Sunday, 26 February 2012

Book Eleven - Brideshead Revisited

The books had high hopes but it somehow drifted off in the middle and end.

If you like the themes in period dramas like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downtown Abbey this will be quite up your street. Taking you from the 1920s to the 40s with its glamour and class.

What you think is going to be the main plot of the book is either a misinterpretation or a cleverly crafted red herring by Waugh. 

The relationship between Sebastian and Charles Ryder is an interesting plot, it spans from their first meeting at university and follows their growing friendship. Yet you never really know if they have a strong friendship or their is romantic tension underlying it.

You never find out. 

Their relationship deteriorates slowly after Charles is introduced to Brideshead, the Flyte family home, as Sebastian is part of a noble family. 

The family is highly religious, and this is a theme that is dominant throughout the book and each character suffers at its effect. 

Sebastian seems so innocent, at university he is still carrying around his teddy bear and his ideas seem naive. His apparent eccentricity is because he is driven to despair by his families religious believes he ultimately succumbs to it.

Charles as narrator and protagonist suffers greatly because as an agnostic believer he is an outsider to the family in any case, and after Sebastian leaves his ties are nearly severed. 

This makes for a very sad ending and I don't feel Charles deserved it, he never did anything wrong. It seems going to Brideshead was his undoing, an ending which I feel is unjust.

Rowen's Review

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Book Ten - Cakes and Ale

Hitting the double figures with this small delight, yet the title is misleading as the book is not about food and drink.

Cakes and Ale is a book within a book, like Inception is a dream within a dream. W.Somerset Maugham's aim is to be ironic about the world of an author. 

The main character, William Ashenden, tells us through the first person narrative the true story. It is the surrounding characters who have their own ideals. For example Alroy Kear is attempting to write a book to launch his name again, but he requires Ashenden's knowledge of Edward Driffield and his first wife Rosie.

The book is light in tone, it is humorous and ironic, like Jane Austen is with Pride and Prejudice, a caricature. Ashenden is considered the outsider by everyone, but ironically he is the only one who knows the true story. Everyone else including Driffield's second wife Amy, are trying to create a story which they want. 

Only by doing research have I found the relevance of the title, it is from a line in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night; 

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?" 

Now that I know this it makes much more sense because Maugham is challenging the conservative nature of many of the characters, who are still very Victorian.

He creates Rosie, Driffield's first wife who is flirtatious, honest and confident in her sexuality. She is mistaken for common and a harlot as she has an easy going persona, making men flock to her. Including Ashenden, yet he is the only one who understands her. It is this fresh take that keeps the book from being stale.

Thoroughly enjoyable and very short, again the ending is not how you would like it to be, but it is the right one.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Book Nine- Disgrace

Yes I did read this in a day, I had to after the interesting experience of Tropic of Cancer, I needed to get the images out of my head.

Disgrace, the story of a man's fall from his profession after sleeping with one of his pupils. He refuses to apologies and is cast of acceptable society. His relations with women is stretched, he has two divorces and an estranged daughter. 

It is the focus on his relationship with his daughter Lucy that dominates the book. It looks the only way to redeem David, yet after a brutal attack on her farm, where he cannot save her from a terrifying rape, the book goes into a downward spiral. 

It is sad because David Lures seems on the path to recovery, but Coetzee never forgives his main characters sexual escapades at the beginning. The themes are about the failures of the human condition, and the debate between Lucy and David over whether she should keep the baby of her attackers is a moral dilemma. 

It is a easy book to read, it is fast paced and also it raises many social questions that you think about throughout the book. It isn't the expected ending but it is worthy of the title modern classic.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Book Eight - Tropic of Cancer

I'm just going to come right out and say it, I hate this book. 

By page 13 I was wondering what I had let myself in for, initially I thought I had picked up porn by mistake. 

Don't get me wrong the cover art is a picture of a naked woman, which suggests nudity is going to be a theme. However not even reading D.H.Lawrence could have prepared me for the aggressiveness that Miller explores and describes sex. Most of the passages are to explicit to write about.

So what can I actually say? Miller is sticking his finger up to society, he makes that pretty clear from the start. "this is a prolonged insult, gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty" The cancer is society itself, and Miller's aggression makes for uncomfortable reading. 

The fact it is autobiographical, means these are Miller's true feelings. He isn't embodying a character because the main character is Miller, the other characters are based on people he knows. Is this shocking? I don't know how a person can feel all this, but then it is a side of desire which is often hidden and not discussed in literature. The closest I have experienced is Martin Amis' The Rachel Papers and I came away from that exactly how I am now. 

The Tropic of Cancer is cancerous it rips to shreds love literature with just one word continuously written, which is to rude to write.

When I read books which were previously banned i.e. the likes of D.H.Lawrence and Radcliffe Hall, you see it was 'obscene' because they were modern ideals thought of 80 years before they were considered acceptable in society.

