classics

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.

Review: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne. Penguin English Library Edition, 1760, 630p.

4 out of 5 sliced eggplants.

Tristram Shandy. I feel that the impression left on me is best summed up in emoji.

emoji tristram shandy

If you’re looking for a weird and wonderful classic that makes zero sense, Tristram Shandy is worth a look. If you like linear and sensical stories than avoid at all costs. Also, hobby horse.

Review: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Penguin English Library Edition, 1905, 400p.

5 out of 5 stars.

House of Mirth is sensational. A true classic in every sense of the word, it immerses the reader deep into the world of Lily Bart and drags you down with her. I’m only just discovering Edith Wharton, I loved my read of Ethan Frome earlier this year, but felt like the style was a little sparse – looking back on my review, I noticed that I wrote,

I felt like I could have enjoyed Ethan Frome more if it was fleshed out into a fleshier novel, the novella length generally doesn’t satisfy me when there is so much potential for a good story.

House of Mirth answered my question brilliantly – Wharton does pen a truely singular novel, and the extra wordage, the flowing quality of her writing certainly does not take away from the plot – the plot in The House of Mirth is full, lively and engaging.

I really felt for Lily Bart. As far as female characters go, she would have to be one of my favourites I have read up to this point. I’ll avoid spoilers, but some of the things that she allows people to do and say to her are just appalling, but she seems to be out of her depth most of the book. The issue is that she thinks she’s able to cope with everything until her whole life comes crashing down around her. As someone who feels sometimes like life is conspiring to bring me down, reading about Bart’s trials makes me feel a little better about my own life. The way that Lily thinks about problems and especially, financial issues, is very close to the way that I myself consider these problems – I’m always anticipating the lucky event around the corner, always counting and spending money that I should be saving. It’s a problem that I’ve recognised in myself – one that I still battle with to this day, and watching Lily Bart come to the same realisations is painful but enlightening.

As far as male characters go in this book, I’m lukewarm on all of them. My least favourite would have to be Selden – and I feel like he was saved by Lily’s grace and love. I felt like we were meant to be rooting for them to get together, but that idea was repugnant to me, and I hoped that Lily would come around to living in poverty, despite it being so against her character. Rosedale was actually somewhat more to my liking – despite being crass and inelegant, I felt that he was most honest. The last scene with Rosedale turned me with disgust, but up to that point I kinda liked the guy!

Wharton’s writing style is lyrical and flows naturally, the plot seeming to meander along as a slow pace, but when you look back, you see that it’s actually been close to breakneck. It’s an interesting feeling, one that I’ve rarely noticed in early 19th century books, but as I read more from this era I feel like it might come to me more. Wharton’s descriptive style is interesting – there’s little description of landscapes, clothes and houses and more description of people’s thoughts, motivations and actions. I find other descriptive authors, like Dickens, to be weary and dull, but I think that is because his style is more about things that to me do not further the plot.

I will be adding the rest of Wharton’s work to my next classics club list – I’m not even half way through this one and I’m already considering what will be on the next one!

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.

Middlemarch: Expectations & a little research

In July and August I am participating in a readalong of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, affectionately known as the #eliotalong on twitter. It’s being hosted by the wonderful Bex over at An Armchair By The Sea – go check out her blog and if you’re feeling it – maybe even sign up for the readalong. There’s still plenty of time!

I’ve purchased myself a shiny new copy of the book and was a little astounded by its length. I knew it was a chunker, but boy did I underestimate. My goal while reading Middlemarch is to read one other novel each week. I’m still aiming to complete my #20booksofsummer challenge, and I need to keep up the pace even while reading such a large book.

In my excitement, I decided to share my impressions and preconceived notions about Middlemarch. I then did some very gentle research (like, it was Wikipedia, let’s face it) into George Eliot and Middlemarch.

What I thought about Middlemarch & George Eliot until recently.

