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Backslider (floremolla) tries ROOTs again in 2017 - Part 3

2017 ROOT (READ OUR OWN TOMES)

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1floremolla
Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 10:53am Top

New thread, same goals




ROOTs
1. Bleak House by Charles Dickens 09.02.17 5*
2. Regeneration by Pat Barker 11.02.17 5*
3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 21.02.17 4*
4. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes 24.02.17 4*
5. Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver 26.02.17 3*
6. Vernon God Little by DCB Pierre 19.02.17 4*
7. Animal Farm by George Orwell 13.02.17 5*
8. Villette by Charlotte Bronte 09.03.17 4*
9. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens 13.03.17 5*
10. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa 30.03.17 4.5*
11. Arcadia by Jim Crace 19.03.17 4*
12. Harvest by Jim Crace 20.03.17 4.5*
13. The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark 01.04.17 4*
14. The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark 01.04.17 4*
15. Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín 01.04.17 5*
16. number9dream by David Mitchell 06.04.17 4*
17. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michael 07.04.17 5*
18. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 11.04.17 3*
19. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 11.04.17 4.5*
20. The Island of Doctor Moreau by HG Wells 17.04.17 4.5*
21. The Time Machine by HG Wells 17.04.17 4.5*
22. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells 17.04.17 4.5*
23. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce 23.04.17 5*
24. Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell 23.04.17 3*
25. Wallace, Bruce and the Wars of Independence by Sydney Wood 23.04.17 5*
26. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 30.04.17 5*
27. Glencoe: the Story of the Massacre by John Prebble 01.05.17 5*
28. Unless by Carol Shields 08.05.17 3*
29. On Beauty by Zadie Smith 14.05.17 4.5*
30. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov 20.0517 5*
31. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco21.05.17 4.5*
32. Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard 29.05.17 4.5*
33. The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan 31.05.17 4*
34. The Power-House by John Buchan 31.05.17 3*
35. Saturday by Ian McEwan 08.07.17 5*
36. A Lost Lady by Willa Cather 12.06.17 4.5*
37. Spies by Michael Frayn 15.06.16 3.5*
38. Her Privates We by Frederic Manning 25.06.17 4.5*
39. Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne 26.06.17 4*
40. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf 29.06.17 4*
41. The Lost Estate by Alain-Fournier 30.06.17 4*
42. Jane Austen by Carol Shields 01.07.17 2.5*
43. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy 10.07.17 4*
44. Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier 18.07.17 3.5*
45. The Diary of A Nobody by George Grossmith 30.07.17 3.5*
46. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway 15.08.17 4.5*
47. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton 26.08.17 5*
48. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson 31.08.17 4*
49. Barkskins by Annie Proulx 31.08.17 4.5*
50. The Third Man by Graham Greene 01.09.17 4*
51. The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber 20.09.17 5*
52. Summertime by JM Coetzee 21.09.17 4*
53. Culloden by John Prebble 30.09.17 5*
54. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey 02.10.17 3.5*
55. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene 17.10.17 2.5*
56. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde 23.10.17 4*
57. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding 26.10.17 5*
58. Metroland by Julian Barnes 27.10.17 4.5*
59. Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell 07.11.17 3.5*
60. Tender is The Night by F Scott Fitzgerald 13.11.17 3*
61. The Hundred Year Old Man... by Jonas Jonasson 23.11.17 3.5*
62. Dead Babies by Martin Amis 19.12.17 3.5*
63. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 27.12.17 4*
64. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens 29.12.17 5*
65. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett 31.12.17 3*

2floremolla
Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 10:55am Top

Non-ROOTs




Non-ROOTs completed 2017
1. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton 23.04.17 4.5*
2. A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro 05.05.17 4.5*
3. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis 28.05.17 5*
4. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink 01.06.17 5*
5. The Sea by John Banville 12.06.17 5*
6. The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector 12.06.17 4.5*
7. One Hundred Years of Solitude (audio) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 16.06.17 4*
8. A Room with a View by E. M. Forster 23.06.17 4.5*
9. Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks 05.07.17 3.5*
10. Underworld by Don DeLillo 11.07.17 5*
11. Spring Flowers, Spring Frost by Ismail Kadare 24.07.17 3.5*
12. Rebellion by Joseph Roth 08.08.17 4*
13. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse 09.08.17 5*
14. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 13.08.17 5*
15. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan 14.08.17 3.5*
16. The Hours by Michael Cunningham 17.08.17 5*
17. The Collector by John Fowles 28.08.17 4.5*
18. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan 29.08.17 4.5*
19. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald 10.09.17 3.5*
20. The Fruits of The Earth by André Gide 15.09.17 3.5*
21. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro 09.10.17 5*
22. The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe 4* 13.11.17
23. New York Trilogy by Paul Auster 4* 16.11.17
24. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho 2.5* 20.11.17
25. The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien 4* 21.11.17
26. The Lonely Girl by Edna O'Brien 3.5* 25.11.16
27. The Children Act by Ian McEwan 4* 26.11.17
28. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess 4* 05.12.12
29. To The Wedding by John Berger 4.5* 07.12.17
30. The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho 3* 12.12.17
31. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson 5* 15.12.17
32. The Turn of The Screw by Henry James 4* 16.12.17
33. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupért 27.12.17 5*
34. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy 28.12.17 5*
35.Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola 31.12.17 3*

3floremolla
Edited: Oct 12, 7:03pm Top

Acquisitions
1. GCHQ Quiz Book - paperback
2. SJ Peploe by Guy Peploe - hardback ✔️
3. Celebrate by Pippa Middleton - hardback ✔️
4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - audio (paperback owned) ✔️
5. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes - paperback ✔️
6. Villette by Charlotte Bronte - kindle (PG) and audio ✔️
7. New Writing from Africa 2009 - paperback
8. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray - audio (paperback owned) ✔️
9. Testament of Mary by Colm Toìbìn - audio ✔️
10. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - paperback ✔️
11. Talking It Over by Julian Barnes - paperback
12. Love Etc. by Julian Barnes - paperback
13. The Ambassadors by Henry James - paperback
14. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - audio (paperback owned) ✔️
15. Swan's Way by Marcel Proust - paperback and audio
16. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - paperback
17. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by RL Stevenson - paperback ✔️
18. The Warden by Anthony Trollope - paperback
19. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope - audio
20. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles - kindle
21. The Hours by Michael Cunningham - paperback ✔️
22. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami - paperback ✔️
23. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italy Calvino - paperback ✔️
24. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro - paperback ✔️
25. The Master by Colm Toìbìn - paperback
26. The Sea by John Banville - paperback ✔️
27. One Hundred Years of Solitude - audio ✔️
28. Austerlitz by WG Sebald - paperback ✔️
29. What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt - paperback ✔️
30. Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg - paperback
31. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - paperback
32. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse - paperback ✔️
33. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - paperback ✔️
34. Underworld by Don DeLillo - paperback and audio ✔️
35. Mao II by Don DeLillo - paperback ✔️
36. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho - paperback ✔️
37. The Devil and Miss Prym by Paulo Coelho - paperback ✔️
38. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink - paperback ✔️
39. Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola - paperback ✔️
40. Germinal by Emile Zola - paperback
41. The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway - paperback ✔️
42. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields - paperback ✔️
43. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson - paperback ✔️
44. The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith - paperback ✔️
45. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens - audio (kindle owned) ✔️
46. NW by Zadie Smith - paperback
47. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler - paperback
48. Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks - paperback ✔️
49. The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector - paperback ✔️
50. Spring Flowers, Spring Frost by Ismail Kadare - paperback ✔️
51. Rebellion by Joseph Roth - paperback (loan) ✔️
52. Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon - paperback ✔️
53. Platform by Michel Houllebecq - paperback
54. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera - paperback
55. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan - paperback ✔️
56. Little Sparta: A Guide to the Garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay by Jessie Sheeler - paperback ✔️
57. The Dry by Jane Harper - paperback ✔️
58. The Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead - paperback
59. Swing Time by Zadie Smith - paperback
60. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry - paperback ✔️
61. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan - paperback ✔️
62. Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka - paperback
63. The Collector by John Fowles - paperback ✔️
64. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy - paperback
65. A Charm of Goldfinches by Matt Sewell - hardback ✔️
66. The Hemingway Files by Harold K Bush - paperback ✔️
67. Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton - paperback ✔️
68. The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende - paperback
69. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey - paperback
70. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - paperback
71. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes - kindle (PG) and audio✔️
72. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner - paperback
73. New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - paperback✔️
74. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann- paperback
75. The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories by Henry James - paperback ✔️
76. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse - paperback
77. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton - paperback (kindle owned) ✔️
78. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding - audio ✔️
79. What Maisie Knew by Henry James - paperback
80. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - paperback ✔️
81. The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy - paperback
82. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carré - paperback
83. Perfume by Patrick Suskind - paperback
84. The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O'Brien - paperback ✔️
85. Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie - paperback
86. The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien - paperback
87. That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx - paperback
88. Theft by Peter Carey - paperback
89. In the Cage by Henry James - paperback
90. The Fruits of The Earth by André Gide - free ebook ✔️
91. As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee - paperback
92. To The Wedding by John Berger - paperback ✔️
93. The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureshi - paperback
94. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe - paperback
95. Leviathan by Paul Auster - paperback ✔️
96. The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli - paperback
97. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence - paperback
98. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - paperback ✔️
99. The Children Act by Ian McEwan - paperback ✔️
100. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West - paperback
101. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy - free ebook ✔️
102. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro- paperback ✔️
103. Crash by JG Ballard - paperback
104. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking - hardback
105. SPQR by Mary Beard - paperback ✔️
106. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari- paperback ✔️
107. Howard's End by EM Forster - paperback

✔️= read

read by end of 2017 = 35 (32.7%) (non-fiction and audio versions of books already owned not counted)

4Jackie_K
Sep 4, 2017, 12:50pm Top

Happy new thread, Donna! I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year brings you, literarily speaking :)

5floremolla
Edited: Sep 4, 2017, 6:53pm Top

Thanks, Jackie! The first two thirds of the year have been a literary adventure and I'm still keen to finish another couple of non-fiction ROOTs and a French novel (Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola) as well as meeting my goals. And of course it wouldn't be the same without the banter ;)

6tess_schoolmarm
Sep 4, 2017, 7:51pm Top

Happy new thread! I read Theresa Raquin last year but did not review it...3 stars....it was dark, which it's supposed to be!

7floremolla
Sep 5, 2017, 4:23am Top

Thanks, Tess! I'm off to a slow start this month as I'm reading several books at once - a hardback ROOT (Culloden), a new paperback (Austerlitz) and a short but dense ebook (The Fruits of the Earth) - and listening to a lengthy audiobook, The Crimson Petal and the White. The ebook is on the 1001 BYMRBYD list - it's full of thought-provoking lines and best of all it's free online.

8tess_schoolmarm
Edited: Sep 5, 2017, 10:48am Top

>7 floremolla: wow, Donna.....I have both Austerlitz on my bookshelf and The Crimson Petal and White on my tablet; both to be read! And I did lots of research about The Battle of Culloden when I read Outlander...and I mean HOURS!

9floremolla
Sep 5, 2017, 12:37pm Top

Look forward to hearing what you think of Austerlitz and The Crimson Petal and the White- they're both a bit unusual.

I've been following the Outlander tv series and season 3 opens on Monday with said battle so I'm cramming like mad to make sure I don't miss anything.

10tess_schoolmarm
Sep 6, 2017, 10:37am Top

>9 floremolla: Have not seen any of the TV series, but have loved each and every Outlander book!

11connie53
Sep 9, 2017, 4:38am Top

Found it! Happy New Thread.

12tess_schoolmarm
Edited: Sep 9, 2017, 8:37am Top

>9 floremolla: While researching the Battle of Culloden of course then I had to find out about the history of Bonnie Prince Charlie which led to investigating the Jacobites (different from the French Jacobites) which led to Charlie's mistress, Clementine. It went on and on and I was absorbed with research for a year!

13floremolla
Sep 9, 2017, 1:13pm Top

>11 connie53: Hi Connie! *waves* nice to see you - thanks! :)

>12 tess_schoolmarm: wow, that's impressive! I've jumped from the Massacre of Glencoe to Culloden (a bit like an Outlander) and I'll need to fill in the gap before I move on to the Highland clearances. I'll know who to ask now if I have a question!

14tess_schoolmarm
Sep 9, 2017, 3:45pm Top

>13 floremolla: I had to give up the research because it was unrelated to anything I teach and was absorbing all my time! But, I do have about 20 pages of notes.

15Jackie_K
Sep 9, 2017, 3:51pm Top

I am hoping that when my daughter starts school and starts learning Scottish history, that I can learn with her!

16floremolla
Edited: Sep 10, 2017, 11:12am Top

>14 tess_schoolmarm: you must be a fount of knowledge on the subject! I think I remember things better if I take notes so maybe I should try that too.

>15 Jackie_K: my daughter loved history at school and went on to do a double honours degree in English and History but unfortunately none of her knowledge 'rubbed off' on me!

17floremolla
Edited: Sep 11, 2017, 5:06pm Top

Austerlitz Non-ROOT completed

At the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 a little boy is sent from occupied Prague to safety in Wales via the Kindertransport, where his foster parents, a grim minister and his equally grim wife, bring up the boy in a joyless household, revealing nothing to him of his past. When they die, one of his boarding school teachers tells him matter-of-factly that his real name is Jacques Austerlitz and if he works hard he might be able to get a scholarship to continue his studies.

Jacques goes on to study architecture and, obsessed with the structure of buildings and photographing them, becomes an architectural historian and professor at a London university. While working on a project in Paris he begins to feel his past creeping in on him and eventually, after years of feeling alienated and anxious, and several mental breakdowns, he travels to Prague to learn his own history, and that of his people.

In WG Sebald's novel, we learn of Jacques' life through a narrator, an author, who relates the whole story as told to him by Jacques. There are no paragraphs, minimal punctuation and everything is related in a dead-pan, verging on boring, manner, so that important events and revelations are not particularly emphasised because they are buried among a host of details on diverse subjects. There are, periodically, photographic illustrations relating to the story, mainly grainy monochromatic old pictures of buildings or objects, and occasionally people.

Jacques and the author meet by accident several times - in fact, coincidence plays a large part in Jacques' being able to unravel his memories and his history. After a gap of almost two decades they meet again, and then meet regularly, by invitation from Jacques - as the years go by, the author/narrator seems resigned to his role as listener, and eventually storyteller.

