Finally I can say I have read all of Jane Austen's long novels! I still haven't read Lady Susan, but I've hit the big six. I've long loved Pride and P...moreFinally I can say I have read all of Jane Austen's long novels! I still haven't read Lady Susan, but I've hit the big six. I've long loved Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey, but only had exposure to Mansfield Park through the rather good ITV adaptation that showed in 2007, starring Billie Piper, of Doctor Who fame.
This novel isn't really talked about or read by people who aren't die-hard English literature lovers, and I can kind of see why. The main character, Fanny, is not witty and strong-willed like Elizabeth Bennett, or romantic and dramatic like Marianne Dashwood, or vivacious and charming like Emma Woodhouse. Instead, she is rather prudish and retiring, suffers from ill health, and defers to her domineering relatives in every way. This is because she has been taught from a young age that her opinions don't matter, and her desires and feelings must always come last in the family. She is a poor relation of a very wealthy family, and she knows her place. Therefore, her inner thoughts usually revolve around disapproving of someone else's impropriety or bad behavior, and chastising herself for being critical or acting above her station.
I did find some of Fanny's mannerisms to be a bit annoying, as it does feel like she complains quite a bit throughout the novel. But she also proves to be incredibly kind and selfless when it comes to her family, especially her Aunt Bertram. She is also deeply in love with her cousin, Edmund, who is himself infatuated with a newcomer. Mary Crawford, in the area to visit her sister, has brought her brother Henry with her. Between the two of them, they almost turn Mansfield Park upside down. In addition to Edmund and Mary's courtship, there's an intrigue between Maria Bertram, Julia Bertram, and Henry Crawford. But before long, Henry decides to make Fanny fall in love with him. This plan pretty much backfires on him, as he falls in love with her, but she has no positive feelings towards him whatsoever. Rejected by Fanny, Henry vows to love her forever, but his true nature comes through and he ends up eloping with Maria, even though she is a married woman.
In terms of plot, this novel really has a lot, but in between exciting events, there's a lot of time devoted to Fanny's inner thoughts, as well as speeches by various characters. Austen really seems to have used this book to espouse some of her thoughts on conservatism versus modernism, preferring the former. I very much enjoyed listening to this novel as narrated by Juliet Stevenson. She did an excellent job, and I loved her soft, even voice giving life to the many vibrant characters. (less)
I thoroughly enjoyed this spooky novel from start to finish. I listened to an audiobook edition, narrated excellently by Bernadette Dunne.
The book te...moreI thoroughly enjoyed this spooky novel from start to finish. I listened to an audiobook edition, narrated excellently by Bernadette Dunne.
The book tells the story of Mary Katherine "Merricat" Blackwood, and her strange reclusive life with her even stranger family. I had to valiantly resist looking at spoilers while reading this book. But suffice to say, the story of what happened to Merricat's family, and what happens next in her life is chilling to the bone. I believe if I had read this book as a child, I would have definitely been disturbed, and perhaps would have had nightmares. As an adult, I found Merricat's story and voice fascinating. I definitely recommend this book. (less)
One of my favorite shows as a kid was Wishbone, the simple tale of a scholarly Jack Russell who would imagine himself into the various classic novels...moreOne of my favorite shows as a kid was Wishbone, the simple tale of a scholarly Jack Russell who would imagine himself into the various classic novels he loved to read. The show massively appealed to me as a budding bibliophile, and I watched avidly, soaking in the stories of those books still a little advanced for me to read. One of my favorite episodes was "The Pawloined Paper" based on Edgar Allen Poe's "Purloined Paper", arguably one of the first true detective stories ever written. When I saw the novelization in my local bookstore, I begged my mom to buy it and reread it many times over the next few years.
I loved the story for it's cleverness and lack of bloodshed. The mystery is simply that of a politically devastating letter which has fallen into the hands of slimy would-be aristocrat out for his own gain. The Parisian police are baffled, as they have searched the blackmailer's apartment from top to bottom, meticulously removing, inspecting, and replacing every single object. But no letter is to be found! They turn in desperation to C. Auguste Dupin, a brooding genius who lives in a nearly abandoned house with his unnamed companion, who is the chronicler of his stories. Dupin arrives at the blackmailer's house, armed only with a dark pair of glasses, and immediately deduces the location of the letter.
