Sunday, 6 December 2009

A Thousand Apologies

Hello all who have been following/reading my blog....

SO sorry I haven't been writing on here....the last month has been one of major transition...I haven't had the time or inclination to read anything new (have been seeking comfort in well-read old friends).

Tried getting into Great Apes by Will Self, but (apologies to Mr Self, of whom I'm a big fan) just couldn't do it.

Back on the horse again and up for some serious holiday reading (it's definitely that time of year to be hunkering down with a good book and a's WINTER out there!)

Up next (I promise): The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A New World

Hello...sorry, it's been too long. Finished Call It Sleep by Henry Roth last week, but have been caught up in the whirlwind of moving/settling in/starting a new life.

Anyway...I had said in my previous post that I had very much been looking forward to reading this novel, and it didn't disappoint.

Told in two languages (although both are English), the story of David and his immigrant family is powerful, heartbreaking and profoundly moving. I have always had a bit of a fascination with New York City history and how the millions of immigrants who came to the city made their way in such an unfamiliar and intense environment.

David's street language (English) is rough and coarse, but the language he speaks at home (Yiddish, translated into English for the reader) is beautiful and elegant. What happens in his home is a different world to what happens on the street, but violence rears its ugly head in both.

The reader not only gets David's experience of life in New York at the turn of the century, but also his parents' individual experiences. His angry father and loving mother both have their reasons for secrecy, but David is able to piece together their sad history and their reasons for coming to America. The struggles that both face are emblematic of the struggle that most immigrants faced.

Roth's voice in this novel is sympathetic, of course, and his prose invites the reader to feel the same sympathy without pity. A strained and fractured family experience in the wider context of harsh immigrant life: brilliant.

Next up: Great Apes by Will Self.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Future Shock

Finished The Children Of Men by P.D. James yesterday.

A sobering and fascinating look at our nearly immediate future - even though this book was written about ten years ago.

James' prose speaks eloquently of a time when human beings can no longer reproduce, and the human race begins to slowly die out.

The protagonist, Theo, is a professor and scholar who feels as if his life work is all now rather pointless. It does beg the question - what is the point of history when there will be no one there to remember/study it? Would we keep honoring the past if we knew that the future didn't exist?

I would like to think that I would still want to read, look at art, listen to music, visit foreign countries, fill my mind with all that I could. Why wouldn't I? I don't think I would want to wallow in the hopelessness of the situation.

James also writes of a government which treats its elders with contempt, its youth with indifference and its immigrants with a complete lack of respect. She definitely draws parallels with contemporary society.

All wrapped up in a suspense-filled drama, with sympathy, apathy, and nobility.

Up next: Call It Sleep by Henry Roth - a book I have been wanting to read for AGES. Very much looking forward to this one.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Curious, Indeed

Finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon a couple of days ago (been busy - now blogging about it, finally).

An easy read - as in quick - but touching and profound.

The story is told from the perspective of Christopher, a British teenager who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. Christopher's condition renders him unable to process emotions and feelings like the average person, but this doesn't mean he doesn't have them himself; he just deals with them in a very different way.

The story begins with the murder of a neighbor's dog, but takes on the shape of a complex and heartbreaking family drama, all seen through Christopher's analytical and seemingly emotionless eyes.

To me, however, it seemed that Christopher DID experience great tides of emotion and feeling (hence him feeling ill and agitated when confronted with an unpleasantness); his mind is simply unable to handle the extremity of feeling - so he retreats into the logical and cold world of mathematics and science to deal with what is happening to him.

Christopher's family situation is desperately sad, but it is because he is the way he is that allows him to deal with it in a detached manner - but with a very deep-down well of feeling that he is unable to show.

Sweet, sad, funny, heartbreaking. A good read.

Up next: The Children of Men by P.D. James.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


Finished Foucault's Pendulum yesterday.

Whew. My mind is still wrapping itself around this one. This book needs to come with a dictionary, encyclopedia and Cliffs Notes. SO much to discover and digest.

I don't even know if I can talk about this book coherently, so I will just say this: It was one of the most complex, byzantine, labyrinthine, brilliant books I have ever read.

I think my IQ has gone up by a few points just for finishing it.

Seriously, not sure I can say too much else without living up to its unbelievable size - in all senses. Will come back to discuss in a later post.

Up next: A break needed, so some lighter fare: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Very Talented, Indeed

Finished The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith yesterday.

A tense, taut thriller. I had seen the film, so knew the outcome of the novel, but really, seeing the film didn't make the novel any less suspenseful or colorful or enjoyable.

Tom Ripley is a great anti-hero - insecure, malevolent, conniving, clever. His distaste for boring, rich, inane and vapid society people leads him to commit the acts that he does. I didn't condone his actions, but I did not feel an anger or disgust for what he did either.

Tom survives by fooling others to the best of his ability, and it is this ability to deceive that keeps him alive, or at least one step ahead of the others.

There is a constant air of menace throughout the entire novel...the reader doesn't know from page to page if Tom will be caught for his crimes. I felt as if I was along for the wild ride that Tom takes throughout Europe, with the knowledge of what he had done, and secretly hoping that he would get away with it. For what's the fun in getting caught?

A great book - I look forward to more of Highsmith's work.

Next up: Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

On "Atoning"

Just finished Atonement by Ian McEwan about an hour ago. Felt compelled to write about it asap.

A beautifully crafted and achingly sad novel...and if I hadn't seen the film adaptation, I would never have guessed the ending (I won't "spoil" it for anyone who hasn't read it yet).

I think it is the idea that McEwan introduces of a lie corrupting and destroying whole lives that resonated with me most. Speaking personally, lies have undone my life in certain ways. I could see how a childish and rash decision to lie can affect not just one life, but many.

The limpid beauty of the Tallis family home is breathtakingly realized by McEwan...the reader can feel the heat, literal and metaphorical. The love between Cecilia and Robbie is touching, tender, sensual and real - their first sexual liaison is all of these and one of the most provocative things I've ever read - and in a good way.

Briony (the Tallis sister whose horrific lie sets the main story in motion) realizes her mistake and tries to "atone" for her transgression. It comes to pass that she has been "atoning" her entire life. To know that she has done wrong and tries to right that wrong doesn't excuse her appalling behavior - and it made it hard for me to sympathize with her. Cecilia and Robbie's stories are much more deserving of mention.

Gorgeous book.

Next up: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

That's Not Sexy

Finished Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller a couple of days ago.

Sorry it's taken a bit of time to write, but had to get to the library first to get my next round of books.

Ok...back to the novel. Did NOT enjoy this book. The sheer amount of sex, references to sex, talking about sex....I'm no prude, but it grew rather tiresome.

I realise that at the time it was written, it was quite a groundbreaking and titillating read. The liberation expressed by the author in early 1930s Paris (post WWI, pre WWII) was seen to be scandalous, but just what a staid and reserved society needed. Miller's incessant references to sex, types of sex, the women he has sex with was most likely PERCEIVED as sexy, but to my cynical, 21st-century eyes, it all seems a bit dated and quite misogynistic.

I will say that Miller's descriptions of his friends, girlfriends, colleagues and Paris itself are worthy of a read - faded glamour, seedy bars, volatile moods, strange behaviours. Interesting.

However, Miller himself (and I am sure this was on purpose) comes across as a self-loathing, manipulative, downtrodden, selfish dilettante. His own self-descrption didn't make me admire him, or want to live in that city at that time with him and his equally disagreeable mates.


Next up: Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Family Ties

Finished The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy yesterday.

I don't know what it was about this novel, but it just left me cold. I understand the underlying thematic elements - race, family, prejudice, love, etc etc etc...but I really did not connect with any of the characters.

Ammu (the mother of Estha and Rahel, the two main characters) was probably the most sympathetic - marginalized by her parents and brother (and indeed her husband) and forced to give up her only son when family pride is at stake, when all she was guilty of was falling in love. I felt for her plight.

However, the character and attitudes of her two children made me resent them, in a way. I found Estha's voluntary muteness selfish and unnecessary, and Rahel's remote and distant nature inexplicable.

Perhaps I need to know more about Keralan history and their way of life, but I am familiar enough of caste systems and family hierarchies to know that this book was slightly ambiguous in its treatment of the aforementioned way of life.

A "meh" novel for me then. Even the descriptions of the houses, atmosphere, and characters were limpid.

Ah well.

Next up: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Terrible Beauty

Finished The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison this morning.

In her afterword, Morrison tells the reader that, like the character of Pecola, this novel was dismissed, ignored and unloved - until its rediscovery. How shameful that a book of this significance and importance in the American literary landscape was passed over for so long.

This book, for me, was all about the concept of beauty and the modern obsession with it - and what the idea of beauty is to one person as opposed to another.

Pecola believes herself to be ugly - she has never been told otherwise. She is neglected, or rather, treated as if she doesn't exist by her family, neighbors, schoolmates, etc. Her belief that she could be beautiful if only she had blue eyes, just like the little girl whose family her mother works for, is both profound and tragic in its simplicity.

The novel is told from the perspective of several characters - Pecola (in the third person), Pecola's schoolmate Claudia, Pauline and Cholly (Pecola's parents), and Whitcomb - a disturbed elderly healer who "gives" Pecola her blue eyes. Each character struggles with the concept of his/her identity in the smalltown terrain of 1940s Ohio. The reader learns of Pecola's tragedy - and possibly how it could have been avoided, if only Pecola had been valued, cherished and loved.

In these characters' eyes, beauty IS only skin deep - and therein lies the real sadness of this novel.

Up next: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

More Than Words

Finished The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx yesterday.

Beautiful novel. Achingly so.

The emotions experienced by the characters in this novel are so vibrant and heartfelt, yet they are so difficult for the characters to express. It seems to be the Newfoundland way to hide one's feelings behind simple and stark language.

Love, betrayal, death, abuse - all of these are experienced by Quoyle and his fellow townsmen and women, one way or the other, but they find it very difficult to communicate how they deal with these trials and tribulations.

Emotions are handled by gesture and looks, not words. This makes the expression by words all the more profound when they are eventually expressed.

The rough beauty and harsh nature of the Newfoundland coast is a perfect backdrop to this restrained and touching story. The relentless weather and unforgiving coastline has made its residents resolute and determined, but emotional and passionate as well.

I loved a particular line from the novel - it is in the context of Billy Pretty's (a lonely and elderly Newfoundland bachelor) thoughts - "All he knew was that women were shaped like leaves and men fell." Sigh.

Up next: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

So It Goes

Finished Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. yesterday.

What a book. I confess that I have not read much Vonnegut (only this and Breakfast of Champions), but am very ready to read more.

Humour, sadness, profundity, poignancy. Each chapter of this novel is imbued with these things. Billy Pilgrim's (self-professed) journeys through time and space connect him to the us, the readers, as a simple man with profound beliefs.

The Guardian list classifies this as an anti-war novel - I agree with this, but would also class it as an anti-ignorance novel as well. The idea that if we ignore something, it will disappear is a dangerous and irresponsible one. We must face what is before us and not be afraid. Billy is not afraid of anything, even death, which makes him an unusual character.

Vonnegut also tackles the subject of fate...we cannot change our fates, but can live our lives to the best of our capability nonetheless. I feel that this is an important idea, especially for me right now.

There is nothing to be afraid of - so it goes.

Up next: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx...I am also reading a non-list book (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle), so might be a bit delayed in posting. Somehow, I doubt that, though. :)

Monday, 10 August 2009

Northern Gothic

Finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt yesterday.

I said in my previous post that I had really enjoyed her second novel and was looking forward to reading this one (her debut)...and I was not disappointed.

An amazing of those "unputdownable" ones. I had to forcibly separate myself from the book to do other things...but I really wanted to read it all in one sitting.

Suspenseful, lyrical, haunting, funny, harrowing, wistful, enchanting - all of these words can be used to describe the story that takes place in this novel. The characters are drawn with such clarity and beauty (beauty being a major theme running throughout the novel...the main characters are students and teachers of Greek and its literature, art, mythology, etc.)

Tartt uses the students' education as a backdrop to the mystery that is what and how these characters learn that make them who they are and how they behave.

As a former liberal arts major, I can feel the pull of the intimacy of the classes in this novel, but can see also how this intimacy breeds isolation and alienation...another facet to the intriguing mystery that unfolds.

Highly recommended. I love this mystery stuff!

Up next: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Let's Move On, Shall We?

Finished The King Of Torts by John Grisham this morning.

Eh. It's a John Grisham novel. What can I really say? I read a few of his books a long time ago, and apart from his first novel (A Time To Kill, which is also on this list), the formula stays the same.

I know how the characters will be described; I know how the plot will eventually play out. All variations on a theme. Nothing new or inspiring here. I could describe the protagonist and his story, but really - both are nothing unique.

The only interesting thing I could take from reading this novel was the subject matter - the idea of lawyers getting richer from suing multinationals (and smaller companies), while the clients they're supposed to be representing get virtually nothing for their trouble. Makes one think twice about becoming an attorney (although I'd like to think that if I did, it wouldn't be for the reasons most prevalent in this book. I am all about helping others.).

Honestly, I don't know why this novel is on the list. Perhaps the subject matter is currently relevant. I can't think of any other reason.

How disappointing.

Up next: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I read her second novel, The Little Friend, and really enjoyed it - so I'm looking forward to reading this debut.

Friday, 31 July 2009


Have finished Possession by A.S. Byatt.

An incredible, gorgeous, sumptuous, dive-right-in-and-wallow novel. Such fun to read.

I loved the structure of this book - it reminded me very much of A Suitable Boy (another novel on the list - one of my all-time favourites) in the author's use of epigrams and literary sophistication. I admire an author who can go from prose to poetry and back again. It only enhances the reading experience.

The parallel tales of Randolph/Christabel and Roland/Maud were touching, profound and deeply romantic. These romances were treated with dignity, subtlety and the appropriate amount of longing - at no point did either romance seem trite or salacious.

The idea of possession is woven throughout the novel - who possesses who, who possesses what, what belongs to one person and not another, etc. The idea of possession brings out the best and worst in these characters...but it is possession and not obsession. Two very different things.

A line that Christabel speaks (in the diary of her cousin) affected me deeply, and seems entirely fitting to my ultimate goal. Her cousin speaks of a longing to be a good writer, and Christabel replies that to be a good writer, one must practice and practice and have patience - the writing will come. Indeed.

Next up: The King Of Torts by John Grisham. Yes, John Grisham. Hmmm.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Going Back To My Roots

Finished The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

Wow. I don't know if it is because I am now back in the American Midwest, or what...but this book had a powerful effect on me.

Sprawling yet intimate, this novel really captured the hopelessness and futility and facades that many families (in this case, a Midwestern one) possess. Yet there was also a feeling of longing and belonging. We may not like to admit where we come from, but we also feel that inevitable pull towards our roots.

Each member of the Lambert family is deeply flawed in his or her own way, but there is profound sympathy to be felt for each character - even in their most pathetic and needy moments.

I feel about this book as I felt when I watched the film Fargo...a heightened and/or distorted view of Midwestern reality. There is the similar feeling of gentle mockery - but no savagery. It is because we love where we are from that we can critique and analyse it to our heart's content.

Highly enjoyable...and for me, a very appropriate re-beginning.

Up next: Possession by A.S. Byatt.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Back In Business

Normal services resuming. Settling and ready to read again.

Next: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

Analysis in a few days' time.

Thanks for staying tuned.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

A Small Hiatus

Sorry folks...

Having a life shift at the don't really have the time or inclination to read much.

Normal service will return in about two weeks.

Keep reading, though! I'll be back soon!


Friday, 3 July 2009

A Very British Caper

Finished The 39 Steps by John Buchan yesterday.

A fast-paced thriller...and a lot of fun to read. Not very heavy intellectually, but a good story. The reader, like the protagonist Richard Hannay, is immediately thrown into the action.

Hannay, bored with his London life (Dr. Johnson would have loved him), is unexpectedly caught up in an "intrigue", as they used to say - murder, espionage, false accusations, international conflict. He survives by his wit and moral courage - he feels he must do right by the stranger who confides in him.

Setting this novel on the eve of World War I gives the story its feeling of ominous tidings...the reader knows what Hannay is up against...and the inevitability of world conflict. Hannay cannot prevent certain events, but he can definitely clear his own name and do justice to the strange American who inexplicably puts all of his trust into Hannay.

Like I said, this novel is rather light due to its pace, but the subject matter is serious, and Hannay's earnestness and sense of what is right and what is wrong gives it a much-needed dose of gravitas.

Highly enjoyable - and very, very British. What fun, sport.

Next up: Villette by Charlotte Bronte.

Monday, 29 June 2009

All In The Family

Finished As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

This novel has been called Faulkner's masterpiece - the introduction of the "stream of consciousness" novel; the start of Southern Gothic, if you will.

I enjoyed this novel, but couldn't put out of my head something I had read years earlier in The Onion (a satirical newspaper) - a spoof advice column entitled "Ask A Faulknerian Idiot Man-Child". The dialogue spoken by the "idiot man-child" very cleverly mirrors the style of speech Faulkner uses for most of his characters.

Once I got past this (for the most part), I found As I Lay Dying to be moving, tragic, poetic. What seems to be a simple gesture to honor a family member's dying request is revealed through the many narrators (including the dying woman herself) to be a smaller part of a complex and tangled family web.

Nobody is perfect in the Bundren family - actually, far from it - but sympathies still run high even after secrets are revealed - infidelity, pregnancy, betrayal, even faking an illness. These characters' weaknesses only make them more human; more palpable; more real.

Faulkner's words bring the settings as well as the characters to life - one can feel the heat, smell the sweat, hear the rain. Stark beauty.

Up next: The 39 Steps by John Buchan.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

To Be Or Not To Be

Finished The Outsider by Albert Camus.

This novel is considered to be one of the classic existentialist pieces of literature. I would agree with that consideration, to be sure.

It's strange, but I actually finished this book fairly quickly, but found it difficult to muster up the energy and drive to write about it. I would say that Camus definitely succeeded in making me not care very much - how odd that a novel can have such an effect.

Meursault (the protagonist) lives life for the moment - not because he is ill or a thrill-seeker, but because it's just the way life is to be lived for him. He cares nothing for the past, present or future. Life is what it is to him; he chooses to glide through it, untouched by anything, including the death of his mother.

This lack of emotion expressed by Meursault isn't due to his callousness or coldness; it is just who he is. He

The novel is, despite the main character's static being, quietly moving and beautifully detailed. Passion is there to be had, but just not by Meursault. Interesting.

Next up: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. My first foray into Faulknerian Americana.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009


Finished The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) yesterday.

Meh. It was all right - I didn't really FEEL this one. Supposedly one of France's most revered novels (on a par with The Catcher in the Rye for Americans) - a tale of lost love, lost adolescence, lost innocence.

(SPOILERS) For me, although the imagery of the novel was quite striking, the plot and characters were thinly drawn - and improbable. Why would Meaulnes pursue this girl, whom he had seen only once, for years and years? And why, when he at last found her, and find her willing to return his infatuation, abandon her to pursue righting a wrong that wasn't his to begin with?

I felt very little sympathy for the character of Meaulnes, and found myself getting a bit angry with the narrator, Seurel, for making concessions for Meaulnes' erratic and sometimes selfish behaviour. Seurel, when he meets Yvonne (the object of Meaulnes' obsession), finds her to be a lovely, kind and selfless woman who truly deserves better than the overgrown child she surrenders herself to.

I suppose one could argue that this was a portrayal of teenage impetuousness and the quest to right wrongs - but the misguided sympathies for characters who deserve none undermines that portrayal.

Maybe something was lost in translation, but I found this novel to be a bit of a damp squib. The French would be horrified!

Up next: The Outsider by Albert Camus. A bit of existentialism.

Friday, 12 June 2009

It's All In Your Head

Finished A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess yesterday.

Loved it loved it loved it. Such a different concept...and I really had to adjust my brain while reading it (Burgess's narrator, Alex, speaks mostly in a made-up dialect based on will have to read it to see what I mean).

Alex is a teenager (shockingly young) who get his kicks - literally - by behaving in a nihilistic, ultra-violent manner. He is eventually caught, and an experimental treatment is imposed upon him - perhaps equally as violent, but one designed to "cure" him of his violent ways.

However (SPOILER) me, Alex didn't need to be "cured" - he needed to be taught and cared for. His jailers and doctors think that Alex is uncaring, unfeeling - but this is untrue: Alex cares, but for violence and beauty and destruction.

To me, Burgess was making a savage comment on teenage society at the time, but also on the state, and how criminals were rehabilitated.

Burgess apparently was upset at the amount of attention that this book of his received, even though he had written many others. It was the extreme nature of this novel - and the classic depiction of an anti-hero in Alex - that made it such a draw to readers - and ultimately movie-goers. Must get this film!

Up next: Have already started The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) by Henri Alain-Fournier.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Breakfast For One

Finished Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote in just one day.

What an enchanting little slip of a novel. A bit darker than the movie version (which, of course, has its Hollywood ending), the novel focuses on the narrator's point of view. Holly is an enigma to him, and thus completely fascinating, with her nocturnal comings and goings, her bizarre acquaintances, her ability to appear immaculate despite chaotic surroundings.

Capote's novel is a bit of a love letter to New York in the early 1940s...interesting to see a description of a town almost completely untouched by the world war raging around it. These characters are focused on their immediate surroundings, and Holly's escapist tendencies are regarded as enviable in difficult times.

And I HAVE been to Tiffany's, and can understand completely what Holly means when she describes it as a place to escape to; to feel calm and right with the world. It's a wonderful place.

I definitely want to read more Capote now...and read more about him. The Black and White Ball? Fabulous, darling.

Up next: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

A Minor Blip

Sorry, folks....

Just couldn't get into Martin Chuzzlewit - got about a third of the way through before giving up. I will, of course, return to it at a later date, but just couldn't put my heart into this one at the present time.

Will start Breakfast At Tiffany's by Truman Capote today. New blog entry soon. :)

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Love Is...

Have finished Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.

A strange but very moving little novel - Winterson's first, and an exploration of her conflicted upbringing (it is so obviously a disguised autobiography).

The main character, Jeanette, is brought up in her adopted parents' (well, mother's) strict religious home in northern England. At first, Jeanette accepts her mother's strange and fanatical ways; she knows nothing else, and becomes used to the fact that others see her and her family as outsiders. She is not prepared for the backlash and moral outrage when she innocently falls in love with another girl - to Jeanette, love is love - she just happens to love a girl, not a boy.

The novel brings up questions of faith v morality, or one person's interpretation of it. Jeanette cannot reconcile in her head that one kind of love is the ONLY kind of love, according to her mother's religious beliefs. She is hurt and bewildered by her religious community's decision to portray her as an evil-spirited outcast, and resorts to creating allegorical fantasies to comfort her in her decision to leave to live her own life.

