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Showing posts from July, 2012

Review: Villette, by Charlotte Bronte

Pages: 588 Original date of publication: 1853 My edition: 2001 (Modern Library) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Border, 2001
I tried reading Villette once, a number of years ago. I got about halfway through and stopped; maybe I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it very much. About a year and a half ago, when I moved into my apartment, I came across my copy and threw it on TBR Mountain, “to read sometime in the future.”
Villette, as is Jane Eyre, is based on personal experience: Charlotte Bronte famously spent a year teaching English in Brussels. The novel is set in the fictional country of Labassecours, based on Belgium (at first I thought the setting of the book was some extension of Angria, the kingdom she and her siblings created when they were children). Lucy Snowe comes to Villette from England in search of a job and almost accidentally ends up at the door of Madame Beck’s pensione, or school for young ladies, where she initially gets a job as nursemaid and then teacher.
L…

Review: Zoe, by Geraldine Jewsbury

Pages: 431 Original date of publication: 1845 My edition: 1989 (Virago Modern Classics) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Oxfam Bookshop in London, September 2011
Zoe is the story of a young woman who marries at a young age and ends up having an affair—with the priest Everhard Burrows. Both of them are outsiders to their ways of life, so it’s natural that they find themselves drawn to each other.
Geraldine Jewsbury spent many years in Manchester’s cultural scene, becoming friends with the Carlyles, GH Lewes, and others. Jewsbury was famous for her outrageous behavior—she wore men’s clothing, smoked, cursed, and claimed George Sand as her inspiration. As such, her novel Zoe was meant to titillate her readers, but as a modern reader, I didn’t care so much for either of the protagonists especially Zoe, who behaves as a coquette in her pursuit of Everhard. I didn’t find her behavior shocking so much as annoying.
The theme certainly would have been shocking to the Victorian reader,…

Review: The Shuttle, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Pages: 476 Original date of publication: 1907 My edition: 2011 (Persephone) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, December 2011
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy young women from the States flocked over to England to marry titled men. It was a win-win for both sides: she would get his title, while he would get her money in order to maintain his estate. One of the most famous of these transatlantic marriages was that of Jennie Jerome and Lord Randolph Churchill (parents of the future Prime Minister Winston Churchill), which apparently helped inspire the characters in The Shuttle. Rosalie Vanderpoel is the daughter of a wealthy American and marries Sir Nigel Anstruthers, an English aristocrat who plans to squander her money and cut her off from her family. When Rosy’s younger sister Bettina decides to go to England to see what happened to her sister, things begin to change.
I really enjoyed Burnett’s story. Her style is engaging and easy to read,…

Review: Morality Play, by Barry Unsworth

Pages: 188 Original date of publication: 1995 My edition: 2001 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s, Piccadilly, London, September 2011
In the late 14th century, a young, errant cleric comes across a troupe of traveling players. One of their party has recently died, and the cleric, Nicholas Barber, steps in to play parts. Their travels take them to a town where a woman of the town has recently murdered a young boy, apparently. Although players in the middle ages only focused on religious subjects, this troupe decides to stage a theatrical version of the murder as a Morality Play. But as they perform it, they discover that the truth is far from what they thought it was.
I thought it was a great idea—and I love everything related to the middle ages, so I thought I would love this book. But I didn’t really. It’s a short book, but it drags in places due to the author’s laborious attempt to sound like a medieval person. There’s a heavy-handed amount of foreshadow…

Review: The Prince of Mist, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Pages: 202 Original date of publication: 1993 My edition: 2010 (Phoenix) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s, Piccadilly, September 2011
Carlos Ruiz Zafon is best known in the US for his bestselling adult novels, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game. The Prince of Mist is a young adult novel, published before his adult novels. The novel is the story of Max Carver, a 13-year-old boy who’s watchmaker father moves his family from an unnamed city to an unnamed seaside town. Once there, Max discovers a garden with strange statues and his sisters begin having unexplainable visions.
It’s definitely a first novel, and even though I kept the fact that this is a YA novel in the back of my mind as I was reading, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted to. The characters are pretty one-dimensional; none of them really grow in any way. Max seemed way too mature and intuitive for a 13-yer-old (even for a novel of this type), and there were some plot elements and coinci…

Review: The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick

Pages: 224 Original date of publication: 1940s-1990s My edition: 2010 (NYRB Classics) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011
The New York Stories is a collection of stories that Elizabeth Hardwick published between 1946 and 1993—years that spanned nearly her entire career as a writer. Hardwick grew up in Kentucky and lived for many years in New York City, working as an essayist for the New York Review of Books. She was married briefly to the poet Robert Lowell, who after their divorce married Caroline Blackwood, leading Hardwick to quip, “he never married a bad writer.” She was also friends for many years with the writer Mary McCarthy and lampooned her 1963 novel The Group.
There is a theme to these stories; all of them deal to some extent with the idea of escape, whether a character escapes from New York back to her Kentucky childhood home or escapes a sour relationship. Although Hardwick claimed that she couldn’t write much about what she knew, this is …

Review: Have His Carcase, by Dorothy Sayers

Pages: 440 Original date of publication: 1932 My edition: 1995 (HarperCollins) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2010
I’ve been reading my way, slowly but surely, through the Lord Peter Wimsey series for about 4 years now—not necessarily in series order, since I started with Murder Must Advertise.
Have His Carcase opens with the mystery writer Harriet Vane, who, on a walking tour, discovers a dead body lying on a rock. The murdered man is a Russian emigrant and a dancing teacher at a local hotel who may or may not have been associated with Bolsheviks. Naturally, Lord Peter is interested in the case, and he makes haste to join Harriet Vane to solve the mystery (with periodic marriage proposals). However, once the tide comes in, the body is swept out to see, leaving the two detectives with a mystery but no physical evidence.
Dorothy Sayers was the queen of sharp, smart mystery stories. On the surface they’re straightforward police procedurals that happen to hav…

Review: The Cause, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Pages: 532 Original date of publication: 2000 My edition: 2009 (Sphere) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon UK, May 2010
#23: Covers 1874-1885.
As the novel opens, Lady Venetia Fleetwood is engaged to be married; when she finds out that her future husband doesn’t support her ambitions to become a doctor, she breaks off the engagement. Her distant cousin George Morland and his social-climbing wife Alfreda had been invited to the wedding, but are bitterly disappointed when it is called off. In order to improve their social standing, George and Alfreda begin an ambitious project to “improve” and modernize Morland Place.
Although I enjoy this series in general, it’s been a while since I read the previous book in the series, so I had to go back to my notes and review them before I began reading The Cause. Still, I thought that this book was more of a filler for the series—the connection between the two branches of the family is too great. According to the family tree at the fro…

Review: Mrs. Tim Carries On, by DE Stevenson

Pages: 307 Original date of publication: 1941 My edition: 1973 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Ebay, March 2011
Mrs. Tim Carries On is the highly delightful sequel to Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, which follows the adventures of Hester Christie, wife of an Army Major. It is 1940, the war is fully underway, and Tim has been sent over to the front, leaving Hester with their two children Betty and Bryan. As Hester explains in her own way: I proceed to explain my own peculiar method of ‘carrying on’. None of us could bear the war if we allowed ourselves to brood upon the wickedness of it and the misery it has entailed, so the only thing to do is not to allow oneself to think about it seriously, but just to skitter about on the service of life like a waterbeetle. In this was one can carry on and do one’s bit and remain moderately cheerful. In her diary, Hester promises not to talk about the war except for the times when she worries—which, as it turns out, …