Book Review, Discussion Questions & Answers: A Bitter Truth

Well Bess Craword certainly finds herself embroiled amongst seriously screwed up English families with all their issues and secrets! A Bitter Truth gives us the most tumultuous and secretive yet! And perhaps this is the reason why I enjoyed this one so much more than all of the others? Or perhaps it is because we see so much more of the “pluck” of Bess and learn more of her family history? There is more recognition of her father and everyone’s willingness to assist Bess once they learn of the relation.

At any rate, A Bitter Truth is the Best Bess Yet!

In previous discussion questions posted by BookClubGirl, she asks about new words, phrases, etc. we learned. This time I paid closer attention and did need to look up what “suttee” meant. It was used in the context of Indian women throwing themselves on to their husband’s pyre so as to not live a desolate life alone. And Suttee is the Hindu custom where a wife will burn herself, most likely by throwing herself on to the funeral pyre at her husband’s funeral.

Also, there was a saying used that I also had to look up, as I’ve never heard of it: “running someone to earth”, as Bess said she “ran Lydia to earth, finally, in the room above the hall.” It means to find someone after searching for them.

I also just loved the small mention of Canadian history with Lieutenant Colebourn and his black bear, Winnipeg – aka Winnie the Pooh! ❤ !

Without further ado, on to the discussion questions posted by BookClubGirl:

1.) How did A Bitter Truth stack up for you against Bess’ previous two adventures?

I found A Bitter Truth to be the best so far of the Bess novels! Bess certainly finds herself embroiled in messy family situations doesn’t she? But I loved the Ellis family and all of their issues so much more than ever! This one kept me glued to the pages and interested in the story the whole time.  Although, I did find that Lydia is extremely manipulative and takes advantage of Bess almost immediately upon first meeting her. But, I adored, adored Bess’ flirtation with the tall and handsome Aussie Sgt. Larimore !!! Loved it! And wow – doesn’t he pull some tricks to “help” Bess eh?!

2.) I really enjoyed the mystery in this novel, and confess I was quite confounded as to who the killer was, until the very end. How about you?

Absolutely. This was a fine mystery! And I as well was left completely confounded until the very end too! Lots of twists and page-turners in this one!

3.) The plight of orphans in the war is brought to the forefront in this novel – what do you think of Lydia’s and Bess’ feelings and plans for Sophie?

Well, I’m not sure the plight of the orphans would have come to any of their attention, if not for the search to find this little girl Sophie in one of the French convents. Even Bess herself says that she had never thought of this side of effects of the war before learning of this little girl. I still see Lydia as a selfish and manipulative person that used everyone for her own gain or her own personal needs and desires. But…..I understand that Bess is a product of military protocol and therefore her incessant need to return the girl to France and follow the proper channels was her constant stance. However…..given that so many children were left as orphans and the kindness and care for the children could only be stretched so far, I was sort of siding with the Ellis family here, despite my dislike for their weird & selfish manner (especially Lydia). What harm would it possibly do to keep this beautiful child as their own and provide her with a life of comfort and care and love? They were going to see that the convent was well looked after in terms of money and supplies. ??? I see both sides, but honestly, I leaned towards the Ellis’ viewpoint here.

I do have to say though, the more books I read that take place in WWI, the more of it I learn. And the plight of the orphans is for me the same as it was for Bess – something I never really knew of before. I liked the many mentions of concern for what kind of people these children would grow into in the future. It is a fascinating and heartbreaking subject.

4.) I was struck by the passage in chapter 15, when Todd speaks of the evolution of the war: “The days when men lined up in their dozens to be the first to enlist had long since passed. Now the reality of the trenches had scoured away that bravado, and in its place were these recruits, afraid of shaming themselves in front of their mates but probably wishing themselves anywhere but here.” How did you see the war changing people and events in the novel?

From reading so many other books in the WWI period, I knew that the men came back no longer as heroes or treated with the bravado they once were. It went on for so much longer than anyone anticipated and I’ve only always read how they were shamefully treated upon their return home, etc. I suppose we are guilty of the very same to this day in the here and now as well.

5.) Simon Brandon plays an even greater role in this book than the last, though I don’t think Bess sees his interest as more than professional or familial. What do you think his intentions are? And do you think Bess recognizes them?

Well, to be honest, I think his role was the same, or he made the same number of appearances as in the previous two, in my opinion? I wasn’t overly aware that his intentions were more than familial, actually, I was thinking he had more of a presence or had more concern and had a larger part in Bess’ adventures in An Impartial Witness than here.

On to the next one! If A Bitter Truth was this good, I’m quite anxious for this one! To be released in June: An Unmarked Grave. It even comes with this awesome Book Trailer!!! Bess battles the Spanish Flu epidemic and falls ill to it herself!

(side note: I found out that the Spanish flu was responsible for killing more people post-WWI, than the War itself did. Amazing.)

