I chose The Picture of Dorian Gray to be my first classic of the year because I had seen people talking about it online a lot last year – perhaps beca...moreI chose The Picture of Dorian Gray to be my first classic of the year because I had seen people talking about it online a lot last year – perhaps because of the 2009 adaptation, I cannot be sure – and it made me curious, although I didn't pay much attention to what they were saying. I prefer to begin a book knowing as little about it as possible. Unfortunately, this lead to an amusing assumption that it was a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie. I began the novel and instantly adored its elegant writing and curious plot, but quickly realised it was not what I originally thought it was going to be. Instead, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an eerie Gothic horror story, set in 1890s London!
I also did not know what to expect from the writing, having never read any of Oscar Wilde's work previously, and so I was blown away. I've mentioned here before that I've recently begun to appreciate 'good writing', whatever than may mean, but I do not think I've enjoyed it so much before, and as much as the actual story. It's wonderful. I appreciated every sentence, every passage and highlighted it to death on my Kindle. I felt that the witty yet philosophical approach offered more insight into our three well-educated, upper class protagonists' thoughts – socialites Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton, and artist Basil Hallward – than it probably normally would have. Lord Henry has a particular talent for airing his sexist, classist opinions in a way that's strangely charming. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a fascinating concoction of treachery and superficiality mixed with elegance, so the reader ends up enjoying hearing from these characters even thought they are immensely unlikeable.
'I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do.' - Lord Henry
As for the story itself, it's quite simple in a way, as outlined at the beginning of this review, but it's also multi-layered with meaning. I did, however, make the mistake of not reading the book all at once. As it relies heavily on narrative and (sometimes internal) conversation, reading a couple of pages a day on the way to and from work meant that I ended up getting quite lost in the middle of the book. I was reading the eBook and so therefore couldn't flip back quickly to remind myself, although this just means I shall have to re-read it (and it gives me a good excuse to purchase the Penguin English Library edition) – no harm done! However, I loved it when I did manage to grasp what was going on and it all made sense in the end.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a haunting, Gothic novel that combines beautiful writing with a deceptively simple plot. It's a thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable cautionary tale encouraging us not to give too much purpose to art and warns us about the aesthetic ills that society can possess.
'The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.'
This book was read as part of my 2013 Classics Challenge, an attempt to read one classic book per month.(less)
I came across What Katy Did while browsing bookshelves at The Works (and I also bought What Katy Did Next & What Katy Did at School and Little Wom...moreI came across What Katy Did while browsing bookshelves at The Works (and I also bought What Katy Did Next & What Katy Did at School and Little Women & Good Wives, all Wordsworth Classics editions). I knew nothing about What Katy Did, which seems to be a relatively unknown children's classic. I thought it would be similar to books such as Betsy-Tacy and Milly-Molly-Mandy but for a slightly older age group, which it is. At first.
Katy Carr is a spontaneous and playful 12-year-old who is the storytelling queen to her little brothers and sisters – Clover, Dorry, Joanna (also known as John or Johnnie), young Elsie, and baby Phil – because she is the oldest of the six. Mother Carr died when Katy was eight, leaving her in charge of her young siblings. But Katy is always getting into some sort of trouble, whether it's because she has been talking in class or because she has broken a new vase given to her as a gift. She tears her clothes because she's always rushing to be somewhere else, somewhere more fun. Katy is not inconsiderate or malicious, just a little careless! She's a young girl who is full of ambition yet often makes mistakes – although is always a little cheeky about it. I thought Katy was a feisty, stand-out character whose personality really shone through, and I thought the fun childish antics would continue throughout the story, such as playing Kikeri – a game similar to hide and seek – in the dark even though her family has banned the game.
When Katy is involved in an accident, the novel (unexpectedly!) gets a little darker. Katy is left dejected and feeling helpless until cousin Helen, who is unable to walk, pays a visit and offers Katy hope and some much needed advice. And yes, it may be old-fashioned and out-dated advice, but then again the novel is 141 years old! I admired the positive outlook of this unexpected (because I failed to read the synopsis first!) twist. And although I do not feel the accident would have the same impact today, meaning that it's actually even sadder in hindsight, its upbeat attitude meant that I still became wrapped up in Katy's world.
What Katy Did is a delightful children's classic that manages to be charming yet poignant in an unexpected way. I did not expect it to be so moving and the ending wraps up nicely, leading, I imagine, straight onto the next book: What Katy Did Next. If you're looking to branch out into children's fiction and for something a little more unknown, but still worth the read, it's the perfect book. It's full of everything I enjoy about old children's books with but a serious side too. (less)
When I said I was going to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I received a lot of surprised looks. It's probably safe to say that it’s not som...moreWhen I said I was going to read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I received a lot of surprised looks. It's probably safe to say that it’s not something I’d ever usually consider reading. So why did I? Firstly because two of my favourite book vloggers, The Readables & Books and Quills, had either read it or were reading it, and I trust their judgement. Secondly, it was only 99p (less than $1) on Amazon. And lastly, because it worked perfectly for my 2012 Classics Challenge (i.e. to read one classic per month).
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is probably more of a contentious ‘classic’ than the others I’ve read this year, but I decided to include it because I consider it to be a ‘cult classic’. It’s a huge international bestseller and highly influential within its genre. In the forward, Russell T. Davies says, “…in my whole life, I can’t remember a book being so shared. We owned it with pride, so many of us – not just the elite, but the whole range…”. The love for this novel spans generations and it’ll continue to be loved by children/teenagers and adults like.
I enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a lot more than I thought I would. I’d seen it described as ‘silly’ (though not necessarily as a critique) but I actually didn’t think it was silly at all. It struck me as being very, very British. I was mostly worried about the comedic aspect, rather than about it being set in outer space, but I adored its blunt, concise, and slightly satiric humour. I loved recognising certain phrases and references – so it occasionally felt strangely familiar – and the little nuggets of genius and imagination. It also felt strange to think that the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy device is really just an early version of Wikipedia.
I felt that the novel had a personality of its own. I liked the way it was told and its extremely fast-paced narrative, although this meant I often had to go back a few pages to remind myself what was going on (and there was a lot going on). It also made me think about idea of being able to create luxury planets. Considering it is quite a short book, there is so much to take from it, such as stand-out characters like Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and Marvin, or the hilarious quotes and scenarios. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an imaginative intergalactic adventure, well worth reading again and again.(less)
In my review of The Virgin Suicides, I mentioned that I considered it to be a 'classic' even though it was only published in 1993, so I guess I am pu...moreIn my review of The Virgin Suicides, I mentioned that I considered it to be a 'classic' even though it was only published in 1993, so I guess I am pushing the boundaries even more now because Life of Pi was published in 2001. However, I am not alone in considering it to be a 'classic' – 432 people so far on Goodreads have tagged it as such. And like The Virgin Suicides, it's one of those books that everybody has heard of, and not just because of the film adaptation. I chose Life of Pi to be my second classic of the year (I know, I know – I'm behind!) to coincide with the film, which I really need to see because it looks beautifully made, and because it was one of those books that I had always be meaning to read, but just never got round to it. I had seen it being referred to as 'fantasy' and conjured up in my mind a picture of a very happy, light-hearted story. I was incorrect. Again.
Life of Pi surprised me. It's both incredibly witty and incredibly harrowing. I read a lot of dark novels, in a way, from murder mystery to bleak dystopic societies, teenagers with cancer to post-apocalyptic wastelands, but it is rare that wit is incorporated. And you know what? It makes for an enjoyable combination and was my favourite aspect of the novel, along with the beautiful writing. It's described as 'masterful and utterly original' and I have to agree; it is like nothing I have read before. Simply, it's a fascinating tale about an attempt to survive on a lone lifeboat in the Pacific – the strength it takes to carry on, persevering through the boredom, unquenchable thirst, the sheer terror of being trapped with a dangerous animal, constantly afraid of making the wrong move, which may result in your sudden death. It was uncomfortable to read at times (especially as I am fond of turtles). In a novel where not a lot 'happens', everything is heightened. I both could and couldn't possibly imagine Pi's desperate, lugubrious situation.
And yet it is not one of my favourite novels. I wasn't swayed, for the lack of a better word, by the discussions of God and religion and faith. It simply does not interest me (I read The Shack because of the mystery plot...) and it does take up quite a bit of the novel, especially at the beginning. Because of this, I find it difficult to look at Life of Pi as more than the sum of its parts. There is plenty I enjoyed telling other people about: survival (I feel I have learned a lot), Richard Parker, Pi's childhood, but it isn't enough to make it wholly memorable for me. Yet I appreciated the unexpected and underlying humour, from the set up of the story describing Pi's life in a zoo and how his father warned him about tigers, to Pi's blunt humour under the most extreme circumstances – and his ability to make fun of himself. I couldn't help but find him an endearing character, quite a feat when he's really the only character.
