Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘The Classics Club’

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

I expected Kim by Rudyard Kipling to be a children’s story and was surprised to find this to be a very adult story of political intrigue.

The story is set in India around the late 1800s, in a world that was extremely foreign to me. I’ve read very few stories set in India previously and what I have read has been contemporary fiction.

When the story began the main character, Kim, was a young orphan living on his wits in Lahore, not quite on the streets but not particularly well cared for either by the opium-addicted woman whose duty it was to house him. Kim was known to all on the streets as the Little Friend of all the World and not long into the story he proved himself worthy of this name by showing a kindness to a Tibetan lama by escorting him to the Wonder House (the Lahore Museum).

The lama was seeking a legendary river to find redemption from the Wheel of Life and Kim became his chela, or disciple, and accompanied him on journey.

Kim had his own reasons for taking a journey with the lama, and so took them on a detour to Umballa where he delivered a message from a horse-trading spy from Lahore to a British military man. Kim, who was interested in everything and sensible enough not to talk about what he knew, secretly watched what took place after his message had been delivered and learned that a war was about to commence.

As they travelled Kim begged for his and the lama’s food and lodging, and he charmed everyone he met along the way. He had his own quest too, which was to find a red bull on a green paddock which he unexpectedly found to be a flag in a British Army camp where the men he met realised Kim was the son of an Irish soldier from their regiment. Until then, no one but the reader had known that Kim was not Indian.

To his great sorrow Kim was then parted from the lama whom he had grown to love and sent to a British school to learn to be a spy. Spying came naturally to Kim, possibly as a result of how he had previously survived on the streets as an orphan. He already knew the traits of men of various religions and was well able to disguise himself and others either for his own amusement or when taking part in The Great Game, which was the name of the conflict between British and Russia taking place at that time in India.

Once Kim left school he was given leave to take a holiday before becoming a spy. He reunited with his beloved lama, with whom he went on to have further journeys and adventures in The Great Game even though Kim’s participation in The Great Game was at odds with the lama’s own quest.

The characters in this novel included a hurly-burly of people of many religions, all of whom seemed to be able to get along even though they happily insulted each other and thought little of each others Gods, foods or ways. The Indian people generally regarded the British people amongst them as being more than a little dopey, and the British people, other than those who were involved in the intrigues, seemed not to see the Indian people in India at all. The world portrayed in this story was very male, as Kim’s mother was dead, he had no romances as he grew up and only an elderly woman or two made it into the story.

Kim’s love for his lama and for India shone through every page of the story.

Kim was an adventure story and a spy novel, but for me, most of all it was an immersion into an extraordinary time and place. I almost felt as if I had culture shock from having been dropped into this rambunctious setting. I cannot say that I loved the story as spy novels just don’t interest me, but I can certainly say I appreciated it.

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

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Reading The Trial by Frank Kafka gives the reader the feeling of being in a nightmare, one where strange things happen which they believe to be true and real even though they don’t make any sense, leaving them feeling frustrated and anxious and confused. At least, that’s how the reading experience was for me.

And yet, I liked it.

I have never read anything by Kafka as I thought his books would be full of clever ideas that I wouldn’t be able to understand. Instead, the writing was perfectly clear and I could easily follow the story, even if I didn’t understand why the main character was caught up in his living nightmare any more than he did.

Josef K (his surname was never told, which gave the story and the trial itself a surreptitious feel from the very beginning) began the story in bed on the morning of his thirtieth birthday as he waited to be served his breakfast. When it didn’t come he rang his bell, but instead of receiving breakfast a strange man entered his room and Josef K learned he was being arrested for a crime which was never explained.

Eventually the strange man and his colleague departed leaving Josef K free to go about his day. He continued to attend his job at a bank and live his normal life the following week, all the time knowing that he was under arrest and had a trial to face. The following Sunday Josef K travelled through his city to the address he had been given for the court, which he found in the attic of a confusingly maze-like suburban house. In front of the judge and a large number of onlookers Josef K protested that the trial and the accusation against him were silly.

As the story progressed it became more and more absurd, in the way of a nightmare. Josef K tried visiting the presiding judge in an attempt to try to sway him to end the case, but instead became amourously engaged with the wife of one of the court’s attendants, then the woman’s husband took Josef K on a tour of the court building where he became emotionally and physically overwhelmed inside the airless, hot rooms.

Eventually Josef K became mired in bureaucracy, working fruitlessly to bringing his trial to an end. All the while inexplicable and strange things continued to happen, none of which he questioned even though these events made no sense at all.

While I think a lot of the ideas that the author was trying to get across sailed right over my head, I’m glad I found the courage to put this book on my Classics Club list. Kafka created a nightmare which anyone who has ever been caught up in seemingly pointless and endless amounts of red tape will recognise. The Trial also reminds anyone who has ever been involved in a court case that there are no winners in court and that there isn’t an answer to every question, or a clear reason for everything that happens.

Even though I still think the ideas in The Trial were mostly too ‘hard’ for me to understand, I enjoyed the story and the author’s writing style very much.

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

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

I started The Wings of the Dove by Henry James while Melbourne was in lockdown during 2020 but I wasn’t able to concentrate well enough to get past the first 20 pages. My notes from that first attempt said, “Henry James uses too many words.”

When I tried the book again in May 2021 Melbourne was out of lockdown and I was working in my office in the CBD several days a week, with a more established routine and feeling generally more relaxed. As a result I was able to persevere and while I didn’t love the story or the slow writing style as much as I’ve enjoyed the Henry James’ books which I’ve previously read, on this attempt I at least became interested in the characters and their stories and was able to finish the book.

