The Count of Monte Cristo ~

I always loved “The 3 Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo” is another by Alexandre Dumas. It’s a powerful book about loyalty, commitment, determination, strength of spirit, of seeking justice and yet not giving up hope. And along with that, if you like sword fights, revenge, disguises, deception, then it’s right up your alley!

“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.”

No truer words said! As the main character finds out, he finds his ‘truth’ in the most unexpected way, through the people he meets that come into his life only briefly and teaches him something at the moment he needs it the most. 

Edmond Dantes is unjustly framed for treason and sent to a prison fortress for 14 long years. A fellow prisoner is able to teach him all he knows, to figure out his purpose and to plan his vengeance on his duplicitous ‘best friend’ who stole is life, and love. With the secrets to the treasure of Monte Cristo, he is able to re-instate himself in society as the mysterious Count, surrounded by wolves in disguise, he learns to keep his enemies close….

So, no matter what, we must endure. Nothing is perfect in life or happens as we expect, it’s about our mindset when we face disappointment and adversity, and how we act that counts.

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“When you compare the sorrows of real life to the pleasures of the imaginary one, you will never want to live again, only to dream forever.”

~ The mystery of ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ ~ 🖤🌹

‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is definitely a tale about escapism- Christine spends her whole life being coached by a ‘mysterious voice’ that mentors her to do better and achieve beyond what she thought possible, when she finally steps through the mirror and meets the man behind the voice, her illusion shatters and she is repulsed by his deformed face. 💀

Instead, she goes for her childhood sweetheart Raoul, and, the phantom realises that despite all he’s given her, she still turns away in horror. She pities him and yet still agrees to lay a trap, by going along with his grand plans for her on the stage, but in the end, his jealousy still destroys them (and the opera house which is also his home.) 🎼🎭

We see him as the villain of the story, but we also feel sorry for him, hiding away with no love and kindness- and perhaps it’s this forced solitude & space to develop his talents that turns him into a musical genius. There are many things to learn from it, that you can’t force love, that you can’t expect too much from anyone, yet also the power of forgiveness and also dedication throughout a lifetime. 🖤🖤

Another thing I love about the Phantom are the aesthetics, the opulent backdrop & historical references- after all it’s a theatre, the masquerade balls, the grandness, and of course, the amazing soundtrack!! Andrew Lloyd Webber really transformed it and made it his own- hence why it still stands the test of time. 👰🏻👻🎞⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

~ 𝔔𝔲𝔬𝔱𝔢 𝔠𝔬𝔯𝔫𝔢𝔯~

“They played at hearts as other children might play at ball; only, as it was really their two hearts that they flung to and fro, they had to be very, very handy to catch them, each time, without hurting them.”

“And, despite the care which she took to look behind her at every moment, she failed to see a shadow which followed her like her own shadow, which stopped when she stopped, which started again when she did and which made no more noise than a well-conducted shadow should.”

20,000 leagues under the sea

Having started “20,000 leagues under the sea”, watched “Aquaman”, “Jaws” & “Blue Planet-the deep” all in the space of 2 days ~ it’s no surprise when I started dreaming of being violently flung about on a boat swept by ominous looking black waves. 🌊

My phone was sliding around on deck, and I had just managed to catch it in one hand with triumph- only to discover my 2 companions were sinking under the tide (we were on our way to attend a party.) Needless to say, I arrived at the party without them… though I did give all my best efforts searching around, it turned into an affair like “The Great Gatsby”, they had different personas and were trying their best to evade me…

I’ve always been intrigued with creatures deep under the ocean. Their bulbous eyes and sharp teeth, their luminescent, transparent bodies, their spongy blob like exteriors… stuff out of nightmares…(which, I love calling up on the projector to show my students just to see their reaction!)

They say an iceberg is largely 3/4 under the surface. There are things below those tranquil waters that are beyond our imagination, and will still continue to lie unobserved.

So when the ‘Nautilus’ arrives and causes havoc in the seas around the world, it’s not hard that it could be mistaken for a narwhal or a cross between a whale/sea unicorn with its impenetrable exterior. It raises panic enough that the best captains rally and send forth a ship ready to capture, and, sadly slaughter this troublesome creature…Only to realise, it’s not a beast at all coming forth from the depths, but indeed a vessel, captained by none other than the infamous Captain Nemo. At this point our 3 protagonists have nothing else to do but sit, wait, and be carried along in an adventure like no other (since they’ve seen too much to be allowed to return home to dry land.) 🙄

Captain Nemo lets our guests into many secrets about the creation of his vessel (as surely it defies science), but we know this is only the beginning. If it’s anything like “5 weeks in a balloon”, I know that there will be no shortage of crazy events, the possible harpooning of sea spiders and giant squids, oxygen shortage, walking on the ocean bed and many, new discoveries.

