Well. Let me tell you, it’s been a stressful month. Pro-sem reading, text analysis for comparative literature requires weekly reading (plus essays), the Finnish academic writing class has lots of annoying little things to do… Thankfully, it’s just two more weeks of this kind of intensive no-free-time studying, and then I can relax a little. And, you know, maybe read some fantasy for a change.
There’s also been fun stuff though – season’s end party for work (I came second in a quiz about all sorts of details of selling ice cream), all the freshmen parties, new friends, old friends, and, of course, pro-sem conversations. Yes, I love the pro-sem, despite the stress it puts me through. We have a good group.
But, no matter if it’s fun or not, all this interferes with normal reading schedules. Out of the books bellow, only two first ones (plus one in the romance post) have been my own decisions. Rest are required.
Kim Newman: Professor Moriarty and the Hound of the D’Urbervilles
Imagine the twisted evil twins of Holmes and Watson and you have the dangerous duo of Professor James Moriarty – wily, snake-like, fiercely intelligent, terrifyingly unpredictable – and Colonel Sebastian ‘Basher’ Moran – violent, politically incorrect, debauched. Together they run London crime, owning police and criminals alike.
A one-stop shop for all things illegal, from murder to high-class heists, Moriarty and Moran have a stream of nefarious visitors to their Conduit Street rooms, from the Christian zealots of the American West, to the bloodthirsty Si Fan and Les Vampires of Paris, as well as a certain Miss Irene Adler…
(back cover of Titan Books 2011 edition)
Now, I have to say I might actually prefer the adventures of Moriarty and Moran to those of Holmes and Watson: the former are much more twisted and crafty, and criminals to top that – always an interesting quality in a character.
The adventures in this book touch on the original Holmes cases, but mostly have little to do with the Thin Man of Baker Street, as he is usually referred to by Moran, who in Newman’s book fills the shoes of Watson as the narrator. Moriarty gets illustrated very nicely, and we even meet his two brothers, which gives as all the three James Moriartys. (The situation gets explained, no worries!) The book is also filled with allusions to English literature, as you can guess from the title, some of them explained in the footnotes (inconveniently at the end of the book and often rather lengthy) and some not. I can’t be sure how many of the allusions I missed, but I think I got a lot of them, even with my limited experience of the English classics.
Published: 2011 Titan Books
Pages: 467 (plus annotations)
Geoffrey Trease: Byron – A Poet Dangerous to Know
This little book gives a quick look into Lord Byron’s life, and I think it has been meant for students of literature, as it really only covers the essentials and some well-known facts. There was very little I didn’t know, but getting the whole story more or less chronologically was nice. I also chose the book for it’s brevity, as I’m not sure how interested I’m in his travels and final times in Greece, and a longer biography would undoubtedly dwell on these for much longer than I could bear. However, I would have been more interested in some of the minor characters of Byron’s life, such as Lady Caroline Lamb and Claire Clairmont, both a little cuckoo if you ask me. But then again, I just need to get my hands on their biographies.
You will feel sorry for poor George in the end, though. He was a good man, if a little imbalanced.
Pages: 135 (plus a map, bibliography, and timeline with essential years)
Charlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre
Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity.
She takes up the post of governess at Thornfield, falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than Victorian society traditionally allowed.
With a heroine full of yearning, the dangerous secrets she encounters, and the choices she finally makes, Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers.
What can I say? Jane Eyre is a rather wonderful book. Being the only Brontë I’ve ever read, I can’t compare the sisters, but what I can do is compare different adaptations. The 2006 BBC adaptation (with the brilliant Ruth Wilson and wonderful Toby Stephens) is so strong in my brain and such a well-made mini-series that I see the milieu and actors while I read.
This was also my second time reading the book, and we had to mark scenes and bits we liked for class. I noticed for the first time that there’s some foreshadowing regarding Rochester’s secret (don’t want to spoil it for those of you who might not have read it yet) and Jane is actually rather funny when she cares to be.
