One of Wilkie Collins’ talents is playing with the psyches of his readers. In No Name, this manifests through the question of who is the real villain...moreOne of Wilkie Collins’ talents is playing with the psyches of his readers. In No Name, this manifests through the question of who is the real villain in this story. Victorian readers would most likely have pointed the finger at Magdalen, yet ironically she’s our protagonist. From my readings of Victorian fiction, an author portraying the main character as a villain was a rare occurrence. Wilkie himself tries his best at pointing the finger at Mrs. Lecount. But while she does seem villainous in terms of her animosity and hate towards Magdalen, can it really be said that she is evil? In some ways, I felt Mrs. Lecount was justified in some of her actions. And I think the same could be said for Magdalen. Ultimately, I feel that the real villain in this story is something much bigger, especially when considering the underlying circumstances that cause the events that take place throughout this story. Thus in some ways, No Name reminds me of Dickens’ Bleak House.
Collins is also excellent at building up “sensational” suspense. This book is near 800 pages, yet I never once felt bored. I was immediately swept up into the story...easily excited by all of those little hints and details...almost swooning when Kirke came onto the scene! Ooh...it was embarrassing, yet it was so much fun. ;)
As a side note, like Dickens, Collins is also great at creating caricatures. I absolutely loved Captain Wragge and his wife. Their names are priceless, but that’s nothing compared to how they progress in this story. (less)
My mother read this story a few years ago and rather enjoyed it. I remember her telling me that I would appreciate the sardonic humor that is interwov...moreMy mother read this story a few years ago and rather enjoyed it. I remember her telling me that I would appreciate the sardonic humor that is interwoven throughout the story. She was absolutely spot on. Some of the descriptions in this book are wonderfully bleak:
Between you and me, this business of the seventh art leaves me cold. As far as I can see, it’s only a way of feeding the mindless and making them even more stupid. Worse than football or bullfights. The cinema began as an invention for entertaining the illiterate masses....Fermín’s attitude changed radically the day he discovered Carole Lombard....A few seconds later, Veronica Lake made her grand entrance onto the scene, and Fermín was transported to another plane.
[Sister Hortensia] wandered off into the shadows, carrying her bucket and dragging her shadow like a bridal veil.
Covered in bandages, dressings, and slings, Fermín held [Bernarda] tenderly, stroking her hair. His face carried a bruise that hurt to look at, and from it emerged his large unharmed nose, two ears like sails, and the eyes of a dispirited mouse. His toothless smile, through lips covered in cuts, was triumphant, and he greeted us with his right hand raised in the sign of victory.
I have a soft spot for crusty yet suave characters and Fermín is one of the best. He is very much like Compo from Last of the Summer Wine. When Fermín pursues Bernarda, it is easy to picture Compo’s various attempts to win the affections of Nora Batty. ;)
My favorite part of this book was the secret mystery of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books...the imagery of little Daniel and his father embarking on this special quest of discovery and rediscovery. This first section of the book has a personal, solemn, almost religious tone—Daniel’s own rite of passage to literature and life. It is very good—an excellent opening to a novel. I loved how this is also paired with the imagery of the end.
The interwoven lives of Daniel and Julián are done well. The way their stories fade in and fade out has a seamless film-like quality. Their stories flow naturally as the novel progresses. Yet even though their stories are central to this book, I feel that the supporting cast of characters are the ones who are really the main focus of this work and hold it together. Daniel and Julián are somewhat childlike in regards to their actions and how they control their emotions...both share that youthful, innocent all or none sentimentality. Because of this, there is a sense of protection that pervades this story...the other characters molding and shaping perceptions and events as they happen. The psychology behind this is interesting. It plays on the idea of excess of both love and hate.
