**spoiler alert** This is definitely my favourite Austen novel, though I like aspects of all of them.
Why this above the others, though?
Well, for me, t...more**spoiler alert** This is definitely my favourite Austen novel, though I like aspects of all of them.
Why this above the others, though?
Well, for me, this novel is, and always has been since the first time I read it at sixteen, a much more mature work than Austen's earlier novels. I can relate better to Anne Elliot than to some of her other heroines. The relationships she has with people are more believable and understandable, too, and Anne's situation isn't one of a whirlwind courtship and marriage. Indeed, the only 'hasty' marriage in the whole work is that of Louisa and Captain Benwick, and even that makes some sense given Louisa's change of character after her accident; her new reserve suits Benwick's personality perfectly.
While Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility are about young, new love, Persuasion is about two people, long separated by life and circumstance, reconnecting and finding that what they felt, years beforehand, remains unchanged. Anne and Captain Wentworth's romance is an adult one, with a slow, gradual 'sounding out' of each other's feelings (naturally, with a typical Austenian rogue thrown in to complicate matters somewhat).
And the clincher for me as to what makes this the best Austen novel is the well-developed and likeable cast of supporting characters. The Musgroves leap from the page; vibrant, warm and natural. Anne's sister Mary is contrary and frustrating to live with, no doubt, but is incredibly enjoyable to read and much less grating on the nerves than Mrs Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Benwick, the melancholy scholar with a tragic past, who finds solace in Anne's attentions and then the arms of Louisa, and the Crofts, both worldly and cultured and completely without artifice, are also dear to my heart. But my favourite supporting character of all would have to be Mrs Smith. Though she features only in a handful of short scenes, most of which she is used mainly as a vehicle for exposition, I really do adore her.
For those who like this book, I highly recommend the 1995 TV adaptation. It's very faithful to the book, and the casting is superb. Sophie Thompson's portrayal of Mary Musgrove is wonderful.(less)
When I first read Northanger Abbey at the age of sixteen, I liked it well enough, but I think I read it too swiftly, and I missed a lot of the clever...moreWhen I first read Northanger Abbey at the age of sixteen, I liked it well enough, but I think I read it too swiftly, and I missed a lot of the clever humour it contains. Ten years on and having reread it for the first time, I have to say I enjoyed it much, much more the second time around. While it's certainly Austen's idea of a clever dig at the novel-reading culture of her own era, it's also still very relevant as a cautionary tale for today. Too many people can lose sight of the division between fantasy and reality. With unrealistic, melodramatic fiction still being very much a part of our lives, Northanger Abbey is like a breath of fresh air.
To all those Twilight fans out there, I say, without the slightest bit of malice or ill feeling, take a little break from Wuthering Heights and add Northanger Abbey to your reading list, because sometimes a mystery is only as deep as you make it.(less)
**spoiler alert** Well, it both was and wasn't what I expected, but then, I'm not sure what I expected.
Humbert was a complete pervert, a narcissist, a...more**spoiler alert** Well, it both was and wasn't what I expected, but then, I'm not sure what I expected.
Humbert was a complete pervert, a narcissist, and far, far from being balanced in any way whatsoever. That was not a surprise.
What was a surprise was how well written it was. I know for a fact that I couldn't successfully write a story in the style Nabokov chose. It seems like making things incredibly difficult for oneself, to say the least, but he nails it. The way he uses language is utterly captivating. When you hear all the pop-culture references to Lolita, it's always about the fact that he's lusting over a twelve year old girl, and I previously assumed that it was this 'perversion' that had given Lolita the attention it got, especially when you consider that it was written in 1955 - not exactly the most permissive of ages - and the content of Lolita would be controversial were it published for the first time today. Yes, the topic and the tale itself are scandalous and shocking, but it's a very well crafted novel as well, which goes some way towards explaining how it managed to get reprinted after its initial 5,000 copy run, and how it was published in both the USA and Great Britain (although it was banned for two years in the latter).