Audiobook Review: All Our Wordly Goods

Suite Francaise is a book I have hiding somewhere in my closet. I bought the hardcover long ago…opened it, closed it, put it in the closet and that’s been about what? 5 years now? Longer? I am now going to retrieve it from the deep, dark depths of my closet because I know now it will most certainly not be a disappointing read. I’m unsure as to why I left it so long ago without actually reading. Actually, I think I’m going to have it read to me again by Eleanor Bron. I know she is the narrator for Suite Francaise and she did such a lovely job for All Our Worldly Goods. (If you do get the chance to read it, I do recommend listening to the audiobook.)

I found All Our Worldly Goods on audiobook CD at the library and was intrigued by the description. I know that Némirovsky received wonderful reviews, plus, she lived through this. And listening to All Our Worldly Goods ensured that we as listeners/readers received a solid dose of life between the two World Wars, from the point of view of the upper, old money clan.  She has written passages that place you right there in the thick of it for the everyday person enduring this wretched and unstable time. Her writing of the every day life during and in between the world wars is something to savour. It is also a fascinating history lesson in the daily details of things that I never even thought about. (For instance, church goers would have to sit through their Sunday sermons with gas masks on due to the ever-impending gas attacks WWI.)

At the same time I was listening to this, I was also reading All that I Am, by Anna Funder and both opened my eyes to the plight of the soldiers post-WWI. Némirovsky has just exquistely detailed how soliders coming home from the war were no longer acclaimed. “They do not want to see us, we remind them of what they no longer want to think of, they want us to no longer exist. (Pierre, All Our Worldly Goods)” I’m struck by how both authors have written to draw attention to the now unwanted heroes – hide the maimed and as Pierre Hardelot has said, no longer to exist. Also, how both writers touched on the belief that another world war would never occur in their lifetime.

Synopsis from Goodreads: First published in France in 1947, after the author’s death, it is a gripping story of family life and star-crossed lovers, set in France between 1910 and 1940. Pierre and Agnes marry for love against the wishes of his parents and the family patriarch, the tyrannical industrialist Julien Hardelot, provoking a family feud which cascades down the generations. Full of drama and heartbreak, and telling observations of the devastating effects of two wars on a small town and an industrial family, Némirovsky is at the height of her powers. Taut, evocative and beautifully paced, the novel points out with heartbreaking detail and clarity how close those two wars were, how history repeated itself, tragically and shockingly. The story opens in the Edwardian era, on a fashionable Normandy beach and ends with a changed world under Nazi occupation.

So now you can see why it was such an intriguing description for me, right? Family saga, World Wars, patriarchs, defiant lovers? And the audiobook did not disappoint. I do have to say it was very “Downton-esque” in that the story may not be heavy in plot, yet it is so, so wonderful in the generational family saga. It starts just prior to WWI and in to the lives of the Hardelot’s. At the helm is Julien Hardelot, elderly partriarch and owner of the Hardelot factory and chateau, a behind the scenes ruler of their country village, St-Elme, if you imagine. Julien has arranged the marriage of his only grandson Pierre to a woman that Pierre does not love, but comes from good old family stock and money and with a personality that matches old Julien’s. Pierre loves Agnes however, and following the engagement party for Simone and Pierre, decides to go against the iron-fisted tyrant and marry Agnes. (Listening to Bron’s French lilt with the names and places is so worth the listen by the way – you must pronounce Agnes as Anesse to get an idea.)

Cut off from the family wealth, Pierre and Agnes continue to live a happy life despite the reproach and following Pierre’s service in WWI, have two children, Guy and Charlotte. Julien has kept his word with regards to Pierre but has put a twist to the family in that he leaves the factory and chateau for Simone to run. Simone is filled with a lifetime of resentment and jealousy for Pierre and his betrayal. During the Depression era, fueled by this resentment, she cuts Pierre out of the family’s factory and banishes him from St-Elme. She marries a philandering Parisian- after her money only – and has but one child, a daughter, Rose.

The story moves along at a brisk pace and turns full circle, for at the start of another world war (the one that no one believed could ever truly occur), Rose and Pierre and Agnes’ son, Guy defy Simone and marry. Enraged, Simone cuts Rose off from receiving her dowry and Guy finds himself off to serve in WWII. The saga ends with Simone reconciling while WWII is in full swing in France, as the bombs destroy St-Elme and the Hardelot factory. It wraps up wonderfully with Pierre and Agnes’ declaration of their time-tested love which has always given them the strength to survive anything put in their way.

The whole tale makes for wonderful listening. I thoroughly enjoyed the commute to work listening in on the Hardelot’s life and I suppose it did give considerable respite in my Downton withdrawl. Némirovsky has spun a beautiful saga and coupled with Bron’s narration is lined with many golden moments. I do recommend!

Némirovsky, herself, is an incredibly fascinating woman with the unfortunate and all to often heartwrenching tale for the Jews in her era. She died in 1942, one month after her arrival at Auschwitz. There is a website dedicated to her, and you can find more information of her here. I now cannot wait to read Suite Francaise and also for her “latest”, brought to publication by her daughter, Denise in 2006 entitled, Fire in the Blood.

Pictures below show Irene and her daughter Denise: