This month saw the end of the third period of the school year, the period break – or “break”, as I had two exams to take and an essay to co-write – and the beginning of a new class, that of Text Analysis II for Comparative Literature. As a result, about half of this month’s reading has been for class, and the other half romance because of its readability, which is to say I can cram a romance novel between required reading without having to worry about not finishing it in time.
A short note on my classes: Science Fiction & Fantasy is running smoothly, and I very much enjoy it. Our teacher is fantastic and so knowledgeable, and just a pleasure to listen to. I’ve liked most of what we’ve read in class, and this week it’s my turn to share my lecture journal entry with the class. Fortunately, I get to write about Jeff VanderMeer’s short story “Errata”, which I just read and enjoyed a whole lot.
Another thing concerning classes is that the exams I sat during break week yielded pleasant results. I didn’t expect to pass Classics of Literary Theory, but managed to scrape a 2/5! The other exam was on romance novels – and I aced it! It was also unexpected, as I wasn’t completely satisfied with my answers when I left the exam, but clearly something has gone very right. This result has encouraged me to seriously consider doing my master’s thesis on romance literature.
Enough with news now! On to the books read!
Jane Austen: Emma
Emma is the culmination of Jane Austen’s genius, a sparkling comedy of love and marriage.
Emma Woodhouse is introduced to us as ‘handsome, clever and rich’ and, according to Jane Austen, a heroine ‘which no one but myself would like’. Yet such is Emma’s spirited wit that, despite her superior airs and egotism, few readers have failed to succumb to her charm.
The comedy turns on Emma’s self-appointed role as energetic match-maker for her sweet, silly friend Harriet. Emma herself, meanwhile, is confidently immune to the charms of the male sex. Her emotional coming of age is woven into what Roland Blythe has called ‘the happiest of love stories, the most fiendishly difficult of detective stories, and a matchless repository of English wit’.
(Back cover of Penguin Popular Classics 1994 paperback)
It has been quite a while since I last read Emma. This time it was for an essay – a friend and I collaborated on a scrutiny on the humour in the 1996 Miramax adaptation and the 2009 BBC mniseries. Although I concentrated largely on the funny bits, I also took the chance to savour everything I’d forgotten. Emma is truly delightful, and I made a small self-discovery: I seem to find all the vulgar characters the most amusing. Mrs Elton is so contrary it is hard not to laugh at her. It is also evident that Mr Elton’s courting is very frustrating and the scene after the Christmas party never ceases to make me want to tear my hair off.
Mary Balogh: A Matter of Class
From New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh comes a classic historical tale that sizzles with romance and unforgettable drama.
Reginald Mason is wealthy, refined, and, by all accounts, a gentleman. However, he is not a gentleman by birth, a factor that pains him and his father, Bernard Mason, within the Regency society that upholds station above all else. That is, until an opportunity for social advancement arises, namely, Lady Annabelle Ashton. Daughter of the Earl of Havercroft, a neighbour and enemy of the Mason family, Annabelle finds herself disgraced by a scandal, one that has left her branded as damaged goods. Besmirched by shame, the earl is only too happy to marry Annabelle off to anyone willing to have her.
Thought Bernard wishes to use Annabelle to propel his family up the social ladder, his son does not wish to marry her, preferring instead to live the wild, single life he is accustomed to. With this, Bernard serves his son an ultimatum: marry Annabelle, or make do without family funds. Having no choice, Reginald consents, and enters into a hostile engagement in which the prospective bride and groom are openly antagonistic, each one resenting the other for their current state of affairs while their respective fathers revel in their suffering.
(Inside flap of the 2010 Vanguard Press hardcover)
(I actually removed the last line of the blurb; it didn’t really describe the book and gave away something I felt was better left unsaid.)
I cannot speak too highly of this novella. It’s expertly crafted, very amusing, and plays to the conventions of the genre admirably. I was completely enthralled and already know I’ll need my own copy. The ending is perhaps slightly unbelievable, but I would not dwell on that and instead enjoy this excellent specimen of Regency romance.
Thomas Mann: Death in Venice
Yet another thing I’ve read for class. This one eludes me. I can’t seem to quite get the grasp of it. Somehow it reminds me of Basil Hallward and his attraction to Dorian Gray. There are a lot of motives that I cannot seem to connect. Perhaps this story requires a little distance before it can be understood; I certainly hope class discussion will open it up for me.
