At school, there was a story that stuck in my head from being told at an assembly when I was young. I have no idea why this one in particular stayed w...moreAt school, there was a story that stuck in my head from being told at an assembly when I was young. I have no idea why this one in particular stayed with me, but I always wondered where it came from. Now I know - it was one of Aesop's fables.
This is a real treasure trove for anyone wanting short stories to tell to youngsters to encourage them to prize their friends, the good things they have in their life and the virtue of patience. There are other stories which have more to do with accepting your lot in life and not striving above it which I feel belong more to a time long gone by but even these can, when balanced with other moral messages, encourage a stoic attitude to life. I would recommend it to any primary school teacher or parent, particularly those who don't wish to rely on religious parables when storytelling with the aim to teach lessons to the young.(less)
Much Russian literature, this included, is a labour of love. It is hard work making headway at first, and sometimes I felt I didn't understand where T...moreMuch Russian literature, this included, is a labour of love. It is hard work making headway at first, and sometimes I felt I didn't understand where Tolstoy was leading me. Yet I now feel that that is half the point; do we ever really know where we're going in life? What better reflection of it therefore to have some of this echoing through a literary work. This is a book about life. It soaks to your core.
You fall in love with the characters and their lives and therefore as is the case with loved ones, begin to be interested in what they are interested in. When something good happens to them, you find yourself walking down the street later beaming with smiles. When something bad happens, you sink into melancholy. Tolstoy shades the people within the book in such a way as to make them real; not just a 'goody' or a 'baddy'. Nowhere before have I seen this so perfectly executed.(less)
Great book in so many ways, most of which I am sure will have been covered by other reviewers, so I'm just going to go ahead and get this off my chest...moreGreat book in so many ways, most of which I am sure will have been covered by other reviewers, so I'm just going to go ahead and get this off my chest:
Ok Charlie, I get it, it's a metaphor. Your metaphor is about as subtle as a breeze block across the head, do you really then need to spend the next paragraph explaining exactlty what it means? I'm not a complete imbecile!
Oh Charlie. Oh dear dear Charlie. This is where we're supposed to look past the obvious, blatant anti-Semitism and bleat on about what a wonderful pie...moreOh Charlie. Oh dear dear Charlie. This is where we're supposed to look past the obvious, blatant anti-Semitism and bleat on about what a wonderful piece of literature it is on the grounds of attempted social reform. Yeah? Well, if you have one of those cringing senses of humour where you like hiding behind your hand and thinking 'oh my god I cannot believe he just said that!' then this one's potentially for you. Asides from that, this reads nice and easily, you can tear through it pretty quickly, it's not in the least bit subtle. But then we must remember the reason it's on here is probably largely down to its historical importance through a time of class upheaval and Poor Law reform. That and because it was turned into a happy clappy musical. *facepalm*(less)
Brave New World can be seen as the archetypal dystopia, inspiring Orwell and predicting some scientific advances through his fiction that have since c...moreBrave New World can be seen as the archetypal dystopia, inspiring Orwell and predicting some scientific advances through his fiction that have since come to fruition. In Huxley's London of the future, Ford has become deified, in place of a now redundant God. Everybody is happy all of the time, as they must be lest they face complete exclusion from society. Increased mechanisation has rendered the production-line method of manufacturing unquestionable in supremacy, even in the production of humans, who are brought through the foetal stages in bottles, conditioned to live their lives in a pre-determined caste. Each caste receives different hormonal treatment, and different conditioning throughout their formative years to ensure they comply with society's stringent demands. These demands being to be promiscuous, not being unhappy (unhappiness can be cured by the wonder-drug soma), not getting pregnant, can at first appear wonderful, allowing for perfect freedom to do whatever one fancies doing, and being conditioned to only want what is within your grasp. However those the story is centred on show that this is a very shallow sort of freedom when a person is unable to chose their own destiny, to learn to face problems as opposed to turning from them.
It is here that reference must be drawn with A Clockwork Orange, with similar themes of the importance of free will. Are we not all empty automatons but for this vital essence which drives us? Personally, I would like to go further and question some of the principles underlying Huxley's critique. The idea of God is in itself socially conditioned, as is monogamy. Indeed most of the ideals Huxley appears to be supporting are no less socially conditioned, though it is done more subtly, than those he writes of in this story. Nevertheless, the picture of a world in which the noose is tightened around freedom of expression, a world in which consumption on a grand scale is deemed as an essential civic duty, is chilling. There are still lessons to be learned from Brave New World, even if you do disagree with some of the basic principles.(less)
Anybody interested in communism should really read both this Animal Farm and 1984 as they neatly illustrate the most dangerous aspect of potential pos...moreAnybody interested in communism should really read both this Animal Farm and 1984 as they neatly illustrate the most dangerous aspect of potential post-revolutionary politics - totalitarianism. This short story encapsulates the progression from revolution to disastrous levels of oppression in parable form and is good as a basic introduction to these themes. I personally think that there were times when the 'fairy tale' element to it got in the way of explaining the causes for the slide, but overall I would say Orwell did an extremely good job of explaining political and social theory in an easily manageable form.(less)
A classic example of the stream of consciousness style of writing. We learn more through the silences, the sections when Dalloway thinks that surely s...moreA classic example of the stream of consciousness style of writing. We learn more through the silences, the sections when Dalloway thinks that surely she should be happy...so why isn't she? That tell us more than what is spoken directly. Modern society and the demands on 'successful' women is the focus of this piece, with its frivolities hiding the ache resting beneath. A real work of art. Not my type of content really, but the poetic nature of the prose carried me along and made it wonderful to read in its own way.(less)
Having enjoyed Mansfield Park about as much as eating grass, I will admit I had no great hope for enjoying Persuasion much more. Still, I was advised...moreHaving enjoyed Mansfield Park about as much as eating grass, I will admit I had no great hope for enjoying Persuasion much more. Still, I was advised that many people who don't like the former still like her other books - how lucky I was that this was indeed the case. Persuasion being the last book that Austen wrote before her death, I found that her writing style seemed to have developed, her characters attaining a little more depth, moving away from the incredibly simplistic moral stances of those held by the characters of Mansfield Park to.
Miss Anne Elliot is the ignored and undervalued middle daughter of the baronet Sir Walter Elliot. Sir Walter and his other daughters provide the most obvious caricature of nineteenth century upper class society, being vain, self-obsessed, status-obsessed and oblivious to those matters which should really affect the heart of one morally grounded. This morally grounded influence comes naturally enough in the form of Anne, who is torn between the influence of various characters throughout the book, whilst remaining a great deal more self-confident, mindful of her own opinions, and strongly minded than the dreadfully limp Fanny Price of Austen's former work. Of course the book would not be complete without its love interest (which of course I will not spoil) and I found this too a great deal more satisfying than that of Mansfield. Persuasion finds Austen a more mature writer, more capable of exploring the ideas of morality, status and love that she is so dearly attached to. Nowhere is this more starkly apparent than in a small section of conversation between the protagonist and another character, in which Anne makes plain the enormous influence of male authors of the time in dictating the accepted differences between the sexes. I was delighted by the natural feel of this section of conversation and mindful of Austen being before her time in making such clear observations.
Unfortunately, in spite of me enjoying this book so much more than Mansfield Park, I did find eerie similarities between many of the characters. Austen seemed to have become fixated upon certain archetypal essences of character and simply lifted them from one story to one not entirely dissimilar. I will refrain from explaining further whom I thought could represent whom for fear of spoiling the plot for those yet to read. However I would suggest that Persuasion seemed to be a fresh attempt at a previous story as opposed to something entirely distinct, simply due to the incredible similarity of theme and character disposition. As mentioned before, the substantive differences were enough to allow me to thoroughly enjoy this book where I had not the former, yet unfortunately not enough to entirely repair my opinion of Austen.(less)
I give this trilogy a five star rating in spite of the fact that the third book, Titus Alone, is poor when viewed in contrast with the first two. What...moreI give this trilogy a five star rating in spite of the fact that the third book, Titus Alone, is poor when viewed in contrast with the first two. What must be taken into account is that Peake was in failing health when he wrote the third, so I shall speak no more on that one.
The first two books are a journey through a realm dictated by a strict bureaucracy in the form of the archaic institutions of the Gormanghast dynasty. The imagery is second to none, and gives such a richly textured account of the place and the people as to take the reader's breath away. The descent into chaos is in the same moment both triumphantly and painfully detailed. We can see many parallels with society today if we look for them. This is a stunning tour de force.(less)
Usually upon finishing a book if I have clearly defined feelings for it either way, those feelings shall become muted over time and I will forget the...moreUsually upon finishing a book if I have clearly defined feelings for it either way, those feelings shall become muted over time and I will forget the initial burst of emotion which created such an opinion. I have to say that this is far from being the case with Villette. This being my first book by Charlotte (no, I haven't read Jane Eyre yet), I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Having read Austen and found it incredibly dreary, repetitive and passionless, I was concerned that perhaps this owed a certain amount to the socialisation of the period and would have Charlotte be the same. Having read Villette, I have since discovered that her opinion of Austen was much the same as my own.
The story follows Lucy Snowe as she struggles to find her feet after becoming all but destitute. She bravely decides to move to the continent to try to find work there and eventually becomes an English teacher at a girl's school. The reader is taken into Miss Snowe's confidence, learning of her loneliness, her joy, her hopes, her disappointments. We watch the shifting fortunes of those close to Lucy, and I found that far from Austen's entirely predictable story lines, I really did not know what was going to happen in the end to most of the characters. These are complex people as opposed to two-dimensional moral examples. Lucy occasionally behaves in an unreasonable way, yet I would always find myself empathising, chuckling and believing I would most probably have reacted in exactly the same way. This, I believe, was the ultimate charm of Villette: believable, warm, or even intensely irritating characters who were wonderfully fleshed out and brought to life. Lucy Snowe is as strong a female character as you would ever be likely to find in most modern fiction, and this delighted me. Her dry, witty commentary on unfolding events always made me laugh and by the end of the story I felt I had made a dear friend.
I may not have yet read Jane Eyre, but believe me, I soon will.(less)
In the case of this book, I hadn't seen the film before reading it and had been lucky enough to miss any spoilers. I won't give you any spoilers, but...moreIn the case of this book, I hadn't seen the film before reading it and had been lucky enough to miss any spoilers. I won't give you any spoilers, but throughout the majority of this book I had an awful feeling that something in particular was going to happen - this suspense, rather than feeling like predictability, in fact sustained me through the whole work. I felt any time that I had put it down that I was holding them in stasis, awaiting their fate.
The journey of McMurphy with the other inmates struggling through their triumphs and defeats under Nurse Ratched is symbolic of the system under which we are no longer physically punished for our differences - now the methods of control are far more insidious. What is especially wonderful about this book is that many people who have had experience of incarceration under the mental health system will be able to nod and say "yes, here's someone who knows".(less)
This book has been of great use in helping me verbalise things I have seen happening around me. The phrase "double-think" has entered my idiolect. Thi...moreThis book has been of great use in helping me verbalise things I have seen happening around me. The phrase "double-think" has entered my idiolect. This is one of the most chilling things I have written, as Orwell has managed to show the true horror of such a locked down society.(less)
The Grapes of Wrath opens with thick descriptions of the Dust Bowl of America, interwoven metaphors alongside descriptions of the folk attempting to m...moreThe Grapes of Wrath opens with thick descriptions of the Dust Bowl of America, interwoven metaphors alongside descriptions of the folk attempting to make a living and keep a sense self there, alongside loving descriptions of the very earth itself. It is only after drawing the reader to empathise with the small landowners, with the families, with the Joad family in particular and their way of life and their way of relating to other people, that the slow-burning horror of the situation comes to a head and forces them off their land. It is Steinbeck's notion of pace - not pushing too quickly but allowing the reader to fall in love with the land as though they themselves were the cultivators striving to keep unbroken that chain of succession, that feeling of belonging to the land as it belongs to them, which makes this book a 'classic'. The Joads must flee, escaping hunger and seeking a new place to call a home in sunny California, known to them from glossy magazines showing white painted houses and ripe oranges. As history tells us, that is not what these desperate migrants found.
This story is not just about one family, it is about all families who were driven from their land in the Dust Bowl leading to and during the Great Depression. Steinbeck dips into the wider arc of the story, using short chapters dotted between the tale of the Joads to show that their story was indeed the story of all. The Grapes of Wrath is many things, it is a political tract, it is a deep examination of the concept of the American family of that time, it is an explanation of economics, it is a lush description of the Dust Bowl and of California, it is a crushing indictment of the state's response to a humanitarian crisis. Riding high through these messages are those speaking of the power of humanity to push through crisis; of the ability of folk to pull together, the poor helping the poor.
Today, it is often difficult to view the Great Depression as anything other than a historical event like any other children learn of in school. However reading the papers, catching the news, looking at the situation faced by many people around the world and indeed in America, we can see that The Grapes of Wrath is still vital. This is not just a snapshot of one time lost forever, the danger faced by families unable to support themselves due to the push of big business is ever present. Here is a book that can teach us lessons, make us laugh, and make us cry.(less)