Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard was my fun book to fall back on while reading John Evelyn's diary. I can't adequately describe EJH's writing style. There's an economy of words, an elegance and simplicity that makes every sentence a joy to read. EJH was also particularly talented at describing the comical inner dilemmas that we all deal with every day.
Odd Girl Out is about Arabella Dawick, a poor little rich girl, who arrives as a guest at the house of her step-brother Edmund Cornhill, and his wife Anne. The Cornhills appear to have a blissful marriage. They have a lovely house, plenty of money; they treat each other with consideration and love. And of course Arabella's entrance into their lives disrupts everything--in the predicable way but also in an unexpected way. The conclusion of this novel is uncomfortable, as it touches on aspects of human nature that we'd prefer to pretend don't exist.
I'm not sure what to make of Arabella. She's unwanted by her mother, seen as an inconvenience or else abused by her various step fathers; all she wants is to be loved and to belong somewhere. So she's a sympathetic character and yet she leaves chaos in her wake, albeit unintentionally. A side-plot in the novel illustrates just how much chaos. Clara, Arabella's mother, tells Edmund before the visit, "Don't let her exploit you."
One of the things that EJH excels at, and which makes her novels so much fun to read, is her talent for portraying the super rich: their expressions, mannerisms, habits, and fashions. In Odd Girl Out, Arabella's mother Clara is technically a princess, as her latest husband happens to be a prince. She flits from Switzerland to Paris to Cannes, leading the life that some of us (myself included) see as glamorous and fun. It is certainly entertaining to read about Clara, but Howard skillfully portrays how boring and empty such a life can be.
I know that a lot of the books that I write about are not ones that will appeal to many people, but Odd Girl Out is one that I think most of you would enjoy. It's the thinking person's chick lit. Definitely pick it up if you're looking for something to read.