Sunday, 31 July 2016

Review of 'Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker'

I promised you guys more reviews of classics, so here we are. This one is a bit of an obscure one, and comes from an American author at the turn of the 19th Century. This was another text that I was *meant* to read during my degree but got slipped by the wayside. I'm not going to lie, I've probably got a good hundred of these on my kindle and in my book shelf. My goal for the next year or two is basically to read everything I was meant to but never actually got around to. I love reading revered books, and ones that will teach me things about different times and places, so I was so disappointed that I simply ran out of time to read so many amazing books on my course. 

I've been making firm progress in this goal recently, especially in the past month, and hopefully you guys will have noticed with the increase in classics posts, and posts in general! I only managed to get one post in in June (shameful I know), but I've whacked out five or six in July I believe, and I really hope this continues in August. 

Edgar Huntly, Or Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker is set in Philidelphia in the late 1700s. The main character, Edgar, sets out to discover who murdered his best friend Waldegrave. As he does so, he comes across a man called Clithero, digging by an elm tree in the middle of the night. Assuming him to be the murderer, Edgar confronts him once they are both awake. Clithero however has an unlikely story to tell, which does involve murder, but not that of Waldegrave.

Here the reader is transported to Ireland, a place that Clithero holds dear in his heart, and taken through a gothic journey to discover why Clithero has moved so far away from everything he loves. Satisfied with Clithero's tale, Edgar takes himself back to his home, only to arise battered and bruised in the depths of a cave. 

From here, we are taken on a fantasy-filled voyage involving jaguars, aggressive Indians, captive girls and a lot of bloodshed. This book examines battles between native Americans and settling Europeans in an incredibly graphic and direct manner. If you're interested in that time period, then I'd definitely recommend giving this a read!

Have you read it? What did you think?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Review of 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' by James Joyce

Review of 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' by James Joyce.

I warned you guys that I'd be reading a few more classics in the coming months, so here we are with a novel by Irish author James Joyce from the early part of the twentieth century. If you've been following my blog for quite a while (well over a year!), you'll know that I read and reviewed The Dubliners some time ago. This was one of the very first Modernist texts I ever read and quite frankly I was baffled. It took a hefty amount of googling and a cheeky peek at Sparknotes (aka the English student's bible) until I even had a vague idea of what was going on with it.

Thankfully, A Portrait wasn't quite as difficult to get into, although it did feel a little like wading through treacle at times. Despite having a partly Irish heritage, I've actually read hardly any Irish literature, apart from the reams of Seamus Heaney poetry that was forced upon me during my A-Levels. I really want to start broadening my horizons to this little island a bit more in the future, so hopefully you'll hear some more Irish authors popping up here and there on this blog!

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man follows the story of Stephen, a young Irish boy who begins to abandon the Catholic faith as he grows older. It is said that the book is greatly influenced by Joyce's own life as a boy and teen, which goes some way in explaining the title. Stephen grows physically, intellectually and spiritually as the novel progresses, and the reader gets to witness how these three aspects of his persona come together to form the almost-adult Stephen. As he grows, he begins to question the very things we see him preaching early on in the novel, until he eventually rejects Catholicism altogether. It is incredibly interesting from a historical/cultural point of view to witness a character do so, and I would definitely recommend reading it if you have an interest in Irish history.

Have you read it? What did you think?

Friday, 22 July 2016

My 10 favourite classics of all time

I think it's been over a year now since I posted anything other than just a straight up review on here, and I've decided to make things a little bit more varied over the next couple of months. I'm kick-starting this with this super-quick top 10 classics post. Hopefully (maybe?) it'll inspire your choice in the next classic to read, or you'll be able to relate with me on some level about my love for that particular text. So, without any further babble, let's go. 

In no particular order, here are my 10 favourite classic texts of all time:

1.) Pablo Neruda's poetry, in particular 'Ode to the Clothes'. He manages to make the most ordinary of things the most beautiful, and really changed my opinion of what poetry could do.