As a person who is non-religious but spiritual, I found Jeanette's conflicting feelings fascinating, and felt for her in her confusion and helplessness - and felt anger towards the people who, having preached and taught love and acceptance, cannot accept someone who is willing to give so much, just because she is "different".

I definitely want to read more of Winterson's work when I have the time.

Next up: Back to good old Mr Dickens...Martin Chuzzlewit.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Remembrance Of Things Past

Have finished Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

What a beautifully crafted and palpably poignant novel. The sadness and wistful feelings of almost all of the characters felt incredibly real - and prescient, even though the novel was written in 1925; the world-weary post-war feeling resonates even today.

Clarissa, Peter, Rezia (and even Sally, to a certain extent, even though she is the most outwardly confident and seemingly happy about her current life) all ponder on what could have been, and what is. Woolf is writing of her time, when social restrictions were just that - restrictions - and one couldn't do as one really desired.

I feel that Woolf was also incredibly brave to write about a subject that was still (at that time) much debated and misunderstood - shell shock. The character of Septimus suffers profoundly from this condition (having survived World War I), and is completely misdiagnosed by his pompous doctor. His wife Rezia knows that her husband has never been well, and desperately wants him to be so, but loves him enough to know that the doctor doesn't always know best. Septimus's trains of thought throughout the novel are incredibly touching, and give an insight into how countless other young men like him must have felt - and how they were summarily dealt with as if they weren't ill.

The structure of the novel was also quite beautiful - the reader is allowed to dip in and out of these characters' lives as an independent observer, but when allowed to observe, sees the depth of emotion in each character and how they touch others around them.

Sigh. More, please.

Up next: Have already started Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

No Jokes This Time

Finished We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver yesterday.

Unbelievably powerful and harrowing book. One of those novels I didn't want to put down, but read with trepidation nonetheless.

Told in an epistolary style, it details a mother's desperate attempt to understand why her son has committed a horrific deed (I won't be giving too much away by saying that it was a school massacre).

The novel brings up lots of modern debates about what makes a good parent; if children are born a certain way, and if so, is there any point trying to parent them at all? Eva (Kevin's mother) admits in her letters that she isn't a good mother, but also that Kevin is not a good child.

The detail in which Eva describes her feelings and actions and Kevin's misdeeds is shocking, but completely believable. She knows that her parenting skills are not up to scratch, but she makes it clear that her heart wasn't in it for most of the time - especially when dealing with the malevolent force that is Kevin.

In her quest to understand why Kevin did what he did, Eva naturally brings up several actual school shootings and compares them to Kevin's crime - Kevin himself knows every intimate detail. In discussing these events, Shriver brings up the debate of how these incidents are handled in the media, and how more of these events might be triggered (and indeed, virtually encouraged) by the overwhelming attention given to them by the nation's media.

Fascinating, sad, heartbreaking. Odd to say that I enjoyed reading this novel, but I did.

Up next: Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Kissin' Cousins

Finished Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy yesterday.

Sorry it's taken me a while to post, but...I really want to be eloquent and articulate when writing this blog, and this novel...well, I find it difficult to be eloquent and articulate about a novel that just left me cold.

Hardy is a novelist who specialized in running commentaries about the class system in England in the nineteenth century and how people in rural areas (what he called "Wessex") struggled within this class system.

I found the novel's concepts and characterizations completely out of date and therefore out of touch. Jude (to use colloquial language), to me, was a complete drip. I understood that he wanted to make something better of himself, and that he struggled to prove his intelligence to the university elite, but thought that he had no conviction or strength of character to follow through with his dreams - he could have gone anywhere, but was obsessed with one town, one university, one way of learning. He was never going to get very far with this obsession.

And as for his relationship with his cousin Sue...she was also a bit of a drip, but in a different way. She couldn't make her mind up about how to behave, either. Should she stay with her respectable yet dull husband? Should she follow Jude wherever he goes? Should she submit to her wifely duties, or assert her independence? The woman didn't have the conviction to follow her academic dreams either.

Both characters deserved each other in that they lacked courage and the wherewithal to deal with their unconventional beliefs and lifestyle. As I said before, what a pair of drips. Argh.

Up next: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Fast forward to the 21st century.

Monday, 4 May 2009

One I Could Really Sink My Teeth Into....sorry!

Have finished Dracula by Bram Stoker.

I had varying expectations going into this one, as I have seen the florid, over-the-top, highly romantic (and therefore to me, enjoyable) 1992 film adaptation of Dracula.

Wow...what a difference. All I can say is...the filmmakers took lots of liberties with the plot lines. Embellishment everywhere.

The novel itself is much quieter and stiller, and much more sinister for being so. Stoker gives no reason for Dracula's behaviour, other than pure blood lust - there are no romantic motives for his actions.

I found that Stoker made Mina a much stronger female character than I thought she would be. Her gentle yet steely strength saves her and the men around her, who feel initially that she should be sheltered from their quest to destroy Dracula. Another strong female character introduced before her time.

I also really liked the novel in its epistolary form - this way, the reader gets to see how different characters feel about the same situation - it also exposes the characters' flaws and deepest thoughts, which they cannot express verbally.

More of this, please!

Next up: Jude the Obscure, the first of several Thomas Hardy novels on the list.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Brighton Rocks

Finished Brighton Rock by Graham Greene yesterday.

Really, really enjoyed this one. A crime novel, thriller and morality tale all wrapped up in a strange love letter to Brighton.

I've only read one other Graham Greene novel, The End of the Affair, and I have a feeling that the other Greene novels on the list will have the similar theme of tortured Catholicism running through them.