Translation: “Kuolema Venetsiassa” by Oili Suominen (1985)
Stephanie Laurens: The Reasons for Marriage
Miss Lenore Lester was perfectly content with her quiet country life, caring for her father, and having no desire for marriage. She took steps to remain inconspicuous when managing her brothers’ house parties and tried her best to show indifference – but to no avail! The notoriously charming Jason Montgomery – Duke of Eversleigh – could easily see behind Lenore’s brilliant disguise and clearly signalled his interest.
Thought Lenore hid behind glasses and pulled-back hair, she couldn’t disguise her beauty. However, she remained determined not to be thrown off balance by this charming rake. The Duke of Eversleigh, though, was equally determined to loosen the hold Lenore had on her heart.
(Back cover of MIRA books paperback)
This is the first Stephanie Laurens novel I really enjoyed. Because I haven’t cared for her early novels or the ones where romance is blended with suspense, I have been hesitant to pick up her books and have merely skirted around them. My closest library is, alas, rather short of romance, and so I gave up and picked this one up on my last turn there, figuring I might as well since the back cover sounded alright.
What a good idea. Turns out I did have a very good time with this book. It was interesting to try to predict whether this was to be a seduction or a marriage of convenience, or indeed both. I liked the hero and heroine, although the latter’s reason for not marrying did not convince me. In the beginning the communication between the pair was open, but as soon as Lenore – the heroine – is convince to a marriage of convenience with the duke, the communication dies. This, of course, is their major barrier, and a great (although also somehow satisfying) frustration to the reader. The focus on the novel is therefore not on what will convince her to marry, but on what will drive them to finally admit or show their feelings for each other. I must say the duke goes a bit over the top in the end, and it somewhat flattened the emotional charge, but I let that slide.
It is a very good romance novel. I very much recommend this one. It is the first one in the Lester family novels, and if the library has the rest I’ll be pleased to see what happens to Lenore’s brothers.
Lisa Kleypas: Mine Till Midnight
Amelia Hathaway is the oldest of four sisters and has only one brother to drive her mad. They live a genteel but impoverished life until they come into an unexpected inheritance. Amelia tries her best to rein in her colourful and unmanageable siblings to match society’s expectations. Until the mysterious, extremely wealthy half-gypsy Cam Rohan appears.
The irresistible attraction between Amelia and Cam poses a huge problem for both of them. However, as Amelia deals with a multitude of problems, including trying to save her alcoholic brother Leo from ruin, she finds herself turning to Cam Rohan, whose friendship turns into a passion that neither of them can deny…
(back cover of Piatkus 2007 paperback)
I had only read one Kleypas novel before, and incidentally it was the last novel in the Hathway series, to which Mine Till Midnight is the first.
Now, I did again like the hero and heroine. Cam is unapologetic and steady, which is a nice feature in a romance novel; Amelia’s problems and internal barriers are relatable and logical. I would have enjoyed it more had it not been for some supernatural aspects and the former-suitor-turned-traitor trope, but thankfully those were kept down a bit and clearly served the romance plot instead of becoming equally important.
Another thing that bothered me, and usually does when it comes to a series of romances, is that the relationship between Win and Merripen was also given time within this narrative. I prefer my romances independent. I do like interlacing, but not to this extent. If I read the next novel in the series – which features Win and Merripen as protagonists – I will want their whole courtship in that book. Giving bits of other relationships than the hero and heroine’s without seeing the courtship through tends to leave me feeling less satisfied than a fully concluded plot. It also smells slightly like a marketing trick. But I’m digressing now, and should stop before I go too deep.
Nora Roberts: Rising Tides
Ethan Quinn shares his late father’s passion for the ocean, and he is determined to make the family boat-building business a success. But as well as looking out for his young brother Seth, the strong but guarded Quinn is also battling some difficult home truths.
Grace Monroe, the woman Ethan has always loved but never believed he could have, is learning that appearances can be deceptive. For beneath Ethan’s still, dark waters lies a shocking past. With Grace’s help, can he overcome the shadows that haunt him and finally accept who he is?
