Jane is a poor, plain orphan girl living with her aunt Reed and cousins Georgiana, John and Eliza. She has no friends or protectors now that her uncle...moreJane is a poor, plain orphan girl living with her aunt Reed and cousins Georgiana, John and Eliza. She has no friends or protectors now that her uncle is dead, and with her active imagination sees his ghost in the Red Room where she is locked up as punishment. Sent to a girl's school in the country where she is promptly forgotten, she makes her first friend in Helen Burns - who is taken from her when typhus sweeps through the school.
Conditions afterward improve somewhat and she becomes a teacher at the school. Desirous of making her own way, though, she puts out an ad for a governess position and secures one at Thornfield Hall, teaching a little French girl called Adele who is ward to the master of the house, Mr Rochester. Rochester is almost always absent but when he does return home they form an unlikely and, for Jane, a surprising friendship.
Her new happiness increases as she finds herself falling in love with the bad-tempered man, only to have it beaten at when he boldly hints at marrying Miss Blanche Ingram, a very pretty but cold young woman who lives nearby. The truth will out, though, in more ways than one, and at the peak of her happiness, Jane's world will shatter irrevocably. Or perhaps not...
This remains one of my favourite books. I first read it in primary school - and right proud I was too of reading such a grown-up book! - and have found that the Jane and Rochester pairing is as wonderful as Lizzy and Darcy, if not better, 'cause let's face it, Rochester is a lot more intense and Jane is such a familiar, shy girl who just needs the right person to notice and appreciate her.
I can read this in just a couple of days, though I like to savour it. The writing is a bit sickly in the scene where Jane threatens to leave - I have a hard time picturing Rochester like that, behaving like such a little boy! The third section where Jane lives with her new-found relatives is the least interesting (I've never liked St. John). I also don't like how she gives St. John the last word. But none of this takes anything away from the overall power this story continues to have over me.(less)
I first read this several years ago, around 2003 I think, while I was living in Japan. I remember really struggling to read the first chapter, which i...moreI first read this several years ago, around 2003 I think, while I was living in Japan. I remember really struggling to read the first chapter, which is the narrator's description and explanation of a character called Robert Cohn. I don't know why I had so much trouble reading it, just that I couldn't follow it, couldn't keep track of it. It wasn't a good way to start. Then, I was hoping right up to the last page for a happy ending. I felt cheated that I didn't get it. Kind of like "why the hell did I read this then?"
This time around (reading it again for a book club - I missed the meeting, incidentally), because I knew what to expect, I could focus on all the other things in the novel, knowing that the narrator, Jake, would still be alone at the end of it. That he wouldn't get to keep Brett. And I had no trouble reading the first chapter. Really, the prose is incredibly easy to read, simplistic even, except for when the descriptions get vague.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Set in 1924, Fiesta is the story of Jake, an American living and working in Paris, who goes to Pamplona in Spain to see the bull fighting with some friends, a mix of American and English ex-pats - one of which is Brett, Lady Ashley, a beautiful and charismatic woman of 34 who's waiting for her divorce to come through so she can marry a bankrupt, Mike Campbell.
Jake and Brett met during the war, when he was recovering from an injury. They fell in love, but his injury was of the groin variety so they can't be physically together - hence, she doesn't want to stay with him even though she loves him. Instead, she has casual relationships and affairs, while Jake has to watch. Sometimes he even introduces them. But there's nothing he can do about it.
The story is heavily detailed with the kind of descriptions that, while apparently perfectly acceptable in classics and other works of literature, can be the cause of some rather heavy criticism in genre fiction. Like so:
"I unpacked my bags and stacked the books on the table beside the head of the bed, put out my shaving things, hung up some clothes in the big armoire, and made up a bundle for the laundry. Then I took a shower in the bathroom and went down to lunch." (p.207)
It would be petty of me to ask, Where else would he take a shower? wouldn't it. Shame.
This book is all prose, very little plot. It's not that it's wordy, rather that it reads like a mouth full of crooked, over-crowded teeth. The dialogue is very 20s-specific, and if I was the kind of reviewer who liked to write snappy, witty, clever little reviews, the first thing I'd do is satirise the dialogue. Like so:
"I feel so rotten!" Brett said. "Don't be a damned fool," Jake said. "The count's a brick." "Let's have a drink." "Here's the pub." "This is a hell of a place," Bill said. "Why don't you see when you're not wanted, Cohn? Go away. Take that sad Jewish face away," said Mike. "I feel like hell. Don't let's talk," said Brett. "It's been damned hard on Mike." "Do you still love me Jake?" asked Brett. "Yes." "Because I'm a goner. I'm in love with the bullfighting boy." "It's been damned hard on Mike." "Where's that beer?" Mike asked.
And so on. A lot of repetition, a lot of drunken mouthing off, a lot of really very pointless, empty conversation that goes round and round in circles. The problem is, of course, that the characters are all horrible, shallow, self-interested, boorish, ill-mannered, childish tourists, the kind that make you cringe. Jake is probably the only character you can feel any real sympathy for, but even he has his moments.
As the first-person narrator, it's amazing how little we know Jake's thoughts. He hides behind recounting pointless dialogue and describing mundane things. There are times when he gets thoughtful, wistful even, and those parts are what make the novel worthwhile. It's also very easy to feel like you're in Paris, and Spain. The heavily descriptive prose does help create a realistic, breathing setting. Especially when they reach Pamplona, to watch the bull-fighting. It just also happens to be the place where their behaviour becomes even more embarrassing.
I'm not sure if Hemingway was criticising his fellow ex-pats or not - but I think he is. Maybe he was just describing it how it was - and it is believable. Jake isn't a judgemental character, but I wonder how much of that is Jake and how much Hemingway? This edition doesn't come with any additional notes or introductions or appendices, so I haven't read anything about the novel that might shed light on this. As a chronicle of ex-pat life, especially among those who have money, in the 20s, and of bull-fighting, it's a success. But it's still two-dimensional.
As for the bull-fighting, it's one of the more interesting sections, especially towards the end where there's an involved recounting of three bull-fighters at work. We now know that bull's are red-green colour-blind; it's the movement of the cape that enrages them, not the colour. So I wonder what was wrong with the bull Jake assumed was colour-blind?
As simplistic as I've made this novel sound, there is quite a lot going on in the details, things that make it both interesting and deplorable. The bull fighting, for instance, is both a commemoration and a presentation of a highly controversial topic. There's certainly a parallel between the beauty and brutality of the bull-fighting, and the way these ex-pats treat each other. They are at once unlikeable, and likeable. It just goes to show how confounding humans can be, and how contradictory.(less)
Only Dahl could make such a delightful children's story out of two such miserable, horrid, nasty characters! Of course, he knew how to write an ending...moreOnly Dahl could make such a delightful children's story out of two such miserable, horrid, nasty characters! Of course, he knew how to write an ending that would satisfy our (childish?) sense of justice. It's been years since I read this book, but it was just as I remembered it: delightfully wicked, uproariously funny, and a little sad.
Mr and Mrs Twit are two very ugly people, whose ugliness reflects the ugliness of their hearts. They live in a windowless brick house, play mean and spiteful tricks on each other, and keep a family of monkeys in a cage in the yard, which Mr Twit trains to be the first Upside-Down circus - forcing the poor things to stand on their heads for hours.
Mr Twit also uses an incredibly powerful glue to catch birds for Mrs Twit's bird pie - he paints it on the branches of a dead tree by the monkeys' cage and when the birds land in it to roost, they are stuck fast. When the monkeys meet a bird that can speak their language, they warn it of the danger and it spreads the word to the other birds, so thwarting the Twits. It is only the first step in the monkeys' revenge to give the Twits a dose of their own medicine!
As a child, all my sympathies were in the right place: I laughed at the cruel things the Twits did to each other, because they are funny and they're not sympathetic characters (the saying, they deserve each other, applies well to this pair); I felt upset at the poor tortured monkeys and the poor stuck birds; and I cheered the animals on in their plan to get rid of the Twits once and for all. Since it was also clearly fiction, I certainly didn't see it as a lesson in how to treat real people. The difference is quite obvious. But it does appeal to what I referred to as a "childish" sense of justice - that sense of what's fair that is beaten out of us by experience.
The book wouldn't be complete without Quentin Blake's illustrations, which so delectably capture Dahl's concise descriptions and flesh them out to wicked proportions for our feasting imagination. And, this being one of Dahl's more comic stories, there's plenty of fodder for the imagination (I should also point out that the nastiness of the Twits never bothered me partly because I read it after having watched many times, a-hem, an adult sitcom from the UK called The Young Ones - which quickly became a family favourite and still gets quoted at opportune times - so the Twits seemed like harmless fun to me).
A note on this edition: Dahl's books are usually published by Puffin, the children's imprint of Penguin, and they do a fine job. This is the U.S. Scholastic school library edition, with the same cover and everything, but the binding is very very cheap and nasty and I don't recommend it. I don't like Scholastic for their cheap bindings - I have other books printed by them and they always feel like they're going to fall apart, and the pages are puckered inside. Funny, considering it's meant for school distribution only - the way kids handle books (i.e., roughly), they can't last very long at all!(less)
I got this book in 1988, when I was eight or nine years old, and it was a dear favourite of mine. The story of Danny and his fantastic dad, and their...moreI got this book in 1988, when I was eight or nine years old, and it was a dear favourite of mine. The story of Danny and his fantastic dad, and their life in the old gypsy caravan by the petrol pumps and garage - it was at once a whole new other world, and something very near and dear to me.
Danny is raised by his dad, a mechanic and Danny's hero. They live in a colourful wooden caravan under a large apple tree, serving petrol and fixing cars. Danny's father teaches him all about cars and how to fix them, and Danny is a great help in the garage. At night his dad tells him fabulous stories, and when Danny starts school at seven, his dad walks him there and back every day. Danny has the best life, and he loves his dad more than anything.
Then one night Danny wakes up to find his dad missing. Anxious, because it is the first time his father has disappeared like this, Danny waits up for him. When his father returns, Danny learns that his dad has a secret: he's a pheasant poacher! His own dad was one before him and came up with several ingenius ways of poaching the birds, and Danny's own mother used to join him on poaching nights. This night marked the first night Danny's father had been out in the private woods - owned by the brutish Mr Victor Hazell - since Danny was born.
And so, Danny's father introduces Danny into the world of pheasant poaching - and Danny discovers that virtually the entire town enjoys a spot of pheasant poaching! Even the doctor and the policeman and the minister's wife is involved - and no one likes Mr Hazell, with his "tiny piggy eyes" and "smug superior little smile". But it is Danny himself who comes up with the most clever poaching plan ever conceived - a way to steal all one hundred and twenty birds at once, the night before Mr Hazell's shooting party arrives!
Perhaps because of the different illustrator, or perhaps because it is more of a realistic and human story than many of Dahl's other, Danny the Champion of the World has a different tone and feel to it than classics like The Witches and The BFG. It is more like his memoir of his childhood, Boy, and similar works. It is written for children, and has humour and a lightness of spirit to it, but it is also more serious. In keeping the story "real", though, Dahl shows just how fantastic our real lives can be, without giants and witches and other fantastical things.
It is also a story of one boy's childhood in what I figure was the early 50s, and as such it reads like a story of a completely by-gone era. The chances of someone now having a childhood like Danny's is pretty slim, and so there's something nostalgic about his story - perhaps, again, inspired by Dahl's own childhood, not in the details of the story but in the characters, and the mischief. It's also nostalgic in that small English village way, where everyone knows everyone's secrets, finds clever ways of pulling the wool over the eyes of people they don't like, and can generally be counted upon in a pinch.
In the schemes for poaching pheasants, there is definitely a touch of the wildly flamboyant Dahl we all know and love: "The Horse-hair Stopper" and "The Sticky Hat"; and in the description of oafish and cruel Victor Hazell. Danny's father, who's never named, is a fantastic figure, and when Danny calls him the best father in the world, you find yourself easily agreeing with him. Well, he may be at times irresponsible and a little wild, but he has the qualities you want in a great father - and this is Dahl's message, proudly spelled out at the back of the book:
A MESSAGE to Children Who Have Read This Book
When you grow up and have children of your own do please remember something important
a stodgy parent is no fun at all
What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is
It's great, even as an adult, to come to that at the end of the book (something I had completely forgotten was there) and be reminded of what I loved and admired in adults when I was a kid. I loved the artist friend of my parents who, when he and his wife came over for dinner, would take the time to entertain us with magic tricks and make us laugh. Or my nanna when she would put me on her lap and read fairy tales to me. Or my dad (and grandad) when he'd lie on his back in the passage, put me on his feet, and toss me over his head, always catching me and setting me on my feet. Learning about plants with my mum. These are the memories we keep, after all - the ones that chase the darker shadows away. It seems like the current trend in parenting is to fill your kids' days with activities, sport, hobbies, studies, rather than spend time having fun with them. Or even to buy horrid plastic toy sets and computer games for toddlers and older - it's so much better to let kids invent their own games, make their own toys and things out of random household odds and ends and scraps, and play amongst themselves.
Danny's inventiveness in the poaching scheme earns well-deserved praise from his dad and others, and his father calls him the champion of the world - far from being a form of gross steroid to a child's self-esteem, it humbles Danny but leaves him re-affirmed in the greatness of his one remaining parent. The two are a close family unit who share everything with each other, and so it doesn't matter that they're poor, that they live in a little caravan with just a little paraffin stove to heat up food on: they have each other, and love, and great stories and fantastic adventures. Having money isn't the key to happiness, is I think Dahl's other message here.
On a side note, it was interesting reading this after so many years, because I had a vivid memory of one of Bennett's illustrations at the very end of the book, which doesn't exist! I remembered it ending - with accompanying illustration - with all the pheasants roosting in the apple tree above the caravan. I must have invented this ending for myself, as a child, and improved upon it each time I read it until it supplanted the real ending in my head. I've done this with other things from my childhood, so it wouldn't surprise me in the least. It is the ending I would have liked, but not a realistic one! (less)
I think this was the first Dahl book I ever read, though my memory's a bit confused now - it was either this book or Danny the Champion of the World;...moreI think this was the first Dahl book I ever read, though my memory's a bit confused now - it was either this book or Danny the Champion of the World; I think it was this one. I think I borrowed it so many times from the school library that my mother caved and bought it for me - inside the front cover, where I've written my name and the year (1988 - when I was 8), it says "TREAT!" in big letters. We didn't get things very often outside of birthdays and Christmas, so when I did get something as a treat it was doubly special to me.
The BFG is about Sophie, an orphan, who one night during the "witching hour" in the middle of the night, when she can't sleep, goes to the window and sees something extraordinary: a giant, as tall as a two-storey house or more, peering into bedroom windows as he goes down the street. The giant sees her, plucks her from her room and runs off, running so fast and so far she has no idea where she is when he finally stops - which turns out to be in Giant Country.
The giant has an underground cave with a giant-sized table and chair, and shelves full of glass jars. Sophie is sure she's going to be eaten, but it turns out the giant who kidnapped her is the BFG - the Big Friendly Giant. (His English isn't very good and is riddled with grammatical mistakes, so you have to forgive him for calling himself a big giant.) However, the other giants - much bigger than the BFG - aren't friendly at all. Every night they race off to different countries to guzzle down humans. They're smelly, hairy, ignorant and lazy, but they're very very big and very very strong. The BFG lives on a disgusting vegetable called the Snozzcumber - it looks like a giant pimply cucumber and tastes simply awful.
Sophie learns all about the BFG's life, and what he was doing looking into children's bedrooms at night: he collects dreams, and the good ones he blows into children's rooms while they are sleeping, so they have good dreams. His jars are full of dreams, each labelled with the gist of the dream in the BFG's childlike writing:
I IS MAKING MYSELF A MARVELUS PAIR OF SUCTION BOOTS AND WHEN I PUT THEM ON I IS ABLE TO WALK STRATE UP THE KITSHUN WALL AND ACROSS THE CEILING. WELL, I IS WALKING UPSIDE DOWN ON THE CEILING WHEN MY BIG SISTER COMES IN AND SHE IS STARTING TO YELL AT ME AS SHE ALWAYS DOES, YELLING WOT ON EARTH IS YOU DOING UP THERE WALKING ON THE CEILING AND I LOOKS DOWN AT HER AND I SMILES AND I SAYS I TOLD YOU YOU WAS DRIVING ME UP THE WALL AND NOW YOU HAS DONE IT. (pp.104-5)
The BFG's dream collection gives Sophie an idea for how to rid the world of the giants, but it will involve cunning, courage and the help of a very important lady.
I know this story so well that even though I haven't read it in years, every word seemed familiar to me as I read along. It all came back, not in a rush but in a trickle, as I read. It makes for a very comforting, fond read! I felt a little bit like I connected with my eight-year-old self, because I could also recall how I felt about the different scenes. Like the very beginning, with Sophie awake in the dead of night - the witching hour - and seeing the giant in the moonlit street and trying to hide behind the curtains. I remember how that scene filled my head as a child, seeming much larger and deeper a scene, Dahl's words crafting something much bigger than a mere children's book. And I felt some of that again, felt the chills, the anticipation, the fear of the other giants, the wonderment of the almost invisible dreams, and laughed at the funny stories the dreams wanted to share with children.
So the magic was still there. I think, with Dahl, it always will be. He was such an amazing story-teller, no one really compares to him. He had such fun with his stories, with delighting children and, I'm sure, making their parents laugh despite themselves. He wasn't ashamed to play, to have fun, and to make the world an exciting place. And he taught us how to love language, and how to have fun with it.
No doubt, if you never read any Dahl as a kid, starting as an adult probably won't satisfy as much. (For you, I would recommend Henry Sugar, a collection of short stories for adults that are quite different, almost disturbing, in a fascinating, can't-look-away way.) Then again, maybe they will. I would like to think they would. And you can start anywhere, with any Dahl book, because while we fans have our favourites, they're all treasures. Other books of his came to eclipse The BFG as my favourite - The Witches, for one - but this book will always hold a special place for me. I like to give authors like Dahl credit for encouraging my imagination as a child, my wonderment, and my openness to other possibilities.
Reading The BFG as an adult, of course you notice implausibilities - not the giants, or the dreams, but in the plan to capture the other giants, for instance - but none of it matters. It makes sense to a child who built forts out of straw bales and sticks and made towns and roads for matchbox cars out of piles of fine gravel - I'm sure if Dahl were around today he would scorn the plastic junk toys and computer games that keep kids indoors, glued to a screen or stifled by a toy that only has one function.
One thing that I still find refreshing about Dahl - especially after the spate of YA books I've read over the last few years which like to pretend that teenagers don't even swear - oh golly gosh! - is that he's very un-PC. I've never ever found his books to be offensive in any way; rather, he felt even more like a family friend for being so real about things. It does make me wonder, though, if the days of someone who writes like this - for children - getting published are over. I'm sure there are authors writing today who are just as irreverent and silly and a bit rude, I just can't think of any right now.
Dahl wasn't just an author to me, as a kid - he was like the best uncle ever, a mentor, someone you looked up to and wanted to make proud. You wanted his attention as much as you wanted to hear his stories. You wanted a bit of Dahl in your life, however small. Because he was magic, and I'm so glad I still have that.
Well, this isn't really a review of the book, is it, so much as a memorial service twenty years too late - but that's what The BFG means to me, and that's what I wanted to share. :) (less)
I've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one you...moreI've been a fan of Heyer's historical romances since I first read my mum's old copy of Beauvallet when I was a teenager. If you've never read one you don't know what you're missing! My edition is very old, actually it's the First Australian Edition from 1948, it has no dust jacket, and the pages are brown and brittle. I have 39 of her romances (she also wrote about eight detective books with the help of her detective husband, but I've not read any of them); there are about three or four I don't have, though I've read almost all of them.
It is 1586 and Dona Dominica and her father, the late governor of the island of Santiago, are returning to Spain by ship when their vessel is captured by a British pirate - by the infamous Sir Nicholas Beauvallet, no less! Dubbed "Mad Nick", he is a dashing figure, tall and dark with a "neat" head of curly black hair, bright, mocking blue eyes and a pointy beard as was the fashion, friend of Sir Francis Drake and pet of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. He's a bit of a devil and laughs at everything. Finding the beautiful Dominica on board the Spanish galleon is a surprise, but Beauvallet commits himself to taking them safely to a Spanish port despite how incredibly dangerous and reckless it is. He's fallen in love with the spirited Spanish woman, and pledges to come back for her within a year and "make an Englishwoman of her".