I found the style of the book hard going in places. The prose is mostly perfunctory and filled with inconsequential (or is it?) detail about buildings and such pastimes as moth collecting. The photographs are poorly reproduced and sometimes don't seem to relate much to the text. Apparently this is all deliberate but sometimes I had a sense that Sebald had worked a photograph into the narrative to fill a gap, or because he wanted to use it, rather than because it was integral to the story, which was distracting.

There is no real sense of the author/narrator as a character, and Jacques Austerlitz himself seemed to me removed and difficult to connect with, despite the sad circumstances of his life - the delivery of his story through a second party creates a barrier between the reader and the crux of the story.

A curious mixture of fact, fiction and photography, I couldn't 'lose myself' in this book. I admired Sebald's expressing his art in a unique (to me anyway) way but ultimately felt this novel was incomplete in an indefinable sense - but maybe I missed something? I didn't feel the emotions I'd expect to feel given the subject matter - but maybe that was what he intended?

We'll never know because Sebald died in an accident, not long after Austerlitz was published. From what I can gather, as a German himself (though living in England for thirty years) he was inspired by Germany's struggle, post-WWII, to acknowledge to itself what had happened during the war - his other novels and poems focus on the same theme.

18MissWatson
Sep 11, 2017, 4:54pm Top

Happy new thread! There's so much going on to catch up with after a holiday. Great review of Austerlitz!

19floremolla
Sep 11, 2017, 5:09pm Top

Thanks, Birgit! Nice to see you back from your holiday, though you probably feel differently :)

20MissWatson
Sep 11, 2017, 5:17pm Top

>19 floremolla: Yes, there were some unpleasant surprises on my return. The worst being having to schlep my newly bought books up four flights of stairs because the lift is out of order. Everything's back to normal already...

21floremolla
Sep 11, 2017, 5:24pm Top

Oh dear, it's bad enough having to go back to work on return from holiday without having to deal with domestic inconveniences!

Lol, I love 'schlep', it's such an evocative word, isn't it?

22MissWatson
Sep 12, 2017, 5:20am Top

Yes, some words instantly bring a vivid picture to mind.

23floremolla
Edited: Sep 15, 2017, 12:21pm Top

The Fruits of the Earth Non-ROOT completed

For such a short novel this was a slow read. Written when author André Gide was near death from tuberculosis, it is a strange agglomeration of writing, including fervid prose, even more fervid poetry, Classical allusions and quotations and a host of 'bon mots' - clever little aphorisms that cry out to be noted down and pondered over.

And then there are descriptions of the 'fruits of the earth' themselves, natural and man-made, landscapes of deserts and forests, sheep and cows, peaches and apricots, streams and oceans...and lovers.

The conceit of the novel is that the unnamed narrator is passing on advice to a young man called Nathaniel, and in turn referring to advice he was given by his own mentor, Menalcas which he now thinks was wrong. The gist of the narrator's advice is to throw away all possessions (including the book after reading it), discard conventions and family ties and just go and live the most adventurous and pleasurable life possible.

Indeed you should not think about, or worry about, your actions or their effect on other people - basically you should do as you wish.

Sex plays a recurring role in the hedonistic life the narrator describes to Nathaniel. The narrator tells how he sold off his own possessions and invested the money in feeding his brain by learning about art, music and classical subjects, then he embarked on travels across Europe and into North America, to feed his soul, to enjoy the fruits of the flesh - a few beautiful women, but mainly young boys.

In the latter part of the book the narrator regrets that he wasted time conforming to a religious upbringing and exhorts Nathaniel to make the most of the young fruit, "ah youth! Man possesses you only once and the rest of his life recalls you!" - and the flesh, "Satisfy your joy while it gladdens your soul".

Being a bit discomfited by what could be interpreted as a paean to pedophilia (and the novel was in fact banned in France for many years by the Catholic Church) I did some further reading on André Gide and found that he was an intellectual and pederast who is now credited with introducing homosexuality into French literature and inspiring French philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus with his early ventures into areas of thought that evolved into existentialism.

Being ignorant of pederasty I checked that out too and was surprised to find that a wide array of ancient cultures including the Greeks, Romans, Turks, Celts, Chinese and Japanese all had their customs of young boys being mentored and initiated into sex by men a bit older than themselves, and each culture had its own 'rules' about what was appropriate. As the boys became men, they themselves would then go on to have their own relationship with a younger boy. This is somewhat reflected in the narrator's relationships with Nathaniel and Menalcas.

So The Fruits of the Earth, slim volume though it was, was a learning experience for me. I thought some of Gide's observations were sublime: "because my lips are silent, do you think my heart is still?" but overall as a reading experience I found the book disjointed and inclined to go rambling off at tangent. Probably not surprising if he was feverish in his death throes.

Surprisingly Gide survived and, still only 24 years old, married, but the marriage was never consummated. He spent much of his life partnered with a man he'd met as a young boy in North Africa, but later he had a daughter with a married woman with whom he'd had a brief encounter. She then left her husband to look after Gide in his old age. True to his philosophy, he managed to dispense with convention to the last!

24floremolla
Sep 20, 2017, 11:58am Top

The Crimson Petal and the White completed

Prepare to be grabbed by the hand and taken on a whirlwind tour of the seamier side of Dickensian London, following first one prostitute, then another, and getting all the gory details of the trade along the way...all the while, the omniscient tour-guide/narrator addressing you directly.

Eventually the narrator fades into the background, the story slows down and focuses in on the main protagonists and you begin to settle down and watch the drama unfold. The main focus is Sugar, an astute nineteen year old prostitute with literary aspirations, who is so accommodating of her clients' wishes she gets special mention in 'More Sprees in London', a Victorian sex-tourism publication.

This willingness is what initially attracts William Rackham, a rich married idler with a complicated home life that includes a deranged wife. But it's Sugar's ability to read his other desires too that forges their relationship and provides the impetus to change both of their lives.

Along the way, we meet Agnes Rackham, the deranged wife, Sophie, the Rackhams' barely-acknowledged daughter, and the servants of the Rackham household. Also William's brother Henry, a would-be parson, and his friend, the widow Mrs Emmeline Fox, who are concerned with the rescue of prostitutes and diverting them to alternative employment.

Author Michel Faber never flinches from graphic depictions of sex, bodily functions and excretions but for me these came across as authentic within the context of the story rather than gratuitous. As well, there are a great many little details of Victorian life, from the geography of 1870s London to ladies fashion, the social graces and the grand annual 'Season' when Society (the aristocracy) attend events such as balls and operas and push their adolescent offspring forward for marriage.

Faber is never heavy handed with the detail - unlike some authors who, having researched a subject deeply, are determined to get it all into the book - new inventions and trends, such as the London Underground and the rise of factories, are mentioned in the context of characters' business or travel activities. Though there's not much reference to world events, Faber still draws a very vivid picture of his characters and their settings and the social ills of the day - poverty, slums, disease, vice, inequality.

The characters are all products of their time and of their disparate upbringings. Faber portrays the prostitutes as more than just passive victims and shows how, often, they were victims of unfortunate circumstances, making the best of their bad deal to the extent that alternative employment in the factories of the time sometimes didn't seem attractive by comparison. Sugar is ambitious and audacious and determined to make a better life for herself having been pushed into prostitution by her cold-hearted and harsh mother at the age of 13.

William is not especially bright and has no work ethic, but has attended university, inherited the family perfumery business and married the step-daughter of a Lord. His privileged background gives him high expectations of entitlement without putting in much effort and consequently he is peevish and temperamental when things don't go his way.

Agnes's story is complicated by mental illness allowing the novel to explore Victorian attitudes to this subject as Agnes's condition rallies but then deteriorates and ever more dubious treatments are tried. Her diaries reveal the trajectory of her illness from early signs of narcissism and a tendency to erase anything unpleasant from her mind, evolving through anxieties into fully fledged delusions.

As well as the great characterisation and wealth of historical detail, there is a rattling good plot, the ups and downs of which made me always eager to get back to the story to find out what happened next. It says a lot that at 864 pages (41.5 hours audiobook) my interest didn't flag at all. The ending is not neatly tied up but I didn't feel that detracted from the story.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated ably by Jill Tanner - although I found her voice a bit arch and strident it somehow suited the story very well. All in all, first class entertainment...if you're not fazed by expletives, gory details, graphic sex &c.

25tess_schoolmarm
Sep 20, 2017, 6:43pm Top

You write such good reviews, thank you! I know they take a lot of time (and that's why I don't do them!).

26floremolla
Sep 21, 2017, 2:35pm Top

Thanks, Tess, it's a bonus if anyone else finds them useful.

27floremolla
Edited: Sep 21, 2017, 7:19pm Top

Summertime: Scenes From Provincial Life completed

I've read and admired several of JM Coetzee's novels - The Life and Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace - all very different but all discomfiting morality stories with violence at the core. It didn't occur to me that I didn't have a concept of the writer himself, except that he's South African, and his novels set in that country reflect his anti-apartheid stance.

Summertime is the third in a trilogy of 'biographical' books about a fictionalised John Coetzee, by this time deceased in his adoptive country of Australia. I'd failed to grasp this was the last book in a trilogy otherwise I'd have bought the others and read them first. Nonetheless, it stands well on its own.

It comprises seven parts, ostensibly put together as preparatory work by an unnamed biographer: the beginning and ending are the notebook scribblings of 'John Coetzee' himself, dated 1972-75, and undated, respectively. The remaining five parts comprise transcribed interviews by the biographer with (fictional?) people who knew Coetzee at various points in his life, notably four women and only one man.

The picture that emerges of John Coetzee is fairly consistent across the interviews, with the notebook scribblings providing a little bit more insight. From the interviews he comes across as repressed, unsociable, uncaring of his appearance and struggling to connect with people or even with the politics of his country. But we also learn that his personality - and his mien - is the result of his upbringing and it's in his genes to be this way. Generations of Coetzees have been undemonstrative, cold, preferring to make light-hearted banter rather than speak of serious issues - which were not in short supply in South Africa at that time, not least of those the fear that the land their Afrikaans ancestors had colonised for farming was in danger of being repossessed by Africa's indigenous people - and not necessarily in a peaceful way. John feels he doesn't fit in with his family and the implication is that they have no time for him either.

There are references to apartheid by some of the fictional interviewees and it is clear that John associates with left-leaning people, sympathetic to ending apartheid, but there's nothing in John's own notebooks to suggest he is active in the anti-apartheid movement. The notebooks are rather about domestic issues - in the earlier one he's recently returned from England and moved in with his ailing and lonely father, and in the later one he's coping with his father's terminal illness and regretting that he never really 'knew' him and that he's unable to show him any kind of emotion.

Reading JM Coetzee's Wikipedia entry, the parallels with the fictional 'John Coetzee' leap out - a reclusive, vegetarian author/poet/translator/academic who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and spent his later years in Australia (having been denied entry to America because he spoke out against the Vietnam War). However, as well as the fact that the real life author is still alive, there are other major differences: JM Coetzee did play a role in drawing international attention to apartheid and he was married with children rather than the romantically inept figure depicted in Summertime.

So why did he fictionalise his biography? Coincidentally my daughter's English degree thesis was about fictionalising the self (specifically Charles Bukowski) and it's a method of taking control of one's own life story, examining it from different angles and playing with aspects of character by magnifying them or leaving them out altogether.

I'll be reading the others in this trilogy, Boyhood and Youth, but I'll be looking forward even more to catching up with his more recently published novels. I think I prefer the outward-looking Coetzee rather than the introspective one, but after a lifetime of writing and a substantial number of awards, it's understandable that he'd want to look inwardly and back at the forces that shaped him, and in Summertime he's made it into an interesting read.

28connie53
Sep 23, 2017, 2:51am Top

>24 floremolla:. Wow, maybe this will be my next read, Donna. It's been on my shelves for ages!

29floremolla
Sep 23, 2017, 4:16am Top

I'd had the audiobook for ages too - started listening to it and then abandoned it, thinking I wasn't going to like it because it was pretty grim at first. A few chapters in and it became difficult to put down, there were so many things happening. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

30floremolla
Sep 30, 2017, 8:55am Top

Culloden completed

The second in John Prebble's non-fictional Highland trilogy that began with Glencoe: the Story of a Massacre, chronicles the Battle of Culloden from five o'clock on the cold, rainy morning of 16 April 1746, when the Royal Army marched out of Nairn to meet their adversaries, the Jacobite rebel clansmen, at Culloden.

In 1688 the Dutchman William of Orange ousted King James II of Britain, encouraged by a predominantly Protestant parliament, afraid that James would bring Catholicism to the fore in the country and they would be sacked from government.

In 1745 'Bonnie' Prince Charlie, grandson of James II returned to Scotland from exile in Italy and attempted to wrest the throne back from King George II and secure the Stuart line as a Catholic monarchy once again. Thus began the Jacobite Rebellion that ended in defeat at Culloden.

The first third of Prebble's book is a 'who's who' of the regiments and the clans on both sides - for there were clansmen among the British Royal Army under the command of William, Duke of Cumberland, son of the monarch. There is also background on why clans had chosen to follow one side or the other. Information has been gleaned from published historical reference books and papers and archived letters and documents of people who lived through the battle.

The early pages are heavy going - it's impossible to keep the vast array of clans and regiments and individual characters in mind (although some names do crop up again later in the book) - but no doubt this depth of detail is appreciated by clan/battle historians. A map helpfully illustrates the distribution of the clans across Scotland.

Prebble describes the battlefield, and with a bit of artistic licence, backed up with research, he paints a picture of cold, hungry troops on both sides, the nervous energy suffusing the air, the knowledge on Prince Charles' side that the numbers are against them (troops promised by having failed to materialise), they are not well enough prepared, they've lost most of their horses on the way to Drumossie Moor - and the location on the moor is going to be a boggy nightmare.

The battle stations of both sides are set out in a sketch map, showing the location of each regiment and clan, and highlighting a wall, enclosing farmland, that is initially a barrier but will be the final undoing of the clansmen.

The battle itself is as you would imagine - the clansmens' reliance on broadswords as their main weapon is futile against the musket and cannon fire. And taking advantage of cover of the wall on the east side of the battlefield, the Royal Army outflanks the clans to the south and cuts the Rebels down from the rear. As the battle limps to an end, no mercy is shown.

The second third of the book deals with the immediate aftermath. The Royal victors stood sentinel over the battlefield for days, killing anyone who survived or any hapless person coming by who happened to look like a Highlander. Searching for those who'd fled, farms and house were pillaged and occupants raped and killed if they raised objection. Meanwhile prisoners were taken to Inverness and held. The gaol was too small for the numbers so they were held in cellars and any building that would serve. Eventually many were taken to ships anchored in the firth and held in the hold awaiting instructions. All were treated abominably.

