I first started reading Ivanhoe when I was eight and promptly managed to lose my copy among the piles of books lying around the house. Although 4 stars
I first started reading Ivanhoe when I was eight and promptly managed to lose my copy among the piles of books lying around the house. Although I didn’t get very far it stuck with me – mainly because of the cover, a knight on horseback – and is something I’ve been meaning to pick up again ever since without really knowing much about what it was about. So naturally when I spotted this beautiful little edition in the ‘three for two’ pile I grabbed myself a copy without even bothering to read the blurb. And boy. . .if I had actually finished reading this when I was eight it would probably be one of my favourite books ever.
Everything about the story is practically designed to appeal to eight-year-old, Robin Hood loving, King Arthur obsessed, me; jousts and tournaments, conniving villains, witch trials, castle sieges, nobility in disguise, plots of high treason…Robin Hood himself even puts in a pretty major appearance! From twenty-three-year-old me, however – who expects a bit more in terms of characterisation and knows a lot more about medieval history – it only gets a 4 star rating. While I had immense fun with it I just can’t quite love it with the passion I know that little-me would have.
It’s ‘historical fiction’ with the emphasis firmly on the ‘fiction’ and there are some truly glaring inaccuracies and anachronisms. But that’s part of the charm, I think. Sure I could pick a thousand little and not so little holes in the story and details, but I enjoyed myself too much to feel the need. As the afterword in this edition succinctly puts it it’s more ‘Robin Hood land‘ than ‘medieval England’ and historical accuracy doesn’t really matter for the story it’s trying to tell. And ‘Robin Hood land‘ is a fitting description – despite the King Arthur-like trimmings of Knights errant, jousting tournaments, and damsels in distress – it’s a Robin Hood story through and through, although one where Robin Hood himself plays only a secondary role.
England after the third crusade, Richard the Lionheart trapped in a foriegn prison, and his brother John plotting and scheming to seize the throne – it’s a setting familiar to anyone with even just Disney knowledge of Robin Hood (an underated Disney classic that needs far more love). What Scott does with it though is shift the focus from the oppression of one greedy monarch on the poor to a more systematic and widespread racial tension; the Normans (descendents of William the Conqueror’s army) oppress the ‘native’ Saxons, nobility and laymen alike, and both the Normans and the Saxons oppresses, misuse, and hate the Jews. The Saxon-Norman tension is certainly an interesting twist on a familiar setting and it was nice to see the widespread antisemitism of medieval England acknowledged and criticised, I just wish that the Jewish characters, particularly Isaac, hadn’t conformed so damn much to antisemitic stereotypes themselves – it undermined the point in places and made portions of the book downright distasteful to read.
Ivanhoe, though, is definitely an action rather than character-driven story and relies on this sort of stereotyping to work. While there is a large cast of pretty wonderful characters – Cedric the Saxon and Wamba the Jester being my personal favourites – there’s not that much depth to any of them. Which to be honest is mostly fine with me considering the clear action-adventure slant of the story. Apart from my feelings about Isaac, the only characters I wish we could have seen more of were Ivanhoe himself (who for the title character does surprisingly little and is far less interesting or fleshed out than almost every other character) and his love interest, Lady Rowena (who, when compared to the Jewish heroine, Rebecca, comes off incredibly lacking in the personality department). That, the antisemitism, and a truly implausible event near the end of the book is really what stops me from liking this more because, blandly perfect main characters aside, the events and the supporting cast are both great fun.
It’s not a fast paced book my modern standards, there’s probably too much ponderous description and historical asides, but I quite like that; it’s a style that fits the setting and there’s plenty to enjoy in the way of unlikely character interactions even when there’s not much action going on. When the action does come round though it’s exactly the sort of chivalric knights and castles stuff you expect – which is exactly what I was reading for. Tournaments, sieges, out of control fires. . .the only action scene I found disapointing was that the final showdown ended on a bit of an anticlimax – more swordfighting would have been nice.
If you’re into tales of King Arthur, medieval chivalry, or Robin Hood and don’t mind your historical fiction very heavy on the ‘fiction’ side it’s definitely worth a read. In the end though, if you’re looking for a ‘serious’ classic rather than a fun (if wordy) adventure story, this one is rather more style than substance....more
I’ve spoken about my love of all things Arthurian before, so I was really expecting to enjoy this book. All the ingrediCrossposted from my blog
I’ve spoken about my love of all things Arthurian before, so I was really expecting to enjoy this book. All the ingredients are there – it’s centered on a character I normally like, on events that are often just skated over as prologue, and grounded in more unique ‘realistic’ Dark Age Britain than the typical ‘castles and knights’ setting. It was also pretty popular back in its day. Alas, I learn, yet again, that popularity often has little to do with quality. It’s not that I actively dislike the book – it’s solidly in ‘ok’ territory – but I can’t really think of anything I liked about it either. There were a lot of neat ideas but, like every character in this novel, they were never developed.
It’s told, first-person, from Merlin’s perspective as an old man looking back on his life. However, the first few pages of the prologue, where Merlin describes how his memory works as an old man ‘the recent past is misted while distant scenes of memory are clear and brightly coloured’ is the last time the narrator sounds the age he is meant to be. When describing his childhood, he sounds like neither a child or an old man looking back on events – his voice simply narrates things, as they happened, with very little passion or personality, even when describing his strongest feelings. It’s all a bit too measured and distanced so that, despite being the narrator, I never felt remotely drawn to him or that I had any sort of grip on his personality. Since Merlin was both the narrator and the only character that seemed intended as more than a bunch of familiar stereotypes, this was a pretty big problem.
The story chugs away pretty slowly and, because I wasn’t enamoured with the narration, at times it felt a bit like wading through treacle. Even when things did happen, though, I didn’t feel particularly excited. Everything had a tendency to happen to the characters, rather than the characters doing things for themselves. Even declaring war seemed to be just a natural course of events rather than a proactive decision made by a person. This lack of agency was only enhanced by Merlin’s magic – which rather unsatisfactorily seemed to consist of knowing what to do and that he would get out ok. As he says himself ‘I am a spirit, a word, a thing of air and darkness, and I can no more help what I am doing than a reed can help the wind of god blowing through it’. Which means that, since Merlin never once tries to stray from this path or do anything for himself without ‘the wind of god’, that there’s really no tension, and that anything Merlin does achieve isn’t something that can really be attributed to his character but to the undefined ‘god’. It robs Merlin of the moral ambiguity he should have and makes him a dumb, uninteresting, tool instead of a great, cunning and complex character. Throughout the later sections of the book when Merlin’s reputation had grown far and wide, all I could think of was ‘why? He’s done nothing for himself yet’. If his personality had been more complex, this wouldn’t be a problem, but his personality was simply ‘I am the breath of god’ and never got any further than that.
And if you don’t like Merlin there’s really no one to relate to or care about in this book. His servants Cadal and Cerdic are both quite likable – but almost completely interchangeable. His teachers Galapas and Belasius have quite different methods and attitudes, but don’t get meaty enough roles for this to even be an interesting contrast. Ambrosius is wise and patient, Uther is rash, petty and impulsive. Every female is either a saint, ‘slut’, or nursemaid. The simplistic style of both the narration and the characterisation actually left me stunned when, in the last half I discovered through repeated casual use of the word ‘slut’ and one boob-groping almost-sex scene that this wasn’t written as a children’s book. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that makes it unsuitable for most kids (I would probably have really enjoyed this book about 15 years ago) but it’s a pretty stong indicator it wasn’t meant to be aimed at them. Which left me naturally wondering who exactly it was aimed at, because it really doesn’t read like a book aimed at adults either.
Eventually, the author’s note at the back of the book clued me in – people who enjoy the Arthur myth. Well, I love the King Arthur myth and it didn’t work for me. When Merlin visits the well outside Galapas’ cave I wasn’t thinking ‘oh, that’s a really clever reference to a line in Monmouth’ or when Belasius becomes Merlin’s tutor I wasn’t going ‘Ah, the romanised name of a character who got mentioned in an offhand remark in Monmouth’. Was I hell, I was hoping that they would be interesting and relevant characters and events in this book, the one I was actually reading. I’ve got nothing against these little references, actually I really like them usually, but if they take up that much page-time they need to serve a narrative purpose too. As it is there was a huge section of ‘part II’ that dealt with Merlin discovering that Belasius was a druid – and that’s not even a spoiler because literally nothing developed out of this multi-chapter waste of time and it was hardly mentioned again. The only purpose, seemingly, was to fit in the names of a couple of characters from Monmouth – one who did reappear towards the end, but in such a totally minor role that he may as well have been introduced to the reader then.
Despite all that I wouldn’t say it’s a bad book. Most of it would make an alright children’s novel and the only thing I really took offense to was the casual misogyny and the way in which every single female character was portrayed. And yes, part of this is the setting but I don’t think that’s an excuse – A Song of Ice and Fire has an even more misogynist setting with an even more pervasive rape culture, but it still manages to have strong female characters and to indicate that there is something deeply wrong and unpleasant with the anti-female attitudes of the societies it portrays. Merlin, however, despite hearing that his mother was beaten almost into miscarriage for getting pregnant outside marriage, despite observing the way she was treated, even despite learning later exactly how long his mother had known his father, still goes about throwing words like ‘slut’ around to describe a serving girl in a relationship with her master and then has the audacity to complain that she left him to fend for himself when her master leaves the house. This on the same page as he’s mooning over a totally transparently non-celibate nun. Only Niniane and Ygraine escape with anything remotely resembling complex characterisation – and even then it’s all about their love lives.
All in all a disappointing book on a huge number of levels for me. But I wouldn’t tell other people not to read it. I can see why people might like it but it simply didn’t work for me. As a retelling of Merlin’s early life I guess the ideas are quite interesting, as a story in its own right it’s simply dull. The elements are all there, but they’ve been stuck together with plasticine.
I’m half tempted to read the rest of the series anyway, just to see how Stewart handles King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but there are so many other books out there that I know I’ll enjoy, that I probably won’t bother....more
Mwaha! After 24 years I finally managed to finish The Hobbit! And I enjoyed it a lot more than I though I would.
To explain my apprehensions a 4 stars
Mwaha! After 24 years I finally managed to finish The Hobbit! And I enjoyed it a lot more than I though I would.
To explain my apprehensions a bit more: I tried to read The Hobbit many, many times in my childhood and each time utterly hated it and failed miserably. I think several of the very numerous creases and damage to the cover of my family’s copy may even have come from me hurling it away in disgust. What annoyed me most though, what really, annoyed me was always that it was a story I should have absolutely loved – all the plot ingredients were there; quests, dragons, dwarves, goblins, treasure, all that fantasy stuff I used to practically live and breathe – but I just simply couldn’t get over the fucking tone of the book. I felt patronised by the narrator, annoyed by the constant outbursts of song, and generally talked down to. In fact, when I was about five, I very stroppily insisted that my parents never tried to play the audiobook in the car ever again (it was a staple for long journeys at the time) because, although the bits with the trolls and the goblins and the dragon were great, I was fed up of hearing how ‘Bilbo Baggins wished he was back in his hobbit hole. Not for the last time!’ repeated every few minutes.
So, despite loving the basic plot and absolutely adoring Lord of the Rings, I'd never managed to finish The Hobbit and was very, very apprehensive about giving it another go – but all the same I really wanted to at least try before I went to see the film. And actually I’m really fucking glad that I did, cause read with adult eyes I actually really liked it (though I confess to still being annoyed by the songs).
As I’m sure everyone will know, The Hobbit tells the story of the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and his many wonderful aventures after becoming reluctantly roped into helping the least-prepared band of dwarves ever reclaim their treasure from the dragon who ruined their homeland. It also (again as everyone knows) serves as a prequel of sorts to The Lord of the Rings, though is very different in tone. Written for a younger audience it’s more episodic in structure and fun in nature than its sprawling sequel. The quest to recover the dwarvish treasure serves as an overarching plot but, for the first half of the book at least, the journey to the Lonely Mountain where the dragon lives is made up of a series of random encounters and seemingly unrelated adventures. More than being a fun adventure story, however, there’s also a strong character arc (for Bilbo anyway) and a surprisingly mature finale. For a rather slim book there’s a hell of a lot happens and, save for the stupid songs, there’s almost never a dull moment. So although I hated it as a child I have to admit that it’s not at all hard to see why it is such a very beloved children’s classic.
The first part, where the dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf have to overcome obstacle after obstacle to reach the dragon’s lair is still probably my favourite – I’ve always been a sucker for ‘journey stories’ and all the really memorable incidents happen here, the trolls, the goblins, Gollum. But it’s also where the tone is at it’s most irritating – the ‘not for the last time!‘s are frequent (though thankfully not as frequent as I seemed to recall) and the Rivendell elves who sing the ‘O! tra-la-la-lally/here down in the valley!/ha ha!’ song deserve thirteen dwarven axes to the fucking head, but the Gollum episode alone makes up for that. Gollum is, quite simply, the absolute best thing about Middle Earth – full stop. I loves him, I loves him, I loves him.
The rest of the story never quite reaches the brilliance that is Riddles in the Dark where Gollum appears, but it’s still pretty damn good and, as the journey portion concludes and the company realise they actually have to face the dragon, Smaug, you begin to really see the influence that sagas and epic poetry had on Tolkien’s writing. At least one episode with Smaug is lifted almost directly from Beowulf (maybe more, I’m only partway through Beowulf at the moment) and the characters prove to be far more flawed and selfish than you normally find in the heroes of children’s books. It turns the fun romp through the forests and mountains of the first half into something more poignant and mature. I’m not entirely sure I would have got on with this section so well when I was younger – I was normally asleep by this point when we played the audiobook in the car and I probably wasn’t used to protagonists turning out to be dickish and random people who had only just been introduced doing important deeds that would normally be reserved for the heroes – but I liked it and it is, I think, one of the things that sets The Hobbit apart from similar children’s adventure stories.