Dominica doesn't believe him, but despite everything finds herself wishing it were true. Once Beauvallet decides on a thing, he doesn't waste much time, but getting into Spain isn't an easy matter for any Englishman, let alone an infamous pirate whom the Spanish believe has witchcraft on his side. Circumstances see him and his valet, the finicky, chatty Joshua, enter Spain from France with a Frenchman's papers, and the disguise is a tenuous one. He has to fool the king of Spain, the French Ambassador, and the many Spanish nobles while locating Dominica and planning how to bring her out.
Tense with looming danger, Beauvallet is a rollicking ride of romance, sword fights, mad dashes across country, midnight escapes, scheming aunts, dastardly cousins and one very engaging, lovable hero. Dominica is spirited, fiesty and intelligent, quick-witted and interesting - it is not hard to see why Beauvallet would fall for her so quickly.
One of the most remarkable things about Heyer's work, of which most are set in Regency London, is the historical accuracy with which she writes. You could learn more from reading one of her books than from one written in the time it was set! From the details of the clothing, to the etiquette and social graces, types of equipage, dances, food, liqueur, sentiments, current affairs and manner of speech - Heyer has it all nailed down, and with effortless ease. Her prose is never stiff or self-conscious, but full of wicked humour and confidence. Her skill as a writer is especially manifest in her ability to write dialogue, which I've always wished to emulate, and her great cast of supporting characters. Reading Beauvallet is a bit like watching Blackadder the Second for me, from references to men's plate-sized ruffs to sneaky asides about Raleigh and here and there a "beshrew me!", making it one of the most comforting, familiar books for me to read in a day :)(less)
It is the summer holidays and Harry is once again whiling away his time at his hated aunt and uncle's house in Little Whinging, Surrey, but this time...moreIt is the summer holidays and Harry is once again whiling away his time at his hated aunt and uncle's house in Little Whinging, Surrey, but this time his time there is short: Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts himself, is coming to take him to the Burrow, where his best friend Ron Weasley lives, after a little side trip to visit an ex-teacher of Hogwarts, Horace Slughorn. Slughorn has a talent for surrounding himself with students who will go on to success, likes to "collect" them, and Dumbledore knows that the lure of Harry Potter - the "Chosen One" the papers are calling him now - will be enough to make him come back to Hogwarts to teach.
Harry assumes Slughorn will be taking the cursed Defence Against the Dark Arts job, but actually Slughorn is a Potions master and it is Severus Snape Dumbledore has given the DADA position to, much to Harry's shock and dismay. In his Potions class, Harry uses an old book from the store cupboard; it is heavily marked with corrections and additional instructions, and when Harry tries them he discovers he can make perfect potions - outshining Hermione for the first time ever. The previous owner declared themselves to be the "Half-Blood Prince", and alongside great potions tips are invented spells Harry eagerly tries out.
Staffing isn't the only change this year at Hogwarts: Dumbledore himself takes Harry on for additional "lessons". Together they explore memories of people that together paint a picture of Tom Riddle, now Lord Voldemort. Harry learns of his parentage, his life at the orphanage, his hunger for power and dark secrets, until finally he and Dumbledore discover the secret to killing Voldemort once and for all.
But meanwhile, Harry has his eye on Draco Malfoy, who seems up to something. Harry is convinced he's become a Death Eater and is trying to kill someone, and that Snape is helping him, but no one sees it as anything more than Harry's obsessive hatred for Malfoy and Snape.
Once again, there's a lot going on here and it's often interconnected, so it's hard to pull out the main plot points without giving everything away. After the mammoth size of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, this one seems almost short, but really it's the perfect size for the story it tells. Once again, I have no complaints with Rowling's writing, and she has managed to write a story that makes me feel like a kid again - completely absorbed in the magic of the world and the characters, something I always fear I've grown out of.
We get more of Dumbledore in this instalment than in any other, yet such is the figure of Dumbledore that I still feel like I don't really know him. I was mildly distracted during this reading by knowledge from the 7th book that I don't really want to share here in case you haven't read it, but that fore-knowledge affected the way I read scenes with Dumbledore and Snape, though my poor memory of book 7 meant that, while I knew there was something fishy going on, I couldn't remember exactly what it was. So, mystery remains intact, which is great, but now I'm thirsty to read Deathly Hallows not least to find out about the Snape-Dumbledore plot-line.
I find the title of this one interesting - it's a great title, but it's interesting to me because the Half-Blood Prince seems like such a minor element throughout. But then I thought, when you find out who the Half-Blood Prince is, it does actually work to bind the various elements of the story together, and reinforce the importance of a certain character (again, trying not to spoil it). Another part of me, the teacher part, was distracted - and always is, really - by the poor quality of pedagogy employed at this school; it's completely irrelevant really but the teachers do little more than supervise, they never actually teach, so it's no wonder a Potions book helped Harry so much. I just had to get that off my chest. I hate reading scenes set in classrooms that demonstrate poor and old-fashioned teaching styles.
Harry and his two best friends continue to mature - here, love finally intrudes. Ron and Hermione are realising their attraction to each other, but Ginny's taunts lead Ron to start snogging Lavender Brown every chance they get - though that wears thin for Ron pretty fast. And Harry starts to see Ginny as something much more than just the sister of his best friend. Dumbledore's insistence that it is love that will defeat Voldemort, that love is the one power Voldemort has never understood and continues to dismiss. Obviously there are many kinds of love, but it's so important and satisfying seeing Harry learn this kind of love.
On the other hand, I find the Bill and Fleur romance a bit odd - probably because it seems to just suddenly happen, when we had no idea Fleur was working at Gringotts and knew Bill, and also because we never see the two of them together - not until the very end, anyway. It just sticks out a bit, to me.
This is also the book where we learn about Voldemort's past, his parentage and his childhood. I loved the way this was done, it's certainly original and never dull (flashbacks can be hit-and-miss). I really appreciate the importance placed on understanding Tom Riddle - yes, in order to defeat him, but also in understanding how he is like he is, why. I would be instantly contemptuous of a story where there is Evil, with no explanation - my problem with old-fashioned Fantasy (and one of the reasons why I never got far reading Lord of the Rings). Evil doesn't just "happen", and in reality no one is "just evil" - Hitler was undoubtedly a horrible man suffering from personal issues but he believed he was a good person; it's just that his perception of good and bad was way off. Others, like Caligula, were plain mad. Then you get the ones whose deeds are proclaimed "good" depending on who's writing - like the Templars, and certain (if not all) missionaries. If Hitler had won, we wouldn't think of him as an "evil" man because we would have grown up in a different environment. My point being, there's no black-and-white, and even Tom Riddle cannot be dismissed simply as "evil", period. I find the Harry Potter books to be exceptional in encouraging children to explore the complexities of people and events, to think critically of them - children's minds are already in that space, but a poor education system and some media will quash it. There are wonderful themes and messages in these books.
As soon as I finished it, I put on the movie. It was a bit strange, going through the story all over again when the book was so fresh in my head, and the changes to fit the visual, film medium really jumped out at me and occasionally confused me - maybe I should take a longer break next time! Humour continues to be a strong element of the books, and nicely balances the darker, sadder themes and scenes, and is definitely present in the film as well. I love the Potions classes - the film even caught Hermione's increasingly bushy hair in the first class, as she struggles to make her potion work - and when Harry take Felix Felicis (liquid luck); makes me giggle! But I'm still not happy with the portrayal of Dumbledore, even if he is more serious in this book.(less)
There's nothing like re-reading absolute favourites, is there? This is only my third reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and it's ama...moreThere's nothing like re-reading absolute favourites, is there? This is only my third reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and it's amazing how many little things seemed new to me. The first time I read it was in I think 2000 (or whenever The Goblet of Fire came out), when I was at uni - a friend had recommended them but it wasn't until the fourth book was released and the hordes of small children queuing for a copy made news headlines that I really took notice. So I guess I jumped on the bandwagon! I don't regret it for a second though - sometimes the hype is perfectly justified, and sometimes kids really do know a good thing. I remember reading this one, and then as soon as I was done going straight out to the bookshop and getting the second one, and then the third - I think by the fourth I'd run out of money and had to borrow from my flatmate! It was like an addiction.
But this is where the story starts. Harry Potter is an orphan being reluctantly raised by his aunt, Petunia, and his uncle, Vernon, a horridly normal couple who know the secret of Petunia's sister Lily and intend to "stamp out the nonsense" in their nephew, Harry. They have a boy of their own, a repulsively fat and spoilt bully called Dudley, who's the same age as Harry. Harry sleeps in the cupboard under the stairs, gets all Dudley's cast-off clothing (which are way too big for him), and knows not one ounce of love in the Dursley household.
Then, just before his eleventh birthday, he gets mail. He has a place at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but his uncle is having none of it. It takes a visit from Hogwart's gamekeeper, a half-giant called Hagrid, to fill Harry in on who he really is and get him prepared for his new school. For Harry, his eleventh birthday is a day of many shocks and surprises, not least is learning that he's a wizard born. The bigger shock is learning that, in the wizarding world, he's famous: he is "the boy who lived", a baby who seemed to somehow defeat an evil wizard called Voldemort.
Harry's life has changed forever, but the adventure has only just begun.
There are so many things to love about Harry and this series, it's hard to know where to begin. From the moment I first read the opening sentence ten or so years ago, I was in love. The sardonic irony of the opening sentence reminded me so warmly of other British favourites of mine - Roald Dahl especially - that I felt like I was home. The characters are a genius of comic humour, caricatures of themselves, funny just for being who they are before they even open their mouths. Rowling describes them with a few sure, concise brushstrokes, and they leap to vivid life in your head.
I've always found Rowling to be an excellent writer - she laboured long and hard over these books and the effort was worth it; a far cry from the lazy writing of so many Young Adult authors, churning out the latest whatever-story to fit the latest popular fad before it gets too old. The early Harry Potter books are clearly written for children - older children, but pre-teen; as Harry ages, so did the audience, and the later books are more YA yet without alienating younger children just starting on them. Not to mention all the adults who've loved the series just as much, and you can understand why the books are so successful. There's something here for everyone, the humour reaching both children and adults, the adventures and mysteries suspenseful and exciting, the characters wonderful, the imaginative world a nice balance of traditional and original. The books still have the power to make me laugh, or bring tears to my eyes, and keep me on the edge of my seat.
