I haven't read as many classics as I'd like. Left to my own devices, I'd probably work my way through crime novel after crime novel, emerging only briI haven't read as many classics as I'd like. Left to my own devices, I'd probably work my way through crime novel after crime novel, emerging only briefly to complain about whodunnit. In a bid to remedy this and force a bit of diversity into my bookshelves, a few years back I joined my local library's reading group. The book of the month is always a surprise, and when we were handed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a month before Christmas, I think we were all secretly a little disappointed it wasn't yet another Costa Coffee Award winner, something that might have been a little easier to flip through in between present wrapping, mince pie baking and frantic last-minute sales shopping. With no slight at all meant to Brontë, there's something just a bit daunting about being faced with A Proper Classic™ that requires a level of concentration Christmas doesn't readily allow for. Needless to say, I was relieved when we mutually decided to shift it back to January and give ourselves some breathing room.
I went into the book almost entirely devoid of context. I'll admit to knowing little about 1800s England, and even less about the Brontë sisters. While on some level this may have detracted from my appreciation and understanding of certain elements, it also allowed me to approach the story with fresh eyes and few expectations. Our entry-point to this world is through Gilbert, a handsome young farmer from origins enigmatic, who finds himself increasingly taken with the mysterious tenant of Wildfell Hall. The beginning third of the book took a long time to hook me, filled as it was with extensive descriptions of family parties and lengthy walks to the beach. It was only when we really began to know Helen, the Hall's reclusive inhabitant, that my interest quickly increased.
The middle section of the book takes the form of Helen's diary as she recounts her courtship and marriage to her scoundrel of a husband. For the most part, I listened to the Audible version narrated by Alex Jennings and Jenny Agutter. Agutter's narration made the diary come alive, and was always enjoyable - even when the cast of characters became largely interchangable, populated by all together too many Huntingdons, Hargraves', Haldfords and Hattersleys. From what I understand, this was probably one of the first popular novels to depict a woman defying her husband in favour of her own happiness and independence, for which it is entirely commendable. The religious piousness didn't come across well to a modern reader, but I couldn't help but think there still is a lot here that would adapt well to a modern telling. Helen would undeniably work marvelously as a helicopter parent surviving the trials of single-parenthood and impertinent friends angered at being friend-zoned.
I was quite disappointed when we finally had to rejoin Gilbert for the last third of the book, and found the final slog quite hard-going. It's the middle section that really shines here, and while I am glad to have read it, I think it'll be a little while before I dip into another classic.
This is one of those stories that I've always meant to read and never quite gotten around to, so I'm glad I finally found the time. Of course most peoThis is one of those stories that I've always meant to read and never quite gotten around to, so I'm glad I finally found the time. Of course most people are very familiar with the story, but the way it was told and unfolded wasn't quite what I expected, so it still made for a good read without feeling too obvious. It was very atmospheric and evocative, and if the impact of the ending was lessened by knowing it in advance, it was still a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours....more
It took me a good long time to become fully immersed in this book, but I'm glad I persevered and stuck with it. I really feel quite fond of it and itsIt took me a good long time to become fully immersed in this book, but I'm glad I persevered and stuck with it. I really feel quite fond of it and its 6,000 characters now. Before this was selected for my in-person book group, I'd only read two of Dickens' books: Oliver Twist, when I was too young to really remember it, and A Christmas Carol, which I found quite dull and a chore to get through. I didn't have the highest of hopes going in to Our Mutual Friend, particularly as the introduction to the Everyman's edition waffles on about how dismal and bleak it is. In actual fact, I found it fairly amusing throughout. It was probably 200 pages in before I fully acclimatised to the language (I'd like to read more Dickens in future, but I think I'd have to do several back to back, because it wasn't easy for me to dip in and out of the Victorian style). Even once I was used to it, it was near enough half way through the book before I stopped keeping half a mind on the other novels I could have been reading instead and really started appreciating it.
The characters are broadly drawn - Lizzie is very good, Bella starts off very bad and becomes very good, and there's not a lot of grey in between. But most of the protagonists are so likeable, it's hard not to love the endearing Boffins, cherubic Pa, bewildered Twemlow et al. Many of the secondary characters I found painfully frustrating, though. I'm immensely glad that the dreadful Veneerings and Podsnaps largely faded out after the second book, and wish the same could have been said for the Lammles (whose motivation was never very clear to me - what on earth did they hope to gain by setting up Georgiana and Fledgeby?) and Mrs Wilfer and her daughter Lavinia.
The twist ending certainly took me by surprise, although I don't think it really holds up to any great scrutiny. The romances between Lizzie and Eugene and Bella and John didn't have a great deal of depth, and Headstone and Riderhood made for fairly one-dimensional villains, but that didn't really stop me from loving and loathing them respectively. It's one of those books where, although the happily ever after is mightily convenient if not convincing, I don't begrudge it and am glad for them all.