Pinkie is one of the most soulless, evil, sociopathic characters I have ever encountered in a novel, which makes his ambivalence about his strong faith and repulsion when experiencing even the slightest twinge of desire fascinating.

Greene's portrayal of Ida as a strong female figure in 1930s England was also most refreshing. Here was a woman who had her own moral compass; who knew right from wrong and wanted justice above all else - and wasn't going to give up until she got it. Greene was ahead of his time, perhaps without knowing it.

And of course, the character of Brighton - my favourite British city after London. Greene vividly portrays the smell of the sea air, the grubbiness of the pubs and restaurants, the faded grandeur of the seafront hotels.

Looking forward to reading more of this very interesting author's work.

Up next: Have already started Dracula by Bram Stoker...a bit of late Gothic horror, anyone?

Monday, 27 April 2009

A Taste of Sunshine

Finished A Room With A View yesterday.

A lovely little novel...and very, very English.

To me, the overriding themes of this novel were repression (religious and sexual), true love, and independence - and Forster weaves them all together with sparkling dialogue and real feeling.

(SPOILER) I felt, reading this novel, that Lucy was always going to end up being with George, but it was wonderful to read of her personal journey towards true love and her discovery of who she really was. It took courage to stand up to the strict moral rectitude of the times - Lucy does this without really knowing that she is.

The title of the novel reappears throughout, giving the reader an insight into Lucy's character and the people around her. She wants a view, a different view, and is not prepared to settle for a limited one.

I had to smile at the beginning of the novel, when Lucy and her cousin are first settled in Florence. The setting of the little pension they inhabit is classic English tourist on holiday. Forster was ahead of his time on this one. You'l have to read the novel to see what I mean.

Up next...Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Not To Be Taken Lightly

Sorry it's taken me a while to post. I actually finished The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (spelled that correctly this time) on Friday, but it's taken me a couple of days to digest it all.

Wow - what an intense read. This novel swept me up in its characterizations, labrynthine plot lines, and political and religious imagery almost from the first page.

I must read more about 19th century is a time period I know very little about, and I think learning about it will help me understand the novel even better. Politics, religion, class systems - you name it, this novel touches upon it.

Having said that, the novel (to me, anyway) is first and foremost a tragic love story filled with extremely complex characters. Every character introduced by Dostoevsky is intense and passionate in their own way - and this intensity and passion manifest themselves in very different ways.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away for those who haven't read the novel, but I found myself sympathising with none of the characters, yet liking most of them at the same time. You'll have to read the book to know what I mean. Strange and alluring.

Had to switch already breezing through A Room With A View by EM Forster. Will update in a day or two (that's how quick a read it is...)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Lack of Mystery and Intrigue

Have finished The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

I suppose I am comparing this (what is hailed as) the first mystery novel with Conan Doyle's work. The Sherlock Holmes author was witty, quick, clever, and kept me guessing and interested throughout The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Collins' work bored me. I felt I knew the outcome of the novel from around page 50 (of close to 400!) I found the prose to be lacking in substance and rather patronising at times.

I suppose to put the book in context would be fair - it was the first of its genre - an out and out whodunit. I think that Dickens had already started this trend in a much subtler way with novels such as Bleak House, which contained a detective mystery within a love story, a social commentary and much else.

According to the introductory notes, Collins was somewhat of a protege of Dickens' before branching out on his own. I know I'm biased, as Dickens is one of my favourites, but he shouldn't have tried to outmaster the master.

Not holding out much hope for The Woman in White, the other Collins novel on the list.

Have already started The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky - and enjoying it so far.

Friday, 10 April 2009

A Novel For Our Times

Finished Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens today.

Another engrossing page-turner from Dickens. I must confess that I saw the excellent BBC adaptation of this novel a few months ago, so already knew the plot and eventual outcome. However, as with all televised adaptations, the screenwriter had to leave out a few key plot points, and hey, there's nothing like reading the book.

I found myself not wanting to put the book down, even though I knew what was going to happen next. The characters are so flushed out by Dickens that I can see their faces, hear their voices, even feel their emotions.

Dickens makes Amy Dorrit a good, honest, selfless person without being simpering and cloying, and as the reader, I really felt for her and how she continued to be mistreated by most of her family. Dickens also makes Arthur Clennam an inherently decent and honourable man without making him a complete pushover and weakling. In another author's hands, these two main characters could have been quite unsympathetic, but I felt for Amy and Arthur, and (SPOILER) it was a happily predictable ending for the both of them.

As to one of the main themes running throughout the novel...the mismanagement and misplacement of money: What timing. I have said before that if a novel written long ago still has relevance and resonance today, I would enjoy it - and Little Dorrit definitely has relevance to what is happening in the world today. I don't think the makers of the most recent miniseries could have predicted how prescient their adaptation would be.

How the dickens did Dickens do it? Amazing. A must read for these times in which we live.

Next up: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Portnoy on Portnoy

Finished Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth today.

A novel as monologue. A man goes to his psychoanalyst and basically talks and talks and talks some more about what makes him an inadequate human being.

I really liked the idea of Portnoy's uninhibited desire to divulge EVERYTHING to his world-weary therapist, who, by the end of the novel, reveals that he has heard it all before - there are many more like Portnoy out there - does he think he's something special?

Obviously, he does - and at the same time, thinks he's a completely worthless excuse for a man.

Portnoy's monologue veers wildly between his desire to buck the ultra-traditional familial system in which he grew up and equally, his desire to prove to his conservative, eccentric parents that he is still the good and obedient son he was as a child.

Fear, guilt, rage, jealousy, confusion. Portnoy suffers from all of these, and in abundance. For me, as the reader, I felt myself sympathising with the therapist - who does this guy think he is? We all (men AND women) feel these things - but I was entertained by Portnoy's turn of phrase nonetheless.

I am eager now to read more Philip Roth - this novel was said to be a thinly-veiled characterisaton of the author - let's see if he continued in this vein.