And onto the downsides. Again, I found the songs and poems (with the exception of Gollum’s riddles) annoying, far too frequent, and mostly unneccessary. The last chapter alone had three songs in it – none of them needed. I guess there must be people out there who like them but I’m really not one. They were shorter than I remembered though, which was something at least. The amount of stuff per page ratio also meant that very few of the characters apart from Bilbo ever got that much focus or do much for themselves. The thirteen dwarves are, for the most part, completely interchangeable and there seems no reason for half of them to be there except to bulk up the numbers so that Bilbo can make the group a ‘lucky fourteen’. Thorin is the leader and a bit of a pompous dickwad, Kili and Fili are the youngest and therefore get all the shitty jobs, Balin is friendlier with Bilbo than most of the others and Bombur is constantly refered to and berated for being fat enough for two. And that’s literally all the character traits I can remember. I think Oin and Gloin light a candle at one point but I can’t remember them doing anything else even remotely useful. It’s the nature of this type of epic adventure storytelling of course to focus almost solely the main character (few of Odysseus’s sailors or Beowulf’s companions are even given names for example) but it does make them feel rather like dead weight a lot of the time. Combine that with the fact they’re also the most incompetent bunch of adventurers ever, constantly in need of rescuing and never managing even a single thing for themselves, and I feel rather sorry for the dwarves. They clearly didn’t know (or stop to consider) just what their quest actually entailed. They’re so clueless about their planned adventure that they pack musical instruments but no proper weapons! I can’t help but feel that Gandalf really should have given the poor things a better briefing.
Overall though a very enjoyable little book. The bits that annoyed me as a child still annoyed me as an adult though not to anything near the same extent. I do wish there had been a bit less singing and a bit more of certain characters in it, but I liked it all a hell of a lot more than I was expecting to. A pretty solid 4 stars....more
It’s that time of year again; it’s summer, it’s sunny, and I have exams coming up – which means lying out on the lawn with a pCrossposted from my blog
It’s that time of year again; it’s summer, it’s sunny, and I have exams coming up – which means lying out on the lawn with a pile of revision, a cold drink, and a Jeeves and Wooster book onside to de-stress between doses of Cold War politics. Add to that the company of my beautiful old dog, take away the revision, replace the non-alcholic drink with a pitcher of Pimms and it’s damn close to the perfect way to spend the summer. And as such I tend to think Stephen Fry is bang on when he says of Wodehouse; ‘You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour’. Damn bloody right. Thank You, Jeeves is probably not the best of the Jeeves and Wooster books and it certainly has it's flaws but it is still a hilariously funny, lighthearted, comedy of errors that deserves every one of the five stars up there for pure enjoyment factor but loses one, I'm afraid, because I'm just not comfortable with some of the attitudes that were considered 'ok' when this was written.
Bertie is, as ever, a charmingly clueless narrator – I confess I have something of a book-crush on old Bertie – with a wonderfully imaginative yet almost childishly simple mastery of the English language that conveys not just the story but a very stong sense of his own character - something that’s often strangely absent from first-person narration. I was having too much fun reading to make a note of all the brilliant phrases, metaphors and similes that made me laugh out loud but there’s one on almost every page. Just opening the book at random gives me ‘He made a noise like a pig swallowing half a cabbage, but refused to commit himself further’ and there are many more and better descriptions in there too if I were to try and hunt them down. The quality of the plot almost doesn’t matter when the writing is this good.
But the plot in fact is fairly stong. Although I could see almost each twist coming up as I approached it was with gleeful anticipation rather than bored ‘knew that was going to happen’-ness. It’s no spoiler to say that it follows the formula of every other Jeeves and Wooster story ever; Bertie inadvertently gets into an awkward situation, which through a series of misunderstandings and ill-conceived attempts to remedy then escalates even further until, just as everything is about to go really bad, Jeeves rescues him with some fiendishly simple plan. It’s a good formula and I was very glad to see that it managed to hold up pretty well when stretched to fill a whole novel – my previous Jeeves experience being just the first three volumes of short story collections. I doubt it’s the best of the Jeeves and Wooster series, but it’s not bad either, especially as a first try.
The one warning I would give is that it is incredibly politically incorrect and racially problematic in places – a lot of the story revolves around Bertie, in blackface, trying to find some way to get the boot-polish off and being constantly foiled. There’s also some casual use of the ‘n-word’ as an perfectly acceptable everyday description. If you keep in mind the time the story was written and the context, it’s not as bad. Blackface minstrels (as far as I can tell there are no actual black characters) were a shamefully real thing, they did exist, and they were a part of the cultural backdrop of the period the Jeeves books are set in (in fact I'm ashamed to say they lasted until the 70s in the UK) – but it is definitely jarring to modern sensibilities and the situation even more cringe-inducing than it was for its intended audience. Nothing intentionally offensive, I hope, but unintentionally. . .very. I (a white girl) was able to half-overlook that and try to forget it to focus on the other wacky events, but I wouldn't blame anybody else at all if they weren't.
Apart from that one rather shocking aspect, it is a good book and, once I accepted ‘ok, different time period, different standards’, I got back to enjoying the situational comedy. Bertie is brilliant, Jeeves is as coolly clever as ever - though there isn't as uch interplay between them as in previous collections, and the side characters were of pretty high quality. I liked Pauline Stoker a lot more than many of the previous female characters in the short stories – I’m meant to, of course, but still - she had a bit of spirit going for her even if she was a bit silly on occasion. While Sir Roderick Glossop making a reappearance and refreshing the reader on his history with Bertie is always fun. The other side characters were a little bit samey-samey filling their designated roles of ‘old schoolfriend in love’, ‘disapproving father’, ‘annoying child’, but Jeeves and Wooster relies on these sort of stereotypes and repeated roles so, until they actually start feeling tired or ringing completely hollow, I’m not going to complain.
As I said, it's probably not the best Jeeves and Wooster – I’m currently collecting the next few novels and so hope to find out shortly – but damn enjoyable if you’re able to get over the different standards of the time. Just what I needed to help me get through revision. However, I’d strongly recommend starting with the first book, The Inimitable Jeeves, and working from there though rather than jumping in here at the first full length novel. It works perfectly well as a standalone book and further reading isn’t required but Bertie does occasionally reference past misadventures from the short stories in passing....more
Read a while ago. Crossposting original review from my blog
Fairy tales again…I promise I do read other things though!
Actually it’s a collection of shoRead a while ago. Crossposting original review from my blog
Fairy tales again…I promise I do read other things though!
Actually it’s a collection of short stories based on fairy tales. Some stray closer to simple retellings than others (The Bloody Chamber, The Courtship of Mr Lyon) but they’re all original works rather than just an update of Grimm/Perrault.
I haven’t read much Angela Carter before – just Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, which she compiled rather than wrote herself – but I had heard a lot about this collection from friends who studied it at school or university, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. In the end I loved it. Not all stories quite hit the note for me – The Erl-King was probably my least favourite – but each had such an interesting idea behind it, or style of writing, and I could see what Carter was aiming for that it didn’t cause me to feel I should deduct a star. And even if some stories were superior to others they all worked together as a complete collection very well. Almost every story contained a female character that subverted the traditional ‘fairy tale female’ role in some way, however subtle, and was a theme of female sexuality running through all of them that united the collection just as much as the fact that they are all based on folklore and fairytale.
Of course this isn’t for everyone. In fact it’s what put a few of my friends off the stories – that there was so much sex and focus on sexuality, virginity and menstruation in something that was meant to be a ‘fairy tale’. But as someone who frequently finds myself objecting to passive female roles in both fairy tales, novels, and TV and film I found myself really enjoying this book, even if parts of it did seem a bit heavy handed. I also tend to agree with Carter in that these things are there in the original stories if you just look and think for a few moments, she’s just highlighted them and given the women a bit more agency. So for me it didn’t seem like it was ‘ruining my favourite childhood stories’ at all, but merely offering a different perspective on them.
The book opens with the title story, The Bloody Chamber, by far the longest story of the collection and quite possibly my favourite. Based on the tale of Bluebeard, its plot sticks very closely to that of the original, but is told in first person from the perspective of Bluebeard’s latest wife and updated to mid 20th century France. Instead of being an anonymous woman in a fairy tale the unnamed narrator becomes a real person, easier to relate to – a young woman not forced into but willingly marrying a much older man she feels nothing for, and is a little intimidated by, in return for his money. I have to admit this characterisation did not endear me to her at first but being able to read her thoughts, why she had done it, how she had had to rebel against her more sensible mother, and the slow realisation of what the marriage actually entails helped me to feel for her as a person who had made an understandable, if very unfortunate, decision. By telling it through the teenage bride’s eyes Carter highlights the more subtle everyday horrors that are there but very much brushed over in the original – the terror of a young girl getting married, the fear of her wedding night, anxiety about disappointing her more experienced husband, the realisation she’s trapped in a relationship with someone she doesn’t want to be with, having sex with a man she’s scared of and repulsed by, enjoying sex with a man she’s scared of and repulsed by, the irrational jealousy of a man’s previous partners and inferiority complex that comes with that. It’s all very relatable, even though I haven’t exactly been there myself. The discovery of the ‘bloody chamber’ itself is just the culmination of a growing sense of unease and ‘wrongness’ about the husband that has been building up from the beginning. As well as bringing out these overlooked themes I also prefer Carter’s ending to the original. It’s arguably still a bit of a deus ex machina but it is a better foreshadowed one.
The next two stories, The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride are both based on the story of Beauty and the Beast. Mr Lyon again stays pretty close to the original in terms of plot only updating it to an era of motorcars, while Tiger’s Bride is more of a subversion. Of the two I preferred The Tiger’s Bride, perhaps because it didn’t feel quite so familiar. The ‘Beauty’ character’s father being a compulsive gambler who loses their fortune, drags her through Europe, and finally gambles her away to ‘la Bestia’ was a refreshing twist on the kindly old man of most versions, struck by misfortune through no fault of his own. Again this story is told in first person by the heroine but she’s a much more feisty character than the narrator of The Bloody Chamber and reacts in quite different ways to their broadly similar situation, quietly refusing to be dominated by the men in her life and offering no compromises to them until they compromise themselves.
Puss-in-Boots is a very different story in many ways from the rest. It’s a comedy for one, not as gothic in tone as the other tales, and the female character stays fairly firmly on the sidelines. It’s told rather brilliantly through the eyes of Puss in Boots, which makes for great lines such as ‘I went about my ablutions, tonguing my arsehole with the impeccable hygienic integrity of cats’ and tells the story of the trickster cat trying to secure the beautiful, married, woman his whoremongering master has fallen for. It’s a humorous, very bawdy, little story that doesn’t require thinking too seriously for.
The Erl-King and The Snow Child I’m honestly still not sure about. I know what Carter was trying to do with The Erl-King and I actually really like the concept but, for whatever reason, I found this story a lot harder than the others to get sucked into and enjoy. I think it’s one I might have to give a reread at some later date to get full enjoyment from it. Meanwhile The Snow Child is such a short and odd little vignette writing up my thoughts could only spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it – but it’s the story most of my friends studying this book had the most trouble with and I can see why.
The Lady in the House of Love then plays off vampire mythology rather than fairy tales, telling the story of Dracula’s lonely descendent stuck in her crumbling mansion unable to see the light of day, and the arrival of a bicycling soldier there on the eve of the First World War. It’s the most original of the stories and, I think, a beautiful example of vampire fiction – haunting, lonely, and gothic. Possibly not what one would really expect in a book that’s meant to be based on fairy tales, but as a lover of gothic literature as well I wasn’t complaining. It was one of the highlights of the book for me and I think would stand up well in any compilation of vampire short stories as well (in fact I spotted several people here recommending it for consideration as one of the best works of vampire literature since Dracula).
And from vampires to werewolves, the last three stories all play off Little Red Riding Hood and similar stories. The first, The Werewolf is again so short saying much at all would spoil it so I’ll content myself with saying that I liked it, but that the story seemed very familiar – though that could easily be the result of pop-culture osmosis, (this book being published in 1979 and having a fairly big impact) I think I’ve read almost identical stories in collections of folklore. The Company of Wolves is more strongly linked to the familiar Red Riding Hood tale, with the girl being lured from the path by the ‘wolf’ who beats her to her grandmother’s house. To be honest though I’ve heard so many interpretations and retellings going ‘Red Riding Hood’s really just about sex – didn’t you know? The Red Hood totally symbolises menstruation’ that I just don’t particularly care for hearing it again. Angela Carter was probably one of the first to do so and it’s possibly this story that has influenced so many others to bang on about it though so I will cut her some slack. It’s a very well written piece but for me the standout part was the first third or so, before it gets to the Red Riding Hood narrative, and is just giving lots and lots of lovely folklore-and-mythology-like anecdotes about wolves and werewolves and the stories of people who have been turned into wolves.
Wolf-Alice is the final story based, apparently, on a version of the Red Riding Hood tale I’m not familiar with, tells the story of a feral child raised by wolves. ‘Rescued’ after her adoptive mother is shot dead she goes first to a convent, where they despair at her wild ways, and then sent off as a servant for the mysterious Duke – who has no reflection and likes to cannibalise the corpses from graveyards. I had a bit of trouble trying to work out what exactly the Duke was meant to be – a pre-Dracula type vampire or werewolf perhaps, when the two were more similar and a lot less romantic, or possibly a ghoul. But in the end it doesn’t really matter – whatever he is he’s lost enough humanity that he no longer has a reflection and humanity itself is disgusted and fearful of him. The story’s not really about him anyway (I just found him fascinating) but a coming of age story for Wolf-Alice who, raised by wolves, has no understanding of either time or puberty but has to grow up and develop from a wild dog-like child into a young woman, with only her own reflection in the Dukes mirror to guide her. It’s a powerful little story, but for me not quite as good as The Bloody Chamber or The Lady of the House of Love.
Although I didn’t love every individual story in this book I think it is a great collection, well worthy of five stars, and one I am sure I will be returning to frequently when I want a short and familiar read. The sex and feminism probably isn’t for everyone, I’m ready to allow that, but I quite like a bit of intelligent feminism in my literature, especially if it’s challenging the predominantly passive role of women in fairy tales and giving them back a bit of a voice. The narrator in The Bloody Chamber may do almost exactly the same thing as she does in the traditional stories, but here there’s a sense of her being a fully realised person, not a generic woman who does what she does because women are all fundamentally the same. ...more
Originally published as Not After Midnight, this collections brings together five atmospheric short stories by DaphneCrossposted/tweaked from my blog.
