Montreal, Quebec, Canada | Member Since 2011
The first thing anyone who decides to pick up this short novella should know is that the only thing that is remotely "cheerful" about it is indeed the weather on the day during which all the action takes place. Thankfully, I had read a few reviews and knew this before I'd even purchased the audio version of this Persephone book originally published in 1932, so did not suffer disappointment in that sense, and on the contrary, enjoyed discovering how Strachey had described the situation at hand. On this day of lovely weather, guests and family have converged at Mrs Thatcham's house to attend her daughter Dolly's wedding. There reigns a great confusion as Mrs Thatcham tries to get everything in order before the ceremony while giving contradictory instructions to the servants. None of the people assembled seem to especially look forward to the wedding and hold various meaningless conversations, while Dolly herself takes an inordinate amount of time getting ready in her room, where we learn she has been slowly getting drunk, drinking straight out of a bottle of spirits. An interesting little story which I could easily see being performed as a play.
Finished Fathers and Sons yesterday, another quickly devoured novel. Don't think I'll take the time to properly review it, but I will say that while I worried I wouldn't be thrilled by a novel in which one of the main characters is an unpleasant Nihilist with an attitude to match, I was on the contrary pleasantly surprised to find this novel touch on a variety of other subjects I ended up finding quite engrossing indeed, so that even Bazarov, the unpleasant proponent of Nihilism in question became, if not appealing exactly, essential to a masterful whole. Some of the topics broached are the major shift going on in Russia during the mid-19th century, with landowners 'freeing' their serfs and allowing them to become paid tenants and the attendant class conflicts; the concept or what makes up a true Russian identity; the generation gap and how the old guard is always relegated to obsolescence by the young. In other words, social conflicts seem to be at the heart of this novel, but these subjects became all the more interesting to me thanks to the deft hand of Turgeniev, who presents these from the unique standpoints of young student Arkady Nikolaevich Kirsanov, who brings his friend and Nihilistic hero Yevgeny Vasilyevich Bazarov on a visit to his family farm to meet his father and uncle. Arkady Nikolaevich's father Nikolai Petrovich is excited to get together with his grown son again, looking forward to a forging a close friendship with him based on intellectual equality, and thinks himself to be 'with the times' by embracing modern socioeconomic concerns (having among other things recently emancipated his serfs and removed himself to a smaller house with few paid servants) and keeping up with all the latest authors (but at heart a great lover of the Romantic Old Guard Pushkin). However, his hopes are fairly dashed when Bazarov is introduced into the household with his uncouth, brusque manners and disdain for art, tradition, and sentimentality. Arkady has become Bazarov's disciple and parrots his older friend's ideas, though all the while he is made uneasy by Bazarov's repeated critical sallies and generally disrespectful attitude toward his beloved father and his uncle Pavel Petrovich, a gallant aristocrat very much attached to tradition and keeping up appearances, which Arkady nevertheless sees as a tragic hero. Through this prism we see a whole nation shifting toward what laid the ground for the inevitable Russian Revolution and the Communist USSR, though again, Turgeniev, far from making his protagonists all black or all white, lets them evolve throughout the novel and experience conflicting emotions and motivations. Here, together with a large dose of philosophical doctrine, there is also love and romance and it's deceptions, there is even an unlikely duel which ends rather unexpectedly. In other words, it is a mix of intellectual ideas and romantic concerns and for this reason, still feels incredibly modern and shows us once again that human nature never really changes much.
So much for NOT writing a review. :-)
A note on the narration: I should say that I wasn't overly fond of Sean Runnette as a narrator for this specific title in the beginning. I've become used to listening to 19th century Russian novels delivered by British narrators, and Runnette's American pronunciation felt a bit strange at first to my Anglophile ears. I would initially have preferred David Horovitch, who also recorded a version of this book and who became one of my favourite narrators after listening to him in Anna Karenina and The Age of Innocence, but because I obtained this book at the bargain price of $2.99 (when purchased with the inexpensive Kindle edition), stuck to it. I discovered along the way that a "New World" accent worked very well here, since the main protagonist is far from being an aristocrat and rejects all traditional ideas. That being said, I'm sure most North American listeners won't have any issues of the sort to begin with and I'm sorry if I come across sounding like a snob.
I picked up Burial Rites, this first novel by Hannah Kent just yesterday and finished it today. Yes, I thought it was great. It seems that historical fiction is really a favourite genre of mine these days, though I've always liked it, even before I knew it was called that, in the days when a book was a book to me, with no categories to make me wonder what was "right" or "wrong" or "high" or "low" literature. This story takes place in Iceland, and is based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who was the last person in Iceland proper to receive the death sentence. She was beheaded in 1830 on the charge that she had—together with a conspirator, a young man called Friðrik Sigurðsson (also executed the same day)—murdered two men, Nathan Ketilsson, a farmer and local healer and also Agnes' employer, and Pétur Jónsson. This story begins in the year preceding Agnes' beheading, when she is sent to live in cramped quarters with a family in a small isolated farming community, where she is meant to prepare for her punishment and meet her end with the appropriate attitude of contrition and religious faith. The family are understandably outraged and horrified to be made to take in a convicted murderess, and Agnes, who has spent her life as a maid, is put to work doing the lowliest tasks. Agnes has specially requested that a young assistant priest called Tóti be her spiritual advisor, claiming that they know each other and she believes he is in the best position to help her, though the young priest is not aware of having ever met her and their connexion is only revealed quite late in the story. Tóti quickly comes to realize the best he can do for Agnes is to let her tell her own story, which is how we come to learn about the events which led up to the murder of her former employer and erstwhile lover, an event which was not as clear cut as the authorities made it out to be. It's impossible to read (or in my case, listen) to this story without growing feeling compassion and empathy for Agnes, which is also what happens to the members of the family. Of course, while the main characters and events are based on true circumstances, Hannah Kent had ample room to embroider on what might have been Agnes' inner life and motivations, though she claims to have done this based on a great deal of documentation from eyewitnesses and people who knew the convicted woman. A very promising start for Hannah Kent, and I will be looking forward to what she comes up with next. Of course it's a very touching story, and one which was a very fitting follow-up to Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, which I finished just a few days ago. Interestingly enough, in her acknowledgments, Kent gives special thanks to Brooks for her role as a mentor, something I did not know about till I got to the very end. I just love it when this kind of reading synchronicity happens!
I have to make a special mention of narrator Morven Christie, whom I first discovered with Code Name Verity—another much recommended book—, who read the story with great compassion and feeling, and a real sense of intimacy. She is now among my favourites, and I look forward to her next projects too.
Did all kinds of chores around the house today, including taking an old toothbrush to the space between the tiles in my bathroom. I'm not very fond of housecleaning, but once in a while I get a fixation on a certain specific task and get it done as if it was an Olympic event. I also did lots of stuff around the kitchen which involved hours of pureeing foods and washing dishes. Anyhow, all that gave me ample time to finish listening to my latest serving of Lee Child, Persuader, which is the 7th book in the Jack Reacher series. I've come to expect lots of gripping, violent action and unputdownable thrills-a-minute from this series, along with more flirting an sex than any Sex and the City episode used to offer up, but somehow I found this one quite boring. Here, Reacher goes undercover within what is already an undercover 'off the books' government agency operation, presumably to rescue a female agent gone missing, but also to avenge the brutal murder of one of his former work colleagues (who happened to be a very attractive young woman and would-be lover) by killing a sadistic ex-military official gone rogue. Lots of gun descriptions, which were a yawn-fest for me, though obviously essential to the story since arms dealers played a large role, and somehow not all that much action, save for two major scenes which I guess made the price of admission worth the expense. I should make the effort to count how many times Child mentions 'he/she said nothing' in any one of his books. But I guess the music is in the space between the notes, or at least, that's what I remember reading somewhere. All the same, it took me just two days to finish this 14+ hour listen, and it did get me to do a lot more chores than I normally do in a six-month period, so it couldn't be all that bad, or at least, it won't keep me from moving on to the next book in the series, to which we get a free 20-minute preview presenting the next case in which a two star General is found dead from a massive heart attack with an empty condom still stuck to his appendage in a two-bit motel a few steps away from a sleazy girlie bar. Just right for when this old maid needs her next dose of testosterone-driven action.
My rating (2.75 stars) is based on my rating system in which three stars means 'enjoyed it (good)' and two stars mean 'it was just ok'.