It's definitely not an easy book to get in to - I was the only member of my group to actually finish it - but I feel very warmly towards it now I'm done, and am confident that I'll try more Dickens in future. (Perhaps not the Everyman editions though. The editor ends the book by praising the Veneerings and Podsnaps as the best characters. There are not words enough in the English language to describe how wrong he is.)...more
I read this in one night/morning and didn't want to put it down. It was one of those rare books that had a physical effect on me - I felt feverish reaI read this in one night/morning and didn't want to put it down. It was one of those rare books that had a physical effect on me - I felt feverish reading about the houses of books going up in flames, and as Montag descended into the madness of his awakening, I was tearing through the pages faster and faster. In the end, I think its pace did it something of a disservice. It was an excellent concept that deserved more than to disintegrate into an extended action/chase sequence which gobbled up most of the last third of the book. Still, a thoroughly good novel, and one which will no doubt have me reading A Series of Unfortunate Events in a whole new light upon my next inevitable re-read. I may well re-read this one in future, but more slowly next time, so that I can better appreciate it. I would absolutely recommend it to any 1984 fans....more
Although A Town Like Alice had some fairly large flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This was the second book I read for my reading group, and while I alsAlthough A Town Like Alice had some fairly large flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This was the second book I read for my reading group, and while I also rated the first book, Depths by Henning Mankell, 4/5 stars, I preferred this one of the two. I think the biggest problem for me was the degree of detachment from the characters. Jane always seemed too perfect to be true, and although she and Joe met under circumstances that naturally created a strong bond between them, their romance never really felt much developed beyond that. It never quite rang true emotionally - details like Jane raising her friend's baby for several years, then handing him back to his father once the war ended and never mentioning him again made it difficult to connect with her. Although she had many admirable qualities, it all felt a bit much by the time every Australian with a radio within 10,000 miles of her was in awe of her pluck.
The framing didn't help with the detachment issue. The novel is told from the perspective of the elderly solicitor who handles Jane's inheritance, and while it's made clear again and again that Jane is entirely sensible enough to handle her own affairs, it feels strange for Shute to repeatedly show us how strong she is, and yet tell her story from a male perspective. The peripheral characters are thumbnail sketches more than people, so the myriad of deaths in the first third aren't as moving as they might have been. I raced through the first two thirds, but the last 75 pages or so seemed to drag, and at that point it was easy to set the book aside.
All that said, the basic story at the heart of A Town Like Alice is so compelling. I've read very little set in Australia, and even less - if anything - set in Malaya. I'm far from at home with war stories, and the dated attitudes at play here would normally annoy me. Yet somehow, all of these factors combined just worked. I find it much easier to write about things that irked me than I do to conjure up praise, but A Town Like Alice deserves it. I'd cheerfully recommend it to anyone, and while I definitely wouldn't expect unmitigated praise in response, it's a book that deserves to be read....more
Having spent a good five years of my life obsessing over Lost - whatever else that may say about me - I think it's fair to say I love a good castawayHaving spent a good five years of my life obsessing over Lost - whatever else that may say about me - I think it's fair to say I love a good castaway story. And Lord of the Flies is definitely a good castaway story. I was one of the apparent minority that never covered this in school, so bought it in my first week of university (September 2005) with every intention of finding out what I'd been missing out on. It didn't go quite that smoothly. I opened the thing up, started reading the introduction, and gah, hello massive plot spoilers. So I put the stupid thing down, picked it up again six years later - finally having managed to forget who died... and my annoying kid brother, who did study it in school, went and blurted it out when I was two-thirds of the way through. Not. Impressed.
Still, incredible irritation aside, it's definitely a good story, and I absolutely understand now why it's so widely read and well-loved. I'd really like to see the film. I'd also like the spoil the ending of every plot-twist movie ever made for my brother, but that's neither here nor there. One of those books that I'm glad to have read....more
(view spoiler)[500 pages of moralising 'and then they drowned' is not a brilliant way to craft or end a book. For the most part, I'd say I enjoyed The(view spoiler)[500 pages of moralising 'and then they drowned' is not a brilliant way to craft or end a book. For the most part, I'd say I enjoyed The Mill on the Floss. I just think I'd have enjoyed it a lot more if the endless philosophising and internalisation had been stripped down in favour of plot, probably culling a good 300 pages in the process.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad book. Little Maggie Tulliver is precocious and wonderful, and if the whole thing had been about her adorable exploits such as running away to live with gypsies, I'd have gobbled it up. Sadly, by the last third, the whole thing descends into a romance that's literally laughable (particularly the scene in which a would-be suitor is so overwhelmed by the sight of Maggie's arms that he waxes lyrical in near-orgasmic ecstasy for an interminably long paragraph before giving in and scandalously kissing her forearm. For shame.)
Really, there's a decent plot and some wonderful characters here when all is said and done, but the archaic language (and endless editorial interjections in this edition) made it a chore to read. It wasn't one that could be picked up for an hour at the end of each day - it demanded attention, which I gave more and more begrudgingly. I'm not sorry to have read it, it just wasn't as excellent as I was expecting. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I enjoyed The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes a little less than the first collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but only to the extent that I'd gI enjoyed The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes a little less than the first collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but only to the extent that I'd give the latter 8/10 and the former 7/10. Memoirs contains some very fine stories - my favourite amongst them probably "The Adventure of the Yellow Face", which holds an interesting window to society at the time.
Interestingly, the two stories narrated primarily by Holmes, rather than Watson ("The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" and "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"), I found to be among the dullest in the collection. The framing of Holmes relating his own past effectively did away with the sense of urgency that carries the other stories forward. I also wasn't particularly enamoured with "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", which introduces Holmes' brother Mycroft, but on the whole the cases are solid, and the locked-room mysteries ("The Adventure of the Crooked Man" and "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty") especially were good fun to mull over.
The final story, "The Final Problem", introduces Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty, and was intended by Conan Doyle to be his last Holmes adventure. All I can say is that I'm glad he reneged, because "The Final Problem" does not make a fitting ending in the least. There's no foreshadowing or build-up to Moriarty - one minute, we, and Watson, have never heard of him, the next he's the pinnacle of the criminal underworld that Holmes could retire happily for having defeated. Watson's reaction left a lump in my throat, certainly, but it would have been a dreadful end to the Holmes canon had it been allowed to rest there.
Still, a very good collection all in all. I listened to this as an audiobook, but I think I'd have preferred the print version. There's just too much going on to listen and process hastily, and I think the stories would have benefited from being read at leisure, setting my own pace. I'm a little Sherlock'd out for now, but I'll definitely be dipping into The Return of Sherlock Holmes in time....more