It's curious, when you're re-reading a book, how you can find yourself reading a passage or even a whole chapter that feels utterly new to you. For me, it's the first chapter of this book. As familiar as I was with the opening sentence, the rest of the chapter up until the end when Dumbledore, McGonagall and Hagrid leave baby Harry on the Dursley's doorstep seemed new to me. Isn't that weird? I couldn't remember reading before about Vernon Dursley panicking at all the weird-looking people suddenly popping up, though I know I had to have read that before. So it felt like reading it for the first time.
This is actually my second copy of the book, a Canadian edition - my first (Bloomsbury) was ruined by mould: that's what comes of letting your brother store boxes of your books under his house while you're overseas - yes, on bare earth under a house on the side of a hill. It wasn't the only book to grow black mould and have to be thrown out. It's very painful, throwing out damaged books, but at least this one was easily replaceable.(less)
I had thought that the second Harry Potter book was my least favourite of the series, but on re-reading it ten or so years after the first read, I had...moreI had thought that the second Harry Potter book was my least favourite of the series, but on re-reading it ten or so years after the first read, I had to wonder: Why did I think that? This is a great story, full of adventure and mystery and suspense and danger, even more so than the first book. Harry's world keeps on expanding and being fleshed-out, the characters continue to grow (more thoughts on that below), and if it seems a shade paler to us now it's probably because of how much darker and more mature the later books are. There was so much here that I'd forgotten about but remembered enjoying hugely the first time around, and it was just as much fun this time too.
It's Harry's second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and it's easily his favourite place to be in the world. His aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley, have essentially locked and barred him in his room over the summer holidays lest his presence embarrass them, and it takes his best friend Ron and his brothers, Fred and George, to rescue him with a bespelled car that can fly.
But even before the school year has started, Harry has had a strange encounter: a house elf called Dobby - who is possibly Harry's biggest fan - has taken a huge risk to warn Harry that his life is in danger if he goes back to Hogwarts. Nothing is going to stop Harry escaping the Dursley's, though, not even missing the train back to school. And once there, it seems like Dobby's warning is coming true - at least, something is attacking students in the school, petrifying them, but Harry is the one being accused by his peers of being behind the attacks. Harry, Ron and Hermione are determined to find out who, or what, is behind the attacks, and what the Chamber of Secrets is - before the school is closed down for good.
Definitely, compared to some of the later books (especially after Goblet of Fire, in which the truly dark and tragic events matured Harry quickly), Harry, Ron and Hermione are less developed in The Chamber of Secrets than we would like, and yet I have to think back to my first read years ago and remember that this series began as a children's series, and when first reading them they didn't feel under-developed at all. Like many series, Harry Potter starts out with smaller steps (shorter books) and more contained story-lines; each book gets more and more involved, the plots get more complicated, and the personal side more detailed. From the perspective of new readers, it's the best way to introduce a new world and characters, making you feel like you're discovering it all alongside Harry, the newcomer. On a re-read, that sense of wonder and excitement comes back, and small details you'd forgotten or missed the first time around are more noticeable.
That said, there's very little of Hermione in this one, and little is added to Ron's character; there are a couple of new characters in Ron's sister, Ginny, and sweet little Colin Creevey who I'd forgotten all about but who I absolutely love, he's such an adorable little twit - what happened to him anyway? I don't remember him appearing in any of the other books, which seems a sad shame. There's also the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, the insufferable and vain Gilderoy Lockhart, who is rather priceless and more layered than many of the other characters. We learn why Hagrid was expelled fifty years ago, which is a sad story, and then there's Tom Riddle, and the parallels between him and Harry are definitely creepy.
I don't know how much of it is baby hormones and how much of it simply me being my usual sensitive self, but the ending really made my heart clench in my chest - the valiant and loyal Fawkes, Dumbledore's phoenix, helping Harry defeat his enemy, almost made me want to cry. I do tend to get weepy when animals do wonderful things for humans. And Dobby, protecting Harry at the end there - it's rather incredible to think of these little ugly house elves who are possibly more powerful than their human masters, being completely subjugated by them. And once free, where did Dobby go?
And then there's Dumbledore's words of wisdom at the end, where he says "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities." (p.245) It is very true, and an important thing to say to children especially, who are all too often pressured by high expectations, their parents' ambitions, peer pressure and their own concept of how people are valued, to push themselves and focus on achievement at the expense of character and healthy morals. By which I mean, you can be a champion Quidditch player and a mean person at the same time. (less)
Harry's summer with his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon ends badly, with him accidentally-on-purpose magically inflating his uncle's obnoxious sister, M...moreHarry's summer with his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon ends badly, with him accidentally-on-purpose magically inflating his uncle's obnoxious sister, Marge. Fleeing the Dursley's house on Privet Drive with all his belongings, Harry doesn't get far before despair takes over: not only does he have nowhere to go, but he's just used magic outside of school and while the last time he just got a warning from the Ministry of Magic, this time he's looking at expulsion from Hogwarts. And Hogwarts is the best thing in Harry's life.
But the Minister of Magic himself, Cornelius Fudge, has no intention of punishing Harry; quite the opposite in fact. And when Harry overhears Mr and Mrs Weasley arguing about the reason why, it comes clear: a wizard believed to be high up in Lord Voldemort's entourage has managed to escape Azkaban, the wizard prison, and everyone is certain he is after Harry - since it's indirectly Harry's fault that he ended up in prison and Voldemort was defeated. The escaped wizard is Sirius Black, and he does indeed seem to be after Harry when he's spotted inside Hogwarts, the one place everyone thought Harry would be safe in.
I've always considered this to be the book where the series took a turn into a darker realm, a more mature, adult realm. There was always the feel of something rather fun about the first two books, even though they too dealt with a dark plot - somehow, there was still a feel of childlike innocence to Harry and his friends that, by the end of book 3, is no longer there. Perhaps it's the werewolf, and the deeper insight into Harry's parents' deaths, but I'd say it's the Dementors, scary things that can suck the soul right out of you, that give this novel an element of horror and time-running-out for Harry.
Which is interesting, this feeling of time in The Prisoner of Azkaban: time plays a very important role, and the plotting of the book is very clever. I was impressed the first time I read this, and just as impressed now. I will say, though, that I really liked the movie adaptation of this one, and a lot of the scenes and visuals from the film filled my head as I was reading this, which made it feel a little lacking in lustre in comparison to the first two, the films of which I didn't care for and haven't seen as often as this one.
But I do love the third book, a great deal. It introduces two of my favourite characters: Professor Lupin and Sirius Black. I adore Lupin, he could very well be my favourite of the entire series - and the fact that he was played by David Thewlis only makes me love him even more. Same for Gary Oldman playing Sirius. Perfect casting (for all the films, in fact). Really, as a side topic, the movies are a who's-who of British acting, with all the big names nabbing a character. It's quite fun really, seeing who turns up. Anyway, the scene where Lupin is sleeping the carriage on the way to Hogwarts, eavesdrops on Harry's conversation with his friends, drives off the dementor and then offers chocolate - especially the latter - is, strange to say, one of my favourite bits of the book. I know, weird huh? But I find Lupin's presence so utterly comforting and reassuring and warm, never mind how he looks or what he really is, that he puts me in mind of Tom Baker's Dr Who. And later scenes where he rescues Harry from Snape's wrath, and comes to the Shrieking Shack... He's like a guardian, a good one, and I'm so glad he pops up in the other books too.
I find Azkaban to be exciting, and the over-arching plot gets deeper and more details are revealed, both from the past and the present. There's such a great sense of plot control and direction, and I love how Harry, Ron and Hermione continue to mature.(less)
This is one I've only read once, when it first came out, and I've only seen the movie once too, so there was lots of "ne...moreThis review contains spoilers.
This is one I've only read once, when it first came out, and I've only seen the movie once too, so there was lots of "new" details for me on this re-read. This isn't the copy I originally bought back in 2000 (it was first released in paperback; book 5 was the first hardcover edition on release); I had to put that one in the recycling bin and buy a new copy (and I was shocked at how expensive it was: at $32, it's much more than the other children's/YA hardcovers) because it had water damage and black mould on the bottom from the time when my brother stored some boxes of my books under his house - on dirt, on a steep hillside - while I was in Japan. Idiotic thing to do. I also lost my original copy of Philosopher's Stone too, which is why I have the Raincoast (Canadian) edition of it now.
The Goblet of Fire starts, as usual, at the end of the summer holidays before Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts. Because Harry now has a godfather - escaped mass murderer Sirius Black - the Dursleys are being, not nice, but careful not to overtly abuse Harry less this mad protector hears about it. So when Harry is invited to the final match in the Quidditch World Cup by his best friend, Ron Weasley, Uncle Vernon reluctantly agrees.
The World Cup final is between Ireland and Bulgaria, and the Weasleys have seats in the top box. After the game, several Death Eaters - supporters of Lord Voldemort - make an appearance, as does the Dark Mark in the sky. It's just the beginning of the signs that Voldemort is on his way back, and when Harry's name comes out of the Goblet of Fire, making him a fourth school Champion in the Triwizard Tournament, it's clear that something foul is afoot.
I tend to think of this book as the end of Harry's childhood, because things get extra serious, Cedric Diggory is murdered, and Lord Voldemort returns. The next three books are noticeably darker in tone and deed, and unlike in Chamber of Secrets, people - Harry's friends - start dying. I always felt more tense, here on out (in a good way).
The ending of this book always makes me cry. Cedric's death is one of those horrible, senseless deaths. Rowling makes sure you're going to have a personal stake in Harry's drive to defeat Voldemort, after Cedric's death, for Cedric was a genuinely good, likeable boy. Dumbledore's memorial speech at the end is incredibly moving - truly, Dumbledore gets some of the best lines, and is a phenomenal character and role model. To be honest, this series is as good for children learning about right and wrong etc., as the fairy tales used to be. (Fairy tales are cautionary tales using analogies to impart warnings etc.) If children learn morals from books, this series has lots to impart.
Goblet of Fire is a busy book, with a great deal happening over the course of a school year. We also learn more about Snape, though we've barely scratched the surface with this complex character. I love Snape as a perfect example of someone who seems bad but fights for "good" - not black and white, in other words. The introduction of two other wizarding schools - Beauxbattons and Durmstrang - as well as learning about Hagrid's giantess mother, also introduced issues of race and prejudice (further from the Muggle and Mudblood prejudices) into the story, as well as some fun new characters.
We not only get this wider scope of the wizarding world in terms of learning about other schools, we also get a more political novel - ministry officials not only make an appearance but have important roles in the plot, their "adult" politics filter into Harry's world and awareness: that awareness that adult decisions have huge impact on a child's world, their life, and that adults don't always make the right decision or know everything; that it's more than okay to question an adult. Because, just because adults are adult, doesn't make them irreproachable, or wise, or unquestionable. And when kids realise that, they've taken the first step into the adult world of disabused notions, unfairness, hypocrisy and ulterior motives.
And Hermione's determination to make the school's house-elves see that they're slave labour and insist on fair wages and freedom, raises questions not only about workers' rights but also misguided assumptions and placing your own views and beliefs on others just because you're sure you're right, regardless of other "people's" culture and belief system. (Yes they are technically slave labour, but it was more interesting reading it as an analogy for colonialism and/or religious preaching/missionary work in "uncivilised" parts.)
The events in this book make it one of the more exciting ones, as well as its climactic ending, but there's still some very nice character development going on. Ron's insecurities, as coming from a large family that overshadows him, comes out again and you have to feel for him, his reaction is understandable (as someone who comes from a family of five kids, all of whom are much louder than me, I know the feeling!).
One of the things I noticed this time 'round, knowing who the enemy at Hogwarts is (who put Harry's name in the Goblet), was how much Harry learnt off Moody, who, yes, was making sure Harry won the Tournament, but in doing so taught him much, gave him the tools or motivated Harry to get them for himself (all the hexes and jinks he learns, for instance), to battle Voldemort and defend himself. It's quite ironic really. I always felt equally betrayed by Moody/Barty Couch, because I liked him so much as Harry's teacher and mentor! The real Moody I feel you never really get to know, in comparison.
It's funny, I've only seen the movie once too but I was surprised, when reading the book, that it's Dobby who gives Harry the gillyweed and solves that problem for him - Moody plants the information with Neville but Harry never asks around for help. In the movie, Neville does help him in this task, and I loved that. I love it when Neville gets appreciated, he's one of my favourite minor characters and more important than you ever realise. The movie did a good job in changing that around, it worked well for the screen. But I had completely forgotten that it's Dobby who helps Harry, in the book!
Overall, the story becomes more complex and more gripping, with this fourth instalment. Things are chugging along at a fine pace, the stakes are higher than ever, Voldemort is a real threat now and the wizarding world continues to be developed and added to so that it's hard (or simply more fun) to remember that it's not real. Now I'm off to watch the movie again! :)(less)
After another summer spent stuck at his aunt and uncle's house in Little Whinging, Surrey, Harry is chafing and tense waiting for Lord Voldemort to ma...moreAfter another summer spent stuck at his aunt and uncle's house in Little Whinging, Surrey, Harry is chafing and tense waiting for Lord Voldemort to make his move. But there's nothing in either the wizard news or the Muggle news. Then late one day he and his cousin, Dudley, are attacked by Dementors and Harry is forced to break the under-age use of magic law to defend them.
Now facing a hearing at the Ministry of Magic and possible expulsion from Hogwarts, he is brought to number 12 Grimmauld Place in London, ancestral home of his godfather, Sirius Black, and new headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. The Weasley family is living there, as is Hermione, but Harry only feels more resentful and angry at being left out and kept ignorant. Isn't he the one who saw Voldemort return to full strength and kill Cedric Diggory? Isn't he the one who battled him and escaped to return and warn everyone that Voldemort had returned?
But now that he's back in the wizarding world, he learns that the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, is denying it all and making Harry look attention-grabbing and even insane: "Potty Potter." Dumbledore, too, is being vilified for insisting the Dark Lord is back and they must be prepared and united to fight him. In their attempt to control Dumbledore and Harry, the Ministry instates one of their own, Dolores Umbridge, in the cursed position of Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. While Voldemort takes over Harry's dreams at night, Umbridge is determined to ruin his life by day.
This is probably my favourite of the series. I love how involved and detailed it is, how it gets immersed in life at the school, and how complex the world has really become. It feels so real to me: Harry, his life, his world. It's also, I find, the most emotionally rich (with the possible exception of the final book, but I've only read that one once so far so I'm not sure). Not only is Harry continuing to mature and grow and is very true to his age - Rowling writes with exceptional skill and nowhere is this more apparent than in bringing Harry to life in each book, a whole year older.
This book is all love to me. Yes it's the longest and perhaps the slowest in the series, but it's actually extremely eventful and busy. There's A LOT going on here, and it's a more, shall we say, "adult" plot. One of my favourite lines is when Sirius says to Harry, the world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters. It's an important distinction for Harry to really learn and understand, especially as in every book he suspects Snape and he's always wrong. Here, he was thinking Umbridge was in league with Voldemort, because she's so awful and cruel, and that's when Sirius tries to explain that the world isn't that straight-forward. It marks Harry's real turning point, leaving childhood and a lingering belief and trust in adults (anyone other than Dark Lord supporters and his relatives) behind. It's not that this wasn't clear to us in the previous books, but until the ministry itself turned on Harry and Dumbledore, he had a naïve trust that the truth always wins. Now, he learns that people can have complex motivations and their own agendas.
Umbridge in particular teaches him this harsh lesson. She's a wonderful character, absolutely horrible with no redeeming feature but with a scary certainty that she's in the right. People as inflexible as Umbridge are always dangerous characters in fantasy, and Umbridge takes the cake. Rowling paints a vivid portrait of her, appearance-wise, and it really sticks in your head. Inherently racist, Umbridge has a fear of half-breeds and an arrogant belief in the superiority of wizards and witches over all humans and non-humans alike; add to this her position of power and she becomes quite the enemy. She may be an obvious character (Rowling clearly had some fun in making her so absolutely horrid), but she's sadly representative.
Alongside Umbridge, who's a favourite of mine (you just love to hate her!), other things in this fifth book that I love include the thestrals, the skeletal winged horses that only people who've seen death can see; the showdowns between Umbridge and the other teachers; getting an intimate glimpse into Neville's life; Snape's memories from his own days as a student at Hogwarts; the battle at the Department of Mysteries; Fred and George Weasley's send-off mayhem; and the DA meetings. In a way, this instalment gives us some breathing space in the series, especially after Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in terms of adventure, yet it's also hugely important in terms of not just the over-arching plot (Harry finally learns the truth about his connection to Voldemort), but in terms of Harry's own personal development.
It's also really sad - actually, books 4 to 7 all end sadly, with a death and some hard-hitting stuff. I always felt that the death here was the worst, because it's so personal and so unfair - is Harry never to have family to love?
The violence in this book really struck me - it's not that there wasn't danger and a lot of hexes thrown around in the previous books, but somehow here the stakes are so much higher, the spells that much more vicious. It's not just hexes and jinxes to bring on sudden deformities, like those the students inflict each other with, but grown and experienced Death Eaters directing killing curses at Harry and his friends. Those scenes are filled with tension, suspense, danger, and since Cedric died in the previous book, it feels like no one is safe anymore. And I felt absolutely awful for the "baby-headed Death Eater", especially as I had my own 3-month-old asleep on my lap at the time and since becoming a mother, the cries of the floundering, panicking, scared baby-headed Death Eater was really quite upsetting.
This was also a real "kick me" story, like when Harry unwraps Sirius' present at the very end of the school year to find a kind of two-way magic mirror with which he could contact Sirius - if only he'd unwrapped it earlier and he would never have been lied to by Kreacher!! I also felt anger at Dumbledore for not being honest with Harry: why should he expect a boy to take occlumency lessons from someone he hates - Snape - without telling him why it's so bloody important? At least Dumbledore apologised and told Harry everything at the end; he became human in that moment, and remains a kind of surrogate father-figure.
On a side note, it suddenly occurred to me while reading this big fat book that in all the Harry Potter books, I've never come across a typo. No typos, no missing articles, not even a "ay" instead of "lying" or a "lead" instead of "led". And trust me, if they're there, I always find them. So well-done to the proof-reader, I wish more books were this clean.
When I finished reading this book for the third time, I watched the movie which I hadn't seen since it came out in the cinema. I remembered Imelda Staunton (wonderful actress) playing Dolores Umbridge to perfection, and the DA meetings were captured so well - I loved how the Room of Requirement vanished for those who weren't members of the DA, which it didn't do in the book. I remember thinking, the first couple of times I read the book, that I really really wanted to see Snape's memories in the film, but I had misremembered and thought it wasn't included, so seeing it there - even if it was quick - was a nice surprise. But I wasn't satisfied with Michael Gambon's representation of Dumbledore - he seemed so angry and even bitchy, and not as in-control as he is in the book, nor with the kind of sense of humour Dumbledore's always displayed.
I never expect - or want - book adaptations to be exact replicas of the book; they need to bring something new, and they need to adapt to a different medium. But with a book of this size and scope full of so much detail, it is sad to see what they decided to leave out, or condense, in order to make it work as a film that's not too long. I'm definitely a bigger fan of the books than the movies.(less)
Merlin wakes up in a helicopter that has crashed in a forest. The pilot is dead, there's a metal collar around her neck with a broken chain hanging fr...moreMerlin wakes up in a helicopter that has crashed in a forest. The pilot is dead, there's a metal collar around her neck with a broken chain hanging from it, and her memories are patchy and impersonal. Not to mention that these memories - memories of the world as we know it - do not match the world in which she finds herself: asphalt roads almost disappeared beneath grass, crumbling buildings and skyscrapers swallowed up by vigorous forest. It is silent and deserted, and Merlin wanders lost and confused until she meets Ford, a young man who looks nothing like the people in her memories.
So begins Scatterlings, one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors. It's fantasy with, I guess, a sci-fi bent, and philosophical underpinings. I love the twist at the end. Ok, it's not a "twist" like in Fight Club, but it's a perfect resolution to the mystery of Merlin.
Lara's mother Cheryl has just died from a long battle with cancer, leaving her to the care of the Man, her father Larry Ritchie, who Cheryl managed to...moreLara's mother Cheryl has just died from a long battle with cancer, leaving her to the care of the Man, her father Larry Ritchie, who Cheryl managed to track down before she died. He's practically a stranger to Lara, but she warms to this tall, lean, weather-beaten man almost immediately. He takes her home to his own family of hard wife Gladwyn and four children, all younger than Lara: Opal, Pearl, Garnet and baby Jasper. Home is a farm called Willy Nilly out the back of the Bulahdelah Mountains in northern NSW, past Newcastle.
Gladwyn is cold towards her, and Opal is distinctly unwelcoming. The younger children take to her, but between the hard work on the farm, the bully Gowd Gadrey at school who lives down the road, and Opal and Gladwyn's dislike of her, Lara sorely misses her mother. Larry is often gone for long stretches of time, leaving Gladwyn to manage the homestead and fern farm in a tough land and harsh climate.
Lonely, Lara befriends and is befriended by a dog she meets in the bush who comes during a thunderstorm - so she names him Thunderwith. Her only friend, he accompanies her on treks through the bush whenever she can get free, and the only person she tells is an Aboriginal Elder who tells Dreamtime stories at the school.
As the animosity between her and Gladwyn increases, as the heat rises and the bullying intensifies, something has to crack, but the price for gaining a new family turns out to be more than Lara would ever want to pay.
I have read this book countless times since grade 5 and it never loses its power over me - to absorb me, to make me cry. It's like an old friend, comforting and challenging at the same time. It's easily one of my most favoured books of all time.
This is a book that seemed to come at just the right moment in my life, just as Thunderwith came to Lara. It sometimes felt like it had been written just for me. I read this book, about a girl whose mother dies of cancer so she goes to live with her Dad's somewhat unwelcoming and hostile family in the bush, just months before finding out I had an older sister too. This book was my best friend for months, if not years, a surprise gift from my mother because she knew I loved it so much - one of the first books I ever owned.
The beauty of the Australian landscape is captured flawlessly in this novel, transporting me to the wild bush and rugged mountains, the scent of eucalyptus and soil and sheep surrounding me from memory.
It makes me cry every time I read it, makes me sob, and I still come back to it time and time again. I love it on a deep personal level, and it holds a precious place in my heart.(less)
Alyzon is struck in the head one day and when she wakes up she finds she can smell things - people's thoughts and feelings, and something sinister and...moreAlyzon is struck in the head one day and when she wakes up she finds she can smell things - people's thoughts and feelings, and something sinister and foul around the cute boy at school and the man wanting to manage her father's music career.
This is yet another great YA fantasy from my favourite author. If it's not available in your country: complain!!(less)
This review contains some spoilers of the first book.
It has been two years since the climactic events of the first book, Obernewtyn, occurred. Elspet...moreThis review contains some spoilers of the first book.
It has been two years since the climactic events of the first book, Obernewtyn, occurred. Elspeth is about seventeen years old and still recovering from the burns to her feet and legs, not helped by the aching cold of the mountains in winter - the same mountains and weather that keep Obernewtyn, now a safe refuge for misfits with unique powers, safe. Under the new master of Obernewtyn, Rushton Seraphim, the Misfits - as the ruling Council has named them, and would Burn them if caught - have organised themselves into guilds, based on their different powers. Farseeking, Coercing, Empathy, Beast-speaking, Healing and the Teknoguild are some of the groups, and Elspeth, being the strongest Farseeker, is guildmistress. Few know she can also Coerce and Beast-speak, and has some minimal Futuretelling abilities, premonitions that rise unbidden.
With Rushton back from a trip to the Lowlands with news, a hasty Guildmerge (meeting of Guild leaders) is called. Rushton wants to establish a permanent contact, or spy, in the capital of Sutrium and has chosen Domick, a Coercer, for the task. Elspeth proposes a joint expedition: the Teknoguild want to find a hidden library in a ruined city near Aborium, on the south-west coast, and the Farseekers have discovered a strong Misfit talent in the same location that they want to rescue and bring back to Obernewtyn. A small group is picked to go, including Elspeth and her Farseeker friend Matthew, Domick, Healers Louis Larkin and Kella, and Pavo from the Teknoguild. At the last minute, a recently rescued Herder novice called Jik and his dog, Darga, are added to the group because the Futuretell guildmistress Maryon has Seen that Jik is instrumental to the success of their mission, though she cannot See why, and that they must make it back to Obernewtyn before the next winter or their safe haven will be gone forever.
With such responsibility resting on their shoulders, the group sets forth with the leader of the equines, Galtha, and a few other horses to lead the caravans. Disguised as gypsies, they make their way into the Lowlands, looking for an Olden pass they believe to be there, but are taken captive by the Druid's men. This is just the start of their troubles and new discoveries, in a story brimming full of adventure, suspense, delight, and excitement, as the unique world Carmody has crafted comes alive with every step of the journey.
Like the first book, I had read this several times in the past, but not for many years now. I was thrilled at how much it felt both like reading a new and exciting book, and like being reunited with a beloved old friend after many years apart. There was lots I had forgotten, and yet as I read it all came back to me, but only up to the line I had read, so the overall story was still hazy in my mind. I could remember bits, scenes mostly, but few details. There is a lot going on in The Farseekers, it's a rich post-apocalyptic world and like the misfits, we are feeling our way in it.
Narrated by Elspeth, we only learn about this world as she does, though with our knowledge of our own time there are some things we can deduce or figure out ahead of her. The past has been banned by the Council and denounced as evil by the Herder Faction, so the people are largely ignorant and easily spooked by anything from the past. Elspeth is cautious and not at all keen to unearth the past: she alone knows that the machines that caused the Great White are still here, slumbering in their hiding place, ready and able to unleash yet another apocalypse. And it is her mission, her lonely quest, to find them and destroy them before this can happen.
Small spoiler I had forgotten about Ariel. In Obernewtyn, he is only 12/13 years old and already a manipulative, cunning little devil in angel's guise. He escaped at the end and was believed to have died in the winter storm, but they never sent out a search party to confirm this. Now he's reappeared, and it's hard for me to imagine a boy of about fifteen, having that much influence with the Council and Herders. But, such is the strength of his character. It was never said that he had any mutant gift, or why he was sent to Obernewtyn as a Misfit in the first place. Elspeth never tried to read his mind, but she also never wonders and that is a bit strange to me. I also can't remember him from the next two books (which is as far as I got in my reading of the series; I'm two books behind overall), which is partly why I wanted to re-read all of them before starting the ones I haven't read yet; I'd forgotten so much. /Spoiler
The philosophical and moral dilemma faced by the misfits in this world is a strong theme throughout the series. When Elspeth meets Brydda, a rebel against the Council and Herders, and has to reveal some of what the misfits can do, he's excited and wants an alliance.
I agreed to try to organize a meeting between him and Rushton, but I was not sure our aims coincided. 'At the bottom of everything we are Misfits, and few men would have reacted as you did. Can you say for certain all your people would think as you do? Not be disgusted by us, or frightened?' Brydda looked thoughtful at this. 'I don't know. Maybe the thought of someone who could talk inside your head, or make animals do anything they want ... would seem frightening.' I had told him little about our abilities, letting him assume he had seen all there was. 'If people are frightened, it is because of their ignorance and Herder lies about mutations. They could learn,' Brydda said at last. 'Maybe, but we have to be sure,' I said. 'There is no good in our exchanging one kind of tyranny for another.' [p.193]
This is the ultimate goal and driving force of the Misfits at Obernewtyn, especially of Rushton, and it's so sad that Elspeth has been given this other task, one she might not survive, that she can't share with anyone, or tell anyone about, and so maintains her aloofness, her loneliness. She can't even see that Rushton loves her - she's so rusty with trusting people, being close to them and friends with them, that she misses or misunderstands the signs. As a young reader, I always felt close to Elspeth, and a bit sorry for her too. She never complains, she strong and stoic and comes across as patient and considerate, but every now and then one of her companions will make some comment about not being able to really get to know her, and you realise how much apart she keeps herself. She's good at making decisions, and leading others, even if she doesn't realise it. After everything she's been through, you want some happiness for her. Some peace. So her mission, and Obernewtyn's ambition, becomes yours.
There's so much to love in this book, and this series. I love Dragon, her ability is awesome and how they found her is pretty cool. Uncovering the buried library, very cool. Rescuing her friends from the Herders, very exciting. Discovering Lidgebaby, a bit scary and with mind-boggling implications. The truth of Jik and Darga's inclusion on the trip, sad. There is quite a bit of sadness in this story, in the series, it's like a light coating over everything, which just makes you empathise with them all the more. Their situation is so precarious, their fate so terrifying if caught, the stakes so high on everything they do, that you forget for a while that these are just children and teenagers, for the most part (being the easiest to come to terms with their mutant abilities; adults tend to have closed minds and fight their knowledge, seek only to pretend to be normal). So much rests on their shoulders, and they're so young.
When I read these books, I live inside the pages, in this world. Like a ghost or spirit that follows Elspeth, untouched physically but present nevertheless. It's the ultimate in reading experience, the way you hope to connect with every book you read, when you start it. I couldn't ask for more. Oh, except for the final book to come out! Let's hope it doesn't get pushed back, again! :) (less)
Re-reading the third book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, I was quickly reminded of why it was my favourite for such a lon...moreThis review contains spoilers.
Re-reading the third book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, I was quickly reminded of why it was my favourite for such a long time: things REALLY start happening, on so many levels.
A year has gone by since the events of The Farseekers, making Elspeth about eighteen years old (I'm determined to keep track of her age this time, as it's never mentioned since she was first introduced to us at the age of fourteen). There are again rumours of a soldierguard camp planned for the Highlands, putting the secret community of talented Misfits living at Obernewtyn at risk of discovery. If caught by the oppressive Council or the fanatical Herders, they would be Burned. Keeping a low profile is paramount, so when Elspeth rescues a gypsy woman from being burned at the stake for practicing Herbal Lore, she risks not only her own life but that of everyone at Obernewtyn.