Milly Theale was an extremely rich, young American orphan when she travelled to London with her companion, Mrs Stringer, who while there, reconnected with a friend from her schooldays, Mrs Louder.

Mrs Louder then introduced Milly to her beautiful, but poor young niece, Kate Croy and the two young women became friends. Milly also met Kate’s secret fiance, Merton Densher, who Milly had briefly met in New York before coming to London.

Mrs Louder wouldn’t allow Kate to marry Densher because he was also poor, but when Kate learned that Milly was dying she came up with a plan for Densher to make up to Milly and marry her, with an eye to marrying him herself once he became a rich widower, her aunt also encouraged him to carry out Kate’s plan.

Densher, who was smitten with Kate, went along with the plan and followed Milly, Kate and their entire entourage to Venice where Milly went to die (or to live, as her doctor encouraged her to do before she died, without ever stating that she would die).

I feel as if I should have disliked Kate, Densher and Mrs Louder for using Milly for their own gain, but they were charming, interesting and although my perception may be wrong, at least somewhat well-intentioned towards Milly. I felt that Kate and Densher actually cared for Milly and wanted her to die happy, even though their passion was for each other.

The writing style is lethargic, with long complicated sentences that required a lot of concentration to read. Characters hinted at things at but rarely made their intentions clear and left others to determine what a raised eyebrow or a slight change in a facial expression might have meant. The book probably deserved more time from me as I think I would have gotten more from it had I read it more slowly and diligently.

While I didn’t love The Wings of the Dove I am keen to watch the 1997 film which starred Helena Bonham Carter as Kate Croy and am hopeful that watching this will clarify if Kate and Densher actually cared for Milly or if their motivation in how they acted towards her was pure greed.

The Wings of the Dove was book twenty eight in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

I was keen to read The Call of the Wild by Jack London after recently reading White Fang while the first story was still fresh in my mind.

The Call of the Wild introduces Buck, a half shepherd, half St Bernard as the favoured companion of Judge Miller and his sons, and a playmate for the Judge’s grandchildren at their home in California.

When a gold rush created an enormous demand for dog sled teams to carry mail and essential supplies in the Yukon, Buck was stolen because of his great strength and taken to the other end of the continent by train.

Once in the Yukon, Buck learned to obey club-wielding men, and to fight for his food, working position and for his very life. Much like people, Buck’s fellow sled-dog’s characters were depicted as either living to work, or happy-go-lucky fun lovers, while others sought out every opportunity they could to fight.

The team’s masters came and went. Some were kinder to the dogs than others and several were cruel and incompetent. Eventually Buck ended up with a master he loved and would have died for, but eventually his master’s death and the call of the wild led him to run the countryside with wolves.

The story is short and is told in a similarly detached style to White Fang in that the animal’s morals and values are generally less emotional that that of humans, while their actions are more to the point. For example, if two dogs hated each other they fought to the death rather than politely detesting each other human-style.

The Call of the Wild can be enjoyed as a straightforward adventure story with moral lessons for those who care to recognise them, noting that the story is also a product of its time and contains racist comments and cruelty to animals.

White Fang and The Call of the Wild are companion pieces, set in the same place at the same time, but the characters do not cross over. The stories are opposite to each other in that White Fang tells the story of a wolfdog that becomes domesticated during the course of the story while the domesticated dog in The Call of the Wild goes wild. I didn’t prefer one story over the other.

The Call of the Wild was book twenty seven 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.

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.

https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/

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.

https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/

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.

https://acornerofcornwall.com/

https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/

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

https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

I included Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood in my Classics Club book list as a bit of a cheat since I’m working my way through her books anyway, but thought I might as well tick another book off my list.

Alias Grace is unlike any of the stories I’ve already read by this author. Several have been dystopian, while another two were so real I suspect they were based on the author’s own life experiences. Alias Grace is a fictional account of an actual woman who was convicted of two murders in Canada in 1843. The known facts of the case were used by the author to anchor her fictional story.

Grace Marks was a servant at a remote farm when she and James McDermott were found guilty of murdering their employer, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Grace was only 16 years old at the time of the murders. The pair were caught soon after fleeing to the USA and returned to Canada to face trail for the crimes. McDermott was hanged and Grace was sentenced to life in prison.

When the story began, Grace had been a prisoner for many years. By day, she worked as a servant in the prison Governor’s home, returning each night to the prison. The Governor’s wife and her guests were fascinated by Grace, and were alternately thrilled or horrified by having her in their midst. Grace’s beauty and self-possession added to their intrigue.

A doctor researching criminal behaviour came to Canada specifically to interview Grace. He sat with Grace in the Governor’s home as she sewed and tried unsuccessfully for some time to prompt her to talk about the actual murders, which she told him she had forgotten about. Eventually the doctor asked Grace to tell him about her childhood, which she did, starting with her abusive, drunkard father, her constantly pregnant mother and their battle with poverty and too many children. Grace told him her of her mother’s death on the ship to America from Ireland, how she became a servant and eventually lost touch with her father, younger brothers and sisters as she moved from situation to situation.

The doctor’s own somewhat messy personal life also became part of the story. Newspaper accounts of the crime, letters between the characters and poems were also used to tell the story.

Grace is a fascinating character and this is an intriguing story, which has left me with plenty of things to think about.

Alias Grace was book twelve in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2013.

If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.

Alias Grace is broken up into chapters named for quilts, such as Ducks and Geese and Pandora’s Box, with pictures of the quilt patterns. I particularly enjoyed making the connection between the contents of each chapter and the name of the quilt patterns.

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