William, Duke of Cumberland returned victorious to his father, King George II and there were celebrations in the streets as there had been real fear among the people that a Jacobite victory would have led to a routing of Protestantism. News of Cumberland's brutality spread and led to his being nicknamed 'The Bloody Butcher'.

Bonny Prince Charlie went into hiding, initially being smuggled to the western isles, then returning under cover and escaping to France (Scotland's ally as the French then saw the country as a second front against England).

The third part of the book deals in detail with the prisoners, 3,470 of whose fates were catalogued. While 120 were publicly executed, 936 were transported to the colonies (though few survived the passage), 222 were banished, 1,287 were exchanged or released (mainly conditional on joining Cumberland's troops). Though a number managed to escape, almost 700 were unaccounted for, having died en route and their bodies disposed of along the way.

Prisoners were held for up to seven years and treatment was inhumane to say the least - they were starved, beaten, deprived of clothing and medical attention, though a small number of those of noble birth managed to use their wealth and contacts to buy themselves better treatment.

The Bonnie Prince lived out the remaining 43 years of his life on the European continent but the book hints that he never recovered from his defeat and died an alcoholic.

Cumberland survived to fight in further battles for another two decades till he died of a stroke (having been obese for most of his life). When he left Scotland, shortly after Culloden, his legacy was to establish forts and garrisons throughout the country, from which English troops controlled the Scots for many years afterwards - usually terrorising and depriving the people of their possessions including their homes and cattle.

As news began to circulate in the South of the starving people and the physical devastation wreaked in Scotland, Cumberland's reputation suffered. So reviled were his actions and those of his troops subsequent to the battle that Culloden became notorious and perceptions of it changed from victory to shame. As Prebble's final paragraph puts it:

"A lost cause will always win a last victory in men's imaginations. And no British regiment now has Culloden among its battle honours."

This book tries to be non-partisan in relating what is known from records but the facts speak for themselves as to which side was at greater fault. It's well known that the Highlanders were wild marauders, terrorising each other's clans and making terrifying forays into the Lowlands to steal cattle, but it's difficult not to equate Cumberland's treatment of the Scots after Culloden with modern day militia groups terrorising indigenous tribes - the exact same tools of oppression that were used then, sadly still being used today to subdue populations, in the cause of imposing religious or cultural control.

So, the Rising was over but six hundred years of oppression had begun, leading into Prebble's final book of the trilogy The Highland Clearances.


31Jackie_K
Sep 30, 2017, 9:31am Top

Ooh well done for finishing, I know that was a big old read!

32tess_schoolmarm
Sep 30, 2017, 9:57am Top

>30 floremolla: Great review, great topic!

33floremolla
Edited: Sep 30, 2017, 10:23am Top

>31 Jackie_K: Thanks, Jackie, it was an easier read after the details of the battle itself!

>32 tess_schoolmarm: Thanks, Tess, I now think it's fascinating - I feel I know more about why things are as they are in Scotland. It's also interesting to observe real life links back to the Jacobite rebellion - I had the pleasure of meeting the 27th Cameron of Lochiel, in the 80s when he was patron of the Scottish Civic Trust (for preservation of historic buildings) - his forebear the 18th Cameron of Lochiel actually met Bonnie Prince Charlie on his arrival in Scotland and pledged his clan's allegiance. Wish I'd known that then, I'd've been interested to hear more!

34floremolla
Edited: Oct 28, 2017, 5:08pm Top

Elizabeth is Missing completed

Maud is in her eighties and showing obvious signs of dementia. Aware of her forgetfulness, she writes notes to herself to remind her of important things, but even this begins to confuse her. One thing that keeps coming back to her however is that her friend Elizabeth is missing. And of course, no one seems to listen to her or take her seriously. In fact Elizabeth's son Peter is pretty fed up with Maud's accusing him of being a bad man and responsible for her disappearance.

The story is narrated by Maud herself, in two timelines - the present and 1946. In the present we find Maud initially muddled and confused but still living in her own home with the help of professional carers and her daughter, Helen. Whereas the present day story centres around Maud's confusion and her search for Elizabeth, in 1946 she is a teenager with a loving family including an older sister whom she worships.

As the plot of the 1946 story unfolds, Maud's present-day actions start to make more sense, even though her memory is obviously deteriorating, and the two stories begin to converge.

This was a real page-turner - a good tight story, that kept the tension going to the end. I thought both timelines were well handled. I laughed aloud a few times as Maud's confusion created some funny scenarios (something that seems cruel but I know actually happens, from experiences with an elderly aunt).

As Maud's memory deteriorates a sense of fear pervades her. At first I thought her daughter wasn't being very patient or properly responsive to her but then realised it was more a case of Maud forgetting her daughter's responses. I'm not sure how accurate a depiction of the progress of dementia this was - how can anyone experiencing it explain it? - but it seemed authentic.

The 40s atmosphere was nicely evoked with post-war rationing, making do and mending, the joys of music and dance halls, lipstick and pretty clothes - and Maud as a teenager trying to understand the mysterious tragedy that has befallen her family, and intrepid in trying to get to the bottom of it.

All in all, well-written and a jolly good read.

35connie53
Oct 4, 2017, 3:42am Top

>34 floremolla: I've read that one too! And gave it too.

The only thing I thought was a bit unbelievable was the fact that Maud really forgot things within seconds after doing them.

36floremolla
Oct 4, 2017, 4:33am Top

>35 connie53: Hi Connie, yes that's what I meant about not being sure how authentic it was in depicting dementia. When my aunt had it, it wasn't so much forgetfulness we noticed but loss of inhibition and misinterpreting what she was seeing - she thought the television newsreader was my dad for instance. But I suppose there are different ways the condition manifests itself and the author was probably trying to demonstrate how Maud's memory was deteriorating quickly and it was a race against time to unravel the mystery before she lost it altogether.

37Rebeki
Oct 4, 2017, 7:20am Top

I'm glad to read your positive review of The Crimson Petal and the White. It's been sitting on my shelf for six years and I was wondering whether my interest in it had waned, but now I'm itching to read it!

38floremolla
Oct 10, 2017, 1:10pm Top

>37 Rebeki: hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

39floremolla
Oct 10, 2017, 1:15pm Top

An Artist of the Floating World Non-ROOT completed

Set in post-WWII Japan and narrated by an ageing painter, Masuji Ono, Kazuo Ishiguro's novel is in four parts, each a timeframe, separated by a few months.

Ono relates his story as if speaking to a contemporary or a sympathetic friend familiar with his life, his work, his family and his environment. Quickly we learn that he was a highly regarded artist - so much so, his beautiful house was sold to him long ago on the basis of the seller's esteem for him though it is now suffering from old age and the effects of the war.

He has two daughters who nag and make pointed comments to him, usually referring to him in the third person ("Father is mistaken"). He has lost his wife and a son in the war, but has a grandson by his elder daughter with whom he spends time, trying to reinforce old fashioned Japanese values on the boy by encouraging him to be manly, selfish and treat women as second class citizens.

The story revolves around efforts to make a marriage match for his younger daughter which force him to confront his own reputation. A previous endeavour has gone wrong - for some unspecified reason the family of the prospective groom withdrew from the negotiations. This apparent snub causes Ono to reflect on his life as he goes about his daily business with his family and his drinking friends in the former 'pleasure area' - where once there would have been bars, hotels and brothels, there is now only a forlorn bar with a slowly thinning clientele.

As Ono reflects he often questions his own memory of events. Some old friends and acquaintances are no longer in touch and he suspects it's because they think badly of him. As the novel progresses we learn that Ono may well have given cause for offence, mainly in regard to his arrogance in believing himself to be always right and his disregard for the feelings of others.

Things come to a head when he and his family have to meet the new marriage match family in a traditional 'miai' around which it is customary to gather character references on the bride's family by speaking to friends and colleagues. At last Ono appears to see himself through others' eyes.

This was a beautifully written novel. Ishiguro conveys well the mood of post-war Japan, the rapidly changing urban environment, and the stiltedness and formality of the Japanese manners of the time (in grammatically perfect English). He captures the essence of an elderly man struggling to come to terms with change (including the roles of women) and to accept how his war-time actions promoting Japanese imperialism through his art could have been viewed with distaste by people now embracing western culture and concerned with forging a modern outward-looking country.

Much of this is conveyed in subtext, read between the lines, inferred from Ono's interaction with other people - Ishiguro doesn't spell it out - and the reader is pulled between sympathy for the old man and hoping he will get his comeuppance.

Along the way we learn a bit about the enclosed world of the Japanese artist (the floating world) and the devotion of the students to their masters who had the power to make or break them. As usual Ishiguro keeps the story developing to the last paragraph and the reader still pondering, well after closing the book.

40Jackie_K
Oct 16, 2017, 5:17am Top

Hi Donna - hope Ophelia isn't blowing too much of a hoolie at yours! (it's eerily subdued here at the moment - did you notice the orange tinge to the clouds?)

41floremolla
Oct 16, 2017, 7:08am Top

Ha, yes! it did seem prophetic! I'm a little bit obsessed with ex-hurricane Ophelia and trying to get an idea of what it'll be like here. Our old house isn't built for those winds - we have a slate roof with a shallow pitch, so it's very vulnerable.

There's a stiffening breeze so I'm heading out shortly to batten down the hatches - put my plant pots in the garage and suchlike - then I might head over to Sainsburys and do some panic buying ;)

Hope it doesn't live up to the hype though. Fingers crossed and good luck!

42Jackie_K
Oct 16, 2017, 8:36am Top

Oh goodness, yes, batten down the hatches. We don't actually have anywhere to put our pots, so I will have to see how widely distributed they are in the morning! They're up against the back of the house, so hopefully will be reasonably sheltered.

I remember shortly after our daughter was born and I'd just got home, so it must have been early December 2013, there was an overnight storm and the contents of our back court which included a small greenhouse (thankfully covered in plastic sheeting not glass) were strewn all over the place - we have a communal back court shared between 5 houses, but everyone else is sensible and hasn't bothered putting pots or anything out the back. I just wanted a bit of colour! Luckily my husband was at home and I was still in Caesarian recovery mode, so bless him he had to go out and clear it all up. I also remember our bins dancing quite the jig during Hurricane Bawbag!

Windy Wilson seems to think that it's mainly hype, I'm hoping he's right! At any rate I'm keeping everything crossed for folk (like you) who are further west than me.

43floremolla
Oct 16, 2017, 10:29am Top

Here's hoping it's hype then!

44Jackie_K
Oct 17, 2017, 4:35am Top

How are things this morning, Donna? (all fine here, I slept like a log. It's windy but otherwise pretty normal for mid-October!). Hope everything (house, garden, and most importantly people) all still intact.

45MissWatson
Oct 17, 2017, 4:43am Top

I hope all is well in your corner of the world, Donna?

46floremolla
Oct 17, 2017, 5:45am Top

All good, thanks! Turned out to be no worse than a severe gale for us, though much worse just a few miles south west. There were a few bits of slate in the garden but we're booked in for an annual roof check - though I suspect the roofer might be busy for a while!

47tess_schoolmarm
Oct 17, 2017, 3:06pm Top

Glad you were safe!

48floremolla
Oct 17, 2017, 6:47pm Top

Thanks Tess!

49floremolla
Edited: Oct 17, 2017, 7:11pm Top

Brighton Rock completed

Graham Greene explores the seedy gangland underbelly of the seaside town of Brighton in the 1930s through his main protagonists, seventeen year old gang leader Pinkie - referred to throughout as 'The Boy' - sixteen year old waitress Rose, and middle aged barmaid Ida Arnold.

The drama unfolds when Hale, a cheap newspaper writer (he doesn't merit being called a journalist) realises he is being followed and about to be murdered by Pinkie's gang. In desperation he tries to find a woman to dine with him and approaches floozy barmaid Ida and, when she rejects him, some young girls on the promenade.

Later Hale and Ida's paths cross again and they briefly flirt and kiss before he abandons her and turns up dead shortly afterwards. Rose meanwhile has spotted some unusual activity in her restaurant by one of Pinkie's men that links him to Hale - hence to murder. Thus Ida and Rose become witnesses of sorts - Rose in particular has seen too much and Pinkie must silence her. Ida meanwhile, overcome by sentiment, embarks on a mission to investigate Hale's death, using money won with a horse racing tip he gave her before he disappeared and help from a ouija board.

Pinkie is an old head on young shoulders and clearly a psychopath - always on the verge of violent reaction, he hates and despises people and the humdrum details of their inconsequential lives. He is repulsed and nauseated by intimacy. It's implied he's driven by having had a childhood of unimaginable poverty and hateful parents. Pinkie also has a strange obsession with the Catholic faith in which he grew up. As a rival gang threatens to take over Pinkie's patch, Ida closes in and he becomes aware of her suspicions, it's difficult to know how he will react - who will be the cat and who the mouse?

This is the third of Greene's novels I've read and it confirms that I'm not a big fan. I found his prose in Brighton Rock repetitive, melodramatic and unconvincing, as if he was writing about a milieu he didn't really know but which fascinated him and made him want to appall his reader with the sleaziness of it all.

The story itself had major plot holes - why would Hale think dining with a woman would save him from being killed when at best it would just delay the inevitable? Also, Pinkie didn't have to marry Rose, he could have killed her as easily as he killed Spicer, and made it look like an accident or a random sex attack. The marriage arrangements were also a farce - they could have gone to Gretna Green and been married quickly as they were both sixteen or over.

Pinkie's fervid regard for the Catholic faith didn't ring true either. Greene himself was an enthusiastic convert and it pervaded his writing - Pinkie's Catholicism felt shoehorned in, and his Latin incantations and references to purgatory and hell seemed more about melodramatic effect than a serious exploration of how heightened awareness of the concept of sin and damnation might motivate someone to abandon goodness.

The ending might have been a twist in the tale back in the 30s but was all too predictable by today's standards. The words recorded by The Boy for Rose were always going to reappear to dramatic effect, like Chekhov's gun theory.

50Jackie_K
Oct 18, 2017, 4:49pm Top

Hi Donna, I thought given our worries about Ophelia earlier this week you might enjoy this. There's not much that beats Scottish twitter when I need a laugh, but this time I must say well done Irish twitter, you outdid yourself!

https://www.boredpanda.com/hurricane-ophelia-ireland-reactions/?page_numb=1

51floremolla
Oct 18, 2017, 7:23pm Top

Lol, I particularly like the one about not closing the schools! #Opehlia ;))

52Jackie_K
Oct 19, 2017, 4:03am Top

Yes, that one cracked me up too!

