Sunday, December 9, 2018

Back to the Classics 2019

Books still life, unknown artist. Spanish, 1620-1640.
Old National Gallery, Berlin

It's back! After much deliberation, I've decided to continue to the Back to the Classics Challenge for the sixth year! I hope to encourage readers and bloggers to tackle all the classic books we've never gotten around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) gift of books from or The Book Depository! The rules and the prize are the same as last year, but I think I've come up with some fun new categories. 

If you're new to the challenge, here's how it works:
  • Complete six categories, and you'll get one entry in the drawing; 
  • Complete nine categories, and you'll get two entries in the drawing; 
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you'll get three entries in the drawing

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago. 

3. Classic by a Female Author.

4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots!) Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.

5. Classic Comedy. Any comedy or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it's a work that's traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. 

6. Classic Tragedy. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. 

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages. 

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classic set in either continent or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude (Columbia/South America). 

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those contents or islands, or by an author from these countries. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); On the Beach by Nevile Shute (Australia); Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria). 

11. Classic From a Place You've Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you've lived. Choices for me include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany). 

12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.

  • All books must be read during read from January 1 through December 31, 2019. Books started before January 1 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2019. I will post links the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar of this blog for convenience through the entire year. (The link for the final wrap-up will be posted towards the end of the year, to avoid confusion). 
  • Participants must post a wrap-up and link it to the challenge, and it must include links to all the books they've read for this challenge, specifying which books for each challenge. If I cannot confirm which books you've read for each challenge, I will not enter your name into the drawing. It is fine to rearrange books for the challenge, since many books can fit multiple categories -- just let me know in the final wrap-up! 
  • The wrap-up post MUST include contact information so that I can contact the winner privately before announcing the winner on this blog. If your blog doesn't have a link, or if you have a Goodreads account, let me know in the comments of wrap-up post. If I cannot contact you, I cannot award you the prize! 
  • If you do NOT have a blog and wish to enter, you need to link to individual reviews on a publicly accessible site like Goodreads. You can specify which categories in the comments section of the link to the Final Wrap-Up Post. Do not simply link to your Goodreads account.
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago to qualify; therefore, books must have been published no later than 1969 for this challenge. The only exceptions to this rule are books which published posthumously but written before 1969. Recent translations of classic novels are acceptable. 
  • E-books and audiobooks are acceptable! You may also count books for this challenge that you've read for other challenges. 
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge -- that is, you may not count the same book multiple times within this challenge. You MUST read a different book for each category in this challenge, or it doesn't count. 
  • Multiple books by the same author are acceptable. 
  • Children's classics are acceptable, but no more than three total for the challenge! And please, no picture books.
  • Single short stories and short poetry collections do not count, but you may use full-length narrative poems (like The Odyssey) and short story collections such as The Canterbury Tales, as long as you read the entire book.
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you intend to read in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! You may certainly rearrange or change the books for this challenge, and books may be read in any order. 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2019. After that, I'll close the link and you'll have to wait until 2020 for the next year's challenge. Please include a link to your actual sign-up post, not your blog URL/home page. Make sure you sign up in the Linky below, not the comments section. If I do not see your name in the sign-ups, you are not eligible. If you've made a mistake with your link, just add a new one and let me know in the comments. It's no trouble for me to delete an incorrect link. 
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2020. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending upon the number of categories they complete as stated above. One winner will be randomly selected from all qualifying entries. I will contact the winner privately and award the prize before posting on the blog. 
  • The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US) from (US) OR $30 in books from The Book Depository. Winners must live in a country that receives shipment from one of these online retailers. To check if your country receives deliveries from The Book Depository, click here

So what are you waiting for? Sign up in the Linky below! I'll be posting my tentative list of reads for the 2019 challenge in the next few days. I can't wait to see what everyone else will be reading! 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Back to the Classics 2019: Yea or Nay?

Edward Hopper, Compartment C, Car 293 1938

As you may have noticed, I've really been slacking off from the blogging the last few months. I don't know if it was just a temporary lull, or it's time to wind up this blog. It's been more than nine years, and sometimes I feel like I'm just moving in a different direction. I love reading, but sometimes writing blog posts feels like homework. Also, I've been traveling a lot this past year (I keep meaning to post about my trips but I never seem to get round to it.) We have less than a year left here in Germany before we move back to the U.S., and it's going really fast -- I have so much more I want to do before I go!

So, I've really been considering taking a break from book blogging, or moving this blog in another direction. But the Back to the Classics Challenge probably been one of my favorite things about it; I've been hosting this challenge since 2014, when I took over from Sarah Reads Too Much and I've been so pleased by the response! More than 180 people signed up last year, which is amazing.

What I'm asking is this: should I continue the Back to the Classics Challenge in 2019? How many people are still interested in participating? I realize that my readership may have dropped off because I've been blogging so infrequently, but if readers are still interested, I'll consider continuing. 

