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Past TBR lists > Karen's 2019 TBR Takedown

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message 1: by Karen (last edited Dec 17, 2019 06:24AM) (new)

Karen | 207 comments 1. The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius
2. Monkey by Wu Cengen
3. The Princess of Cleves by Madame de la Fayette
4. Love in Excess by Eliza Heywood
5. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
6. A Woman’s Life by Guy de Maupassant
7. The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan
8. The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett
9. Passing by Nella Larsen
10. The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth
11. Independent People by Halldor Laxness
12. The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
13. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
14. Nada by Carmen Laforet
15. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
16. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
17. The Moon and the Bonfire by Cesare Pavese
18. The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
19. Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Jorge Amado
20. Balthasar and Blimunda by José Saramago
21. Regeneration by Pat Barker
22. Indigo by Marina Warner
23. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
24. Falling Man by Don DeLillo


message 2: by Karen (last edited Feb 17, 2019 10:17AM) (new)

Karen | 207 comments My January book was The House of Ulloa.

4 stars. This was the book that I most wanted to read from this list and I was delighted that it was the first to be picked. A naïve priest is sent to the decaying home of the (fake) marquis of Ulloa to help put his affairs in order but is overwhelmed by the scale of the disorder and the presence in the house of the mistress of the marquis and her father who dominates everything and everybody.

I have a thing for naïve narrators, books with gothic elements, books with comedic elements and stories about decayed noble families and this book has all of those and I was fortunate enough to visit Santiago de Compostela and Galicia last year so I could partially connect with the setting as well. The ending was a little abrupt and there is a sequel but Penguin have not published this. The novel does make sense on its own but I am trying to get a copy of the sequel via ILL.

A good start for 2019!

Edit: I did get the sequel and it was very good but I preferred the House of Ulloa.


message 3: by Karen (last edited Apr 05, 2019 01:42PM) (new)

Karen | 207 comments My February book was Titus Groan.

4 stars. My friend was obsessed with this series in sixth form but up until now the only bit I have read is when I opened the book at random while speaking to her and fell about laughing because the bit I got was Steerpike stoking the animosities of the Groan twins and asking "Who is that man?" and receiving the answer "Gertrude". I have wanted to read this series for so long; it was on my TBR takedown last year and finally turned up this year.

How to describe it? While clearly meant as a satire about the British class system the book is just WEIRD. It is unlike anything else I have read. Everybody spends their time doing things exactly according to ritual. And the ritual for the Earl depends on his eye colour, hair colour etc. The book is set in a gigantic, decaying castle, and the atmosphere is so claustrophobic. Into this mix comes Steerpike, an ambitious kitchen boy.

The best thing about the book is Mervyn Peake's prose. And I love the characters of Cora and Clarice Groan (the twins mentioned above) and their lust for power.

I really cannot remember the tv show the BBC made of this about 20 years ago so I cannot remember where this story is heading. I am intrigued by what happens to Steerpike. He commits one of the cardinal crimes (view spoiler) but it is exciting to see what changes he could make to this closed society. I hope to read the sequel, Gormenghast, soon.


message 4: by Karen (new)

Karen | 207 comments My March book was Love in Excess.

4 stars. I thought I owned this book but it turns out I own another of Eliza Haywood's books! Amazon here I come for the second month in a row! Review:

It would be quite easy to roll your eyes and dismiss this book. It is a "romance" book and in many ways seems closer to the Medieval/Renaissance tradition with its focus on emotions and plot over character development, the relentless focus on love and the over-the-top way people deal with it (people literally die for love in this book), than it does to modern literature.

Arguably the main reason the book is included on this list is its frank portrayal of women's sexuality. The women in Love in Excess have desires and most are not ashamed to act on them, resulting in some interesting situations; cross-dressing, violent death, mistaken identities (never have sex with the light off as it could be the wrong person)! I can imagine why this was seen as shocking and yet compelling in the eighteenth century. I can also see why the novel lost some of its popularity in later times; particularly the Victorian period with its emphasis on the purity and lack of sexual desire of "proper" women.

In terms of style, it is an early novel, and the writing is hurried and as chaotic as the events it describes. We have a (too?) large cast of almost interchangeable people who are in love with others (based almost solely on appearance not character), and the resulting workings out of the plot can be a little fatiguing. It is also in many ways a novel of its time. The more passive women are the ones who are rewarded with true love and the hero is let off too lightly from his sexual errors as he experiences happiness while many of the women who love him find unhappiness and destruction.

But I ended up really enjoying the book.


message 5: by Karen (new)

Karen | 207 comments My April book was the Last Temptation of Christ.

3 stars. I have never seen the movie and went into this not really knowing what the author's take on the story was. We have a Jesus who is portrayed as very human. Which would be find except that the author has portrayed him not just as someone who is tempted and has doubts, but as someone who is almost consumed by these things. He does not know who he is. My feeling from the Gospels is that Christ knew who he was. His conflicts came from a different arena - accepting that and trying to get others to accept it to. So, instead of a person both divine and human we have somebody who seems weaker than most people. Up until the death of St John the Baptist and then there are changes in his character and message. I don't think I fully understood these changes, I am going to be honest. And the relationship between Jesus and God is often referred to as a curse. I don't think this comes from the Gospel at all.