53floremolla
Edited: Oct 24, 2017, 5:56am Top

The Picture of Dorian Gray completed

Lord Henry Wootton visits his friend, artist, Basil Hallward, just as the subject of his latest portrait is about to arrive. It's clear Basil has an intense crush on his sitter, beautiful youth, Dorian Gray, and he beseeches Lord Henry (clearly a selfish cad) not to take him away from him.

However, Lord Henry wastes no time in trying to get under Dorian's skin - he lauds him for his beauty, tells him Beauty is greater than Genius, and that with his looks he should live a life of hedonism before his looks fade and his soul withers. The young man is instantly under Henry's influence and Henry knows it and revels in it.

When the portrait is completed, Dorian is indeed taken aback by his own beauty and cries that he'd give his own soul to remain young and beautiful. Basil, realising that he's lost Dorian to Henry, is heartbroken. Under Henry's influence, Dorian cold-heartedly breaks from his sweetheart as she no longer lives up to his standards and when he later hears of the tragedy that has befallen her, he's shocked to find his portrait looking cruel and sneering.

Meanwhile Henry gives Dorian a book that documents all forms of debauchery and Dorian uses it as a guide to life. As the years go by his actions become more and more immoral, the picture (now hidden from anyone's view but his) becomes more ugly and wicked-looking, while Dorian himself looks more beautiful, youthful and pure than ever. Eventually, after almost two decades, his sins begin to creep up on him and he grows ever more desperate but ever more ensnared in a trap of his own making.

I enjoyed this novel more when there was action than when it veered off into wordy ruminations on the nature of beauty or oblique references to Dorian's caddish and immoral doings. Oscar Wilde is known for his wit and pithy sayings and his character Lord Henry only communicates in aphorisms and epigrams (many often quoted today!) - however, this surfeit of smart talk felt like an over-dose of rich food.

Nonetheless the main conceit of the story - the eerie picture that takes on the characteristics of wickedness and ageing while Dorian remains youthful - was a clever construct, and I liked the ending which was suitably satisfying.

54floremolla
Oct 24, 2017, 6:03am Top

As I mentioned in the review above, there were loads of Wildean aphorisms in The Picture of Dorian Gray - many of them as apt and insightful today as 120 years ago. I particularly liked his assertion that there's no such thing as 'immoral books' -

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame"

Also, I must compile a list of all the books I've read this year which have movie adaptations I'd like to see - this is one of them. Interested to see how they captured the changing picture of Dorian and whether I consider the actor beautiful enough ;)

55Caramellunacy
Oct 24, 2017, 6:24am Top

>54 floremolla:, I saw the movie quite a long time ago, but Ben Barnes (also of Prince Caspian fame) is awfully pretty :)

56floremolla
Edited: Oct 24, 2017, 9:28pm Top

Oh yes, he's rather dishy (giving my age away here)! In the novel Dorian has blonde hair, but we'll let him off with that!

57detailmuse
Oct 24, 2017, 4:24pm Top

>39 floremolla: So glad you loved An Artist of the Floating World. It was a did-not-finish for me, and I loved reading your review and thinking it might just have been wrong timing for me.

>50 Jackie_K: lol!

58floremolla
Oct 24, 2017, 10:00pm Top

>57 detailmuse: thank you! You're not alone - my TBR pile has 20 did-not-finish books - some were acquired for a book group and I wouldn't have chosen them myself, but some were just 'wrong timing'!

59tess_schoolmarm
Oct 25, 2017, 1:57pm Top

Glad to read your review of Dorian Gray. I've been wanting to read it for sometime and it's one of those on my TBR shelves. I've read another work by Oscar Wilde and I did not like it!

60floremolla
Oct 25, 2017, 4:35pm Top

>59 tess_schoolmarm: I don't feel moved to read any more Wilde for now either but I like that I've finally read such a well known story!

61floremolla
Oct 26, 2017, 6:00pm Top

Tom Jones completed

Published in 1749 and subsequently described as a 'comic masterpiece' and one the 'most influential' English novels, Henry Fielding's Tom Jones is a staggering piece of work over 871 pages.

Told by an unidentified but omniscient narrator, it's the story of a foundling, Tom Jones, whose youthful excesses displease his benefactor to the extent that he casts him out with a sum of money and tells him not to return.

The bulk of the novel comprises Tom's adventures and escapades as he heads to London and loses his money, meets villains and lovers, joins the army and makes great friends along the way, for he is a singularly handsome and charming chap whose desire above all is to help and please others.

His casting out leads a young lady - his neighbour and childhood friend Sophia Western - to follow him and declare her love for him. A love which he returns most wholeheartedly but which is forbidden by her father who is in hot pursuit of her across the country.

The cast of characters is extensive. The main protagonists are Tom's benefactor, Mister Allworthy, who is as good as his name - kind hearted and forward thinking, always trying to do right by his nephew Master Blifel and Tom. Blifel is a most underhand and conscienceless character (sleekit as we say in Scotland).

Sophia's father is the local squire and a boor when it comes to insisting his daughter must marry young Blifel as he is heir to Allworthy's estate. Sophie herself is beautiful, good and headstrong and won't be told who to marry, but neither will she defy her father and marry Tom against his wishes. Partridge is a former schoolteacher, turned barber and surgeon, who becomes Sancho Panza to Tom's Don Quixote with his comedic interjections and inability to keep a secret.

The plot is labyrinthine and cannot easily be summarised - there are a great deal of secrets and misunderstandings, well intentioned actions have calamitous outcomes, significant letters appear to damn the writer - and everywhere one is judged on one's class and social standing and treated accordingly. Secrets are revealed and twists of fate occur right up to the final chapters. In fact the novel encompasses a whole host of plot twists and literary devices that belie its age. It's also surprisingly bawdy for its time - lots of illicit sex, expletives and ribald commentary.

Fielding must have been ahead of his time as well as fiendishly clever - he was remarkably aware of social issues including the rights of women. The narrator discourses occasionally on such issues and also on literary matters with a most liberal attitude. He also explains the novel's literary intentions to the reader as he goes along, with witty asides and astute observations on social mores or the actions of the characters. As we near the end he plays with the reader's anticipation through the chapter headings - 'in which the history is continued', 'in which the history is further continued'...

Written in the language and style of the 1740s, I listened to this novel on audiobook and found it easy to follow, perhaps having become accustomed to the language of later writers such as Dickens, which meant I didn't have to keep reaching for the dictionary, but just enjoyed the story, ably narrated by Bill Homewood.

The novel itself contains an introduction, a chronology, a plan of the cities of London and Westminster (fascinatingly compact settlements in the 1740s) and many footnotes. I take my hat off to you Mr Fielding, sir!

62floremolla
Edited: Oct 27, 2017, 7:56pm Top

Metroland completed

It's a fair bet most of this novel by Julian Barnes is autobiographical, it's so convincing. It's essentially a coming of age story of the narrator, Chris Lloyd, from his days as a precociously intelligent sixteen year old schoolboy to a happily married thirty year old wondering if his suburban lifestyle means he's sold out.

Barnes captures the schooldays of Chris and his friend Toni well - it's 1963 and they're obsessed with sex, art, all things French and cutting a path in life for themselves that is as far away as possible from the bourgeoisie of Metroland - a name coined by the railways and developers for the vast suburbs of London that will eventually become known as the commuter belt. Along the way they indulge in baiting their parents, bullying their schoolmates, inventing classifications for girls based on how much 'soul' they have and the size of their breasts. They also try to analyse the impact of art on people and go to great lengths to take a rise out of unsuspecting folk with their intellectual jokes.

On leaving school, Chris achieves his dream of post-grad study in France, exploring relationships as well as the arts and when that runs its course he returns to England, settles down to a job as a copywriter and contemplates his lot as one of the middle class masses he once despised.

Barnes captures the period and the teenager to young adult to maturing adult stages exceptionally well - it's before my time but exactly my husband's era and it chimed with his accounts. Chris' riffs on life, marriage and fidelity are both thought provoking and humorous. I particularly liked the ongoing vendetta between Chris and his uncle Arthur after Chris exposes him in a lie. In adulthood Chris' lifestyle creates tensions with his old friend, Toni, which force him to consider whether he can really be faithful to one woman for the rest of his life.

The audiobook was narrated by Greg Wise whose laconic delivery suited the character of Chris very well.

63detailmuse
Oct 28, 2017, 3:05pm Top

>62 floremolla: between "laconic" here and "discombobulating" on bragan's thread, I'm enjoying your words :)

64floremolla
Oct 29, 2017, 8:05pm Top

>63 detailmuse: I don't know where they come from but they pop out handily in roughly the right context ;)

65floremolla
Edited: Nov 2, 2017, 8:11am Top

Ok so October was a slow month for reading but in my defence it was the month from hell!

I'd earmarked it for medical/dental/optician appointments for me and my other half, to get them out of the way before the festive season - and avoid sitting around in waiting rooms during Christmas week (as happened last year).

A couple of cracks in the ceiling plasterwork in two bedrooms heralded a rush to bring them down before they came down of their own accord - cue massive furniture removals to my own bedroom where I've been living for a month as if in a junk shop - and gave myself the worst sciatica ever with heavy lifting (i.e. strong drugs and lying on the floor groaning).

The care company which gets my husband out of bed in the mornings, and showered and dressed, withdrew their service at one week's notice causing emergency carers to be recruited who didn't know the routine - result: two weeks and six new carers, with me demonstrating (and groaning about the bad back)...and postponing appointments.

Hefty (really hefty) bills for new plasterwork and redecoration - furniture now moved back in place by my-sciatical-self plus some ruthless decluttering (even including 30 year old son's 'blankie'). Just offloaded two carfuls of stuff at the recycling centre and charity shop and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tea and scone for late elevenses....and relax...and read...(gosh, it's nice to vent here...)

66Jackie_K
Nov 2, 2017, 8:12am Top

Oh my goodness, what an awful month, you'll be glad that's over! I think it sounds like you need something a bit stronger than tea and scones!

I'm glad that this is a space you can vent. Use it as much as you need!

67floremolla
Nov 2, 2017, 10:08am Top

>66 Jackie_K: I won't do it too often, no one likes a moaning Minnie. I feel guilty offloading to close friends who feel they should be helping but I dont like to ask until I've exhausted all the options. I guess I'm a stubborn Sally!

68rabbitprincess
Nov 2, 2017, 6:01pm Top

Ugh that is totally the month from hell! I hope November is much better for you and that you can rest your back!

69MissWatson
Nov 3, 2017, 5:24am Top

What a terrible month for you! Take your well-deserved reading time.

70tess_schoolmarm
Nov 3, 2017, 3:13pm Top

>65 floremolla: Sorry about your bad month, Donna. Hoping November is better for you!

71floremolla
Nov 3, 2017, 8:27pm Top

Thank you all for your kind thoughts - it does help to write it all down in a fit of pique and then not think about it.

Hope you all have something nice planned for the weekend. We're celebrating bonfire night with friends and family coming for drinks, walking round to the park for fireworks and bonfire, then back to ours for dinner. And more drinks. They're what we call our 'comfy friends', so all very relaxed with everyone helping out and no doubt some good laughs will be had!

72Jackie_K
Nov 4, 2017, 10:26am Top

>71 floremolla: That sounds like a wonderful weekend, Donna, and hopefully a good tonic after your awful October.

I am taking my daughter to a 4th birthday party today, and another one tomorrow (this is always my job, although to be fair my husband would be even more of a fish out of water than I am in that particular scenario!), so I am very glad that I have got next week off work as I will probably need to lie down in a dark room for quite a long time.

73tess_schoolmarm
Nov 5, 2017, 1:51am Top

>71 floremolla: Hope you have a good time, Donna!

LOL Jackie to a dark room for quite a long time!

74floremolla
Nov 5, 2017, 10:27am Top

>72 Jackie_K: >73 tess_schoolmarm: thank you, we had a lovely evening and a pleasant chatty walk in the countryside, now relaxing in front of the fire with newspapers and magazines.

>72 Jackie_K: rather you than me, Jackie! ;)

75floremolla
Nov 7, 2017, 4:12am Top

Keep the Aspidistra Flying completed

Published in 1936, some of this novel is loosely based on a period of George Orwell's life where he lived in Hampstead, London, and worked in a bookshop. His character Gordon Comstock is, like Orwell (or Eric Blair to give him his real name), 'lower-upper-middle-class' having been born of a long line of impoverished gentry.

Gordon is intelligent, with a flair for copywriting, as he finds out when he works for a publicity firm. But he's also extremely stubborn and contrary and when he's offered a promotion that'll give him a comfortable salary, he balks at the idea as being against his strongly anti-capitalist political beliefs. Consequently he resigns and finds himself working for a pittance at the bookshop.

Gordon's days revolve around disdain for his customers, obsessing about how his wages will stretch to rent, beer and tobacco, wondering what his girlfriend, Rosemary, sees in him, and composing poetry and sending it off to publishers. When he receives a cheque for the hefty sum of ten pounds Gordon's woes culminate in an epic drunken binge that bring him to the brink of destitution - then he has to decide whether to go to ruin or become part of the corrupt capitalist mass (a key sign of which is having an aspidistra in the sitting room window).

As well as being a humorous story this was an interesting slice of impoverished life in 1930s England, where some unfortunates were so poverty-stricken they were observing rumblings of unrest in Europe and almost hoping for war as a way to keep body and soul together. Orwell/Blair's interest in the effects of poverty led him to travel around the poorer areas of northern England and use what he saw in his writing.

The novel itself is surprisingly candid on sex and mild expletives, but Orwell/Blair's transference of his real life homophobic views onto his main character was disappointing - somehow I expected him to be more liberal and intelligent than to follow the social attitudes of his time.

76tess_schoolmarm
Nov 7, 2017, 8:27am Top

>75 floremolla: I've been meaning to read that since I love Animal Farm. Now I think I'll move it down the list a bit!

77detailmuse
Nov 7, 2017, 12:41pm Top

Donna what a terrible month...still I smiled at your talent for putting a comedic spin on things :)

>offloaded two carfuls of stuff at the recycling centre and charity shop -- I KNOW that feels great!!

>fireworks and bonfire -- is this a celebration of something in particular?

78floremolla
Nov 7, 2017, 4:42pm Top

>77 detailmuse: ah, thanks, yes it was a bummer of a month but some decluttering always brings pleasure.

The bonfire at this time of year goes back to pagan times - the fireworks were added to commemorate an occasion in 1605 when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up King James VI and his Parliament in an effort to end government persecution of Catholics. Most people have forgotten, or never knew, why we have bonfires and fireworks on 5 November, and maybe just as well as it's turned into a fun family occasion rather than a sectarian celebration!