Lonesome Dove, as I think almost everyone before me must have mentioned, completely transcends the cowboys and Indians genre with a story of epic proportions and a cast of characters so well drawn that they were not only believable but entirely memorable too. Augustus McCrae and Woodrow F. Call are two old friends and partners who've survived their years as Texas rangers and now lead a settled life. When an old acquaintance tells them all about the wonders to be found in the north, they decide to leave the comfort of their Texas ranch—baptized the Hat Creek Cattle Emporium and Livery Stable by Gus, the only lettered man in the bunch who also likes to talk a lot and very loudly—to make their way with a herd of some two thousand heads of cattle to Montana, to be the first settlers there. While their journey may be a long one, and the book is well over 800 pages, there isn't a dull moment, as the country is still peopled with warrior Indians and plenty of natural dangers to keep the action going. There is a complex relationship between the two old rangers, with Gus having opinions about everything and unable to ever keep quiet about them, and "Captain" Call, whom all the men look to for direction preferring to say as little as possible and keep to himself. Gus has kept the company of whores the better part of a life almost entirely devoted to being with and thinking of women, while Call has aimed to keep to his own strict code of behaviour, though Gus knows all too well the man has had moments of weakness leading to very real consequences in the form of what is now a young man, which Call can't accept as being his son. The one thing fuelling Gus's desire for travel and adventure is the promise of reconnecting with an old and never forgotten flame, while Call seemingly has a very simple need to stay in control of events and lead his men along on their northbound journey. There's a rabble of cowhands and various misfits traveling along, each one being significant to the group, but also taking on importance in this wide canvas set in post-Civil War America. This is a grand and tragic adventure that one shouldn't miss, and if you're anything like me, these characters will live on in your mind, and you may just start talking and thinking with a Texas accent, no matter where you happen to be from. There's no question this is one of my favourite books of the year, and maybe of all time.
I should probably mention as an afterword that I enjoyed this book so much I decided I wasn't ready to part with the two main protagonists yet, so that I got started on the audio version of the first book in the story order today starring Call and Gus as young men just starting out with the Texas rangers, in Dead Man Walking. It's narrated by Will Patton, who is so good that he's managed to make me almost forget how good Lee Horsely was for Lonesome Dove. Am also looking forward to watching the tv series which was highly recommended by some of the most ardent fans of this book.
Mary Wesley has become one of my favourite British female authors since I discovered her last year. This is not a happy story by any means, as it starts with our protagonist Matilda Poliport who's been widowed for a few years and having lost her cherished husband, with four grown children who refuse to visit her, has decided the best life has to offer is behind her. When the novel begins, she is just putting the last touches to a major housecleaning as she is carefully putting into execution her meticulously planned suicide. Her beloved pet gander Gus is sold to a farmer, where he'll ostensibly be happy with a harem of six geese, and she's off to her favourite secluded beach to have a picnic of brie and Beaujolais before taking sleeping pills and swimming into the tide. But of course her plans are foiled when she meets Hugh Warner, an attractive 30-something man on the run from the police and known all over the media as "The Matricide". She saves him before committing his own suicide attempt and brings him back to her cottage to hide away, where of course, a most unusual relationship will develop. Relationships are Wesley's strength, as is writing from a mature person's perspective on life, but mature not so much in the sense of having acquired bundles of wisdom as having lived life fully and being past caring what others think and feeling free to impose one's personality on others. Which of course makes for fascinating characters. I don't know if Matilda is necessarily a likeable character, since we learn she has mostly lived her life denying all the uncommonly unpleasant things that have been thrown her way, but thanks to Wesley's subtle skills it is impossible not to form an attachment to her AND the matricide. Of course, we're not to expect a happy ever after given the ingredients this story is made up of, but that hardly matters, as Wesley succeeds in creating another thing of messy and unruly beauty.
I discovered Agatha Christie in my teens, when the prospect of every one of her books was a promise of excitement and thrills. Revisiting some of her most well-liked titles in the past few years, I was more often than not left slightly disappointed; of course the novelty of Chirsite's style and approach had worn off and simply could not seem as original as it had long ago, and the whole concept of "comfort reading" hadn't quite taken hold of me yet. Strange that I had never read this first instalment in the series before. Set in a great mansion, the Styles Court of the title, an elderly heiress is suspected of having been murdered by strychnine poisoning. Captain Hastings is a guest at Styles and suggests to bring in Hercules Poirot to quietly work out the mystery and avoid alerting the media in what is a high profile case and most likely a crime motivated by greed. Published in 1920, there are several references to the Great War, giving this novel a historical context, something I have never noticed with the other books in the series. The characters of Hastings and Poirot seem fully formed, and Poirot's methodology already well in place, and I was once again won over by the charm of what is by now a comfortably familiar formula with two well-known main characters. David Suchet's delivery is of course impeccable.