Please let me know in the comments if you're interested in participating. Thanks!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson

 The governess. The spinster. The Aunt Sallies of life and standbys of British serialized humor. Submerged in other people's garments. 

I had really hoped to read two or even three books this past week for the Persephone Readathon, but I'm sorry to say that the events in the news were so upsetting, I could hardly focus on the book that I had chosen -- and I really wish that I had picked a more uplifting book. I'd been putting off Alas, Poor Lady for years -- it was so long and seemed rather depressing. It did take rather longer than I expected, as I normally zip through a Persephone in a couple of days, but I'm very glad to have read it.

Alas, Poor Lady is the story of a Victorian family with seven daughters, ultimately focusing on the youngest, Grace Scrimgeour, born in 1869. Her father, a retired army officer, is forever disappointed that he has no son (who finally arrives two years after Grace); he takes little interest in his daughters other than providing them a perfunctory education and assuming eventually some man or other will take them off his hands. After nine pregnancies in more than 20 years, her mother blithely assumes the same, without preparing her (or her elder sisters) with the means to find a husband or learn to support her self -- it just wasn't done. 

A Honiton Lace Manufactury. Frederick Richard Pickersgill, 1869.

Some of Grace's elder sisters snag husbands and even have sons, but Grace and her unmarried sisters are doomed to spend their lives doing needlework and Good Works appropriate for middle-class ladies. One of the sisters, Mary, suggests higher education or even teaching as a profession; another, Queenie, the nerve to suggest opening a needlework shop. Both of these ideas are immediately rejected as being unsuitable -- what would people think

 Her stillborn love affair, her spinsterhood she might forget if they would let her, the loss of her shop never. It was her real broken romance. 'I could have made a success in business but they wouldn't let me.'
   That would be her story in all the years to come.

Eventually, through bad money management, bad investments, and just bad luck, the unmarried Scrimgeour sisters enter a slow downward spiral to genteel poverty, becoming a burden on relatives and living from hand to mouth.  I'm always interested in the lives of the Victorian, but this book was a tough read in parts, with, as always, women having few choices. The eldest sister, Gertrude, has a rude awakening from her own marriage and childbirth (nearly the same time as Grace's birth); but at least she has financial security. It's a very well written book, but I did have to stop several times because I was so distressed at the mistakes and injustices that these spinster sisters faced. Grace's multiple attempts to catch a husband were especially distressing. 

Author Rachel Ferguson
This book reminded me a bit of Pride and Prejudice, just from the aspect of getting so many daughters married off. (Imagine if Bingley hadn't rented out Netherfield Hall -- would Jane have been forced to marry Mr. Collins? Ew.) Mrs. Bennet is normally the object of ridicule, but if you think about it, Mr. Bennet hasn't done diddly squat to find his girls suitable husbands, and hasn't put any money aside for dowries. He hides in his study and never even thinks about their education, or the suitability of having all five girls out in society at once. It was more difficult for the older girls to find husbands after several seasons -- and if their sisters came out, they would be even more competition. How awful would it be to have season after season and remain unmarried, then see your younger sisters married off before you? At least one of Bennet parents cared about what would happen to them. The Scrimgeour parents basically stick their heads in the sand and just assume everything will take care of itself eventually. And the ending, thankfully, wasn't as depressing as I expected. 

Endpapers from the Persephone edition of Alas, Poor Lady, a detail from an early 20th century tapestry.
The Scrimgeour sisters spent a lot of time doing needlework.
Alas, Poor Lady is the only Persephone by Ferguson; however, the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press has reprinted three more of her novels: Evenfeld; A Harp in Lowdnes Square; and A Footman for the Peacock, which is the only Furrowed Middlebrow left on my TBR shelves. Bloggers, have you read any of these? Which do you recommend? And did you enjoy the Persephone Readathon? Thanks again to Jessie from Dwell in Possibility for hosting!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Persephone Readathon Check-In and Giveaway!

So excited for another Persephone Readathon! I'm a bit late with this posting, but I've already started my latest Persephone, Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson. I seem to have put this one off forever -- I think I've owned it for at least five years. But I've read more than 100 pages so far and I'm quite enjoying it. It's fairly long, more than 450 pages, but I'd like to try to squeeze in at least one other dove-grey book by the next Sunday if I can -- I also own two newer Persephones which are quite short: Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski, and The Journey Home and Other Stories by Malachi Whitaker. I've been really impressed with Persephone's short story collections, though I do find short stories difficult to review.

And now for the giveaway!!

A couple of months ago I was at the only used bookstore around with books in English (tricky to find here in Germany). I naturally checked the Classics shelf, and was delighted to find a Persephone -- a pristine copy of Cheerful Weather For the Wedding, in the Persephone Classic edition!

