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Archive for the ‘Classics Club’ Category

Dubliners by James Joyce

I was too frightened to read anything by James Joyce after unsuccessfully attempting the first page of Ulysses years ago, but in a fit of bravery I added Dubliners to my Classics Club challenge. The first sentence filled me with hope that I could manage this time as that sentence was short and the intention clear. As I read on I found that I was delighted by the book.

Dubliners is a collection of short stories. While each story alone has only a very slight plot, capturing a character during a particular moment in an ordinary day, together the collection created a full picture of a community. The first stories in the collection are told by children and as the stories continue the age of the main characters age too.

The collection began with The Sisters, which told of a young boy learning of the death of a priest. Although the boy and the priest were friends the boy was careful not to let his family see his emotions on learning of the priest’s death. The boy took his emotional cues from his community, with no one about him showing any surprise or grief at the news.

An Encounter is the story of two schoolboys who wagged school to roam around Dublin. During their day out they met a man who hinted at nasty conversations and actions, although the boys couldn’t be certain that the man was actually trying to take advantage of them. I felt much uneasier than the boys seemed to, although happily for them they soon sensed that the man was a creep and left for home.

A young man fell in love with his friend’s sister in Araby. He planned to go to a bazaar to buy her a present but couldn’t get there before it closed in a reminder that life can be full of disappointments such as this.

Eveline told of a young woman who had the opportunity to leave Ireland with her lover, a sailor, but she changed her mind at the last minute. I was left wondering how things turned out for her and what might have been had she found the courage to leave.

After the Race was the story of a young man who had fallen in with a rich, glamourous, international crowd. The young man’s father was a butcher who would have been proud of his son had he known he was drinking and gambling with the likes of these people on a private yacht, despite the hangover coming his son’s way, or the huge amount of money he lost playing cards.

In Two Gallants, a pair of young men hoped that a young woman who one of them was having an affair with, would assist them to steal from her employer.

I saw the funny side of The Boarding House, which depicts a woman maneuvering a young male boarder in her home to marry her daughter. This was the first story in the collection to be told from a female character’s point of view.

A Little Cloud is the story of a man who realises his dreams were lost. The man had wanted to be a poet but was stuck in a drudgy job and worse, disappointed to learn he had been replaced in his wife’s affections by his baby son.

Counterparts is the story of a man whose drinking was a problem for himself, his career, his finances and for his suffering family.

In Clay, an old nurse visits her former charge, who is now a grown-up man with a family of his own. During a Halloween party game the woman chose an object which symbolised her upcoming death. I was struck in this story by the genuine kindness the family showed to their elderly visitor.

A Painful Case told the story of a man who turned down a woman’s romantic overtures only to learn some years later that his actions had led to her dying a sad and lonely death.

I was grateful for the notes in the edition of Dubliners that I read, because I would not have realised the significance of the politics discussed on Ivy Day in the Committee Room without them.

A Mother follows a another woman who is doing her best for her daughter, this time by attempting to gain her daughter a starring position playing piano in a series of concerts.

Grace tells the story of a man whose friends tried to get him to take religion seriously after he fell down the stairs and injured himself.

The last story, The Dead, is the longest story in the collection. The main character’s wife reveals to her husband at a New Year’s Eve party that she once loved a young man who died. Prior to his wife’s revelation the man had been the life of the party, carving the goose, flattering his aunts and arguing with an antagonistic woman whose opinions were at odds to his own. The Dead is an extraordinarily moving story and was probably my favourite of the collection.

I feel as if I would like to read the short stories in Dubliners again and again. I also feel inspired to write my own version that tells the stories of the people in the community where I grew up. Mine would include stories about the old women who gathered weekly to cackle over afternoon tea at each other’s homes, farmers who worked hard, raised families and brought their daughters up to know they could do anything, eccentric fishermen, lonely local children who looked forward all year to the arrival of playmates in summer, a handful of mad artists, a school teacher who took drugs and fell into a chest freezer, one or two blow-ins who resented anyone whose family had been in the area for generations and in summer, the horde of upper-class holiday makers who sun-bathed together, played golf together and drank together at the golf club without ever noticing a local. No doubt what I would like to do and what I will do will be reminiscent of the main character in A Little Cloud, but who knows? If I ever manage this, I’ll credit James Joyce with inspiring me.

