Saturday, 28 February 2015

Review of "Out of Work"

You've probably noticed by now that a lot of the books I post about are, to put it lightly, a bit 'obscure'. However, I don't think this makes them any less valuable. As part of my course at university I get the opportunity to read a great number of texts that I otherwise would simply never come across, and although yes, I find some of them terribly dreary, a lot of them are incredibly eye opening. Take this book for example - written by John Law (Margaret Harkness) and published in 1888, it reads like a more easily understandable and shorter Dickens. As a lover of Dickens, I found this fabulous, especially as Law, unlike Dickens, manages to paint semi-realistic female characters! Also, it's full of thought-provoking quotations like the one above, which are alarming in that stereotypes along these lines are things that many girls and women of our generation have heard said to them in some way or another.

Polly Elwin lives alone with her mother and is engaged to be married to Jos, a young carpenter who has moved from the country to secure work. However, this proves harder than he had originally realised, and soon his decreasing funds loses him the respect of Polly's mother and he is no longer allowed to live in the house. Becoming more and more penniless, Jos comes across many issues in 19th C London, amongst them the possibility of a richer suitor seeking out his Polly ...

This book examines the poverty in London in the late 19th Century, alongside the riots it induced. Told from the perspective of an innocent man who is simply unlucky, the reader really gets to feel how inescapably consuming the problem of unemployment in England during this time was, and how helpless so many men felt. There was a great emphasis on the idea that a man had to earn a certain amount to be "worthy" of marriage, and this is one of the few texts one could regard as feminist from this time which i read that examines how destructive the ideals surrounding marriage at this time could be to men as well as women. Indeed, even the riots and the poverty of London is not only shown through Jos, but the women forced to sell their newborns for a matter of pence to keep the rest of the family alive, and so on.

Have you read it? What do you think of 19th century books about marriage?


Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Review of "The Man of Mode"

The above excerpt from this 17th century play sounds like it could have come out of the mouth of Lady Macbeth, however, writing over half a century later, the playwright Etherege had quite a number of different aims in his portrayal of the scorned women. The political climate of Etherege's writing was one of libertinism. Charles 1 had been killed and a spirit of puritanism had entertained the interregnum, but with the Restoration seeing Charles II put on the throne, a period of somewhat licentious behaviour ensued. Charles II was known for his many mistresses, and if you've ever read any of Rochester's poetry, you'll know how, let's say "saucy" Restoration literature can be! 

Dorimant, a man of wit, convinces the town that through the contraction of a venereal disease he has become impotent. In this way he can allow men to let him have access to their wives, believing that he can do them no harm (the rogue!). Mrs Loveitt is one of the first to fall under his wiles and realise that she desires him. After this, women seem to keep falling into his trap. Sir Fopling Flutter on the other hand, as his name suggests, is the foppish laughing stock of the play - misplaced attempts at wit, unfashionable clothing and outdated speech make him far less desirable to the women. The real question of the play is: will Dorimant's trickery be discovered? And by the men or the women of the play?

This play really made me think about how restrictive Victorian literature has been on the notion of sexuality, especially female sexuality. All of the women in this play display some level of sexual desire, even if it is misplaced in this man of supposed impotence. However, Mrs "Loveitt"s name in particularly gives a slightly negative outlook upon the notion of women chasing after men they desire. The complex natures of the women were also interesting as again, in later English literature this seems to have disappeared a tad. Here the women are at once devious, loving, skeptical, chaste and yet sexual creatures.


Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Review of McTeague

I have a whole host of reviews lined up for you guys, and seen as I've actually done all my seminar reading for this week (for about the first time in, well, ever! Only took until final year ...) I'll be hopefully able to post a bit more often. Anyway, this book wasn't something I would necessarily have picked up off of the shelf myself. Written by Frank Norris and published in 1899, it holds an alarming number of ugly truths for our modern world. If you're looking for something that really investigates how human relationships are now interceded by money, gold and the trappings of wealth, this is your go-to. Plus, despite being written over a century ago, it's remarkably easy to read.

McTeague, a brute of a man, is a dentist who lives in his own dentist parlours. His large size and simple nature means that he rarely gets desirable clientele, that is, until his best friend Marcus brings his cousin Trina to the dentist's chair. Soon he comes to admire her, where before he could only admire his small collection of trinkets. However, is it even possible for this bear of a man to really "love" another being?

In the world of this book, everything relates to money and gold. you come to realise that all characters are in fact bound by the world of commodification and exchange - to the extent that other people almost become money in terms of their relationship to a person. Aside from this, which arguably questions our modern emphasis on owning things and valuing them in their commodified state, gender and sex are key issues in the text. Trina simultaneously fears McTeague, yet her desire for him increases as her fear of his power over her does. This engages with a sadist/masochist dialogue which permeates the entire text, albeit discreetly.

Have you read it? What did you think?


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Review of "Never Too Late"* | Q + A with Christina Courtenay

I love love love this quote, and haven't found another description quite so accurate in a while! Christina Courtenay earnt a little soft spot in my heart when I read Monsoon Mists (review here), which was my favourite book of the summer. Never Too Late was kindly sent by Choc Lit to me and I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to have a mini interview with Christina Courtenay herself! This novella is a really quick, easy read which you can finish in a couple of days, or is brilliant for a long coach/plane journey.

Maude and Luke, young lovers, seek to elope, but their plans are thwarted at the last moment. Set during a period in which Maude's father can control her life, their plans are discovered and she is locked up at the last moment, a fact that Luke remains unaware of. Forced to marry his older brother Edward, who is the inheritor of the family estate, Maude lives a miserable life until he dies and Luke must move in. Despite their rocky past, can their feelings overcome their fate?

Question and Answer with Christina Courtenay

1.) What time period is Never Too Late set in? And what were your inspirations for writing a novella set during this period? 
It is set during the Regency period, in about 1812-13. I didn’t have an exact year in mind but the hero has fought in the Peninsular War which lasted until 1814 and has had to sell his commission to come home and take over the running of his late uncle’s estate so it’s before the end of the war. My main inspiration was the incomparable Georgette Heyer – I have loved her books from the moment I first found one in my school library. She made the Regency period come alive and that’s what I tried to do too, although my story is a bit more provincial than most of hers.

2.) Having read Monsoon Mists, what are the benefits of mixing romance with crime//mystery?
I think having a mystery as well as a romance adds depth to a story and hopefully makes it more enjoyable for the reader. You don’t just have the “will they-won’t they” questions of the romance, but also “will they even survive to have a romance” added to the mix. I didn’t actually set out to have a crime/mystery in this particular story, it just sort of evolved that way once the idea of the stolen talisman entered my mind. I figured it was the sort of object that was bound to cause greed, corruption and envy.

3.) I've noticed that your sex scenes are quite realistic and tend to steer away from the "50 Shades of Grey" bandwagon that a lot of contemporary authors have jumped on. What do you think of this craze? 
Thank you, I’m glad you think they are realistic! I have to admit I haven’t yet read 50 Shades – I know, shock, horror! I just haven’t had the time – but apart from the sex it obviously has some very special characters to have attracted so many readers. Jumping on any bandwagon is never good though – publishing tends to move quite slowly so if I were to write a story like that now, it wouldn’t be published for at least a year, if not more, by which time that craze will almost certainly be over. It’s been great for those authors who already had similar stories ready, but now it’s too late. I think it’s better to write the kind of stories you want to write, as well as you possibly can, and hope it’s what your readers will like.

4.) Where do you seek inspiration from to create such diverse books?
I find inspiration from lots of different things and anything can spark a scene in my mind – a house, a person, an object. I can’t remember what made me write Never Too Late, but Monsoon Mists came about because the hero, Jamie, had seemed to be one of the bad guys in the previous book in the Kinross trilogy (Highland Storms), but in reality he wasn’t. So I wanted him to be allowed to tell his version of events. Some of my other stories have been inspired by for example a ghost in a house I used to stay in (I never saw it but the owners did), an extraordinary painting in the National Gallery and a replica of an old sailing ship.

5.) Who are your favourite male and female characters that you've created and why? 
I have a soft spot for Killian Kinross, Jamie’s father (and the hero of Trade Winds) because he’s
gorgeous, has a great sense of humour and is very mischievous – he’s the archetypal “bad boy” I suppose you could say and I love those! I like his wife Jessamijn too – she stands up her step-father who tries to bully her. But I also really like Nico Noordholt and Midori Kumashiro, the hero and heroine of The Gilded Fan. It’s difficult really because as an author you are usually totally into whichever hero/heroine you are working on at the moment. Right now I’m writing about a Cavalier with long dark hair and green eyes … 

Thank you!

Thank you very much for inviting me!

Any comments/questions are always very welcome :)

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Review of "Cometh Up as a Flower"

Utter madness isn't it *heavy sarcasm*, but for a book published in 1872, this quotation is pretty wild. I've read a lot of 19th century novels over the past few years, and quite a number of the heroines are somewhat lacking in a number of things: independence, a brain, passion and their own opinions to name but a few. Nell in Rhoda Broughton's Cometh Up as a Flower, however is something else - she actually defies feminine stereotypes and scorns the company of other women.

Nell lives alone with her father as her mother died when she was young. Despite their family name being one of high rapport, the Lestranges have gone way down the social ladder in recent years, to an extent that bills are unpaid and Nell's father's health is rapidly declining under economic stress. Nell meets a poor man called McGregor: handsome and flirtatious, he conducts an illicit relationship with her, which is kept a secret from her father. But, when her elder sister Dorothea returns to the family home, things begin to go a bit awry. Is love really worth more than money?

Although this book was written over a century ago, its language is not difficult or burdensome (makes a change for a 19th century novel, right?!). Nell's character is incredibly complex - she has a whole number of ideas concerning the social status of women in England, and has a number of factors which govern her every thought. Her sister Dorothea similarly offers a unique and often perplexing character: driven largely by money, she corrupts everything that is good in the novel and comes across as a true villain. This text really explores what your priorities ought to be when deciding who to marry. It also exposes some harrowing truths about the 'choice' even seemingly independent girls like Nell have concerning marriage. All in all, if you're interested in a look at how advanced first wave feminism could be in literature, this is a great text to go to!

Have you read it? What did you think?