Overall, Ruiz Zafón penned an excellent story and mystery. It was fun trying to match all of those little puzzle pieces, gradually watching how it all fit together. The end result was well done. (less)
About ten years ago, I had a friend who recommended the works of this author, told me Smilla's Sense of Snow was one of his favorite books. So I start...moreAbout ten years ago, I had a friend who recommended the works of this author, told me Smilla's Sense of Snow was one of his favorite books. So I started reading it, but at fourteen/fifteen, I just didn’t have the patience with the postmodern fragmentary construction of the text. I ended up just skimming through it, and later watched the film in order to put all of the pieces together. But the one aspect of the book that’s stayed with me after all those years was Høeg’s poetic style. Imbedded in the text are certain observations that are cool and intriguing in the way they’re crafted. So when I came across The Quiet Girl, remembering that particular aspect of Høeg’s writing, I decided to try again.
Now that I’m older, I’m better able to grasp what Høeg’s doing with his storytelling. He’s writing a mystery, and rather than giving the reader all of the information as it happens, he’s giving you pieces—each page is a new piece to the puzzle. He’s forcing the reader to become part of the story and be the detective—to arrange all of the puzzle pieces together into a cohesive whole. Considering it in this light, I can sort of respect what he’s doing, but it still takes just over 100 pages to really understand what’s going on. The basic story skeleton follows Kaspar Krone, a famous circus clown, and his attempts to locate and uncover the conspiracy surrounding the disappearance of KlaraMaria, a girl he’s met a few times at the circus. From the moment he first meets KlaraMaria, he immediately senses something special about her—the calm, soothing silence that radiates from her being—something he’s always secretly desired for himself. Day and night Kaspar’s constantly bombarded with sound and music. An accident has left him with the ability to sense and gauge people’s auras and thoughts with music; slight shifts in thought or feeling can change the tone/song that radiates from a person’s soul. When he’s with KlaraMaria, her silence cancels out his own abilities, and eventually grows to love her like a daughter. When he discovers that she’s been kidnapped, he’s afraid of how her abilities may be manipulated, and begins a quest to find her.
I thought this idea interesting. Høeg’s other novels also include stories about children with special abilities. However, I’m not that sold on the ending. Personally, I feel it would have been better for the novel to end on a personal level rather than the grand philosophical questions on which the book ends. I’m still trying to figure out if in the end, the table’s turned… that Kaspar’s actually the one in danger of being manipulated in this grand scheme.
As a side note, some of the action scenes involving Kaspar tend to be a bit farcical, but keeping in mind that he is a clown associated with the magical farce of the circus, it does somehow make sense. After reading those scenes, I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “Wow! What a man!” ;-)
And like Smilla’s Sense of Snow, The Quiet Girl’s also chock-full of those fun and poetic observations. Below’s a brief sampling:
“Children woke up at six-thirty in the morning and shifted directly into fourth gear. Fourteen hours later they rushed straight into sleep at more than a hundred miles an hour without decelerating.”
“The real opportunity in family life was not the security, not the monotony, not the predictability. The real opportunity lay in the fact that sometimes there were no pretenses, no masks, no reservations; suddenly everybody took out his earplugs, it was quiet, and one could hear the others as they really were.”
“Already the ground frost was so thick he could feel the cold through the soles of his shoes. The girl must have a different metabolism from him; in her thin sweater she seemed to be carrying summer around with her.”
“She looked at him. As if she wanted to determine his molecular weight.”
“The city sounded like a single organism. It had been up early, and now it was weary. Now it sank down into the furniture, heavy as a moving man. And under the weight he heard the uneasiness that is always there, because yet another day is over, and what was accomplished, where are we headed?” (less)
I first came across this title when I was doing research for one of my classes back in college, thought it sounded interesting—didn’t realize that Alc...moreI first came across this title when I was doing research for one of my classes back in college, thought it sounded interesting—didn’t realize that Alcott’s Gothic work was published—and made a mental note to look it up when I had the time. At the time, I was overworked and eventually forgot about it, until I saw a copy at a flea market a couple months ago. And I’m really glad I found it!