Dubliners was book twenty four in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens is the third book I’ve read by this author. I didn’t like the story or characters as much as Great Expectations, but I enjoyed it better than Hard Times.

The Old Curiosity Shop is a long story but I found it to be a comfortable read because the chapters are short and full of action. My edition also contained so many illustrations by George Cattermole and Phiz that I got through this book much faster than I originally expected to.

The Old Curiosity Shop follows various groups of characters who revolve around Little Nell, an angelically beautiful child who lives with her elderly grandfather in his curiosity shop in London. Nell’s grandfather is a gambling addict who is convinced he will win Nell a fortune, but instead he loses their home to the worst of the bad characters in this book, a vicious and greedy dwarf named Quilp. After becoming homeless Nell and her grandfather leave London on foot to escape Quilp and several other characters who are convinced that Nell’s grandfather still has more money secreted away.

Nell and her grandfathers fell in with various characters as they journeyed around the countryside including a pair of puppeteers who make their living from Punch and Judy shows, a kindly old woman who owned a travelling waxworks show and a kindly schoolmaster. They would have stayed longer with some of the people they met, however Nell’s grandfather’s gambling caused Nell to force their departure, while with another group, their whereabouts were revealed to Quilp and they hurriedly left before he could find them.

Eventually Nell and her grandfather found a safe haven, although by this time Nell’s health had been ruined trying to protect her grandfather and keep him safe. During my research I learned that this story was originally told in installments and in New York, crowds surged the wharves in 1841 to learn if Little Nell had lived or died.

The other characters are a mixture of the best and worst of human nature. Kit, a serving boy who had worked for Nell’s grandfather in London, was amongst the best of characters. He was kind and honourable, a loving, generous son to his widowed mother and a good friend to Nell and her grandfather. The nastier characters included Quilp’s fawning solicitor, Sampson Brass and his sister, Sally, who falsely accused Kit of stealing so Quilp could have his revenge on the boy. Kit was almost transported to Australia for a crime he did not commit, but luckily, other characters were able to expose the truth before this happened.

Although Nell was the central character, her actual character was probably the least interesting or realistic in the whole book. She was portrayed as beautiful, sweet-tempered and selfless but there was no depth to her character. To me she seemed to be a symbol or a flag that the other characters fought for.

I’ve enjoyed the fantastically descriptive names Charles Dickens has given his characters in each of his books which I’ve read. My favourite character (and name) in The Old Curiosity Shop was Richard Swiveller. His name and character matched in that he was sometimes good and sometimes bad although never wicked, good-humoured, rather lazy and looking for an easy fortune rather than one he had to work for. Swiveller generally meant well and behaved well so long as doing so didn’t inconvenience him, although eventually he acted as the hero to help Kit out of his predicament.

The copy I read was second-hand and I wasn’t very far into the book when I saw that the previous reader had underlined certain sections and written notes in the pages. I was horribly disappointed by not being able to read their writing! For example, the section saying that Swiveller was a member of the Lodge of Glorious Apollos was underlined with a comment that I couldn’t read. Why? Was it something to do with the fact that Swiveller would eventually become Kit’s saviour? Was the previous reader studying the book and if so, what were they looking for? I wish I knew.

There is plenty of humour in this story, but I didn’t find myself laughing aloud the way I did when I read Great Expectations.

I suppose a Dickens’ story wouldn’t be one without drama and moral lessons, in this case gambling, which is still a massive problem for society. I appreciated that The Old Curiosity Shop showed that gambling also affects the gambler’s families.

The Old Curiosity Shop was book twenty two in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

I chose to read My Name is Red by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk for my Classics Club challenge as I had not read any novels from this part of the world previously.

I was surprised to find that the story is a murder mystery and found it to be the most unusually-told murder mystery I’ve ever read. For example, the first chapter was told by the corpse, who was lying dead in the bottom of a well.