Originally published as Not After Midnight, this collections brings together five atmospheric short stories by Daphne du Maurier. They’re a bit of an odd bunch – a mix of the supernatural and the mundane. Some of them embrace the ‘unknown’ with psychics, pagan worship, and life after death, while others seem to be building you up towards that only to tear it away by having the explanation something completely grounded in reality. Whether you find this second-guessing rewarding or frustrating, though, is probably personal preference. One theme that runs through all the stories, however, is the idea of taking the protagonist away from their home and putting them into an unfamiliar environment, where the setting itself serves to increase the sense of suspense and the character’s own alienation. It’s a collection of stories about how people react and adjust when taken out of their comfort zone and thrown into creepy situations they have very little control over. And it has to be said, most characters don’t do so well…
The first story in the collection, Don’t Look Now tells the story of a married couple holidaying in Venice as they attempt to get over the death of their young daughter and repair their own relationship. It is by the most famous story in this collection, having been made into a classic horror film in 1973 with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. Now I haven’t yet seen the film but my big sister has, and I still remember how freaked out by it she was when she came back from her friend’s sleepover and told me about it. With that in mind and my dad’s explanation of the storyline and constant ‘this reminds me of Don’t Look Now‘ and ‘watch out for little girls in raincoats!’ whenever we ended up wandering round Venetian backstreets and canals at night on family holidays (which happens surprisingly often actually), I had been building this expectation for years that the book must be something truly atmospheric and full of suspense. It wasn’t. I did my best to make it so – I read it while I was in Venice, in the evening, on a poorly lit bench in a small square off a load of little backalleys that I had to wander back through to get to my hostel – and it still didn’t evoke the slightest sense of unease. Maybe I did it wrong, maybe if I had read it at home with only my imagination and memories of Venice I’d have found it creepier. And there’s also the fact I had the plot spoilt for me by hearing about the film – which actually changes a few key details in ways that actually improve it. In the book the explantion for John’s obsession with the little girl in the raincoat is never really that satisfactory and the psychic old women just seem random, disconnected and kind of silly – the film’s decision to make the raincoat girl resemble the dead daughter would have done a lot to improve the sense of suspense and unease both about the supernatural elements and the character’s mental health and just well...make the whole story a bit less random. The ending though, the ending I actually liked in all it’s silly, unintentional hilarity. I’ve seen other reviews claim that du Maurier does a great job of building up suspense only to fail with sudden endings – it’s a criticism I actually agree with in many cases, but in this story I think there was the opposite problem. The ending, though silly, would have worked really well if the build up of suspense had been better done in the main body. As it was, the story just seemed to have too much of John and Laura going out for diner and days out and having rather dull marital disagreements and not enough taking advantage of the creepy setting to explore the grief of losing a child.
The second story, however, does suffer from the sudden ending negating the atmospheric tension of everything that came before, and in a pretty bad way. Not After Midnight tells the story of a ‘lonely teacher’ who goes on holiday to Crete to get some painting done and ends up involved with the mysterious American couple over in one of the other holiday homes. I’d actually take issue with the back cover (and Wikipedia’s) description of the main character as ‘lonely’ – he doesn’t seem lonely to me, he seems like someone who likes being alone to get on with his own thing and doesn’t actually want to be bothered – especially by constantly drunk, boorish Americans. Surely nobody who’s ever experienced being next to one of them on holiday can blame him for that? The loneliness is there, certainly, but it’s something that he develops afterwards and as a result of his holiday and that’s actually pretty important – he wasn’t particularly damaged before the events of the story. To miss that is almost to miss the point. But onto the story… I liked the build up of atmosphere and suspense here a whole lot better than I did in Don’t Look Now. Where it fell down though was the ending, which was frankly pretty rubbish. It felt way too sudden, rushed and dropped in there without any explanation purely for ‘shock factor’. I had to go back and spend a few minutes trying to piece how it all fitted together with the rest of the story – and not in the fun ‘oooooh, I get that now!’ way but the ‘that really should have been a little clearer, and I still don’t get why she said that if what was going on was actually this...’ way. Just a little longer drawing out the ending and making sure the pieces all fitted together a bit more neatly would really have improved this one, because the actual story, though hardly ‘serious literature’ wasn’t that bad.
A Border-Line Case was much more solidly written and probably, if I was being completely objective, the best of the bunch. I can’t rate it too highly though because it uses several tropes that I’m frankly a bit bored with. And, though I was surprised with the twist in the middle, I saw the end ‘twist’ coming a mile off. The heroine of this story is aspiring actress, Shelagh, travels to Ireland to visit Nick, an estranged old friend of her father's, because of an off-hand remark her dad made shortly before his death about wanting to make up. Of course Ireland and England don’t have the best of relations in the 1970s so Shelagh, a little out of her depth, uses her actress skills to disguise her identity. And…well…she must be a damned good actress because the lies she makes up are totally transparent bullshit to anyone simply reading them on the page. People buy (or pretend to buy) them though and she eventually gets ushered in to meet Nick on his mysterious island of mysteriousness where he is surrounded by young men and likes digging up iron age burial sites and not reporting them to trained archaeologists to make proper surveys of (yes, that is something that bugs me in real life, proper archeological surveys are important damnit!). We get some wonderfully 1970s PC ‘oh my god, he might be a homo‘ thoughts from Shelagh as she tries to puzzle out the reason for Nick’s reclusiveness which made me laugh a little. Which was good, as her other thoughts made me want to bash her head in for being a fucking idiot with no ‘creep creep, stay away from this person’ sense of self preservation. She’s only 19, I know, but really; everything about the situation says ‘run for the fucking hills’. A solidly written story, though. Definitely the most consistently well written of the first three stories, but I found neither main character relatable, likable, or particularly believable, enough for me to enjoy it very much. The ‘twist’, though possibly relatively shocking in the 70s, was pretty predictable and, by now, majorly overdone. I’ll give it the fact it has a good title than can be interpreted in a number of ways though – that was pretty clever.
And now my favourite, The Way of the Cross, and I’ll admit this is probably because I have a bit of a fascination with Jerusalem. This story has a far larger cast of characters - a whole tour group of pilgrims - all given about equal attention. The story kicks off with poor Rev. Edward Babcock, a relatively young, urban cleric away on his own holiday, having to step in, last-minute, to be a tour guide for a group of snobby village parishioners he doesn’t know. It takes a while to get into it and I have to admit to being frustrated by du Maurier’s use of the whole ‘young attractive women cannot resist dreadful, boorish, middle-aged men’ theme. It just drives me batty, these men (and I include Mr. De Winter from Rebecca here as well) are so absolutely dire. I don’t know why anyone, regardless of age, would ever fancy them ever. There were enough characters, however, that if one storyline bothered me it was quickly moved away from to feature somebody elses. The basic plot is quite a simple one – all the characters get separated from each other, overhear unpleasant truths and gossip about themselves, and have an absolutely horrible time – mostly in karmic and amusing ways. There’s a sense at the end though that maybe, just maybe, they learn something from their experience and emerge better people for having visited the Holy City. Given the limited page and large number of characters it’s all a bit superficial, but it’s not bad. I actually liked the ‘annoying’ know-it-all kid, who has a great time approaching Jerusalem’s depiction in the bible and the reality of the present city as an archeological problem, rather than desperately seeking spiritual guidance or forgiveness. Questioning whether an important historic site really is where, or as old as, the tourist board claims it is, is something me and my dad often do on holiday and I appreciated the fact that somebody was culturally aware and respectful of the other religions that also live and worship in Jerusalem . A fairly simple, quite formulaic little story, with rather two-dimensional characters. But the prose did by far the best job in this book of evoking a strong sense of location.