Up next: Back to good old Dickens...Little Dorrit.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Analysis of an Analysis

Finished One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest today.

I am going to follow my friend and fellow blogger Maggie's advice and try to analyse the novels I read with a bit more depth. I realise that I have been a bit flippant in my comments...the initial purpose of this blog was to really get to the heart of each book I read and discuss why I liked or didn't like what I read as well.

SO....onto the analysis. (Funny strange that the first novel I'm "analysing" is a book about a mental asylum).

Really enjoyed this novel, if enjoyment can be applied to such a weighty subject matter. I felt that the themes of this novel (the struggle for power, the treatment of the mentally ill, respect, friendship) still resonate today.

This novel is set in the very early 1960s, but there was a feeling of timelessness to it as well...if it weren't for the cultural references, I feel the book could have been written today and still be relevant. I feel that THAT is key to my enjoyment of the novels I've been reading...if the themes presented in the book are still relevant to the world at large today, I will almost certainly be able to relate to it, and therefore enjoy it.

Kesey is a master of character description, and the reader can really see and hear the characters - I liked how McMurphy and Nurse Ratched were frequently described with "un-human" characteristics (both in very different ways...particularly her, with her mask-like features and stiff exterior). A good character for me is one that feels so real, I can feel emotion for (either good or bad) - and the "Big Nurse" was certainly one of those - I felt myself actually getting angry with her megalomaniacal, insidious lust for power against those whom she thought were powerless.

I very much want to see the film version...and see how true it is to the book. No mean feat.

Up next: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

School Daze

Finished Tom Brown's Schooldays last night.

I found myself slightly bored by this novel and getting impatient for the ending as I was reading it - never a good sign.

I suppose it was the fact that Tom's pre-Victorian public (private) school experience - rambunctious, innocent, pious, full of moral rectitude - contrasted so starkly with the previous novel I read (A Kestrel For a Knave), which depicts an entirely different (and to me, much more realistic) view of English schoolboy life.

I suppose, for its time, Tom Brown's Schooldays was insightful and made good commentary on the state of English education, but for me, it felt fusty and outdated.

Oh well - I can't enjoy them all, can I?

Next up: A complete diversion again...One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

A Boy and His Bird

Have finished A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines.

Short but powerful. I really felt the cold, the hunger, the loneliness of the kind of boy that Billy was - a teenager growing up in a 1960s mining town in northern England. You felt the desperate need he had to love and be loved - and to throw everything he had into raising his kestrel, because really, it was the only thing he had.

This passage, describing how Billy looked after a fight with a fellow student, really moved me:

"For an instant, as he hurried into the showers, with one leg angled in running, with his dirty legs and huge rib cage moulding the skin of his white body, with his hollow cheek in profile, and the sabre of shadow emanating from the eye hole, just for a moment he resembled an old print of a child hurrying toward the final solution."
Beautiful and haunting and accurate.
Next up: Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Back To The Books

Ok...finished Watchmen. A pleasant diversion.

Next up from the list...A Kestral For a Knave by Barry Hines.

It's grim oop north.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Choose Your Own Ending

Have finished The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Interesting concept for a novel...a twentieth-century writer taking on the guise of a nineteenth-century narrator. The language of the novel is definitely reminiscent of the 19th century novels I've been reading.

The author/narrator, however, breaks the fourth wall and tells the reader directly that this is all just a figment of his imagination. Fowles was obviously making a comment or two about the conventions of the 19th century novel (as well as the conventions of 19th century society), but overall, I found the effect to be rather distracting and egoistic.

I enjoyed reading the intriguing story of Charles and Sarah, and could have done without the constant interruptions of the author/narrator.

Having said that, I did like the clever idea of the three separate endings.

Gonna have a little break from the novel-reading (until I get a chance to get to the library next Tuesday)...or at least the novels from the list. I ordered a copy of Alan Moore's Watchmen after seeing the film last week, and am very much looking forward to escaping into a dystopian past (if there is such a thing!)

More novels from the list soon.

Monday, 9 March 2009

You've Read The Book, Now See The Movie!

Have finished Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard.

I haven't read much war fiction, but this semi-autobiographical account of a young boy trapped in WWII-era China was a harrowing and relentless read. Having said that, there were moments of aching beauty and profundity.

The edition I read had an account by Ballard at the end of the novel in which he describes his actual war experience. He went through some very hard times, but managed to stay with his family, something Jim is not able to do in the novel. The hardships Jim and his fellow prisoners endure are almost impossible to read about, and Ballard really captures the utter hopelessness and madness of wartime.

I very much want to see the film of this novel now...Christian Bale as a young boy!

Up next: The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A Ripping Yarn

Sped through The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle.

A Sherlock Holmes classic... Conan Doyle had killed off Holmes after over twenty-five adventures, but brought him back to life for this tale. It was fun to read - one of those I didn't want to put down!

Lots of parallels with this novel and my favourite book of all time, The Alienist by Caleb Carr (which, travesty of travesties, is not part of the 1000). Dr Kreizler is very much like Holmes, and the narrator, John Moore, is a doppelganger for Dr Watson - Kreizler being the enigmatic, intellectual, methodical sleuth; Moore being the fact-gatherer and public face of the case.

A joy all around. I look forward to reading the other two Conan Doyle books on the list.

Next up....Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Thoughts on A Fairy Tale of New York

Have completed A Fairy Tale of New York by JP Donleavy.

I knew nothing about the author before reading this book. It was classed under the "comedy" genre in the Guardian list, but I found the book to be far more poignant and touching than funny.

Having loved and lived in New York, I could relate to Cornelius's sense of the city being so much bigger than any individual. New York is a city where so many people come to follow a dream, but end up struggling just to get by. The novel (as seen from Cornelius's persepective) captures the rawness, the dirt, the toughness, and the beauty and romanticism of New York.