In class people seemed to be most concerned about Mr Brocklehurst and his hypocrisy, or Jane’s very modern comments on the equality of sexes. Then there was me, raving about one of Jane’s most emotional lines and how it’s rarely delivered with real feeling in screen adaptations. Ahem.
First published: 1847 Smith, Elder & co.
Pages: 548 (Wordsworth Classics 1992 paperback edition)
Martin Amis: Time’s Arrow
In Time’s Arrow the doctor Tod T. Friendly dies and then feels markedly better, breaks up with his lovers as a prelude to seducing them, and mangles his patients before he sends them home. And all the while Tod’s life races backward toward the one appalling moment in modern history when such reversals make sense.
Okay. Wow. This novella takes some getting used to, but blimey, when you get into it, it’s kind of fabulous. Everything happens backwards: people walk backwards, drool their drinks into glasses, converse backwards. The first chapter is a small struggle while you try and reset your brain to understand the backwards chronology, but once it gets easier you can ignore the little things and concentrate on figuring out what is on Tod’s conscience. It works like a detective story, and you get to piece the picture together with what clues you get.
Tod being a doctor, some scenes get rather gory – just think about an emergency room that works backwards, with people coming in fine and leaving with bleeding scars – so if you’re queasy I recommend caution. It’s worth reading despite the gross bits, and I’m a little sad I had to get through it in such a hurry. Will definitely be rereading!
Translation was very good, although in a few places English crept through. Then again, I’d be hard put to figure out any way of translating those bits, so can’t really complain. Want to reread in English though.
Translation: Seppo Loponen (Otava 1992)
Charles Dickens: Great Expectations
Considered by many to be Dickens’s greatest work, this is a timeless story where vindictiveness and guilt clash with love and gratitude. Enriched by a cast of unforgettable characters, from the orphan Pip to the convict Magwitch and the bitter Miss Havisham.
I know I read this in June. But it’s a good thing I reread it for pro-sem, because last time the BBC mini-series was too strong in my head; I enjoyed the book much better now that I’ve got some distance. I still found some bits unnecessary, but they bothered me far less. Pip I don’t like – he’s annoying. The most interesting people are Estella and Miss Havisham, although who really caught my attention this time was Mr Jaggers. There’s a hard professional for you! His speech on the importance of knowing all the facts, which put Mr Wopsle to his place, impressed me beyond all expectations, and it was one of the scenes I marked down for class.
So now that my opinion has changed, I do recommend this book, if you’re capable of ignoring the main character.
Or, if Dickens isn’t your cup of tea, watch the 2011 BBC mini. Great cast, beautiful mis-en-scene, and everything unnecessary has been cut off the script. Oh, and there’s a new movie out soon, with quite a cast – Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss Havisham, Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch… Looking forward to that!
In class we discussed following things:
- Differences between the endings of Jane Eyre and Great Expectations
- Love as described by male/female author, interpretation by male/female reader (Apparently the feeling of love derives from different chemicals in women and men, and that women in general love someone they feel safe with and men a woman they for some mysterious reason prefer over all the other women. We have one guy in the class, and when asked he said he didn’t really feel the love Jane feels for Rochester, but he totally got the love Pip feels for Estella. It’s completely the other way around for me, so I found this very interesting.)
- Whether middle-aged men can still be passionately in love (This kept on throughout the class, and it was a lot of fun xD)
First published: 1860-1861
Pages: 445 (Arcturus Publishing 2010 paperback edition)
Andrzej Zaniewski: Rat
This novel leads the reader into the mind and universe of a rat and in doing so, transforms one of nature’s most despised animals into a creature representative of us all.
This was sort of interesting, although I only got into it in very short sections. The world of a rat is very violent and insecure, and some of the scenes were very heart wrenching – a young female losing her young, for example – and some just plain disgusting. Then again, at times it was rather boring and confusing, particularly when we were told to pay special attention to the narrator, which switches POV frequently and to no end I can fathom.
