Monday, July 23, 2012

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy

I loved this rags to riches to rags story so much that it will definitely feature in my all time top ten favourite books.

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Michael Henchard, is a proud, stubborn and hot tempered man.  He reacts without proper thought to future consequences, and when he reaps the rewards of his actions he his quick to blame everyone but himself.  It is only towards the end of the novel that he realises he alone brought his fate down upon himself.

Henchard was not always the man that the people of Casterbridge knew him to be.  When he was 21, and in a drunken state, he sold his wife and child by auction at a county fair.  Devastated by his actions he swears off alcohol for the next 21 years and builds a new and productive life.  But, this is a story of secrets, and the biggest secret of all is that which is held by Michael Henchard’s wife, who returns to her husband 18 years after he sold her.

This novel highlights the status of women in society and what is considered to be proper and moral conduct.  A young woman who has had a love affair with Michael Henchard falls into disgrace when she moves to Casterbridge to demand that he marry her and restore her good name.  The lower class in this small community – who seem to have the highest morals of all - conspire to bring her down.

The idea of Henchard’s wife having lived with her ‘purchaser’ out of wedlock for 18 years would probably have scandalised 19th Century readers, and there are other far reaching effects on another character in the novel which I can’t mention without introducing a plot spoiler, and so will remain un-named.

There were no wasted elements here, it is so well plotted - every action has a negative reaction.  – you find yourself running through each cause and effect, tutting along the way and thinking ‘if only he hadn’t done this in chapter so and so, then that wouldn’t have happened in this chapter…..etc’

I read Hardy’s Tess a couple of years ago and found it very sad, although beautifully written.  The Mayor of Casterbridge is told in a more straight forward manner, but he still managed to make me cry at the end!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Shades of Blah!

I'm talking about the hype surrounding the E L James trilogy. I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey but hey, if there is a bandwagon lets jump on it.  I don't need to read this book to know it will be rubbish, those who know me as the bookworm that I am have warned me off it, and the reviews I have read have been enough for me to know that the writing will be poor and the use of language basic. 

I thought the following review was brilliant: 

I am just thankful that I caught my mother in time so that she could cancel her purchase from Amazon after someone recommended it to her. She is 68 years old and a recent widow. What the?

Why am I so anti a novel that I haven't read? Well because the hype surrounding it has reached such a pitch that we are now going to be inundated with frustrated housewives trying to sell their fantasies thinking they can make a million like E L James. Move over vampire novels..... is this the next genre that will be buckling the shelves at our local book stores making it even harder to find something new that's decent to read?  No wonder I escape into the 19th century and delve into the classics, it's just about impossible to find a new book these days, when browsing in a book shop, that truly represents the art of the written word.  Two shelves containing penguin classics doesn’t cut it.

Next will come the movie with the 'Hollywood Treatment', which is just another avenue to rip you off.  If I see another ad, article, recommendation, or breakfast tv segment about this novel I shall cry LOL!  I shall cry for all the media hype that encourages us to spend hard earned money with a guarantee to be left disappointed and wonder what all the fuss was about.  It’s lucky we have short memories – or so the industry would like to think - otherwise why do they continue to pump out such rubbish?

If you need to read a trashy book because your marriage needs saving, or your sex life needs spicing up, then you're better off seeing a marriage counsellor.  But if you want to read a good novel try The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.  I'm reading it at the moment and it is just wonderful……or for a modern master of letters how about The Wind Through The Keyhole by Stephen King - I couldn't put it down. A story within a story within a story, and what a story it was, and what a story teller. I’ve fallen in love with Stephen King all over again.

Mr King, you probably get this a lot but 'I  say thankee'.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Nicholas Nickleby ~ Charles Dickens

Yet another great read from Dickens, but I did have a few problems with it.  Although apparently a good example of 19th Century comedy, I didn't really find it very funny.  Mrs Nickleby was to provide the comic relief, and undoubtably back in 1838 this type of humour was appreciated, but I found her awfully annoying.

Nicholas is not immediately likeable; he's not as selfish as Philip 'Pip' Pirrip but he's not the true gentleman that David Copperfield grew up to be.  Nicholas has a good heart; however he is very hot headed and, when it comes to defending someone's honour, he does it with violence and unable to leave it with just one blow he must pummel that person to within an inch of his life!

There are a whole host of characters and towards the end I did get a bit forgetful of who one or two of them were. I guess Wackford Squeers, the beastly conniving school master was one of my favourites and the tragic Smike. 

There are plenty of cartoonish names, and the ever present benevolent gentleman, although in this case there are two (twins!), but you tend to expect this from Dickens.

The novel pretty much follows the Nickleby family after the death of Nicholas's father. The family are left destitute and so they travel to the big smoke to appeal to their wealthy relative Ralph Nickleby for assistance. Ralph is extremely unlikeable and he and Nicholas soon become sworn enemies which is the underlying theme of the whole novel. I loved the revelation of who Ralph Nickleby's son was, and the outcome of that revelation.

A very satisfying read all in all.


Niedermayer & Hart ~ M J Johnson

There’s something rotten in the basement of Niedermayer & Hart Fine Porcelain, which photographer Jim Latimer discovers to his peril.  Jim has been commissioned by the company to photograph their collection for an upcoming catalogue, but he soon realises that there is something very wrong with his employers, and it isn’t long before he finds himself fighting to save his very soul.

Hugh Apsley, once a Knight Templar, has a very strange tale to relate to Brother Anselm of the Abbey of Valle Crucis in a letter dated 1202. It is a disturbing story which shakes the very foundation of their religion and transcends the boundaries of death.

The lives of Jim and Hugh are inextricably linked together and via their individual narratives the story begins to unfold and converge.  

This independent novel was very enjoyable to read.  The quality of the writing is very good, and the structure of the story intriguing.  On one hand we read about the young Hugh Apsley and the horrors he tries to make sense of in a superstitious world, and on the other hand we are transported to the 20th Century involved in a detective story that tries to make sense of what the modern world cannot explain away.

If you like a touch of horror with some solid foundation then you won’t go far wrong with this novel. 

Interested?  Then for more information on the novel, and its author M J Johnson, click here: 

Happy Reading!