79floremolla
Nov 7, 2017, 4:51pm Top

>76 tess_schoolmarm: I would say it's worth a read as a 'slice of life' n a particular time, but Gordon was such a difficult person I thought Rosemary should have dumped him well before the end!

It's interesting to see how many writers of that time converged on poverty and the seamy side of life for inspiration. Sometimes I wonder if it was genuine concern to draw attention to inequality or just titillation for readers.

80floremolla
Edited: Nov 10, 2017, 4:50pm Top

The Pit and the Pendulum Non-ROOT completed

Technically a short story but included in the list of 1001 BYMRBYD, this is Edgar Allan Poe's study of a character undergoing torture as a result of being found guilty by the Spanish Inquisition of unspecified crimes.

The story relies on the first person narration of the incarcerated man as he first uses his senses to navigate the dark dungeon and establish there is a pit, or abyss, at the centre of the room - he suspects the pit is not as straightforward as it seems and doesn't offer an easy death.

He wakes from a deep sleep to find he's been bound to a platform above which swings a blade attached to a pendulum, getting closer, and closer, while hordes of rats swarm around him...

This is an excellent study of increasingly heightened drama explored through the senses. And mercifully short.

81Jackie_K
Nov 11, 2017, 9:25am Top

That sounds like the kind of thing that would give me nightmares! I'll take your word for it that it's excellent, and probably give it a miss! :D

82floremolla
Nov 11, 2017, 10:04am Top

Haha - it was so over-the-top gothic it wasn't very frightening really. I'm more scared of the 'unseen' where it's left to your imagination!

83connie53
Nov 11, 2017, 1:55pm Top

hi Donne. 53 unread posts, to much for me to read right now. Waving at you from the Netherlands!

84floremolla
Nov 11, 2017, 3:15pm Top

Hi Connie! Waving back in the general direction and sending good vibrations your way! :))

85floremolla
Nov 13, 2017, 7:15pm Top

Tender is the Night completed

Book One of F Scott Fitzgerald's novel opens promisingly at a beach resort in the south of France where budding actress, Rosemary, has come with her mother for some R&R following a starring role in a hit movie. They're comfortable in France, having lived in Paris for several years while Rosemary attended school there.

On her first visit to the beach Rosemary espies the 'crowd' she'd like to join, and falls in love at first sight with American Dick Divers, a doctor of psychology - and to an extent with his beautiful wife, Nicole - who are 'society' people. The group, along with Rosemary (whose mother is cool with it all) remove themselves to Paris following some trouble at the hotel, but trouble seems to follow them and they become embroiled in a police case where Dick saves the day and Rosemary's reputation but fails to stop Rosemary from uncovering a secret about Nicole.

In Book Two we learn of Dick and Nicole's past, how they came to be together and the reason for Nicole's dependency on Dick.

As Rosemary returns to her mother and Hollywood, Dick and Nicole return to the Riviera and life goes on, till some years later Dick takes a sabbatical from the Swiss clinic he's established (largely with Nicole's family's money). He travels around Europe and inevitably meets up with Rosemary with whom he'd become infatuated.

From here the novel lurches around various locations and stories involving secondary characters. But at the centre of the novel is the shifting dynamic between Dick and Nicole with her gradual realisation that she does not have to be in his power and Dick's increasing dependency on alcohol, to the detriment of his work.

Structurally, the novel felt as if it had been dragged out to let the author explore some different aspects of ex-pat life in Europe in the 1920s and demonstrate his breadth of knowledge on what France and Italy were like at that time. By the time it came to the end, however, I'd lost any empathy for Dick and Nicole - consequently the ending seemed to fizzle out without my feeling any sense of concern for either of them.

As with Hemingway I find myself puzzling over the meaning of some of Scott Fitzgerald's phrases although I get the general gist: it's like he reached for a perfect phrase but settled for something half-baked. His venture into the world of psychology was quite interesting and I did like how he evoked the good times of the Jazz Age but ultimately it all felt overly contrived.

86MissWatson
Nov 14, 2017, 4:05am Top

Congratulations on reaching your goal, Donna!

87Jackie_K
Nov 14, 2017, 6:03am Top

Well done on meeting your goal! I must admit F Scott Fitzgerald has never especially appealed to me.

Looking forward to seeing what's next on the reading pile for you!

88floremolla
Nov 14, 2017, 10:53am Top

>86 MissWatson: thanks, Birgit!

>89 thanks, Jackie!

I looked up TITN on Wikipedia to see if I'd missed something and turns out it was written as a four part serial cobbled together from bits of writing FSF had intended for another book (or two), mostly based on events from his own life. He was already an alcoholic when he wrote it, which maybe explains why I sometimes didn't understand what he was saying. The structure of the book was changed after his death too - I seem to have read the original published version (courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia) with the flashback to Dick and Nicole's story, whereas it was re-published posthumously in chronological order, on FSF's own instructions.

Must admit I find the background to some literary classics almost as interesting as the novels!

89si
Edited: Nov 14, 2017, 5:38pm Top

Congrats on reaching your goal.

90detailmuse
Nov 15, 2017, 10:07am Top

gooooooooooal! Congratulations!

91tess_schoolmarm
Nov 15, 2017, 10:58am Top

Congrats! I did not enjoy the Great Gatsby and now I will not waste time on anymore Fitzgerald!

92rabbitprincess
Nov 15, 2017, 6:19pm Top

Congrats on meeting your goal!

93floremolla
Nov 16, 2017, 3:45am Top

>89 si: >90 detailmuse: >91 tess_schoolmarm: >92 rabbitprincess: thank you all very much, it's great to have reached my goal but, like most, I'm not finished yet with ROOTing... :)

94floremolla
Edited: Nov 16, 2017, 1:29pm Top

New York Trilogy Non-ROOT completed

Paul Auster explores themes of identity, language, literature, words, isolation and being driven to the brink of madness by obsession in this collection of three novellas structured as crime/mystery stories. In Auster's post-modern world, however, these are not straightforward tales - though they could almost be read at that level - rather they hint at levels of meaning and interpretation and there are links between the novels that feel ephemeral, where names, places, books and other items from one crop up in another.

In the first, Quinn, an author between books, takes on the guise of a private detective when he is mistaken for a PI named Paul Auster. He is drawn into a ghastly case of a father who has maltreated his child in an effort to extract pure language from him - having been incarcerated for many years, the father is about to be released from prison and his son, the PI's client, is fearful he will kill him. Quinn's tailing of the father becomes obsessional and when he engages with him in different guises they speak philosophically about language, words and the meaning of words. Things come to ahead in an unexpected way.

In the second, where the characters all bear colours as surnames, a PI, Blue, is asked by his client, White, to observe and report on the day to day activities of a target called Black. Blue ensconces himself in an apartment opposite Black and observes him read, write, eat and occasionally take a short walk, only to become obsessed to the exclusion of almost everything else in his life. As he realises he is mimicking Black and his own identity is slipping away from him, he decides to take drastic action to retrieve his own life - only to find a twist in the tale.

In the third, an unnamed mediocre writer (the narrator) is contacted by the wife of an old childhood friend, Fanshawe - a multi-talented near-genius - who has disappeared leaving an unpublished body of work including novels, poems and plays. He has left instructions for his wife to show the work to his old friend and decide whether it should be published or not.

Our narrator delves into the work as well as memories of growing up together. Just as he agrees to write a biography of his missing friend and has become close to the missing man's wife, he receives a letter which sets him on a twin course - to track down his missing friend and to self destruct. Again the ending is unexpected.

In all three novels the main protagonist becomes isolated, loses himself, then fights to regain the life he had before he became embroiled in the 'case'.

One would have to be a literary expert and an expert on the writer, Paul Auster himself, to see all of the links and really understand what he was trying to say on a metaphysical level about writing and authorship and his own experience. In fact, Auster himself wrote some supplementary work to explain things because these were his first three publications, therefore presumably few people would really 'get' the personal references.

Literary and cultural references also abound but they're not much use if you don't recognise their meaning/intent.

Undoubtedly very clever - and I read each novel avidly, but was slightly disappointed in the sum of the parts because too much was left obscured for me to get a firm grip of 'what it was all about'! I've looked at a couple of critiques since finishing the Trilogy and understand a bit more but it was more complex than I really want to get into at the moment. I'll go back to Auster though at some point as I was left sufficiently intrigued.

95connie53
Nov 17, 2017, 1:25pm Top

Congrats on reaching your goal, Donna.



I read the story of your terrible month and think you absolutely deserve a very nice rest of the year, and tea and scones!

96floremolla
Nov 17, 2017, 5:52pm Top

>95 connie53: thanks, Connie! :))

97detailmuse
Nov 19, 2017, 5:55pm Top

>94 floremolla: Paul Auster! I too "read {him} avidly, but was slightly disappointed in the sum of the parts." I first encountered him in The Red Notebook's stories about coincidences (which fascinate me), which I later discovered were fiction (maybe) but which, now knowing a bit more about what he pulls from his life, I think are actually memoir-ish. Then I've liked a couple of his memoirs. I've had The New York Trilogy in my wishlist for years and now I'm ordering it, thanks!

98floremolla
Nov 19, 2017, 7:09pm Top

>97 detailmuse: looks like we think alike on Auster - difficult to summarise or analyse NY Trilogy succinctly, there are so many layers and allusions to literature and things from his personal life...red notebooks, women based on his Norwegian wife. I like a puzzle but I'm trying to get through some more books before the end of the year so will have to put Auster aside for now and come back to him next year - I have Leviathan and I'd like to get 4321.

Look forward to hearing what you think of NY Trilogy - I read this article afterwards and realised how much I'd missed!...http://www.bluecricket.com/auster/articles/dawson.html

99floremolla
Nov 20, 2017, 2:02pm Top

Veronika Decides to Die Non-ROOT completed

Slovenian Veronika has just tried to commit suicide with a pile of pills when she is struck by a newspaper article that asks 'Where is Slovenia'? She thinks of the obscurity of her life and her country as she drifts off into unconsciousness. When she wakes she's in a psychiatric hospital.

Veronika's doctor tells her that, unfortunately, the pills have damaged her heart and she has only a week or so to live. She spends the next few days getting to know fellow patients and considering life versus death. A group of patients called 'The Fraternity' include a depressive, a schizophrenic and a woman suffering from panic attacks - they could have left the hospital years ago but prefer to be 'mad' among the 'mad people' than be 'mad' among the 'normal people' outside. But Veronika's plight, and lack of a future, cause them all to take stock.

Paolo Coelho's book is partly based on his own experiences of mental illness in his youth - a chapter about Eduardo, the schizophrenic, is set in Brasilia and may be based on his own story - but, despite that, unfortunately this book left me cold and I didn't feel any empathy with the patients. The story is so contrived it reads almost like a fable rather than a novel, but on the other hand it takes regrettable liberties with untruths about mental illness - that people 'choose' to be mentally ill as an 'easy option'. Or that schizophrenics are 'incapable' of tenderness or love.

And then there's the implication that finding God is integral to getting better, which perhaps in religious cultures like Slovenia(?) or Coelho's native Brazil, is believable, but jarred with me.

The writing - or perhaps the translation from the Portuguese - is very flat and dull. Surprising therefore that this novel is on the 1001 BYMRBYD list, along with Coelho's The Devil and Miss Prym (which I will read but don't relish the thought).

100Jackie_K
Nov 20, 2017, 3:50pm Top

>99 floremolla: That sounds like such an interesting book, but as soon as I realised it was by Paulo Coelho all interest disappeared I'm afraid - I've hated everything of his I've read (most especially The Pilgrimage, about the Camino de Santiago, which is possibly my most loathed book ever - I wanted to fling it against the wall!). And your reaction (contrived fable, especially, and dull writing) really resonated with what I felt about The Alchemist. I've honestly never understood what the fuss is about with him, I think he's really over-rated.

101tess_schoolmarm
Nov 20, 2017, 4:04pm Top

>99 floremolla: One of the one's I probably will not read BID! (before I die~)

102floremolla
Edited: Nov 20, 2017, 5:21pm Top

>100 Jackie_K: >101 tess_schoolmarm: oh good, it's not just me then? Such an interesting premise for a novel and there's a twist in the tale but it felt like such a slog. I wonder sometimes whether cultural differences are to blame for lack of appreciation where, obviously, a lot of people have loved his work. Hey ho, you win some, you lose some, and this one was lost on me.

103sibyx
Nov 21, 2017, 8:56am Top

So relieved to hear none of you care for Coelho. I have been curious what the appeal is after reading a few pages in an airport "book" store and thought nunh unh.

104floremolla
Nov 21, 2017, 12:45pm Top

>103 sibyx: thanks for popping by and confirming it's Coelho, not me!

105floremolla
Edited: Nov 21, 2017, 12:54pm Top

The Country Girls Non-ROOT completed

Caithleen and Baba have been friends since childhood. When clever Cait wins a scholarship to study at a convent, spoilt Baba must come too. Cait has come from a troubled family where her drunkard farmer father regularly leaves her and her mother penniless while he goes on a binge. Baba's dad is the local vet and when Cait needs a place to stay, he and his wife take her in. Baba is both best friend and latent enemy, with a strong compulsion to humiliate Cait at any opportunity. Actually, she's a selfish little Madame and not very nice to anyone.

As if having come from a difficult home life wasn't enough for Cait, convent school proves a trying experience and it's not long before Baba's mischievous ways are making trouble for both girls.

This is a gentle and beautifully told tale of growing up in rural Ireland, a coming-of-age that is in danger of arriving too quickly and, eventually, the spreading of wings from a dingy bedsit in the city of Dublin.

Edna O'Brien paints a vivid picture of life on a poverty-stricken but beloved farm, from the minute details of items in the kitchen recalled by Cait, to the interaction of the girl with local worthies and ne'er-do-wells in the village.

It's clear by the time she's fourteen that Cait will become an attractive young woman, and when an older man, a married Frenchman settled locally - affectionately nick-named Mr Gentleman for his beautiful manners - takes a romantic interest in her, she can envisage no other lover but him.

This was an enjoyable, undemanding read, with a bit of grit as well as romance - although the age difference between Cait and Mr Gentlemen made that relationship a bit questionable. Hard to say whether it would have been fine back in the late fifties/early sixties - I suspect not - but it appeared anything could be overlooked if the man had status and money.

The story is satisfyingly dramatic and at times gently comedic. O'Brien's characters are well drawn, even minor players, and Cait as narrator is a storyteller who is alternately charmingly naive and starkly open about her transgressions and romantic aspirations.

This fairly short novel is included on the 1001 BYMRBYD list, as is the sequel, The Girl with Green Eyes (also published as The Lonely Girl) - both are part of The Country Girls Trilogy. I'm looking forward to completing the Trilogy and its Epilogue.

106floremolla
Nov 23, 2017, 7:52am Top

The Hundred Year Old Man... completed

Allan Karlsson takes leave of his elderly care home minutes before his hundredth birthday party and embarks on an adventure that sees him make enemies, meet new friends and hit the news headlines for all the wrong reasons.

As soon as I heard the jaunty tones of the narrator of this audiobook I thought I wouldn't enjoy it - I don't do jaunty and try to avoid twee, so was at a loss as to why I'd downloaded it in the first place. But I was determined to listen as it was only 11 hours or so - fortunately it grew on me and soon I was chuckling at Allan's antics and realising that it was as much about dark humour as light comedy.

As Allan's escape takes on epic proportions and bodies start piling up, the chapters are interspersed with details of Allan's 'biography' from birth to care home, via amusing stories where, through his expertise with explosives, he meets key world leaders, plays a part in major world events and gifts the atomic bomb to the world by being unable to keep his mouth shut while serving coffee to President Harry S Truman.

As well as being amusing set pieces in their own right, these stories ultimately lead to the resolution of the novel as Allan calls in favours from unlikely sources. This was good light entertainment on a few longish car journeys.

107connie53
Nov 24, 2017, 11:01am Top

>106 floremolla: I really need to read that book too. My brother loved it and now you say it's a nice read, I will put it on the TBR for next year (planning for the ROOTs of 2018)

108Jackie_K
Nov 24, 2017, 2:32pm Top

>106 floremolla: I really enjoyed it when I read it. It is quite silly, but several places in the biography/history bits made me laugh out loud (I remember the bit with the young Kim Jong-il especially), and even the gruesome bits were quite funny (I don't do gruesome!).

109floremolla
Nov 26, 2017, 8:51am Top

The Lonely Girl Non-ROOT completed

Also published as The Girl With Green Eyes, this is the sequel to The Country Girls and Edna O'Brien's main protagonist, Caithleen - a charmingly gawky and romantic young girl in the first novel, is now twenty-one. She still shares a room in Dublin with her childhood friend, the 'fast' and lippy, Baba, and works in a small shop.

In almost a reprise of the first novel, she falls in love with an older married man, Eugene, who also happens to be of foreign extraction - his wife has left him and, being a writer, he works from home, where he's become something of a recluse. Caithleen decides to get him interested in her and pursues him till they're having an innocent relationship - then he invites her to stay the night at his home in the country...

Caithleen's Catholic upbringing clashes with the loosening moral standards of the late fifties/early sixties as she battles with her conscience over intimacy with a still-married man. To make matters worse, an unknown poison pen writer has sent letters to her father, parish priest and basically everyone who knows her, telling them she's a shameless slut. It's not long before a posse led by her father is hounding her to come home, and Eugene, a man of the world, is wondering what he's let himself in for.

I enjoyed this novel a little less than the previous one because it dealt mainly with the interminable ups and downs of the romance between Caithleen and Eugene and Caithleen's constant self-doubt that manifested itself in petty outbursts or dashing off - part of me wanted to slap her for being such a wimp but another part of me remembered what it was like at that age to feel inadequate and unsophisticated compared with other women.

110floremolla
Edited: Nov 27, 2017, 11:29am Top

The Children Act Non-ROOT completed

Fiona Maye is a Family Law Judge in London, sitting in judgement of some of the most important and groundbreaking cases in the country. Ian McEwan's novel opens with Fiona under a deadline to finalise her written judgement on a recent case so that it can be properly recorded in the annals of English law and simultaneously trying to process a row she's had with her husband of thirty-five years. Jack wants her permission to have an affair with a much younger colleague.

Fiona has lambasted him and threatened she will leave him if he dares do such a thing and she is still rankling when she completes her judgement and is called to give a ruling on an urgent case. A young man - a Jehovah's Witness - has refused a possibly life-saving blood transfusion on religious grounds, but at 17 and nine months, he is three months below the legal age of making decisions on his own welfare. His parents support him in his decision.

Fiona - known for cool-headedness and detachment - makes an impulsive decision to visit the boy and interview him herself. This sets in train a series of events that lead her to examine her culpability in both the failure of her marriage and in a dreadful tragedy.

McEwan does an excellent job of setting the legal scene with case after case being summarised, highlighting the tricky issues Fiona deals with day-to-day but also underscoring that with the relevant case law that backs up her decisions.

We also get glimpses of the rarified atmosphere of the social life surrounding the upper echelons of the legal establishment - the use of an exclusive hotel for meals and meetings of judges and other high-flyers; Fiona's performance at a Chamber's event where she plays piano to accompany a barrister singing opera.

Fiona isn't a typical woman - she is career-oriented, rational and cool-headed, traits more often associated with men (though clearly not exclusive to them) - perhaps this is why McEwan has written her so convincingly. Having said that, her worry about how she would ever cope with a new man in her life seeing her naked at 59 was one of many small female-fretting details that rang true.

As always McEwan has written a story that grabbed my interest from the beginning, raised the tension steadily as it progressed and came to a satisfying conclusion. And all with pertinent contemporary social comment thrown in. Not his very best book but well worthy of his admirable body of work.

111sibyx
Nov 29, 2017, 7:56am Top

Drat! You got me with the Crimson Petal!

Hooray for Tom Jones one of my favourite books!

I love your reviews!

112detailmuse
Nov 29, 2017, 12:35pm Top

>100 Jackie_K: as soon as I realised it was by Paulo Coelho all interest disappeared
DITTO! Done with him after just The Alchemist.

>98 floremolla: thanks, I favorited your post so I can find the article after I read New York Trilogy.

>106 floremolla: I first heard of The 100 Year Old Man via Andrew Luck, a football quarterback who encourages reading and is nicknamed the team's librarian. Your review is as I've anticipated my experience will be ... still I think I will acquire it this year so I can count it as a Root next year!

113floremolla
Edited: Dec 2, 2017, 3:28am Top

>111 sibyx: I hope you enjoy the Crimson Petal as much as I did! As I mentioned, the ending is not neatly tied up. There's a sequel of sorts called The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories wherein Michel Faber develops further the stories of some of the best characters. On my list for 2018!

I was stripping varnish from a floor while listening to Tom Jones and honestly, it got me through the tedium - I alternated between chuckling and marvelling at how clever the writing was and how astute Fielding's observations were - and how little the human condition has changed since the 1740s!

>112 detailmuse: hope you like Auster's Trilogy - it was very readable and I was always keen to get back to the stories, but always aware I didn't have the full picture and Auster was saying more than I was understanding!

The 100 Year Old Man... was much more straightforward! I'm lining up some good ROOTs for 2018 too but trying not to forget the ones that have been languishing for (whisper it) decades.

114floremolla
Dec 5, 2017, 8:17am Top

A Clockwork Orange Non-ROOT completed

15 year old Alex is leader of a small gang in a dystopian future where governments are so focused on strategic issues, like the space-race, that they've abandoned the streets to a dog-eat-dog culture where older people, children and women live in fear of gangs of juvenile delinquents who assault, rob, rape and murder - as much for 'entertainment' and to fill their pockets.

The violent action in Anthony Burgess's novel takes off almost immediately as the gang get dressed in their distinctive clothing - their unique identity being an important aspect of their culture - they get stoked up on drugs disguised as milk, prime some older women to provide alibis and head out to commit atrocious assaults on vulnerable targets.

Tensions arise in the gang when Alex attacks one of its members and the gang's violence escalates beyond what even Alex envisages - the consequences propel Alex into custody and later into a role as political pawn when he is used as a guinea pig for a new radical treatment for violent offenders.

A Clockwork Orange is famous for 'nadsat', the patois spoken by the gangs, and for coining the term 'ultra-violence'. I soon got used to the nadsat words - drools, vecks, rookers, viddy, etc - used copiously in the violent early half of the book but less so in the second, less violent half. I thought these might have acted as a 'screen' against some of the worst of the violence - that if you didn't know what being 'tolchoked in the litso' meant, it wouldn't seem as bad - but for me, it only seemed to add to the menace, and highlight the disconnect between the gangs and the ordinary citizens and was an aspect of the general breakdown of society.

Alex narrates his own story as 'your humble narrator' of course, he's anything but humble. He comes across as a sadistic sociopath, his one love being classical music, particularly Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and one can imagine him perpetrating ultra-violence with Ode to Joy clashing away in the background.

It was a clever and ironic premise to have Alex's emotions subverted by experimental reform treatment to the extent he can't even listen to his beloved music without being physically sick. And then for people with anti-government political aspirations to demand the reinstatement of his emotions, including his violent tendencies, on human rights grounds. It presented interesting ethical dilemmas - how far do you go to preserve human rights, and how far are people prepared to go for political ends?

The ending was interesting too (the one Burgess intended, not the edited version in The American edition, or Stanley Kubrick's movie). Alex becomes interested in the adult world of relationships and earning a living, and it seems as if governments are beginning to address the issues on the streets. As always though, in dystopian tales, there are new gangs waiting in the wings to perpetuate the horrors and Alex speculates that his own children will be as bad as he was
.

115floremolla
Dec 5, 2017, 8:34am Top

Being on my 90th book this year, I'm keen to try to get the total to 100. I've still got my sights set on The Highland Clearances, which will be a slow read, and Thérèse Raquin, in French, which will be even slower, and 28 hours of David Copperfield on audiobook. So the other 7 will have to be very, very short indeed...

116Jackie_K
Dec 5, 2017, 10:25am Top

>114 floremolla: Bizarrely, given that it's not my kind of book at all, and we have such different tastes, A Clockwork Orange was one of the few books that both my husband and I had a copy of when we got together and checked out each other's books! I read it when I was at school (not as a school set text, but our English teacher gave us a list of 100 important books, and I tried to read a lot of them, including this one), and agree, the violence and menace is so well-done, but it's very disturbing. In fact, I still remember (I haven't read it since school, so we're talking 30+ years ago) a passage where Alex is having some treatment where I felt physically sick. I haven't felt any great need to pick it up and reread it, and needless to say, there's no way in a million years I'd watch the film!

>115 floremolla: 100 books in a year would be so impressive! I hope you enjoy David Copperfield, it's by far my favourite of the Dickens I've read.

117tess_schoolmarm
Dec 5, 2017, 9:00pm Top

>114 floremolla: Hmmmm, I started that book and thought it bizarre. I put it back on the shelf where it's been for 30 years. Might have to take it out again and try it. I love David Copperfield, my 2nd most favorite Dickens; but Bleak House is my 1st.

118floremolla
Edited: Dec 6, 2017, 4:42am Top

>116 Jackie_K: it's a book that you feel you ought to have read because it's usually on those lists! Now that I've read it I can see that, as well as being unusual for its use of language, it introduces some interesting ethical topics and, like a lot of good fiction set in the future, takes existing aspects of our own society and magnifies them so that we can almost believe this could really happen.

>117 tess_schoolmarm: I decided not to waste time looking up words so as not to get bogged down - some editions come with a glossary apparently, mine didn't but I'm sure I could have found them online. As you read on, the meanings of the words become clear. I thought it was a worthwhile read.

>116 Jackie_K: >117 tess_schoolmarm: I'm listening to David Copperfield on audiobook, beautifully narrated by Nicholas Boulton. As an example of pure storytelling it must be hard to surpass - felt like I should be tucked up in bed with a mug of cocoa, savouring every word!

119tess_schoolmarm
Edited: Dec 6, 2017, 8:22am Top

>118 floremolla: Not read Copperfield in about 20 years. I think a re-read is in order!

120karenmarie
Dec 6, 2017, 6:15pm Top

Hi Donna!

Yikes, didn't realize I hadn't posted over here in a while.

Good luck on getting to 100. I'm doing the same, needing a few more and am shameless reading short books to get there. Books is books, long or short, and all count. *smile*

I read A Clockwork Orange in college. I hated it because I couldn't get past the language. I might like it more now, but now I have the visions of the Kubrick film although I've never seen it.

121floremolla
Dec 6, 2017, 7:18pm Top

Hi Karen, nice to see you here!

I know what you mean about the Kubrick film, I've only seen short clips and didn't like the look of it - the droogs are so menacing.

Yes, I'm targeting the shorter books too *smiles back* - and not many ROOTs so far but they're future ROOTs if I don't deal with them now!

122floremolla
Dec 7, 2017, 10:00am Top

To The Wedding Non-ROOT completed

The non-linear storyline of John Berger's novel reveals itself slowly as two estranged parents, Jean and Zdena, make their way from different parts of Europe to attend their daughter's wedding in Italy. The descriptions of the travels and thoughts of the two are interspersed with passages narrated by their daughter, Ninon, and her fiancé, Gino, whom she met after a brief affair with an itinerant worker who turned out to have escaped from jail.

The story is wrapped in another layer, it's introduced by a blind Greek man, a seller of 'tamas', little metal tags that represent prayer wishes. One day Jean asks what he can give him for his daughter who is dying and cannot be cured. The Greek is touched when he hears the daughter's voice shortly afterwards, mentioning 'my wedding, the one that didn't happen'.

This novel is simply but beautifully written; slow paced, the journey of the parents is played out against the poignant backdrop of Ninon's (hi)story - two loving parents who stopped loving each other, a happy enough childhood, a future blighted by a moment's carelessness. And the redeeming power of love.

The role of the omniscient Greek narrator is interesting. I wondered if the wedding had never happened but he had made a story in his head of what might have been, like a Greek tragedy. But that's not really important, it's about voices being heard - the people whose lives have been impacted by AIDS.

In portraying one person's story against a backdrop of countries in the continent of Europe, with references to its history, politics and ancient culture, Berger puts AIDS into a kind of context of the development of humankind. There will always be death, and there will always be grief, and you can lie down to it, or you keep going forward as long as you can. The wedding, traditionally a symbol of hopes for a 'long and happy future together' for the couple, becomes instead a symbol of triumph of hope over fear, and maybe even over death itself.

123Jackie_K
Dec 7, 2017, 10:07am Top

>122 floremolla: That sounds wonderful, I've added it to my wishlist!

Hope things aren't too blowy where you are! It's not been too bad here - not loads of rain, a bit of wind but nothing terrible, although the wind seems to be picking up a bit now. I'm glad I don't live further north, it sounds like they're getting a bit of a battering!

124floremolla
Dec 7, 2017, 1:49pm Top

Hi Jackie! It's been wet, windy and cold - there was thunder and lightening briefly and it's sleeting. We were going to go to see Murder on the Orient Express this afternoon but instead had a nap after a hot lunch! *feeling the hygge* :)

125tess_schoolmarm
Dec 9, 2017, 5:15pm Top

>122 floremolla: sounds like a wonderful read, on my wishlist it goes! We have our first snow today--about 1 inch so far.

126connie53
Dec 10, 2017, 2:59pm Top

>125 tess_schoolmarm: We did too, but now it has all melted away and it's raining and a storm is raging. Tomorrow will be even worse!

127floremolla
Dec 11, 2017, 4:13am Top

Sound like it's cold all over! It's very cold here - the garden is white with several days' layers of frost - and snow is forecast during the week. My back is playing up again so we stayed home yesterday and got into the festive spirit with some music, mincepies and a Christmassy movie. I could do more of that. :)

128floremolla
Dec 12, 2017, 8:06am Top

The Devil and Miss Prym Non-ROOT completed

The third in Paulo Coelho's trilogy "And on the Seventh Day" (the others being Eleven Minutes and Veronika Decides to Die) this novel sees the small mountain town of Viscos visited by 'Evil' in the form of a stranger.

The stranger challenges the townspeople to carry out an evil deed and be rewarded in gold which will save the town from dying through lack of population and investment. The 'Eve' to the stranger's 'Devil' is Ms Prym, a young, but down on her luck barmaid determined to thwart him. They engage in several theological/philosophical discussions about 'Good' and 'Evil' while the townsfolk consider who among them should be sacrificed for the greater good.

Being non-religious - and a non-believer in any kind of 'Devil', 'Devils' or 'Evil' as entities - this was never going to be a novel I was going to embrace fully but it worked for me as a 'parable'. It was a more interesting read than Veronika Decides to Die as it contained some interesting theories and discussions, and I had some sympathy for the characters of Miss Prym and the stranger.

Ironically the conclusion in the good versus evil debate was that it "was all a matter of control. And choice. Nothing more and nothing less." which I thought kind of negated the whole 'devils' thing.

129floremolla
Dec 14, 2017, 7:02am Top

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Non-ROOT completed

Another battle of 'good versus evil', this time not as entities in themselves but as facets of the same character (which seems more logical to me). Robert Louis Stevenson's short novel might be one of the most famous stories in British Literature, and often adapted for film - immediately one hears the title a scene springs to mind where the doctor has taken a potion and begins writhing and contorting into a snarling beast.

But that scene is a story within the story - the 'frame' story is actually about an amiable lawyer, Mr Utterson, who learns that his client Harry Jekyll has befriended a man of dubious character. He is concerned that this nasty piece of work is out to relieve Jekyll of his not inconsiderable fortune, perhaps even having designs on killing him, because Utterson, being Jekyll's lawyer, knows that his will is in Hyde's favour.

Utterson therefore takes it upon himself to confront Hyde and to warn Jekyll - neither of which goes well, and he is resigned to backing off. A year later, the brutal murder of a client, clearly seen by a witness, recalls Hyde to mind again. But even with Utterson aiding the police, Hyde still evades being tracked down. It's not until much later that Dr Jekyll's butler comes to Utterson in a state of panic and asks for his help that matters come to a head.

This is an excellent short novel. Atmospheric, tautly written, cleverly structured and such a ghastly but intriguing premise: what would it be like to separate our good selves from our baser selves - and which would win out in a battle for survival?

130floremolla
Dec 14, 2017, 7:05am Top

This brings my non-ROOTs reading to my goal of 30. More to come, though, ROOTs and non-ROOTs....

131karenmarie
Dec 14, 2017, 8:18am Top

Hi Donna!

>129 floremolla: Excellent review. I don't have The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for some strange reason, so will keep an eye out for it. Meanwhile, I've added it to my wishlist. Congrats on reaching your non-ROOTs goal.

132detailmuse
Dec 14, 2017, 11:06am Top

Donna, seconding Karen on the congrats and the excellent review! AND that I've never read (or seen the film of) Dr Jekyll... and that feels like something to remedy. Think I have to visit an actual bookstore though ... I want an edition from a legitimate publisher and online it's tough to wade through all the junk editions.

133floremolla
Dec 14, 2017, 5:21pm Top

>131 karenmarie: >132 detailmuse: hi, thank you both! Just started my next non-ROOT and what do you know, evil is lurking again...!

134karenmarie
Dec 14, 2017, 5:27pm Top

Go Donna!

135avanders
Dec 15, 2017, 9:48am Top

Oh... here's your continued thread!! Well, my sentiment in your other thread transfers ;)

136floremolla
Dec 16, 2017, 3:45pm Top

>134 karenmarie: thanks, Karen!

>135 avanders: nice to see you again, Aletheia!

137floremolla
Dec 16, 2017, 3:51pm Top

The Turn of the Screw Non-ROOT completed

This is another classic of gothic fiction, a novella by Henry James that has been much studied and adapted for film and stage.

It also begins with a framing device, in this case a group of people are gathered around a fire telling stories and the 'story within the story' becomes the main content of the book. The introductory part is short and we find ourselves reading a first account of the experience of an unnamed young woman who appears to have encountered and confronted evil.

She is cajoled by a handsome gentleman into becoming governess for the two young children of his deceased brother at his country home, Bly. There is one stipulation: she must never contact him on any matter, even regarding the welfare of the children.

Eight year old Flora is at home with the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, and sundry other servants when the governess arrives. Shortly afterwards her ten year old brother, Miles arrives unexpectedly - he has been expelled from school. The governess takes to the young children eagerly, finding them beautiful in appearance and angelic in nature. It's clear from her first person narrative that she is a romantic soul and she loves the children dearly.

Walking in the grounds one day she comes across an unknown man, seen at a distance, but still clearly seen. On telling Mrs Grose she finds her description matches that of Peter Quint, a manservant who was a favourite of the Master of Bly, but who died in what appeared to be an unfortunate accident. When the governess later sees a beautiful but haggard female in the gardens she learns that it may be her predecessor, Miss Jessel, also dead. Quint and Jessel had had some sort of scandalous intimate relationship and both had spent much time with the children.

Their new governess begins to wonder if the ghosts have come for the children and she is determined to stop them. But then she begins to notice the children's strange behaviour - they are falsely sweet to her. She realises they know more than they let on - she must confront the evil spirits by bringing the children 'back into the light', a decision that ends in tragedy.


This is the first of James's works I've read and I found his language a little difficult to follow in places, despite him having reviewed the document himself after initial publication and made 500 corrections. Even so, I still had to read some sentences a few times and wasn't sure what he meant at times. I didn't waste too much time angst-ing over it though and enjoyed the ever tighter winding of the tale - or the turning of the screw - and I liked that the author never responded to questions afterwards as to whether he intended the events had occurred as the governess described, or had been the hysterical psychological imaginings of an overwrought young woman.

A good gothic tale and a dramatic ending but the group being told the story by the fire were never mentioned again, which seemed a bit remiss.

138tess_schoolmarm
Dec 16, 2017, 3:57pm Top

>137 floremolla: That is on my TBR pile and I hope to get to it in 2018. Nice review!

139MissWatson
Dec 17, 2017, 8:14am Top

I read this a few years ago and found it extremely baffling.

140floremolla
Dec 17, 2017, 9:19am Top

>139 MissWatson: it's a lot of words for what is actually quite a slim tale, and I found his way of expressing it quite clumsy. He's given lots of room for for interpretation and I think, but can't be sure, that that was intentional. So don't worry about being baffled as there's plenty of scope for it!

141floremolla
Dec 19, 2017, 9:42pm Top

Dead Babies completed

Martin Amis's second novel chronicles a weekend in the lives of the bohemian residents (all in their young twenties) of Appleseed Rectory, together with their American visitors - and an unknown prankster named Johnny, who brings intrigue and fear to the proceedings.

The Rectory is owned by Giles, a wealthy but neurotic alcoholic with a phobia about losing his teeth. Rooms are occupied (on what tenancy basis it's not clear) by the elegantly handsome Quentin and his mousy wife Celia, tall, aggressive Andy and his unhappy girlfriend Diana, and the short and extremely ugly Keith. They are joined by Lucy - a 'good-time-girl' - and the three Americans, Marvell, Skip and Roxeanne, who are sexually a permanent threesome, but open to all and any permutations with other singles/couples of any persuasion.

Giles provides an endless supply of booze, while the others provide all recreational drugs known to man in the 1980s (although the book was published in 1975). The scene is set therefore for a drug and alcohol fuelled orgiastic weekend. In the group's limitless pursuit of hedonistic pleasures they fail to take cognisance of a threatening-sounding letter found by Diana, signalling the malign presence of Johnny.

As the novel progresses, tensions rise, the drugs induce paranoia and it's difficult to know what's real and imagined. Inevitably the weekend reaches a feverish climax where things take a darker turn and eventually Johnny is revealed.

Amis must have had fun writing this novel - the characters are so over the top and there are some genuinely very funny comments and set-pieces. There are no holds barred in what they will do for amusement. But there's extreme cruelty and violence too. Poor little Keith is treated abominably and Andy and Skip are horribly violent and brutal. Roxeanne is aggressively promiscuous and the envy of all of the other women, who are quite forgettable in comparison. In fact it all comes over as a clever bit of 'lad's lit' with the kind of language and grossness that implies. So, not for the faint-hearted then.

142karenmarie
Dec 20, 2017, 7:01am Top

Hi Donna!

>141 floremolla: Whew. I think I'll pass. I've never read anything by Amis but do have Night Train on my shelves.

143floremolla
Dec 20, 2017, 8:18am Top

>142 karenmarie: I’m not sure why this was on our shelves, or more accurately, our daughter’s shelves, but it is a ROOT and has been on the 1001 BYMRBYD list, which is why I read it!

144detailmuse
Dec 20, 2017, 9:50am Top

>141 floremolla: too much dark drama for me I think! Does the BYMRBYD give a reason why it includes each book?

145tess_schoolmarm
Dec 20, 2017, 10:12am Top

>141 floremolla: sounds absolutely horrid! That will be 1 of the books I do not read before I die!

146floremolla
Dec 20, 2017, 3:48pm Top

>144 detailmuse: this book isn't in the current edition of the book, but yes, the book does give a little summary which gives a flavour of why it's considered important to read.

>145 tess_schoolmarm: I think this book might appeal more to a younger/male demographic - there's a movie adaptation and I looked at the trailer; it was exactly the kind of loud, raucous, schlocky nonsense I wouldn't touch with a barge pole.

147connie53
Dec 24, 2017, 3:02am Top

Hi Donna, Happy Holidays!

148karenmarie
Dec 24, 2017, 8:29am Top

Hi Donna!



Stopping by to wish you and yours all good things this holiday season.

149floremolla
Edited: Dec 24, 2017, 8:27pm Top

>147 connie53: >148 karenmarie: Thank you both for the kind wishes. I haven’t had time to go round and wish everyone festive greetings individually - my husband’s been in hospital since the 15th (‘men’s problems’) and between a two hour round trip and spending two or three hours there, a big chunk of every day has gone. He got home on Saturday evening and I’ve spent today, Sunday, catching up on festive preparations - I’m hosting Christmas Day for our son, daughter and my parents, then Boxing Day for extended family. Seemed like a good idea at the time...

Reading has slowed to a stop though and I’ll need to find some short reads if I’m to reach my 100 book goal! Haven’t even put up a new thread yet for 2018. But all in good time, there’s a week to go.

In the meantime, happy Yule, Christmas, or holidays, to my LT friends and fellow ROOTers, hope it’s a lovely peaceful and relaxing day for you and yours.

150tess_schoolmarm
Dec 24, 2017, 9:32pm Top

>149 floremolla: I hope you find some "you" time in there, Donna. Happy holidays.

151rabbitprincess
Dec 24, 2017, 10:53pm Top

I'm sorry to hear your husband was in hospital but am glad he's home for Christmas. Hope you can find some relaxation for yourself among the festivities. Happy holidays!

152connie53
Dec 25, 2017, 3:25am Top

Hi Donna, I hope live will settle down in the last week of 2017 for you and you will have time to read a bit and relax. Sounds like you deserve that.

153floremolla
Dec 25, 2017, 4:36am Top

Thanks again, everyone! Yes I will get some 'me time', Tess - hoping to do some walking with my daughter, who is good company.

And I will find relaxation, RP - son and daughter will be helping out a bit more this year!

Whether life will settle down, Connie, remains to be seen. But LT is a little oasis of calm and encouragement and I'm so glad I found you all here! Happy holidays!

154Jackie_K
Dec 25, 2017, 10:32am Top

So sorry to hear your husband was in hospital, Donna, but glad he's back home in time for Christmas. I hope you're having a good day and that it's not too bonkers! Wishing you all the best for the rest of the year and all good things for 2018.

155floremolla
Dec 26, 2017, 6:44pm Top

Thanks, Jackie, that's very kind - we had a nice quiet day yesterday, but today was bonkers with twelve for a late lunch, including four over-excited nieces.

I hope your Christmas Day went as planned - it sounded very civilised! - and that 2018 is a great year for you and your family.

156floremolla
Edited: Dec 27, 2017, 3:38am Top

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch completed

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel is remarkable for the detail of its depiction of life in a Siberian labour camp in the 1950s, under Stalin. The day begins for the eponymous protagonist with his usual concerns, namely ensuring he gets at least his fair share of the meagre breakfast rations, and trying to mitigate against the extreme cold.

When he hears it's to be -30 degrees he attempts to report sick and have a day in the infirmary but finds that the quota of two sick prisoners per day has already been taken up. Returning to the bunk house he hides a piece of bread by surreptitiously sewing it into his mattress.

Shukhov, as he is called by his fellow zeks (prisoners) is one of the prison camp's smarter inmates. His 'crime', it transpires, was to be caught by the Germans during WWII and after his release fail to prove he wasn't a spy. Sentenced to ten years hard labour, we find that he is one of the luckier prisoners, because more recently the typical sentence has increased to 25 years.

The prison regime allows trusted inmates to be rewarded with promotions to roles as overseers and then there are 'squealers' who spy and report to the prison authorities. Shukhov must have his wits about him at all times otherwise he could be reported for a minor misdemeanour and find an extra ten years arbitrarily added to his sentence, which on this particular day only has two years left to run.

Fear of being reported however must be balanced with preserving his personal safety - violent personal attacks over minor disagreements are common and Shukhov must keep a low profile while still defending his own corner.

Various events throughout the day shed further light on the prison regime. Prisoners are sentenced to hard labour and for some this includes building a settlement in the frozen steppe land, toiling with frozen building materials in temperatures as low as -40. The practical difficulties of this must be overcome otherwise their team won't earn their rations for the next five days, thus they must pull together for their common good.