Tess Durbeyfield is still only a young girl when he father learns from the local clergyman that he is one of the last living descendants of an ancient English noble family. As the Durbeyfields are very poor, they soon convince Tess to present herself to a rich old woman and her son who live nearby, named D'Urberville. They believe them to be their rich relations and all but force Tess to ask for help in their dire need. What none of them can know is that these supposed relatives have only come by the name by purchasing it after having made a fortune, to elevate themselves from their origins as humble merchants. When Tess presents herself at the D'Urberville house, she is greeted by Alec D'Urberville, a young man who quickly proves to be a womanizing bully, who right away claims to be in love with the beautiful young Tess and contrives to have her live under his roof and work for him under false pretences. He uses every means at his disposal to break down Tess's defences and takes advantage of her one day, which, because this is a 19th century novel and no unmarried woman could have a sexual encounter without the most disastrous consequences, will of course determine the course of the rest of poor Tess's life and end in great tragedy. I’ve seen many people comment on Hardy's proclivity for writing depressing stories about doomed heroines, but if you happen to be in the mood for a fine 19th century tragic bucolic romance, this is just the ticket. I was too young to see Nastassja Kinski famously playing the role of Tess when Roman Polanski's classic movie came out in theatres, but that young woman's fragile beauty was at the forefront of my mind throughout this reading, which helped make the story that much more poignant somehow. A novel I'll be sure to revisit in future.
I wanted to love this book, but a huge cast of characters involved with local Yorkshire politics—politics being a topic which I shrink away from—did not exactly win me over in the beginning. Soon, some key figures emerged, namely Sarah Burton, the new and youngish headmistress at the local high school, and Robert Carne, a broke and principled landowner and descendant from a venerable family regarded locally as a lord—if not in actuality, then figuratively. Little by little, as the politics took a secondary place and the various individuals became more fleshed out, in this poor community between the wars struggling to improve the lot of it's residents, I was pulled in by their various stories and struggles. I eventually found myself truly caring about Sarah and Carne, the modern and independent clever woman falling in love with the older man defeated by personal tragedy. And County Alderman Mrs Beddows,—at first seeming like a mere figurehead as the first Alderman woman (apparently as Holtby's own mother was)—a married septuagenarian more than a little bit in love with Carne too, earned my affection in the end. A book I feel I should have appreciated more than I did, and which I may very likely revisit eventually.
Carole Boyd is one of my favourite narrators and delivers a flawless performance as always.
It is 1905 and Asta Westerby and her husband Rasmus have just moved to England from Denmark with their two boys, with a third child on the way, which Asta dearly hopes will be a girl. Asta tells her story through a series of journals, in which she writes sporadically about various events, describing her family life; her marriage, her children, her maid, which make up her whole universe. Asta has an independent spirit and was not necessarily cut out to be a wife and mother, but she accepts her lot because other alternatives don't seem appealing or feasible. But this is only part of the story, because the other part takes place in a contemporary setting, sometime in the 90s, which is when this book was published. Asta's granddaughter Ann has come into her inheritance now that her aunt Swanny has passed away. Swanny was Asta's favourite child and having discovered her mother's journals after her passing, decided to have them translated and published with tremendous success. Now Ann is responsible for the manuscripts and intends to continue publishing additional volumes. But there are various mysteries to be found in what have become historical artifacts. Swanny was never able to learn the truth about her true identity after receiving an anonymous letter telling her she was not in fact Asta's child, something which Asta herself refused to confirm on way or another. Is the answer to be found in one of the volumes? But there are also mentions about a horrible crime which was a sensation in it's time, with Alfred Roper accused of murdering his wife and the disappearance of their young toddler Lizzie. Was Swanny that Roper child? And if not, what happened to Lizzie? These are mysteries which Ann and a friend producing a movie about the murder mystery are out to solve.
The premise of this novel seemed very interesting, but I found the story very confusing, with two seemingly completely separate stories and families that had nothing in common somehow connected in a way which is only revealed at the very end. Perhaps this is a story which benefits from a second reading. Then again, perhaps my own mind is too muddled to understand a plot which doesn't follow a familiar narrative style. I also kept wondering why Asta's journals had become such hugely successful books, as they didn't seem to make for such gripping reading on their own. Don't let my confused ramblings about this book influence you though, because it seems to have met with a lot of appreciation with other readers.
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