Book Review, British Literature, Charles Dickens, Classics, Fiction, Literature, Mystery

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is Charles Dickens’s last and unfinished novel. It was inspired, supposedly, by Dickens’s brush with death while riding aboard a train with his wife. The train derailed, and Dickens and his wife literally watched as people were flung from a bridge, to their watery deaths. The early draft of Dickens’s second-to-last novel, Our Mutual Friend, was imperiled in the cabin ahead of his own, and that cabin was hanging over the edge of the bridge; Dickens risked his life by climbing into that cabin to retrieve the manuscript and bring it back to safety. He was reportedly haunted for the rest of his life by a dark shadow (Drood) which is said to have been the ghost of a murdered man seeking resolution/vindication from the mortal world. The back-story and history is enough to get anyone interested; but the novel itself, though unfinished, is also quite extraordinary. The prose is the most natural and flowing of any Dickens novel I have read. The situations are believable and the sometimes fanciful or caricatured personalities are done away with. The novel’s eponymous character, Edwin Drood, disappears about mid-way through the completed portion of the story. A suspect is brought in, but the readers are led to suspect another. Whether Drood is murdered, however, and, if so, who the actual culprit is, has been left to speculation because the narrative never reaches its conclusion. My edition of the book contains the famous “Trial of John Jasper” play, which was staged by some of the literary giants of the time, following Dickens’s death. Writers and critics such as George Bernard Shaw, Arthur Waugh, and G.K. Chesterton, took parts in the play, which developed extemporaneously and was one of the most popularly watched events of the day. As it is not a portion of the original book, however, I am not including it in the review (though it is highly interesting – so if you are intrigued by the story and the history around it, it is not to be missed). Lastly, the dangers of opium addiction begin to be clearly established – and Dickens’s own personal experiences with the drug in later life, including a possible self-consciousness about his own use of it and his witnessing the addiction of his good friend and fellow writer, Wilkie Collins – are brought into play. This makes the novel, though incomplete, rather powerful to me, due to its honesty and sensitivity.

Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

As I mention above, Dickens seems to have developed a stronger sense of true characterization in his later career. His earlier novels employ many literary devices, such as grotesques and caricatures, which are in a way cutely identifiable as “Dickensian” but which are, to me, sometimes rather annoying. While Dickens does lash out vehemently against the Philanthropists (as he does in other works) here, he is blunt and direct in the approach; he does not exactly employ a character and warp that character into representing Dickens’s vision of “The Philanthropist” but, instead, just bashes the group as a whole. There is a Philanthropist in the novel, and he does embody many of the elements which Dickens has stated in the narration are deplorable, but he is more a character than a caricature. Dickens does a great job of differentiating the many different characters, even those who come in near the “end” and are not well understood because the story is cut off prematurely. The characters are described in such a way as to be identifiable, with familiar ticks or physical quirks. Their slang and dialects are distinct, as are their mannerisms and features. What would have perhaps enhanced the characterization further, other than having completed the novel, would be a bit more time spent on development. Drood, for instance, who we pretty much understand, is not really missed when he disappears. This is a shortcoming, since he is the crux of the plot and the one person (aside from, perhaps, his “Pussy” – Rosa) whom we should care about. Similarly, Neville, the supposed antagonist, is relatively underdeveloped compared to the minor players – like Durdles and The Deputy. John Jasper, Mr. Crisparkles, and Mr. Grewgious, however, are all very well done.

Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

I mentioned previously how impressed I am with Dickens’s apparent growth from his earlier works to this one, in terms of his prose and style. I am easily annoyed by some of his trademark characterizations and burlesques, but seeing what he does here in Edwin Drood makes me extremely interested, and much more compelled, to read more of his late works, like Our Mutual Friend and Bleak House or Hard Times. This was also visible in Great Expectations, though I think it is most prominent here. Dickens employs a rather straightforward style, and his prose is much more conversational and accessible, though still beautifully wrought. He introduces snippets of letters and song or poetry to break the monotony of prose, which advances the story quite well and adds a welcome and entertaining level to the story. This edition also includes original illustrations which are beautifully done and allow the reader a pictographic point of reference, as it were – an image of the scene, with characters drawn in the style of the times, wearing the clothes and expressions of the period. I was highly receptive to their inclusion.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