And…if it’s anything like Dr Ferguson, Kennedy & faithful Joe- hanging onto the last trimmings of their damaged hot air balloon, shot at by arrows above enemy waters and praying to be saved~ we can only hope this Parisian professor & his friends get back safely (along with the unsuspecting sea creatures that cross their path!)

Le Petit Prince ~ Review

 

I finally found time to watch the film of “The Little Prince” and it really didn’t disappoint. I was intrigued with how it stuck to the original storyline and how they developed the idea of the prince growing up in the real world, how society had affected him and how these characters he had met on the planets were manifested in modern society.

Many of us can relate to the girl in the film, who is pressurised to conform and grow up to be a responsible and hard working adult with good academic achievements. Her neighbour ‘the pilot’ deviates from this and allows her to explore her ‘creative’ and free state of imagination without the constraints, timetables and rigid structure her mother lays out for her.

The animations were captivating, with many touching points that really pull at the heartstrings. No doubt there are many instances where the characters drift apart/must say goodbye to one another. But, it is all part of life.

Some morals I learnt from watching it:

1. Everything lives on in the heart even if you can’t see it anymore

2. It’s okay to deviate from rigid rules, and yet pursue what you want through seeing it in a different light. Never dream too small, and always maintain the childishness and innocence in you. Be brave.

The fox is also pretty darn cute too!

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Moby Dick ~ Our love/hate relationship

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Moby Dick- this is a chronicle of our love hate relationship. Yes, I first met you during my years at university, and yes somehow I managed to get an ‘A ‘ grade without having properly read you. Yes, I feel bad about this. So, last week I decided to give my many hardbacks a break to attempt to rekindle our rocky relationship. I hope you forgive me for this.

I can’t deny that Moby Dick is great for analysis. The themes touched upon such as the desperation of humanity, of unadulterated revenge, of survival, of kinship, the juxtaposition between light and darkness & good and evil through the representation of the ‘whale’ and the fierce and seaworthy captain Ahab mourning over the loss of his leg. There are so many things you can discuss – making it no doubt one of the enduring pieces of English literature. (Thank you online resources for getting me through this period)

So, why am I finding it so difficult to read?? I endured, I persevered, I rarely gave up, it’s chapter 32 and that’s it- I’m gone. There is humour, there’s great character portrayal of the narrator Ishmael’s anxiety over his meeting with his ‘soon to be’ close brother and companion Queequeg. Even then, it shows the bonds and true friendship that transcends race, situation & religion. The characters know the fragility of life; “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.” There are quotes that are absolutely memorable and really help to set the scene;

  • “For there is no folly of the beast of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.” 
  •  “It is not down on any map; true places never are.” 
  •  “Then, there you lie like the one warm spark of an artic crystal”.
  •  “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it.” 

That last one is something to think about!

The novel is heavy with words. I would be lying if I said I understood it all, and I have read a fair few literature books in my time. Some chapters tended towards philosophical/religious references to biblical characters & heavy with analogies (even Ishmael, Ahab- many names are carefully chosen for the purpose of contrasting their biblical counterparts) not to mention defined textbook jargon of the anatomy of whales/and the whaling industry. Like many 19th Century literature it undoubtedly takes time and perseverance on the reader’s part to sift through outdated terminology and phrases, yet all I can say, is that the more you read, the quicker- and easier it gets.

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There may be a time, perhaps when I am stranded with nothing but ‘Moby Dick’ as reading material I may endeavor to try and renew my complicated relationship with it. Perhaps I may even reach chapter 60. But for now, I will close your lovely turquoise leaves (the drop cap covers are truly stunning- stunningly bright) and replace you on the bookshelf, just like Matilda at the end of the movie…until next time, friend or foe.

Would I recommend this to others? Probably. Am I crazy? For sure. Because it’s still a great book, and like genres of movies you reach for at HMV, choosing a suitable novel for you is exactly the same thing.

Good luck 🙂

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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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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.

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…