Go Set A Watchman

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It is by no means considered a real sequel to TKAM (To Kill a Mockingbird) so like me, I went in without any expectations but interest as to why it received such controversy. I understand why some may think this novel is incomplete, or insubstantial. The ending is abrupt and people uproared against the portrayal/change in the much loved Atticus Finch. But if you wanted an epic saga then you had better read Lord of the Rings. Imagine it more of a snapshot of an internal conflict that occurs within Scout. It shows reality. It is real life, the change in society; history repeating itself.

Let’s face it, as we grow up we face multiple harsh realities. It’s like a slap in the face. We end up re-evaluate our past beliefs, (How can this be? The veil has been taken away and you see the world for what it is- with all the ugly, complicated and messy truths. Were we blind?) Like Scout (Jean Louise) our constructed world can be shattered when we realise what we once held so dear- our morals, events in our childhood; are not black or white, but simply the hues of grey in between.

Maybe it was never complete to start off with, and we need a certain level of maturity to truly see things as they really are.

Scout struggles hard. As a child she put her father Atticus Finch on a high pedestal, revering him almost as a God. Basing her sense of right and wrong, of morality, justice on the way he had taught her. That all people are equal, individuals. Yet when she returns home, she finds the town in political turmoil, she is disgusted to witness her close family/friends taking part in an act she views as a betrayal. Maycombe is not as it once was and she is physically sick when she cannot process the information for what she believes to be hypocritical behaviour.

“On any other day she would have stood barefoot on the wet grass listening to the mockingbirds’ early service; she would have pondered over the meaninglessness of silent, austere beauty renewing itself with every sunrise and going ungazed at by half the world. She would have walked beneath yellow-ringed pines rising to a brilliant eastern sky, and her senses would have succumbed to the joy of the morning.

It was waiting to receive her, but she neither looked nor listened.”

 You could argue that since TKAM Atticus Finch does not change, only more of his character is revealed through the eyes of his daughter. He maintains a sense of justice, his actions ‘to see the man behind the mask’ (to see the harm he can do) and his awareness of race arguably still make him a moral man.

“But a man who has lived by truth—and you have believed in what he has lived—he does not leave you merely wary when he fails you, he leaves you with nothing. I think that is why I’m nearly out of my mind.”

Harper Lee intentionally wrote ‘Go Set a Watchman’ with Jean Louise’s ‘childlike voice’ to address such a complex issue (perhaps a link to TKAM) The young and naïve Scout is still within her 26yr old self. She is strong, passionate and upholds her belief no matter who she stands against. That is something to be admired. But, you can definitely hear the little, petulant girl in her- she doesn’t listen to reason and believes her truth is the only one, as…that’s all she’s ever known.

 “Had she insight, could she have pierced the barriers of her highly selective, insular world, she may have discovered that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born colour blind.”

Scout learns to uphold her ‘identity’, and accept that everyone is free to act as they see fit, it does not make them any less moral, only more human.

Personally, I enjoyed the quick to read writing style, it’s humour, rhetoric and clever analogies iconic of Harper Lee. It’s been a while since I read TKAM (I honestly had to wiki the plot to remind me) Though the ending confused me a little with it’s politically heavy  and heated dialogue (it seemed like the characters knew more than they were letting on to us, and moved on rather quickly) I enjoyed the first 3/4. It is a complex novel that has many discussion points, so definitely something to re-read! I would still give it 4 stars.

Let me know what you think 🙂

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~ ‘Perfume’ the story of a murderer~

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Jean Baptiste Grenouille is a name not easy to forget. His unique job is to obtain, categorize, replicate and produce his very own human scent beyond the realms of scientific discovery. To me, the concept in itself was captivating….

“Odours have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odour cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

Jean Baptiste is an orphan with no undefinable human smell which isolates him from society. His rare talent of pin pointing exact components, from brass doorknobs, wood, decaying fruit allows too him to pursue his passion. Under the guidance of the best perfumers in the world (through trickery, cunning or just brute honestly he manages to secure a place with them. It shows how unlucky Jean Baptiste is however- whoever he encounters meet their own sticky ends, which you could argue contributes to the author’s humour.) This cunning, yet seemingly straight forward character is able to combine and create his own ‘bottled’ scents with the single purpose of exciting disgust, or adoration from the general public.

Since the realm of scent is so understated (and I as one would admit to having just an average capability of smell, and eye-sight for that matter!) as we are able to create images from words, wonderful pieces of art, music- he can draw upon any scent in the world and strip it down to its bare elements not only to simply ‘recreate’ something he smelt only once, but create something new, unexpected. Quite inspiring really. But let’s not stop there.

As he grows older, his existence becomes almost animistic. “No longer distracted by anything external, he basked in his own existence and found it splendid.” He lives alone in a cave for many, long years, sustained by nothing but his ‘memory’ of lifelong scents, one day alone of which would drive any sane person mad, but not he. It becomes an obsession that overtakes even daily needs, an obsession which drives him to murder, again and again.

Grenouille knew for certain that unless he possessed this scent, his life would have no meaning.”

In fact, the novel is abundant with disgusting imagery of blood and decay, and most significantly, the perverse. He is systematic and logical, feeling no remorse for his actions and yet you sway between horror and desire to see him reach his goal of obtaining the ‘optimum’ scent – which by the way he does by killing all the beautiful girls in the city and embalming their skin.

I found the writing style to be witty, and fresh. Overall, I read this book in a few days and was really interested to read more of Patrick Süskind’s works. Though I had seen the movie originally and remembered liking it, it had definitely changed and diminished in my eyes after reading the novel. Nothing can be expressed better than through the author’s own words and intended voice, humour, tone, and ‘Perfume’ is no exception.

{The novel was originally written in German entitled ‘Das Parfum‘ in 1985, later translated and made into a film in 2006}

‘My Ántonia’~ Book Review

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“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. 

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‘Villette’ Review & New Books!!

 

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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.

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~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

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My Favourite Things

92ac4b5d-3d75-4ab3-9b61-10d855c3031aI think about my favourite things
and the places I want to go
of Roald Dahl and his witches
of mice and candy shops,
I think about the castles
and the dragons guarding gold
of girls with ruby slippers
and yellow brick roads.

Ladies waltzing;
chariots lined with silk
I think of heroic lions
pacing the heart of battle,
of exotic lands and wooden ships
flying stealthily over sand
of tea parties and white rabbits
and the magic of talking books.

Of mysterious black eyed ravens
and winning silver arrows
of lost Peter Rabbits
and wizards deflecting spells,
I think of all these things
and the pages swiftly past
but most of all the friends I meet
that will forever last.

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Copyright © 2014 by Kate W J White (All Rights Reserved)

“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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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…

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.”

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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’.

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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.

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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.” 

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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.’”

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…