A Brilliant Gothic yarn. The only thing I felt that was a bit artificial was the way it switched stories between narrators. The story in a story in a...moreA Brilliant Gothic yarn. The only thing I felt that was a bit artificial was the way it switched stories between narrators. The story in a story in a story structure.(less)
Brilliant written, I really enjoyed it and found the last quarter totally gripping.
I have seen film versions and so the story of Estella and Miss Havi...moreBrilliant written, I really enjoyed it and found the last quarter totally gripping.
I have seen film versions and so the story of Estella and Miss Havisham and the visits to Satis (- such a brilliant fairytale conceit) are engrained on my mind, as well as the opening which is beautifully done in the David Lean movie, the rest of the Magwitch story I had completely forgotten, and was gripped to see how it would play out.
The characters are not quite as interesting as those in David Copperfield, but the way Dickens conjures them up is just brilliant, using multiple means: dialogue, description, setting and action to give such a specific flavour of them. Their little foibles and obsessions, often verging on caricature, make them so real and believable.
**spoiler alert** The character of Oliver is a bland and tedious milquetoast as are the Maylies but the villains are broad grotesques of pure genius....more**spoiler alert** The character of Oliver is a bland and tedious milquetoast as are the Maylies but the villains are broad grotesques of pure genius. Mr Bumble, Bill Sikes, Fagin, Nancy, Dodger and even Master Bates ( I wondered if this was a purposeful joke or not?) are such memorable characters. The story is a rags to riches tale about a pure hearted orphan who escapes both the drudgery of the workhouse and a life of crime, by the lucky coincidence of being related to some good hearted toffs (and one evil one, who tries to thwart him.) The writing style seems much broader than Copperfield or Great Expectations and I think this is an earlier book? The book is very antisemitic with Fagin referred to in very derogatory terms and always called The Jew rather than his name. The few other Jewish characters that appear are also villainous criminals and their ethnicity is always specifically referenced unlike the other characters.
The parts that I thought were amazing were - the sequence where Bill Sykes takes Oliver to do the Robbery, The scenes between Fagin, Bill and Nancy. The scene between the Bumbles and Monks. The ending where Bill commits the murder and goes on the run, plus his Frankenstein style end. During all these scenes there is so much juicy, grotty, rotten description of the scenery, speech and characters of the London underworld that you can almost smell the air and feel the ambience of the places.
Not so good are the scenes with Oliver and the Maylies. These are tedious in the extreme and you can tell that Dickens relishes writing the villains more than he does the heroes. A (near) end chapter which reads like the explanation of a detective novel I also found rather weak and unconvincing. Particularly Monks sudden need to confess all to Mr Brownlow and co when he is not even in court or being taken down by the crushers! Also Fagin's court appearance where we switch to his internal monologue for a chapter jarred against the style of the rest of the story.(less)
This is such a good children's book. The pirate characters are just brilliantly drawn, and their dialogue is just great - over the top and salted with...moreThis is such a good children's book. The pirate characters are just brilliantly drawn, and their dialogue is just great - over the top and salted with pirate slang. Even the hero Jack Hawkins is interesting for a victorian child protagonist and he gets a lot of physical action and adventure - which in reality would be way beyond his age and ability - this must be the prototype for all children's adventure books that followed. Not only is the characterisation great but it is also brilliantly plotted and I am sure if you put it against the Hero's Journey model it would hit all the beats. I think, from memory of the movie versions (I recently saw treasure planet the animated version,) the plotting in the book seems more sophisticated, which is surprising too. It seems like they also stole whole chunks of its plot and characterisation for the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Altogether the archetype of children's and YA adventure and I think it would stand up well to any modern competitors.(less)
The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story novella by Henry James. The narrator, an unnamed young woman, accepts a job looking after two orphaned children...moreThe Turn of the Screw is a ghost story novella by Henry James. The narrator, an unnamed young woman, accepts a job looking after two orphaned children Miles and Flora at Bly House - a country pile, mainly because she takes a fancy to their uncle (who is also their guardian). His only stipulation is that she never contact him regarding the children, just go and look after them and let him get on with his life in London. The governess arrives at the country house and befriends the housekeeper Mrs Grose. The children are perfect little angels - creepily perfect in every way, so when Miles returns from his boarding school with a letter saying he has been expelled, the governess wonders what terrible thing the boy has done. Then she starts to glimpse strange figures wandering the grounds of the house.