I have to admit, one of the most tantalising things about the book was the fact that throughout it, I was continually searching for the grains of truth. Humbert's narrative includes so many contradictions that he's hardly a reliable, believable witness, and yet, his is the only version of events the reader gets to see. For example, one moment, he'll be describing himself as virtually irresistible, as handsome, youthful and able to get any woman he wants, and the next, he's describing his painful shyness, anxiety talking to females, and a nervous facial tic that emerges in times of stress. There's a lot of narcissism and fantasy involved in Humbert's tale, and if he lies so blatantly about himself, then the majority of his tale can hardly be relied upon. Now and then, though, something will be said, a comment will be made by him in an offhand fashion, or something will happen that he will attribute one meaning to, or no meaning at all, that will stand out as truth amid the falsehoods.
And then, there's the most interesting aspect of the tale, the part I was attempting to explain to Emma last night, that a quote on Wikipedia from a fellow in the 1950's put so much better than me.
One of the novel's early champions, Lionel Trilling, warned in 1958 of the moral difficulty in interpreting a book with so eloquent and so self-deceived a narrator: "we find ourselves the more shocked when we realize that, in the course of reading the novel, we have come virtually to condone the violation it presents [...] we have been seduced into conniving in the violation, because we have permitted our fantasies to accept what we know to be revolting".
There is something deep within us, when we hear a story, that longs for a story to progress, for events to unfold, and subconsciously we urge the plot to move forward, the characters to act. A book like Lolita really makes you think as you read it, because at some point, you come to a realisation that despite loathing Humbert, his perversion and his actions, you are mentally urging him forward, so as to spur the story on, despite knowing only too well where such progression must lead.
I am well aware, having finished reading it, that I am still in a state of some confusion about the work as a whole. I know that a second or a third reading will sharpen the picture somewhat, but that will have to wait. Reading a novel once in .txt format in Notepad is enough for now, I think. *eyes cross* It's definitely in that class of films or books where there are subtle hints that you may or may pick up on, but only after watching or reading them again do you put all of the clues into context (Think: Fight Club, amongst other things).
But yes, well worth reading, if you have the time for it. I would not recommend it to people who have lived through the reality and after-effects of sexual abuse unless you have laid to rest the issues such a situation raises; particularly if such abuse was incestuous or had incestuous overtones. Even if you have laid them to rest, Lolita will not be a comfortable read, but if it were a comfortable read for anybody, it would not be the book it is, or it would probably say some things about your psyche that you might want to see somebody about, anyway.(less)
**spoiler alert** I did this in the wrong order for what I prefer; I saw the BBC miniseries first. However, that didn't spoil my appreciation of it; r...more**spoiler alert** I did this in the wrong order for what I prefer; I saw the BBC miniseries first. However, that didn't spoil my appreciation of it; rather, it confirmed for me just how good that adaptation was.
Fingersmith is one of those rare and wonderful novels where the characters are all equally flawed, and their emotions are real ones. Too often, secondary characters emerge flat and one-dimensional. Not so, in this case. All of the cast are believably and realistically portrayed, from the main protagonists down to Charles the knife boy and the inmates at the asylum. Sue and Maud are both full of both virtues and vices, and it is even very natural to feel sympathy for Mrs Sucksby, who is a mastermind and villain comparable to Fagin or Albus Dumbledore (I do indeed consider the latter to be a villain, for numerous reasons), despite the fact that the situation that arises is a direct result of her own machinations.
I've heard Sarah Waters' work compared to Dickens, and there are definite parallels, not only in time period. Dickens shone a light on a situation or a social issue he felt passionately about when he wrote a book (for example, the treatment of the poor, or child labour). Waters seems determined to shine a light somewhere else; on those hidden things that Dickens didn't touch on much, if at all. Sexuality (in particular, alternatives to heterosexuality), pornography, and the situation of women of different classes in Victorian times. Rather than being rivals for a similar market of readers, I see their work as being complimentary. It's certain that I appreciated Waters' work all the more for having read a few of Dickens' novels in the past.(less)