Wow! What an absolutely fantastic book this is, even though I was expecting it to be called The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and to be about Quasimodo, the hunchback. It is, but he’s only one part of a hugely rich story.
Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre-Dame and Quasimodo’s guardian, Jehan his adored younger brother, Phoebus de Chateaupers and Pierre Gringoire are all characters linked by Esmeralda, the beautiful 16 year old ‘gypsy’. Around them Paris breathes with life, it’s exciting, dangerous and squalid. Diplomats and judiciary have their stories told inside courts that have their windows flung open to the colour and lives of the streets below.
Continue reading “Notre-Dame de Paris”
Emily Inglethorp is a wealthy women living with her much younger second husband at Styles Court, her large, isolated, manor house in Styles St.Mary. There are seven people living at Styles: Emily’s step-sons from her first husbands first marriage, John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife Mary, Emily’s companion Evelyn and a young friend of the family Cynthia Murdoch. A group of people all with some connection to each other and all with their own assortment of secrets.
Arthur Hastings has been invalided from the Front and after a spell in a convalescent home has been given a months sick leave. Wondering what to do he runs into his old friend John Cavendish who invites him to spend his leave at Styles, with the family. The house and Emily, Hastings remembers well although he hasn’t been there for years. Tea is spread in the shade of a sycamore tree and Hastings tells them of his hope to be a detective after the war. Indeed, while in Belgium he came across a very famous detective ‘he quite inflamed me. . . He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever.’ And then on a trip into Tadminster who should Hastings bump into when buying some stamps, but his old friend:
‘”Mon ami Hastings”!’ he cried. “It is indeed mon ami Hastings”!
“Poirot!” I exclaimed.’
With much gratitude, Poirot explains that through the charitable works of Mrs Inglethorp, he is one of a group of Belgium refugees who are living together in Tadminster. So the scene is set and everyone is quickly in place for a good dose of poisoning by strychnine.
Continue reading “The Mysterious Affair At Styles”
Reading this is to be wrapped in sunshine, just looking at the cover makes me happy!
First published in 1922, it’s 1919 when cousins Jane and Lucilla, after spending the war years tucked away in a small boarding school, are finally set free in the world. Their guardian meanwhile has gambled away their inheritance and the girls find themselves with just a small cottage in the English countryside. After deciding against marriage they agree that they’re going to earn their livings. They won’t see themselves as genteel spinsters but as adventurers with the world before them.
‘If we’re going to worry all the time about the past and the future we shan’t have any time at all. We must take everything as it comes and enjoy everything that is – well, that is enjoyable. . . Live for the moment- and do all you can to make the next moment jolly too, as Carlyle says, or is it Emerson?’
Picking themselves up and jollying along, presence of mind and the belief that everything will be a lark (the lark of the title), while still having breath to whistle Mendelssohn is the order of the day, and the girls’ carry on with aplomb; meeting an assortment of characters and getting mixed up in a series of misadventures until everything ends happily – I won’t give the plot away but there’s no point even considering that this is a novel with an unhappy ending!
But before we all dissolve in a puddle of brown sugar Nesbit saves us with her humour.
Continue reading “The Lark”
This was such an unexpected surprise and I feel incredibly fond of this book. On the one hand it’s a simple story of the Grandet family. Felix, his wife and their daughter Eugénie. Their maid Nanon and the two families of friends, the Cruchot’s and the des Grassins who visit them. They live in Saumur, in the Loire Valley region of France in a house whose appearance ‘weighs as heavily upon the spirits as the gloomiest cloister,’. Into this gloomy house comes cousin Charles from Paris and Eugénie falls immediately in love.
But on the other hand it isn’t simple at all because avarice is the enormous all pervading silent character that engulfs their lives on every page. The lowly cooper, Felix Grandet made a fortune in 1789 when he bought land confiscated from the aristocracy. A bumper harvest in 1811 increased his wealth and he’s quick to invest in business, so that by the time the novel opens ‘one day in the middle of November in the year 1819’ Grandet has a fortune so large that his every action is ‘cloaked in gold‘ and he has become a miser who worships his gold at the cost of everything else, keeping it secretly in a strongroom
‘while Madame and Mademoiselle Grandet soundly slept, the old cooper would come to commune with his gold, to caress and worship, fondle and gloat over his gold.’
