Tag Archives: regency

Books in February ’13

The end of the month snuck up on me! I thought it was Friday and not Thursday! Oh well…

February turned out to be a very bad slump month. I started a couple of books but ended up abandoning them, lazed around online, and wrote stuff for school. I took a course on Medieval and Early Modern Ireland, a fun class but a lot of reading included, which also ate at my pleasure reading. I doubt I’ll do any better during March and April, but by the summer I intend to pick up some speed!

Georgette Heyer: Pistols for Two

Affairs of honour, affairs of the heart, and all the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has made her own are exquisitely revived in these eleven short stories of the Regency.

(Goodreads)

This one is a collection of Heyer’s short stories, all of them Regency – and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed every single one! They are written in the typical Heyer style, but I found them even better executed than her novels: there is a twist in each story, and I kept guessing what it was only a couple of lines before it was revealed. Very thrilling, I tell you, to feel like you are a step ahead of the story! Mind you, if you are not into romance you might not enjoy them to the same extent I did, but they’re worth it for the technical skill and beautiful prose.

Published: 1960

Pages: 205 (Arrow Books edition; 13 short stories)

Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

(Goodreads)

I was positively surprised. I knew absolutely nothing about this book, and actually picked it up solely because I have a mini series adaptation of it starring Toby Stephens, Tara Fitzgerald, and Rupert Graves. But turns out I really enjoyed the book. I was a little surprised that it begins with a male perspective, as it’s not something you would expect from a Brontë (I may sound like I know what I’m talking about, but actually Jane Eyre is the only Brontë sister novel I’ve read before this, so don’t be fooled), but the female voice comes to play before halfway. Some of the diction shocked my 19th century sensibilities, which was actually rather refreshing, although I’m not completely convinced I liked it. Not the author’s fault, obviously.

It could happen I’ll return to this book sometime in the future. It’s the kind of story that I think will change when you grow older.

Published: 1848

Pages: 378 (Penguin Popular Classics 1994 edition)

Toby Barlow: Sharp Teeth

Yup, I reread this again! And guess what! This time I finally pieced together the back story and people’s motivations! And it feels fantastic!

You can read more about Sharp Teeth in its favourites post!

Published: Harper Collins 2008

Pages: 313

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen?

Which important Austen characters never speak? Is there any sex in Austen? What do the characters call one another, and why? What are the right and wrong ways to propose marriage? In What Matters in Jane Austen?, John Mullan shows that we can best appreciate Austen’s brilliance by looking at the intriguing quirks and intricacies of her fiction. Asking and answering some very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, he reveals the inner workings of their greatness.

In twenty short chapters, each of which explores a question prompted by Austens novels, Mullan illuminates the themes that matter most in her beloved fiction. Readers will discover when Austen’s characters had their meals and what shops they went to; how vicars got good livings; and how wealth was inherited. What Matters in Jane Austen? illuminates the rituals and conventions of her fictional world in order to reveal her technical virtuosity and daring as a novelist. It uses telling passages from Austen’s letters and details from her own life to explain episodes in her novels: readers will find out, for example, what novels she read, how much money she had to live on, and what she saw at the theater.
Written with flair and based on a lifetime’s study, What Matters in Jane Austen? will allow readers to appreciate Jane Austen’s work in greater depth than ever before.

(Goodreads)

Mullan’s book caught my eye at the bookstore. As an Austen-fan, I’m always ready to learn more about her books, and boy, does Mullan bring out things one rarely thinks of while reading! The subtitle of the book, Twenty critical puzzles solved, tells you a lot: there are twenty topics discussed, among them the right way of proposing, money, and, perhaps my favourite, the importance of weather.

If you’re not a fan of Austen or unfamiliar with her works, I wouldn’t recommend this. Mullan goes to deep detail and doesn’t bother to explain the plots – which as it should be, since it frankly baffles me why anyone who hasn’t read Austen would even want to read this book. The chapters are short, 15–20 pages, so it makes wonderful regular night reading! I’m now eager again to read Austen’s novels again, just to see how much I have taken away from Mullan’s work: the details of people blushing, frequency of exclamation marks in the free indirect bits, and so on!

Published: 2012

Pages: 320 (Bloomsbury 2013 edition)

Books bought:

John Mullan: What Matters in Jane Austen? (no picture this month since it’s just one book)

Currently reading:

David Mitchell: Back Story (not that David Mitchell, I’m talking about the comedic actor!)

I’m off to Amsterdam on Saturday, as the reading week has begun, and I will report about it when I get back! So meanwhile, keep reading!

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Books in October ’12

This month saw the end of the Victorian madness – well, more or less. I managed to include a couple of books just for my own pleasure, but it was quickly back to school again. I’ve just realised that this is how it will probably be until summer, as I’ve managed to choose a lot of courses with several books to read. And on top of that all the background reading for the final paper. Oh well. There’s always retirement for reading what you wish…

William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair

Two young women, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, leave Miss Pinkerton’s Academy together. They are friends, yet the witty and flirtatious Becky looks set to outdo the passive, sweet-natured Amelia with her ruthless determination to grab what she can in life. And so all kinds of battles and fortunes are won and lost against a backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.

Thackeray’s satire on corruption at every level of English society is rightly subtitled ‘a novel without a hero’, since none of its characters have improved themselves by the end. However, it was a success from its first appearance in 1847 and remains one of the greatest comic novels.

(back cover of Arcturus 2010 edition)

At first, it wasn’t at all what I’d expected, although very amusing and rather engaging. Then, around halfway, I was so stressed and tired it was a pain to read. The brutal schedule did very little for this book – but oh gods, when I got to the end, I was completely in love. It’s funny, and insightful, and full of wonderful characters, although all of them have their flaws. It’s Regency. There’s the war. There’s the society. There’s life.

Writing coherently about this book is a little hard, as I’m so enamoured. I hope a reread will sort my head further and get my out of the general feeling of awesome and into the reasons why it is so great.

I’m seriously looking forward to working more with this book. Just… gaah. I want to watch all the adaptations and just get immersed into it.

You can also read about me drooling over the 2004 film adaptation here.

First published: 1847-1848

Pages: 719 (Arcturus 2010 edition)

Orhan Pamuk: The White Castle

From a Turkish writer who has been compared with Borges, Nabokov, and DeLillo comes a dazzling novel that is at once a captivating work of historical fiction and a sinuous treatise on the enigma of identity and the relations between East and West.
In the 17th century, a young Italian scholar sailing from Venice to Naples is taken prisoner and delivered to Constantinople. There he falls into the custody of a scholar known as Hoja–“master”–a man who is his exact double. In the years that follow, the slave instructs his master in Western science and technology, from medicine to pyrotechnics. But Hoja wants to know more: why he and his captive are the persons they are and whether, given knowledge of each other’s most intimate secrets, they could actually exchange identities.
Set in a world of magnificent scholarship and terrifying savagery, The White Castle is a colorful and intricately patterned triumph of the imagination.

(Goodreads)

Another required read for text analysis. Another read-it-quick-as-you-can novel.

I didn’t really care for this one. I’m really bad with modern and post-modern literature. It’s not all bad, of course not, I’ve read good ones, but it seems to me like everything that becomes popular in literary fiction feels somehow… pretentious.

It’s probably just me though. I like straightforward stories, not clever angles from which to look at life.

But I digress. The White Castle addresses identity – always an interesting topic – and doppelgangers. For the most part I couldn’t really identify with the characters, but later on I sort of recognised myself in Hoca (if you’ve read it, let me assure you, I’m not as crazy but understand where the crazy comes from) and from then on found more interest in reading. The end plays with you, and you get to play detective for a couple of pages, but unfortunately the very ending somewhat disappointed me.

