Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Saddest Novel I Have Ever Read

This has to have been one of the saddest stories I have ever read.  The story is not Quasimodo’s it is la Esmeralda’s.  It is a story about an abducted child and a mother’s grief.  Quasimodo only really has a minor (but significant) role.
The best scene was when the recluse realised la Esmeralda was her child whilst holding her for the king's men to take her to be executed.  She then tries to hide her, but Esmeralda makes herself known when she thinks she hears Phoebus. No amount of begging will stop the king’s men from taking the ‘sorceress’ to be hung, it is heart wrenching.
The poet who I thought would become a major character was pretty much a redundant character but he saved the goat, so he was good for something.
Hugo was under pressure from his publisher to finish the novel, and this was evident in the writing ie he got on with the story.  A very dark novel but, I am really pleased I stuck it out and read it.  
Dr Jeckyll & Mr Hyde didn't take long to read at all, so I have now reached my target for the year, yippee!!  The story is told by two of Jeckyll's friends, and by a letter from Jeckyll to be read only upon his disappearance or death.
The novel explores the duality of man and that we all have this darker side.  This is evident is some people who have suffered a brain injury.  A darker side emerges - a temper, swearing, extreme moodiness etc.
Apart from a couple of specific events Hyde's depraved activities are only barely hinted at, we can only assume that he is visiting prositutes and opium dens.  Jeckyll desired to frequent these placed but the coventions of society restricted him - he has his respectability to maintain.  Now that Mr Hyde is unleashed he can run amok.  Hyde becomes the more dominant character, Jeckyll goes to bed and wakes up as his darker self.  It is only after the murder of an eminent man that Hyde shows a fear of the gallows and lets Jeckyll take the reins again - albeit briefly.
It's a very disconcerting read!
What am I reading next? Well, I'm half way through Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows.  Harry's annoying me slightly.  For all he's been through he's a bit dim sometimes, and even though he's been told Voldemort's name has been tabooed he still had to go and say it and now he's put himself and his friends in mortal danger. What an idiot!!
Adam Bede is my next Kindle read and I might try my new Stephen King tonight..........

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Bells! The Bells!

I've now read about half of The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, so I thought I'd better write some thoughts on it as I'm ploughing through this much quicker than I thought I would.

Hugo sets the scene with rather a lot of description with regards to the architectural history of Paris and it's surrounds, which is a bit distracting and takes from the flow of the story, rather like Moby Dick and Melville's encyclopedic descriptions, or even like reading about the list of building materials required to build the Ark in The Bible - BORING!! Though, he is rather cynical with regards to the restorations and improvements that have been made since the setting of the novel, he states that Paris of 1482 was made of stone, but Paris of the late 1800's is made of plaster.  However, his description of Quasimodo when he was crowned The Pope of Fools was excellent and I could totally visualise his one-eyed, bandy legged, hump backed ugliness. Quasimodo is about 20 at the time of reading, and has been flogged for being a bit of public nuisance - he tried to run off with Esmeralda.  The fact that he is deaf and he was tried by a deaf judge did not help his cause and his punishment was rather severe, but at the moment I don't feel too sorry for him as I'm not sure yet if he's misunderstood or is mischievous in a malicious way.

I do appreciate the English translations of the French (and Latin) quotations, though I can work out a few utilising my high school French but on the whole many authors do tend to take it for granted that you will understand what they are conveying by their use of these phrases (Maugham etc).

This is my first Victor Hugo novel, and I don't think it will put me off reading Les Miserables.  Thinking about it, his style rather reminds me a little of Thackery's Vanity Fair - it just has that touch of cynicism about it. I'm not loving this novel, but I'm not hating it either.

Last night I finished One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.  It was very good, and I watched the movie again.  It does portray the novel very well though there are differences, but it really does have an excellent cast who bring the characters to vivid life. But, I just can't really see Nurse Ratched as a villain - especially not after reading the book.  These men were mentally ill, and Nurse Ratched knows how important it is to keep routine and order.  McMurphy might be outrageous and supposedly heaps of fun, but it did result in deaths - including his own - and at the end of the novel there is a native American schizophrenic on the loose!!  The electric shock therapy and the lobotomies performed as routine are barbaric, hopefully things have improved since then - it's not something I know much about thank goodness!

So, now I'm reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which is the penultimate 1001 book for the year, I can't believe I'm actually going to make my target.  I've just got to get through The Lair of The White Worm and maybe do the last book on the Kindle - I've got plenty to chose from I've downloaded so many 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Write About What You Know?

Emma is a book I could read again.  I loved it!  I loved the character of Miss Bates, she was a wonderful gossip and always had far too much to say at once, she was hilarious. I was so pleased that everything worked out for Harriet in the end after all Emma’s ill guided meddling.  Although this was a comedy of errors, you weren’t treated like an idiot and it wasn’t taken too far.  Sometimes that can be really frustrating with some of these 19th Century characters (Jane Eyre).

All in all Emma was brilliant and I can only wonder at how long it has taken me to discover Jane Austen.  I would love to start another of her novels but I will wait for the New Year and theme it for book club. (I’ve started The Hunchback of Notre Dame instead.  The recording is awful however – very tinny – so not sure how it’ll go, it’s going to be hard work I think.)

One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest has been another really enjoyable read.  I’ve been reading it in bed and I’m finding that I don’t want to put it down each time I pick it up.  We all know the story so there’s no point repeating it, but it is very well written and I like the way it is narrated by Bromden, who claims that it is all true even if some of it didn’t happen!  Kesey did the night shift at a mental institution whilst doing his journalism studies so again it’s the old adage – write about what you know.  I’ll never make a writer – I don’t know anything and I have no imagination!!  Still, I think I have more enjoyment from reading books rather than trying my hand at writing.

Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker's The Lair of the White Worm is absolutely atrocious.  What a bad choice for my first Kindle read.  It’s badly written, the plot is boring and ridiculous and the dreadful over use of the word ‘nigger’ and the disrespect associated with it is quite distasteful.  The lack of consideration for another human being due to his colour even back then is quite alarming.  I’m constantly cringing as I’m reading, I will finish it though as I rarely give up on a book – but it is a close one!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Emma Is An Absolute Hoot!

Even though Emma wasn't meant to be a totally likeable character, I'm finding her hilarious.  She is such a meddler, and so firm in her convictions - but when found to be wrong she has perfect reasons for why she was misled. I’m quite impressed with Austen’s simple style, as most books written around this era (Emma was published in 1815) are quite convoluted and at times hard to read.  Austen’s style is no nonsense and very enjoyable, no wonder she is so popular – six of her novels are on the 1001 list.

I find it amazing that this was written nearly two hundred years ago.  But it also shows that we haven’t really changed that much during this time – we just know more.  I try to imagine Jane Austen sitting at a table or desk, candle fickering, scribbling away with a quill.  She is giving us a lovely insight into the views of people back then - the need to marry well, the class divide and the general discussions of the day.  As you can see, I am enjoying it immensely.

Nurse Ratched is another wonderful literary creation.  A devil in disguise – from the point of view of the mental patients anyway (I've yet to make up my mind!).  McMurphy has almost caused the staid nurse to totally loose it over his insistence that he be allowed to watch the world series in the afternoons when the TV is usually switched off. The other patients join in  his protest, even Chief Bromden – which is a another slip up on the chief’s part as he is supposed to be a deaf mute and shouldn’t really know what is going on.  He can’t help but do what McMurphy wants, but another part of him wishes that he would go away so that his ordered world would return to ‘normal’.  The doctors all think that McMurphy should be moved to ‘Disturbed’ but Nurse Ratched is biding her time and wants him to remain on her ward. 

I’m close to reaching my yearly target from the 1001 list and have just two more to read to the end of December.  I’m still thinking but these will probably be The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.  As for my other reads, I've downloaded so many to my kindle I don't know what to do first!  Though one thing of concern is that I am focusing on one list and I might be missing some really good reads from more recent lists so I might have to dip into these on and off.  I don't think I'll be missing too much as I am really enjoying the old classics, but you never know........

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What a Sad End!

The last few chapters of The Idiot were very sad indeed.  Prince Myshkin was forced to choose between Princess Myshkin’s youngest daughter Aglaya and the fallen woman Nastassya.  Bizarrely he chooses Nastassya even after all the trouble she has caused, and they plan their wedding. All seems to go to plan until the morning of the wedding when Nastassya falls back into the arms of Rogozhin.

Myshkin goes in search of them the next morning, and after several false leads he finds Rogozhin who takes him to  his home to show him Nastassya.  She is tucked up in bed as if asleep but Rogozhin confesses that he had stabbed her in the heart that night. The next morning the authorities find the two men, one in a fever and the other out of his mind.  Rogozhin is sentenced to 15 years in Siberia and Myshkin ends up in the Sanitorium he originally came from in Switzerland.

I listened to the last half an hour three times.  It was so sad and as I had got to know the characters so well I just didn’t want it to finish.

It was hard to find a new audio after that, nothing can really follow it – certainly not those that I have waiting to load up.  After much deliberation I have decided to stick with another classic and do ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen (my very first Austen!).

My physical read One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is very good and there are some very unusual illustrations throughout it by Ken Kesey.  McMurphy has spent his first day on the ward and has already worked out that Bromden is not a deaf mute.  It’s a shame that I have seen the movie a few times, as I would have liked to imagine the characters without the influence of the movie.  The characterisations however are pretty good.

I also read a very good short horror story by Robert Bloch in my lunch break called Return to the Sabbath.  It reminded me a little bit of Shadow of the Vampire whereby the actor chosen to play a movie part is practically the real deal.  But, what really got me was Bloch’s description of the character rising from the dead in the movie Return to the Sabbath where the actor was first discovered.  It really chilled me:

“The shadows fell back.  A figure rose out of the grave, and the face turned towards me………….It was the face of a child, I thought at first; no, not a child, but a man with a child’s soul.  The face of a poet, perhaps, unwrinkled and calm.  Long hair framed a high forehead; crescent eyebrows tilted over closed lids.  The nose and mouth were thin and finely chiseled.  Over the entire countenance was written an unearthly peace.  It was as though the man were in a sleep of somnambulism or catalepsy.  And then the face grew larger, the  moonlight brighter, and I saw – more.

The sharper light disclosed tiny touches of evil.  The thin lips were fretted, maggot-kissed.  The nose had crumbled at the nostrils.  The forehead was flaked with putrefaction, and the dark hair was dead, encrusted with slime.  There were shadows in the bony ridges beneath the closed eyes.  Even now, the skeletal arms were up, and bony fingers brushed at those dead pits as the rotted lids fluttered apart.  The eyes opened”....................

So descriptive, it gave me goosebumps! 

I finished The Half Blood Prince and it was really sad when Dumbledore was murdered.  I was going to leave The Deathly Hallows until next year but I couldn’t resist and have listened to about six chapters.  Poor Mad Eye and Hedwig have been killed already. That's a bit merciless J.K!

Anyway, I'd better get back to some more reading………. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ringing The Changes

Ringing the Changes was every bit as creepy as I had remembered it to be.  No need for blood and guts, or outright horror here.  This is subtle and claustrophobic.  You can imagine the constant tolling of the bells, the emptiness of the village as the inhabitants hide behind locked doors.  You feel the fear of the honeymooning couple as they walk down to the ocean in the dark only to find that it is no longer there.  You wonder about the drunken landlady of the hotel, and the story about her strange husband.  The only other guest staying at the hotel tells the new husband that he still has time to get his wife away before the bells stop ringing……… 

From the many stories of horror or supernatural that I read as a teenager only three have constantly remained with me:

Midnight Express by Alfred Noyes
No Living Man so Tall by Rosemary Timperley
Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman

I’ve just started One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  It is narrated by the Indian patient Bromden, and he introduces us to the ‘Acutes’, ‘Walking Chronics’, ‘Wheelers’ and ‘Vegetables’ within the ward.

