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


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Edited: Nov 13, 7:20pm Top

New thread, same goals

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*

Edited: Yesterday, 9:16am Top


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

Edited: Oct 26, 4:42am Top

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. Veronica 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. Down Under by Bill Bryson - 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 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

✔️= read

Sep 4, 12:50pm Top

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

Edited: Sep 4, 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 ;)

Sep 4, 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!

Sep 5, 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.

Edited: Sep 5, 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!

Sep 5, 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.

Sep 6, 10:37am Top

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

Sep 9, 4:38am Top

Found it! Happy New Thread.

Edited: Sep 9, 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!

Sep 9, 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!

Sep 9, 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.

Sep 9, 3:51pm Top

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

Edited: Sep 10, 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!

Edited: Sep 11, 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.

Sep 11, 4:54pm Top

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

Sep 11, 5:09pm Top

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

Sep 11, 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...

Sep 11, 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?

Sep 12, 5:20am Top

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

Edited: Sep 15, 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!

Sep 20, 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.

Sep 20, 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!).

Sep 21, 2:35pm Top

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

Edited: Sep 21, 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.

Sep 23, 2:51am Top

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

Sep 23, 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!

Sep 30, 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.

Sep 30, 9:31am Top

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

Sep 30, 9:57am Top

>30 floremolla: Great review, great topic!

Edited: Sep 30, 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!

Edited: Oct 28, 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.

Oct 4, 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.

Oct 4, 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.

Oct 4, 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!

Oct 10, 1:10pm Top

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

Oct 10, 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.

Oct 16, 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?)

Oct 16, 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!

Oct 16, 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.

Oct 16, 10:29am Top

Here's hoping it's hype then!

Oct 17, 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.

Oct 17, 4:43am Top

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

Oct 17, 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!

Oct 17, 3:06pm Top

Glad you were safe!

Oct 17, 6:47pm Top

Thanks Tess!

Edited: Oct 17, 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.

Oct 18, 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!


Oct 18, 7:23pm Top

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

Oct 19, 4:03am Top

Yes, that one cracked me up too!

Edited: Oct 24, 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.

Oct 24, 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 ;)

Oct 24, 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 :)

Edited: Oct 24, 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!

Oct 24, 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!

Oct 24, 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'!

Oct 25, 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!

Oct 25, 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!

Oct 26, 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!

Edited: Oct 27, 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.

Oct 28, 3:05pm Top

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

Oct 29, 8:05pm Top

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

Edited: Nov 2, 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...)

Nov 2, 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!

Nov 2, 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!

Nov 2, 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!

Nov 3, 5:24am Top

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

Nov 3, 3:13pm Top

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

Nov 3, 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!

Nov 4, 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.

Nov 5, 1:51am Top

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

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

Nov 5, 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! ;)

Nov 7, 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.

Nov 7, 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!

Nov 7, 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?

Nov 7, 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!

Nov 7, 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.

Edited: Nov 10, 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.

Nov 11, 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

Nov 11, 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!

Nov 11, 1:55pm Top

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

Nov 11, 3:15pm Top

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

Nov 13, 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.

Nov 14, 4:05am Top

Congratulations on reaching your goal, Donna!

Nov 14, 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!

Nov 14, 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!

Edited: Nov 14, 5:38pm Top

Congrats on reaching your goal.

Nov 15, 10:07am Top

gooooooooooal! Congratulations!

Nov 15, 10:58am Top

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

Nov 15, 6:19pm Top

Congrats on meeting your goal!

Nov 16, 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... :)

Edited: Nov 16, 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.

Yesterday, 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!

Yesterday, 5:52pm Top

>95 connie53: thanks, Connie! :))


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