I can understand why Alcott couldn’t get this book published in 1866, as the subject matter is a bit risqué if you compare it to the sensation/Gothic fiction that was in circulation at the time. In fact, like Hardy’s The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved and The Well-Beloved, two surviving manuscripts of Alcott’s novel exist: the original and a heavily edited version, with this published version being a mixture of both texts. Also interesting to note that the book was first published only 15 years ago, about 130 years after it was written.
A Long Fatal Love Chase has a rather good story that reads like a combination of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jane Eyre, and the film Duel in the Sun with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones (my favorite of Greg’s films, as he plays such a vile rogue, a role that’s totally out of character for him). The title of the book’s rather “subtle”—*wink*— but, you know, it doesn’t really matter, as the events, descriptions and dialogue leading up to the inevitable finale make up for that initial early reveal.
Rosamond, the novel’s protagonist, resembles Jane Eyre in regards to temperament and moral standards. She’s strong, with an independent will and won’t, under any circumstances, conform to the demands of others. She does what she feels is right and just. Rosamond also fits the description that Hardy makes about his character Tess: “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.” Like Tess, Rosamond finds herself at a crossroads, where she must choose her path; and once that choice is made, there’s no going back. The path Rosamond takes leads to pain and heartache, but she does what she can to make things right for herself and for others. Her decisions are purely made.
Philip Tempest is certainly a dangerous rogue, but he has a certain appeal when he comes onto the scene. In that way, he reminds me of Gregory Peck’s character Lewt McCanles in Duel in the Sun. Lewt’s actions are so horrible and repugnant, but he has a certain charisma and allure that draws you in, making you susceptible to those desires and sudden whims of his. It was understandable that Jennifer Jones’s character became vulnerable to his advances. The same can be said for Tempest and Rosamond. Tempest has that same pull, his words are coaxing, his initial offers enticing. Their battle of wills are like verbal duels; you definitely understand Rosamond’s dilemma and realize the ultimate strength she has—the strength of her moral code as she desperately tries to maintain her independent will—in her many efforts to spurn his constant advances.
The writing, for the most part, was good and entertaining for a sensation novel, though there were a couple instances that were questionable, such as Rosamond’s immediate faith and trust in Lito’s mother, and her grandfather’s part in this whole situation, which leaves you to wonder how much he really knew beforehand, and how much he could have prevented. Also the ending was rather rushed, forcing me to go back and reread the last two pages. Regardless, I really liked this book, and look forward to reading more of Alcott’s Gothic fiction. (less)
I love Harris’s writing style. The prose has an oral quality to it… very lyrical, making you want to read it aloud. And it all makes sense, given this...moreI love Harris’s writing style. The prose has an oral quality to it… very lyrical, making you want to read it aloud. And it all makes sense, given this story’s set in France, year 1610. The tone of the narrators is actually quite modern, but the oral nature of their narrative sort of gives the story its authenticity, if you will.
Like her other novels, this one also has a split narrative, as the story’s told from the perspectives of Juliette and Guy. I loved how their stories read like verbal duels, a battle of wills; each competing with their narration… each pointing out the other’s flaws and schemes, so the reader can recognize elaboration or concealment. This was rather well done. Also liked how at times they would occasionally concede defeat in their duel… secretly admiring and applauding each other’s style and audacity. Couldn’t help but smile at them during these times. ;)
Though at times, some of the scenes are a bit overdone, such as the nuns’ overzealous cult-like devotion for their priest, which lead to the dancing during vespers and physical twitches… but looking back, and realizing the theatrical nature of the story as a whole, those scenes do indeed make sense. And I couldn’t help but inwardly smile at some of the religious traditions and conventions that Harris pokes fun at.
Really liked this one, can’t wait to read more of her work. (less)
This book is rather reminiscent of the sensation novels written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins in the latter half of the 19th Century, t...moreThis book is rather reminiscent of the sensation novels written by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins in the latter half of the 19th Century, though the subject matter of Sleep, Pale Sister is much more risqué than any of those works published back then. It’s a sort of twist on the Gothic ghost story and the madwoman in the attic theme, interlaced with a mystical Middle Eastern flavor.
I loved that the book is told through a split narrative. Each voice is so different, adding various layers to the narrative, making the novel, on the whole, that much more intriguing. The writing’s hypnotic, easily drawing you into this world of art, fantasy, magic and debauchery. All the characters are deeply flawed, each one desperately desiring more than what they have. Reality is never enough as the characters often seek solace in drink or their drug of choice—be it women, fantasy, love, laudanum, or chloral hydrate. Though at times it can be difficult to discern what’s real and what’s illusion, as the characters are describing the events as they see them—through inebriated or drug induced perceptive states.
The story itself is rather cold and creepy, and given that the reader’s able to glimpse inside of and witness first hand the characters’ perverted thoughts and the flawed reasoning behind their actions, it becomes so real, so tangible, and dare I say it—at times even understandable, which makes it all the more disconcerting, and left me feeling ultimately flustered and uneasy as I read the final few pages. (less)
The story of the Dead Secret would have made a great film in the 1940s. Imagine as an opening, a scary looking Joan Crawford lying on her death bead f...moreThe story of the Dead Secret would have made a great film in the 1940s. Imagine as an opening, a scary looking Joan Crawford lying on her death bead forcing a very nervy Jennifer Jones, her lady’s maid, to write a confession letter directed to Joan’s husband. The letter is never given to the husband, and thus Jennifer Jones is forever haunted by the ghost of Joan until that final debt is paid. This would make for a very melodramatic film, though one that would probably be very unsettling. ;)
The story itself is an interesting one, though you can easily tell that it is an early work of Collins. Collins seems to be experimenting with his characters and his ability to create vivid characterizations. There are some wonderfully funny characters here, namely Mr. Phippen, but they really don’t serve a major purpose to drive the plot. Other major characters could have easily taken their place. Also, I think Collins used some of the characters in this story as a basis for other characters in his later works. Rosamond is very much like Magdalen and her sister Norah in No Name. As well, Mr. Phippen reminded me of Mr. Fairlie in The Woman in White. As well, I rather liked the eccentric Andrew Treverton and his grouchy, crusty servant, Shrowl. Together they make a wonderful combination and I wished they had a larger presence in this text.
Overall, I felt that Collins did a good job with this story. The themes are very good and I really liked how Collins had the characters come to terms with the secret. But, I think his later works are stronger and more cohesive in terms of character and plot structure. (less)
I really like Hawthorne’s writing. He wrote two of my favorite works. But for me, The Marble Faun is missing something.
The good: Hawthorne makes some...moreI really like Hawthorne’s writing. He wrote two of my favorite works. But for me, The Marble Faun is missing something.
The good: Hawthorne makes some really good insights here...exposing the irony of art and situation...what might really go on behind the scenes when creating a piece of art or sculpture, and how this might affect one’s perceptions and reception of the art, especially if the piece of art has a religious theme. Also interesting is his portrayal of the loss of innocence and its effect on conscience and soul.
The bad: What upset me about this novel is the plot, or lack of it. Hawthorne introduces a suspenseful plot that draws the reader in, but I felt his resolution unsatisfactory. I was left with questions that weren’t really answered. Hawthorne’s plot ultimately reflects the themes he brings about when he talks about art, i.e. can the viewer really discern at a glance what was really behind the figure(s) in a painting or piece of sculpture? In other words, who is the model and what was the artist or sculptor thinking as he created his masterpiece? This same idea applies to each of the four main characters and the mysterious model in this book, i.e. what can the reader discern from just viewing the actions characters within the moment. With this view in mind, past and future become negligible, and unfortunately this can be rather frustrating for the reader.