That deed sets Elspeth on a new, dangerous path, one with personal implications. The Guildmistress of the Futuretellers, Maryon, has foreseen that within seven days, Elspeth herself must return the gypsy to her people in Sutrium, the capital and the home of the Councilcourt - a dangerous mission. But Maryon has also foreseen that Elspeth must discover the meaning of "swallow" or she will die.
With only her friend and fellow Farseeker Matthew for company, as well as the horses Gahltha and Jaygar and Elspeth's long-time companion, the half-mad cat Maruman, Elspeth journeys quickly to Sutrium on the far south coast, in their usual disguise as gypsies. But as they search for their dying gypsy's people, Elspeth learns that there are half-breed gypsies, despised and hated, and the Twentyfamilies gypsies, the original race who came from over the seas and made a pact with the Council that gives them wealth and prestige, but prohibits them from settling.
Also in Sutrium is the Misfits' rebel friend, Brydda, or "the Black Dog". He has been working on getting the different rebel groups across the Land to unite, and an uprising against the Council seems imminent. Rushton, the master of Obernewtyn, has been hoping for an alliance with the rebels, for when the Council falls the Misfits will just be trading one enemy for another if they can't be allies first. Elspeth finds herself entangled in Brydda's aim to find the elusive man behind the lucrative slave trade, Salamander, and meets with the rebel leaders in an effort to show that she's no halfwit Misfit. Things do not go as planned, and as a select group of Misfits travel with Elspeth to the newly-opened desert land of Sador, there to compete in the Battlegames to prove their worth as rebel allies, everything is at stake, including Elspeth's understanding of her role in the fate of Obernewtyn.
Cover Commentary: I have the first edition - the inscription inside reads "To Shannon, Happy 16th Birthday, Love from Mum and Dad. 30.11.95" - and it has to have the worst cover of all the editions of all the books (and they went through four cover changes). Here's a story for you: only a few months before this book came out in 1995, Isobelle Carmody came to my rural high school to do a workshop with us grade 10 students (can't count how lucky I was to be at high school at this time! One year later and I would have missed out!!), but first she gave a kind of presentation on her writing and the publishing industry, which was fascinating. She held up a copy of the cover design that she'd recently received from her publisher and remarked that she really didn't like it (I can't remember the details of why). I couldn't see it very well at the time, being about two rows back (yes, hiding from my favourite author, that's how shy I was! Still don't know that I'd be able to say anything intelligent, articulate or interesting to her today, either), but once I got my copy for my birthday, I could see why. Two things stand out the most for me: Elspeth and Matthew. Elspeth is wearing pretty cool clothes, but her face is kinda squashed and ugly, and her hair!! She practically has a mullet. I don't know what Connell Lee, the artist, was thinking. Even worse though is Matthew, behind her. He's only a couple of years older than Elspeth, which would make him about 20, but he looks at least 35 in this image. Details like that always bug me. In contrast, the horses are so beautifully rendered! And I'm not entirely sure what the artist was aiming for, with the planets in the sky like that.
This book moves both fast and slow: the pacing deftly balances a busy bundle of plot-lines while also taking the time to focus, think and reflect. This is Elspeth's story, and as the narrator, we get her perspective on it all. Elspeth has grown again: she's colder, more distant, and quick to anger in this book, but she's also learning - learning to temper her words, her tone of voice, to notice how others are feeling and to think about what they might be going through. It's not that Elspeth has been a very selfish person, no more so than any of us. It's that she's always held herself aloof, due to her orphan upbringing (it's dangerous to make friends in an orphanage) but also, especially now, due to the added pressure of the mission the Eldar of the Guanette birds, Atthis, has given her: to find and destroy the weaponmachines that caused the Great White Holocaust, before another on the same path discovers them and releases a new Holocaust, one that will end everything.
I've always loved the philosophical elements of Carmody's storytelling; she skilfully weaves thought-provoking ideas and social commentary into her stories, something that tends to be sadly lacking from a lot of YA these days. This series touches on a great many relevant themes: environmental destruction, proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction", human greed, religious dogma, fear of the Other, censorship, the notion of human superiority, not learning from our mistakes, the welfare of animals, freedom, love, friendship, loyalty, home. Having a home. And that's one of the things that Elspeth learns at the end of this book: that she has a home, and that she doesn't have to cut herself off from everyone because of her secret mission, a mission she probably won't return from, alive.
Which bodes well for a relationship between her and Rushton. The romance in this book is light and delicate, as fragile as what is growing between the two of them. Elspeth takes a long time to own up to her feelings, and to not be afraid of them, and it's handled in such a realistic, believable way, that you can practically hear the gears ticking over in her brain as it catches up to her heart. The anticipation - and the uncertainty that anything would actually happen between these two (or anytime soon) - made their moment of coming together extra special. And tt's not the only kind of love that Elspeth has to grow to understand. Her thoughts on the cat, her protector on the dream paths, Maruman, reflects that:
Was [Maruman] wandering, mindless, in Sutrium? Again, I wondered if I should have restrained him for his own good? Since I loved him, hadn't I the right to stop him from harming himself?
With something of a shock it occurred to me that this was the sort of thinking that had caused Gahltha to try to stop me helping the little mare, Faraf. And which had once caused Rushton to forbid me to go on dangerous expeditions.
I would never exchange safety for freedom, I thought, regardless of the danger. I had the right to risk my life as I chose.
"Truly danger is part of freedom/freerunning," Gahltha sent unexpectedly, sounding as if the thought startled him. "It is easy to forget this when it is not us/me."
[...] "It's easy to have one rule for others and another for myself but there's no honour in such double standards," I sent mildly.
"Honour?" Gahltha snorted. "That is a littleword for a great thing. Funaga have freerunning thoughts. But instead of admiring/joying in them, you would cagethem with words. Some things will not be tamed to words."
[... I]t was not enough for me to admire words and ideas as beautiful abstractions. I had to see how they could be applied. And I knew only too well that what worked in words was often very different when you tried to apply it to a real situation. In essence, freedom of choice sounded a fine and noble thing. But in reality? [pp.245-6]
This is such a subtle theme, slipped in there, but an important one: the balancing act of love and repression, or love and freedom. And I love the "alien" (non-human) perspective the animals give, their different way of thinking, it works so beautifully and feels so believable. Elspeth finds that the animals have decided she is Innle, the one who will free the beasts, and the horse Gahltha is her special daytime protector.
The other concept that really sticks out in this story, as it's meant to, is Elspeth's understanding of what the outcome of the Battlegames in Sador means for the Misfits of Obernewtyn. Because of their compassion and loyalty, they lose the games. But as the templeguardian points out:
"As for the Misfits, if they are truly represented by these before me, they are no warriors. They care too much for life and for one another. They are not stirred by the glories of war, and the shedding of lifeblood brings them sorrow, whether it be of beast or human, friend or foe. All their instincts are for defence and so their great powers are all but useless. They are not cowardly or weak, but their minds appear incapable of allowing their great powers to serve them as weapons.
"Witness that they used the incredible ability which they call empathy to its greatest effect in a song, rather than to turn their enemies' hearts to terror.
"They will never have the rebels' singlemindedness of purpose, nor therefore their driving force, because they cannot see things in terms of simple goals."
He turned in the dead silence wrought by his powerful oratory, and faced the rebels. "We here in Sador value the earth above all life - humans and beasts alike are short lived and unimportant. This you know. We have thought that Landfolk valued their own lives too much, regarding themselves as the chosen of their Lud. But these Misfits seem to value all life and this is strange for us to contemplate. But think you this. You rebels opposed alliance with the Misfits because you thought them monsters and inhuman. Ask yourselves now which team has this day shown the keenest humanity and which has shown itself to be more monstrous." [pp.496-7]
I love that speech. I had wanted the Misfits to win, oh so badly - to prove their worth, but also to show that they could fight alongside the unTalented, and be respected by them. It's exciting but hard to read the Battlegame scenes because they seem so unfair, and because they lose. But Elspeth comes to a stronger realisation: so they're not warriors, but the Battlegames taught them what they couldn't do, "so that we could begin to think of what we can do." [p.514] Which means, indeed, starting again from the beginning, with a new plan. It also means they now have the rebels as enemies, or most of them - and unlike the Council, the rebels know some of what they can do, and the ones that hate them, fear them.
The fun thing is, is that I cannot remember ANYTHING that happens in the next book, The Keeping Place. I'm not sure how many times I've read it in the past, but unlike with the first three books, the entire plot has slipped my mind. This makes me super excited to read it again, from that perspective, but also because I have NO IDEA what path the Obernewtyn Misfits will take, what choices they now have, what decisions they'll take. I am keen to learn about the fate of Matthew - I feel sure he will survive his misadventure, and be wiser for it. There are lots of clues about Dragon's origins and why she fears water, though Elspeth hasn't yet realised that she's discovered this (she doesn't tend to trust her dreams). And Rushton and Elspeth's fragile romance... sigh. They have a long road ahead of them.
The Obernewtyn Chronicles is some of the best Fantasy-Dystopian-Post-Apoclayptic Young Adult fiction out there, and while some little slips that should have been caught in the copy-editing stage would normally bug me, with this beloved series I just don't care. Start reading it and learn why those of us who began reading the series as children are still faithfully, and with great pent-up excitement and enthusiasm, awaiting the final book. Yes, it's been that long. Eat your hearts out, A Song of Ice and Fire fans!
Note: You can get Ashling and The Keeping Place (books 3 and 4) in a single volume called The Rebellion in the U.S. It's over a thousand pages long. You can get them in separate volumes as well, though.(less)
Spring is arriving to the highlands, where Obernewtyn - the big sprawling mansion and farm that is home to a large grou...moreThis review contains spoilers.
Spring is arriving to the highlands, where Obernewtyn - the big sprawling mansion and farm that is home to a large group of Talented and unTalented Misfits and animals - lies protected by the mountains and a snowed-in pass, but the events of the previous year are still fresh in everyone's minds. Much has changed: understanding their pacifist nature, they have turned to devising ways of using their skills and Talents (Farseeking, Coercing, Beastspeaking, Healing, Futuretelling, Empathy and the Teknoguild) to bringing a more subtle kind of change to the Land. If they can't change people's prejudices towards Misfits, then they'll be no better off when the Rebels strike and the Council falls.