2.) Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Let's face it, this was always going to be on my list, I mean, I am an ex-English student after all. This was the first text I ever remember studying in which it was clear that the author had imbued every scene with symbolism and hidden meanings.

3.) Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. This is one of his earliest and least famous texts. It's also one of his bloodiest and seeing it at the RSC was a once-in-a-lifetime treat for me that I'll never forget.

4.) Dickens' Bleak House. Part of me has no idea why I like this - it's long, I had to make a physical list of characters so I didn't get confused, and the plot has about 17 thousand strands. But, seeing all those strands come together and finally reading a book in which Dickens offered a fairly realistic insight into the mind of a woman (for once) made it all worth it. 

5.) Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Pre-warn: there are going to be a fair few Victorian texts on here, but I love them, so we're all just gonna have to deal with it. This is possibly my favourite book of all time, and it's something that I really savour coming back to time and time again. I've possibly read it five? times now and each time I come away feeling bowled over by this woman's incredible writing.

6.) Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I actually remember borrowing this off of my mum when I was a teenager and I fell totally in love with the whole Jane-Rochester debacle. I'd tried reading Austen before, and assumed all Victorian texts fell under the same dreary brush (sorry Austen fans), but this definitely opened up my eyes to the power of Victorian literature.

7.) Stoker's Dracula. I've got a little confession here: I only actually read this for the first time about a year and a half ago. It's one of those texts that was so hyped up I was actually put off of it. When I read it however I was totally wowed by how many of our notions about Vampires come from this one text, and how forward it was in terms of discussing sex.

8.) Hardy's Tess of the D'Ubervilles. All I can say is that I warned you about how much of this would be Victorian. Sorry not sorry. Seriously though, get your hands on an unedited copy of this and you can get a real insight into how society treated a 'fallen' aka non-virginial woman, way back when.

9.) Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. This broke my heart and mended it all over again about seven times. If you're looking for an insight into the world of America's slave trade, then this is a good place to start.

10.) Donne's 'The Broken Heart'. I actually read this Medieval poem when I was studying my a-levels, in an attempt to secure some extra reading to help with my university application. What I didn't envision was falling totally in love with it and finding what still remains my favourite poem of all time.

I honestly thought I was going to struggle to think of 10 texts, but here I am struggling to contain all my favourites within a mere list of ten. I feel like writing this post in itself has been a journey for me, reminding me of why I love reading, and why certain books touched me at certain points in my life. I'm also feeling totally inspired to get back in to reading poetry and plays, to the extent that I'm now considering having a 'poem of the week' post once a week. Would you guys like that? I'd love to hear some input!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Review of 'Just a Monumental Summer'* by M Schneider

I'm so so sorry I don't have a picture for this one guys, but stick with me! If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you’ll know that I love books that can teach me things about a culture I’m not familiar with or a political system that I’ve never really learnt much about. I love discovering what it’s like to live in different places across the world: what I would prefer about living there, and why perhaps I wouldn’t want to move there. Just a Monumental Summer is possibly the first book I’ve ever read that is entirely set in Romania, and as such provided me with a unique insight into the workings of the country. I sped through this book as I just couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, or learn more about this beautiful, but politically corrupt country. If you want to learn a little something new about Romania, then I would definitely give this a go!

Mona needs to get away from her old life. Although her family loves her, she knows she can’t go back and face them after failing the University entrance exams that could have revolutionized all of their lives. So, she takes a train to Costinesti, a seaside town, and intends to spend the summer adventuring upon a path of self-discovery.

Mona expects to learn new things about herself during that summer, but what she doesn’t anticipate is meeting a hot young band member on the train to the coast, and having wonderful sex right there on the train. Sex has never been something big for Mona, just something she does to get by, to manipulate men into doing what she wants. But what if this time it’s something more than that? When Mona and band member Alin reach Costinesti they remain paired together, and she gets to meet all of his friends and discover what it’s like to be part of the entourage of a rock band.

Part of Mona really wants to spend her summer falling deeper and deeper in love with Alin, but what if the demons from her past take over? She’s never been good at being tied down, but can Alin’s love for her persuade her heart to take root?

