it's a book written in letter form. And boy does it work!
It deals with some serious issues in fact... the abuse of women and the running of women's shelters is its main theme but Margaret has a grandmother who has had a stroke and is trying to remain independent in her own home, and this features rather a lot too. What Rosy Thornton does though is very clever in that she writes about these very serious issues in a way that doesn't depress you. She uses humour with a very deft stroke and it's terribly effective. I laughed endlessly at the WITCH (Women of Ipswich Together Combating Homelessness) minutes of the meetings, at the school newsletters... I'm guessing the author has personal experience of some of the teaching details... and so on. I loved Margaret herself, a delightful character, very genuine and caring. Whether Richard was worthy of her I couldn't really decide, and the only thing which didn't ring true to me was whether he would say quite as much as he did about his intimate feelings in emails to another MP, albeit his best mate. But that aside, I found this book of letters and emails to be a really excellent, fun read, a pageturner handling delicate issues with humanity and great humour. Very nicely done.
Next up, The Turkish Embassy Letters by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. This too qualifies for the Postal Reading Challenge 2014 and is my book four.
They travelled across Europe to Vienna and thus to Istanbul, known then as Constantinople, and all the while Mary kept up a constant correspondence with friends and family. Her sister, 'Mar' was one of her main correspondents, but she also wrote to Alexander Pope, the Abbé Antonio Conti and various other ladies who were presumably close friends. The topics were wide ranging depending on who she was writing to. The manners and customs of the Ottoman empire were a favourite subject, especially the everyday lives of women who were in the higher echelons of society. Her rank as wife of the British ambassador appeared to give her access to many places that previous writers about Turkey could not aspire to and she very much enjoyed putting the record straight about mistakes they had made. She was also interested in the fashions of the country, the beautiful architecture, and the goings on at court. She was not backward in coming forward with her opinions of education for girls, child-bearing, the freedom she felt Turkish women had because of wearing the veil, the beauty of Arab poetry either. While there, she observed the Turkish custom of inocculating the population against small-pox and in fact was the first person to introduce inocculation into Britain.
Mary clearly wasn't without her faults as the introduction stresses, but I found her interesting, intelligent - she learnt the Turkish language so that she could converse properly with the Turks - insightful and brave. I enjoyed this volume of letters but did find it dragged a bit in places. On the other hand, I had to keep reminding myself that this was all taking place in the early 1700s when most women certainly did not get the opportunity to go on these kinds of travels or have these experiences. One of my favourite categories of travel books is that of 'early women travellers' so this was an excellent book for me personally and has spurred me on to find more in this vein.