Published: 1985 (original title Beyaz Kale)

Translation: Kalevi Nyytäjä (from the English translation by Victoria Holbrook 1990)

Pages: 216 (Loisto 2006 paperback)

Anthony Trollope: Barchester Towers

This 1857 sequel to The Warden wryly chronicles the struggle for control of the English diocese of Barchester. The evangelical but not particularly competent new bishop is Dr. Proudie, who with his awful wife and oily curate, Slope, maneuver for power. The Warden and Barchester Towers are part of Trollope’s Barsetshire series, in which some of the same characters recur.

(Goodreads)

Well written and amusing in its sarcasm, but really, the interior design of a house or who gets to be dean are not subjects I thrill in. The prose is, however, very neat and pleasant to read, and by no means very heavy. There is a romance plot as well as the drama of the religious circles of Barchester, and they blend very nicely together. Second in the series of books situated in the town of Barchester, it suffers very little from the reader not being acquainted with the first part, The Warden. I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, but sort of enjoyed Barchester Towers nonetheless.

First published: 1857

Pages: 586 (Penguin English Library 2012 edition)

Herta Müller: The Passport

The Passport is a beautiful, haunting novel whose subject is a German village in Romania caught between the stifling hopelessness of Ceausescu’s dictatorship and the glittering temptations of the West. Stories from the past are woven together with the problems Windisch, the village miller, faces after he applies for permission to migrate to West Germany. Herta Müller (Herta Mueller) describes with poetic attention the dreams and superstitions, conflicts and oppression of a forgotten region, the Banat, in the Danube Plain. In sparse, poetic language, Muller captures the forlorn plight of a trapped people.

(Goodreads)

Consisting of titled fragments, this work of Müller’s was a positive experience, once I realised it takes place in Romania, rather than Germany. Made more sense after that. It’s got lots of rather nice images and interesting metaphors, and most people in class said they needed or wanted to take time reading it, to better concentrate on the images. Some even considered it a hard read. Now, I may be just stupid or something, but I didn’t think it was all that hard. It took me a couple of hours to get through the about 100 pages, and I believe I got it. (But then again, I believe most of the participants in the class major in Comparative Literature and thus perhaps have a more analytical approach to reading than I do. Who knows.)

It’s very interesting, and I do recommend it. My second favourite of the six I’ve read for this course. (First being Time’s Arrow.) I find the English title rather unfortunate though – the Finnish translation used the original, and while the English one draws attention to the object of desire of the people in the book, the original is more attractive. Without any real knowledge on German, I believe it translates roughly to, “Man is a big pheasant on earth.”

Published: 1986 (originally Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt)

Translation: Raija Jänicke 1990

Pages: 110 (Tammi 1990 edition)

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince

‘On the day the Hunter comes for me, I am killing ghost cats from the Schrödinger Box.’

On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrödinger box.

He is doing the job for his patron, and owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not.

The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack.

The thief is nearly dead, the ship is being eaten alive.

Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him.

And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

There are many more stories than can be told even in a thousand nights and one night, but these two stories will twist, and combine. And reality will spiral.

In Hannu Rajaniemi’s sparkling follow-up to the critically acclaimed, international sensation THE QUANTUM THIEF, he returns to his awe-inspiring vision of the universe and we find out what the future held for earth.

(Back cover of the Gollancz trade paperback)

Okay. If you haven’t read The Quantum Thief, the first part in the trilogy, go do that now. Then you can get to The Fractal Prince. And I promise you they are both beautiful.

I didn’t have time to reread Quantum Thief, but I think this second book starts from about where the first one ended. Fractal Prince then turns out to be even more confusing than Quantum Thief, but, I think, the prose is more beautiful. I can’t really grasp a clear plot, a clear goal for the characters, but that doesn’t really matter. Jean, Mieli, and the new character Tawaddud are all interesting, as well as the spidership Perhonen. There’s several timelines that get confused, identities that you can’t be sure of, and some political intrigue which I liked immensely. There’s also more Finnishness in this book than the previous one, or perhaps I was just more attuned to it.

Sometimes I didn’t even understand a sentence, but loved it to bits. That, I think, tells a lot. Amazing prose. So engaging and magical. You don’t need to be a physics whiz to enjoy it. I hated maths, chemistry and physics in high school and do not read much science fiction, but this series has my heart.