Yet, regardless of how frustrating it is to follow these characters in this murky plot, Hawthorne does make the reader feel sympathy for the faun. I rather liked how he achieved this. (less)
I first came across the name Monica Dickens from one of the recent articles I read commemorating Charles Dickens’ bicentennial—Monica’s great-grandfat...moreI first came across the name Monica Dickens from one of the recent articles I read commemorating Charles Dickens’ bicentennial—Monica’s great-grandfather. When I was looking through her bibliography, I thought The Landlord’s Daughter would be particularly interesting since it was her take on Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman. Well...I don’t think there are any words to describe how much I disliked this novel.
On the one hand there is the story...Charlotte’s all consuming love for Peter—a person she barely knows. Like Elizabeth Taylor’s Angel, Charlotte builds up her own fantasies. However, this is where the similarities end. Angel has a strong sense of self. In contrast, Charlotte is overwhelmed by her insecurities, which in turn forces her to develop this fantasy life and love. It is very disconcerting, especially since she knows about Peter’s secret. In fact, it makes her love him even more, since she’s more titilated by it than disgusted. In turn, he takes pleasure in this. As a result their relationship is creepy and sadistic.
Yet, what really upset me was Dickens’ storytelling. She never really gives us enough explanations, especially concerning what led up to the conflict between Peter and the landlord’s daughter. It is left up to speculation. Yet, the explanations that are given, I found unsatisfactory. I didn’t quite understand the town’s reactions to this fairly significant event. As it’s described, it does not really make sense.
Ultimately, this is an extremely strange story, one that I unfortunately found completely disappointing. (less)
My mother gave me this book, telling me that I might get a kick out of it. She was right! This book gives a new meaning to a five star rating: “amazin...moreMy mother gave me this book, telling me that I might get a kick out of it. She was right! This book gives a new meaning to a five star rating: “amazing”… Amazing in the sense—How could this book have been published?!
I’ll admit the story had potential. When I first started it, I thought it would be like those old Catherine Cookson novels I used to love to read in my early teens. Once I was a third of the way into the story, I was embarrassed that I even made that comparison. Cookson’s books are much better written, with better storylines and good developed characters. Though I’m truly surprised that Cookson’s books are for the most part out of print, while books like this are still in circulation.
Holt’s story is a mess. Some ideas are introduced, but never fully explored. The ending’s rushed and the concluding events are never fully explained. The murderer never explains the motive behind his actions. It’s all left to conjecture by the narrator, the governess. And when you really consider all the things the murderer did, you begin to wonder how that person could have done it all without an accomplice. For example, loosening and tossing a boulder from a cliff. You also wonder what was the real motive behind those actions. Did that person have a prior claim to the house? And this suppressed hatred the murderer supposedly “felt” seems strange, when throughout the book, that person was genuinely nice and affectionate to everyone, without fault—that kind of feeling is rather hard to fake. It all seemed too easy.
Also, the book lacks historical accuracy. For instance, in Victorian times, it wasn't common for women to attend a funeral procession; only men witnessed the burial of the loved one. So for the governess to witness the body of Sir Thomas, a neighbor of her employer, being placed in a tomb is highly unlikely.
The characterization made me laugh. Connan, got to love that name, is never developed in the book, yet he’s the main heartthrob for the governess. They hardly ever speak, only a brief word to each other occasionally, but only about business. Holt develops her secondary character Peter, the neighbor next door, more fully than Connan, and because of that I almost wished that he were the leading man. At least he was entertaining. Though in all fairness Connan does have some gem lines when he suddenly professes his love:
“Should I have prepared you for the shock? … I am sorry, Miss Leigh. I thought I had managed to convey to you something of my feelings in this matter.”
“I want to marry you because I want to keep you a prisoner in my house.”
“I am a dissolute, degenerate philanderer. I am going to say was. Because from this moment I am going to be faithful to one woman for the rest of my life.”
With a few laughs, it was an easy read, but left me ultimately unsatisfied. (less)