This story in the collection read like a typical narrative, wherein the police bring a case to Dupin in medias res and he goes out to solve it in an infinitely satisfying way. The other two stories were less clear cut, and I must say I enjoyed them less for all that. "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is certainly an interesting story, but Poe's recounting of the savage murder of two women by orangutan was too disconnected for me. He tells the story through witness accounts, which were repetitive and a bit dull. I still found the story captivating though, and enjoyed reading about Dupin's scientific investigations.
I cannot say that, however, for the last story, "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt". This story was based on a sensationalist crime of the period, the murder of a woman name Mary Rogers in Manhattan. The "story" is told entirely through examination of police reports and newspaper articles and is, as a result, extraordinarily dry and tedious to read. I found myself skipping over entire passages just to get to the ending and find out the culprit. Even after that though, I cannot say for certain I know who did it or why. This story put me to sleep, and is entirely at fault for dropping my review of this collection to three stars. Even my fascination for detective stories could not save this one from my dislike.
It is still impressive to me that Poe basically invented the modern detective novel with these three stories. Dupin is exactly what a proper detective should be; he is mysterious, terrifyingly intelligent, observant of the smallest details, and fully committed to his work. In Dupin, Poe laid the groundwork for other amazing detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, and Lord Peter Wimsey, and for that, I am eternally grateful.(less)
I first heard about P.G. Wodehouse in an interview of Hugh Laurie's in which he claimed that reading Wodehouse novels saved his life. I was intrigued....moreI first heard about P.G. Wodehouse in an interview of Hugh Laurie's in which he claimed that reading Wodehouse novels saved his life. I was intrigued. Who was this Wodehouse, and what about him made his novels special?
My curiosity (and my overwhelming fannish love for Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry) led me to watch all of Jeeves and Wooster, loving every minute of it. I read several Jeeves and Wooster books as well as one or two about Psmith and Blandings Castle. I love that the characters are all semi-connected, and I must admit that the time period Wodehouse writes about is my absolute favorite, a time when women were women, and men were fops.
The short stories in this collection are essentially Wodehousian in all aspects. The characters are delightfully earnest. One story stands out in particular: a dog does everything in his power to make his master (a thief) happy, but only ends up foiling his plans. These characters, bumbling through life, trying their best, and achieving dreams through sheer dumb luck, made me incredibly happy.
I am not a religious person. When I was younger, I attended a few church services at Easter (mostly to be able to participate in the egg hunt) and vis...moreI am not a religious person. When I was younger, I attended a few church services at Easter (mostly to be able to participate in the egg hunt) and visited Buddhist temples with family. Never though, did I feel moved by a higher power or the need to believe in any particular religion. The existence or non-existence of God does not trouble my thoughts, but there have been times of shock and fear in which I've prayed to something, though I do not call it God.
The protagonist of this book, Maurice Bendrick, has this mindset for most of the novel. He doesn't believe in God or love, just hate. There's a pretty good reason for Maurice's hate though, he's been jilted by the only woman he loves, Sarah Miles, who is married to another man. The book is structured as a memoir, in which Bendrick describes the titular affair, its sudden end, and the heart-wrenching aftermath.
Some of the book is told through Sarah's journal, and we are shown her dissatisfaction with her lot and her struggles with her growing faith. I found myself identifying quite a lot with Sarah, even though we are nothing alike. She is a chronic adulterer and so beautiful that men fall over themselves to be her partner. She does, however, fall genuinely and deeply in love with Bendrick, so much so that she eventually leaves him when she makes a promise to God in exchange for his life.
