I'll come back to book 4 (Greg Van Eekhout's The Boy at the End of the World) soon, honestly - was just too tired last night when I finished to sit at the computer and say anything sensible. It was a keeper though!
Picture the Dead's (very brief) Goodreads synopsis:
Jennie Lovell's life is the very picture of love and loss. First she is orphaned and forced to live at the mercy of her stingy, indifferent relatives. Then her fiancé falls on the battlefield, leaving her heartbroken and alone. Jennie struggles to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, but is haunted by a mysterious figure that refuses to let her bury the past.
All right, but it neglects to mention that her twin brother has also died (it's the Civil War), and that her fiancé was one of those 'indifferent relatives', and her first cousin. My feelings about this book are mostly that it's very stylishly done - I love the way it's presented, with pages of letters and photographs as if from Jennie's scrapbook - but there isn't terribly much depth. Honestly though, I might have had more time for the story if I hadn't been so annoyed by the stupid, utterly pointless fat-bashing. Jennie's mean and hypocritical aunt is described on page 2 as "a spoiled child, blown up into a monster", and that "blown up" is quickly clarified as meaning fat: same page, her chin "wobbles like aspic". First picture of her, she's fat (shocker) and ugly (ditto). Next but one scene, we have "Her eyes were baleful, her pudgy finger crooked". They get a photograph taken and Jennie says her aunt's "jellied bulk affords her a dignity that eludes her in real life". There are plenty more "fat fingers", "squeezing" of her girth -- all the usual.
But, there's an odd one later on, about two girls who had been Jennie's "friends", when she was engaged to the older son of the family. Their calling cards are pasted onto a page in Jennie's scrapbook, with her writing beside it: "If everyone knew how much Flora gossips and Rosemary eats, they mightn't be so quick to accept a calling card from either sister." Really? These snobs who drop Jennie as soon as she's lost social standing are a huge cliché, and part of that cliché is really the gossiping involved in social calls. But this toss-off, illogical remark is still pretty vicious - Flora's gossiping is a real fault, for all it wouldn't have stopped her visiting with her social set, but eating a lot?
It's a pity that there was this kind of rubbish going on, as the details about the early days of photography are a lot of fun, and seem to have been well researched. Other things were more dubious historically, though I can only say of one of them - "At 18? No." as it's a spoiler.