What I found most intriguing about this novel is the personality which Dickens gives the work overall. I am deeply saddened that the book was never completed, because I truly believe it may have been one of his crowning achievements. Dickens was always a writer who exposed social injustices, particularly in regards to poverty and religion, having experienced a childhood of nearly absolute deprivation; but he gets even more personal with this work. Many believe the character, John Jasper, to be a re-imagining of Dickens’s feelings toward his embarrassment of a son, Sydney, who racked up enormous debt in Dickens’s name and was ultimately banished from the Dickens home. Also, it is believed that one of Dickens’s great regrets was marrying so young – which is clearly expressed in the tormented relationship of Edwin and Rosa, which is eventually broken off, mutually, by the two. And, of course, as I mentioned above – Dickens’s mental anguish and torment since his brush with death, intensified perhaps by his (likely) use of opium, are all present within the text. The amount of “self” which Dickens exudes in this work is touching and painful, like a scarred wound, unveiled at last by an old writer to his loyal but ignorant readers. It is almost as if Dickens was writing his own eulogy – a farewell in swan’s song, putting his mind at rest before the long, terrible, and permanent final rest.

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

Notable Quotes:

“The cramped monotony of my existence grinds me away by the grain.”

“Circumstances may accumulate so strongly even against an innocent man, that directed, sharpened, and pointed, they may slay him.”

“Stranger, pause and ask thyself the question, canst thou do likewise? If not, with a blush retire.”

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Adelaide Anne Procter, Book Review, Charles Dickens, Compilation Fiction, Elizabeth Gaskell, Fiction, George Augustus Sala, Hesba Stretton, Literature, London Literati, Short Story, Victorian, Victorian Celebration, Wilkie Collins

Review: The Haunted House by Charles Dickens

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens

Final Verdict: 2.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 24

Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens is actually a compilation work, with contributions from Hesba Stretton, George Augustus Sala, Adelaide Anne Procter, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell.  Each writer, including Dickens (who wrote the opening and closing segments, as well as a middle segment) writes one “chapter” of the tale.  The premise is that a group of people have come to a well-known haunted house to stay for a period of time, experience whatever supernatural elements might be there to experience, then regroup at the end of their stay to share their stories.  Each author represents a specific person within the tale and, while the genre is supposed to be that of the ghost story, most of the individual pieces fall flat of that.  The conclusion, too, is saccharine and unnecessary – it reminds the reader that, though we came for ghost stories, what we leave with is a mirthful Christmas story.


Characterization:
2 – Characters slightly developed.

Because this is a compilation of separate short stories, one would not expect much character growth and development (short stories are, after all, more about the theme/event/plot than they are about the characters).  Still, because they were interconnected via the primary story (a group of folks coming together to the same house), there could have been at least a bit of time spent developing those guests, so as to better understand the stories they ultimately told.  Gaskell’s story, being the longest, did allow for some characterization and what was done, was done well.  The characters remain generally flat throughout, but they are recognizable characters – a mother who would act like a mother, a father who acts like a father, etc.  Still, when coming to this collection, it cannot be for its interesting characters because they just are not very interesting (and this could be even more acceptable if the stories themselves were thrilling ghost stories, because then there is something else to entertain and occupy the reader, but….). 


Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

Dickens, Gaskell, and Collins are clearly the masters here, but in my opinion Dickens was in fact out-shone by the other two in this one.  Dickens’s portions read too much like someone trying to write a thriller but not quite knowing how (it felt like someone mimicking Poe – getting the general mechanics right, but not quite being Poe).  Gaskell’s piece is the longest, and her narrative brilliance – use of dialect in particular- are clear.  Collins has the best paced and most appropriately toned prose which, from the author of The Woman in White, probably should have been expected.  Salas’s writing seemed pompous, arrogant, and long-winded; it was funny, at times, but a bit too self-serving.  The inclusion of Procter’s verse added a nice element to the overall scheme, and a nice break from the various competing proses.  The verse itself was haunting and reminded me quite a bit of the pace and scheme of Poe’s “The Raven.”  Stretton’s short piece was perhaps the most enjoyable, because it was so well-written and more intricately layered than the rest. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

Dickens himself was reportedly underwhelmed and disappointed by his peers’ contributing portions of this serial Christmas tale.  I believe his hope was that each of the authors would put into print a certain fear or terror particular to each of them, as Dickens’s story did.  The “haunting,” then, would be something personal and, while not necessarily supernatural, could still be understandably frightening.  Like Dickens, I was left disappointed by the end-result of this ambition. For Dickens, the fear was in revisiting his impoverished youth, the death of his father and the fear of never escaping the “ghost of [his] own childhood.”  Gaskell’s story revolved around betrayal by blood – the loss of a child and lover to the darker elements of humanity.  Again, understandably frightening in its way.  Sala’s story was a dream within a dream within a dream, but while the dream could have been unnerving, there seemed little that was truly frightening about it, supernatural or otherwise.  Wilkie Collins’s story is the one in this compilation which could actually be considered a “suspense” or “thriller” story.  Hesba Stretton’s story, too, while not necessarily scary, is romantic, somewhat suspenseful, and well-accomplished overall.  When considering the group of tales in this compilation, it is Stretton’s which leaves me wanting to read more of her work.  Ultimately, though it is called “The Haunted House,” this compilation of ghost stories is not really a ‘Halloween’-type read.  If one reads this collection as a study of these individual writers, their thoughts, and what they considered haunting, then it is quite interesting.  But as a ghost story, it is no extraordinary achievement, possibly because Dickens (and presumably the other writers) was a skeptic and found the popular interest in the supernatural rather silly.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Victorian Literature, London Literati, Creative/Fictional Autobiography, Short Story, Compilation Fiction.

Notable Quotes:

“The women (their noses in a chronic state of excoriation from smelling-salts), were always primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-triggers.” – Dickens

“On some subjects it is better to have a silent understanding than an expressed opinion.” – Stretton

“No star is ever lost we once have seen, / We always may be what we might have been.” – Procter

“The hopes that, lost, in some far distance seem, / May be the truer life, and this the dream.” – Procter

“No other ghost has haunted the boy’s room, my friends, since I have occupied it, than the ghost of my own childhood, the ghost of my own innocence, the ghost of my own airy belief.” – Dickens

“What ardently we wish we long believe.” – Gaskell

“But the broken-hearted go home, to be comforted of God.” – Gaskell


–The Haunted House is Book #5 completed for the Victorian Celebration.

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Book Review, Charles Dickens, Fiction, Literature, Read-Alongs

Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Final Verdict: 3.50 out of 4.0

YTD: 40


Plot/Story:

3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens is considered to be his most autobiographical work.  As such, one would expect a certain amount of realism and empathy to be present in this book, perhaps more so than in any of his others.  Fortunately, this proves to be the case.  In comparison to Oliver Twist, for instance, which tackles many of the same themes as this book (most noticeably child orphans and neglect/abuse) David Copperfield proves to be much more effective, in that the story seems more grounded in reality and history, the characters seem more genuine, rounded, and believable, and the overall resolution takes into consideration not just the main character, David, but also those surrounding him – many of whom became important, cared about players in the story.  The honesty of this book elevates it above others’ of Dickens work, such as the historical A Tale of Two Cities which, while entertaining and interesting, does not quite connect as well on a human level.  David Copperfield is much more in sync with Dickens’s later works, such as The Mystery of Edwin Drood, in that you can sense Dickens in this book – his struggles, sorrows, triumphs, and haunting memories.


Characterization:

4 – Characters extraordinarily well developed.

Oftentimes, my second biggest gripe with Dickens is that his characterization and character development are almost non-existent.  He typically seems to employ static characters to represent the good and bad elements of life and nature.  The good characters, like Oliver Twist, are wholly good – sweet, innocent, naïve.  The bad characters, like Fagin, are just downright evil.  To an extent, Dickens does some of this in David Copperfield.  There are no redeeming qualities in Mr. and Miss Murdstone, for instance.  They are cold, hostile, devious siblings – and their motives are always clear and unchanging.   Uriah Heep, the anti-hero to our David, and his mother are quite easy to despise, particularly when they try to gain sympathy by proclaiming their “’umbleness.”  Similarly, there are the good characters who do no wrong – Peggotty and Mr. Pegotty, for example, are true friends to David and prime examples of hard work, kindness, and friendship.  There are in this tale, however, a few conundrums – people the reader can love sometimes and hate at other times.  Mr. Micawber, for example, is a good guy who keeps making bad mistakes.  Steerforth, too, though relatively easy to despise, also inspires a certain amount of empathy.  Even, and perhaps most importantly, the main character David can be exhausting at times but, ultimately, he is real and we root for him and his happiness in the end.  Of the six Dickens novels I have read so far, this is by far the closest Dickens comes to creating a world of roundness – believable characters, with both flaws and saving graces.  From Aunt Betsey to Mr. Traddles – Barkis to Dora Spenlow, these characters are interesting to watch because they can be surprising, which is something, I feel, Dickens stories often lack.


Prose/Style:

3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

The first argument I typically have against Dickens is that he says far too much.  He is unnecessarily long-winded most of the time.  Sometimes, it is in an attempt to be funny but, typically, it just seems to be “because.”  For the first quarter of the book, I feared David Copperfield was doomed to this failure – as many other Dickens works have been.  Fortunately, as it happens, I was quite wrong.  Although the first portion of the book was a bit of a drudge, the rest of the book was written beautifully.   As the story picked up and became more complicated, with David Copperfield establishing himself in business, falling in love, breaking friendships, and traveling abroad, the language wove an interesting web around him and his journey, one which connected the reader to David and encouraged him to come along, to see what happens, to experience what David was experiencing.  Dickens seemed to set aside the pretension with which he usually crafts his prose, in favor of a sophisticated but straightforward language.  It is possible that, the story being so near to Dickens personally, he felt less need to raise the language above it – as he does in his more didactic tales (where the prose often breaks into lecture and humorous diatribes).   Although I was not entirely satisfied, it was the closest I have come to being so.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

4 – Additional elements are present and enhance the story.

What is most rewarding about this book, particularly for one familiar with Dickens, is that he manages to get his point across without the preaching he does in so many other books.  This is clearly a story about perseverance, growth, and interpersonal relationships but, rather than try to convince the reader of this through narrative lecturing, Dickens accomplishes it through the story-telling itself.  All creative writers are at some point taught to “show, not tell” and while it may seem trite or cliché –perhaps even out of mode these days- to mention it, there is still much to be said about a writer who can show his reader what he means, without telling them.  This is exactly what Dickens accomplishes with David Copperfield.  If you can slug your way through the first three hundred pages of the book which, in my opinion, are rather slow, lofty, and indulgent, the reward is another five hundred pages of touching humanity in print – a boy, abandoned, is found and in the process, finds himself, not without stumbles and misjudgments along the way.  This is perhaps a Victorian equivalent of Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – less gritty and certainly haughtier but, ultimately, a satisfying tale of love, family, friendship, and coming-of-age.

Suggested Reading for:

Age Level:  Adult, Literary


Notable Quotes:

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

“It’s a mad world. Mad as Bedlam, boy!”

‘”Never,” said my aunt, “be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you.”’

“Accidents will occur in the best regulated families.”

“Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!”

“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”

“There can be no disparity in marriage like unsuitability of mind and purpose.”

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Charles Dickens, Read-Alongs

David Copperfield Check-In #1

David Copperfield Read-Along

Post 1 – Chapters 1-20 (Pages 1 -270)

Welcome to the first checkpoint for our read-along of the Charles Dickens classic, David Copperfield.  This is the first read-along hosted right here at Roof Beam Reader, so any questions, comments, or suggestions as we go along would be greatly encouraged and appreciated.  

I should start off by saying that, somehow, I managed to entangle myself with three books simultaneously this month, none of which are yet completed.  I’m also about 100 pages behind in this particular read-along, something I hope to correct by the end of the weekend.  Starting a new job and the excitement that is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 definitely put a slow-down on my typical reading habits.

Speaking of Harry Potter, did you know that Dan Radcliffe, the boy who has played Harry Potter in all eight movies, was first selected for an audition because of his role as David Copperfield?  Radcliffe did not even audition (in fact, his parents turned down the audition multiple times, as they did not want him to become a film star), but the producers enjoyed his David Copperfield performance so much that they kept at it until his parents said yes.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I do plan to watch it once I’ve finished the book!

Quotes and Meaning:

“-‘To insult one who is not fortunate in life, sir, and who never gave you the least offence, and the many reasons for not insulting whom you are old enough and wise enough to understand,’ said Mr. Mell, with his lip trembling more and more, ‘you commit a mean and base action.  You can sit down or stand up as you please, sir. Copperfield, go on.’

‘Young Copperfield,’ said Steerforth, coming forward up the room, ‘stop a bit.  I tell you what, Mr. Mell, once for all.  When you take the liberty of calling me mean or base, or anything of that sort, you are an impudent beggar.  You are always a beggar, you know; but when you do that, you are an impudent beggar.'” (P. 92)

I think this particular passage will come to sum up much of what the book is about – the wealthy classes, even those who appear kind or generous- abusing with insults, mimicry, and other un-kindnesses, the lower classes – even those who least deserve the insults.

Likes and Dislikes:

So far, the two things I like most so far are the characters and the prose.  As is not unusual with Dickens, I find characters who I instantly love (in this case, the Peggotty family) and characters who I instantly hate (in this case, the mother, Steerforth, and Mr. Creakle, and the Murdstones).  There are also those who I don’t have much of an opinion about and, interestingly, the main character tends to be one.  So far, I’m neither a fan of, nor an enemy of David Copperfield.  This was the case in Oliver Twist, too.  I don’t find David to be quite so innocent, angelic, or naive as Oliver Twist was (which annoyed me to no end), but he is not a stand-out character in any other way yet either.

What I dislike thus far is the story in general.  I’m ignoring Dickens’s robust prose, as one must, because we all know he wrote per word – so there are many, many words that could have been removed and likely made the story more digestible.  Still, that’s Dickens so I’ll leave that be.  I’m just not yet attracted by what’s happening.  Maybe this will change – I hope it will – and as there are nearly 700 pages left of the book, I assume quite a bit more will happen between now (David Copperfield arriving at Windsor Terrace) and the end.

What are your impressions so far?  Likes? Dislikes?  Are you all on pace with the timeline? 

Post 2: To be posted on July 31st. Will cover Pages 278 – 562 (Chapters 21 thru 41)

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1001 Books, Book Review, British Literature, Charles Dickens, Fiction, Read-Alongs

Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

YTD: 9

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful

It would be easy to say that Oliver Twist is a Victorian story about an orphaned boy who has to join a gang of ruffians in order to survive life on the streets but then, through some dues-ex-machina, is saved and rewarded beyond imagination.  The truth is, though, that Oliver Twist is not about any one boy’s plight; in fact, the character Oliver is probably not directly engaged in the story for more than perhaps half of the novel.  So, what is this story about, then?  It is about every orphaned boy or girl, and the misery they are forced to endure.  It is about the hypocrisy of a Christian society, who prides itself on the “charity” it provides to the poor, all the while blaming the poor for their own unfortunate circumstances and punishing any who dare to ask for more aid or better care.  Dickens manages to tell a nation’s story through the life of one boy; he exposes a dark, seedy underbelly to the public eye, and forces shame upon those who would stand by and do nothing, while innocents suffer.

Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

As with many Dickens novels, the characters in Oliver Twist tend to more caricatures than believable people.  The “bad” guys are purely bad, and the innocent Oliver is almost saint-like in every possible way.  The former gets frustrating when one considers that evil-incarnate is rather a rare thing, and typically the easy way out in fiction; and the latter is almost nauseating – Oliver is so sweet and tearfully good that it is hard for a realistic reader like myself not to just want to smack him around a bit.  Still, the point is taken – there is good and there is bad.  Good people are used and taken advantage of, bad people will scheme and plot with little regard for consequences, and often come to bad ends.  Be good, don’t be bad. What redeems the book in terms of characterization, though, are the few very interesting and multi-layered characters, like Mr. Brownlow and Nancy.   Both of these two have darker, dangerous sides, but turn out to be genuinely good people who sometimes have to go to extreme measures either to survive or to protect the ones they love. Mr. Losberne, too, who is an incredibly decent man, turns out to have a temper that can spoil any progress that Oliver or the others make in resolving their major issues (such as who is out to destroy Oliver, and why?).  Most of the characters are flat and static because they need to be, and because the story does not span a great length of time; but the characters who do change and who interact with one another are so much fun to watch and (let’s admit it) to laugh at, well, the pages just turn and turn.

Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

Discussing Dickens and prose sometimes gets me into trouble.  I believe Dickens was a great writer, but I think, had he lived in a time which would have rewarded him (financially) based on the literary and social merits of his work, rather than the word-count or page-length of it, he may have been even greater than he was.  I get highly distracted by the prose of his early works because he will go on for sentences and paragraphs, describing (very long-windedly) rather menial things, that could have been more purposefully and poignantly described in a few words or sentences.  Of course, Dickens does it because he was paid by word, so using ten words to describe “red hair” would have been highly advantageous.  Unfortunately, it makes his books chunky and burdensome at times, and it resulted in my not at all enjoying the first 80-pages or so of Oliver Twist.  Fortunately, Dickens is a great writer despite this handicap, and his satire and sarcasm are what truly carry his works, Oliver Twist included. Additional

Elements:
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

What makes this book so great is something that I mentioned above: it is not just about a boy named Oliver Twist who has it rough.  It is about human nature and a whole society which has gone ridiculously awry in its priorities – a society which has lost track of or forgotten how to read its moral compass.  You have a judge, for instance, perfectly willing to convict a boy of pick-pocketing, sending him to prison for life, without any evidence whatsoever that the boy committed the crime (leaving alone the sentencing of a young boy to life in prison for stealing a handkerchief).   You also have a community Beadle, the man responsible for caring for the local poor and homeless, who takes advantage of them, blames them for putting themselves into poverty (despite most of them having been born into it or left parentless at birth), and who sets the youth out to work hard labor at the slightest impetus, such as one asking for more porridge.  The book is highly cynical, but balances the critical with the satirical, painting this portrait of ridiculousness over the whole society – the low are made lower, and the high are brought down to Earth.  Had this been simply a book about a boy in trouble, it could have been interesting, sad, and heartwarming, but it would have lacked that larger impact – the condemnation of a people’s attitudes and actions towards the underprivileged and the needling-at of social consciousness.   Many have found fault in Dickens’s use of certain derogatory terms for people of particular races or religions, such as “The Jew” or “niggers,” and in his descriptive depiction of the murder of one of the prostitutes; while I can understand these concerns (and while I know enough about Dickens to feel generally uncomfortable about his potential for bigotry), I do believe that each of these descriptors was appropriate to the purpose of the novel, which was to depict a realistically dirty, gruff story about an equally damaged and soiled society.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  Advanced Teenager, Adult

Interest: History, Class, Society, Poverty, Caste System, Britain

Notable Quotes:

“The persons on whom I have bestowed my dearest love, lie deep in their graves; but, although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried there too, I have not made a coffin of my heart, and sealed it up, forever, on my best affections. Deep affliction has but strengthened and refined them.”

“But, tears were not the things to find their way to Mr. Bumble’s soul; his heart was waterproof.”

“Men who look on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, are in the right; but the sombre colours are reflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision.”

“As he glided stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth, by night, in search of some rich offal for a meal.”

“. . . there are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.”

“There is a drowsy state, between sleeping and waking, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious of everything that is passing around you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed, and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness. At such time, a mortal knows just enough of what his mind is doing, to form some glimmering conception of its mighty powers, its bounding from earth and spurning time and space, when freed from the restraint of its corporeal associate.”

 

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Book Review, Charles Dickens, Classics, Dennis Cooper, Fantasy, Gay Lit, Graham Greene, H.P. Lovecraft, Horor, J.K. Rowling, Literature, Religion, Robert Musil, T.A. Barron

Review: Brief Reviews of Earlier Reads

The Fires of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #3) by T.A. Barron

This has been the most disappointing book in the Merlin series, so far. It seemed to lack substance and flair. There are also many repeating themes and events – but not in a subtle way. It’s more like the author has chosen a few stock characters and re-uses them over and over. The story is still interesting and fun, I just hope the final two books will be better.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

Truly remarkable. To imagine a world in which law is outlaw and in which priests are hunted down and killed, to the very last one… terribly troubling.

The Seven Songs of Merlin (The Lost Years of Merlin #2) by T.A. Barron

Even better than the first – and makes me truly look forward to the third! The many, many similarities to the Lord of the Rings and to the Harry Potter series are a bit unnerving, though. Dissertation topic? Hmmm.

The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron

This first book in the series of Young Merlin leaves me wanting more – which is why I’m already 100 pages into the second book at the time I’m writing this review for the first! Though classified as “independent reader” books – meaning, for ages 10-14 or so, the book is also mature in nature and prose. Barron is an excellent story-teller and, while it lacks the maturity and complexity of the later books in the Harry Potter series, this first book is quite comparable to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Definitely worth the read – fast paced, fun, interesting, exciting. I’m convinced.

At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

Meh. I feel like this would make a pretty excellent movie, but the book (short as it was) dragged on and on. There was so much explanation of the fear, without any actual description of it… I suppose I’m a product of the “show, don’t tell” school of writing, because all Lovecraft did was tell, tell, tell. Even the descriptions -of apparently monstrous and terrifying alien beasts- were mundane and boring. Hard to do. I understand Lovecraft is supposed to be the godfather of terror but after this, my first experience, with his writing, I’m left disappointed. I doubt I’ll pick up another.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

We all know the story; we’ve all seen the movie. What we haven’t done, though, is read the book! And we should. The novella is quaint and brilliant and didactic and rough and everything purely and uniquely Dickensian. My only complaint is that this wasn’t one of Dickens’ longer works – it could have easily been a great novel. But it is still a beautiful little novella. Loved it. And what better time to read it than late December? “Merry Christmas, everyone!”

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Truly wonderful companion to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The tales in themselves are clever but the addition of the footnotes by J.K.R. herself and by Hermione Granger as translator, compound with the explanatory commentary by Dumbledore after each story, makes this read like a Norton Critical Edition of any classical literary work. Fantastic. The final tale, “The Three Brothers,” is the one which is directly referenced in the final Harry Potter Book (The Deathly Hallows). Reading that last tale, as well as the whole book, really made me want to dive back into the original series. Also, many magical creatures, historical figures, potions, etc. are referenced in the novel, with a footnote to find more information in Rowling’s other two supplementary books, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. The attention to detail remains fantastic and the series as a whole is beyond superb and is truly inspiring.

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper

Simultaneously the best and worst of Cooper’s novels. The worst because the story-line was a bit trite and the “internet-style” (is there a term for this yet? Web-lit? Blog-book?) is, at this point, outplayed and cliche. Though, to be fair, the book is probably one of the first to use the format, I’m just slow in picking it up. It’s also probably one of his best because the characters, though they all really turn out to be, well.. I don’t want to give anything away. Anyway, probably the most developed characters in any of his novels. The book took me months to read, though I normally fly through his books in a day. I think this is because I had a long-time relationship with a paranoid schizophrenic sociopath, and this book brought back incredibly vivid and unwelcome memories, so I tended to only read a few pages at a time. In any event, I do prefer the George Miles Cycle but Cooper still continues to prove that he’s a freak genius.

The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil

An interestingly philosophical take on the “darker” side of boarding school life. While only one of the characters in the novel (the abused boy) was remotely believable, the idea has merit. Musil’s prose is quite beautiful and I believe he almost accomplished what he meant to – raising questions about youth and sexuality and morality and consciousness. Whether any of the ideas are sound or answered, well, that’s another debate altogether. Intriguing read, though.

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Book Review, Charles Dickens, Fiction, Historical, Literature

Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“It wasn’t until after the first book (50 or so pages) of A Tale of Two Cities that I finally began to sink into the story and to appreciate what Dickens was developing. While there wasn’t as much opposition between London and Paris as I had expected (after all, the title and the history of the book make it seem that this is a story about the battle between, or at least the differences of, the two), the contrast between freedom in London versus persecution in Paris is obvious. It is also ironic that, while the Parisian “revolutionists” were espousing freedom and liberty, they were actually the cause of a great oppression of the French people and, particularly, of emigrants and nobles. Dickens does a masterful job of presenting this irony in a serious way. He allows the reader to sympathize with the plight of the peasant, while also condemning the over-zealous and destructive reaction of the lower class. The story itself reminds me – strikingly – of Les Miserables. The two main characters in both novels are an odd, prisoner father and his chaste, innocent-to-the-point-of-naiveté daughter. In A Tale of Two Cities, The daughter’s future husband reaches an epiphany about his father-in-law which allows the strange man to grow inestimably in character for the spouse; in Hugo’s Les Miserable, the young spouse is at first mistrustful of the ex-convict father but he also eventually reaches an understanding which brings the man into an almost saintly status. Also, in both, there are characters of unrelenting, spiteful yet understandable fervor. In A Tales of Two Cities, it is Madame Defarge, the vindictive wife of a wine-shopkeeper whose family was wronged in her youth and who will stop at nothing to avenge them, even if it means bringing down the innocent. Her counter-part in Les Miserables is Javert, the inscrutable police inspector who epitomizes absolute justice, regardless of man’s ability to change, grow, and make amends. Both novels are brilliant and, while I prefer Les Miserable on the whole, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is a more real description of the beginning of the French Revolution and it’s horrors, while Les Miserable largely takes place after the fact, during the reformation. In all, I would have to say that, once one gets through the rather clumsy introduction to the storyline and its characters in Book One, the tale then picks up and is rather impossible to put down.

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