This was my first Jane Austen book and I decided to go with an admittedly unorthodox choice. But I've already seen movie versions of Pride and Prejudi...moreThis was my first Jane Austen book and I decided to go with an admittedly unorthodox choice. But I've already seen movie versions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma, so I wanted something I was unfamiliar with. (Incidentally, however, this book felt very familiar. All of the balls, dancing, strolls, military men, witty dialogue, etc. felt unmistakably Jane Austen, despite my never having previously read one of her books.
I don't know what I was scared of or what took me so long to read Austen. To my delight, she's a joy to read, although her prose is a little more ornamented and complex than I typically prefer. But Austen peppers her story with great insights, whether about someone's reading habits or a distinction between the sexes or the way women dress; it's hard not to like. (less)
Certainly not bad, but definitely not my favorite. Anna Karenina, being my favorite book, cast a looming shadow over this small story, so it really ba...moreCertainly not bad, but definitely not my favorite. Anna Karenina, being my favorite book, cast a looming shadow over this small story, so it really barely stood a chance. Much of the prose of Ivan Ilyich resembles that of what you would find in Anna K, but it feels unstructured and jumbled. The beginning, which details several characters who do not show up in the rest of the story and whose existence serves to befuddle the reader (or this reader, at the least, who admittedly has problems retaining unfamiliar and lengthy Russian names.) More than anything, I feel mostly unmoved by a tragic death that's not even that tragic.
A smart person once said, apparently, that "Tolstoy's book is about many things: the tyranny of bourgeois niceties, the terrible weak spots of the human heart, the primacy and elision of death. But more than anything, I would offer, it is about the consequences of living without meaning, that is, without a true and abiding connection to one's life." If that's a true statement, and I assume it probably is, I offer this DISCLAIMER: Part of my non-love for this may be due to bad timing. At points I recovered my mind after it had wandered off to ponder TV shows or the dishwasher installer in the next room. In other circumstances, a close reading of this book may have uncovered more riches.(less)
So I'm going to be reading through/counting down the list of the top twenty-five Poe short stories according to this thing.
25. The Premature Burial 4...moreSo I'm going to be reading through/counting down the list of the top twenty-five Poe short stories according to this thing.
25. The Premature Burial 4 stars 24. Morella 3 stars 23. The Murders in the Rue Morgue 4 stars 22. The Gold Bug 3 stars 21. The Imp of the Perverse 2 stars 20. Eleonora 4 stars 19. William Wilson 4 stars 18. The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether 17. Berenice 16. The Balloon Hoax 15. Hop-Frog 14. The Oval Portrait 13. The Spectacles 12. A Descent into the Maelstrom 11. Never Bet the Devil Your Head 10. The Black Cat 9. The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar 8. MS. Found in a Bottle 7. The Purloined Letter 6. The Pit and the Pendulum 5. Ligeia 4. The Fall of the House of Usher 3. The Masque of the Red Death 2. The Cask of Amontillado 1. The Tell-Tale Heart(less)
Last night I read the last line of this book. I shut it, set it on the nightstand. I switched off the lamp, pulled the covers over me and closed my li...moreLast night I read the last line of this book. I shut it, set it on the nightstand. I switched off the lamp, pulled the covers over me and closed my lids.
I woke in the middle of the night during a summer storm. Lightning intermittently set my bedroom aglow and at the foot of my bed I saw the outline of a man. A large man with a mop of hair messily piled onto one side of his head.
Paralyzed with fear, I lay there helplessly and heard these words from the specter emitted in a gravelly and woeful tone: "...is with me always - in every form - drives me mad! She left me in this abyss, where I cannot find her! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot die without my life! I cannot die without my soul! Catherine! My.......” and the specter faded back into oblivion.
No, not oblivion, for in oblivion there is no suffering.
This morning the afterimage of Heathcliff's phantasm, shadow, daemon, apparition remains burned into my retinas, corneas, fovea, vitreous humor (into whatever visual element images become burned) and its speech repeats itself within my mind on a locked groove.
Lockwood the faithful recording angel and his storyteller Ellen Dean must have gotten something wrong. There is no peace for Heathcliff - not in this world or any other.(less)
M. Victor Hugo President Hugo Heavy Books, Inc. Hauteville House 38 Hauteville St Peter GY1 1DG United Kingdom
Dearest M. Hugo,
Having arrived at the completion of my quest to faithfully and fervently examine each and every jot and tittle of your most beloved masterpiece Les Misérables, I would like to express my undying admiration for your work. You possess an incredible ability to cultivate character. Jean Valjean shall reign throughout history as an exemplar of faith, goodness, compassion, longsuffering, and repentance. And that dastardly Thénardier - if I should never again meet a more despicable man in either my life or my reading, I should not be surprised! It has been long since I have met characters - nay, friends! - that have so moved my heart within its cage of bone and flesh. You have bestowed a precious gift upon me with this large lump of bound paper and ink and I shall be eternally in your debt.
However, I must put forth some, admittedly unsolicited and perhaps unwanted, advice. My feelings shall not be offended if you do not heed my words, but I beg you to retain in your fertile mind that I remain a loyal fan of yours and of the fruits of your labor. My complaints number three and I shall address them in order of importance.
The primary complaint I cannot silence within my meager mind is that Les Misérables is replete with unnecessary digressions. I have conversed with some fellow readers who have relished in these meanderings, but I can find no reason nor excuse for such lengthy historical or philosophical discourse. Yours is a plot- and character-driven novel, not a treatise or dissertation upon your various and numerous preoccupations. Your book opens with a long digression, that of the life of Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel, which I thoroughly enjoyed. In this instance, his incredible life greatly informed and made credible the transformation of your protagonist from scoundrel to saint. However, I fail to understand how the exhaustive history (nineteen chapters, to be exact) of the Battle of Waterloo, the nigh endless investigation of Paris's sewer system, the dissection of the Petit-Picpus convent (which you in your cunning titled "Parenthesis" to alert your readers of a digression) fall under the purview of a novel. The illustrious writers of the Internet-based Wikipedia (which would be immensely helpful to you, I am sure, if you ever take it upon yourself to write a work of history) have estimated that more than a quarter - more than one fourth! - of your novel is taken up by your digressions, which serve only to distract. There is such a thing as too much context.
This is unacceptable for a work of fiction, Monsieur. In the future of your (I pray) long and fruitful career, I encourage you to suppress your desire for nonfictional divagations in favor of furtherance of plot and character, the aspects of authorship in which you excel.
My secondary complaint regards the authorial intent of your book, and for this I must give some history of my own reading life. You are perhaps unaware of the work of an American author, nom de guerre of Mark Twain, who penned a fascinating book entitled The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As prelude to his novel, he writes this threatening notice: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot." M. Twain is anything but bashful in his insistence that he carries no authorial intent within his novel. This also goes for one Russian author who may also have escaped your notice, the honorable M. Vladimir Nabokov, who, in his novel Lolita, explores the deplorable sexual relationship between a stepfather and his only barely pubescent stepdaughter. M. Nabokov has the audacity to say of his book (and of all his fiction) that he wishes to purvey no moral through his writing, that his prose is meant for enjoyment alone. I find MM. Twain and Nabokov remiss in writing such controversial novels - dealing with such dire subjects as pedophilia and slavery, how could they not be controversial?! - without trying to convey at least some meaningful commentary on those subjects.
I do not wish to accuse you of the same fault of MM. Twain and Nabokov, but just the opposite. Your beliefs show strongly throughout the whole of Les Misérables - much too strongly! Allow me to repeat the opening preface of your novel: "So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny; so long as the three great problems of the century— the degradation of man through pauperism, the corruption of woman through hunger, the crippling of children through lack of light— are unsolved; so long as social asphyxia is possible in any part of the world;— in other words, and with a still wider significance, so long as ignorance and poverty exist on earth, books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use." You have fallen into the antipolar snare of MM. Twain and Nabokov - that of placing what the novel says in front of the novel itself - placing the cart before the horse, if you in your graciousness will allow me the pleasure of one inane expression. In the context of your preface, Les Misérables is nothing but a tool. I encourage you to let your novel be the wonderful story that it is without forcing it into the position of harbinger of social change. By all means, insert your beliefs about this broken world, but leave them as subtext. Let your readers puzzle out the subtleties of your soothsayings. Perhaps you have read M. Tolstoy's beloved Anna Karenina, which I recommend to you as a paragon of the golden mean between the styles of Les Misérables and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Lolita.
Please suffer my last complaint, which is also my most minor. I hesitate even to bring it to your attention and I would sternly warn any third party peeping toms who have surreptitiously come upon this private letter to tread no further, for I will presently discuss the resolution of your novel. (view spoiler)[At the conclusion of the portion of your novel dealing with the failed insurrection by the Friends of the ABC, the emergence from the sewers of Jean Valjean with the barely zoetic Marius in his arms, only to fall into the hands of the robotic policeman Javert, who finds within his chest a beating heart and lets Jean Valjean run free, I was indubitably and unquestioningly yours. This is the climax of your novel, the scene with which you win my undying love. But then comes the milquetoast and, quite honestly, very disappointing falling action. It is at this point where the admirable Jean Valjean metamorphizes into the frustratingly meek Jean Valjean. The revelation of his past to Marius is necessary to the story and expected by the reader. But this revelation should have first been made to Cosette, a much more vital person to Jean Valjean. And rather than having admitted only his criminal past to Marius, Jean Valjean should have related his entire life story, which Marius surely would have requested and which would have solved all problems created in the novel. I find this ending to such a well conceived and thorough novel unfortunate. In future novels, I implore you to let common sense reign supreme. (hide spoiler)]
Let me manifest my admiration for your work once again. Les Misérables is a fantastic piece literature, one which I enjoyed immensely and may return to in the future. The characters living within its pages shall live within my heart throughout my days. However, for the reasons I have mentioned, it has fallen just short of securing its place on the shelf among the my favorite volumes, in the midst of such giants as Homer's Odyssey, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Wallace's Infinite Jest, and McCarthy's Suttree.
Your ever affectionate reader, Christopher Winters Winters Reading and Polite Complaint Letter Writing Services, Ltd.
P.S. I have included a couple small prints displaying works of art simply because I think they are the type of pictures you would enjoy. Perhaps you could use them as inspiration for your next novel. I hope to hear from you soon.
pictured: Paul Bril, "Küstenlandschaft mit Hafen"
pictured: Pieter Bruegel der Ältere, "Die Bienenzüchter"["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)