The book is very nicely written and succeeds in creating some exceedingly creepy scenes, between the governess and the children - I don't know how much of this is deliberate and how much is period language. Some of the ghost scenes are brilliantly scary too. It has quite a modern style, in that, as the children deny her stories, you begin to wonder about the reliability of her as a narrator, is she paranoid and insane or are these things really happening? In that respect it was a little like The Yellow Wallpaper.
I was relieved that it was only a novella, and so the scenes were pretty concise, compared to other rambling victorian novels I've read recently. It would have got four stars, but the ending was a little lame, after all the winding up, all the turns of the screw, it doesn't quite pay off with the action a modern writer might give it. In fact, I think the ending of Florence and Giles is a little bit better, though less believable.
Florence and Giles, by John Harding, was the main reason I wanted to read this book. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/73... They are similar and I wanted to compare the two. Very similar it turned out. Florence and Giles live in a Blye House an almost identical house in New England, with the housekeeper Mrs Grouse. They are orphans, whose absent uncle sends a governess to look after them, the book is narrated by Florence also an unreliable narrator, who may not be telling the whole truth about events. there are many other similarities although the twist at the end turns out very different. But it is interesting that John Harding obviously took all the main elements of Henry James's story and refashioned them into something different. Both books are worth reading.
I'm a big fan of 'His Dark Materials' and 'Ruby in the Smoke' is set in a similar Victorian world, but without the steampunk or magical elements. It's...moreI'm a big fan of 'His Dark Materials' and 'Ruby in the Smoke' is set in a similar Victorian world, but without the steampunk or magical elements. It's a murder mystery where teenage orphan Sally Lockhart searches for her father's killer and tries to discover his connection to the Ruby of the title and the significance of his last warning to her - 'Beware the seven blessings.'
At around 200 pages it was a quick read. The writing is not quite as sophisticated as 'His Dark Materials', but is still really good and captures the Victorian turn of phrase very well. I can see some Dickensian influence and I imagine a bit from Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle too. Occasionally there were a few last minute liberties written into the story to make things work - suddenly discovering Frederick is an expert climber is one that springs to mind and there was another one that was to do with the ruby. The villain Mrs Holland is a great character, but unlike Mrs Coulter, I didn't quite buy the web of influence and power she seemed to have accrued. There were also lots of good London locations and secondary characters. I will definitely read the next one in the series.(less)
The Crimson Petal and the White is an intimate, sprawling (830pgs) modern take on a Victorian novel. A subversion of the archetypal Dickens rags-to-ri...moreThe Crimson Petal and the White is an intimate, sprawling (830pgs) modern take on a Victorian novel. A subversion of the archetypal Dickens rags-to-riches story. Our heroine, a young prostitute named Sugar, lives by her wits and longs to break free of her poverty and her ogress mother and madame, Mrs Castaway. In William Rackham - heir to a perfume and soap fortune - she think she's found her saviour. He is infatuated with her and makes her his mistress and then his daughter's governess, but as she moves into a higher social strata she finds herself stifled and controlled in different ways by William and male Victorian society.
Tonally and stylistically the book really captures the flavour of the Victorian novel, but with an added knowing and arch twist: we are modern readers being guided by our narrator round this alien world. Thus we can go to places the Victorian novel never dared go, and our narrator can buttonhole us, whispering insincerities and highlighting the hypocrisy of the characters: much like Sugar and the prostitutes do in the story.
I love the fact that Sugar is a distinctly un-Dickensian young woman, in a Dickensian story. She is clever, witty, bawdy, sexual, coarse, feminist, takes action - all the things a pure Dicknesian Heroine like Esther Summerson or Florence Dombey would never do. Even Agnes – William's wife and more of a Victorian gothic heroine – crazy and pining away in her upstairs bedroom - is strong willed and unique in her 'craziness' which is undercut by the fact we the readers know something about her that the characters do not.
(view spoiler)[ What I love the most is the gradual mirroring of Agnes and Sugars fates. Despite their different characters their stories take on many parallels as they are both forced to suffer under the control of William Rackham the privileged Victorian male. And it is Sugar's wits and compassion that saves herself and both Agnes and Sophie. At least, that's how I saw the ending. (hide spoiler)]
In the end I thought it was a great take on a Victorian novel, full of interesting women, unique characters trying to survive their imprisoning roles in a man's world.
The writing as usual with Phillip Pullman is elegant and engaging with superb pace that keeps the story bubbling along all the time. I thought it was...moreThe writing as usual with Phillip Pullman is elegant and engaging with superb pace that keeps the story bubbling along all the time. I thought it was actually marginally better than Ruby in the Smoke. It's still not quite five stars for me as it does have one of those James Bond endings where the villain explains his whole plot to the heroine (Sally) and then stands around while she thwarts it. I didn't mind the bitter sweet nature of the end either, but there were a few scenes where I felt people acted out of character to further the story. That said it kept me gripped to the very last page and the last third really ups the ante on the action. Looking forward to reading the next in the series(less)
**spoiler alert** The third book in the series of the Sally Lockhart Quartet is the longest and also by far the most interesting. Sally now has a two...more**spoiler alert** The third book in the series of the Sally Lockhart Quartet is the longest and also by far the most interesting. Sally now has a two year old daughter named Harriet, whose father was the late Frederick Garland. Her financial business is successful and she live in a house in Richmond with old friends, Jim and Webster Garland, who are away in South America on a photographic assignment. But Sally's idyllic and unconventional middle-class life is shattered when she receives legal papers from a Mr Parrish, a man she's never heard of, who claims to be her husband. He is requesting custody of Harriet and he aims to ruin Sally and take her daughter and all her assets for himself. All of Victorian male society is against Sally and she is gradually stripped of everything she holds dear. Without her old friends to help her, she must once more use her wits and bravery to defend herself against the mysterious Mr Parrish as she sets out to discover the purpose of his plot and to right the injustice that he has brought upon her.
It all sounds a bit melodramatic, but as usual the writing is brilliant, suspenseful and character driven. The plot is really a chance for Phillip Pullman to explore in detail the issues of Victorian London, from women's lack of marital rights to the suffering and lack of rights of the East End poor and the Toynbee-esque charities trying to help them. We meet dockers, London gangs, Jewish refugees fleeing the pogroms and the socialist radicals among them – here represented by Dan Goldberg, the stories other hero. All of these social-historical issues are subtly woven into a dramatic and action packed edge-of-the seat story, and you never feel like Phillip Pullman is crowbarring in his research. Instead the characters who represent these issues become friends and allies of Sally in her fight against the evil Mr Parrish, his shadowy employer (whose identity is pretty obvious if you read the first two books in the series), and the patriarchal Victorian Law. As the story goes on Sally gets to witness and assist her friends in their own struggles, which, as it unsurprisingly turns out, are connected with her own.
Interestingly, there are little ideas and themes that link with His Dark Materials. The villainous Tzadick and his pet monkey that people claim is an evil spirit or a part of his soul, and that feeds him and defends him from those who would do him harm. The child kidnapping plot - albeit here seen from Sally, the Tiger-mother's, point of view. At one point, Sally and Dan Goldberg have a glass of Tokay, which is apparently a Hungarian Wine and is also a favourite tipple in His Dark Materials – I always wondered what it was.