On the whole I loved how the plot moved along, as Schneider managed to effortlessly combine a tale of love with a tale of shifting politics. However, there were moments when things fell down a little. I would have loved to see all of the plot strands come together in a glorious braid at the end of the novel, but instead some were left frayed, and it begged the question as to what they were doing in the novel in the first place.

Possibly my favourite aspect of the plot was the fact that Schneider had a whole variety of different relationships from people of different backgrounds and classes in communist Romania present in the book. I greatly enjoyed discovering how politics and gendered expectations impacted these relationships, and why they ultimately failed.

All in all, this was a good read that, with a little bit of work from the author, could become a great read. Politics, friendship and love all come under scrutiny through Mona’s experience of her monumental summer. 

You can buy Just a Monumental Summer here

What do you think - would you give it a go? It comes out today!

Monday, 11 July 2016

Review of 'Talismano' by Abdelwahab Meddeb

Starting this novel really made me think about just how Westernised my literary sphere is. I've read a couple of Japanese and Chinese texts (translated into English of course), but aside from that I almost exclusively read English and American texts. I rarely even branch out to European ones.

So, I ventured off into this avant-garde text written by a Tunisian author living in France with no idea what to expect in terms of tropes or themes or setting. I've read a few avant-garde texts before, the most memorable of which were definitely A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid) and the poetry of Gertrude Stein. Seriously though Stein, you just endlessly elude me. I was basically prepared for this to be a little intangible as a result of this, and it definitely felt that way once I started the book.

I would probably describe Talismano as a sensory exploration of the clashing cultures of France and Tunisia. It is almost a recollection of the author's experiences in both places that are brought back through the haze of memory. As such, there are very few moments of dialogue, and it is hard to find one clear plot strand that continues coherently throughout the text.

The main message you receive amidst all the decadent sensual journeys of the text is that fundamentalist Islam needs to be altered to bring Tunisia into modernity. Meddeb himself is a strong believer in this ideal, and believes that Western influences may in fact nurture Tunisian Islam to a point of peace and prosperity. 

The book is separated into three sections: 'Return Prostitution', 'Idol Ghetto' and 'Otherworld Procession'. The first section discusses the narrator's return to Tunis, and with this return comes a flood of memories of the brothels he has visited and still visits. The second section moves away from this bodily lust to a feverish mob atmosphere. The third is somewhat self-reflective, and moves between France and Tunisia, discussing writing and politics amidst a once more heady descriptive monologue.

I absolutely loved reading this text - it's like nothing I've ever read before, and was genuinely provocative. It made me pause to consider my surroundings: gather up the sounds, the smells, the sights, the tastes and my own sensations. It made me consider our Western world in an entirely new light. Most importantly perhaps, it opened up to me a whole new text that was like nothing I've ever read before. 

I definitely feel much more encouraged to move away from Westernised texts and see what the rest of the world has to offer. So hopefully my reviews are about to get a whole lot more varied!

Have you read this? What did you think?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Review of 'The Blithedale Romance' by Nathaniel Hawthorne

What, two posts in two days? I know right, total chaos over here. One of my goals for July is to get back into book blogging and writing reviews, so here we are with another glorious classic. In case you missed it, you can have a peek at yesterday's review of The Thirty Nine Steps here.

For far too long, I assumed that American literature was basically the same as English literature, until I took a couple of modules at university that pointed out to me that American authors actually strove to move away from English literature, to make their own distinct genre. Having now learnt a bit about early American literature, I can see that The Blithedale Romance is unapologetically American.

This dark romance is said to be inspired by Hawthorne's own experiences at attempting to create a utopian society of intellectuals. This occurred at a place called Brook Farm. Although the author disclaims that the fictional events and characters of the novel do not resemble real life, many critics stated that there were clear parellels between the novel and some of the inhabitants of the Brook Farm commune.