Life of Pi is known for its iconic cover, depicting a boy, a boat, and a tiger, but there is a lot more to get out of it. It's well worth the read, if only to see what everyone else is talking about!(less)
I chose The Day of the Triffids to be my third classic book of the year because I knew that John Wyndham's books were cult classics within the science...moreI chose The Day of the Triffids to be my third classic book of the year because I knew that John Wyndham's books were cult classics within the science fiction genre. The Day of the Triffids was published in 1951 and except for the lack of modern technology, you would scarcely believe that it was not published yesterday.
I'd be forgiven for expecting The Day of the Triffids to be really quite silly. I did not mind at all, but that's just what I expected. The Day of the Triffids starts with Bill Masen waking up in a hospital bed, in silently chaotic London, England, as one of the last people to retain their eyesight. Widespread blindness has turned people either vulnerable or violent, with some attempting to enslave those who can see, turning them into personal guide dogs. But there's another menace – Triffids, walking poisonous, flesh-eating plants, who shoot to kill.
Bill Masen must simply survive in this lonesome world. He must accept the bleak future ahead, and that is why The Day of the Triffids is so captivating. I pictured the Triffids to be more bulbous than they appear in the BBC adaptation, but no less freakish. Yet, as I said, The Day of the Triffids never once comes across as silly. Perhaps it's because it is set in familiar streets, such as Piccadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue, or because the Triffids are not cartoonish monsters, but eerie, dangerous organisms that can kill a human being within seconds by blasting them with poison.
The Day of the Triffids also paints a chilling picture of how quickly social structures are altered once the majority of the population are unable to see. It no longer matters what social class you are, or where you buy your fancy clothes, just how useful you can now be. It shows just low in the food chain humans can become if a worldwide bodily catastrophe occurs. What, now, is the enemy?
The Day of the Triffids is not particularly action-packed or fast-paced, but it will have you on the edge of your seat all the same, as it's strength is in its ability to allow you to imagine how you would react while everybody around you is in despair. I'm excited about John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, which I've already purchased, and I'd also like to check out The Midwich Cuckoos.
When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.(less)
Anne of Green Gables is classic novel published nearly 105 years ago, and one of the most refreshing children's novels I have ever read, full of energ...moreAnne of Green Gables is classic novel published nearly 105 years ago, and one of the most refreshing children's novels I have ever read, full of energy and vigour (although I read after finishing that it wasn't originally intended to be a children's novel, but a novel aimed at all ages). I chose Anne of Green Gables to be my last classic of 2012 because it was one of those novels I felt I had known about forever, but had just never read.
Marilla and Matthew, two siblings living on Prince Edward Island, Canada, decide to adopt an orphan boy to help out on their farm. But when Matthew goes to pick up the boy from the train station, he is shocked to find little red-headed Anne Shirley, and is instantly taken to her, charmed by her enthusiasm and talent for chattering.
Anne Shirley, or as she likes to call herself, Cordelia ('It's such a perfectly elegant name'), is one of the most intelligent, witty, articulate and likeable child protagonists I have ever come across. She's utterly fantastic and made me wish I was as awesome and imaginative as her when I was a child. She fervently disapproves of anything that leaves 'no scope for imagination' and is given to colourful outbursts ('my life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes'). I adored her imaginative, romantic exaggerations, which made me giggle and smile to myself, and her ability to see beauty in everything, which is rather fluffy, but lovely. She is so glad to live 'in world where there are Octobers'. It's like a 1900s Tumblr. I love it. Adults are sometimes threatened by Anne's extensive vocabulary, but she doesn't dumb herself down for anybody.
Anne of Green Gables is also surprisingly progressive. I was thrilled to read the characters talk of how brilliant it would be if women could vote, and it's the women who travel miles to the next town to watch a political tour. Out of context, some passages will seem old fashioned to the point of offensive, such as Anne saying she'd 'rather be pretty than clever', but the irony is that she's one of the smartest children at her school. I think this is more of a set up so we can see how much Anne changes over time, especially as Marilla is always encouraging her to more about being intelligent.