Non-Finns who have read Rajaniemi – how do the names and words especially Mieli uses look to you? Mieli, Sydän, Perhonen, Kuutar, Ilmatar, koto, väki… I can’t really get enough distance to the words to not see what they mean and would love to hear what they sound like.

Published: Gollancz 2012

Pages: 300

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

(Goodreads)

It was nine years ago when I last read this book. I was thirteen. This was probably the first book ever that I like a lot but haven’t read every year, so the difference between my opinion then and opinion now was actually interesting to compare. It was also my first time reading it in English, so another first! Yay! This reread, by the way, was obviously because of the upcoming movie, which I can’t wait for…

It was more or less as I remember it. Bilbo is a darling, Gandalf is somewhat annoying, the dwarfs are fun. What felt really different though was the pacing. I had real trouble getting through the Battle of Five Armies before, and now I marvelled at how compactly the whole battle was described. I was so looking forward to it, and then it was only a few pages long. Slight disappointment there. In general the book felt much shorter.

What I really admire is Tolkien’s way of writing for children. It’s only very slightly less complicated than the way he writes for “adults”, but The Hobbit is also very obviously a story intended for children. But Tolkien is not patronising or condescending, and that is a true talent.

Published: George Allen & Unwin 1937

Pages: 276 (Harper Collins 75th anniversary edition)

Nick Foulkes: Dancing Into Battle – A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo

The summer of 1815 saw the final and desperate efforts of the European powers to usurp Napoleon’s reign over France.

The pivotal moment was unfolding in an age where war was a social occasion; the military urgency was matched only by the soldiers’ and their wives’ frantic efforts to keep apace of the lavish balls which were being thrown. The intention to deny war with frivolity persevered until 15 June, when the tension broke, and troops exchanged dance partners for weapons and prepared for battle.

Nick Foulkes captures the sense of what it was like to be at the very hub of events when the fate of Europe seemed to hang in the balance.

(Back cover of the Phoenix 2006 paperback)

I really enjoyed this book. It might be the fact that I’m getting really excited about my final paper topic, but it might also be the fact that the Battle of Waterloo and the days leading up to it were very confusing and interesting. The Britons in Brussels didn’t really grasp what was going on, did they?

Foulkes has drawn on a multitude of sources. The most interesting of those are diaries and letters, of such personages as Fanny Burney, Harry Smith, Thomas Picton, Thomas Creevey and Rees Howell Gronow. The book builds the picture of what went on during the Hundred Days that started when Napoleon escaped from Elba and guides the reader through the move of the British upper classes to Brussels and from thence to the battlefield. The Duke of Wellington is, naturally, a very prominent character in the book, but also the families of Capel and Richmond are much represented.

At first it may take a while to grasp the names and social positions of the people through whose reminiscences the world of society and war is shown, but towards the end this gets easier. I could recommend keeping a list, though, and I fully intend to do so on the second reading.

This is a very informative book, and perfectly suited for those who find plain war description heavy reading. The women of the time are amply represented, which is very delightful – my own favourite being Brigade-Major Harry Smith’s spirited Spanish wife, Juana, whose description of the panic on the road from Brussels to Antwerp is lively and a pleasurable read.

Published: Phoenix 2006

Pages: 230 (plus notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and index)

Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Conceived by a shy British don on a golden afternoon to entertain ten-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have delighted generations of readers in more than eighty languages. “The clue to the enduring fascination and greatness of the Alice books,” writes A. S. Byatt in her Introduction, “lies in language. . . . It is play, and word-play, and its endless intriguing puzzles continue to reveal themselves long after we have ceased to be children.”

(Goodreads)

First book to be read for the course titled “Classics of Fantasy Literature” (although I’m very tempted to call it “Classics of Children’s Literature”), Alice is something I’ve never gotten around to reading before. And I found it delightful. Carroll’s prose is flowing and pleasant to read, and doesn’t patronise. It’s absurd, but at the same time full of meaning and things you never thought of. I only wish I had been read this as a child! I also enjoyed how seamlessly the events of the book flow into one another, and you suddenly find yourself quite somewhere else than you were a couple of sentences ago.

