Book reviews

Archive for the ‘Classics Club’ Category

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.

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

I spun up Tom Jones by Henry Fielding in the most recent Classics Club spin and immediately panicked, because this book is huge. I realised I was right to panic, when after a week of solid reading I was only up to page 120, with 660 pages to go. In all honesty, if I had realised how long the book was I would never have added it to my list.

However, perseverance eventually got me through and I can truthfully say that I enormously enjoyed my first Fielding novel.

I had no idea before I started reading that the book is a comedy and that I would particularly love the humour in this book. There are funny twists and turns throughout the plot and the characters often say and do hilariously silly things, but the best humour comes from directly the author, who has inserted himself and his opinions into the story as the narrator, although he is completely uninvolved in the story as a character.

As often happens to me when I read a book from another place or time, I initially struggled to become immersed in the story (I might have been worrying too much about how long it would take me to finish the book rather than concentrating on the plot) so I successfully applied my old trick of reading aloud until I caught the narrator’s voice and could hear it in my head. Henry Fielding’s narrative voice is extremely descriptive and he leaves nothing that goes through his mind during the telling of this story as anything less than fully explored. Each of the 18 sections which make up this book starts with a chapter in which Fielding discusses some idea or other, many of which are entirely unrelated to the story.

To the actual story. Tom Jones is the name of a foundling who was left in the bed of Squire Allworthy, the richest and most important man in his local village. Tom’s parentage and how he came to be in the Squire’s bed was unknown until Allworthy’s housekeeper made investigations and found that his most likely parents were a local schoolmaster and his (alleged) mistress. Allworthy, who is as good as his name suggests, arranges for the woman to go somewhere where no one will know her reputation and asked his sister to bring up the child as her own.

Tom is a happy, loving, honest boy who often got into what most people would call innocent mischief. He was brought up alongside Allworthy’s sister’s child, Bliful, who was the opposite in temperament of Tom, being deceitful, greedy and jealous of Tom. Tom’s reputation often suffered from Blifil’s lies, particularly with Allworthy and other members of their community.

At a young age, Tom fell in love with a local girl, Molly, who became pregnant. Tom had to face up to his own actions with Allworthy, but when it turned out that Molly had several other fellows on the hop at the same time, Tom had a change of heart and fell in love with the beautiful Sophia Western, his childhood friend. Sophia also fell in love with Tom, whom she had idolised since their childhood, however her father wanted her to marry Blifil so their estates would be merged.

When some unlucky and misconstrued events about Tom disappointed Allworthy, he sadly turned Tom away from his home (with a large sum of money) which started a series of adventures for the broken-hearted Tom, who genuinely loved his adopted father Allworthy.

Tom’s adventures and the people he met were hilarious. His adventures were mostly amorous and were helped along by the sweetness of his temper, combined with his angelic face and presumably his fine physique, which were irresistible to a great many of the women he met along his way. The consequences of Tom’s inability to say no to any of the women who wanted to go to bed with him were being caught out by Sophia, who had run away from home rather than marry Blifil, whom she detested. Sophia, while jealous of Tom’s lovers, was more angry with Tom for supposedly bandying her name around a variety of public houses than she was with him for his multiple love affairs.

The characters in this story are fantastic. They are all caricatures of their virtues and vices, for example, Sophia is impossibly good and beautiful and Squire Western, Sophia’s father, is a foul-mouthed bully who lived for hunting. He regularly declared that he loved Sophia more than life itself, but exposed his truest desires when he joined in with a passing hunt while searching for his missing daughter.

Black George, a gamekeeper, was beholden to Tom in numerous ways, yet could not resist stealing everything Tom had from him. Another servant was consistently insidious and untruthful in order to ingratiate herself with Sophia, while other characters were ludicrously cowardly, or frighteningly clever, or pious and hypocritical. All of the characters are presented by Fielding with humour and up to a point, affection.

I was very amused by a landlady who constantly and successfully needled her second husband by constantly referencing the wisdom of his predecessor by starting every sentence with “As my first husband used to say.”

Many of the character’s names were, like Squire Allworthy’s, indicative of their values and behaviours which reminded me of the fantastic character names used by Charles Dickens in his novels, for example, Mr Thwackum is an ominous name for a boy’s tutor…

I did not expect to find Tom Jones to be so funny. The story is also clever and thought-provoking and entertaining. I will read more books by Henry Fielding in future.

My only advice for anyone planning to read Tom Jones is to allow plenty of time to read the book (it took me a month) and find a good quality hardback version or read it on an electrical device, as holding a paperback book of this size open was a physical challenge.

Tom Jones was book thirteen in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

Classics Club Spin #21

The Classics Club have issued their latest challenge, Spin #21!

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 31 October 2019. The spin is taking place Monday 23 October 2019.

So far I’ve participated in two spins, with very different results. The first time, I spun the book that I least wanted, Anton Chekhov’s Major Plays. For my second spin, I got the book I most wanted, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

My book list for this spin is as follows:

  1. Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
  2. Complete Juvenilia – Jane Austen
  3. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  4. Middlemarch – George Eliot
  5. Tom Jones – Henry Fielding
  6. Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. My Brilliant Career – Miles Franklin
  9. The Go-Between – L.P. Hartley
  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

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Is it wrong of me to have chosen The Pearl by John Steinbeck for my list of fifty books to read for The Classics Club because it is short?

In my defence, having struggled through The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden when I was far too young to appreciate either, I couldn’t bring myself to commit to such a long story by this author again.

The Pearl is the story of what happens to a poor young Mexican couple, Kino and Juana, after their baby is stung by a scorpion. They rushed the baby off to a doctor, who refused to see them because all Kino could offer in payment for his services were a handful of oddly-shaped, and nearly worthless seed pearls.

On returning home, Kino, a fisherman, went diving for oysters in the hope of finding a pearl of sufficient value to pay the doctor for the baby’s treatment. He found a pearl so big and beautiful that by the time news of the find reached the doctor, it had become known as ‘The Pearl of the World.’

Perhaps not surprisingly, Kino’s find brought out the very worst of human nature. Initially Kino dreamed of sending his child to school and marrying Juana with the money from the pearl’s sale, but it didn’t take long for his dreams to expand significantly. Worse, the actions caused by other people’s greed for the pearl changed Kino and his family’s lives forever.

I found The Pearl to be a sad story, but well told. While it is a very short story, the length is also exactly right, as any more would have been padding and any less would have meant that important components of the story weren’t told. I’m fairly sure I’ll read more of Steinbeck’s short stories in future and who knows? I might even work my way up to re-reading his larger novels eventually.

The Pearl was book eleven in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2013.

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