Anne of Green Gables now one of my favourite novels and one I'll keep coming back to. I wish I had highlighted my own copy since I found it in a used bookshop for only 50p, although I would've ended up highlighting the entire book. A Vintage Children's Classics edition will be published later this year – I may have to add it to my collection. I dare you all not to be enchanted by young Anne Shirley!(less)
I chose Betsy-Tacy to be my ninth classic of the year after I came across it while browsing my bookshelves. It's a book I haven't read for a long time...moreI chose Betsy-Tacy to be my ninth classic of the year after I came across it while browsing my bookshelves. It's a book I haven't read for a long time, perhaps 16 or 17 years. I remembered really enjoying the story and the illustrations as a young child so I thought it'd be perfect for my classics challenge and my attempt to read more children's classics.
Betsy-Tacy is the first book in a series, first published in 1940. It tells the story of two five-year-old girls – Betsy and Tacy – and the antics they get up to right up until marriage. I didn't know it at the time, but the series has 10 books! I only have the first book, showing how Betsy and Tacy first met (which did not go as planned for poor Betsy!) to how they came to be the best of friends. I adore how charming the book is. It's full of picnics on a hill, playing with paper dolls, turning a piano box into a playhouse, and dyeing sand the colour of Easter Eggs and putting it in fancy glass bottles to sell. It's old-fashioned and quaint and seems so far away from childhood today, but actually, even though I grew up in the 90s, it was actually quite similar. I loved to cross-stitch, turn the most unusual places (i.e. a very large fallen tree branch) into the most magical places, and I even had a kit where you'd put coloured sand into water, mould it, and put it into bottles! It was lovely to cuddle up with a blanket and go back to a time when the entertainment technology we use day-to-day didn't exist, only imagination.
Betsy-Tacy is a lovely story that's very idealistic in a white-picket-fence sort of way. Betsy and Tacy rarely suffer deep heartache or trouble, and when they do, it's brushed over quite quickly because it's simply not that sort of novel. It is meant to be delightful and charming, even with Betsy wailing about her new sister: 'It's a perfectly unnecessary baby'. It's in the vein of Little House and the Prairie and Milly-Molly-Mandy and has some wonderful illustrations, which really do add to the sweet story (although, as I've said before, I wish all stories had illustrations in them). It's an extremely quick novel to read, but hopefully I'll be able to find the next 9 books to see what happens to our two heroines. (less)
I Capture the Castle, published in 1949, is the tale of an eccentric poverty-stricken family living in a decrepit, crumbling yet picturesque castle: s...moreI Capture the Castle, published in 1949, is the tale of an eccentric poverty-stricken family living in a decrepit, crumbling yet picturesque castle: seventeen-year-old Cassandra aims to practice her writing skills since she no longer attends school by speedwriting in her notebook. Cassandra records day-to-day anecdotes about living with her older sister Rose, who is desperate to marry rich; her reclusive father, and once famous author, Mortmain, who now spends most of his time reading detective novels in the attic; and Topaz, his much younger lutenist wife. The Mortmain household is depressive, stagnant and extremely poor until two Americans arrive at the village to claim their inheritance.
I Capture the Castle is very much a character-driven novel. Cassandra reminded me a lot of one of my other favourite fictional heroines from classic literature - Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Cassandra is witty, intelligent and imaginative, and has a talent for closely watching and understanding other people. She can be quite blunt to the point of rudeness, and the diary-like narrative only serves to make it even more enjoyable: 'Stephen is coming across the courtyard... He is eighteen now, very fair and noble-looking but his expression is just a fraction daft' and then a few pages later 'It was most unfair of me to say he looks a fraction daft'.
Each person, for they jump out of the page too much to be called characters, in I Capture the Castle adds a little more colour to the already dazzling story, from Neil and Simon, our American visitors, to the family they bring with them. It's easy to tell who Cassandra is talking about even without her mentioning them by name because they all have distinctive traits, and the reader gets to greet each person Cassandra meets. After all, what else is there to do in a run-down castle, but talk with other people? Speaking of which, the castle itself almost becomes a character; I came to know it quite well. I'd know which way to turn and which stairwells to avoid due to years of deterioration. I Capture the Castle does not simply tell you about 1930s English countryside, it draws you completely in.
I Capture the Castle is an insightful, veritable snapshot of the lives of at times the very ordinary, and other times very extraordinary, Mortmain family, from March to October of the same year. I loved watching each character develop throughout the story, as the seasons change, when their new neighbours alter their lives forever, and in a way that isn't very black and white. I Capture the Castle is an underrated children's classic, overshadowed by 101 Dalmatians, also by Dodie Smith, that needs to be read by anybody looking for something more.