It’s also a very quick read, which at this point in time is a definite plus in my books!

I hope I have time to read Through the Looking-Glass as well before I return this book to its rightful owner. I have a feeling I’ll enjoy that one even more.

First published: 1865

Pages: 115 (Wordsworth Classics 2001 edition: this edition actually has both of the Alice stories, as well as a 30-page introduction – I only read Wonderland)

So there you go again. You’ve already seen the books I bought this month, as they are all in the Edinburgh post. That leaves me one more thing to add to this post before leaving to Night Visions festival to see a werewolf movie!

Currently reading:

  • William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair (yup, rereading it already. Hunting down anything to do with the army.)
  • Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift (enjoying it so much!)

Happy Halloween, people!

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Books in September ’12

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.

Published: 1969

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.

(Goodreads)

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.

(Goodreads)

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.

Published: 1991

Translation: Seppo Loponen (Otava 1992)

Pages: 167

 

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.

(Goodreads)

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.

(Goodreads)

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.

[…]

(Goodreads)

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.

(Goodreads)

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.

Currently reading:

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (which I’m loving)

 

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Books in August ’12

So. End of August. Summer pretty much over. It’s sort of a good thing, as you can see from my previous post, but on the other hand I’ll miss the sun. You can already feel the darkness and depression creeping in… But we’ll fight it! And books will help!

My regular shifts ended two weeks ago, and the last shift was a week ago, so I’ve had slightly more time to read. Still not my usual speed, but much better than July!

 

Mark Lawrence: Prince of Thorns

When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king…
It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him–and he has nothing left to lose. But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic. No matter how fierce his will, can one young man conquer enemies with power beyond his imagining?

(Goodreads)

Of course, the first book in the Broken Empire trilogy had to be reread in anticipation of the second part. I’ve been putting of the reread in fear I wouldn’t like the book as well as I did the first time around – but that fear proved unnecessary. By chapter two (starting on page 6) I was in love again. I read slower this time, and noticed a whole lot more. Usually I’m not big on personal reflection, but when Jorg does it, I just can’t seem to get enough. Something’s broken in his head, I swear, and that makes attractive reading!

Published: Harper Voyager 2011

Pages: 373

 

Ellen Kushner: The Privilege of the Sword

Reread for bi-monthly favourite – you can read more about it here!

 

J. B. Priestley: The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency 1811-1820

The Regency Period is perhaps the most romantic of British history. It was an age which swung between extremes of elegance and refinement, and depths of sodden brutality. The central figure is the Prince Regent, Prinny, and though he sometimes appears as a gigantic spoilt child, he was famously good company and a notable patron of the arts. The author portrays the personalities of the giants of the romantic age – Byron, Shelley, Sheridan, Wordsworth, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott; Davy Faraday and Macadam; Turner, Constable and Cotman – to name a few. It was an age of extravagance; an age marked by great eccentricities and prodigous jokes; the luddite riots; the Battles of Waterloo and Peterloo; the first waltzes and the first locomotives.

(Goodreads)

Ah, the Regency period, how I love thee! Priestley’s book takes some getting used to, since it is a little different from your general history book. As he says in the foreword, this book sprung from his love of the period, and it shows throughout the reading. He tends to say things like, “This would be interesting but there’s not enough room in this book to discuss it” too often, and sometimes dismisses topics simply because they don’t interest him personally, but on the other hand he goes through the Regency (1811-1820) year by year, introducing hot topics of the year and explaining the on-going war with Napoleon in a way that spreads it nicely instead of info-dumping it. After you get it into it, you really get into it – the last 150 pages I just devoured. Very interesting, very entertaining! Even those averse to history would, I think, enjoy this one.

Published: Heinemann

Pages: 293

 

E. L. James: Fifty Shades of Grey

 A book that started out as a simple Twilight fan fiction, but then turned into a bestseller phenomena on its own.