This is only a short novel, my Penguin copy is 248 pages, and the gathering of his wealth, the swindling and hoodwinking of his neighbours, takes up by far the largest part, so that I did wonder why it wasn’t called Felix Grandet, but it is ultimately Eugénie’s story and that’s why I’m afraid I can’t talk about the book without talking about the ending, although I won’t give away the whole plot.
Continue reading “Eugénie Grandet”
This has taken me so long to read that I can hardly remember a time before Vanity Fair, and while there were certainly some ups and downs, when I finished, it wasn’t with a feeling of relief but with huge satisfaction at having read a really brilliant book.
First published as a complete text in 1848, Thackeray tells the story of school friends Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley, their families and friends in the first half of the 19th century with London society, the Napoleonic wars and colonisation in India forming the backdrop. The scheming manipulative Becky is a perfect foil to the humble simplicity of Emmy. As they both negotiate marriage, in laws and motherhood they also negotiate the slippery pole of social success and acceptability.
Continue reading “Vanity Fair”
was the number chosen and for me that means Honoré de Balzac’s Old Goriot or so I thought – because when I got to the book shelf it appeared that the copy I actually had was Eugénie Grandet! But I haven’t read anything by Balzac and know nothing about him so this, written a couple of years before Old Goriot, can easily take its place I think.
And it’s quite exciting, not the title I’ve been looking at for the last four years and a brand new author to explore. As usual a quick look on Wikipedia has made me feel that I’ve been living under a rock all my life and this first glimpse has revealed an abundance of future reading!
Continue reading “Classics Club Spin Revealed”
I only have a few books left to read on my classics club list and looking at them I’m not surprised I keep putting them off! But luckily there’s going to be a spin which is just the inspiration I need to get one of them read. The spin will be spun on October the 17th and whichever title falls on the number chosen must be read and reviewed by the 12th December.
Continue reading “Classics Club Spin #28”
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Katherine Mansfield, this group of 15 short stories written between 1920 and 1922 were so enjoyable; easy to read and insightful. Some of the stories were just a few pages, others ran to chapters but I think what linked them was their thoughts on age.. How the young view the old and how the old view the young but also how at any time we might find ourselves out of step with our age, unsure what’s expected of us or how we’re supposed to behave.
Katherine Mansfield’s view of old age is really quite scary and sad! In Miss Brill, the elderly lady puts on her fur coat and goes to listen to the band play in the park. All is well as she watches and muses on the people around her noticing how odd the old people look ‘as if they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – even cupboards! But then she hears a young couple describing her – is it possible that she is one of the elderly, looking so strange? Seeing herself from a different perspective, the callousness of the couple is so cruel, the effect on Miss Brill is heartbreakingly sad and the loneliness of old age is very real as she hurries back to the familiarity of her room.
Continue reading “The Garden Party”
Set at the beginning of the twentieth century, Maurice follows Maurice Hall through his school days and adolescents, to his time as an undergraduate at Cambridge and into early adulthood. It follows his loneliness and confusion, his sexual awakening and acceptance of his homosexuality and his eventual happiness.
Forster wrote Maurice in 1913 directly after a visit to Milthorpe, the home of Edward Carpenter (who I did a brief post on here) and his ‘comrade’ George Merrill. He calls Carpenter his ‘saviour’ and Milthorpe a ‘shrine’ and says that they ‘combined to make a profound impression on me and to touch a creative spring. . . The general plan, the three characters, the happy ending for two of them, all rushed into my pen.’ I think this is important because I found Maurice the most intensely personal book I think I’ve ever read.
Continue reading “Maurice”
What an odd book this is! It starts with a good story – at the end of the seventeenth century in a New England town, Colonel Pyncheon, a local dignatory decides he wants the land that Matthew Maule has built his cottage on. Met with opposition the Colonel flexes his political muscles and has Maule hanged for witchcraft. But the imposing house he builds on the site is said to carry a curse and bad luck seems to haunt future generations.
At the time of the novel Hepzibah Pyncheon is the custodian and shares the ‘heavy hearted old mansion’ with her lodger Holgrave, a young believer in radical reform . Clifford, her brother arrives home from prison carrying the mark of a person whose youth has been stolen from him and then Phoebe a young distant cousin arrives, as lovely as fresh air and blossom. The possibilities seemed set for a thrilling tale in a gothic setting.
Continue reading “The House of the Seven Gables”