I don't agree with Tropic of Cancer and by the end I was to disgusted that all I can think of Henry Miller as is a dirty man. 

Next book please... Quickly.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hideous Kinky - Esther Freud

Hideous Kinky was like looking into a diary. From the point of view of a five year old. With more sophisticated language.

It was a series of recollections from Lucia, the little girl, about the year or two she spent in Morocco. It is obvious that she was very young when she arrived there because her memories of beforehand are very hazy.

It's a genious book, because it has a simplicity which can only be woven from a child's perspective. However it also has complexity in that it very much simplifies so very difficult struggles. Such as the constant wait for "my money from England".

You can't help but sympathise with Lucia and her sister, two children who're uprooted every time they settle in. And at the end you feel Lucia's pain at leaving behind Bilal who has very much so been treasured by her.

I raced through this book, literally couldn't put it down.


The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers

This book was described as one which 'never loses pace' by the Independent on Sunday. It's fairly accurate, the book doesn't ever lose pace, it does however take a while to pick it up. I think it was around Chapter 12 before I felt that there was any progression within the story.

I felt that while the earlier chapters were necessary to the plot they could have been combined to increase the speed of it; for example the first Chapter describes Carruthers receiving a letter from Davies, and in the second he collects some items which he was asked to bring. If I'd been using my dad's 50 page rule this book would have been gone before it reached the good bits, and I think that's a shame.

My other criticism of this novel is that it has too many technical details for my taste. They are relevent to the story but I don't think there really needed to be so many... This is just personal preference, I'm sure the details would appeal to many men and boys, especially those from the era in which it was written. However it's definately possible to tell it was written by someone who, like Davies, is an enthusiast.

I really enjoyed this book, once it gained pace. I became involved with the characters and because of the emotions I felt for them felt that the ending was a bit too abrupt, I would have liked to have eased out.  I think to have made it perfect for me I would have needed a few more chapters at the end and a few less at the beginning.


Monday, 13 February 2012

Book Seven - The End of the Affair

The End of the Affair is a strange book, it doesn't at any point make you want to cheer for Bendrix and Sarah, the two lovers who are kept apart by her marriage and his jealousy and obsession.   

To be honest you feel empty and void at the end of the book, just like Bendrix does, and he is pretty miserable throughout due to his obsession with Sarah, the only person he seems to be truly human with.

The book is loosely based on Greene's own affairs, the key scene in the book, the bombing is based on his house. The End of the Affair is also openly questioning religion, and loving God vs believing in him, along with the other themes of jealousy and obsession.

However in my personal opinion the characters seem too flawed and you cannot feel anything for them. Sarah though she is in love with Bendrix, has a strange fixation with destiny and letting God decide. 

Is this weakness or blind faith? I'm not sure because she stuck with her husband who was a total bore, but she wasn't brave enough to leave him for Bendrix the man she loved because she was so uncertain about religion. 

This conflict of interests didn't make me stand up for her. I can't defend her because in the end she appears, even her escape (a euphemism to avoid spoilers) seemed weak also. Greene creates Sarah Miles as a woman who is in a catch-22  situation, she's damned if she does and she's damned if she doesn't. 

Bendrix doesn't believe in anything, not love, not God and in the end he hates both even more. He started the book believing his affair would end quicker than it started, Sarah was the extreme opposite and it is this contrast which gets you through the book, you want to see who is right, and you may be surprised by the ending.

Rowen's Review

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Book Six - Women In Love

"take the love as you find it."

This quote among many sum up the book. 

The four protagonists, Rupert, Gerald, Gudrun and Ursula have passion for one another in a complicated love square, and their major desires are what keep you enthralled throughout the book.

The book title is a little misleading as it isn't about women in love, it does focus on Gudrun and Ursula and their inner passions but it is the dynamics between their lovers Rupert and Gerald that Lawrence is focusing on. 

This is clear in the very, very, very graphic sex scene between Rupert and Gerald.  To be honest society is more liberal nowadays but my ears were burning in the vividness of imagery, Lawrence went all out to make it clear about their feelings. 

So on its release in 1920 you may be surprised to read some the reviews, or not.

It's first critics said; "I do not claim to be a literary critic, but I know dirt when I smell it, and here is dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven"

It isn't dirt it is modern thinking, one way ahead of its time. The point is Rupert and Gerald are not homosexual, they love women, Rupert states at the end that Ursula is his completion as the perfect woman, Gerald the perfect man. Gerald proves this with his violent showdown at the end of the book as he attempts to prove to Gudrun his manhood. 

Lawrence wants his characters to express their sexuality, to be bold. It is stirring stuff  for a book written over 90 years ago and still reflects the challenges of modern society that people go through.

Phew is it hot in here well book six is down, just another 46 to read.