Of course, we have the character of Matthew, writing his Gospel as he goes along and he confesses to editing it and changing it. The issue of truth is confronted in the "last temptation" scene when Paul appears to Jesus and says that even if Jesus had not died on the Cross, it was important for the world to think he had.

In some cases, in terms of Biblical research, the novel has not dated well - in particular the portrayal of women here. The last temptation is that Jesus could have been tempted by family life, and been no more important than anyone else. But there seems more dislike of women here than is warranted - I particularly do not like the way Mary, sister of Lazarus, and Mary, Mother of Jesus are portrayed.

However, the writing is beautiful, and the novel thought-provoking. I was intrigued by the author's portrayal of the importance of Judas.


message 6: by Karen (new)

Karen | 207 comments My May book was The Golden Ass.

5 stars.

I loved this and I am so surprised. This is the story of Lucius of the unbounded curiosity, which sees him turned into an ass, his suffering while "in servitude" and his release by swearing to the goddess Isis. Threaded through the narrative are stories that he hears - the centrepiece is the story of the also-curious Psyche and Cupid. Lots of witches, lecherous women, stupid men, magic and generally bizarre things. Almost like a smaller version of the Decameron (and indeed, Boccaccio lifted some of his stories from this work).

A total surprise.


message 7: by Karen (new)

Karen | 207 comments My June book was the Princesse de Cleves.

4 stars.

This is a candidate for one of the earliest surviving novels and it may have been written by a woman. I loved reading this. It was interesting to see how the medieval traditions of "courtly love" had developed and how the idea of "love" works when your marriage is likely to be arranged, there is a concept of a "lover" (who cannot be the husband as you are not supposed to love your husband), but you face risks if you decide to act on your feelings. It is also possible to die for love in these style of books. We follow the struggle of the Princesse de Cleves as she struggles with her love, and I loved the ending as I have been conditioned by modern novels I did not see it coming.

I read a lot of historical novels so I enjoyed this seventeenth century view of the sixteenth century.


message 8: by Karen (last edited Jul 05, 2019 01:58AM) (new)

Karen | 207 comments My July book was Falling Man.

I gave it 3 stars but it only just made it to that grade.

Honestly, the book was just Meh. I didn't find it moving. Parts were boring and it was easy to put down. The writing was good enough that I might enjoy another book by the author, but Falling Man is only on the 1001 list because of the subject matter and not because of its own merits.

Meh.


message 9: by Karen (new)

Karen | 207 comments My August book was The Radetzky March.

3 stars.

I was expecting to like this book more than I did. I found it difficult to get into, when I put the book down I did not particularly want to pick it back up again, but when I was able to read more than about 40 pages at a time I started enjoying it.

Dealing with the dying days of an Empire and way of life as this book does, I was expecting it to feel more poignant. Particularly at this moment of crisis in my country when it feels like 400 years of history could be torn apart. But I struggled to engage with any of the characters. Also, it was a very masculine-focused book and women were not portrayed well in it. The beauty of the book lies in the descriptions and the language.

Everything, even something as seemingly mighty as an Empire dies, and the repercussions can last for years.


message 10: by Karen (new)

Karen | 207 comments My September book was Gulliver's Travels.

3 stars.

I have wanted to read this since high school when I studied some of Swift's poetry and "A Modest Proposal". But I never quite got round to picking it up.

I enjoyed so much about it and liked the fact that so much of the satire was broadly understandable even to someone not fully conversant with late seventeenth/early eighteenth century politics. It works so well as it reads like a normal travelogue - but with rather a lot about bodily functions... The civilizations he meets hold up some of the negative characteristics of human society - the Lilliputians going to war over eggs etc.

I love what is almost the last thing in the book where we find Gulliver regularly talks to his horses, as he had to the Houyhnhnms. (Wouldn't it be amazing if they had talked back!)

However, in places it was long-winded and I did not really like the third section dealing with Laputa.


message 11: by Karen (new)

Karen | 207 comments My October book was Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon.

4 stars.

I loved this book. The story is not just that of Gabriela and her employer Nacib but the entire town of Ilhéus. We read about the class divisions and gender tensions in an era or rapid change, as the city grows and outgrows its traditional rough and violent past, and seeks to become more "civilised". If you don't mind meandering plots then I recommend this book.


message 12: by Karen (last edited Nov 30, 2019 05:10PM) (new)

Karen | 207 comments My November book was The Old Wives Tale.

4 stars.

I have wanted to read this book for years. I cut it a bit fine though - finishing at 11:30 pm on the 30th November.

The story of two sisters, the book focuses first on their childhood, the second part on the elder sister Constance who marries her father's assistant in the family drapers shop, the third part on Sophia who elopes to Paris, and the last part brings the sisters together again. This is a wonderful book. In the wrong hands the details of the sisters' lives could have been tedious, but Bennett tells the story with warmth and respect. I enjoyed spotting parallels between the two stories.


message 13: by Karen (last edited Dec 17, 2019 06:32AM) (new)

Karen | 207 comments My December book was Nada.

5 stars.

I started the year with a great book by a Spanish author (which I am still thinking about and think I should probably increase the rating to 5 stars). I have finished the year with a great book by a Spanish author.

Andrea comes to Barcelona to stay with her mother's family in post-civil war Barcelona and gradually learns the truth about her family and friends. The prose is beautiful and the novel is so atmospheric.

I had never heard of this book until I read the 1001 list. This deserves to be so much better known.


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