Transcript / LoLT: Inspiring Brontë Stories and Two New Books — 05 April 2024

Transcript / LoLT: Inspiring Brontë Stories and Two New Books — 05 April 2024

Friday, 5 April, 2024

This is a transcription of ‘LoLT: Inspiring Brontë Stories and Two New Books — 05 April 2024’

[cheerful music]

Melissa: Coming up, a creative new take on a manor house murder.

David: A favorite author extends one of his novels from New York to Hollywood.

Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.

David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.

Melissa: I’m deep into reading for the upcoming season of our Strong Sense of Place podcast — season 6 coming soon! But if I could read anything right now, I would pick the new mystery novel ‘How to Solve Your Own Murder’ by Kristen Perrin.

Melissa: I’ve seen the title thrown around in the same sentence as Knives Out, The Thursday Murder Club, Agatha Christie, and Midsomer Murders, so I’m imagining it’s a little bit cozy with some darker facets. The premise is great!

Melissa: Here’s the setup: In 1965, teenager Frances Adams goes to an English country fair with her two best friends. On a lark, they pop in to see the fortune teller Madame Peony Lane. Madame has some chilling words for Frances:

‘Your future contains dry bones. Your slow demise begins right when you hold the Queen in the palm of your hand. Beware the bird, for it will betray you. And, from that, there is no coming back. But daughters are the key to justice, find the right one and keep her close. All signs point toward your murder.’

Melissa: Poor Frances! She spends her life to trying to solve this crime that hasn’t happened yet, and everyone else thinks she’s being silly. Sixty years later, she’s still alive, and she’s a wealthy woman, living on an estate in a quiet village. She invites her niece Annie — who is an aspiring mystery novelist — to come for a visit at her Castle Knoll estate. But when Annie arrives, she finds her aunt has been murdered. Take that, doubters!

Melissa: The will Frances left behind stipulates that the first person to solve her murder within the week will inherit her entire estate. So Annie springs into action to uncover the killer.

Melissa: Publishers Weekly said, ‘The pace is quick, the red herrings are plentiful, and Annie’s growth from timid wannabe writer to confident sleuth is beautifully rendered.’ This book will be my treat when I’ve finished some of my required reading for Season 6. It’s ‘How to Solve Your Own Murder’ by Kristen Perrin.

David: Amor Towles is having a moment. He’s the author of ‘Rules of Civility’ and ‘The Lincoln Highway.’ He also wrote one of my favorite modern novels, ‘A Gentleman in Moscow.’ That is the story of a Russian aristocrat who is arrested and condemned to live in a hotel on Red Square during a good chunk of the 20th century. You can hear me talk about my love for that book in our episode about Russia.

Melissa: I’ll put a link in shownotes!

David: The first bit of news about Amor Towles is that ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ has been adapted into a series. Showtime subscribers can now enjoy Ewen McGregor in the lead role of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. The first of eight episodes premiered the last week of March. The episodes are coming out once a week now. The reviews have been excellent. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 94. Reviewers are talking a lot about how charming Ewen McGregor is — a surprise to us all — and saying that it’s a solid adaptation of the book.

David: The second bit of news about Amor Towles is the release of his new book, ‘Table for Two.’ It’s a collection of six short stories and a novella. The six short stories are set in New York. The novella, though, is set in Los Angeles. It is an extension of “Rules of Civility.”

David: In that book, we see the character Evelyn Ross get on a train in New York City in 1938. She intends to return home to the Midwest. But in the novella, she has ghosted her parents in Chicago – and ridden that train all the way to Los Angeles. The story is set in Hollywood’s golden age. It is told from seven points of view. Olivia de Haviland is a central character in that story.

David: Researching this has made me want to read all of Amor Towles, some of it again. His most recent release, ‘Table for Two,’ is out this week.

David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]

Melissa: On my walks this week, I listened to a podcast that I can’t wait to tell everyone about. It’s called ‘Behind the Glass: A Parsonage Podcast.’ And I have to say thank you to our listener Tina P. for recommending the show to me.

Melissa: The Brontë Parsonage is a museum maintained by the Brontë Society to honor Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë. It’s basically the house where they grew up, on the edge of the moors in a village called Haworth, and it’s filled with their personal stuff. So you can see Charlotte’s tiny, tiny dresses. She was only 4’9” inches tall — that’s 145cm. They have the girls’ portable writing desks where they kept ink and paper and trinkets. You can see their childhood bedroom, and my favorite part: the table.

