on November 22, 2010
"Becoming George Sand," Rosalind Brackenbury's tenth novel, encompasses a poetic, dreamlike disquisition on love, sex and loss, sliding smoothly between the 19th century and the 21st and the lives of two formidable women trying somehow to manage their homes, their children, their men and their work as writers.
The two women--famed French novelist George Sand, born Aurore Dupin, and fictitious Edinburgh French professor Maria Jameson--face parallel struggles as they ferry between France and Majorca, and, in Maria's case, Scotland, as well as between husbands and lovers. Sand plays mother not only to her two children but also to a tubercular Frédéric Chopin while trying to write her novels. Maria, likewise, tends to her two neophyte teenagers, her husband Edward and her lover Sean while teaching, researching and writing a book on Sand.
However, deeper themes resonate here in this discursive, ruminating novel. We are led to view and ponder love in its various incarnations: maternal, matrimonial, sexual, and filial--and how its loss affects us. We glimpse wrenching scenes between Maria and her husband when he confronts her about her infidelity. And we peer inside the hearts and minds of both women as they struggle to fulfill themselves and their destinies while still nurturing those around them, with Maria examining Sand's life in hopes of discovering guideposts for her own.
While admiring Sand for her independence, iconoclasm and talent--and her aplomb in juggling various husbands and lovers--Maria, being Scotch and not French, can't quite pull it off for herself with the same amoral savoir-faire. Nonetheless, she displays admirable resilience, tenacity, self-honesty and self-love that carry her through, learning that the people we admire-in her case, Sand-ultimately become part of us.
While the London-born Brackenbury writes here of strong women successfully navigating a dangerous, improvised course among the shoals of marriage, family, work and society, she writes not just for women but for any reader who values fine craft, compelling characters and a forthright examination of issues of the heart that exalt and harry us all.
Becoming George Sand, already available in Canada (Doubleday), Holland (Artemis) and Italy (Piemme), will be published in the U.S. in March, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, as a paperback.
on March 17, 2011
It is just too bad that this book cannot get 10 starts instead of five. It is beautifully written novel about a French literature university professor, Maria, who risks her 20 year marriage to an affair with a much younger, married man. This is no ordinary affair. It is life changing and redefining for Maria in so many ways. Her love for this younger man is a sort of passion that is not easily given up and requires sacrifices on a large scale. But it is not that Maria does not love her husband, it is that their relationship has evolved into something special and unique over decades spent together that is comfortable, yet too predictable.
To make sense out of her situation and come to terms what to do next, Maria starts writing a book, biography of the famous and celebrated French writer and thinker George Sand. It is through her research of the unconventional woman of her time, George Sand, that Maria tries to make sense about her own life, loves, career and family.
I have been thrilled reading this book, from start to finish. Author has fine mind and fine writing style that is mesmerizing at times. She is flawless in bouncing back and forth, centuiries apart in making parallels about George Sand's life and choices an choices of our modern day heroine Maria. References of the remarkable French writers such as Marguerite Duras, are fantastic.
Maria James is a professor of French literature in Edinburgh. She has been married to Edward, also a professor, for 20 years. They have two teenage children. Maria is having an affair with Sean, a younger man who is also at the university. Maria is also writing a book about 19th century French novelist George Sand, a fiercely independent woman who had many lovers including Frederic Chopin. If Sand is allowed her lovers, 'why not me', wonders Maria?
The novel follows the parallel between the two affairs - 19th century and 21st century. The problem is George Sand and Chopin are a lot more fascinating than Maria and Sean. When Edward discoers Maria's affair, she loses her husband, and inflicts pain upon her children. Maria is such a self-centered twit she wonders why. It is not until nearly the end of the novel that it dawns upon her that she has inflicted pain upon Edward by her behavior.
I found Maria unbearable as a character, she is such a narcissist, although the author attempts to redeem her towards the end in her relationship with a close woman friend who is ill. One reviewer here charitably described the writing style as ruminative. Although descriptive passages of places - Edinburgh, Majorca, Nohant, Paris are well written, the authors style just bogs the narrative down. Maria's husband and lover are not fully fleshed out people. The plot is sparse. For me all of this is so off-putting that I am unable to give this novel more than three overly generous stars.
It took me almost one hundred of this book's three hundred pages to feel I wanted to stay with Rosalind Brackenbury's story. I'm glad I did...stay with it. Again, it's for you, the reader, to determine, on chosing this book to read, whether you'll stay with it. Turns out "Becoming George Sand" is quite fascinating. Maria Jameson,an instructor, currently immersed in both an affair with a younger man and the writing of a book about author and feminist, wife, mother, a French woman who took on the cloak of name George Sand, a woman probably very much ahead and out of her time, a woman whose relationships and the manner in which she lived her life two centuries previous offer Maria Jameson insight into her own life, its intricacies, her failings, her desires, her relationships with lover, husband, children, friends. At book's end, Maria seems to have made peace with the life she is meant to live, seems to have a better understanding of herself as a modern woman because of her immersion into just what seemed to make novelist/memoirist George Sand the brilliant and complex woman she was in another time and place. Do we use the past to better understand the future? Seems so. Do we use another's life and death to better understand our own life and eventual death. Of course. And that's what Maria Jameson experiences in the very capable literary hands of Rosalind Brackenbury. Read this book; you won't be disappointed.
on March 27, 2014
An utterly exquisite read! A simply marvelous ode to George, to women, to love and life. Rosalind Brackenbury has a masterfully deft touch, her prose is lyrically delicate but penetrates to the depths of things...I read this novel in several days, almost without pause, and felt deeply touched by the narrative, the seamless transition between past and present, between George and Maria, and the poetic beauty of Brackenbury's phrase-crafting. Highly recommended, indeed.
on May 18, 2011
The description of this book, at least as I wrote it, does not remotely do the book credit. Largely because the story is not the real point. I mean, it is and it isn't. More than being about a plot it's about what it's like being a woman, about the spaces between love and marriage, about feminism, and about literature and language. The writing is completely gorgeous, sucking me in from the first pages, even though the opening scenes chronicle the affair, a thing in which I have little interest. To me, there is no excuse for cheating and I do not believe Maria's romanticized idea of it (and not just because I know what happens later); the treatment of the affair in early pages reminds me of Chretien de Troyes, and how in that time folks believed that true love had to be extramarital.
Rather than speaking to what I loved and didn't (what little there was of that) as I usually do, I really want to include some of my favorite quotes and let the author speak for herself.
"'You can't be loved whatever you do. You have to be someone good, to be loved. People can't just love you for existing.'
'Hmm. Well, maybe. You don't believe in unconditional love?'
'Yes, I do, but it's for babies. You have to be worthy of love.'" (221).
"That's it, the last gesture of a long friendship lived over distance and time, without frequent meetings, between two languages; a friendship built over books, plays, poems, the written word." (252).
"What is it she needs, at this point in her life? To touch another life, to have it touch hers. To create, to understand. To give back. To be part of a whole." (286)
Brackenbury obviously wholeheartedly loves and appreciates literature, which makes her such a joy to read. I now want to check out George Sand and to read a biography of her life, as she sounds fascinating.
on April 4, 2014
I have read many of Rosalind Brackenbury's books and consider this to be her finest work.
The character of Maria Jameson especially resonated. A successful and independent woman, a professor and intellectual who has raised a son and daughter conscientiously and loves and respects her husband, and still finds much enjoyment in the life she shares with him. Even after twenty odd years together. But still ....
Even happily married women imagine a "what if..." scenario- What if she meets an incredibly attractive much younger man who returns feelings of passion for her. One who is also married and will not disrupt either of their situations. What if no one will ever find out? Should she refuse what may be her last opportunity to rediscover herself through they eyes of another in the all encompassing chemistry of genuine sexual discovery.
While researching the life of George Sand AKA Aurora Duphin, a celebrated author and free spirit who embodies sexual freedom, Maria imagines how she managed to juggle lovers, both male and female in a much more repressed society of 19th century Paris - or was it? And so we switch between 21st century Scotland and iconic scenes of George Sand's life as imagined by Maria, as she gathers material for her biography of George Sand.
Prevailing wisdom has it that affairs occur because of a rift or inadequacy in a marriage, be it sexual gratification, friendship, finances, intellectual compatibility. Or, worse still, because of a sense of entitlement or narcissistic need to be wanted/adored, etc. In Becoming George Sand, Brackenbury sets out to disallow Maria any of these reasons for embarking on a dangerous liason of the sexual variety. Although Maria can easily be accused of being selfish, yet she cannot be dismissed that easily. T'was ever thus that women (especially) have been tarred with this moniker and yes, it may even be fair to judge this way. But Brackenbury's novel goes well beneath the surface of this judgement to ask deeper questions: Questions that George Sand AKA Aurore Dupin chose to explore and questions that may never be resolved.
Are we merely slogging through our lives, or are we truly alive?
At what cost do we take a risk and at what cost do we deny taking that chance?
This book is wonderfully controversial, Brackenbury does a delicate dance very successfully refusing to come up with easy answers. Becoming George Sand is an exquisite exploration that never veers into the melodramatic, instead this is one book that truly made me think.
This is a well-written book, literary in the best possible sense of the word, but one that didn't do much for me. The main character, Maria, is a thinly characterized woman of few redeeming qualities. Self-centered, self-interested, and psuedo-intellectual (despite her professed career as an academic) are the first terms that come to my mind.
Making the parallels between George Sands and the modern Maria studying Sands is a reasonable device, albeit one we've seen before, but the execution is good enough to not force the reader into a "hey, I've read this before" moment. The character just wasn't enough (for this reader) to hang onto through the whole book. I'd definitely give Rosalind Brackenbury's next book a try again though!
on February 15, 2011
Is it the times we live in that make it necessary to stay together rather than fly apart?"
I'm an easy mark for novels with bookish heroines. Add to that, bookish heroines who identify with either a literary character or a long deceased writer, and I'm a goner.
You get the point.