I enjoyed the retrospective view of the relationship and the way details of the story. Grahame Greene also did an admirable job of making the characters real and believable. Their relationships are twisted and confused, but one can't help but sympathize. I only wish that Greene hadn't spent so much time expostulating on God and religion. Towards the end, the book seemed more like a sermon, and I didn't particularly enjoy being preached to. However, I can see how this book belongs on those "1000 books you have to read before you die" lists, it just wasn't entirely my cup of tea. (less)
I picked this slim novel up in the classics section of a local foreign language bookstore, determined to read more significant novels about people of...moreI picked this slim novel up in the classics section of a local foreign language bookstore, determined to read more significant novels about people of color. The Underdogs suited my needs exactly. It is very short, having been quickly published in a Mexican newspaper around the middle of the revolution, and tells the story of Demetrio Macías, a Mestizo peasant who, through chance, becomes a soldier and leader in Pancho Villa's army.
The novel is written in a very simplistic tone of voice. I think this may have been due to the lack of advanced literacy among Azuela's readers. The prose is also very detached, always describing the actions and thoughts of the protagonists as if from afar. Characterization is very subtle, and I put down the novel unsure if I had connected with or understood any of the characters in the book.
For one, the ragtag bunch of rebels Macías unites are not nice people on the whole. They give their utmost respect and loyalty to Macías, but in his and Villa's name, they loot, plunder, and rape their way through their own country. They are foul-mouthed, prone to violence, and disrespectful of all others they encounter. They are products of their time, of course. They've been beaten down so long by the Federales that they just want to lash out. Without proper leadership, they flounder.
And Macías just isn't the man to give that strong leadership. He joined the fight because he angered his local cacique and had to flee from his wife and child just to survive. He has some sense of strategy, as his rebels carry out several successful raids on Federales. But after he is gravely injured, he starts to lose fervor for his fight. He begins an affair with a young girl, Camila, who is in her turn enamored with Cervantes, an educated doctor who defected from the Federales.
Azuela is unflinching in his portrayal of the senseless violence that occurred during the revolution. He does not try to romanticize the rebels or even truly support their cause. From the foreword, I learned that Cervantes' story is very similar to Azuela's own. At the end of the novel, Cervantes leaves everything behind and defects to America. As for Macías, he returns to his family, but is defeated and jaded. The new regime that he helped to bring about is essentially no different than the one he helped to overthrow. (less)
No offense to Mr. Shakespeare, but I think Heathcliff and Cathy, and not Romeo and Juliet, are the definitive star-crossed lovers of the Western liter...moreNo offense to Mr. Shakespeare, but I think Heathcliff and Cathy, and not Romeo and Juliet, are the definitive star-crossed lovers of the Western literary tradition. Nothing in their lives allows them to be together, not society, not circumstances, not even themselves. Also, their love is destructive to both themselves and those around them, just as star-crossed love ought to be.
I won't provide a summary of this novel, as it is so well-known and well-read. For good reason too. The language in this book is at times so passionate, dark, and alive. It's fascinating to read about how much Heathcliff and Cathy feel about each other at every moment. Their speeches of devotion and all-consuming love make similar speeches made by Mr. Darcy and Romeo pale in comparison.
One other thing I particularly enjoyed about the novel was its framing narrative. The tragic story of Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw, and their progeny, is told through Ellen Dean, housekeeper at Wuthering Heights. Her story is in turn told through Mr. Lockwood, a resident at Thrushcross Grange, the former home of Heathcliff's mortal enemy, Edgar Linton. These layers of narrative cloaked the story and made it more interesting. Instead of a straight narration, the story is told through the biased eyes of Nelly Dean, who influences so many major events.
I've read some criticism of Wuthering Heights that names Nelly as the true villain of the piece. The articles claim that her real part in the story is someone who purposefully engineers and manipulates the others to create conflict and strife. I'm not sure if I agree with this interpretation, but it certainly sheds a different light on certain moments.
What made reading this book a true pleasure for me was listening to Juliet Stevenson's narration. She brilliantly brought each character to life through the use of accents and subtle shifts in tone and voice. Her reading was even and smooth, placing just the right amount of emphasis on each word. (less)