Tuesday, February 17, 2015

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY - Charles Dickens



I believe I made an error reading this straight after Oliver Twist.  Where I enjoyed Oliver with its mawkishness and remarkable coincidences I found the same traits in this story too much.

From the start its obvious that things will be alright in Nicholas's world in the end just because he is so capable. Naturally there is suffering and sadness along the way but it turns out alright.

Nicholas, his sister and his mother are left to rely on an Uncle and brother in law to survive after the patriarch dies leaving them in financial straits.  The uncle is of course a horrible person and puts the brother and sister into work with dastardly types.

Nicholas is put to work in a school with the cruel Squeers family.   This part of the book is interesting in that in the time this was written anyone with a building could start a school, that was all you needed.  This part of the story is based on Dickens experience of visiting a school set up similar to the one in the book.

But this book is padded, it was a serial and it is plainly so ,it segues ways away from our hero regularly and for no good reason much of the time.

At the end there is the "Dickensian coincidence" which tidies up all the loose ends.

Must admit I struggled to get to the end, again probably because I went straight into this from Twist.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

OLIVER TWIST - Charles Dickens



The tale of the orphan boy Oliver Twist born and raised as a pauper.

This was Dickens first novel rather than a collection like Pickwick. The beginning sets the scene and establishing the conditions paupers had to endure living in work houses.  The children were treated as a hindrance and in Olivers' case sold off to lessen the burden on the parish.

The middle passages dragged a bit for me especially when dealing with Mr. Bumbles matrimonial pursuits.  This part felt like padding and may well have been as this was originally published in installments and I assume  Dickens got paid by the part.

The final third of the story rocks along nicely until its conclusion.

This novel gave us two of literature most horrid villains, Fagin and Bill Sykes, two men without a redeeming feature, extreme in their evil.

The story does tend toward the mawkish occasionally but this was done by Dickens deliberately for his readers.  This was written as a contemporary novel and I would hope that the some readers did take note of the conditions that people were living in everyday.

My only previous exposure to this story was Lionel Bart's musical adaptation so I kept seeing Jack Wild and Oliver Reed as I was reading but the movie bears no resemblance to the starkness of this story and how humans were forced to live.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

THE PICKWICK PAPERS - Charles Dickens




This book is delightful, 58 chapters of adventure featuring Mr Samuel Pickwick, retired man of business, and friends, as they drink, explore, laugh and cry over a period of two years in mid 1830's England.

This book was the first Dickens and originally published in monthly installments.  The chapters are loosely tied together through the characters of the book but most stand alone.  We have stories of Goblin's, shyster lawyers, drinking  in vast quantities, short stories within chapters, a stay in a Debtors Prison and vast amounts of humanity.

The episodes where Pickwick prefers a Debtors Prison to paying a disgraceful Court decision are sobering.  It's staggering that people were just left to die in prison because of civil debt.

Generally, however humour is the driver and this book is very funny.  I imagine P G Wodehouse must have had a great working knowledge of this book because his Bertie & Jeeves tales are Pickwick taken to the nth degree.

I can say honestly that not once in 700 pages did my interest flag; reading from beginning to end was a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A TALE OF TWO CITIES - Charles Dickens



This is the first Dickens I have ever read and I absolutely loved it.

This is a love story set against the upheaval prior to and during the beginning of the French Revolution set in London and Paris.  I understand now why Sydney Carton is one of the great characters of English literature.

Seeing as the majority of the world has read this book there's not much to say other than it has made the only resolution I made for 2015, which was to read Dickens, so much easier, it would have been a tough ask if I didn't like the first book I attempted.

In a book full of well known quotes, the following is one that made me laugh in a book not known for its humour.

"The learned profession of the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in it's Bacchanalian propensities."


Friday, January 2, 2015

CULTURAL AMNESIA - Clive James



If you have ever even once in your life thought you were a bit clever, read this and any thoughts you had of being well read are dashed completely.

This book contain 110 short essays on many of the 20th centuries "greatest thinkers,humanists,musicians ,artists, philosophers and several very evil men. From Louis Armstrong, Terry Gilliam, Goebbels,Hitler, Alfred Einstein (a cousin not a typo),Mailer, Freud,Proust through to many I have never heard of (to be honest this is most of the contents) but all are interesting and the essays well compiled.

With many of these essays James starts writing about his subject and then segues off into areas you wouldn't think are remotely connected but you find they are and it just opens your eyes further.

For its subject matter its an easy read, most of the essays run between three and ten pages, which makes it ideal for dipping into.

This is one of the most enlightening books I've ever read and will continue to read.  As a fan of long baths this book is now residing permanently close at hand and will cause much wrinkling of the skin while its re-read.


Monday, December 29, 2014

THE HANDMAIDS TALE - Margaret Atwood



This is a chilling tale set in the future where mass sterility has necessitated fertile women being used as brood mares by the elites.

I have read reviews where Atwood states she dislikes this work being described as 'science fiction' and prefers it to be described as possible fiction.  I agree, we have seen over the last century several totalitarian regimes and how easy it is for them to rise to power, Germany being the prime example. It only takes many doing nothing as rights are eroded with others appeasing rather than opposing violently.

Offred, the Handmaid of our tale relates her current life interwoven with her life prior to the totalitarian state she is now in being created.  This is a state of fear violence and of course mass hypocrisy, all things that go with these regimes.

This is a great read, chilling because it is so easy to imagine this occurring but it is also uplifting because the human desire for freedom cannot not be extinguished, forced into hiding, but not got rid of.


WISE BLOOD - Flannery O'Connor



Described as 'southern gothic' it is the tale of Hazel Motes, recently discharged from the army as he sets outs to set up a 'anti' religious church- the "Church Without Christ" and from this we follow his descent into madness.

This novel is on several "best of lists" about the place but I struggle to see this.  This is a re-write of several interwoven stories that were originally short stories.  After the re-write it was published as this novel and unsurprisingly was a commercial flop.  Over the years it has gathered some traction but in my opinion this has had more to do with her later work and premature death.  This was her first novel , the first chapter being the "basis of her masters thesis". (Wiki)

Reading this it stills feels like several separate short stories.  Its funny in places with some disturbing imagery but several character's just drift away with no explanation.

My highlight was the police's solution in solving Hazel driving without a driving licence, much laughing over this.

No doubt Ms O'Connor could write but this left me wondering about too much of the story to really enjoy it.