The last story, The Breakthrough, is probably an acquired taste. It’s pretty much an unpfront science-fiction/supernatural crossover. Our ‘hero’, Steven the computer guy, is moved to some arse-end-of-nowhere government research facility run by a nutter who the whole scientific community mocks and peopled by about two equally secretive underlings. The machines are all called Charon 1, 2 or 3 so if you know your Greek mythology it’s no surprise what the ‘secret’ aim of the research is. It’s…I dunno. It’s not bad but it isn’t an especially original idea and the execution feels incredibly dated… There’s state of the art giant talking computers, hypnotism, ‘idiots’ (not my wording!) possessing untapped potential abilities to move things around with their emotions, a dog obedience-trained to the point of brainwashing, twins that have a special bond that continues even after one dies… it’s as if du Maurier’s throwing in absolutely everything she can think of - and it’s only a forty page story! It’s just too much, too crowded, everything's competing for attention and it only really serves to undermine the actual themes and questions the plot is trying to raise. Maybe if I was more of sci-fi fan than a gothic/supernatural/suspense person, I would find this more to my taste but it just felt…inelegant I suppose. Unpolished. Not really thought through.
Overall an interesting collection. Although I didn’t rate all the stories too highly, I found something to enjoy about all of them and I don’t regret spending time reading this. Yeah, it’s not the best and not quite my thing but it was interesting at least. My main problem wasn’t that the stories weren’t good, but that I got very frustrated that a lot of it could just be so much better if only it had been more vigorously edited and reworked. Both Don’t Look Now and Not After Midnight had the potential to be a hell of a lot better than they actually were....more
Rivers of London (because I’m not American) is a series I have mixed feelings about. I got the first book as an impulse buy because of its beau4 Stars
Rivers of London (because I’m not American) is a series I have mixed feelings about. I got the first book as an impulse buy because of its beautiful cover (the UK editions are gorgeous) and spent a lovely day lying out in the park getting myself very sunburnt as I totally immersed myself in the story. I got home, book finished, and preordered the next two in the series straight away. In the over-a-year I’ve been waiting for this book to come out, however, the second in the series arrived and it was…well…no where near as good as the first book. In fact I barely liked the second book at all and was beginning to think that maybe I had been wrong about the series, maybe the first one wasn’t as good as I thought and maybe I only enjoyed it so much because it was the first book I read for fun after sorting my life out and seeking help for my depression. Thankfully, with the arrival of Whispers Under Ground, I can rest easy that the series is good after all, very good, and that Moon Over Soho was just a blip in an otherwise very promising urban fantasy series.
Whispers Under Ground is a bit heavier on the police procedural side than the previous offering. That’s probably not for everyone but after being seriously annoyed at how utterly unprofessional Peter was in Moon Over Soho I was really glad there was a return to basic standards of policing. Also returning is Lesley May, something I was delighted with. I like Lesley and I like her and Peter’s banter-filled relationship – though I actually do hope that they stay friend’s rather than eventually ending up together. If nothing else, Lesley also provides a check against Peter’s occasional bouts of idiocy. The multi-book ‘ethically challenged wizard’ subplot introduced in the last book carries on, but the main focus, as in the first book is solving the initial crime – a fatal stabbing on the Underground tracks.
It’s a more mundane crime, in almost every way, than those in the two previous books and the police work is more mundane as a result. Without so many chase scenes, magical threats, and general life threatening danger it felt like a slower book – but it actually rattles along at a fair pace, the whole story taking approximately a week from murder to solution; and it's a very easy book to just devour in one sitting. What we get instead of a magical menagerie of fucked up experiments is a surly half-fairy, magic pottery, and a lot of traipsing through underground railway lines, sewers, world war two bunkers, and secret passages. It’s hard to describe it in a way that sounds interesting but it really is.
Peter’s habit of explaining the history of all the London places he visits in the story still remains and, now that I’m more familiar with London myself, I can understand why some people find it irritating. For the most part I still find it interesting – I’m the sort of person who does like to know and work out the history of the place and actually my dad is very like Peter when it comes to this habit of explaining architecture and history, so I guess it’s something I’m used to. However the description of Baker Street tube station almost had me shouting ‘I know what fucking Baker Street looks like, everyone in the world has travelled the Bakerloo line!’. What also remains is Peter’s apparently teenage hormones, I’m probably being a bit unfair here and I’m sure Peter’s voice is quite an authentic and realistic one, but I still don’t particularly enjoy hearing him admire a female character’s bum. Buuuut, it’s much more understated than previously and he doesn’t do his thinking with his penis this time so I’m going to accept it and move on. For the most part I really enjoy Peter’s voice.
Back to proper policing also means back to character interactions with lots of other police officers, both familiar and new, and I am always delighted with how Aaronovitch gets the multi-cultural nature of London (as he should, being a Londoner and all). No all white cast here but a real mix of races and ethnicities and each character, mostly, treated as a person (if a not-yet developed one) rather than a walking stereotype (though Peter does often like to speak in stereotypes himself). There’s not much in the way of complex character development in this book, and I think Nightingale is woefully underused, but the character interactions are crisp, realistic, and often funny. Like most police procedurals it’s not so much about the character’s as the plot, and both that and the cast are pretty well put together and enjoyable.
It’s not a five-star book, it wasn’t amazing and I don’t think I’ll ever ‘love’ this book with the same passion that I do my favourites. But it’s a very enjoyable page-turner/summer read and one of only two current series that I rush out to buy the moment a new book is released in hardback....more
A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not4 Stars
A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not to know, even if you’ve never read it. Normally this isn’t a problem for me, I read classics I know the story to or have seen on film/tv/stage all the time. The problem is that with this book, like The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Rebecca, knowing the basic plot essentially robs you of the ‘aha!’ moment when the twist is revealed, and all the uneasy suspense and questioning you should be doing leading up to it. It worked for me in the same way rereading does; knowing the big twist, I could spot the hints and the foreshadowing, and appreciate just how good a writer Charlotte Brontë was and how well plotted and put together that bit of storytelling is – but I felt robbed of that ‘first read’ feeling and as a result the book wasn’t an unputdownable five stars. Perhaps that's unfair, but I can't help that.
In fact I found the middle section quite tedious. Without that mystery and suspense to sustain me I found the Jane and Mr Rochester relationship rather lacking and some parts of the dialogue downright irritating. What works so damn fucking beautifully in Jane’s narration simply doesn’t when put into dialogue – nobody needs that much extraneous detail when having a normal conversation. I could totally buy why these characters fell for each other and the immense attraction of their opposing personalities – but I felt it more natural and real when reading each other’s thoughts on the other than I ever did in any of their scenes or conversations. In other words, for once, the ‘telling’ was much stronger and more effective tool than the ‘showing’.
But that’s a small quibble. Whatever you may have heard about this book I do not think it is, primarily, a romance. It has a hell of a lot of romance in it but, essentially, it’s about Jane herself; the story of her progress from an unloved, orphaned, child into a strong, confident, and happy young woman – the romance is only a part of that, albeit a major one. The first ten chapter glimpse into her childhood shows how much her character’s journey goes from a girl who lets her passions best her to a woman who, though still passionate, knows how and when to temper them and when to speak out. I will put in a disclaimer here though to say that I loved this look at Jane’s childhood a lot more than my friend who was also reading the book did, she saw it as a slow start to overcome before she could get to the good bit. Personally though I adored how Jane (though her dialogue sounded a bit too articulate for a ten-year-old at times) so totally summed up the childhood frustration I always had (and still have to some extent now) of being unable to find words to express thoughts as correctly and coherently as she would like.
I’ve said before that Jane’s narrative voice was ‘damn fucking beautiful’, so I’ll elaborate here. I have genuinely not read a first person narration that allowed me to understand the character in this much depth and detail before. Jane is an amazingly fully fleshed out character and she tells her story beautifully; even when I didn’t agree with her actions or would do a different thing myself, I could understand completely why she would make them. She also acknowledges her faults – and the faults of those about her – without ever falling into angst, self pity, or petty bitching that so often seem the hallmarks of first person narration. She might seem passive and mild when first compared to other women in the story, but she’s as passionate as any of them and braver and more decisive to boot - she’s just less showy about it. The action she takes partway through the book would have won me over to her completely, had I not already been on her side, for the sheer guts of it.
It’s a genuinely brave and unselfish decision and it leads to some real suffering – not least to her meeting with the absolutely vile St John Rivers. While I was underwhelmed by Rochester (according to my edition’s afterword one of the strongest characters in English literature) I was overwhelmed by St John. Whilst I flagged in my reading of the Thornfield chapters I could not put the book down in this later section, so fueled was I by my desire to see St John get thumped – unlikely as I knew it was to happen. I haven’t hated a character this much since Theon Greyjoy (which was admittedly only last month) and I hate St John even more than him. Jane might have some affectionate words to say towards his better qualities but I have none; for someone who purports to be doing god’s work he’s a cynical, bullying, selfish, hypocrite and I don’t believe he has any redeeming qualities at all. That Charlotte Brontë makes the man who’s lived a life of sin and cares more for himself than others the hero, and the missionary vicar who puts aside love for duty an emotionally abusive villain is one of the best twists in the book.
And it’s a book surprisingly full of social issues – not just the difference between preaching a Christian life and actually practicing it (St John’s not the only vicar attacked for that) but the treatment of orphans and te vulnerable, the shameful Victorian cost-cutting measures taken at the expense of human lives, the way higher classes (even Jane, on occasion) look down on the poor, the difficulty for a woman to exert her independence in a male dominated society. It brings up traditionally villanous or buffoonish traits – alcoholism, sexual temptation, infidelity and treats them sympathetically. Jane’s a moral character but even she does not see things in black and white – that’s a trait solely reserved for the hypocrites on the book (just like in real life). I will say that there is some unfortunate but generally mild ‘England is best, ra ra!’ patriotism (mostly at the expense of the French) and I don’t like the implication Rochester, at least, makes that Jane is the paragon of womanly virtue and any woman who doesn’t have all of her qualities is deficient – but I can accept that the character has that opinion.
The treatment of a certain character does distress me, and I will be reading Wide Sargasso Sea – a prequel by another author depicting Rochester’s early life – as soon as I’ve finished my massive to-be-read pile, to see another angle than the one portrayed in Jane Eyre. But I’ll save my discussion on this aspect for people I know have read the book.
In short though and without getting into spoilers, I thought this was a wonderful book with a quietly charismatic narrator and, despite not loving it enough for five stars I really enjoyed it and will be putting the rest of Charlotte Brontë’s books straight onto my wishlist....more
This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years (ever since studying The Woman in Black for my A levels) and somehow just never 4 stars
This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years (ever since studying The Woman in Black for my A levels) and somehow just never got round to picking up. Thankfully Goodreads came to my rescue again when one of my groups set it as their August group read and forced me to finally grab myself a copy and get reading. And I’m very glad they did because it’s the sort of book that’s right up my alley.
Walter Hartright, a young drawing master, runs into a mysterious woman dressed all in white wandering along the road at night on the very eve he is due to depart for a situation in the country. He helps her to escape from the men pursuing her and then tries his best to forget about it – despite the fact that she seems intimately familiar with the same family and country house he is about to take his position at, and that when he gets there he finds she bears and uncanny resemblance to his new pupil, Laura Fairlie. As Walter falls hopelessly in love with Laura and discovers her longstanding engagement to Sir Percival Glyde, the mystery of the ‘Woman in White’ and the words they exchanged that night begin to haunt him. Does she know some dreadful secret about Laura’s fiancé? Was he the one who sent his men to pursue her that night and why? Or is she really as she seems and just a poor escaped madwoman?
As a gothic epistolary novel, told through various character’s accounts, I really liked the structure of this book, as well as the different styles and voices of the various narrators. The justification given in the first chapter that ‘the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness – with the same object, in both cases, to present the truth always in its most direct and most intelligible aspect’ is interesting – and very telling of the fact that Collins was himself a lawyer. It certainly made me question the reliability and bias of the narrator’s and I enjoyed the little glimpses were a minor character uninvolved with the wider implications, such as the cook, housekeeper, took up the pen to narrate specific events. By using diary entries and statements and accounts written in hindsight by the characters Collins avoids the dreadful ‘as you already know…’ infodumping that characterises epistolary novels told exclusively though letter writing. There’s a definite purpose to the story and narration but you also can’t implicitly trust anything anyone says either and the narrator’s are frequently wrong or misguided in their analysis.
Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe, Laura’s half-sister, are the main narrators but quite possibly the least interesting. Walter is a fairly typical Victorian hero, while Marian is meant to be a ‘strong woman’ and for the most part is, but falls into that unpleasant habit of internalised misogyny that strong women written by men often seems to feel. I swear that after the 75thbillion time she said something along the lines of ‘but I’m only a woman’ or ‘I didn’t share the defects of my sex’ or ‘he thought me the most sensible woman he had met in a long time’ I was just about ready to slap her. Being female is not a defect! But then I remember just how easy it is to be made to feel this way – even today – when everything around you promotes the message that women aren’t as good as men. And then when I compare her with the fragile, constantly swooning, Laura I end up totally seeing why she thinks her ‘unfeminine’ behaviour is so remarkable. Even Walter seems to prefer Marian, who he treats as a respected equal, to his beloved Laura, who he treats like a particularly vulnerable and sensitive six year old. The best narration in the book, though, comes from the more unsympathetic characters; the hilariously uncaring and hypochondriac Frederick Fairlie, the cold and haughty Mrs Catherick, and the jovial villain, Count Fosco.
It’s a long book, at over 600 pages, and it can drag a bit, but a lot happens. And a lot of it very melodramatic – women fall down in swoons at bad news and catch deadly fevers from wearing wet clothes while men plot elaborate murders, steal money from their wives, manipulate everybody around them, and go on random expeditions to Central America. It’s very much classic Victorian gothic, and a lot of the tropes and twists are no longer shocking but fairly predictable and almost cliché. In that way I found the first half of the book, which was all about the slow building of atmosphere and suspense, vastly superior to the second half where things seemed almost rushed into conclusions with a lot more resting solely on sheer coincidence and dumb luck than felt satisfactory – hence the 4 star rating rather than a 5. The conclusion of Count Fosco’s storyline in particular felt both totally predictable and completely out of nowhere - as if Collins had written himself into a corner in how to deal with him and simply jumped on the first idea of how to get out of it that popped into his head.
That said it’s an enjoyable read. The conclusions left me not quite loving it but I definitely liked it a lot and look forward to reading more of Collins’ work....more
To be honest although this felt like a 3.5 read, that’s not because it’s a bad book. In fact it’s as good as, if not better than, the last Jeeves b3.5
To be honest although this felt like a 3.5 read, that’s not because it’s a bad book. In fact it’s as good as, if not better than, the last Jeeves book I reviewed and gave 4 stars to – it’s certainly far less problematic and offensive. What made this book less enjoyable for me was simply that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to pick it up in the first place. There’s been a lot of unpleasant stuff going on recently and I though I needed something lighthearted to cheer me up – and it worked, to a certain extent, but it wasn’t particularly conductive to getting the maximum enjoyment from these books. Next time I will remember my own theory – Jeeves works best when accompanied by a jug of Pimms, lying out on the lawn on a sunny day. Reading it crammed in the back of a car, with torrential rain pouring down outside just isn’t the same. Nevertheless I’ll try to go over the key points.
Right Ho, Jeeves is the second full length novel in the series, and far less episodic than its predecessor. It’s also a bit more understated, going back more to the short story roots of social misunderstandings rather than the occasionally whacky hijinks of Thank You, Jeeves which saw Bertie dealing with a violent drunk, a pair of overzealous policeman, and blacking-up to escape a crazy American. By contrast Right Ho, Jeeves is positively sedate. Gussie Fink-Nottle is in love with Madeline Bassett (who believes that ‘every time a fairy sheds a tear, a wee bit star is born in the Milky Way‘) but too painfully shy to say anything, while Tuppy Glossop has just had his engagement to Bertie’s cousin Angela called off for daring to suggest that the shark that attacked her on holiday was probably just a flatfish, Bertie’s aunt is looking for a tactful way to inform her spendthrift husband that she lost the money he leant her for her ladies magazine on gambling – and it’s all one big situation that practically screams for Jeeves. Unfortunately, Bertie and Jeeves are at loggerheads over one of Bertie’s faddish pieces of clothing, so Bertie decides to solve this one alone.
What follows is, predictably, a mess of miscommunication and misunderstanding until the situation is a million times worse than how it started. At which point of course Jeeves swans in, does his thing, and solves it in approximately five minutes. There are some absolutely wonderful bits in this book – the prize giving at the local boys school is hilarious and Auntie Agatha’s description of Bertie ‘To look at you, one would think you were just an ordinary sort of amiable idiot – certifiable, perhaps, but quite harmless. Yet in reality, you are a worse scourge than the Black Death’ had me snickering to myself. Overall, however, I just wasn’t in the right mood to enjoy the book fully. It felt a bit too similar to the short stories, but lacking a lot of the Bertie-Jeeves banter that I so enjoy, and the sollution…well it feels a bit like a magical fix really.
I still enjoyed it, and I still love Bertie – I mean how can you not love a man who gets so much joy from playing with a rubber duck? I’ll still continue to read the rest of the books, but I’ll make sure that it’s a nice sunny day and that I’m in the right mood to appreciate them before I pick one up again. Lesson learnt....more
It’s summer again! And summer means lying out on the lawn with a cold drink and a Jeeves and Wooster. The UK’s been having somewhat of a heatwa 5 Stars
It’s summer again! And summer means lying out on the lawn with a cold drink and a Jeeves and Wooster. The UK’s been having somewhat of a heatwave recently so actually the ‘lawn’ was more like ‘straw’ and I missed the company of my beautiful dogdog who passed away last month, but otherwise it’s as close to perfect Jeeves and Wooster conditions as you can get and I was able to spend a very enjoyable day snorting to myself over Bertie’s misadventures.
There is, of course, nothing significantly different in The Code of the Woosters from any of the previous Jeeves books – Bertie finds himself in an awkward situation, it escalates and escalates and escalates, and then Jeeves solves it – but that is all I want from a Jeeves and Wooster. I know exactly what I’m getting from these books and that’s a familiar but very very funny comedy of errors, wonderful use of the English language, and absolutely masterful storytelling.
In this book Bertie is invited to Totleigh Towers to help heal the rift between Gussie Fink-Nottle and his fiancée after a misunderstanding over him removing a fly from her cousin’s eye. Bertie must also steal a silver cow creamer from his host, Sir Bassett, a magistrate who once fined him five pounds for pinching a policemen’s helmet, and find a way of reconciling Sir Bassett to the idea of his niece, Steffy, marrying the local curate. All the while escaping the clutches of Bassett’s other houseguest, Roderick Spode, a man who ‘Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment’ and who aspires to become a Fascist Dictator (it's the 30s). Of course, it’s never quite that simple and Bertie finds himself getting tangled in an ever more messy web of miscommunications and misunderstandings. It’s all ridiculous, brilliant, stuff.
And Bertie is probably my favourite first-person narrator ever. Its his character, more than the situational comedy, that really makes these books great. He narrates how he speaks and he speaks like a 1930s not very bright member of the idle rich, peppering his language with deliciously dated terms and slang slang ‘golly’ ‘bally’ ‘rot’, and references to half remembered (and normally misunderstood) quotations, stories or songs. ’...I mean to say. I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot as well.‘ It’s almost impossible not to hear his voice as you read. And it’s all so understated and played so straight (this is where most TV adaptations of Wodehouse get it so dreadfully, dreadfully, wrong) that it’s impossible not to love him.
So, five stars for this one. Yes, it’s simply more of the same but when the same is as brilliant as P.G. Wodehouse at his best, that doesn’t really matter. It’s precisely what I’m looking for on a glorious sunny day. I doubt I’d recommend reading the whole series back to back (that really would get repetitive!) but when the sun’s shining and I’m in the right mood they’re absolutely glorious....more
Another sunny few days, another Jeeves and Wooster. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much as The Code of the Woosters or other previous books b4 Stars
Another sunny few days, another Jeeves and Wooster. I didn’t enjoy this one quite so much as The Code of the Woosters or other previous books but I’d be very had pressed to try to pinpoint why.
Joy in the Morning (Jeeves in the Morning in the US) sees Bertie forced to visit the village of Steeple Bumpleigh to help facilitate a meeting between his Uncle Percy and the brilliantly named US businessman, J. Chichester Clam. Whilst there Bertie also becomes embroiled in an old schoolfriend’s increasingly disastrous attempts to win Uncle Percy’s permission to marry his ward and finds himself the very unwilling ‘snake in the grass’ to in ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright’s relationship with Bertie’s dreadful former fiancée, Florence Craye. Highlights include a fancy dress party, a house fire, a Sinbad the Sailor costume (complete with ginger whiskers), a staged robbery, an increasingly vindictive policeman and, of course, Bertie Wooster’s wonderfully narrated first-person perspective on everything.
All in all it’s typical Wodehouse stuff, very much of the same mould as the earlier Jeeves novels and short stories, which are all very much in the same mould as each other. So much so that every time my dad (being a fellow Wodehouse fan) catches me with a Jeeves and Wooster, after curiously inquiring which one, he always and invariably admits to not knowing whether he’s read it or not, asking for a plot point, and then going ‘well that pretty much describes all of them’. But, well, that’s all part of their charm. It’s like watching a favourite sitcom: you always know what you’re going to get when you pick one up. Not my favourite in the series, but still very enjoyable....more