Sunday, 28 November 2010

Book #69

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

My love of Jane Austen began with this novel. Her other works have fully supported this love, but this will always be my favourite. She really tells us a tale whilst teaching us a lesson in morality which is hinted to by the title of the novel. Both pride and prejudice are rife throughout the plot, being displayed by many of the characters, and the consequences of both of these traits are shown to us.

My favourite thing about Austen, and something which is prevalent in Pride and Prejudice is how economical she is in her writing. There are no trivial characters or plot developments - everything has its place for a reason. The novel is a lovely, smooth read because of this, and everything connects in quick succession, driving the plot forward.

As a love story, it’s wonderful and almost unusual in that it doesn't try to lull female readers into securities about how perfect a man should be. Our heroine falls for a deeply flawed character, and does so gradually. There is absolutely no notion of any sort of coup de foudre that normally happens in thousands of other romance novels. She realises she has judged the man too quickly, and too harshly, and slowly but surely falls for him. It’s by no means contrived, and I love it.

Austen's characterisation is always brilliant, in my eyes. She is able to conjure both love and hatred for a character so easily. She gives a great insight into the social norms of that time period simply by crafting her characters in a certain way. Mr. Bennet is my favourite character here, by far. He is incredibly witty and sarcastic, with a very low tolerance for idiots. He has absolutely no qualms of speaking his opinions of his daughters, no matter how disrespectful (but mostly correct) these are. I found him hilarious.

It's clear from Pride and Prejudice and her other works that Austen was questioning the position women held in society at that time. She shows a society where a women’s reputation is the most important thing to her, and she has to conform to certain behaviours to prevent her reputation being tarnished. Although gently making clear her opinions on the matter, she shows us later how serious the consequences would be should a woman behave in a different manner than expected.

Although this one is generally seen as women’s fiction, I’d definitely recommend this to anyone. I have known men to love this one, and to relate to Mr. Darcy on some level. It holds an important message which is conveyed in a very simple, light manner that is wonderful to take in.

69 / 66 books. 105% done!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Book #68

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Convalescing in London after a disastrous experience of war in Afghanistan, Dr John Watson finds himself sharing rooms with his enigmatic new acquaintance, Sherlock Holmes. But their quiet bachelor life at 221B Baker Street is soon interrupted by the grisly discovery of a dead man in a grimy ‘ill-omened’ house in south-east London, his face contorted by an expression of horror and hatred such as Watson has never seen before. On the wall, the word rache – German for ‘revenge’ – is written in blood, yet there are no wounds on the victim or signs of a struggle. Watson’s head is in a whirl, but the formidable Holmes relishes this challenge to his deductive powers, and so begins their famous investigative partnership.

I read The Hound of the Baskervilles last year and loved it, so I went out and bought the Sherlock Holmes collection. This is the first story ever written about the most famous detective duo, and it was lovely to see how they came together. Watson's descriptions of his first impressions of Holmes were fascinating, and reading the beginnings of characterisation work for both of them was exciting.

I really enjoy Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's writing; he is wonderfully precise and almost scientific in his use of words. He captures your attention so well and drags you into the mystery with him. He is incredibly engaging.

Just as the murderer is caught, the narrative goes back in time by twenty years and we are given the back-story to the killer and his victims. There is nothing quite like an insight into what has driven a murderer to act, especially when it is an act of revenge. I do love a revenge tale.

It was also interesting to see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's opinions and views on Mormonism at the time. The facts in the book regarding the religion are far from accurate, and seem ridiculous at times, but they are quite consistent with the English opinion of the late 1880s, which is very interesting

I absolutely adore reading these works, and particularly love imagining Victorian cobblestoned streets and men riding around in horse and carts with huge moustaches and huge cigars! I can't wait to read the next one, The Sign of Four.

68 / 66 books. 103% done!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Book #67

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

James Frey wakes up on a plane, with no memory of the preceding two weeks. His face is cut and his body is covered with bruises. He has no wallet and no idea of his destination. He has abused alcohol and every drug he can lay his hands on for a decade – and he is aged only twenty-three.
What happens next is one of the most powerful and extreme stories ever told. His family takes him to a rehabilitation centre. And James Frey starts his perilous journey back to the world of the drug and alcohol-free living. His lack of self-pity is unflinching and searing.

My thoughts throughout this novel were that it was amazing, inspirational and enthralling. Spurring these adjectives into life was the fact that the book is truth. These are James Frey's memoirs from his time in a rehabilitation centre, and all of the things that happen to him in the novel have happened to him in real life. It was moving, and I fell in love with him and what he'd accomplished. In the time between finishing the novel and sitting down to write this review (ten minutes, perhaps) I have found out that the book is in fact semi-fictional. I'm gutted, and I want to get this out of the way before I begin the actual review. I now know that later editions of this book have notes inside explaining that some parts are fabricated, but my copy must be an older print because there was nothing of the sort in mine. I am really, really disappointed and upset. It was a wonderful story, and wonderfully written. I just wish I had known that it wasn't as non-fiction as I had originally thought because now I don't know how I feel about the book. It hasn't diminished my opinion a lot, but it has a bit. The book would still be wonderful if it had been fiction. I will try to review it as best I can, but this has really thrown me. And all I did was try to find an image of the book cover! So, here goes:

I did really enjoy the book. I like books that are dark and dull, but have a light at the end of the tunnel. Memoirs especially have this because you know the person has lived to tell the tale, and you're just peering at their journey towards redemption. We are shown a "self-inflicted apocalypse", the despair that follows, and Frey's trudge away from it.

Frey's writing is wonderful. In the first 100 pages he has his teeth knocked out and it's a while before he gets them fixed. I kept checking my mouth to make sure my own teeth were still there, and I felt the pain when he was going through the corrective dental work. I feel emotionally drained after reading it, as though I have personally been through all of Frey's hellish situations alongside him.

There is a certain rhythm going on with his writing; he gives us repetitions and beats that are almost melodic. This pulls the reader along at an incredible pace, and allows discoveries to happen at the right times. His prose drifts at times, and I believe this is reflective of his experience at the time, drifting through the conscious and subconscious. Many sentences lack punctuation, emphasising Frey's erratic trains of thought.

There were a lot of Frey's opinions that I agreed with. Although I've never been an addict myself, it does seem futile to drum into recovering addicts that the only way they can get better is by believing in a higher power, that it's a disease, it's not your fault, something has happened in your past to make you this way, it might even be in your GENES! Your grandfather was an alcoholic? Well, there you go. Frey put across his opinion that addiction is each time a decision, and he put this across well. Of course it's not easy, it might be the most difficult thing in the world to do, but God won't help everyone, and your parents aren't to blame.

Now that I've calmed down a bit from the first paragraph I'd like to just note that I am aware that memoirs are never 100% accurate. I know there is no way that conversations that have taken place years ago can be replicated exactly on paper. Memories are faulty. I am now calm and my only gripe about the whole thing happened on the very last page of the novel and will be a huge spoiler if I go on to moan about it, so I won't. Frey has gone through somead to tell us about it in such a beautiful, compelling way. I would really recommend this, but please just bear in mind that things might not be as they seem. It'll make you feel something, and that's all that matters in reading.

67 / 66 books. 102% done!