I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Chinon, France, via another lovely Susanna Kearsley novel. Thanks to her, I have many things I wish to see when I visit that area of the world this summer. I didn't even need to research to confirm all those places exist (although, I researched just for fun, of course). Kearsley was kind enough to confirm, at the back of the book, that only the characters and the storyline were pure fiction. All the places her main character visits are real...and awaiting my arrival (which would explain why I've stepped up my French lessons).
As for the Kearsley novel I speak of, The Splendour Falls, I enjoyed it for many reasons other than the setting. I loved all the historical references, which gave me plenty of food for thought and research. I also loved being introduced to a composer I didn't know. Although, come to find out, I did actually know a bit of his music, I just didn't know I did.
You see, one day Emily, the main character, awakes from a nap to what sounds like the music of angels. She finds out later it is another guest of the Hotel de France who is a wonderful violinist on vacation. He practices in the afternoons. She recognizes the music he plays as that of Sir Edward William Elgar. Naturally, I looked him up and listened to his beautiful music. I also researched his life and the inspirations behind the music he wrote.
While reading the novel, I continued to be inspired by the music. At first, I listened to it as background music during the parts where it's part of a scene. Then, I began listening to it in the mornings, as I prepared for work. I also played a couple of the pieces for my students during passing time between classes. I played my students YouTube versions, which showed great orchestras from around the world playing his music. I told them about him and how I found him through reading a book.
I say all of this to point out something I discovered while discussing the novel with my students. I've always said, "I'm a voracious reader," or - of course - a born bibliophile. I approach all of my reading in the same way I approached this one, with a strong desire to be interested and inspired by many things in a novel. I look for something that changes me, that moves me, and adds something special to my life.
I don't just read. I absorb. My mind absorbs everything it reads and seeks to find something new and different in every story...all the time. I find inspiration in little things. For example, once I read this Kearsley novel, I let a bit more of the culture of France soak into my soul. I've changed my lifestyle in odd little ways because what I've learned and absorbed makes practical sense to me and adds joy to my life.
I am currently inside a Russian Gothic fairytale, and I absolutely love it. Needless to say, it is completely different than Kearsley's novels, which is exactly what I love about it. Variety is definitely the spice of my reading life. Don't worry, though, I won't try speaking Russian anytime soon. I'm having a difficult enough time with my French.
I would like to put in a good word, though, for the author of The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden. This is her debut novel, which is part of what made the book appeal to me. The cover is beautiful, I love the title, and when I read that she'd spent a year in France and a year in Russian before going to college in Vermont to specialize in French and Russian literature, I became an instant fan. She's my kind of woman.
And, without knowing it when I bought it, Arden's novel is definitely my kind of fairytale. There are no weak females that need a prince to save them in this book. Well, wait. There actually are, but it's not our main character, Vasilisa. Trust me, though, this is no story to put children to sleep with...unless you want them to have nightmares. It is a beautifully written nightmare, a cautionary tale, as true fairytales were always meant to be.
I haven't finished it yet, though I hope to by tonight. It's been a chilly, rainy day in Texas today. It's a perfect day for reading, curled up on a couch with a blanket and a hot cup of coffee. A perfect day for absorbing the beauty of the Russian wilderness from long, long ago. Just be sure to watch out for the demons hiding in the woods...