The characters who Cornelius encounters are all tragic in one way or another, but touchingly so. You can feel their disappointments, their heartache, their hopes.

I could really feel New York whilst reading this book, and for all its warts and flaws, that's a good thing.

Next novel...another genre switch...The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes!!!!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

On George Eliot and The Mill on the Floss

Finished The Mill on the Floss last night.

Very good book...and very of its time. As an edcuated woman, it makes me very frustrated and grateful to read books like these. Frustrated at the way women were thought of at that time (little more than ornamentation and home help), and grateful that things have progressed so much in the last 150 years. We don't have everything men do yet, but compared to then, well...

The Guardian called this novel George Eliot's most autobiographical work, so I did some reading up on her to make the comparisons. Like Maggie, Eliot (or Mary Ann Evans, to use her real name) never felt part of the society in which she grew up. She felt compelled to go abroad to escape the stultifying atmosphere of her small home town, and was miserable upon her return. And also like Maggie, Eliot was shunned by her family (in particular, her beloved older brother) when she fell in love with and spent the majority of the rest of her life with a married man. (This man couldn't divorce his wife, who had committed adultery, due to the antiquated divorce laws of the time).

Knowing this about Eliot makes the book all the more poignant. I have now read two books detailing the close (yet contrasting) relationships between a brother and a sister. Paul and Florence (in Dombey and Son) were as close as siblings could be, and supported each other in their mutual loneliness. Tom and Maggie (in The Mill on the Floss) are close, but only as close as Tom will allow them to be. Maggie is willling to give up everything for Tom, but he cannot do the same for his devoted sister. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't read the book yet, but Tom comes round in the very end.

After all this heavy and sorrowful Victorian lit...a diversion!

Next novel: A Fairytale of New York by JP Donleavy.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Already Read Already

I've decided to publish a list of the books on the Guardian list which I've already read...

Including the ones I've finished since starting this blog...the total equals 103.

Interesting selection...after looking over it, I realised just how many of those I read when I was in my teens and early university years. And how few I've read since.

The main purpose of this blog is to remedy that.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Reflections on Dombey and Son

Have finally finished Dombey and Son.

This wasn't one of my favourite Dickens...I felt as if I was plowing through it (more so for the second half of the book) rather than enjoying it.

To me, it tied up loose ends and unresolved issues rather too neatly. This is not like Bleak House, which, despite its myriad plotlines and countless characters, brought everything together with a proper climax...and the aforementioned plotlines and characters wove together in a much more realistic way.

Having said that, there were certain aspects of the book I did find compelling, most of all the relationship between Florence and Paul Dombey, Junior. I always thought of my brother and I as a team; a brother and sister who truly understood one another. This seemed the case for Florence and Paul as well. I love the theme of Paul's insistence that the waves were speaking to him...and the allusion to his death in the chapter entitled simply, "What the waves were always saying". This chapter was written beautifully. up? A temporary diversion from Dickens...The Mill On The Floss by George Eliot.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Dombey and Son, part one

About halfway through Dombey and Son...

An absorbing read. Profoundly sad. Makes me realise how grateful I am that my parents love my brother and I equally.

More on this when I finish the book.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Mister Charles Dickens

Found this great photo of Dickens on the web...such a pose, but I like to think that it's the great man hard at work.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Novel One Completed

Well, I just finished reading the first novel on my list...Hard Times by Charles Dickens.

Impressive in its brevity - not very Dickensian! I'm used to reading Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby, where you just have to jump in feet first and wallow luxuriously in the labrynthine plots and character descriptions and relationships.

Hard Times is a much more pared down effort for Dickens, but I found it all the more moving and eloquent for being so. Dickens' love of language and wit still shine through, but the relative shortness of the novel allows his passions and strong beliefs to come to the fore.

Needless to say, I enjoyed it. I would love to see an adaptation by the Beeb of this, but I fear it just wouldn't be meaty enough for them (not enough characters or plotlines) - although the issues of 150 years ago (workers' and marital rights, "proper" education) discussed in the book are still relevant today.

Gonna find a good pic of Dickens himself to post...

Next novel: Back to the weighty Dickens....Dombey and Son.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Book One - Hansen's Odyssey Begins

Hello all.

I realise that I am starting a rather daunting task...but a very enjoyable one to me nonetheless.

The Guardian supplements I mentioned broke down the 1000 novels into 7 genres, which are:
  • Love
  • Crime
  • State of the Nation
  • Comedy
  • Family & Self
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • War and Travel

I dutifully went through each list, circling the novels from each genre that I had already read. I found the genres I had read most of were Love and State of the Nation. I really have to catch up on my Crime.

SO...where to begin? Genre? Author? Familiarity? I decided to go with a bit of both.

I ventured out to the Redbridge Central Library today to start my literary journey. This library is the best in my area, and I suspect (like Lisa Simpson) I will be on a first name basis with the staff as I troop back and forth to borrow my copious amounts of reading material.

I checked out Dombey & Son and Hard Times by Charles Dickens and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. Both Dickens novels are from the State of the Nation genre, and The Mill on the Floss is from the Love genre. I chose the Dickens because, as a huge Dickens fan, I feel it is a personal crime that I have not completed my consumption of his works. The Mill on the Floss I chose because the Guardian calls it Eliot's most autobiographical work of fiction, and I am intrigued.

So...I start with Hard Times, a Dickens which I have been meaning to read for a long time.

I will keep posts on what I think of the books I read, good or bad. I will publish a complete list of the novels I will be's obviously not quite 1000, but it will be one heckuva lot.

And of course, I will be customising my blog with photos, quotes, links, the lot. I'm new to this blogging thing, so be patient! And keep checking in on me! I appreciate reviews if you've read any of the books, comments, etc. All is welcome.

Wish me luck!