Rushton has left for a sudden and unexpected meeting with the Rebels in Sutrium, the capital, leaving Elspeth, Guildmistress of the Farseekers, in charge of Obernewtyn. She pushes aside her niggling worry that borders on premonition, by focusing on the many demands on her attention. Dragon, the wild girl Elspeth rescued from some Beforetime ruins in The Farseekers, still lies in her coma, locked in her recurring dream of the past that she had sealed off in her mind - only Elspeth now realises that Dragon's powerful empathy-coercer talent is letting her dreams affect everyone at Obernewtyn, and no one is sleeping well. They dreams of Matthew, the Farseeker who was taken by slavers, toiling in a far-off, hot red land, and their details match. And they dream of a dragon, though no one has been attacked by it except for Elspeth. Maruman, the mad old cat who guards Elspeth's dreams, protects her as best he can.
In the half-submerged city built by the Beforetimers under the mountain Tor, the Teknoguild have worked obsessively to uncover the secrets of the past, secrets that connect Obernewtyn to the mission Elspeth is secretly on: to find and destroy the weaponmachines that brought the Great White and nearly destroyed the world, before the Destroyer finds them and activates them, ending life for good. Elspeth has come to realise that her mission and the destiny of Obernewtyn are entwined, and the puzzle of the past becomes an important part of understanding how to find the clues she needs as the Seeker. Her dreams aid her as she witnesses the past, though they are also dangerous, not just from the manifestation of Dragon's insanity, but from the Destroyer himself, who turns out to be Ariel, the beautiful but cruel Misfit who fled Obernewtyn all those years ago and now works his twisted magic on both the Council and the Herder Faction.
Rushton, on leaving Sutrium, is kidnapped, and the Misfits of Obernewtyn have been ordered to join the rebellion or he will be killed. Elspeth has no choice but to set them on the path they had collectively decided not to take. But there are traitors within the Rebel ranks, and many Rebel leaders despise the Misfits, so that they are betrayed more than once. And who kidnapped Rushton, if not the Rebels? And why - who else would want them to join forces? The answer surprises, and puzzles, them all.
Well! I can't believe I couldn't remember a single thing that happened in this massive, eventful volume, from the last - first? - time I read it when it came out in 1999. Unlike the previous three books, I think I must have read this one only once, though that seems unlikely. Maybe twice. How could I have so completely forgotten it all? Incredible. But good, because re-reading it now it was almost like reading it for the first time (I say "almost" because, as things happened, I remembered them - but I still couldn't recall what would happen next, so it was full of surprises for me!).
Elspeth is about nineteen or twenty years old at this point - I'm still keeping track, because if you remember, the only time her age is mentioned is at the very beginning of Obernewtyn, when she's fourteen. Almost the entire first half of The Keeping Place is focused on Elspeth running Obernewtyn, and the dreamtrails. It's busy and richly detailed, fleshing out how the Misfits live at Obernewtyn and giving us some much-needed time with Elspeth away from dire predicaments. She's always been a wonderful and fascinating character to me, and it's very interesting to see how far she's come and how her time as an orphan - isolated, too fearful of being denounced to make an friends, and secretive - has shaped her (as well as helping her face the solitude of her task, one which she doesn't expect to survive). She now makes an effort to empathise and give comfort, though she feels awkward doing it. She's still aloof, and when they get the news that Rushton has been taken, she makes a big effort not to fall apart for the sake of Rushton and Obernewtyn, even while she knows that everyone will think her cold and unfeeling (except the Empaths, I'm sure).
I was always disappointed that this volume didn't have more Rushton in it - like, they finally get together at the end of Ashling, only to be separated again for almost the entire book, here. I always felt so cheated! There's a different vibe to this one, perhaps because of Rushton's kidnapping, but also because after much talk, there is action. There's a subtle kind of tension, a gnawing anxiety that something's not right - Elspeth feels it but doesn't really heed it, though for all her suspicions about the Herders, it's hard to believe that she still can't see them for the dangerous enemy that readers can clearly see. I was also surprised, and disappointed, that she couldn't see that Malik, one of the Rebel leaders, was up to something. I couldn't remember what, until it happened, but I had that sick feeling of dread that he was going to do something really bad to the Misfits, first chance he got. Elspeth had a gut feeling there too, but there wasn't much she could have done about it. Oh except realise that the trap the Misfits were going to lead the soldierguards into was also going to be a trap for them! Remember the lesson from Ashling, that they are nice and compassionate and humane people - bordering on naive at times, because their imaginations fail to encompass the malicious hatred of someone like Malik.
The second half is planning and action for the rebellion, and things move swiftly. I loved that the rebellion wasn't The End that solved everyone's problems: the people are so downtrodden and afraid that, as the Sutrium Rebel leader explains, you have to bring change gradually, and let the people be in charge of it as much as possible, or they won't see the difference between the Rebels and the Council that ruled before. They are putting a democratic system into place - not only does the Obernewtyn Chronicles tackle the rights of animals, or modern warfare, or human greed, or the environment - it also takes on politics, and the motivations behind power machinations. All highly relevant to our time and what our countries get up to. I love fantasy like this, the kind that subtly connects dots and, even, not so subtly waves little red flags over certain issues. I rather think that that's what fantasy is for, in a way - you've heard me go on about that before on other reviews.
This is a complex world, one that is intricately fleshed-out, and not at all predictable. The best thing is, I have reached the end of the books that I had previously read. Next up, in October, I am reading The Stone Key, and in November The Sending (the final book in the series, The Red Queen, isn't due out until late 2013). I have no idea what happens next but I can't wait to find out! It's so exciting! (less)
**spoiler alert** When the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, Mr Lockwood, arrives, he goes to visit his landlord, Heathcliff, at Wuthering Heights, a...more**spoiler alert** When the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, Mr Lockwood, arrives, he goes to visit his landlord, Heathcliff, at Wuthering Heights, a house up on the moors. The household that Lockwood has stumbled upon is an unusual one, with an ancient and sanctimonious servant with a thick Yorkshire accent called Joseph; a rough farmhand and "clown" called Hareton; a surly but beautiful young woman with bad manners called Cathy; the housekeeper Zillah and the haughty Heathcliff. None of them are welcoming, and their relationship to each other seems strange.
Mr Lockwood spends the night at Wuthering Heights because of bad weather and is visited by a ghost of Cathy Earnshaw - when Heathcliff comes to see him and he relates the story he sees Heathcliff at the window, crying and begging Cathy to come haunt him.
Beyond curious, he beseeches the housekeeper at the Grange, Ellen "Nelly" Dean, to tell him what she knows. Having grown up with the original family at Wuthering Heights, and being a party and a witness to the events of the intervening years, she has plenty to say, beginning in 1771 with the arrival of Heathcliff as a little boy at Wuthering Heights, a friendless orphan found by Mr Earnshaw in Liverpool. With the dark-skinned appearance of a gypsy, he becomes the favourite of Mr Earnshaw and so earns the enmity of his son, Hindley. With his dark scowling countenance and arrogance, only Hindley's younger sister Cathy befriends the boy, who idolises her in turn.
So begins an intense friendship and love between Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff, until she agrees to marry young Edgar Linton and Heathcliff overhears her telling Nelly that it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff. Reappearing three years later, Heathcliff sets in motion his plan for revenge against Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton, destroying their children and robbing them of their inheritance.
This is only the second time I've read Wuthering Heights - the first being in 2005, and I actually couldn't remember what happened until I was reading it. The first time, I expected it to be more like Jane Eyre, dark and brooding but ultimately happy. I was completely thrown by Heathcliff's nature, by the violence and hatred and Cathy's premature death. This is one book where it is better that you know something of what to expect before starting it - knowing that Cathy and Heathcliff don't find happiness helps prepare you and free you to delve in and notice everything else that's going on. So while I won't reveal everything that happens, I have no qualms about what I have revealed.
There are several familiar Gothic themes in this book, but it will always be a fresh and original novel. There can only be one Wuthering Heights! Interestingly enough, Heathcliff is a classic Byronic hero - tall, dark, handsome, intense, possessive, obsessive, passionate, in love with his "sister"... This is a character that appears time and time again in romance novels. You'll see him everywhere, but with a big difference: a woman conquers him - yes the ultimate fantasy - and softens him, removing his streak of cruelty or humbling his arrogance or what have you. I come across Heathcliff all the time in historical and paranormal romance, where he's a fixture, but only the original defies our expectations.
Likened to a devil or demon, and coming from the factory town of Liverpool with its smoke and misery - factory towns were a symbolic stand-in for Hell - even Heathcliff's wife Isabella says she doesn't think he's a real man. Yet I felt sympathy for him. One of the themes is nature vs. nurture - just how much is Heathcliff's personality, and how much is the fault of the way others treated him because of his looks, his status etc.?
This is also a book of parallels, the most distinct being between Heathcliff and Cathy Earnshaw, and Hindley's son Hareton and Cathy's daughter Cathy Linton. Heathcliff makes sure Hareton grows up rough, wild, uncouth and illiterate, when really he is a gentleman's son and of the "first" family in the neighbourhood. He's a great admirer of Cathy (Linton) but she despises him, teasing him mercilessly for being illiterate and stupid - yet she later befriends him, he overcomes his upbringing, learns to read and everything is righted with a happy ending - for them.
This isn't the romantic tale you might expect, but a dark gothic one of misery and torment and cruelty. It's also absorbing and fascinating and you can never really get to the bottom of it, so to speak. It will haunt you as Cathy's ghost haunts Heathcliff. I'm not in the least surprised that this is considered a literary masterpiece. Aside from the clever way it is structured, with the dual narrators taking us back in time to show how the group Lockwood met became that way, forcing us to reassess; there is also the setting - the isolated world of the Heights, the Grange and the village of Gimmerton, beyond which the story never goes, and of course the moors - not to mention the ghosts and the way the characters are haunted by real people, real past events and choices.
The narrative is cyclical, coming full circle, and I did read into it a slight critique of classism and, as Lizzy Bennet famously said (which I'm taking slightly out of context here), "a selfish disdain for others". It's hard to say what Emily's motives were in writing Wuthering Heights, but if it were clear-cut we would have become bored with the book long ago. It's its ability to provoke us, challenge us, puzzle us, fascinate us that draws us. Definitely one worth studying in greater detail.(less)