classics club

Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Norton Critical Edition (4th ed). First pub. 1899, 506p.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

It’s taken me a long time to actually rea Heart of Darkness. I was supposed to read it in first year of university, but I skipped it and wrote my assignments on the other novels in the course. I now regret that decision, because Heart of Darkness is a great short novel that would probably have helped me out in my history degree as well as my English studies.

It is interesting to read Heart of Darkness as a text in light of colonisation and post-colonisation. You really get a glimpse into how people were thinking about the ‘exploration’ of ‘new worlds’. Be prepared for lots of mentions of ‘savages’, and archaic language that is now interpreted as offensive, but was accepted vocabulary at the time. It is interesting that at the end of the story, the white people come off as much worse characters than any of the ‘savages’ featured in the story.

I was expecting an adventure text from Heart of Darkness and instead I ended up receiving something more along the lines of a supernatural ghost story. This actually disappointed me – I love action and adventure. However, I think that it makes Heart of Darkness more accessible for many of today’s readers because we’re exposed to supernatural content in books all the time. I wonder what people of the time took from the supernatural element of the narrative.

Heart of Darkness was not my first Joseph Conrad, in fact I read and reviewed The Secret Agent last year for the Classics Club (link to review). I enjoyed the plot of The Secret Agent, and I would say that overall I enjoyed The Secret Agent more than I enjoyed Heart of Darkness. The writing style in The Secret Agent is different, not as descriptive or as full of allegory. The language in Heart of Darkness is certainly more lyrical and beautiful than The Secret Agent but to me, the language makes it harder to get at the story. I enjoyed reading passages of Heart of Darkness out loud, the language is beautiful – if you like accomplished writing, then Heart of Darkness is for you, if you like plot driven and simple prose, maybe try The Secret Agent first, like I did.

I will be picking up more of Conrad’s works, I did enjoy Heart of Darkness, and I’ve heard that Under Western Eyes is related to The Secret Agent, and responsive to Crime and Punishment, which sounds interesting.

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Review: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, Popular Penguins Paperback, 1930, 189p.

2.5 stars.

Evelyn Waugh’s second novel is a difficult book for me to review. I have little exposure to comedy texts, of either modern or classic authors, and so sometimes I was frustrated by Vile Bodies. I found some of the scenes to be overly short, and was interested in knowing more about the characters and annoyed when we were rushed onto the next scene. Some other scenes (most notably the day at the car races) dragged on for what seemed like eons. I understood that Waugh was setting up the plot and punchline, but found it unnecessary and boring – and the payoff did not warrant the tiresome build up. This would all come under issues of pacing, and I wonder if this was an identified critique of the book back in the 1930’s when it was first published – or if maybe I just need to read more comedy texts.

Waugh’s style is deceptively easy to read. He shies away from complicated sentences and words, but I found reading for longer than half an hour fatiguing, at least until the pace and tone changed about two-thirds through the book – I then powered through the last third in an evening. I had toiled through the first two-thirds over two weeks. I think the fatigue comes from the overuse of character names. Many scenes start with Waugh describing everyone in a room, and that’s annoying – especially because much of the book takes place with groups of people.

The characters in Vile Bodies were hard to keep track of. I found many of them to be similar and difficult to keep track of. My favourite character was Miss Runcible, who was the butt of quite a few jokes but was the most individual if you asked me. Adam Symes is the main protagonist, and much of the plot is centred on Adam’s attempts to marry Nina. The best thing about Adam is that he’s an idiot. I felt no sympathy for him at all, although he did make me laugh quite a few times. I loved when he started writing for the paper, and every visit he had with Nina’s father made me chuckle.

I read the Popular Penguin edition of Vile Bodies, which I find an enjoyable format. I like that the text includes notes on what was changed by previous editors in this text compared to the manuscript. The introduction (which I always read after the story itself) was informative and interesting – it actually illuminated quite a few of the issues/themes that I had felt but not quite understood.

I think that this is the last of Waugh’s works that I will be rushing to read – although if I find myself in the mood to read a comedic classic, I know where to turn.