Melissa: The three sisters wrote at an oval table in their dining room — ‘Jane Eyre,’ ‘Wuthering Heights,’ and ‘Agnes Grey’ were written there. As the story goes, they would walk in circles around the table until 11:00 at night to talk through ideas. It’s pretty awesome to look at that wooden table and imagine them daydreaming and sharing their stories RIGHT THERE.

Melissa: The Parsonage recently started a podcast to share stories about objects in the museum. TBH, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Museum podcasts can be hit and miss because the hosts are experts in their FIELD, not necessarily at the art of audio journalism.

Melissa: For me, this show hits just the right balance of friendly banter and rock-solid information. And I find the hosts Sassy and Sam to be very charming. I also really like the format: Each episode features a guest who chooses an object from the museum. They talk about its history and meaning, then share their creative response to it. So you get a double-whammy of inspiration.

Melissa: Before the guest chimes in, the hosts do a fantastic job of creating a strong sense of Haworth. They talk about the unique smells, the weather, and are very good at describing what they see around the Parsonage, so even if you’ve never visited, you can see, hear, and even smell it in your imagination. In one of the episodes, they talked about how Haworth was smelling very sheep-y that morning because the fields around the village are populated by very cute sheep. [DAVE]

Melissa: They also each answer the question: Which Bronte are you feeling like today? It’s whimsical and fun, but it’s also really smart because it gives them a way to talk about the sisters’ different personalities without doing exposition. In a very personal way, they can explain how you might feel like Anne on one day and Charlotte or Emily on another.

Melissa: Yesterday, on my walk through the park in the morning sunshine, I listened to their guest Rowan Coleman. She’s a novelist and the author of The Brontë Mysteries — which she wrote under the Bronte-esque pseudonym Bella Ellis. In these books, she’s created an alternate history about the three sisters — Charlotte, Emily, and Anne — and transformed them into amateur detectives. Before they wrote their masterpieces, they solved crimes in Haworth and Yorkshire. She’s really good at weaving true history and the girls’ personalities into these fictional adventures. Highly recommended. I’ll put links in shownotes.

Melissa: So, Rowan Coleman lives in Scarborough. That’s a seaside town on the North Sea coast in North Yorkshire that has an important Brontë connection. It was one of Anne Brontë’s favorite places. Sadly, in May, 1849, she was very ill with tuberculosis. She knew she was dying and wanted to visit Scarborough one last time. So Charlotte and her dear friend Ellen Nussey booked rooms for the three of them at an inn called The Cliff so Anne could enjoy the sea air. They drove across the wet sand in a donkey cart, took quiet walks, and enjoyed a beautiful sunset — we know this from letters. Anne died after three days and was buried in the cemetery there beside St Mary’s church.

Melissa: In this episode, Rowan Coleman talks about a set of rocks that Anne collected during her visits to Scarborough — what they meant to Anne, her interest in geology, and the impact this little collection has had on Rowan. Then she shared a piece of writing inspired by Anne. I don’t want to ruin it by telling you what she wrote, but I’ll say this: I got a massive lump in my throat and was full-on sniffle crying walking down the hill from the park. Her piece was so beautiful and creative and personal, but also inspiring. It’s a fantastic few minutes of audio.

Melissa: Other episodes so far have featured the producer of the 2022 film ‘Emily’ about Emily Brontë and a chat with a young woman who works at the Parsonage. She talked about the Babbage Report, which published the results of a health inspection of Haworth in 1850. It’s pretty grim, that report. But she used it to explain what life was like in the tiny mill town during the Victorian era. Then she shared a fictional diary entry she wrote in the voice of a 19th-century resident of the town.

Melissa: If you love the Brontës, you’re going to love this show. And if you are Bronte-neutral or don’t care for their writing, this podcast is still for you. Because it’s really about storytelling, history, art, and… vulnerability. The guests open up their hearts, and invite you to share in what moves them. One of the final questions they ask each guest is ‘if there was a musuem of your life, what object would represent you?’ It’s fun to think about but also very poignant. The whole show is very affecting — and it conveys really interesting information. It’s ‘Behind the Glass: A Parsonage Podcast.’

Melissa: Visit for more on the books we talked about today and links to more about the Behind the Glass podcast.

David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.

Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.

[cheerful music]


Top image courtesy of John Ellard/Unsplash.

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