House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy *Blog Tour* *Guest Post*


    I am delighted to be taking part in the celebrations for the launch of Morgan McCarthy's latest novel, The House of Birds which was published on November 3rd 2016 by Tinder Press. 

IT ALL STARTED WITH THE HOUSE.

Oliver has spent years trying to convince himself that he’s suited to a life of money making in the city, and that he doesn’t miss a childhood spent in pursuit of mystery, cycling the cobbled lanes of Oxford.
 

    When his girlfriend Kate inherits a derelict house - and a fierce family feud - she’s determined to strip it, sell it and move on. For Oliver though, the house has an allure, and amongst the shelves of discarded, leather bound and gilded volumes, he discovers one that conceals a hidden diary from the 1920s.

So begins a quest: to discover the identity - and the fate - of the author, Sophia Louis.


Partly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s experience of being turned away from the Bodleian library, and the role of women in academia in the 1920s, Morgan McCarthy’s fourth novel is an interrogation into how we represent ourselves and our histories to others, and how human curiosity compels us to investigate and unveil the truth. 

Morgan has written a special guest post for Books, Life and Everything on the subject of women authors who write in secret.

Welcome to Books, Life and Everything, Morgan and over to you!

Morgan:

Women: Writing in Secret



  For as long as there have been novels, there have been novelists pretending they didn't write them. Take , for example, the 17th century's international woman of mystery Aphra Behn, whose CV supposedly included spying as well as literary innovation. Reason enough to obscure her identity, you might say - and she did it so well that we are still guessing today about who she really was.


  However, by the time the novel became an established art form in the 19th Century, female writers such as George Sand, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot were encountering a much less glamorous reason to hide their identity. Or more specifically: their gender. As Charlotte Bronte said, 'authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.' At a time when women were thought intellectually inferior to men, pseudonyms were just plain common sense. It was really the only way to be judged fairly.


  Jane Austen, however, was published as 'A Lady', perhaps recognising that her domestic, 'female' subject matter would out her as such. Yet she was famously wary of being caught writing by anyone outside her small, supportive family circle. Why was this? Perhaps she was shy - perhaps she had been made to be shy, the shamefulness of her chosen profession having been impressed upon her by society. Less lucky still was Edith Wharton, whose family took the job of impressing on her the inappropriateness of novels, and didn't allow her to read one until she was married. No surprise, then, that she wrote her earliest work in absolute secrecy.  


  But perhaps the least lucky of all was Colette, whose pseudonym couldn't protect her from the inequalities of her time. She published her first four novels under her writer husband's name, but when they divorced he (as the copyright holder) kept the books' substantial earnings, and for a couple of years she lived in poverty.


  Modern female writers, while better off, do still encounter remnants of these 19th Century attitudes. The genres of sci-fi and fantasy, for example, are traditionally male dominated, and women within them have often chosen to use male pen names, or initials. Perhaps the most famous example being JK Rowling, whose publishers thought Harry Potter would be more successful if young boys didn't know they were reading something written by a woman.


  There are, of course, other reasons why a female novelist might choose to use a pseudonym. An obvious one being: sex. Anne Desclos went by the name Pauline Reage when she published The Story of O, the subject of obscenity charges in 1954. (Her decision to be anonymous is probably the least surprising thing about the book, the content of which remains boundary-pushing even by modern-day standards). Then we have the 18 year old novelist Francoise Quoirez, AKA Francoise Sagan, whose parents were unusually permissive for the 1950s, but drew the line at allowing her to publish the controversial tale of teenage sexuality Bonjour Tristesse under her own name. More recently, 'Belle de Jour' elected to keep her former job as a call girl separate from her present-day life and career, at least until she was betrayed by a former partner.


  Other writers might choose to use a pseudonym to forestall critics looking to make autobiographical comparisons, or to protect their family, friends or colleagues from recognising themselves. Sylvia Plath used the name Victoria Lucas for The Bell Jar for this reason; her publishers were also nervous about libel suits.


  A very modern and yet timeless reason to remain anonymous was given by Elena Ferrante, who spoke of 'the wish to remove oneself from all forms of social pressure or obligation. Not to feel tied down to what could become one’s public image. To concentrate exclusively and with complete freedom on writing and its strategies.' Many authors working in today's competitive and commercially-minded publishing climate can probably understand the desire to be free of the demands of the market: to write with no consideration but that of art. In this Ferrante has taken a thought-out and thought-provoking stance, and I think it is an eternal shame that her wishes here were not respected.


Marianne: Thank you so much for that guest post, Morgan. In the context of The House of Birds, this is a fascinating look at the pressures on women writers, some of whom chose to write secretly and hide their identities.



My thoughts:

    What struck me first when reading The House of Birds was the quality of the writing. There were two contrasting settings for the book: one in the house in Oxford ( both in the past and present) and another in London in Kate and Oliver's apartment. The details we were given served to cast light on the characters we met and their values. Descriptive passages were never superfluous but extended our interpretation of the book. The two narratives were skilfully treated. The pace of both stories was such that I was always ready to return to the other thread.

     This is a book which anyone who reads books will appreciate.  As a story within a story with such literary allusions, it reminded me of Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale which I reviewed here. When Oliver goes to sort out the house in Oxford which Kate has inherited, he uncovers an old diary written by the mysterious Sophie Louis. As he searches for instalments which have been hidden within old books, he not only uncovers secrets from the past but begins to realise what he feels about his own life. We are taken on a treasure hunt through the past which leads to surprises in the present day. 

    I was really interested to read that part of the inspiration for the book came from the fact that Virginia Woolf, as a woman, was refused access to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  Sophia Louis came to life as an independent thinker, a reader trapped in a suffocating marriage post First World War. I loved the detail that having gained admittance to the Bodleian Library, she actually didn't want to read - such a human touch. There is a good contrast between the limitations of a woman's life in the 1920's and in the present day. This is a book with many threads- marriage, life expectations, parenthood, family feuds, relationships, ambition and finding out what makes you happy, amongst others. They all mesh together, perfectly. 

In short: an intriguing journey between the past and the present, told in shining prose.


The Author 

 
 Morgan McCarthy lives in Berkshire.
You can connect with Morgan on Twitter


Thanks to the Katie Brown and the Publishers, Tinder Press for a place on the Blog Tour and a copy of the book.
                               

Check out the rest of the Blog Tour !

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