Ranty Roundup – June

June was a great blogging and pretty good reading month for me. I managed to read 5 books in their entirety, and knock off some classics from my classics club list. I’m expecting July to be a little slower in both blogging and reading, but I’m also committed to dedicating as much time as possible to reading, as I don’t want to commit to reading 10 books in August to finish the #20booksofsummer challenge.

The best nothing short of dyingbook from June was hands down Erik Storey’s Nothing Short of Dying. I’ve already talked about this forthcoming title a bit on my blog, but my review (and the book) aren’t due to be published until August, so I will hold back on anything too descriptive. Let me just say, it’s one of the best novels I’ve read, and one of only two five star rating books that I’ve read this year.

I’m currently half way through Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and although I am enjoying it, I’m finding it slow going and I’m looking forward to completing it and reviewing it on August 1st for the Classics Club Spin pick.


eliotalong

In other Classics news – I’m participating in a readalong of Middlemarch, hosted by Bex at Armchair by the Sea. So far I am finding Middlemarch to be better than I was expecting and I will be trying to write a post of impressions, ideas and thoughts each week here on the blog, but my main priority will be keeping up with the chapters per week. I will also be reading another book a week – I don’t want to fall even further behind in my reading challenge on Goodreads.


20 books of summer

Yet another challenge I am currently focusing on is #20booksofsummer (in winter) I was hoping to be able to knock off 6 – 7 books from this list before the month was up, but then I hit Tristram Shandy and my progress just slowed right down. I’m going to be focusing a lot on getting pages read during July, as opposed to blogging so that I can catch up on this a little. My current total stands at 3 books completed and one book half finished. I’m going to need some serious dedication to get this challenge completed!


make me read it

Another exciting event happening in July is the Make Me Read It readathon, where you guys can choose which books (and in which order) I read between the 9 – 16 of July. I’d appreciate it if you guys could vote in my poll, I’m looking forward to being able to participate in this readathon, from what I can tell it is in it’s second year and is such a novel idea. From what my poll looks like now, I’ll be working my way through House of Mirth and Go Set a Watchman, but there’s plenty of time for that to change. Pretty sure you can still sign up if you wish, just head over to here and sign up.


24in48Last but not least is the 24 in 48 hour readathon. I haven’t yet signed up for this one but I fully intend on participating. I’ll be taking the weekend off and spending 12 hours a day reading my little heart out. I’ve done 24hr readathons before, and always burnt out, so this challenge seems better in regards to spreading out the workload!

Sign-ups are happening over here, and if you wanna ‘thon with me, this seems like a great event to get some serious reading done in!


Books read in June – 5

Nothing Short of Dying – Erik Storey – 5 stars
No Safe Place – Matt Hilton – 4 stars
Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne – 3 stars
Deathlist – Chris Ryan – 1 star
The Awakening – Kate Chopin – 4 stars


Book Reviews in June – 7 (and that might just be a record for this blog)

Off The Grid by C.J. Box
The Sandpit by Stephen Leather
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
No Safe Place by Matt Hilton
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
First Response by Stephen Leather
The Awakening by Kate Chopin


Challenge Progress

Read My Books Challenge
Journey to the Center of the Earth
4 in 2016

Classic a Month/Classics Club Challenge
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Series a Month
Did not participate in the Series a Month Challenge in June.


July TBR

I’m going to aim to read 6 books in July. These will all be from my #20booksofsummer list and be heavily focused on the classics. The following are the books that I would have read in an ideal world, but 5 of these titles are part of the Make Me Read it poll, and I don’t fancy reading 4 400p books in one week while working, so I’m not going to aim to read all 8. I’ll also be whittling down Middlemarch.

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
The Innocents by Ace Atkins
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Fire Point by Sean Black
Edge of Alone by Sean Black
Ghost Sniper by Scott McEwen
White Fang by Jack London
State of Emergency by Andy McNab
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

And that was a very long wrap-up!

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Intimidating Books

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, and I decided to go through the list of previous topics from before I was participating and select one – and then I realised I can combine it with my Classics Club challenge.

My topic for today is: Top Ten Most Intimidating Books on My Classics Club List. These are all books that I’m silently bricking it over. Seriously… I’m going to need to have some serious hand holding to get through some of these!

I’m not going to go into too much detail about my thoughts of these books, because I’m going to be reading and reviewing each for the classics club – but here we go.

