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Review of 'The Literary Undoing of Victoria Swann' - Virginia Pye




For a book set at the turn of the Twentieth Century, this is remarkably modern in its outlook, therefore I was both surprised and pleased to discover that it was inspired by a real woman author, who did indeed take her publisher to court.


Victoria Swann hasn't had the easiest time of things, but she is a forceful young woman who is determined not to be short-turned by life. The deadbeat husband holding her back is more than just the proverbial millstone round her neck and when she finally decided to get rid of him, I was delighted. He is a thoroughly unpleasant character, as is Louis Russell, the main antagonist of the book. However, even the characters who think they are good people don't always turn out to be so.


I was intrigued by Jonathan. At first I thought that he was going to become a love interest for Victoria, but it soon becomes clear that his interests lay elsewhere. However, there are multiple moments where it seems their relationship might become more than it is and at first this confused me. Nevertheless, once I began to understand Jonathan himself, this relationship became much clearer and it was obvious that theirs was a meeting of minds rather than anything else - they are soulmates but not in the romantic sense of the word. Whilst I was reading this, I was simultaneously listening to Nora Ephron's 'Heartburn' and although the books are very different in almost every way, I was struck by the similarity in some of the ways the main characters think. Victoria and Rachel both view the world around them with something of an outsider's gaze. For Rachel, she imagines how a relationship might pan out with most of the men she meets. For Victoria, it is almost as though she envisions a relationship with Jonathan, even when she realises that this is unlikely to ever happen. She views their relationship through a romantic lens, but that is simply the way she thinks - she isn't really seeing him as a potential romantic partner, it's just that her being is so caught up in the essence of her writing, that their partnership is every bit as intense in her mind as a romantic one would be.


One thing I did find interesting was the constant references to the quality of her writing - it doesn't seem to be that good and yet her books are immensely popular and this is a common misconception when it comes to writing. Some of the most popular books are not particularly well written, but they succeed because they tell a cracking good story. So why is it that writers are often guilty of assuming their work is no good if it doesn't immediately get published/win competitions. Victoria herself is just as guilty of this - she gets flustered, but incredibly (and rightfully) proud when she is told someone admires her work, but at other times, she dismisses her Mrs Swann books as frivolous and unworthy. Perhaps there is a lesson for all of us in this - books are meant to be enjoyed, so as long as they have fulfilled that purpose, does it really matter whether they are 'high' or 'low' brow?

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