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Becoming George Sand Paperback – Bargain Price, March 17, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Maria Jameson, happy in her life as a professor, wife, and mother, finds her life upended when she begins an affair with a man she meets in a shabby Edinburgh, Scotland, bookshop. To help her make sense of her situation, Maria also embarks on a project researching the life and art of French novelist George Sand, who made a name for herself by walking around in trousers and taking beaucoup lovers. As the dry narrative advances, Brackenbury cuts back and forth between Maria's story and Sand's fateful trip to Majorca with Chopin, allowing Maria to discovers deep kinship with the writer, based on the conflicting desires of the female heart. Indeed, Maria's affair makes her life complete; she is happy with her lover and with her family, but the arrangement can't possibly last. While Brackenbury finds some nice parallels and a telling subplot regarding an ailing friend of Maria's, Maria's story of disconnection and reconnection with her family moves slowly, and the interludes in Sand's era often come off as stiff. Maria is deeply interested in her conundrum; readers will be much less so. (Mar.)
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Maria Jameson is having an affair. She and her lover meet at her house every Friday, where they have fabulous sex while her husband is at work and the kids are at school. All is well until Maria's husband, Edward, becomes suspicious and confronts her. When the truth comes out, Maria can't comprehend Edward's feelings of betrayal, his insistence that she love him exclusively. Why must she live in prudish twenty-first-century Scotland instead of liberal-minded nineteenth-century France? To justify her behavior, Maria begins researching free-spirited author George Sand, allowing Brackenbury (The House in Morocco, 2004) to alternate between the two women in an attempt to shed light on how where and when one lives affects one's life. Though she's reaching for something revelatory, Brackenbury's efforts to draw parallels between the two stories aren't altogether successful. Despite some truly lovely language--Brackenbury is also a poet--she's saddled her novel with an unsympathetic heroine who, contrary to her Sandian pretensions, comes across as not so much progressive as selfish. --Patty Wetli
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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).
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.
Most recent customer reviews
The character of Maria Jameson especially resonated.Read more