#ClassicandContemporary book challenge: February
#ClassicandContemporary book challenge: David Copperfield and The Fair Botanists
The Fair Botanists
Author: Sara Sheridan
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Year: August 2021
I’ll cut straight to the point: you need to read The Fair Botanists! This exquisite piece of historical fiction quickly became one of my favourite books. I can’t wait to tell you more, so keep reading! I’ll start with the synopsis:
‘Could one rare plant hold the key to a thousand riches?
It’s the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is abuzz with rumours of King George IV’s impending visit. In botanical circles, however, a different kind of excitement has gripped the city. In the newly-installed Botanic Garden, the Agave Americana plant looks set to flower – an event that only occurs once every few decades.
When newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in Edinburgh to live with her late husband’s aunt Clementina, she’s determined to put her unhappy past in London behind her. As she settles into her new home, she becomes fascinated by the beautiful Botanic Garden which borders the grand house and offers her services as an artist to record the rare plant’s impending bloom. In this pursuit, she meets Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman with a passion for botany and the lucrative, dark art of perfume creation.
Belle is determined to keep both her real identity and the reason for her interest in the Garden secret from her new friend. But as Elizabeth and Belle are about to discover, secrets don’t last long in this Enlightenment city…
And when they are revealed, they can carry the greatest of consequences…’
As the blurb suggests, as well as the title, it is a book about plants, but also so much more! It’s not a plant book in the botanical sense, it’s not a lesson on botany, but it does involve plants and their significance in the life of society. It is astonishing how a single plant can create so many diverse reasons for people to hide secrets, and how it can influence everybody’s life in different ways. As someone who loves plants and finds them fascinating, and is a regular visitor to the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, I knew this would be quite an enchanting story. It turned out to be exactly as I pictured it—full of botanical facts about the Agave americana, the dark (and almost magical) art of perfume creation, the world of scents and chemistry, but also the secrets, intrigues and relationships between the characters. I only wish there had been more curious information and botanical facts and science, like the exact process of transporting the trees from the garden’s previous site in Edinburgh to its current home, the process of setting up a garden, but I understand that it would have made it too niche and specific. What I’m trying to say is that I couldn’t get enough of this book, it was so, so good!
Every character had a distinctive voice and lived in their own world, with their own interests and aspirations. The author talked about this in the historical note in the end: the fact that she wanted to achieve this for every character, even the secondary and working-class characters, and it only gave the story more depth and made all the characters tridimensional. The list of characters in the beginning comes in handy, as there are many whose names start with ‘J’ and this can get confusing at one point. Simply refer to the list I mentioned above and you’ll be okay!
The leading figures in the novel are female and I quite liked that, women taking the stage and having roles that are just as important in society as men’s work. They are all pictured as strong and knowledgeable, excellent at their occupations and supportive of other women. Both Belle and Elizabeth overcome difficulties in their lives and show that you can be successful no matter what you have been through. All the rest of the characters have a purpose in the book and are full of life, vividly described by the author. I sympathised with Belle a lot, she was my favourite one, as she is pictured as a determined, strong, and knowledgeable person who is not afraid to challenge the society’s beliefs and traditional ideas.
I loved the way the author mixed the facts from her research on life in 1822 with fiction—the book is based on real-life people and events but some of them have additional details that the author added to adapt them to her story. Being familiar with all the places she describes in Edinburgh is like having a walk around town but seeing it in a new light—I could perfectly imagine what life was back then and recognised all the famous people and places. Sheridan’s writing is stunning, she captured Edinburgh’s picturesque scenery so distinctly and magically on paper, which is something so hard, Edinburgh is a truly exceptional city and I find its beauty hard to describe!
I could praise The Fair Botanists much longer and I can’t recommend it enough, but I don’t want to give away too much of the story and spoil the pleasure of reading it. Just know that you’re in for a treat, you’ll be transported to 19th century Edinburgh, and very soon you’ll fall in love with it and all the people involved in the story. I definitely want to read more of her books! A solid 5-stars read!
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Classics, Bildungsroman
Publisher: Bradbury & Evans
Now, about the second book for February, David Copperfield: it is a bildungsroman and follows the coming-of-age journey of its narrator. Because of its length, the novel became a bit boring at times, but overall it is a fun read with lovely characters, and one of the creepiest villains (or the most villainous creep?) in literature, Uriah Heep.
Here are the main themes and key things about it:
I can certainly say that it did not have to be that long! It can easily be shortened to 300 pages, as most of the writing is so detailed that it doesn’t bring anything to the story. The characters are not that many either, taken the length of the book, so it is just more and more information about the same set of people. I get that this is considered to be Dickens’s most autobiographical novel and it is meant to be reflective and full of details, but at the same time, it is so long that I really needed some more action every now and then to keep things moving. However, it’s funny and it’s also written in a comprehensive way that even I, as a non-native English speaker, didn’t have a hard time to understand. I loved Uriah Heep’s character, I think he was described perfectly as the villain, and got on my nerves as much as on David’s! I’m glad I read it as it is a nice way to get familiar and used to Charles Dickens’s style of writing.
Finishing off with some of my favourite quotes:
My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.
My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.
‘Never,’ said my aunt, ‘be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.’
In case you need me… #owlbeereading!