The Sound and the Fury

My first Classics Club read for the year and I’ve managed to read and review my spin title before the January 30th deadline! Unfortunately that’s the end of the good news. I came to this having no idea what to expect and got a bit of shock and will come clean at the beginning by saying that I haven’t read this in a linear, read every word kind of way.

The gradual disintegration of the Compson’s, an old family from the American South is told through four fractured narratives, using stream of consciousness, flashbacks and inner monologues. There were times when I was completely lost, I didn’t know who was who, whether they were male or female, family or friend or stranger, grandparent or child. But I did feel a sense of dread in the heap of broken images.

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Murder By Matchlight

I love new year, a clean sheet, an empty page, resolutions and good intentions, the possibility of a whole new me (again). And this year there’s been an added bonus because under the Christmas tree was a British Library Crime Classic. I’ve been looking forward to reading this series for ages, but slow reader that I am, have never found the right sized reading moment. But to start this year I (thankfully) threw down my classics challenge and caution and instead picked up Murder By Matchlight.

It’s a Thursday evening in London in 1945, the city is pitch dark under the blackout and John Ward ‘a lazy good-for-nothing son of a gun’ is murdered in Regent’s Park. But has the murderer been seen? Lovelorn Bruce Mallaig on a stroll through the park witnesses a ghastly face in the glow of a match. . .

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A Film For December: Cry-Baby

The Big City about a middle class women from a conservative family in Calcutta getting a job was meant to be my film for December but it wasn’t available so a replacement was found for me – could it be any more different?! Cry-Baby is a 1990 teen musical rom-com written and directed by John Waters.

Set in Baltimore in 1954 teenage culture is divided between the ‘Drapes’ and the ‘Squares’. Johnny Depp stars as rebel Wade ‘Cry-Baby’ Walker who drives the girls wild with his ability to shed a single tear and Amy Locane is Allison Vernon-Williams, the Square he falls for.

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Random Saturday

Earlier this year I read Thomas De Quincey’s essay Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, where he describes the pleasure and pain of being an addict. In his youth TDQ idolised William Wordsworth, running away from school with a copy of Lyrical Ballads in his pocket and twice travelling to Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s home, to meet him but turning back when he lost confidence!

Before he describes the pains of addiction he gives us his analysis of perfect happiness, wrapped in a picture of a winters evening with an eternal tea pot, that I think must be set at Dove Cottage.

“Let there be a cottage, standing in a valley . . . Let the mountains be real mountains, between 3 and 4000 feet high; and the cottage, a real cottage;. . .let it be, in fact (for I must abide by the actual scene), a white cottage, embowered with flowering shrubs, so chosen as to unfold a succession of flowers upon the walls, and clustering round the windows through all the months of spring, summer, and autumn – beginning in fact, with May roses, and ending with jasmine.

“Let it, however, not be spring, nor summer, nor autumn – but winter, in his sternest shape. This is a most important point in the science of happiness. I put up a petition annually for as much snow, hail, frost, or storm, of one kind or other, as the skies can possibly afford us. Surely everybody is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a winter fire-side: candles at four o’clock, warm hearth-rugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies on the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.

“Paint me, then, a room . . . Make it populous with books: and, furthermore, paint me a good fire; and furniture, plain and modest, befitting the unpretending cottage of a scholar. And, near the fire, paint me a tea-table; and (as it is clear that no creature can come to see one on such a stormy night,) place only two cups and saucers on the tea-tray: and, if you know how to paint such a thing symbolically, or otherwise, paint me an eternal tea-pot.”

I love this celebration of winter and quietness, just two cups one for him and the other for his “fair tea-maker“, his wife Margaret. These photographs are from the Dove Cottage website and the middle one is of the house ‘servants’ making their way into work one winter!

Fathers and Sons

Rather than a story this felt more a meeting of characters and generations, and the conflict and love between them. The fathers of the old Russia of Nicholas I and the sons of the new reign of Alexander II, with his declaration to liberate his people from serfdom.

On May 20th 1859 Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov collects his son Arkady from university. When Arkady asks if his friend and mentor can come home with them, we’re introduced to Evgeny Vasilevich Bazarov. Declaring himself a nihilist, Bazarov’s commitment is to science and materialism and sets himself against the older generation whose passion for the arts he dismisses as ‘a lot of sloppy nonsense.’

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A Film For November: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

A film about six metropolitan sophisticates trying to meet for dinner. Exuding status the friends are completely sure of themselves and their place in society but under this bland exterior of flimsy manners there’s greed and lust, drug dealing and military coups all wrapped up in peach chiffon, pussy bow blouses, platform heels and loudly checked suits, well it’s 1972!

For a group of people always used to getting their own way this satirical comedy of manners puts their quest for the most conventional of evenings out of their reach.

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The Outsider

Written in the first person Monsieur Meursault a Parisian living in Algiers lets us into his very ordinary life. He lives in an apartment where his neighbours include Raymond who brutally assaults his mistress and Salamano a widower who lives with his dog. His girlfriend Marie stays over sometimes. He goes to work, drinks wine, smokes a lot, swims and endures the heat.

‘My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.’ This first line captures Meursault’s state of anomie brilliantly, however ordinary his life this is no ordinary character and I was hooked immediately by his simple straightforward prose.

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Classics Club Spin #25

Time for another spin and a great way to start the new year! On Sunday the 22nd of November the numbers will be spun and the corresponding title must be read by the 30th January 2021 – that’s nine whole weeks, it must be possible!

This is my list:

  1. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  3. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  4. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  5. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  6. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  8. Swann’s Way by Marcel proust
  9. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
  10. A Passage to India by E.M.Forster
  11. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  12. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  13. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  14. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  15. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  16. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  18. A Passage to India by E.M.Forster
  19. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
  20. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’d quite like a chunkster for the dark evenings, The House of the Seven Gables or Les Miserables maybe but I’ll have to wait and see. . .