Each chapter was told by someone or something associated with the story. The narrators included students, associates and family members of the murdered man, while others were narrated by a picture of a horse, a gold coin, the colour red and by death itself. One of the narrators is the actual murderer, although their identity is not revealed until the end of the story.

The story is set in 1591 in Istanbul. The murdered man, Elegant Effendi was a master miniaturist who had been creating a mysterious illustrated book with the assistance of other miniaturists from his studio prior to his death.

Elegant Effendi beautiful daughter, Shekure was thinking of remarrying as her soldier husband had been missing for several years. Shekure’s romance with Black, an administrator who had been in love with her since their childhood also ran through the story.

Black, who was also under suspicion of Elegant Effendi’s murder along with Master Osman, another master miniaturist, sought to find the murderer from clues in the pages of the Sultan’s books. I was shocked to learn that the Sultan’s collection of beautifully illustrated and gilded books were stored in a haphazard stash and seemingly not valued at all by the Sultan except as possessions.

The introduction of the Frankish style of art, which threatened the highly-stylised traditional art style which the miniaturists made their living from was another theme that ran through the story.

I loved the references to the miniaturist’s art and their opinions and feelings about the Frankish art. The various miniaturist’s opinions also related to their interpretation of whether or not the subjects and style of Frankish art was in keeping with their religious views, which did not allow them to create art, only to copy what already existed.

The story also references real books and stories of the time. My Name is Red would make a delightful coffee-table sized book, with pictures. The tragic story of a pair of lovers named Husrev and Shirin was constantly referenced and a very quick search on the internet brought up beautiful gilded illustrations of the pair.

I was unpleasantly surprised by the great many vulgar references in this story. Most of the male characters openly had physical relationships with very young boys and the chapter told from the point of view of a coin was an eye-opener, as I’ve certainly never thought of hiding money in the places that particular coin had been. There are also references to incest, bestiality and other practices which may have been considered normal and right at the time the story is set, but I found these parts of the book to be distasteful and would say and probably spoiled the story for me.

I also found the book to be hard work, in that I needed to concentrate hard in order to make sense of the weighty descriptions. It helped that the chapters are fairly short and the narrators changed with each chapter.

My Name is Red was book twenty one in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I added A Passage to India by E.M. Forster to my Classics Club list even though I didn’t really enjoy either Howard’s End and Where Angels Fear to Tread. The writing in both books is beautiful and the issues raised are thought-provoking but Forster’s characters irritate me enormously.

A Passage to India follows four main characters, three who are English and one who is Indian, all of whom were living in or visiting India during the 1920s. Miss Adela Quested was visiting India with Mrs Moore to decide if she wanted to marry Mrs Moore’s son Ronny when they visited local caves with Dr Aziz, a local Indian man. While they were exploring the caves Adela had a panic attack and accused Dr Aziz of assaulting her.

In court, Adela realised she had imagined the attack and so the case against Dr Aziz was dismissed, although of course by then his personal reputation had been savaged. Adela’s accusation against Dr Aziz also damaged the relationship between the Indian and British people which had become perilously close to becoming violent. After the court case was over Adela felt unable to marry Ronny, so Mr Fielding took her in until she was able to return to England. Fielding’s kind deed to Adela ruined his friendship with Dr Aziz.

The outing to the caves came about because as newcomers to India, Mrs Moore and Adela wanted to know what they called the ‘real’ India and Indian people. The other women living in British India (or British Raj) preferred to create a replica of their lives in England and viewed Indian people with an extraordinary amount of racism considering that the English were the outsiders in India.

It seemed to me that the Indian people weren’t friends with each other either as they were divided by their religions and castes. It seemed even more impossible that the Indian and British people, represented by Fielding and Dr Aziz could be friends, as they had an even greater divide between them.

Perhaps not surprisingly I felt irritable the entire time I was reading A Passage to India, but this time, as well as feeling annoyed by characters who I didn’t like or respect, the whole idea of the British Empire being in India when they had no business there at all irritated me enormously. While I understand that if the British hadn’t been in India another empire-building, thieving country would have been there plundering India instead, I don’t think that excuses the British.

I found A Passage to India hard-going. None of the characters in this book come out of the story covered in any kind of glory. As well as feeling irritated for all of the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I also struggled with boredom and kept falling asleep while reading this story.

A Passage to India was book nineteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I spun The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the Classic Club’s most recent spin and admit to groaning slightly when I saw the result. I first read this book thirty years ago and at that time didn’t like the characters or the plot and couldn’t understand what made the book a classic. Watching and enjoying the over-the-top decadence of Baz Luhrmann’s movie several years ago caused me to add The Great Gatsby to my current list in the hope of appreciating this book better as an older reader.

While I didn’t find the characters to be any more likeable this time around, I have achieved a better appreciation of the book.

The story is told by Nick Carraway, a young man who has to make his way in the world despite having very good social connections. When Nick moved to Long Island after the Great War he reconnected with his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom, who were part of New York’s young, rich and beautiful set.

Although Nick didn’t particularly care for Tom he accompanied him on one occasions to New York, stopping along the way at a garage in an area dominated by a rubbish dump to collect Tom’s mistress Myrtle, who was the wife of the garage owner. When they arrived in New York To and Myrtle hosted a small party in a hotel room which ended when Tom slapped Myrtle and broke her nose.

Nick lived on Long Island next door to Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire known for hosting extravagant open-house parties for people he didn’t know. Nick only met Gatsby after having been invited to one of his parties.

Gatsby, who was obsessed with Nick’s cousin Daisy, used Nick to engineer a meeting between himself and Daisy. Daisy and Gatsby had been in love before the war but at the time Gatsby was penniless and Daisy married Tom while Gatsby was still a soldier overseas. Rekindling their affair made Gatsby think he had achieved the American Dream, although Gatsby doesn’t realise he is in love with what Daisy symbolises for him socially, rather than with her as a person.

Eventually everything came to a head one extraordinarily hot day when Tom discovered that Daisy had been cheating on him. Gatsby and Daisy raced off to New York in Tom’s coupe, followed by Tom, Nick and Nick’s girlfriend, Jordan in Gatsby’s sedan. When they arrived the couples fought some more, then raced off home again, only for there to be a fatal accident at the garage where Myrtle and her husband lived. The tragedy is compounded by further reprehensible actions.

Jordan cheats at golf.

To me, this sentence sums up the morals of most of the characters in this story. They want to win without putting in the hard work required to deserve their success. They seek out amusement and love but they aren’t interested in earning anyone’s respect. They attend Gatsby’s parties and drink his boot-legged alcohol but they won’t befriend him because despite his wealth he will never be one of them. They grab whatever they want without taking any responsibility for their actions. If this story represents the American Dream, then in my opinion, this group of extraordinarily shallow and selfish people are welcome to it.

Disillusionment is what makes The Great Gatsby a classic. Exposing the shoddy morals of these fabulously wealthy characters is disappointing. I expect people who seemingly have everything to also have good morals, to be kind and giving. While there are plenty of extremely rich philanthropists who are wonderfully generous people in real life, their type are not represented by any character in this book.

The Great Gatsby was book eighteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Classics Club Spin #23

The Classics Club have issued their latest challenge for another Classics Club Spin!

The idea is for members to select 20 books from their list of 50 classics which they have challenged themselves to read within five years, then read the selected book before 1 June 2020. The spin is taking place later today.

My book list for this spin is as follows:

  1. Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
  2. Complete Juvenilia – Jane Austen
  3. Villette – Charlotte Bronte
  4. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  5. Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. A Passage to India – E.M. Forster
  8. My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin
  9. Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  10. The Iliad – Homer
  11. The Odyssey – Homer
  12. The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
  13. The Wings of the Dove – Henry James
  14. The Call of the Wild – Jack London
  15. The Romance of the Forest – Ann Radcliffe
  16. Pamela – Samuel Richardson
  17. Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
  18. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  19. The Buccaneers – Edith Warton
  20. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolfe

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I first read Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte as a teenager at which time I intensely disliked the story and the characters. Thirty-something years later I added the book to my Classics Club list as a re-read to see if I could work out what the rest of the world saw in this book.

While I still think that the characters in Wuthering Heights include the angriest and most miserable bunch of bullies and victims ever found in a novel, I’ve experienced a complete turn-around in my feelings towards this book. I do still think the story of Wuthering Heights is brutal, though.

The story of Heathcliff and Catherine is told by a narrator who rented a house in a remote area from Heathcliff. Although Heathcliff was clearly an angry and vicious man the narrator was intrigued by Heathcliff’s household at Wuthering Heights, which included his beautiful teenage daughter-in-law and an uneducated young man who appeared to be something between a family member and a servant.

When the narrator stayed overnight at Wuthering Heights he had a nightmare about a female ghost. Heathcliff’s reaction to hearing about the narrator’s nightmare was to try to entice the ghost, whom he believed was his beloved Catherine, to return to him.

On returning home the narrator asked his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell him about the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, which he in turn related to the reader as this story.

He learned from Nelly Dean that Heathcliff was a homeless child who Mr Earnshaw found and brought home to Wuthering Heights to bring up with his son Hindley and daughter Catherine. Hindley was jealous of Heathcliff, but Catherine and Heathcliff were dear friends from their earliest meeting. After Mr Earnshaw died, Hindley returned to Wuthering Heights with his wife and Heathcliff’s status in the household was lowered. He became an abused, slighted servant to the family, although Catherine continued to love him, recognising how alike she and Heathcliff were, particularly in their wild, passionate temperaments. The Earnshaw household under Hindley’s rule became an unhappy, unpleasant place for everyone, even after the birth of Hindley’s son, Hareton.

As a teenager Catherine developed a friendship with Isabella and Edgar Linton, a neighbouring family from Thrushcross Grange. After staying in their home for some time she learned some manners but at heart remained a willful, spoiled, tempestuous child. Heathcliff was jealous of Catherine’s relationship with the Linton’s and later ran away when he overheard Catherine saying she would marry Edgar, not realising that her intention was to use her improved status to better his own life.

When Hindley’s wife died Catherine married Edgar, who had taken on far more than he could handle with her strong will and terrible tantrums. Heathcliff returned to the district as a rich man several years later and Catherine was delighted but Edgar eventually banned him from their home.

Heathcliff stayed at Wuthering Heights with Hindley and encouraged him to gamble until eventually Heathcliff held the mortgage to Wuthering Heights.

Heathcliff continued to secretly visit Catherine but after another fight between him and Edgar she became terribly ill and died after giving birth to a daughter, also named Catherine.

At this point, Heathcliff declared revenge on everyone and started his reign of misery by eloping with Isabella Linton, who was by then a young and foolishly romantic girl. Heathcliff’s intention was to make Edgar miserable and of course, he succeeded. He didn’t care one way or another about Isabella but she soon realised she had made a terrible mistake and left Heathcliff to bring up their son alone, far from Wuthering Heights. When Isabella died their son, Linton, was about ten or eleven years old. Edgar brought Linton back to Thrushcross Grange to be brought up beside his own daughter Cathy but Heathcliff insisted on taking Linton to Wuthering Heights.

Cathy, Catherine’s daughter might have been the one to soften Heathcliff’s heart, but no. He engineered the marriage his sickly, crotchety son Linton (whom he also hated) to Cathy so she would also be miserable with him and Hareton at Wuthering Heights, along with the added benefit of furthur spiting Edgar. By this time Hareton had grown up to be an oafish farm-hand, seemingly unaware that Wuthering Heights would have been his if not for Heathcliff’s actions.

There are very few characters in this story, but despite this, I initially referred to a family tree so I could work out who everyone was and where they fitted in to the story. The two Catherine’s initially confused me.

Although Mr Earnshaw was a kind man, his children were not like him. Catherine was a spoiled, selfish bully who got her own way using the force of her personality and physical violence. Hindley was jealous, angry and violent and the Earnshaw family deteriorated terribly under his charge. As an adult, Heathcliff continued the pattern of cruel, abusive behaviour which Hindley had shown him. Very few of these characters had any redeeming qualities.

I think I disliked this story as a teenager because I thought it was a romance. Wuthering Heights is not a romance. It’s a story about the cycle of family violence.