The London detail has got more believable as the Sally Lockhart series has gone on, there was alway a quality of description but the social and historical detail seems to be much better and subtler in this book. Altogether my favourite in the series so far.(less)
For me The Tin Princess was not as successful as the other books in the Sally Lockhart quartet, probably because it is neither about Sally Lockhart or...moreFor me The Tin Princess was not as successful as the other books in the Sally Lockhart quartet, probably because it is neither about Sally Lockhart or Victorian London, both of which are the thing that interested me about this YA series in the first place.
Instead the plot is about Razkavia a made up Germanic state in middle Europe. Where members of the royal family are being bumped off. Our heroes Jim and Becky fall into this world of royal-intrigue, by way of Adelaide, the little cockney sparrow of the first book, who by the most improbable turn of events has become a member of the Royal Family of Razkavia.
It's a broad exciting adventure well written, just like the first three books, but unlike those stories I didn't think that the starting point of this one, or in fact much that happened along the way, was credible for the characters. Especially for Jim and Adelaide, both London cockney street-kids, who are suddenly versed in enough German and state-craft in the space of a few chapter to out-manouveur a bunch of professional politicians and generals and to care enough to try and save a country to which they have no real attachments. I also didn't feel that they had as much emotional investment in the outcome of their story as Sally had in her adventures. The third main character, Becky seemed to be there to paper over some of these credibility gaps by witnessing how in love the other two were and how brave and how cunning etc. etc. Having said all that, it's still an enjoyable adventure romp, with lots of daring-do and action.
**spoiler alert** Dombey and Son was a struggle to get through. I was reading on Kindle and only realised halfway through that the book is nearly a th...more**spoiler alert** Dombey and Son was a struggle to get through. I was reading on Kindle and only realised halfway through that the book is nearly a thousand pages long. The title characters are both totally unlikable and so in the end I didn't really care too much what happened to them.
Mr Dombey is a horrible, banal characterless man who takes nine hundred and something pages to learn the same moral lesson about life the Selfish Giant learns in about ten pages. His young daughter Florence is a typically wet Dickens heroine who lets her father treat her like dirt everyday of her life and wonders what she has done to deserve such treatment and even at the end never for a moment thinks ill of him. Her pure heart radiate through her every action, and never a bad thought crosses her wholesome mind, consequently, she too, is dull as ditchwater, at least a character like Esther in Bleak House has some sarcastic asides about people.
What makes the rest of the book more fun are the supporting characters who are all far more interesting than the leads. The most memorable are probably Captain Cuttle, the old salt with the hooked hand (surely the prototype for Long John Silver and Captain Hook) and Mr Carker, he of the shark like grin and tombstone teeth, a classic Victorian villain who really doesn't get to enact enough villainy until nearly the end of the book. Even family members like Mrs Dombey, the trophy wife who extracts her revenge, and Paul the ill and pallid young boy with the demeanour of an old man, have a lot more life in them than the leads. All in all my least favourite Dickens, though it did as usual have some great moments.(less)
The first Sherlock Holmes story is quite short and divides into two halves. The first half set in London and introduces Holmes and Watson and the bumb...moreThe first Sherlock Holmes story is quite short and divides into two halves. The first half set in London and introduces Holmes and Watson and the bumbling London police force who consult Holmes on their murder case. The second half, which is still well written but not as interesting, tells the story of a man and his daughter lost in the desert who are rescued by Mormons. Then at the end the two halves connect up. It's a strange way to tell the story, but the writing is still excellent.
For a Victorian novel it seems very modern to me. All the characters are strongly drawn and interesting, and Watson, our narrator in the first half, is continually amazed at the deductions Holmes makes about people from his razor sharp observations of detail that Watson misses. Someone pointed this out, and I can't remember who, but the irony of the situation is that Watson the writer/narrator is actually very observant. He succinctly describes with just the right details a place he has just arrived in or a character he has only just met. (less)