The book was originally written in Polish, and as I know nothing about said language I can’t say for sure, but I think Finnish ate some of the meaning in the POV changes. In Finnish it is not necessary to use personal pronouns in first or second person because those can be replaced by inflections, but I feel it would have been better to have the pronouns. It would have been very clumsy Finnish though, so I might reread the book in English at some point and see whether that makes a difference.
Published: 1993 (original title Szczur)
Translation: Kirsti Siraste
Pages: 169 (WSOY 1994)
George Eliot: Middlemarch
Subtitled “A Study of Provincial Life,” the novel is set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during the period 1830–32. It has multiple plots with a large cast of characters, and in addition to its distinct though interlocking narratives it pursues a number of underlying themes, including the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. The pace is leisurely, the tone is mildly didactic (with an authorial voice that occasionally bursts through the narrative),and the canvas is very broad.
I would have enjoyed it, probably, if I’d had a little more time. This is not a book you want to rush through, because it can get heavy at times – and after a tough night of reading it I was too tired to pay attention to a rather important plot point and was confused for the next sixty or seventy pages. (Turns out it was less dramatic than I’d hoped…) The characters are interesting though. The problem is that in the beginning you can’t be sure who is going to be important and end up paying attention to the wrong people. The main characters – Dorothea, Mr Casaubon, Dr Lydgate, Rosamond and Fred Vincy, Will Ladislaw, Mary Garth – are turned round and round until you’ve seen all sides of them and probably hate most of them. Rosamond, for example, amused me greatly in the beginning, with all her romance and sillyness, but soon after she turned completely insufferable.
As a novel this is very different from Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. The narrator is omniscient, and there are so many characters whose head you get to visit it gets overwhelming from time to time. It’s also very wordy, and sometimes I wondered how on earth Eliot manages to make simple things last for pages and pages.
But, as it is one of the biggest classics of English literature, I’m happy to have read it. I think I’m going to re-watch the TV-series when I find some time, as it would be interesting to do a little comparison.
First published: 1871-1872
Pages: 746 (plus annotations; Oneworld Classics 2010 edition)
Elizabeth Gaskell: North and South
When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man, John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fuses individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale creates one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.
On rereading, the two sides of this book became even more pronounced than the first time. There is the romance side of things, and there is the social commentary side. Of course this novel contains, as the title already suggests, lots of comparisons between things, and I think this dual plot is one of them. Just as north and south, master and man, wealth and poverty have their points and can co-exist, so can cutesy love and a serious message be weaved into one work. And it works beautifully.
Gaskell’s prose is very easy and delightful, although a little on the dramatic side of things – I haven’t yet made up my mind whether it’s intentional mockery or just Gaskell’s way of doing things, but I have high hopes of finding out when I eventually read her Wives and Daughters.
I warmly recommend this book. Gaskell is among the less-known authors of the Victorian period, but, I think, well worth attention.
First published: 1854-1855
Pages: 403 (plus introduction and annotations; Wordsworth Editions 2002 edition)
So that’s it for September! Pro-sem intensive reading period is halfway through, and I think I’ll survive it. It’s another thing will I manage the other courses I should get done during the next couple of weeks…
Books bought this month:
Getting better. I finally got my hands of Wolf Gift, after having craved for it since February. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is something I’ve wanted to read but never got around to, and having it at home is helpful – when I get the impulse I can just grab it now instead of hunting it around libraries. And guess what? I didn’t buy Grass King’s Concubine. I won it off a giveaway on Goodreads. My first time winning! Looking forward to reading it, but when that will happen, I can’t say. So many books, so little time…
And finally! The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi! Squee! I’ve so been looking forward to this! I hoped I’ll have the chance to reread The Quantum Thief before getting to this, but I doubt it, as I want to have this baby read before the Book Expo in October, where Rajaniemi will be participating a panel and most likely signing.
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (which I’m loving)