Tag-Archive for ◊ 18th century ◊

• Saturday, May 26th, 2018

Lindsay Jayne Ashford was born and raised in Wolverhampton, England in 1959. She is the first woman to graduate from Queens College Cambridge with a masters degree in criminology. Ashford worked as a reporter for the BBC before becoming a freelance journalist writing in several newspapers and magazines. She took a crime-writing course in 1996 organised by Arvon Foundation.

Ashford has written several books, The Woman On The Orient Express, published in 2016, is her latest. Presently she lives between the village of Chawton in Hampshire and on the Welsh coast near Aberystwyth.

The story of The Woman On The Orient Express is set in 1928. Agatha Christie, who is approaching her forties, is a famous novelist of murder mysteries, thrillers, crime fiction and detective stories. She is feeling forsaken and dispirited and in need of a holiday after her eventful, painful divorce from her deceitful husband, Archibald Christie.

Agatha meets a military man at a dinner party in Mayfair, London, who was stationed in Iraq. Conversing with him about news in the papers concerning the discoveries made at Ur in Mesopotamia by Leonard Woolley, she is actively encouraged by this man to visit the archaeological dig in progress in Iraq. Agatha, who has always been attracted to archaeology, decides to travel by the Orient Express train to the Middle East.

Her plan is to travel somewhere faraway where she is unknown and live for a while in seclusion to escape London society gossip as well as to avoid her husband’s upcoming wedding to Nancy Neele, the young woman Archibald Christie abandoned her for after thirteen years of marriage. In 1928 Agatha secretly boards the Orient Express train travelling in disguise under her lesser-known maiden name, Mary Miller.

In her double berth compartment on the sleeper train, Agatha makes acquaintance with the self-confident, attractive blond widow, Katharine Keeling, a commercial artist who makes drawings of the archaeological finds and who is returning to her work at the dig in Ur, the ancient city-state in Mesopotamia. Soon after her arrival, Katharine is to marry Leonard Woolley, the eminent archaeologist in charge of the dig.

The second lady Agatha becomes friends with on the train is the unhappily newly-married, young, good-looking, delicate, Nancy Nelson. Nancy is escaping from her unfaithful husband and is hoping to be joined by her lover in Baghdad to plan their future life together. Each one of the three ladies is hoping to turn the page and start a new life and each of them has a hidden secret.

The concealed secrets are gradually revealed as the story unfolds, due to the characters feeling an affinity and loyalty for each other owing to their shared sufferings. Nevertheless, their secrets are not disclosed to outsiders and are kept among themselves.

In her story Ashford touches upon marriages, divorces, infidelity and deceptions that her three female characters experience. The bitterness and deceitfulness in married life are referred to by the main character: “Marriage is always a leap into the unknown, even if you think you know the other person inside out. It works for some people. But I doubt there are many truly happy marriages”. “The trouble is people always think it must be your fault when men have had enough of you. That you didn’t try hard enough”.

Agatha took the Orient Express train which inspired her to write her famous detective novel: “Murder On The Orient Express” and later “Murder in Mesopotamia”, which sequentially inspired Ashford’s novel title: The Woman On The Orient Express, the woman being Agatha Christie herself.
A very compelling story interlacing historical facts with fiction. The intriguing, suspenseful happenings are written in the Agatha Christie style, having her as the narrative of the chain of events. The protagonist claims at times that she is unable to solve the mysteries she encounters. She asserts not to be as intelligent or resourceful as her famous fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot: “How is it, she thought, that one can create a character who is more intelligent, more observant, more perceptive than oneself?”.

The author noticeably researched all the historical details about Agatha Christie’s life as well as her very mediatised divorce. An enjoyable read with an original, plausible storyline with well depicted mysterious characters and very colourful descriptions about life among middle eastern people.

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• Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Emili Rosales was born in 1968 in Spain’s Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He spent his childhood and adolescence in his home town before moving to Barcelona to study philology. He worked as a literature teacher and translator and currently is editor and contributor to the newspapers Avui and La Vanguardia. He lives in Barcelona and is a member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers.

Emili Rosales has written two poetry books:
Cities and Sea, published in 1989 and The Days and You, published in 1991.
He has also written four novels to date:
The Beach House, published in 1995, Lord of The Earth in 1997, While Barcelona sleeps in 1999 and The Invisible City in 2005.

The Invisible City became a best seller and has been translated into twenty five languages. The English version was published in 2009. It won the prestigious Catalan literary prize: The Sant Jordi Prize, was selected among the five best novels in Spain in 2006 and was short-listed in 2007 for the Prix Médicis Etranger in France.

Emili Rossell, the main character in the novel, is a young gallery owner in Barcelona, born and raised in Sant Carles de la Ràpita – like the author himself. One day he receives an anonymous parcel containing a copy of an 18th century manuscript written in Italian and entitled: The Memoirs of the Invisible City, written by Andrea Roselli, the Italian architect of king Charles III of Spain, who reigned from 1759 to 1788. This manuscript reawakens Rossell’s great childhood interest in the mystery of the so-called “Invisible City” in his home town, a riddle that even the adults around him couldn’t solve.

Emili Rossell mentions the invisible city of his “childhood games” out of the blue to his school friend, Armand Coll. After examining his encyclopedia, Armand informs his friend that: “Sant Carles de la Ràpita constitutes a mystery within the failed projects of the Enlightenment. It was first designed to be a grand, new city, but at some point the project came to a halt, no one knows exactly why… What was not yet a reality, soon became a pile of ruins. These are the ruins where you and your friends played and scattered pigeons”.

The author skillfully connects the past and present by constructing two parallel, intertwining plots in an architectural way. On the one hand, the aborted plans and unfulfilled dream of king Charles III of Spain and on the other hand, the remaining ruins of this ambitious scheme in the Ebro delta two centuries later. The relics of this unfinished work becomes the playground for the child, Emili Rossell and his friends, who are unaware of the history of these vestiges.

King Charles III’s biggest ambition was to replace Madrid with a new capital which he wanted built around the Ebro delta in Catalonia under the name of Sant Carles de la Ràpita. He wanted a similar city to the majestic Saint Petersburg, built by Peter the Great of Russia (1672-1725) on the banks of the Neva river.

This colossal plan does not materialise because of jealousy and political court intrigues. The senior royal court architect, Francesco Sabatini, who is put in charge of this gigantic project, takes the young Andrea Roselli under his wing. Everything changes when Sabatini discovers, through Tiepolo’s painting of Cecilia – intended as a present by her for her ex lover, Roselli – the romance between his wife, Cecilia and his trusted protégé.

In a jealous rage, Sabatini confronts Roselli and promises him that he will ensure that “his new city” will never exist, and “the privileges he had enjoyed so far will be taken from him”. Roselli knows that Francesco Sabatini is capable of persuading the king to bring the project to a halt, which he does.

What was destined to become a new capital, an ideal, perfect, great artistic and commercial city promoting trade between Spain and America, instead becomes a fishermans’ town. Sabatini has effectively destroyed Roselli’s career and promising future as well as alienating him. Nevertheless, some unfinished buildings will remain until the twentieth century as a witness to this agitated period.

The story also includes the mystery of the lost painting by the famous eighteenth century Venetian master, Giambattista Tiepolo. It goes missing soon after his death and Emili Rossell’s beautiful old friend, Sofia Mendizàbal, is desperately trying to find it two centuries later, by pleading the help of Rossell.

The plot contains the enigma around the hidden identity of Emili Rossell’s father. A secret well kept by his family and which haunted him during his childhood. He learns at an early age never to ask about the father he has never known, feeling a heavy hidden sense of shame and culpability. He loses interest as an adult but eventually discovers his father’s identity towards the end of the novel.

As we embark on an intimate journey with Andrea Roselli and Emili Rossell, we discover that they both have things in common such as a complicated relationship with women, whether it’s Cecilia with Andrea Roselli or Ariadna, Chloe or Sofia with Emili Rossell. Another thing they both share is having to settle accounts with their own past.

The Invisible City is an interesting, thrilling and intriguing story with an elaborate plot that manages to bring all the mysterious loose threads together in the end. There is a useful and abundant description of architecture. It’s a good insight into king Charles III of Spain’s reign and no doubt a great amount of research and maybe traveling by the author was needed in order to situate his novel in historical context. But most important of all it is the hymn of praise to Emili Rosales’ native home town, Sant Carles de la Ràpita.