  • Until a year ago, I thought it was written by a man.
  • Possibly a romance.
  • It is set in England, and most likely in the Victorian period.
  • Long and painful.
  • Mike, the customer at work who I always talk books and classics with, hasn’t read it. Which is surprising. Also might mean it’s terrible.

What my googling turned up-

Mary Ann Evans. (George Eliot) 22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880. She wrote six other novels: Adam Bede; The Mill on the Floss; Silas Marner; Romola; Felix Holt, The Radical; Daniel Deroda.

She is known for her realism and psychological insight. She published under a male name to be taken seriously and not have her work dismissed as merely ‘romance’. Her father invested in her education because she was very ugly and he didn’t think she would ever find herself a decent husband. Which is horrible, but also made me laugh.

She was also a poet and journalist, and wrote  Stradivarius, which I read a couple of years ago at school and completely forgot. The fact that I remembered the actual poem means it was one of the ones I liked most. Her works draw heavily on Greek literature, which I have little to no experience or background in, so many of these references may fly over me while we’re reading.

Middlemarch was published in eight volumes in 1871-1872. It is set in a fictitious Midlands town in England on the eve of the Reform Bill of 1832. There are some themes that are prevalent in Middlemarch, including political crisis, the status of women, nature of marriage, self interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform and education.

Originally the reviews of Middlemarch were mixed but it is now considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written in English.

The schedule for the readalong is as follows:

June 27th – July 3rd – Chapter 1 – end of 14 (or all of Miss Brooke and the first two chapters of Old and Young)

July 4th – 10th – Chapter 15 – end of 28 (or the rest of Old and Young and six chapters of Waiting for Death)

July 11th – 17th – Chapter 29 -end of 42 (the rest of Waiting for Death and all of Three Love Problems)

July 18th – 24th – Chapter 43 – end of 56 (all of The Dead Hand and the first three chapters of The Widow and the Wife) 

July 25th – 31st – Chapter 57 – end of 70 (the rest of The Widow and the Wife and eight chapters of Two Temptations) 

August 1st – 7th – Chapter 71 – End

 

Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin

The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Dover Thrift Kindle Edition, 1899, 195p.

4 stars

I had no idea what to expect going into The Awakening, I’d heard that it was a feminist novel and quite different for its time, but I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I’m not sure if I would class this as a full blown novel, as it was quite short and seemed more like a novella in structure and tone, but that’s certainly not a detraction from this amazing book.

Chopin’s style is crisp and easy to understand – this is one of those novels that reads easily and without struggle. I read three quarters of this novel in ebook format, and listened to ten chapters in audiobook format. The audiobook seemed slower, while the ebook was much easier for me to follow. That’s most likely because I’m accustomed to reading as opposed to listening, but it was nice to be able to read while doing housework.

There was an amazing building of tension in The Awakening, after the first half I was constantly on tenterhooks waiting for the main character, Edna, to do what we were all waiting for her to do. Edna was sympathetically written and interesting, if at times seeming cold. Her descent into the ‘evils’ of lust and obsession is interesting and poignant. What I really loved is the way that this book is quite honest about emotions and the expectations of the time. While The Awakening is not erotic, it is honest about what is happening, and that this woman who was expected to be the perfectly proper woman was having these feelings that were not readily admitted to during these times. Edna is a brave character for Chopin to have written, and is wonderfully different from most of the other characters from the late 19th century (although Sybella from My Brilliant Career was also breaking stereotypes, but in a completely different way.)

I would have loved for The Awakening to have been a little longer, maybe for the affair to have developed more before the devastating ending occurred. Also, while talking about that ending – how heartbreaking! A more astute reader could have come to understand what the ending of the book would be half way through, but I was delightfully unawares and did not expect or suspect it! Which lead to me freaking out and yelling to the significant other what had just happened. Heartbreaking. Uh. Chopin – you brilliant writer, you completely trampled my emotions and now you’re returning them worse for wear. I’m not giving you back your deposit.

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.