I’m completely amazed that Emily Bronte recognised and wrote about this topic at such a young age, even more so as I believe she lived a fairly sheltered life. I’m feeling quite fascinated by the story of her family, too and am keen to learn more about the lives of her and her sisters who also wrote extraordinary books.

I also disliked Kate Bush’s song Wuthering Heights and have been known to call the contemporary dance style from her music videos ‘that roll around on the ground stuff’ but I found myself listening to the song on repeat as I wrote this review. Now I’m planning to learn the red dress dance so I can take part in Melbourne’s Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever (I’ll be amongst those wearing a red dress and singing “Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy, I’ve come home, I’m so cold, Let me in through your window,” as we dance to Kate Bush’s amazing song about Catherine’s ghost).

Wuthering Heights was book seventeen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far From the Madding Crowd was my first experience of reading Thomas Hardy. I’m so cross with myself for never reading anything by this author before, but now I know how good his stories are, I’m looking forward to reading his other works.

Far From the Madding Crowd was first published in 1874 but I found this beautifully written, romantic story to be timeless.

The story began with a farmer, Gabriel Oak, falling in love with a milkmaid, Bathsheba Everdene. Bathsheba was beautiful, strong-willed and clever, but unfortunately, not in love with Gabriel. He asked her to marry him and she refused him.

Well, what I mean is that I shouldn’t mind being a bride at a wedding, if I could be one without having a husband.”

At the time of his proposal Gabriel was a young farmer with prospects but after an unfortunate accident caused an over-diligent sheepdog, he lost his farm and had to go on the tramp looking for work, feeling thankful that Bathsheba had not married him and so been ruined too.

Around the same time Bathsheba’s fortunes took a turn for the better, when her uncle died and left her a farm. To the surprise of the farm’s employees she decided to run the farm herself and hired the devoted Gabriel to tend her sheep.

In a fit of mischief, Bathsheba wrote a Valentine’s card to a neighbour, Farmer Boldwood, who was a man who had never noticed a woman before in his life. He didn’t see the joke and fell in obsessively in love with Bathsheba.

When a handsome and dashing soldier arrived in the district and flirted with her, Bathsheba married Sergeant Troy in a moment of weakness, disappointing both Gabriel and Boldwood, and setting in train a series of events which affect the whole community.

“All romances end at marriage.”

Hardy’s writing is very descriptive, yet there is no fluff or falling down rabbit holes. The characters are strong, the plot is interesting and entertaining and the humour is wonderful. I constantly found myself laughing as I read this story. Bathsheba’s employees on the farm are a continual source of amusement, from one character’s tendency to suffer from a ‘multiplying eye’ after drinking too much, to the gossipy, rambling conversations between Joseph Poorgrass, Cainy Ball and other delightfully named characters.

The setting is idyllic, even though farm life is portrayed accurately in that sometimes things go wrong and a farmer is ruined financially. Between the weather, sheep doing what they are not supposed to do and plain old bad luck, the life of a farmer is clearly not for everyone.

The story also includes tragedies and lessons to be learned by most of the characters, including Bathsheba.

“Dazzled by brass and scarlet – O, Bathsheba – this is a woman’s folly indeed!”

The saddest story in this book is that of Fanny Robin, who, as a serving girl, followed her heart to a bad end. No doubt her tragedy has served as a warning to this book’s readers over the years.

I was very impressed that Hardy allowed his heroine to be strong and brave and to live her life as she saw fit, particularly when at the time he was writing this would have been most unusual. I also liked that he allowed Bathsheba and the other characters to make mistakes and that there were consequences, sometimes tragic, when they did so.

“When a strong woman recklessly throws her strength away she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.”

Far From the Madding Crowd was book sixteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

When my fellow bloggers, FictionFan and Sandra from A Corner of Cornwall and I recently chose The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley for a Classics Club spin which didn’t come up, we decided to read the book anyway and publish our reviews on the same day (links to FictionFan and Sandra’s blogs below). I’m really looking forward to comparing our reactions to this book!

The Go-Between was my first experience of L.P. Hartley’s writing. I got a thrill when I read and recognised the first line, which I hadn’t realised came from this novel.

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

The story begins with an elderly man looking through his boyhood treasures, prompting him to remember the events of a particular summer during his childhood. Leo had suppressed the memories stemming from an incident occurring on his thirteenth birthday his whole life, affecting his emotional development and ability to pursue relationships. After Leo found and read the diary he kept during that fateful year, his returning memories became the story.

In 1900 Leo was at school, recording his school’s daily events in his diary. After gaining popularity amongst his schoolmates by injuring two bullies with a curse, Leo was invited to spend the summer holiday with Marcus, a schoolfriend at Brandham Hall in Norfolk.

The Maudsley family were richer and moved in a higher circle of society than Leo was used to, but he quickly became the particular pet of Marcus’ older sister Marian. When Marcus fell ill, Leo became a messenger for Marian, delivering letters between her and a local farmer, Ted Burgess, who were having a secret affair.

Leo also delivered messages to Marian from another houseguest, Lord Trimingham, who also loved Marian and wanted to marry her. Leo idolised Lord Trimingham and was delighted when asked to call him ‘Hugh’.

Leo idolised both Ted and Hugh, who represented different things to him. Hugh was a disfigured war hero, the Archer from Leo’s Zodiac diary, while Ted, a strong, manly farmer was the Water-Carrier. Leo saw Marian as the Virgin, a focus of attention, affection and the recipient of other zodiac symbol’s gallantry.

Leo was unaware of the nature of the messages he delivered for Marian and Ted, but when their affair was exposed he took the blame for the subsequent fall-out, despite the terrible shock he suffered on being exposed to the scandal.

The manipulation of Leo by selfish adults, leading to the loss of his self-esteem and innocence was tragic. Leo seemed to be to be a typical child, sometimes puffed up with his own importance and at other times ridiculously naïve and The Go-Between brought back uncomfortable memories of being twelve or thirteen years old myself, no longer a child, yet not quite a teenager and a long way from being an adult. I remember wanting to know more about subjects which mystified Leo and being unable to understand why adults behaved as they did. I also remember feeling confused, self-conscious and awkward much of the time.

Although this is story takes place during summer, an English summer is so different to an Australian summer that the time of year was as ‘other’ to me as the setting in Norfolk and the historic time of when this book was set, 1900. Times have changed, as the adult Leo noted during the sections of the story told in the present time. We have different ideas now about love affairs and we also have phones and other devices which lovers can use to contact each other directly, so ‘go-betweens’ are no longer required. People falling in love with the wrong person and selfish, manipulative behaviour will never disappear, though.

The writing in The Go-Between is beautiful. Every event is meaningful and is in the story for a reason. The individual words give the sense of having been particularly chosen for their inclusion. The plot is thrilling, even though the style of the story-telling is gentle.

I believe The Go-Between is a story that will remain with me for some time and one that I will re-read in future. I’m also looking forward to watching the movie of the book starring Julie Christie.

Please read Sandra and FictionFan’s reviews to see what they thought of The Go-Between.

The Go-Between was book fifteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre

I couldn’t figure out what was going on in John Le Carre’s Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy and was so bored by the politics and the jargon of the spy-games the characters were playing that I didn’t finish the book.

I loved the first chapter which told of a new school teacher arriving at a boy’s school sometime in the 1970s. Bill Roach, one of the students, was fascinated by Jim Prideaux, his car, his trailer, his military style and his easy way with the boys he teaches. I read far enough into the book to learn that Jim was a former spy who had been injured during a former spy operation.

In chapter two the story moved to George Smiley, a has-been spy whose job it was to figure out who was the mole (double-agent Russian spy) in the Circus (British Intelligence). Suddenly a cast of thousands arrived in the story, including a spy who had previously been thought to have defected to the Russians. This was when things got too complicated for me.

I lost faith in George’s ability to work out what was going on in the Circus when I learned his wife was messing around with one of his colleagues. Since I didn’t finish the book, I don’t know if either story line was resolved.

Obviously my opinion should not be taken as the last word on this subject as John Le Carre is one of the most respected and beloved writers in this field. I’m not very good at keeping secrets, whatever I’m thinking shows on my face and I can’t understand why all of our countries can’t just get along, so perhaps I should have realised earlier that spy novels are not for me.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was book fourteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

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