I already own a copy (sadly, packed up and in storage) but I could not bear to leave it on the shelf so naturally I bought it! I realized it would be the perfect book to share as a giveaway during the Persephone Readathon! 

If you aren't familiar, it's a novella about a single day in the life of a young woman named Dolly, her wedding day. Things are not necessarily as they seem, as the bride has doubts, and a former suitor arrives. It's a very quick read, only 119 pages, with wide margins. It could easily be finished in a single sitting (and I might reread it before I pop it into the post for the winner). It was also adapted into an excellent film starring Felicity Jones and Elizabeth McGovern in 2012. 

That's Felicity Jones (right) as the bride, and Zoe Tapper (her bridesmaid? I've forgotten.)
  • If you'd like to enter the drawing, just leave a comment below and tell me which Persephone is your favorite and why. (If you haven't read any Persephones yet, just tell me which one you'd like to read!) 
  • The drawing will be completely unscientific and I'll pick my favorite response. 
  • Deadline to enter is Sunday, September 30, 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. 
  • The drawing is limited to residents of the U. S. and Europe -- I live in Germany and can mail via European and U. S. mail. 
  • Please leave a good contact email in your comment (if it doesn't automatically link) so I contact you if you win!
Anyway -- happy reading to all! Hope you're enjoying your Persephones this week! 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby is Poorly Titled

I only have one book left to finish for the TBR Pile Challenge, a massive omnibus of short stories by Katherine Anne Porter. (I keep buying short story collections but find them really overwhelming and unwieldy to read in omnibus collections; also, I never know how to review them.) So I thought I would take the easy way out and read an alternate, Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby, a mere 266 pages in paperback. However, it took me nearly three weeks to finish this book, compared to a mere five days to zip through the nearly 500 pages of South Riding, Holtby's most famous work.

Published in 1931, Poor Caroline is Winifred Holtby's fourth novel, and was an instant success. Unlike her other novels centered around life in Yorkshire, Poor Caroline is a satire set in London, and follows the lives of several people who become attached to the fictional Christian Cinema Company, devised to create "clean" British cinema for the masses (this is just before color films became popular; I can't remember if the films in question are talkies or not). 

Nevertheless. The corporation is basically started by a Caroline Denton-Smythe, a 70-ish spinster living in genteel poverty who has decided it his her lot in life to find causes. She is joined in this endeavor by Basil Reginald Anthony St. Denis, a dilettante war veteran and minor aristocrat; Joseph Isenbaum, Jewish businessman looking to get his young son enrolled at Eton; Hugh Macafee, a curmudgeonly film inventor; Eleanor de la Roux, a distant cousin from South Africa who's inherited a little nest egg. Other side characters include Caroline's vicar, Roger Mortimer, and Clifton Johnson, a somewhat shady scriptwriter. 

The book begins and ends with two cousins who have just returned from Caroline's funeral. The rest of the chapters alternate between the characters, giving the reader back story about how each of them become involved in the project. Every chapter ends with someone saying, "Poor Caroline," from whence the title came, but I think it's a terrible title. 

This book seemed to take forever -- I almost felt like the chapters were short stories, rather than a single narrative. It also didn't help that I kept putting the book down because I really wasn't that interested in the characters, or quite frankly, the idea of Christian cinema. (As a former librarian, I'm not a big fan of public censorship). Taking so long to read the book really made it hard to keep the characters straight, and I found Caroline herself to be really depressing -- my favorite characters were the South African cousin and the vicar. The cranky film scientist was interesting, but he was such a sexist jerk that I wanted to throw the book across the room. 

I so wanted to like this because I loved South Riding and really enjoyed the other Yorkshire novels.  Overall I think it was just OK -- maybe I just didn't get the satire. I just have one more of her novels unread, Mandoa, Mandoa! which is another satire, set in a fictional African country. I'm a little hesitant because I think I prefer the Yorkshire novels. Well, it's one more Virago crossed off the list. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Is He Popenjoy? Is the Strangest Title of Any Trollope Novel

Apparently, 2018 is my Year of Trollope. I've now completed five of his works this calendar year (though to be honest, four of them were really quite short). The longest thus far was Is He Popenjoy? which also has the honor of Oddest Book Title of the Year; also, the honor of Most Irritating Title to Type Because It's Constantly Autocorrected to Popinjay, which is not the same thing at all. (I have since learned that Popinjay is a kind of Scottish archery game.) Popenjoy was chosen for a readalong by my Facebook Trollope group, and though the group read was scheduled for late September through November, I started it early and was so involved in the story I sped through the 655 pages in a week. 