The Ward is part of a well oiled machine which is headed up by the formidable Nurse Ratched (or Big Nurse as Bromden calls her). Randall P McMurphy (r.p.m.) has just entered the ward and is about to upset the machinations. I’ll write more on my thoughts on this once I have read some more.

In The Idiot Prince Myshkin has spent a rather distressing night with the tragic Hyppolite, and the other hangers-on in his entourage at a supposed party thrown for Myshkin.  He had asked Hyppolite to move into his villa so that he could see the trees instead of ‘The Wall’ (I can’t help but think of Shirley Valentine when I read of Hyppolite’s affinity with the Wall) which has been the view from Hyppolite’s sick bed. Hyppolite is in Consumption and says he only has a couple of weeks left to live.  He writes a farewell-cum-suicide note which he asks Myshkin to read aloud to his guests before daybreak.  The note is quite profound and thought provoking, and once Myshkin has finished reading it Hyppolite pulls out a gun and fires at his own temple.  The gun fails to go off, and he beomes a figure of fun as those who witnessed this action believe that he left the cap out on purpose. 

Myshkin is being pulled apart in many directions, but he still continues with his easy going kind hearted nature, though he has begun to lose patience with Lebedeff who has just told a roundabout story of how 400 Roubles have been stolen from him during the course of the night and he believes the thief to be one of the guests at the party - Ferdischenko.  This is possible because Ferdischenko told a story about how he stole money at the beginning of the novel and how he let a servant girl take the blame and even encouraged her to admit to the crime.  There are some really dark elements to this novel and they are threatening to overpower the Prince. 

Believe it or not I’m still listening to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, I’m just not enjoying this one as much so only listening to it on and off, but I’ll try and make an effort to finish it this week.  I’m also still reading The Lair of the White Worm on my Kindle.  It’s really not very good at all, which is disappointing as it is a Bram Stoker.  It’s just plain silly and not worth writing about at the moment.  But, I have had fun working out the bookmarking, highlights, clippings and background music on the Kindle.  I love new toys J

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What Would Jesus Not Do?

All the time I find co-incidences with my reading selection and Choke and The Idiot are no exception.  Both have a Christ-like theme.

Victor believes he may be the son of the Son of God in Choke.  He slowly comes round to the idea that he brings peace to the old people at the nursing home.  He believes he can perform the miracle that will save his ailing mother’s life.  But, Victor is brought back to reality when his mother dies and Nurse Paige, who was his biggest supporter turns out to be a lunatic! 

This novel is most definitely one of the strangest that I have read, but I loved it, and couldn’t put it down.  I loved the short snappy sentences, the scenarios and the characters.  This was genuinely funny and compulsive reading.

Prince Myshkin, The Idiot of Dostoyevsky’s novel is a Christ like character.  He is described as being fair (light) whilst his nemesis Rogozhin is dark and brooding.  The prince is prepared to marry a fallen woman, not because he loves her (as Rogozhin does) but because he wants to redeem her as she has suffered in the past.  His goodness is taken advantage of when he comes into an inheritance and he is hounded by fraudsters.

There is a lot of dialogue in this novel, and it is just wonderful to read, the Princess Myshkin has the best lines.  She is so funny but also very perceptive.

The thought of reading a Russian novel has always been a bit off putting to me, but I loved Crime and Punishment and I am enjoying this one even more. I guess I’ll have to move Anna Karenina up the list a bit – although a different author may not be as enjoyable…?

Anyway, some good news – Mary Danby’s 65 Great Tales of the Supernatural arrived (way ahead of schedule), and so I shall be reading Ringing the Changes tonight when I go to bed.  I did sneak a few pages in my lunch break but I decided that I need to get the full impact of it's creepiness closer to the witching hour. I hope it’s as good as I remember it!

So, my next 1001 read will be One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey and if you want to know what Jesus would not do, then you’ll have to grab a copy of Choke (and be prepared to be shocked!).