The Leopard

leopard

It’s 1860 and Fabrizio, Prince of Salina rules over thousands of acres, hundreds of people, his wife and seven children. But when Garibaldi lands in Sicily and is hailed a hero and liberator by the people, it is clear that the old way of life is changing.

Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa is writing about his great grandfather, by following the prince to his death in 1883 we get a glimpse of a Sicilian nobleman at a moment of crisis and the degeneration of his family until almost collapse in 1910.  Continue reading “The Leopard”

Death in Spring

death in spring 2Mercè Rodoreda is a new writer for me and this was a completely new type of read. Born in Barcelona in 1908, Rodoreda wrote a number of novels and short stories in Catalan in the early 1930’s. In 1935 she began working for the Catalan Ministry of Information, but was forced into exile on Franco’s victory, first in France and then Switzerland. She returned to Catalonia in the 60’s, Death in Spring was published posthumously in 1986, which adds to its sense of mystery and otherness.

I say all this because knowing a bit about her background seemed to matter very much when trying to understand this strange book. Narrated by a nameless 14 year old boy, the drama is set in a nameless village, a village ‘born from the earth’s terrible unrest’, in no set period in history. But while it feels realistic, in that we recognise her world, Rodoreda’s gentle language lulls us into the brutal customs which are followed without question. Continue reading “Death in Spring”

Heartburn

heartburnThe first part of my reading year has been spent in the throws of romance, Emilie and Valencourt in Udolpho, Catherine and Henry in Northanger Abbey, Lucie and Charles in A Tale of Two Cities. So to pick up this brash and brittle story of infidelity and divorce was a bit of a culture shock!

‘I always thought during the pain of the marriage that one day it would make a funny book.’ A life lesson that Norah Ephron learnt from her mother was that everything is potential copy. Heartburn is a savagely comic roman-à-clef about the breakdown of a marriage. With recipes. Continue reading “Heartburn”

Classics Club Spin #20

spinning-book

There’s another spin! Here’s my list of 20 titles from my original Classics Challenge list. On Monday 22nd April the spin will tell me which number I must read by 31st May.

 

  1. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  2. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
  3. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  4. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
  5. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  6. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. The Outsiders by Albert Camus
  8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  9. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  10. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  11. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  12. Maude by Christina Rosetti
  13. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  14. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  15. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  16. A Passage to India by E.M.Forster
  17. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  18. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  19. If This is a Man by Primo Levy
  20. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow

My fingers are crossed for The Code of the Woosters!

 

A Tale Of Two Cities

2 citiesI had forgotten how satisfying it is to read a Dickens’ novel, I don’t know why I hadn’t read this one before but from the very beginning it was like putting on my favourite cosy jumper. It feels safe being in such good hands and despite being half the length of his other novels, this was a masterclass in story telling. Written in 1859, the action is set between 1775 and 1793, between London and Paris and the French Revolution.  Slowly building up the tension from the loving family life of Lucie and her father Dr. Manette in London to Madame and Monsieur Defarge, the blood stained streets of revolution in Paris, and the whirling of La Guillotine. Continue reading “A Tale Of Two Cities”

The Story Of An African Farm

 

african farmWritten and published in 1883, The Story of an African Farm is set in South Africa in 1860. It’s a classic of feminist fiction but Olive Schreiner also discusses gender roles and loneliness,science and religion and the constraints imposed by a repressive colonial society.

 ‘The full African moon poured down its light from the blue sky into the wide, lonely plain’.

The only break in the ‘solemn monotony of the plain’ is the farm where two cousins Emily and Lyndall live with the widowed Tante’ Sannie, the German overseer Otto and his son Waldo.  This is Olive Schreiner’s own landscape, where she lived a lonely and isolated childhood with her Calvinist missionary parents. It’s a fictionalized autobiography that’s essentially a coming of age story told through a series of vignettes. Dream sequences, allegorical tales and extended metaphors often interrupt the realistic plot in a way that foreshadows modernist fiction, and makes for some quite odd reading at times. Continue reading “The Story Of An African Farm”

Northanger Abbey

 

northangerabbey‘No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine’ from the very beginning Northanger Abbey sparkles with wit and fun. The daughter of a clergyman, never handsome and called Richard and a mother full of ‘useful plain sense’, Catherine has led a sheltered life amongst her ten siblings in an English village. So when their rich neighbours, Mr and Mrs Allen invite her to Bath for six weeks, everyone is delighted. Six weeks of discussing muslins, parading in front of the Pump Room and hopefully making new friends and falling in love!

Catherine is 17, naive and impressionable and thoroughly loveable.  Her kind-hearted character is the perfect foil with which to satirise the absurdity of ‘society’, young girls’ intense friendships and the problems of mixing up reality and make-believe!  Written for family entertainment, contemporary readers must have revelled in reading about the actual buildings they went to, the streets they walked along and the novels they read. If Dublin could be re-built from Ulysses, what an easier time the city planners of Bath would have! Continue reading “Northanger Abbey”

The Mysteries of Udolpho

udolpho
In January I read The Mysteries of Udolpho for the Classics Club Chunkster Spin – it was a great way to start the year!

Emily St Aubert is a young women leading an idyllic life with her parents at their estate in France. Her time is spent walking through the lush countryside playing her lute singing and taking delight in the natural world around her.   When her mother dies, she and her father travel through France taking comfort in each others company and the beauty of the landscape.  They meet a young soldier, Valencourt who is smitten with Emily and has the approval of Monsieur St Aubert since he too, sings, writes poetry, plays the lute and clearly has never been to Paris! This is a black and white world where the city means shallow and wicked and the countryside spiritual happiness. Indeed,the countryside is almost its own character since everything trembles – lips, leaves, voices, moonlight, hearts –  all the natural world and the good people in it.

