The Golden Notebook

The golden notebook‘Free Women’ is a short novel about Anna Wulf, a thirty something single mother living in London and her friend Molly, an actress and fellow single mother. Anna is the author of a bestselling novel but now has writers’ block, and instead writes in her 4 differently coloured notebooks which separate different aspects of her life.

The stages of the notebooks, which start during the second world war and continue to the early sixties, appear in 4 blocks and break up the freestanding interior novel ‘Free Women’ into five sections. Anna’s desire to compartmentalise her life to avoid chaos is realised in the fragmentation of the novel and I think works well to symbolise the turbulent feelings of change that must have been around at this time. The Golden Notebook appears at the end and aims to bring the different strands of her life together. Continue reading “The Golden Notebook”

If This Is A Man

if this is a manOn December 13th 1943 at the age of 24 Primo Levi, a chemist from Turin was captured by the Fascist militia and giving his status as an ‘Italian citizen of Jewish race’ was taken via the detention camp at Fossoli to Auschwitz. Of the 650 who arrived the children, the old men and most of the women were ‘swallowed up by the night’.  Ninety six men and twenty nine women entered the camps of Monowitz-Buna and Birkenau. The rest were sent to the gas chamber, only 3 made the return journey home. The story of his journey home is told in The Truce.

Continue reading “If This Is A Man”

Gulliver’s Travels

gullivers travels

What in the world is going on here? I thought Gulliver’s Travels was all about tiny people and giants, but no, Jonathan Swift’s imagination is extraordinary to say the least. Lemuel Gulliver recalls the zaniest adventures as he travels first as a ships surgeon and then as Captain to Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa and to the Houyhnhnms. A companionable chap he narrates it all in a jolly, matter of fact, chatty way, that is bawdy, crude, ridiculous and sometimes very funny.

Continue reading “Gulliver’s Travels”

The Code of the Woosters

woostersWhat ho Bertie!  That aged relation Aunt Dahlia needs Bertie to steal Sir Watkyn Bassett’s cow creamer, there’s a serious rift in the engagement between Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Bassett and Stiffy Byng and the Reverend Harold ‘Stinker’ Pinker have their own plans for Bertie, so with Jeeves at his side it’s off to Totleigh Towers, Totleigh-in-the-Wold, because you can’t let a pal down, it’s the code of the Woosters,

‘I braced myself with the old Wooster grit. Up came the chin, back went the shoulders’

Continue reading “The Code of the Woosters”

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”

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”