Anna Karenina – Tolstoy: This just scares the bejesus out of me. Seriously – I struggled with War and Peace enough, and the main thing I hear about Anna is that it is romantic. Which I struggle with.

Middlemarch – Eliot: This chunkster is one of those books that seems unnecessarily long. Luckily I’m participating in a readalong, so hopefully I actually get through this one in the next two months.

Moby Dick – Melville: 100 pages of unnecessary description? No thanks. I love all things nautical and boat related… but I’m not sure if I will be able to not skip through scenic and whalic description.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Hardy: I was meant to read this one in third year of my English degree, I read six pages and then picked up the closest, pulpiest novel to cleanse my palette. I put it on my classics club list as a challenge.

The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Laurence Sterne: I’m currently reading this as my classics club spin, and although it is fun, I’m struggling to get through the wordage. It’s repetitive and strange, but hilarious.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Hugo: I didn’t even like the movie version of this one, but still added it to my list to be a bitch to myself. I’ll probably keep myself entertained by watching Hunchback clips from Whose Line is it Anyway?

Last of the Mohicans – Cooper: I only know two things about Last of the Mohicans, and that is that it is full of unnecessary description and it’s old. Not two of my favourite things.

The Three Musketeers – Dumas: See above two descriptions, they both apply here.

Ulysses – Joyce: I’ve loved Portrait and Dubliners. But I tried Ulysses and gave in after 50 pages. This shit is scary, and makes no sense. Also, I’m just pretending that Finnegan’s Wake was never written.

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Marquez: … most of my Goodreads friends hated it.

Review: Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, Penguin Classics Edition, 1847, 251p.

4 out of 5 stars

So… this is a very belated and short review of Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte. I read Agnes months ago, enjoyed it, but never got around to my review. Usually, I wouldn’t bother reviewing so late, but I am making an effort to review all my Classics Club books.

This is my favourite work from the Bronte sisters that I have read so far. Jane Eyre was enjoyable and interesting if long winded, while Wuthering Heights nearly drove me to suicide. I was a bit worried when approaching Aggie, but I dove in headfirst.

There’s something intriguing about Agnes’ character. I identified with her, and thought she was very well written. She is certainly a product of her time, and reading this book as a historical text is really interesting. I think that I will take the time in the future to reread this text and try and dig a little deeper into the social context that is so interesting.

As a commentary on religion at the time, Agnes Grey is really telling. It’s so different from how we regard religion in common times, and as an atheist, seeing how religion is disseminated into all aspects of life is interesting and slightly scary. The romantic interest is deeply entwined in the church and that is strange because I don’t think you see that in mainstream modern novels.

I enjoyed Agnes Grey, but I wasn’t blown away by it. I will be looking for other works by Anne Bronte, because I enjoyed her writing style.

The Classics Club Spin #13

It’s time for yet another Classics Club Spin – and although I didn’t finish the last one, I’m going to jump ahead and get myself a new spin book so I don’t have to keep staring at Dracula. I’ve thrown in a couple choices that mean I can read with someone else, but if you see we have a book in common, let me know and I’ll juggle around my list so we can read together, if you like!

Onto the list:

  1. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
  2. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  3. Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
  4. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  5. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  6. The Plague – Albert Camus
  7. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  8. White Fang – Jack London
  9. Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
  10. The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
  11. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  12. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
  13. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
  15. Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne
  16. Journey to the Center of the Earth – Jules Verne
  17. Night and Day – Virginia Woolf
  18. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
  19. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
  20. The Absentee – Maria Edgeworth

Update: I’ll be reading Tristram Shandy.

 

Classics Club Spin #12

So, I’m going to do a very belated Classics Club spin – I haven’t peeked at the number yet, so I’m just going to run with a slightly altered list from the last spin, just emitting a couple of the hardest books (no way I can commit during this time) and dropping off the one I have read.

  1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
  3. Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
  4. White Fang – Jack London
  5. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Laurence Sterne
  6. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  7. This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen – Borowski
  8. Dracula – Bram Stoker
  9. What Maisie Knew – Henry James
  10. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
  11. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
  12. Night and Day – Virginia Woolf
  13. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  14. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  15. The Plague – Albert Camus
  16. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
  17. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
  18. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  19. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  20. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley