‘My Ántonia’~ Book Review


“The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”

It recalls memories of the adventures of “Tom Sawyer”, Scarlet’s love of the land in “Gone with the Wind”, romantic tendencies towards philosophy in “The Great Gatsby” and a voice quite its own. For one, I really enjoyed the descriptions of nature, the vivid colours etched into your imagination of some place new, not yet experienced. A pocket into a time past.

On the edge of the prairie, where the sun had gone down, the sky was turquoise blue, like a lake, with gold light throbbing in it….the evening star hung like a lamp suspended by silver chains — like the lamp engraved up the title-page of old Latin texts, which is always appearing in new heavens and waking new desires in men.

There’s something about reading that makes creativity flow again, and I could well carry the images of the prairies with me as I went about my day. The plot mainly focuses on Ántonia, (My Ántonia) a Bohemian girl travelling to Nebraska with her family to escape poverty and build up the land from scratch- and the memories it affords to Jim Burden, orphaned at the age of 10. Though time passes and their lives are apart, he begins to write a journal of his childhood.

Time changes us all. We adapt and view things in different ways, ways which can give us some form of calm acceptance as we grow older. It’s true that one of the main aspects you miss about a place is it’s scenery and environment. Its overflowing nature, peace and greenery, solitude. The idea of leaving our modern lives behind, escape and live in a log cabin somewhere in the wilderness seems attractive and romantic. But the reality of the hardships Ántonia and her family have to face, immigrants from her native land- their struggle for survival is real.

“The older girls, who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers; they had all, like Antonia, been early awakened and made observant by coming at a tender age from an old country to a new.”

With any piece of writing, character development is by far one of the hardest – through speech or physical descriptions that need maintenance not just in introduction. Yet Willa Cather’s transition of Ántonia from child to adult captures her resilience, good nature, pure love for others and open, childlike wonder that sustains her as the yolk that brings all avenues of the story together.

Jim Burden’s devotion to Ántonia is remarkable in a way that transcends words. She represents to him his childhood days, his home, all the people that touched his life before he went away, memories that he has always cherished and carried with him. Their lives may have taken separate turns, but their collective memory is one that will always remain.  “…my mind plunged away from me, and I suddenly found myself thinking of the places and people of my own infinitesimal past.”

I will leave you with an extract – my particular favourite:

Of course it means you’re going away from us for good”, she said with a sigh. “But that doesn’t mean I’ll lose you. Look at my papa here; he’s been dead all these years, and yet he is more real to me than almost anybody else… The older I grow,  the better I know and understand him…”

About us was growing darker and darker, and I had to look hard at her face, which I meant always to carry with me ; the closest, realest face, under all the shadow  of women’s faces, at the very bottom of my memory. “I’ll come back,” I said earnestly, through the soft, intrusive darkness.

“Perhaps you will-” I felt rather than saw her smile. “But even if you don’t, you’re here, like my father. So I won’t be lonesome.”

As I went back along over that familiar road, I could almost believe that a boy and girl ran along beside me, as our shadows used to do, laughing and whispering to each other in the grass. 


‘Villette’ Review & New Books!!



Before I start reviews on these lovely editions, let me start by writing on something long overdue on my blog; ‘Villette’ by Charlotte Brontë.

Both as a human being and a teacher, there passed understanding between Lucy Snowe and I.

After a series of disasters that befall the protagonist Lucy at the start of the novel; she breaks free and starts anew to work on her own merit in a French school. There’s a complexity of feeling and contradictions, by the end you truly appreciate just how many layers the reader is drawn into …her self reliance in new surroundings, her command and discipline over unruly pupils-it involved perseverance (a chapter a night in my case) Lucy too persevered through the pages. By no means faultless, she is strong in her convictions, and a willpower that could probably cut through steel. Her high depreciation for herself means she isn’t able to understand why anyone would love her, and stays much in the shadows. It contrasts against the shining qualities of Ginevra Earnshaw and little ‘Paulina’. I can only compare that Lucy has the constancy of a rock, versus Paulina’s elegance and inner shine, and perhaps- superficial glow of Ginevra.

I wanted to meet the characters and judge for myself what they were really like. It seemed that by the end you are unable to get a clear picture of any individual, which is true because it would take a lifetime (and more!) to really study the complexities of another. Lucy too grew to fondness ~

“There are people from whom we secretly shrink, whom we would personally avoid though reason confesses they are good people, those with faults of tempers …besides whom we live content as if the air about them did us good.”

A lot of French, and I only understood the basics! Sometimes I wished there would be translations in the large segments of text, but you can somehow infer from the passage the meaning, so it wasn’t a big problem. ‘Villette‘ is mysterious, religious, touching almost on the fantastical- but all are resolved and brought back into the realms of reality- from the appearance of the ghostly nun Justine Marie and the walk through the fete at midnight, induced by a drugged opium state.

The ending too leaves it open to the reader to decide- for Lucy her life has been much of disappointment and observation, she never believed anything good would come to her and yet she has experienced more emotions, more heartache and reasons to be grateful than any of the other characters. Through loss, she has gained something else. A deeper understanding and acceptance, a depth of love quite inspirational.

“I used to think what a delight it would be for one who loved him better than he loved himself, to gather and store up those handfuls of gold dust, so recklessly thrown up to heaven’s reckless winds.”

There is something about the Brontë sisters.

In Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, in Anne’s ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’, of Charlotte’s own ‘Jane Eyre’. What do they have in common? Though this novel touches upon Lucy’s complicated relationships and luckless romances, perhaps you can argue that they understand what it is to feel loss, to show inner strength through determination of spirit and passion; you can feel this no doubt from their novels. They makes you uncomfortable, it is unsettling. Nobody can ever confuse ‘Wuthering Heights‘ with a light or easy read. There is no promise of a happy ending. It is about accepting this is what life is, never predictable, never carefree, and definitely not safe from loss on any accounts.

Unless you are an avid literature fan, this may not be the one that opens the avenue of your hidden passion for reading classics. But, I would say it’s worth it if, like me, your passion already is to read as many and as much of them as you can get your hands on.



Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

“Treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends; they wound those who resort to them worse than their enemies.” 

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At first glance, Wuthering Heights appears to be a Gothic romance set amidst the wilderness of the Yorkshire moors. It encompasses the ferocity of raw emotions- of treachery, obsession and revenge. W.H is dark and brooding and does not have the light-hearted or witty societal interactions present in Jane Austen’s works. In my opinion, it is less a story of love, and more of possession; something deeper, a rawness of spirit that propels them to inflict the pain and damage to one another. It is almost spiritual in that Heathcliff believes the ghost of Cathy haunts him still after her death, and there will be no peace for them in the afterlife.

The narrative encompasses a period of 50 years and passes through 3 generations of two households- the Lintons and Earnshaws. I can understand why some readers may find it confusing; I had to keep turning back over the pages to find out who was who (cousins marrying cousins and various surname changes). It is told by a housekeeper Nelly Dean and a visitor to the moors- Mr. Lockwood. Between them they manage to piece together the event for the reader (reliable voices or no, it is up to you to judge!) it is one aspect of storytelling. I feel a lot of gothic novels such as Dracula, Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, are written as first person through journals and letters. This allows us to experience from a subjective point of view, but I wonder if this make us feel 100% committed to a character, or even to form our own unbiased opinion.

Wuthering_Heights_family_tree One thing you notice- no character is likeable. Though I felt no emotional connection with the individuals, (Heathcliff is violent, domineering and abusive, Cathy flighty and emotionally erratic), there was something about their plight that moved me. In my opinion a successful book is supposed to make you feel a range of emotions, frustration, anger maybe, or even hatred- these are all significant to your growth as a reader. To move you to feel these things- an essence that makes you feel a natural affinity to a novel. For me W. H though highly dramatized, is closer to reality for me than something like “Pride and Prejudice”. It encompasses the devastation of reality, of death and disappointment and unfulfilled yearnings. I don’t know why I drew this comparison, but I feel W.H has similar gritty, stark truths (murder and mental torture) comparable to certain scenes of the North in ‘Game of Thrones‘, albeit a censored, classical literature version!

Bronte’s depiction of the nature of Heathcliff and the wild Catherine are reflective of the setting- the harsh weather and isolation of the country. W H did leave a lasting impression on me, certain songs would remind me of scenes. I would imagine Cathy tapping on the glass, a ghost girl with a shrill cry and blood dripping on the windowsill, trying to break through the casement to reach inside. All images the Yorkshire Dales can inspire! Honestly, I think it’s important to have some sense of the isolation of the place, to imagine the structure of the buildings, the weather, landscape and daily pursuits of the young Heathcliff and Cathy to get a better idea of what Emily Bronte envisioned to be the backdrop of her novel.

w.heightsAnd last but not least, I will leave you with Hayley Westenra’s version of “Wuthering Heights”(originally sung by Kate Bush)

Some questions I want to ask you guys:

– How is W H comparable to Romeo & Juliet as a love story?

-What do you think Emily Bronte’s main message was, that she hoped to carry through to the reader? Main themes?

-Do you think it’s important to know about the author, in order to understand a book better? Emily died 1 year after completing “Wuthering Heights” at the age of 30, her sister Anne following. They had such short lives (if we compare to the life expectancy now). The novel was published posthumously by her sister Charlotte.


~The Shadow of the Wind~ Review

img_1424“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who   wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it…” 

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a very crafty storyteller. A multi-layered, multi dimensional story within a story that spans across many generations. Just when you think that you can go no further in the depths of mystery and intrigue, there is yet another layer that draws you deeper.
Having been such a fan of “The Book Thief”, I thought I would read anything that told of misunderstood writers, the discovery lost books in carnivorous libraries, shrouded in an air of mystery and adventure. It falls under both these genres, and more as a thriller; and in part, a romance. It tells of the depths of revenge, and just how extensively hatred can corrupt a person over time.

Wow, what can I say. Days of being hooked on this book- glued, obsessed, devouring it (insert any adjectives to describe) all the while fearing I would go blind from the amount of binge reading I was doing.
The story begins with a father taking his son to the cemetery of forgotten books, and how a boy, feeling the weight of a thousand voices speaking to him, bonds with the book “The Shadow of the Wind.” In this cemetery of forgotten books, it is said that a person is destined to find the one that will form a deep connection with themselves. The protagonist soon discovers he must unravel the mystery that surrounds the book, and the countless characters that pass its pages-which start to materialise in his reality.
There are many parallels in the novel. The life of Julian Carax, the writer of the mysterious books, “The Shadow of the Wind” being one of many; and the main protagonist, Daniel Sempere. It is no doubt a coming of age story, taking the reader along Daniel’s journey from boy to adulthood. I had a certain relish in reading from a male protagonist’s point of view (probably because the main characters in my current stories tend to be female)

As a writer and a die hard book-worm, there is nothing about this novel that doesn’t draw me in. But at the start, I confess, it took me a while to truly fall in love with the book. I was intrigued with the theme and the plot line, for I knew they were something I was interested in. I even started it a while back, and put it down amidst countless distractions. But it pays to be patient.
The style is fresh and poetical, with some really beautiful descriptions of setting. But most of all, I enjoyed the humour of Fermin Romero de Torres, a homeless man whom Daniel befriends one night, and later recruits to work at his father’s bookshop. He provides much needed comic relief to what is otherwise quite a heavy, and dark narrative; he is loyal, a perfect companion. In contrast to Fermin, is Javier Fumero, a corrupt police office and the antagonist of the novel. He murders without remorse and holds an  irrefutable grudge towards Fermin and Julian Carax… spoilers aside, I will share some of my favourite quotes:

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”

“I heard a regular customer say that few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memory to which, sooner or later—no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover, or how much we learn or forget—we will return.”

One of my all time favourite: “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”

This novel is like a dedication for those who appreciate books and reading. I couldn’t get enough of it. So when I heard there was a sequel, (and a prequel, but they exist as separate narratives, without having to be read in order) I literally squealed in delight. Not to mention, there is always something romantic about a Spanish novel…

Recently I also finished: “The Age of Innocence” by Edith Wharton, “The Book of Lost Things” by John Connolly, “Burial Rites“by Hannah Kent and of course “The Shadow of the Wind.” Definitely a mixed bunch when it comes to plots & genres, but will ponder on whether there will be upcoming reviews on these in the future.

Further book reviews on F Scott Fitzgerald will come in due course…20150116_172356


“Martin Chuzzlewit”- The Dark Horse of Dickens?

swirl-divider4Described by Dickens as “in a hundred points immeasurably the best of my stories”, we come to the 7th of his novels, “Martin Chuzzlewit.” Unfortunately, the general public didn’t seem to agree about it being the best, so it has always remained low profile.

You can argue it’s  natural and typical-an author’s pride, joy and dear baby never seems to be appreciated by others quite as much as they themselves do. So we can feel for Dickens.


Mr Pecksniff and old Mr Chuzzlewit

1) The themes explored in the novel include murder, satire, deception, selfishness, selfishness and more selfishness. (some are not very nice people).

2) The protagonist Martin travels to America to a colony situated in a swamp, he becomes very ill,  is at the brink of death and sinks into a period of ruin and despair. Despite his hardships, he becomes much improved by the time he returns to Britain, with the aid of his very optimistic and jolly friend Mark Tapley.


3) It illustrates Dickens’s turning point towards the darker threads of human nature and refinement of his writing style, comparing the satire and humour of “Nicholas Nickleby” against his later novels such as “Tale of Two Cities”, “Our Mutual Friend”, “Great Expectations” and “Bleak House”. 

4) Dickens portrays America in a poor light; “deface the banner of the nation for an idle rag, pollute it star by star, and cut our stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded soldier.” Offensive to many of his American readers? It seems the novel and its characters are quite biased in regards to Dickens’s first visit to the country. He must have had a really bad experience….

Our Mentionable Characters:

  • Mr Pecksniff and his hypocrisy. He is a character you are itching to strangle. Even the online dictionary has an entry in his honour. Pecksniffery/Pecksniffian: adj- affecting benevolence or high moral principles.

Martin, Mr Pecksniff with his two daughters and Tom Pinch

  • The admirable Tom Pinch who puts others needs before his, humble and loyal. Everyone’s friend. You want to wrap him up in cotton wool and keep him safe. But without the juxtaposition of other villains and the unfair trials Tom must bear, his positive qualities cannot shine through.
  •  Martin is not the focus. He is weak minded, sometimes fickle and lacks a commanding personality despite his improvement later in the novel. An interesting question is how he is comparable to Dickens’s other protagonists?? Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, even Nicholas. (yes it has come to a point where I am on a first name basis with him)
  • Mrs Gamp. Described as a “drunken and verbose” nurse, she provides much comedic relief to the story. Honestly, the things she says hardly makes sense, but she is reliable and does her job well. That’s all we need to know.

Mrs Gamp immortalised on a stamp

5) Perhaps you need to be a die-hard fan to be motivated to finish this novel. It is quite wordy and so dedicated reading is a must, to pick up from where you left off. Maybe one day I will give it another chance from the beginning! Though it took me a lot longer to complete, nevertheless- I did enjoy it and will be sad when my collection of Dickens is finished! I console myself that there is yet “A Tale of Two Cities” to go…

Wind On Fire Series & Book signing!?

20140828_154226For us 90’s kids, this will bring back memories. Memories of fantasy trilogies, memories of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials”

William Nicholson came to my secondary school for a casual book signing in yr 9- it seemed not many people had heard of him at the time and around 6 people showed up. (Me being the book nerd even then) I figured I was in the minority. He didn’t become my favourite teen author until some time after, so in hindsight, boy am I glad I went ~ Fan girl moment!~


20140828_154214Each book in the trilogy is so different. They can exist independently, or as one long story. They leave you with a strange, dreamy feeling. It takes place in a world that could be our own. In an unknown country, a society tucked away; a city within a city, people so like us and yet live in under such different circumstances. It is this which is so appealing. William Nicholson has an amazing way of establishing a premise for his novels, a world with its own lore that provides a perfect escapism for the reader. In fact, reading the second novel “Slaves of the Mastery” you may think it shares many similarities with Gladiator, with the shadow of a coliseum, fights, spell binding dances and hard weary travelling through dusty terrain. And there’s a reason for this. Wait for it….the author is actually the screen writer for “Gladiator”, “Les Miserables” and “First Knight”.

gladiator  first_knight les_miserables_ver11_xlg

So not only is he a screenwriter, but he’s also a playwright and novelist! However, something I wondered about- the trilogy was never made into a film. Though the books had the potential to be made for the big screens, I’m glad it wasn’t. There are so many books ruined by films that even the authors themselves have come to despise all that their hard work, sweat and passions had gone into. Of course, this isn’t ALWAYS the case.

So what happens in the books? Read on to find out…

windsinger“The Wind Singer”

In the walled city of Aramanth, exams are everything. When Kestrel Hath dares to revel, the Chief Examiner humiliates her father and sentences the whole family to the harshest punishment. Desperate to save them, Kestrel learns the secret of the wind singer and she and her twin brother, Bowman, set out on a terrifying journey to the true source of evil that grips Aramanth.

They go underground and meet mud people, have desert battles aboard fierce ships swept by the winds, defeat an army of beautiful and captivating Zars bent on destroying all in their path, all the while trying to escape old children whose touch will turn them old and frail. So, a lot happens.

There is a five years gap between the first and the second book, and the twins (of about 10 or 11) are kids no longer…

slaves of hte mastery

“Slaves of the Mastery”

“When the ruthless soldiers of the Mastery strike, the city is burned and its people are taken into slavery.” The twins Kestrel and Bowman are separated and she vows revenge. Kestrel is a spirited character, bold and energetic- a kid who never does what she’s asked and a bit of a trouble maker (as shown by the first book!) whereas her brother is quiet and reflective, and has astounding abilities of empathy. (and later, mind reading)  The characters have grown up, and are no longer children and you as the reader follow them on this journey. As action packed as the first book was, the second is on a larger scale, think Lord of the Rings with epic battles…


Now we get to the final instalment which is perhaps my favourite, though the most frustrating. The characters are in search of their homeland through ice – to face starvation, blizzards and kidnapping by bandits as well as encountering mind control. This book is a coming of age story, the young, happy go lucky kids in the first book are young adults now, who face very adult fears and concerns. Fear over losing a parent, of unattainable goals, of illness, death and sacrifice. They must all make important decisions.
It made me feel a range of emotions. When I first read it I wasn’t satisfied with the ending, it made me angry. But I think that’s the point of it. To make you feel a range of emotions, happiness, sadness, fear and anger; to think about your own life. The ending wasn’t perfect, and it took me a while to realise that was okay. That’s real life.


The most important thing I learnt from the ending was about faith. Bowman has a blind, almost spiritual faith to guide them to the homeland, a faith in the good of humanity and that good will defeat evil. Kestrel on the other hand, a sceptic from start to finish often has opposing views. She feels helpless and isolated when her brother slowly starts to distance himself from her.

So what initially confused me, is what does happens to Kestrel? It seems each character has a part to play and Kestrel realises she must sacrifice herself, in order to purge the world of the Morah- the evil that spreads across the land. It is through faith in the greater good. But, there is a part of her that lives in the mind of her twin brother, Bowman. I always had the idea that Kestrel and Bowman would remain together- they understood each other and were each a part of the other, with the ability to communicate without speaking. For some reason, the idea of them separating was heartbreaking, and at the time I didn’t understand why they would have to go through life independently, or even, why one had to go away.


The plot lines are extremely memorable and unique, and very imaginative. SO much happens and yet it all links together perfectly and manages to maintain its simplicity. I imagine the books to represent the elements. The city of Aramanth in the first as earth, the second as fire and destruction, the third air and ice.
They are one of those books that become part of your childhood, growing up with a story that contributes to your concepts and your ideas and if powerful enough- actually form the basis of who you are/will be as an adult.

That’s why children’s and teen books are so important for providing a positive message.

So let me know what you thought of the books, if you have read them or would like to.

If you had 5 minutes with the author, what would you say, or ask?


Seeing the Invisible Man

swirl-divider4Some consider it to be the most important American novel of the twentieth century. “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison is the Winner of the National Book Award for fiction and is no doubt powerfully written. So why is it so good?

1) The narrator begins by claiming “I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me….It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves.”


INVISIBLE MAN Sculpture, Ralph Ellison Memorial, West Harlem, New York City

2) The Invisible Man (or IM as we shall call him for the sake of this review!) is frank, with clever antidotes. He has no name, but we learn as the reader to not only question his character, but also later-to trust the strength of his narrative voice. When I was reading this book at school, I felt I could relate to him.. He has dreams, and passions. He lays out all his flaws to the reader, allowing us to form our own opinions, of both character and events. Perhaps it is this which makes him appear so honest and easy to relate to.

'The Invisible Man' dress rehearsal at Studio Theatre

‘The Invisible Man’ dress rehearsal at Studio Theatre

3) IM is HIGHLY VISIBLE as an African American but invisible as an individual. Perhaps, TOO VISIBLE in a white dominated society. He is educated, a great public speaker and has inspiring thoughts on social responsibility- but in the eyes of others his race segregates him from his peers. It highlights the universal question on whether people see you for who you are inside or merely a stereotype, boxed into categories of race, class, gender. This is a prevalent theme throughout the novel.

4) We learn his views on resistance, which is important when you get to know a character. IM says, “hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.” I just love this quote. Furthermore his grandfather’s advice is: in order to protect the truth you must tell them what they want to hear. The character of Dr Bledsoe says ‘play the game but don’t believe in it.’  It becomes apparent IM still intends on taking action, he does this by raising support from the people gradually through the power of words and intellect rather than the mass violence of ‘Ras the Exorter’.


5) He encounters many form of racism in the novel. He is forced to fight at the start of the book, constantly humiliated and unjustly punished. The novel illustrates Racism on a public versus a personal level. The character of ‘Ras’ depicts the tension between the races. ‘Ras’ hates all whites, whereas IM, as part of the brotherhood respects that some are willing to help. When he starts to work at Liberty paints he sees the ingrained racism at the centre of its operations. The union members advocate the rights of the individual, however it raises hatred and hostility. You learn a lot about IM, his morality against adversary and the reader too develops with him on his journey.

6) It is a very inspiring book. In fact, out of all my years at uni; this has to be the one I enjoyed the most. The narrator is sympathetic. He feels like an old friend. I think this is important. At various points in the narrative, he may appear to be an underdog but you can guarantee he will turn words into action when the time comes. He inspires hope, he is ready to take action, channelling talent into usefulness and rules the mob. From the start he has a strong sense of moral justice, you can say it is this which keeps him motivated through the novel. He may be oppressed and taken advantage of in his early years, but be sure about it, he is able to FIGHT BACK.


7) At the end of the novel, he must destroy old life to be reborn. He manipulates the system, uses his invisibility to his advantage. “I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest”, but after a while, trying to please others didn’t work. It shows that he does not belong in society- he will always be judged by others because of his race and so decides to live on his own underground with his own thoughts and reflections to establish his own self identity.

“Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live a death. I myself, after existing some twenty years, did not become alive until I discovered my invisibility Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well; and to be unaware of one’s form is to live a death. I myself, after existing some twenty years, did not become alive until I discovered my invisibility.” 


Ralph Ellison

8) To show how much I appreciated the book, I bought it twice. Crazy or not? But I wanted to keep a copy without annotations in, which I left behind. It is definitely good to have a hard copy to keep. The Times claimed it to be “one of the most important American novels of the twentieth century”. Regardless of whether this is true or not- it is definitely a novel worth reading, and I’m inclined to agree with them…

9) So let me leave you with this:

“Ralph Ellison’s blistering and impassioned first novel tells the extraordinary story of a man invisible ‘simply because people refuse to see me’. Published in 1952 when American society was on the cusp of immense change, the powerfully depicted adventures of Ellison’s invisible man- from his expulsion from a Southern college to a terrifying Harlem race riot- go far beyond the story of one individual. As John Callahan says ‘in an extraordinary imaginative leap, he hit upon a single word for the different yet shared condition of the African Americans, Americans and, for that matter, the human individual in the twentieth century, and beyond.’”


Ralph Ellison Monument

“Northanger Abbey”~ Let’s talk Austen!

Felicity-Jones-Northanger-Abbey-felicity-jones-16178818-2560-1414Northanger Abbey is notably a coming of age story. So can the protagonist Catherine be considered an inspiring heroine?

“Catherine Morland, a quixotic young woman who sees things through the distorted lens of the Gothic novel, must grow out of that illusion. In doing so, she follows the trajectory typical of all true novels: she moves from innocence to experience. Catherine must change, she must react to life and become, by the end of her story, another person”- from the introduction by Alfred Mac Adam.

So what does this book teach you? That reading too many Gothic novels leaves you unprepared for the real world? That you ought to look out for ‘false friends’? That you shouldn’t make too many presumptions about other people, especially their parents- which can lead you into a lot of trouble?

If you have ever felt frustration, you will relate to this novel in some degree. The amount of times Catherine is stopped in pursuing a path, or keeping a promise, or thwarted in her plans is truly frustrating. It is definitely something the modern reader can empathise with, when often good intentions do not turn out quite as you expect.


Henry Tilney & Catherine Morland

It has a simple storyline, it is humorous, satirical and mysterious. Catherine is a romantic girl and dreams about things that, let’s face it- are unlikely to happen in real life, hence she is often disappointed. She is young, but also (another country girl comparable to Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby) a moral character. If she has done wrong or made a mistake, she will do all she can to remedy it, no matter pride or the consequence. In this light, it makes her a likeable character.

“She mediated, by turns, on broken promises and broken arches, phaetons and false hangings, Tilneys and trap-doors.” 

Northanger Abbey - Lismore Castle

Northanger Abbey – Lismore Castle

The story details Gothic castles, suspicious looking chests, locked rooms and mysterious notes. Definitely something for the lovers of Gothic fiction. However Catherine’s romantic fancies lead her to some dramatic conclusions and she must learn to not only respect the feelings of others but also to atone for her mistakes- especially to those she has come to love.

I have known people to say they do not like this novel. It is perfectly fine, because Jane Austen isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. So what do other famous authors think of her? Charlotte Bronte resented what she called Austen’s lack of sentiment, “I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.”  Mark Twain went even far as to say “Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone..” Wow…steady on there Twain! Let’s just agree that all novels (and authors) have their merits eh!


On a more positive note, Penguin calls Northanger Abbey the ‘most youthful and optimistic’ of Jane Austen’s romances. Perhaps because it is fun, light hearted and a comparatively short novel; different to some of her other perhaps more universally liked works, such as “Sense and Sensibility” or “Emma”. But there is something reliable in the unlikely 17yr old heroine Catherine. She has a good heart and means well, thrust into an adventure she could little foresee.  As Alfred Mac Adam claims, she matures as the novel progresses, changing her view on life, but most importantly, of herself as a person. It is something we as readers can definitely relate to as we follow her journey.

“The Old Curiosity Shop”: A Strange and Moving Tale


This spiritual tale is Dicken’s 4th after “Nicholas Nickleby”.

“Dark and dream-like, The Old Curiosity Shop is filled with unforgettable, grotesque characters: Quilp, a demonic dwarf who eats eggs in their shells and drinks boiling rum, a loving grandfather with a terrible gambling addiction, frail but loving Nell and her wicked brother Frederick, corrupt, abusive lawyer Sampson Brass and good hearted hero Kit Nubbles. Famously one of Dickens’s most moving tales, The Old Curiosity Shop is also one of his strangest and most memorable.”

Scan 18

1) I really enjoyed the book, it was partly this edition too (Penguin English Library) that started my more dedicated reading of his lesser known novels.

2) It is a tragic story of young, loving Nell who escapes from the inner city of London with her grandfather to take refuge in the English countryside. There is great juxtaposition between Dickens’s vivid descriptions of  the city versus that of the quiet solitude they experience on the road out of London. It is not hard to understand why the grandfather would develop a paranoia that they are constantly being chased and have to move on, further, quicker to their journey’s end.

3) The reason for their flight is due to- Daniel Quilp. Seen as one of Dickens’s most evil villains- a devilish dwarf who abuses his wife and terrifies everyone around him. He is controlling and takes sadistic pleasure in the suffering of other people. Nell’s grandfather borrows money off him, and naturally Quilp uses this to his advantage. He takes control of the old man’s property (the curiosity shop) upon his illness…in fact, there is nothing Quilp won’t do…as you will find out.


4) This illustration pretty much sums it all up. Quilp cackling away in a corner, delighting in terrifying people while Nell’s grandfather hides his head in despair; while poor, loving Nell comforts him.

5) When you read the novel, you have a feeling the end will be tragic. It is believed the inspiration of little Nelly Trent is from Dickens’ sister-in-law, Mary Hogarth. When she died in 1837 at the age of 17 he was heartbroken. He wore a ring of Mary’s the rest of his life, and wanted to be buried in the same grave as her upon his death.

6) “Then, on it came again, silent and stealthy as before, and replacing the garments it had taken from the bedside, dropped upon its hands and knees, and crawled away. How slowly it seemed to move, now that she could hear but not see it, creeping along the floor! It reached the door at last, and stood upon its feet. The steps creaked beneath its noiseless tread, and it was gone.” – This has to be one of the most nightmarish images in a Dickens book. I could just imagine a hunchbacked creature with spindly legs stealthily crawling about my room at night – right out of a horror film. Of course what makes it worse is this ‘creature’ Nell sees stealing money from her room is no other than her own grandfather.


Kit is taught by Nell in the old curiosity shop

7) The character of loyal and endearing Kit Nubbles creates a contrast against Quilp and the scheming lawyer Sampson Brass.  He is dedicated to the well being of his family and loves little Nell dearly. Quilp hates him with a passion, resenting his dedication to the family, taking great pains to destroy the boy. He even has a wooden figure head put up in his home to represent Kit, which he defaces and attacks at every given chance. Poor Kit!

8) The novel is definitely dreamy and dark, and as the summary makes reference to, is no doubt one of Dicken’s strangest and most memorable novels. It exists in a little sphere of its own – existing in a snow globe.

nell takes comfort among the tombstones

Nell takes comfort among the tombstones

9) Nell’s innocence is corrupted by her grandfather’s gambling addiction…weeks of weary travel and they are reduced to beggars. This no doubt affects her health.  She is often described as an angel, a little girl who takes comfort among the tombstones, appreciating the stillness and the quietude of the nature around her. Strangely her character is not as well developed as you might hope , and does not appear too often as the main protagonist.

10) I’m a big fan of illustrations in Dickens. There are great illustration per chapter in this edition which really brings the narrative to life.

Overall, the book was enjoyable and one of the first I finished before I began the idea of writing a review on Dickens. I really recommend “The Old Curiosity Shop” for those who are just starting on Dickens and want one of his lighter books to read. It is a touching story and one that you will remember for a long time afterwards…

“Nicholas Nickleby”: A Tale of Satire

swirl-divider4“I shall never regret doing as I have—never, if I starve or beg in consequence.”

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens is a story critics have until recently, found fault in. But it has remained one of the general public’s favourite. Why?

Sure it has aspects of the theatrical and flamboyant. Though critics have found the characters “one dimensional and the plot too episodic”, it had immediate success upon publication. There is something about Nicholas that makes him worthy as Dickens’s male protagonist. He has a mixture of naivety, innocence, optimism and youthful gallantry- the people’s champion through his indignation towards injustice.


Let’s look at a summary: “One of Dickens’s most flamboyant and theatrical novels, Nicholas Nickleby is the story of an impulsive young man who, forced to make his way in the world encounters human life in all its variety: the tyrannical headmaster Wackford Squeers, the tragic orphan Smike, the  ridiculous Mantalinis, the hilarious thespians Mr and Mrs Crummles and their daughter, ‘the infant phenomenon’. Nicholas Nickleby is fired by outrage at cruelty and injustice, but is above all a work filled with riotous, life- affirming comedy.”

Wow. So all that said and done, what did I think after reading it?

1. Sticking to this ‘outrage at cruelty and injustice’, the best example of this is through his punishment of the tyrannical Yorkshire schoolmaster Wackford Squeers. Taking up a situation as mentor/teacher without real knowledge of his situation, Nicholas witnesses the unjust treatment, starvation, illness, violent beatings and the shoddy education the headmaster preaches. In fact, Dotheboys Hall is not a real hall at all but a house with a sort of farm shed used for teaching the boys. Dickens portrays the horrors of many Yorkshire boarding schools for unwanted children (we are also brought to the attention the cruelty of “evil step parents” who sent their kids to boarding school to get them out of their lives)


The thrashing of Wackford Squeers, immortalised on a Royal Mail stamp

2. What makes Nicholas’s punishment of Wackford Squeers of Dotheboys Hall so satisfying is that he is not under obligation to Squeers. Nicholas is old enough to take matters into his own hands and make his mark in the world- if he chooses to. He can be impulsive and rash, but essentially he represents the voice and mind of the reader through his indignation of injustice and in this- he never fails.

3. Nicholas Nickleby is Dickens’s third novel after “Oliver Twist”. There are comparisons that can be made in his writing style and focus at the time of publication, to his later works.

4. Nicholas befriends a poor orphan named Smike- a truly tragic and heart breaking character who becomes his fast friend, escaping with him from the boarding school. Smike follows him on his journey throughout the novel.


The internal economy of Dotheboys Hall

5. Like many protagonists, Nicholas is under obligation to someone or another (may it be morally or financially). After his father’s death he becomes “the man of the family”, yet as a country boy in a large city and still ignorant of the ways of the world, must rely on the goodwill of others. Upon his arrival, he and his small family (consisting of mother and sister) are under obligation to his uncle. Well, we can guess how that turns out….

6. The villains in the novel are as bad as those iconic of Dickens. The cynical, miserable Uncle Ralph takes a disliking to his nephew and schemes to undermine and break him- even using his sister Kate as bait. Ralph Nickleby is a man consumed and destroyed by revenge, in which nothing can appease him.

7. The other notable character is Wackford Squeers himself. He is a deplorable and morally perverse character but the reader is often disappointed at how little he appears. The novel naturally follows Nicholas and save from various chapters where the narrative of Ralph takes over, Squeers fades into the background.


8. It has become a part of course really, the more I read of Dickens, for the summary to refer to each “book in question” to be the most SATIRICAL and contain Dickens’s MOST realised and comical characters. Each book claims this and well, there is truth in it. It just wouldn’t be a Dickens without them. As a writer, I only wish I could have even half the range of character development as he does…

9. Halfway through the book, Nicholas’s luck changes and so does the pace and structure of the narrative. You are still anxious for Nicholas as his enemies try to outwit and close in on him at every corner, but I found it harder to commit myself, and it took me longer to get through the book.

Nicholas Nickleby dickens-n-nickleby-4

9. I found myself getting bored with some of the events (his pursuit of Madeline Bray). In my opinion, there were characters and events taking place in “Our Mutual Friend” that kept the plot going far quicker. I can’t say I was disappointed exactly, because I was still satisfied with the ending, and how events turned out. However, some of the things in Nicholas Nickleby seemed a bit superfluous and failed to grab me like some of the other books.

10. I saw the BBC series of Nicholas Nickleby once upon a time, and it did influence my image of Nicholas, (softly spoken, tall, gentlemanly) so this was going round in my mind while I was reading the book. Dickens doesn’t actually describe his physical appearance or even his character in detail, so it is up to us; the reader to form our own opinions. But this does not desist from the point that it is almost impossible not to love such a, dare I say it; faultless character. He will remain in the vault, as one of Dickens’s most memorable protagonists to date.


Nicholas Nickleby 2002 film adaptation