But suddenly orphaned, Emily’s life takes a turn. Taken into the care of her aunt (who has been to and loved Paris!) and her villainous step-uncle, Signor Montoni, she is taken to Italy – to the castle of Udolpho. And there the adventures begin. A creepy old castle of ‘mouldering stones and heavy buttresses’, there are hidden staircases, subterranean dungeons and labyrinthine passages,  strange noises and cries, horrible shapes beneath sheets and a beautiful, melancholy voice that sings in the middle of the night. Imprisoned and with the prospect of being sold in marriage, there were moments of very fast page turning and gasping on my part! My Penguin edition had 638 pages and still at page 574 new horrors were being unmasked! Continue reading “The Mysteries of Udolpho”

A Final Four from 2018

I had great plans and resolutions for my blog this year but it’s already the end of January and it seems all I’ve done is read The Mysteries of Udolpho for the Classics Club Spin and made marmalade!  But whilst chopping all that orange peel, I realised that four of the best books I read last year weren’t for any challenges and so didn’t get a mention here, which doesn’t seem right somehow.  They were all read alongside a film version.

brighton rockBrighton Rock was the first Graham Greene I’ve read and from the first line I was hooked, “Hale knew they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours.” A chilling cruelty runs through the veins of this book and particularly those of Pinkie Brown the 17 year old gang boss. First published in 1938, Brighton Rock is the antithesis of the cosy country house murders of the 30’s.  There’s a sinister feeling that comes from real deprivation, shabby children growing up in shabby streets whose aspirations and safety are locked into gang membership.  The home life and backgrounds of the gang members I found as shocking as the crimes and lives they were living.  I watched a modern adaptation, but it didn’t convey any of the meanness of the original film with Richard Attenborough.

I rarely re-read books because I’m such a slow reader and there’s so much to read, but I wanted to watch orlandoOrlando with Tilda Swinton and Vintage Classics had bought out this lovely edition so why not? I thoroughly enjoyed it first time round, but I had forgotten quite how creative and fun it is as Orlando travels through the centuries first as a man and then as a women. You can just see Virginia Woolf smiling as she writes her way through the ages.  I think my favourite parts are when she returns to London (after many years abroad as an ambassador) “were these taverns, were these wits, were these poets?” she asks as she sees Addison, Dryden and Pope having coffee, chatting and laughing by London Bridge; and also her hilarious but damning description of Victorian England. A great cloud hangs over the British Isles, damp and chill cover everything and everyone, outside and within so that “men felt the chill in their hearts; the damp in their minds”, all is artificial and hidden either by ivy that clads every building or evasive and fine phrases that cloud the real meaning of language. This is why I think it’s such a good read, because in amongst all the fun (you can recognise all the characters from her circle of friends and acquaintances), it’s a serious discussion of social mores and especially sexual emancipation.

The film was terrific, completely in keeping with the spirit of the book, but the one hiccup I cannot forgive is casting Billy Zane as Shelmerdine, just wrong. To me.

tilda orlando

l had always wanted to read 84 Charing Cross Road and it didn’t disappoint.  The premise is so gentle and cultivated – a relationship through letters between an American writer and an English antiquarian bookseller, but as the years pass and we get to know them and their families and friends, it’s completely absorbing.  I particularly liked Helen Hanff’s advice on book culling because why would anyone want to keep a book they weren’t going to read again?  And why we should all write our names (at least) in the front of our books for future readers, “I like the comradely sense of turning pages someone else turned.”

The film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins was just as I imagined them, and I helene_hanffcan’t help feeling pleased that a film was made of a book that is about words and letters! My copy (a beautiful red, hard back edition from Sightly Foxed) also contained The Duchess of Bloomsbury which is Helen Hanff’s account of her trip to London in the early 1970’s.  I loved this just as much, but I wonder if that’s because I enjoyed seeing a city I know well through visiting eyes? Anyway, now I’ve seen this picture of Helen Hanff I love her even more . . .

farfromthemaddingcrowd

 

And lastly, Far from the Madding Crowd. I haven’t read any Hardy for years and I think I preferred it now to when I was younger.  I loved Gabriel Oak reading the sky and following the stars. And I must say that the Penguin edition I had was lovely to read, gorgeously soft and opened flat! The film version we decided on was the 1967 one with Julie Christie and Alan Bates which I’m afraid we all found awful (apart from Terence Stamp, who was great as Troy). It was so long and all that blue eyeshadow, urghh!

Back to the Classics 2019

BTCC Berlin Books

Hosted by Karen@Books and Chocolate, this challenge always looks like fun, so this year I thought I would join in as it will also help me organise my reading a little.  All I need to do is read one book in each of the following categories:

  1. 19th Century Classic: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (March)
  2. 20th Century Classic, before 1969: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  3. Classic by a Women Author: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (March)
  4. Classic in Translation: The Leopard by Tomasi Di Lampedusa
  5. Classic Comic Novel: Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
  6. Classic Tragic Novel: House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  7. Very Long Classic (500+pages): Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  8. Classic Novella (less than 250 pages): Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
  9. Classic From the Americas: Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  10. Classic From Africa, Asia or Oceania: Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
  11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
  12. Classic Play: To Be Decided (if I ever get there)

These are my ideas for the moment but any of them could change. My main worry is that there are too many long reads here and I’ll just never finish!