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

(Goodreads)

Err… Yeah. This book? Thinly veiled fanfiction, with annoying characters. If you publish, make sure the style is suitable for print. If you write genre – in this case romance – be aware of the conventions. And for heaven’s sake, hire a good editor.

Y’all know I read both romance and fanfiction. This one is such an average mix of both it could work as an example of what fanfiction on average looks like. I have to give a point for the end though – not what happens, no no no, way too predictable when you know it’s A) first in a trilogy and B) based on Twilight, but Christian’s emotion was nicely conveyed, at least to my romantic sensibilities.

My friend is having the time of her life reading these. She asked whether I intend to read the sequels, seeing as the whole business is so funny. I said I wouldn’t buy them or get them from the library, but if she bought them I would read them.

She bought the rest of the series. Oh well. It’s not like they take a long time to read…

Published: Arrow Books 2012

Pages: 514

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

 Eleven of the best and most popular tales of the immortal sleuth include “Silver Blaze,” concerning the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time”; “The Greek Interpreter,” starring Holmes’ even more formidable brother, Mycroft; and “The Final Problem,” the detective’s notorious confrontation with arch-criminal Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.

(Goodreads)

There’s very little I can say about Sherlock Holmes that hasn’t been said, that people don’t know. So I’m not going to even try. They are exciting, and fun, and an excellent work-read. (I spent a rainy Sunday reading it. Double wages for doing practically nothing but reading, oh yeah!) Some of the stories I remember from the Granada series, but most of them were new to me. The collection ended in “The Final Problem”, which brought emotions to the surface.

Looking forward to getting started with The Return of Sherlock Holmes and finally officially meeting my current character-to-obsess-over, Colonel Sebastian Moran!

First published: George Newnes 1894

Pages: 200 (Dover Thrift 2010 edition, wonderful edition this!)

 

Glen Duncan: Talulla Rising

 When I change I change fast. The moon drags the whatever-it-is up from the earth and it goes through me with crazy wriggling impatience . . . I’m twisted, torn, churned, throttled—then rushed through a blind chicane into ludicrous power . . . A heel settles. A last canine hurries through. A shoulder blade pops. The woman is a werewolf.

The woman is Talulla Demetriou.
She’s grieving for her werewolf lover, Jake, whose violent death has left her alone with her own sublime monstrousness. On the run, pursued by the hunters of WOCOP (World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena), she must find a place to give birth to Jake’s child in secret.
The birth, under a full moon at a remote Alaska lodge, leaves Talulla ravaged, but with her infant son in her arms she believes the worst is over—until the windows crash in, and she discovers that the worst has only just begun . . .
What follows throws Talulla into a race against time to save both herself and her child as she faces down the new, psychotic leader of WOCOP, a cabal of blood-drinking religious fanatics, and (rumor has it) the oldest living vampire.
Harnessing the same audacious imagination and dark humor, the same depths of horror and sympathy, the same full-tilt narrative energy with which he crafted his acclaimed novel The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan now gives us a heroine like no other, the definitive twenty-first-century female of the species.

(Goodreads)

Second part in The Last Werewolf  trilogy, Talulla Rising is almost better than the first part. Duncan has an amazing way with words, seriously. I’m completely enamoured by his way of putting things, describing the transformation into a werewolf, the cultural allusions (not as many and not as clever as in The Last Werewolf, or maybe they are too subtle and clever for me to recognise), the action. All beautiful. If you have never tried Duncan, do!

Published: Canongate 2012

Pages: 425

 

Currently reading:

Professor Moriarty and the Hound of the D’Urbervilles by Kim Newman

Books bought:

Erm. It’s getting better, is it not? The pile isn’t as ridiculously big as in the last couple of months. It’s still more than I promised myself I’d buy, but hey – my bookstore still doesn’t have King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, so that needed recompensating! Lots of ACD, as you can see: I’m trying to familiarize myself with the original canon now that the tease words for the third season of BBC’s Sherlock have been announced and I want to be part of the guessing game.

Next week we’ll take a look at how I did with the summer reading list!

Happy autumn, people!

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