If you have been convinced to read I Capture the Castle, I would suggest the beautiful Vintage Children's Classics edition, which includes discussion questions, a quiz, and a who's who guide at the end. (less)
I chose And Then There Were None as my fifth classic of the year because it's 'the world's best-selling mystery' with 'over 100 million copies sold'....moreI chose And Then There Were None as my fifth classic of the year because it's 'the world's best-selling mystery' with 'over 100 million copies sold'. Who hasn't heard of Agatha Christie? I love reading books that have puzzling plots yet I've read so few, and so I thought it was time to pick up a mystery classic (which had, shall we say, two not so politically correct previous titles).
I rarely come across a book that I am able to summarise in so few words, but here it is: And Then There Were None is the story of ten individuals who are invited to an isolated house on Soldier Island, Devon. During their first dinner together, a recorded message accuses each of them of a terrible crime. One by one, they begin to die. One of guests must be the killer, but who is it? The idea for And Then There Were None is so simple yet it must've been extremely difficult to execute. Agatha Christie does it brilliantly and the book deserves its praise and critical acclaim.
I read And Then There Were None in three hours without putting it down; a completely terrifying and thrilling experience. I loved reading about each of the characters at the beginning. I made a note of them - who they were and how they ended up on the island - and crossed them off as they died, which initially was done to aid my memory, but it made the reading experience much more exciting. The deaths are not at all gruesome so if you're worried about that - don't be! I made a guess as to who the murderer was - I was wrong. It has an absolutely brilliant, surprising ending that I can't imagine anyone would figure out themselves.
I've only given one other book this year so far the 5/5 rating. And Then There Were None may not be a book I'll treasure forever but after reading it I wanted to enthusiastically recommend it to everyone I knew. It has those moments that make you sit up and gasp, and wonder how you didn't notice them before. I genuinely had chills running down my spine - as cliché as that may sound. It's extremely well paced - not too fast, not too slow. The story has lots of detail and yet the chapters feel quite short. It all adds to the eerie atmosphere.
And Then There Were None is a compelling introduction to the mystery genre that constantly kept me on edge. It's clever, gripping, and was a wonderful surprise. I'm now really looking forward to checking out some of Agatha Christie's other books, in particular, Murder on the Orient Express and The Mysterious Affair at Styles.(less)
Rebecca is a tale of romantic suspense, written in the 1930s: ‘Mrs. de Winter narrates the haunting events surrounding her marriage to Maxim de Winter...moreRebecca is a tale of romantic suspense, written in the 1930s: ‘Mrs. de Winter narrates the haunting events surrounding her marriage to Maxim de Winter and her growing obsession with his first wife, the beautiful, now dead Rebecca.’
I chose Rebecca to be the second book for my 2012 Classics Challenge (i.e. reading classic book every month) because I hadn’t heard of the novel, or it at least hadn’t registered with me, until last year. I then started to see more and more comments from people who said it was their favourite classic. I became curious about the book and the reasons why it resonates with so many people. I had a perfect excuse to pick it up, then, when I was given New Girl by Paige Harbison to review, a young adult contemporary novel based on Rebecca.
Rebecca is a slow, but not at all tedious, read. Daphne du Maurier gradually creates an unbearably tense atmosphere, which was my favourite aspect of the novel. It was unlike anything I’ve read. I’d feel the atmosphere when Mrs Danvers – she terrified me – entered the room when Mrs de Winter was alone, and I’d keep thinking about it long after I’d put the book down. I personally did not find the novel thrilling – the mystery was unexpected, but not horrifying – but it was certainly suspenseful. I also enjoyed the juxtaposition between the past and present Mrs de Winters.
I also have to acknowledge that I thought Rebecca was extremely readable and ‘current’. I’d often forget that I was reading a book that was written in the 1930s. It’s probably just my own prejudices but I often feel that ‘classics’ are unapproachable and, well, difficult to read, but I cannot say that in this case. It’s a wonderfully easy, but not meager, novel to become immersed in.
Overall, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Rebecca – it’s readable, exquisitely written, and suspenseful. I’m glad that I decided to pick it up; I shall not hesitate to recommend it to others. I am more likely to read Jane Eyre now that I think I finally ‘get’ Gothic literature.(less)