(back cover of Piatkus 2010 paperback)
This is the second book in the Chesapeake Bay series, the first of which I read last month. I picked the second one up purely because it happened to be on the shelf at the library I went to to get my class reading. Unfortunately, I do not think I’ll continue with this series. This is due to no fault in Roberts’s style or craft – well, the point of view pounced around a bit too swiftly in this one, at least to me tastes – but just the fact that I can’t find any interest in the characters. The Quinn brothers fall absolutely flat for me, what with their superior looks and prowess. Perhaps I enjoy the rakes too much, and the Quinns are by no means rakish. They’re good, sensible guys with dark pasts – in short, the kind of wounded heroes the heroines need to heal in order to achieve the perfect happiness together.
This is turning into an analysis of the series rather than the book, but in short, it was readable and enjoyable to a degree, but I don’t think I’m interested enough about the last two Quinns to hunt down the books. Maybe I’ll pick them up if they happen my way, but I won’t be going to any trouble for them.
H. G. Wells: The Time Machine
This is such a classic it’s almost embarrassing that I hadn’t read it until it was a class requirement. I’m not sure I liked it, as such. The frame story appeals to me quite a lot, for some reason, perhaps because of its function in respect to the Time Traveller’s story. The latter I found long-winded and slow, apart from the wonderful morlocks. Yes, I liked the morlocks. To back up our reading, we were given a chapter from a book to read (and I would like nothing better than to tell you what book it was from, but for some god-only-knows reason our teacher never provided us with the information) and let me tell you, The Time Machine is an excellent look into contemporary late-Victorian science and world view! Absolutely fascinating, and if you aren’t a fan of the rambling style of the Victorians, I can recommend this novella just for the content. My knowledge of the degeneration theory and such matters is not great, but with that in the background of reading makes this story more enjoyable. I would therefore advice you find an edition with a good introduction, as it would be certain to touch on these matters and explain them to some extent.
Pages: Around 70-80; I read an ebook and the pagination was all over the place
Peter Carey: Jack Maggs
‘Look at me,’ said Tobias Oates insistently. ‘Look into my eyes – I can take away this pain.’ Maggs peered at Oates as if through a heavy veil. The little gent began to wave his hands. He passed them down, up, down. ‘Watch me,’ said Tobias Oates, and Jack Maggs, for once, did exactly as he was told.
Peter Carey’s new novel, set in London in 1837, is a thrilling story of mesmerism and possession, of dangerous bargains and illicit love. Jack Maggs, raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia, in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush townhouse in Great Queen Street? And why is Jack himself an object of such interest to Tobias Oates, celebrated author, amateur hypnotist and fellow-burglar – in this case of people’s minds, of their histories and inner phantoms?
In this hugely engaging novel one of the finest of contemporary writers pays homage to his Victorian forebears. As Peter Carey’s characters become embroiled in each other’s furtive desires, and increasingly fall under one another’s spell, their thirst for love exacts a terrible, unexpected cost.
(Back cover of Faber and Faber 1997 hardcover)
Another book for class. The teacher is the same one who ran the course on Postmodern Historical Novel (a class which I did not like) and therefore we’re reading a couple of postmodern works.
The first thing I found out about Jack Maggs was that it is, ostensibly, an adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations. I think this is a debatable point, although I do see why that could be argued. I’m not going to go into detail here, because I think that my theories might guide a prospective reader’s reading too much, but do not be alarmed if you haven’t read Great Expectations but want to read this book: it’s an adaptation in a traditional sense and works perfectly wells on its own. Or so I imagine – I happen to like Great Expectations quite a lot and so read this very much through that.
It is a rather entertaining book, and it takes quite some thinking. It is also very much Neo Victorian, which I do not particularly enjoy but can’t really pin down what it is that displeases me about it. This is, however, all personal inclination. I still say Jack Maggs is a good book, and once I got into the rhythm of it and it becomes clear that everyone has a past and a secret, it became so much more enjoyable.
So that’s it for March! I notice I’ve stopped including what I’m currently reading and what books I have bought each month, so let’s get back to that, shall we?
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
Mary Robinette Kowal: Without a Summer (third in the Glamourist Histories)
Den Patrick: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (just ordered it and can’t wait to get it!)
Elizabeth Bear: Shoggoths in Bloom (also just ordered and waiting impatiently!)