The prisoners are also subject to random rules and cruelties. Kept in groups of five for ease of counting, the authorities try to impose a rule whereby no prisoner should move around without the other four from his group - an arrangement soon revealed to be impracticable. A Sunday rest-day can be taken away for no apparent reason and every prisoner made to work - if there's no actual work, a meaningless task will be invented, usually outdoors in the cold.

Shukhov is shrewd and calculating, helping and rewarding others as an investment for future returns, but he is not unlikable - he is an innocent political prisoner who has to forget about everything but survival, on a personal level, and as part of his team. So entrenched is he, the thought of release is actually frightening, for former prisoners are sent into exile and he fears that may be worse than the niche he has carved for himself in this camp.

Based on Solzhenitsyn's own experience of eight years in a Siberian labour camp, this novel was the first widely published account (albeit fictional) of conditions in the gulag and the beginning of a successful writing career that saw him win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.

157floremolla
Dec 27, 2017, 5:16am Top

The Little Prince Non-ROOT completed

Included in the 1001 BYMRBYD list, this novella is a whimsical tale narrated by a pilot-aviator, based on the author himself, stranded in the desert when his plane breaks down.

A golden-haired child with a golden scarf and a tinkling laugh appears beside him and asks him to draw him a little lamb. The aviator has previously explained that his drawing skills are so lacking, he hasn't drawn since he was a child, but nevertheless he tries. With each attempt the child is not satisfied, until the aviator draws a box and tells him there is a small lamb inside. The child is delighted and tells him this lamb is perfect.

The reader knows by now that this is going to be an ethereal story - and so it it transpires - where interplanetary travel is possible by riding a flight of birds, and flowers and animals communicate with aliens.

The child recounts the tale of his journey to earth from his own planet, where he, the only inhabitant, is a little prince. It's a tiny planet (the size of a room) with three volcanoes, a single flower and invasive baobab seedlings which have to be weeded regularly to ensure they don't take over. He tells of his mixed feelings about leaving a rose he found annoying because of her capricious behaviour but still loved and wanted to protect.

This classic story can be read just as an imaginative children's story, but the author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, intended it to be a multi-layered philosophical tale with observations on the cynical and materialistic world of grown-ups, seen through the eyes of a simple child. It also offers insights into human relationships (love, loss and loneliness) and on what is important in life - the ephemeral things, like time invested in caring for someone, the simple pleasures of anticipation and enjoyment, and memories of those we have loved.

"One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye." A beautiful and tender story, I wish I'd read much sooner.

158detailmuse
Dec 27, 2017, 9:19am Top

Donna that was a long hospital stay for your husband (and you), so glad he's home. Wonderful reviews about good books (neither of which I've read but I've wanted to) and I'm especially happy that you're in a place where you can give the time and mind to reading and writing.

159floremolla
Dec 27, 2017, 5:37pm Top

>158 detailmuse: thanks MJ, it was a worrying time but things have settled now thank goodness and, yes, it's a relief to be back in reading and writing mode!

160karenmarie
Dec 27, 2017, 6:28pm Top

Hi Donna!

I'm sorry to hear that your husband was in the hospital, glad he's home, glad things have settled down.

Yay reading. I might need to re-read The Little Prince in 2018.

161floremolla
Dec 27, 2017, 7:47pm Top

Thanks Karen!

162avanders
Dec 28, 2017, 1:06am Top

Hi Donna! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas & Happy New Year!

163floremolla
Dec 28, 2017, 8:00pm Top

Thanks, Aletheia, it's been a very nice festive season so far, and I hope you're finding the same with your additional little reveller this year!

164floremolla
Dec 28, 2017, 8:11pm Top

The Death of Ivan Ilyich Non-ROOT completed

A few other ROOTers have mentioned this novella by Leo Tolstoy as one that can be read in a day, and since it's on the 1001 BYMRBYD list I thought I'd include it in my efforts to reach 100 books read in 2017.

Ivan Ilyich has just died and already his colleagues in the Department of Justice are calculating the potential benefit to themselves, or members of their families, that the vacant post could offer. Of course, no one actually says anything, but the cogs of their minds are all working furiously on this matter.

When one of them, Peter Ivanovich, goes to offer his condolences to the widow, Tolstoy's satirical intentions with this book become even more apparent. There is a comical scene where Ivanovich, keen to seem solicitous to the widow, rises from a pouffe to help her free her garment which has caught in a table corner and the pouffe takes on a life of its own, propelling him forward with unseemly force into a funny little scene.

The widow shows her true colours when she laments the illness and final passing of her husband in terms of their effects on herself, although it's clear her poor husband died in agony.

Tolstoy then takes us on a journey back to Ivan Ilyich's modest childhood: his hunger for status, his advantageous though rocky marriage, his rise through the ranks of the Justice Department courtesy of an 'old boys network' that sees him frog-leap over his senior colleagues, and his efforts to conform to the shallow materialistic norms of the Muscovite bourgeoisie.

When he injures his side putting up curtains in the family's desirable residence, it proves to be a fatal injury. As Ivan Ilyich exhausts all possible medical advice and assistance, and succumbs to severe pain and feebleness, he wonders what he has done in his 'blameless' life to deserve such torture and sees it as a judgement on his life choices.

He rallies enough to recognise that his wife and children are being inconvenienced by his condition and it might be better if he were dead - in fact his wife and daughter can barely disguise their annoyance - and longs to be treated with tenderness, which comes only from a lowly servant, and latterly, his schoolboy son. It's not until the very end of his suffering that Ivan Ilyich accepts death.

For a short book there is a wealth of social comment in this tale, much of it still in evidence in modern western society - the ups and downs of marital relationships linked to income and social mobility; people saying one thing and meaning another, or lying for the sake of appearances; the lust for material displays of wealth to establish one's status; and Man's belief that he has dominion over everything, including death. It's very telling that the only people with compassion are the lowly peasant and the half-formed youth, neither contaminated by bourgoise values.

This is a book that makes you stop and think 'if I were to look back over my life at its end, what might I regret?'.

165floremolla
Dec 29, 2017, 1:02pm Top

David Copperfield completed

Another chunkster from Dickens that I won't try to summarise! Suffice to say that young David Copperfield is born into unfortunate circumstances, treated abominably by his step-father and his step-aunt, the Murdstones, and runs away to his Aunt, Betsey Trotwood.

Narrated by Copperfield, now a successful novelist looking back over his life, we follow Davy through the trials and tribulations of school and growing up. Dickens' clever writing lets us see what the child and young adult can't - the machinations of people who are not what they seem.

Dickens' characterisations are hard to beat and in this novel we meet many whose names are familiar through common usage - Mr Micawber, Uriah Heep, Peggotty - and quickly work out who is and isn't to be trusted by the vivid descriptions.

Davy is supposedly based on Dickens' own life and perhaps that's why he is a flawed but likeable character. The characters' actions drive the narrative and our hero is not blameless in the various tragedies that befall some of his most dearly loved friends.

Almost lost within all the drama and the multitude of characters, there is some beautiful writing, often when Davy is in pensive mood, and I must confess to blubbing when one character beseeches the husband she has wronged:

"Oh, take me to your heart, my husband, for my love was founded on a rock, and it endures!". Gulp.

As expected with Dickens, the multifarious strands of the novel are neatly tied up at the end and, generally speaking, good people are rewarded and the baddies are punished (a notable exception being the Murdstones).

If I had any criticism it would be that some scenes went on too long and some characters were overly-repetitiously described, but in a work of such length and breadth these are paltry negative points and I shall miss the company of Davy, Agnes, Traddles, Peggotty and the redoubtable Betsey Trotwood.

I listened to this on audiobook, narrated beautifully by Nicholas Boulton.

166Jackie_K
Dec 29, 2017, 1:09pm Top

Oh I'm so glad you liked David Copperfield! The bit that makes me cry every time is when Dora dies. That whole chapter has me in a blubbering, whimpering mess!

167rabbitprincess
Dec 29, 2017, 1:18pm Top

I quite enjoyed David Copperfield as well!

168detailmuse
Dec 29, 2017, 2:23pm Top

Wow Donna you are finishing with some outstanding classics!

I shall miss the company of ...
This is such a tribute and says it all :)

169floremolla
Dec 29, 2017, 2:38pm Top

>166 Jackie_K: oh, yes, that was unbearably sad! Dickens writes with such tenderness on such things you fell he must have lived it.

170floremolla
Dec 29, 2017, 2:40pm Top

>167 rabbitprincess: I know there are some who don't like Dickens' work at all but I become more of a fan with each novel I read. :)

171floremolla
Dec 29, 2017, 2:48pm Top

>168 detailmuse: I'm trying to make up for years of hardly reading, preceded by years of reading the latest pot-boiler, and get some classics under my belt! But I still like to read something lighter every so often - must remember to plan that in for next year or I will disappear under the weight of my emotions!

172floremolla
Dec 31, 2017, 4:49am Top

Therese Raquin Non-ROOT completed

I acquired the French version of this novel by Emile Zola and intended to read it side by side with an English language ebook edition, but the introductory chapter was so strewn with unfamiliar antiquated terminology I soon gave up and focused on the ebook for the sake of finishing by the year-end.

Remarkable for being an early example of the psychological thriller genre, the novel follows the eponymous heroine's life from her repressed childhood living with her aunt and feeble-bodied cousin, Camille, through her marriage to Camille to please her aunt, and then her illicit relationship with the brutish Laurent - who so desires her he is prepared to murder Camille.

That he does so is not a spoiler - this is not a whodunnit or even a whydunnit, but a close and detailed exploration of the psychological and physical effects on the perpetrators of carrying out such a heinous crime.

Over a period of years, they are first stunned, then their passions are dulled, then reawakened, then they are frightened and believe the only thing that will ease their worried minds is to get married and face the night terrors together. Not that this helps, because there are now three people in this marriage and one of them is the spectre of a bloated corpse.

Zola makes the most of Camille as a malign presence in the couple's lives - but a bit too much for me as I found the descriptions of the water bloated body and the overwrought reactions of the couple wearing, they went on so long and ran the gamut of every hysterical behaviour imaginable - violence, debauchery, and inevitably a return to murder. There could only be one ending.

This was not a style of writing I enjoyed. The descriptions were repetitive, the language was clunky - perhaps down to poor translation from French to English, but I often felt the wrong words were used - "the impotent old woman" for example should have been better as "helpless".

I also raised my eyebrows a few times at some sexist remarks about only women being "inquisitive and talkative" and Camille being frightened of deep water as only "women and girls" are.....at one point Laurent even becomes a better artist because he becomes "more womanly". And reference to the aunt being "an old lady...about sixty" struck me as being anachronistic in these days when women are still active well beyond that age, but I guess sixty was old then!

All in all a disappointing read as I was expecting something more sophisticated and enjoyable.

173floremolla
Dec 31, 2017, 4:49am Top

That was my #99 for the year - one short book to go!

174rabbitprincess
Dec 31, 2017, 9:55am Top

>172 floremolla: It's possible that the translation might not have been up to par, especially if it was an older translation. I agree that "impotent" sounds like the wrong word! But as a former translator I can attest that sometimes the translation is only as good as the source material ;)

175floremolla
Dec 31, 2017, 10:45am Top

>174 rabbitprincess: coincidentally I had coffee this morning with a new neighbour, a French woman (though living in Scotland for over two decades) who translates for a living. She hadn't read the book but agreed it could either be the translator or the original antiquated language. C'est la vie!

176floremolla
Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 10:56am Top

Waiting for Godot completed

Act I. The setting is France, in the countryside; the year is unspecified, but it is winter as there is a leafless tree. Estragon and Vladimir, two men, are waiting for Godot, confused about when he is supposed to be coming. They chat about various matters, including the bible story about Jesus being crucified along with two thieves and one of the thieves being pardoned - they question why such an important story was only reported by one of the four apostles present.

At one point they briefly contemplate suicide by hanging themselves from the tree but it becomes a comical argument about who should go first, and why. Then Pozzo and Lucky come along - a master and his slave. Again they all chat and Lucky is ordered to perform, first to dance and then to think, which involves a vocal tirade of gobbledegook. When Pozzo and Lucky move on, a boy appears and tells the two men that Godot sends his apologies, he won't come today, but will come tomorrow. The two men continue waiting.

Act II. Next day, Estragon and Vladimir are back at the tree, which now has four of five leaves. They chat and decide to wait for Godot. Pozzo and Lucky reappear, the former now blind, the latter dumb. Pozzo doesn't recall having met the other two men the previous day. When Pozzo and Lucky move on, the boy reappears. The two men preempt his message that Godot is not coming, but will come tomorrow. The boy fails to recognise the two men from the previous day. When he leaves, they again contemplate hanging themselves from the tree but decide instead to come back tomorrow and wait for Godot.

This is a perplexing tale but of course it is meant to be allegorical, with the cast representing humankind. Despite several biblical allusions, and the Godot character's name being similar to 'God' and his role being to 'save' Estragon and Vladimir (in their minds anyway), the playwright, Samuel Becket, was adamant that if he'd meant Godot to be God, he would have said God, not Godot.

Some claim the play to be existentialist - a consideration of dependency on religious faith versus the human ability to choose one's fate. To be honest I'm none the wiser, even looking at the characters themselves, the dynamics between them, the differences and similarities, the stage directions, etc, but I'm intrigued enough I'd go to see it in a theatre, given the chance, and maybe gain some better insight from seeing it performed. Consequently my rating for this work reflects that I didn't hugely enjoy it rather than that it's not worthy.

177floremolla
Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 2:18pm Top

So, Waiting for Godot was a disappointing #100 on which to end my 2017 reading, but I'm still glad to have read it and to have met my extended goal.

End of Year Stats:

100 books read
65% ROOTs/35% Non-ROOTs
85% fiction/4% non-fiction/1% play
80% male author/20% female author
66% paperback/16% audiobook/10% ebook/8% hardback
74% books from the 1001 BYMRBYD list

3% x 2.5*
9% x 3*
13% x 3.5*
26% x 4*
20% x 4.5*
29% x 5*

Favourite paperback - Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Favourite audiobook - Underworld by Don DeLillo
Favourite ebook - The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Favourite hardback - Glencoe by John Prebble

Happy New Year to one and all, see you in 2018!

178karenmarie
Dec 31, 2017, 3:34pm Top

Hi Donna!

Congratulations on reaching 100! I want to re-read The Little Prince next year. So many books, so little time!



Peace, Health, and Happiness in 2018

179floremolla
Edited: Dec 31, 2017, 4:34pm Top

Thanks Karen! The Little Prince is a quick read but worth taking time to think about, I hope you like it.

Happy New Year to you too!

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