Little and Fraud, Books 15 and 16 of #20booksofsummer21

Little by Edward Carey
Book 15 of 20 Books of Summer

Little’ by Edward Carey is a stunning historical novel which tells a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud who founded the famous waxwork museum in London. Born Anne Marie Grosholtz in 1761 and orphaned as a young child, she is taken into the care of Swiss wax sculptor, Doctor Curtius, who creates models of body parts for the local medical college and takes Anne Marie on as his apprentice, nicknaming her ‘Little’ on account of her diminutive stature.

When their financial fortunes change, the pair move to Paris, where they join forces with a widowed tailor Charlotte Picot and her introverted son. Together they create a new business, making wax replicas of the heads of noblemen and famous murderers and charging the public for the chance to have a look.  Little’s life takes another unexpected turn, when, after a visit by the youngest sister of King Louis XVI, she is invited to live at the Palace of Versailles as art tutor to the Princess Elisabeth. As revolution looms, Little and her adopted family finds themselves in a precarious situation, in a world where no one is safe from the threat of execution.

The History Lady some call me, others Mother Time. Many call me Madame Two-Swords. Is it all true? They wonder. Wax, I told them, does not know how to lie.

Little is a vibrant and invigorating novel which captures both an historical figure and an historical time to perfection. Little is witness to massive societal upheavals which are rendered more vivid for being told through her first person narrative. Carey is skilled at depicting people and places with striking, unaffected detail and he brings a massive array of characters to Dickensian life (Dickens even makes a cameo appearance near the end of the book!).

Carey’s beautiful illustrations punctuate the book, and together with the relentless energy of his prose, he blurs the lines between subject and object and life and death. Little is not only a vivid and entertaining slice of historical fiction but it becomes a deeper meditation on art, morality and love.

Fraud by Anita Brookner
Book 16 of 20 Books of Summer

I originally had another Brookner in my 20 Books of Summer pile – Brief Lives – but as I mentioned earlier in the week, the font was so small that I was having real trouble reading it, so I swapped to Fraud, another Brookner that has been languishing in the 746.

Fraud opens with a mystery. Anna Durrant is a “woman in her middle years” has gone missing, but it has taken four months for anyone to notice. Her physician, Dr Lawrence Halliday, has finally notified the police after Anna has missed several appointments. As the police begin to investigate, they find an ordered home and no sign of any disturbance. Where has Anna gone? Brookner then introduces the reader to the small handful of people who were closest to Anna, and as she pieces together the last months before her disappearance, it becomes apparent that her life has been a fraud and no one, least of all Anna, really knows Anna at all.

They tended to be sorry for her, but she herself was full of hope. She had a belief in her destiny which verged on mysticism, and throughout the long years in the silent flat, reading and watching television with her mother, her cheerfulness was entirely natural and she did not notice the years going by.

Anna has devoted the best years of her life to looking after her ailing mother, whose only wish was to see her daughter married. One prospective suitor was the aforementioned Dr Halliday but he is now married to the vivacious and capricious Vicky. Anna has no career, but is financially secure and after her mother’s death, is unable to break the habits of a lifetime. She transfers her focus and caring skills from her mother onto Mrs Marsh, a stoic and independent widow, who sees Anna as something of an irritant, but is happy to take advantage of her when she needs help. Anna’s only friend is Marie-France, a single woman of a similar age who lives in Paris, but her impending marriage has brought an imbalance to their friendship.

Fraud features some of Brookner’s recurring themes. There is the single woman who wishes not to be, the dutiful daughter submerged under filial obligation, and an array of characters who are not necessarily unhappy, but aren’t particularly happy either.  She depicts women struggling to make lives for themselves, or to make peace with the lives they have. The ‘mystery’ that frames Fraud turns out to be little more than a literary device, but what is left instead is a striking series of character studies, where even the slightest of characters is convincingly drawn. The passivity of Anna can, at times, be frustrating however Fraud is a consummately crafted and fascinating exploration of loneliness, which is at times strikingly amusing and ultimately hopeful.


20 Books of Summer The 746

Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

30 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Ooh, you are doing well! I think Fraud came after I had to stop reading Brookner when I started finding more depression than joy in her novels as I aged along with her heroines! But that does sound like an interesting one.


  2. omg im so glad you loved Little!! it was my favourite book of last year and i also thought it was so beautifully written with such wonderful characterization 👌


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