The Blithedale Romance centres around its protagonist's, Miles Coverdale's, attempt to move away from modern life, and back to a simpler time at Blithedale farm. He joins a community there, and over a matter of months begins to feel his body and mind transforming to a less intellectual and more agricultural mode. Despite there being a reasonably sized population at the commune, Miles is only concerned with the fates of three individuals: Zenobia, Hollingsworth and Priscilla. 

Zenobia is the female patriarch of the commune, and as such, from a feminist viewpoint, it is interesting to see the speeches that Hawthorne accredited to her character. She greatly believes in the power of women, and thinks that men have covered up the female voice of intellect for far too long. Zenobia is a beautiful but somewhat mysterious creature, best known for her insistence on wearing an exotic flower in her hair at all times, and Miles' obsession with its presence.

Hollingsworth is seen as a threat to Coverdale: Miles almost seems to believe that without Hollingsworth there, he would be the 'top dog' of the male aspect of the commune, yet there is little evidence to support this belief. Despite declaring the animosity between the pair at the beginning of the novel, Hollingsworth treats Miles with the most respect, and even tends to him during his time of sickness.

And then we have Priscilla. She simultaneously maintains a position at the centre and at the edge of the novel and it's plot. This weak and delicate young girl is shrouded in mystery from the very start of the novel. Zenobia's rejection of her love and Hollingsworth's admiration of the girl never cease to baffle Coverdale.

Alongside the tale of the perhaps not-so-idyllic Blithedale farm, are the stories about the mysterious Veiled Lady. Coverdale seems almost obsessed with following the trail about her, but why is this creature from 'the other side' so interesting to him? And is she paranormal or actually on this earth?

Have you read The Blithedale Romance? What were your thoughts?

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review of 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' by John Buchan

June marked the two year birthday of my one true love, aka MR Kindle. So, I decided to tie up some loose ends on it. When I first got my kindle I was a little eager beaver, wanting to download a tonne of the free classics you can get on a kindle because the concept of free books was totally new to me. This was one of them, and as you can (presumably) tell, it sat on my digital bookshelf until now. Whoops. 

Since graduating last year, I've been on an anti-classics rampage. No longer governed by my professors, I've been free to read whatever I want, whenever I want, and it's been glorious. However, recently I noticed that I felt as though there was something missing in my literary life: I'm done with being wayward, and want to get back to my roots of reading anything and everything, and delving into history through classics.

So, with a little spring in my step, I finally embarked upon reading The Thirty-Nine Steps ... and was met with a dark, almost Gothic novel. Did you ever read The Secret Seven or The Famous Five as a child? Well imagine them, but with a little more death and dark mystery, and you have The Thirty-Nine Steps. Even the title has an almost Blyton-esque air doesn't it?

Buchan himself described the novel as a 'shocker' - something which shocks the reader, but liminally remains believable. When I was reading the novel, I was faced with the query - why has this gone down in history as a classic? It's a good book, but the storyline is nothing too special. However, what I failed to recognise at this point is that the book was extraordinary at the time of publication. Modern filmmakers and writers often feature plots that are based around a man on the run, a thriller of movement - this was one of the very first of the type to be published.

Richard Hannay, the novel's protagonist and narrator, is instantly intrigued when a man appears on his doorstep declaring to be 'already dead'. Soon, Hannay is informed that the man has faked his own death, and needs somewhere to hide out from the people that are hunting him. So Hannay, ever resourceful, helps the 'dead man' Scudder to find a real dead body and arrange it so that no one will be able to tell that Scudder is alive and free. Their plan all goes well until Hannay returns to his apartment one night to discover that Scudder has in fact now really been murdered. Feeling implicated in his new found friend's death, Hannay feels as though there is nothing for it but to continue Scudder's work.

It's 1914, and Europe is on the brink of war. Scudder is not merely some unimportant man living amidst the masses in London, but a spy, trying to save England from invasion. Now that he's gone, it's up to Hannay to pick up where he left off. The only problem? Now he's on the run, and the only thing he has to help him is the little coded black book Scudder left behind.

If you're a fan of murder mysteries, then this is definitely something I would add onto your to-read list of Summer 2016!