In Becoming George Sand, we get a cornucopia of all things literary. The main character, Maria, is a writer who finds herself stuck between a husband and a lover. She is happy enough in the domesticity of her everyday life to not want a divorce, but she seeks the element of passion with her younger lover, a scientist named Sean. She looks to Aurore Dupin aka George Sand for guidance. The 19th century novelist/memoirist seemed to enjoy more freedom than modern day women. Sand embarked on a 4-5 year long "Romantic Rebellion" after divorcing her husband in 1831, and went on to have numerous affairs with some of the most important writers and artists of her day.
"What can seem ordinary, now? She has no idea. She has arrived somewhere where she doesn't know the customs, can't read the signs, and there is no one, except a dead French writer, to give her a clue."
Maria knows that although she lives in an era more seemingly accepting of unconventional women, she cannot keep this up for much longer. She begins researching the life of Sand--her relationship with her mother, her relationships with different men (platonic and romantic), her relationship with her children, and why Sand had this craving for love that not be sated, despite the number of lovers she had.
"Her hands hold the book as if it were a passport."
When Maria and her botanist husband travel to Majorca, the very same place where Sand and her young lover, Chopin, stayed in 1838-1839, the situation comes to a head. It is then that Maria's life changes. In compiling a biography of Sand's life, Maria figures out just what she wants out of her hers. She connects with old friends, dissects her own relationship with both men, and goes out on her own to discover her aspirations, her fears, her desires.
In being forced to change her circumstances, Maria's life shakes off the stagnation and decay that lead to her own ennui. An end leads to a new beginning. Maria begins to see that she should not demand more of her husband than she expects from herself. The ever repeating motions of the days lead to a sort of death of the soul, and thus, of love. How can passion survive that?
"If you are western and middle-class at this time in history, you have to be dislodged from comfort, or dislodge yourself. If you want to live fully, you have to give something up quite deliberately, for nothing is going to do it to you, you are too safe."
Becoming George Sand is a moving, lyrical novel that transcends time and place. The plight of woman, past and present, moves us to examine our own lives. Are we merely plodding through this existence, or are we living? I would recommend this book to any woman-- whether you like the fluffy reads, or the meaty classics... This is a definite reread for me.
"It's on the tender inside of life, where everything begins again..."
*I received a free ARC of this novel thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. This in no way influenced my opinion of the novel. "
A pervading female loveliness informs this book, this "Becoming George Sand: A Novel" by Rosalind Brackenbury. None of the baby-talking fakeness of the Marilyn era is here. Instead there is the toughness, straightforwardness, and arching loveliness of one like an Angelina Jolie. Brackenbury writes of the attractiveness of the nineteenth century French novelist, self-named George Sand. The name looks English. Wasn't she British? No, no. She was French and had great appeal. Her penname is pronounced Zhorzh, not as the English George.
George was highly intelligent and forceful. She flew against the mores of her day and followed her heart: her unashamed sexuality, her independence, her needs, her strength. She took a long succession of male lovers, some became her husbands, most not. Perhaps her foremost lover was composer and piano virtuoso Frédéric Chopin. George was unashamed of being herself, of being who she was, and presenting that self to the world. She had a telling authorial voice, a strong, loving voice in an era when women were put down in public matters and relationships. She was not afraid to be feminine, sexual, and strong. She was a loving mother, daughter, wife, and lover, all at the same time -- besides being a marvelous writer. So too is author Rosalind Brackenbury, who has a long writing résumé: a dozen or so novels, books of poetry, and some shorter works.
George Sand was not called that by her family and friends. To them she was Aurora. Aurora Dupin. She was born Amandine Aurora Lucile Dupin. (The given names have various spellings.) In public, she wore trousers and other male attire, and smoked little cigars. Provocative to be sure in the 1800s, but she was who she was, and the world had to take her that way. Write she could and write she did, near a hundred novels and plays. Her popular writing supported herself and her family.
Author Brackenbury and George Sand would seem to agree that any woman has beauty when she is herself and believes in herself. Brackenbury's twenty-first century fictional protagonist is Maria Jameson, a wife to Edward and mother to two children, a son and daughter. Maria is a professor in Edinburgh, Scotland, where they live. She is interested in studying the life and times of George Sand. In a bookstore, whose owner has been helping her find source material, she happens to meet Sean, a medical researcher. The two are smitten and eventually end up in a year-long relationship. Be cautioned, the intimacy in the book is graphic. Maria wonders why, in the 21st century, she and all women cannot enjoy the freedom of their own sexuality, the freedom that George Sand exhibited in the 19th. Maria's husband Edward doesn't agree with any such freedom; after finding out about Maria's affair, he leaves the family home. Maria, with old friends in France, makes several visits there and also to Majorca to experience as much as she can of the quarters and neighborhoods where George Sand stayed and lived.
Rosalind Brackenbury is an endearing person to get to know through her book. Her descriptions of places and relationships are excellent. "Becoming George Sand" is lovely and suspenseful from beginning to end. Instead of the "changing into" meaning of "becoming," the word can say that someone is personable and attractive, which is how I find all three ladies: George, Maria, and especially Rosalind. A memorable read (just under 200 pages).