‘Gentleman Jack’ a biography of Anne Lister is certainly an unusual book about a very unusual lady. Probably we all know her story from the excellent TV series starring the incomparable Suranne Jones……It’s 1832 in West Yorkshire, England — the cradle of the evolving Industrial Revolution — where landowner Anne Lister is determined to save her faded ancestral home, Shibden Hall, even if it means bucking society’s expectations. In addition to reopening the coal mines, a part of Lister’s plan to help her family is to marry well. But the charismatic, single-minded Lister — who dresses head-to-toe in black and charms her way into high society — has no intention of marrying a man. ‘Gentleman Jack’ examines Lister’s relationships with her family, servants, tenants and industrial rivals, and would-be wife. Anne kept an amazing secret diary which even the twentieth century apparently found to be too hot to publish, but we have large chunks of it here. At first the sex is overwhelming. It’s sex, sex, sex to an unbelievable degree. And it becomes, well, boring. But a bit further into the life Anne starts to do lots of interesting things and travels extensively, so we get to admire her resolve and strength of character. All in all a fascinating read, and I can’t wait to visit her home Shibden Hall when we move to the North.
Kate Atkinson is an excellent writer and in this novel ‘Transcription’ we see her character building and plot fulfilment to the full. The novel flicks from wartime to the late 50’s. Sometimes this is an annoying affectation, but in skilled hands, as here, it works. The main character Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the security services during the war, and all of this part of the story seems to be well researched according to the sources given and the acknowledgments, which is good. Ten years later, when working at the BBC as a producer, her past catches up with her, as I suppose it may do for anyone who was a spy. At the denouement there is a clever twist which makes you think you have been reading something that is well thought through and put together. Fairly light and enjoyable.