So. The Popenjoy referred to in the title is not a thing, but a title -- specifically, the title of the heir apparent to the Marquis of Brotherton, a fictional aristocrat. When the novel begins, the current Marquis, fortyish and unmarried, has been residing in Italy for some years, and is estranged from his family: his mother, the Dowager; his four sisters, three of whom are unmarried; and his youngest sibling and only brother, Lord George Germain. Lord George is young and good-looking (if somewhat serious), but cash-poor, as he basically lives off the management of the estate while his brother has all the capital. George is aware that if his brother ever returns, he will have essentially nothing. However, the slim chance exists that the Marquis may never marry, and that George might eventually become the Marquis. Therefore, any future son could be the heir to the estate, Manor Cross.

Lord George is desperately in love with a Miss De Baron, but as neither of them has any money, she rejects his proposal of marriage early in the first chapter, marrying a wealthy older man instead. Lord George is brokenhearted, but eventually, is persuaded to consider another potential bride -- young Mary Lovelace, daughter of the Dean of Brotherton. Mary's father is from humble origins but worked his way up through the Church hierarchy -- and though Mary is young and pretty, she has the added attraction of 30,000 pounds, inherited from her late mother's father, who made a fortune in candles. 

Mary is just nineteen and Lord George is thirty-three, but the marriage takes place, with some stipulations: the couple will have a House in Town (aka London) and spend four months of the year there, paid for with the Dean's money. The Dean feels that since Mary has spent virtually her entire life in the country, she deserves a little society for at least part of the year instead of being shut up in the Brotherton Estate, Manor House, with George's older sisters -- who are rather petty and judgmental. And the season spent in London is where the trouble begins. Mary doesn't know a soul in London and makes a new frenemy of the former Miss De Baron, who is now Mrs. Houghton. Mrs. Houghton likes Mary but has an ulterior motive -- she thinks Mary needs taking down a peg or two for the sin of marrying Lord George only a year or so after she herself rejected him.  (Apparently it was the duty of Lord George to pine away for her forever). Mrs. Houghton introduces Mary to her cousin, the dashing Captain Jack De Baron, who loves to dance and ride and shoot pool, all things that Mary's husband does not. 

Things are further complicated by an announcement from Italy that the Marquis is getting married to an Italian ; quickly followed another announcement that he is married, and has had a son. Naturally, this sped-up timeline, raises some eyebrows, particularly with the Dean, who has a vested interest in any future grandson becoming a future Marquis. Eventually the Marquis shows up with his Italian bride and sickly son, though they're mostly kept hidden away from view. 

I love this cover, from an inexpensive "yellow back" edition from about 1881.
It's from a collection at the Philadelphia Athaneaum.

So, most of the plot centers around tension between the newly married George and Mary, due to the interlopers (honorable or dishonorable); and between the Dean, George, and his brother, about the legitimacy of this little boy, known to all as Popenjoy, though presumably he has an actual first name, though it's never mentioned. (I only learned the Marquis' given name is Augustus in one of the final chapters, so presumably, the little boy is named after his father). There's tension between George and his brother, who's never had much interest in the family in England; tension between the Dean, who is pressing the case with his own lawyers, and George, who would rather let it lie; and tension between the Dean and the Marquis himself, who is a really unpleasant git. 

There are also some fox hunting scenes (of course) and a weird sub-plot about women's rights activists which, frankly, did nothing much to advance the plot. But this was starting to be a subject of discussion in the 1870s when the book was written, so I guess Trollope was trying to be timely. There's a German and an American activist, both women, and I'm not sure if Trollope was poking fun at these two countries, or to women who have the nerve to want rights. He does make the point that there is a double standard regarding the reputation of women after some unpleasant gossip about Mary and Captain De Baron starts circulating. 

This isn't one of Trollope's most complex novels, but I really enjoyed it. The plot about the jealous husband has been repeated a couple of times in other Trollope novels (specifically Kept in the Dark and He Knew He Was Right) but I suppose it's tough not to repeat yourself if you've written 47 novels. The question of Popenjoy's legitimacy was inspired by the Titchborne case that fascinated the public when it came to trial in 1871.

This is the 32nd work I've read by Trollope -- 31 novels and his autobiography! That leaves only 16 novels left. I'll be sad when I've finished them all, I guess I'll just have to start reading them all over again!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Fall Reading Challenges: R.I.P. XIII, Persephone Readathon, Victober, and The 1944 Club!

So many great reading opportunities on the blogosphere this fall! Here's a roundup of what I want to read soon. Naturally, I'm going to focus on what's on my own shelves. 

Readers Imbibing Peril XIII: September 1 - October 31.

Mystery, suspense, horror, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic. I'm hoping for Peril the Second, at least two books. Possible RIP Reads:
  • A ghost story collection -- I have collections by Elizabeth Gaskell, M. R. James, and E. F. Benson on the TBR shelves
  • Something by Wilkie Collins, a shorter work: The Dead Secret, The Evil Genius, or The Haunted Hotel. (Can also count for Victober).
  • Frankenstein, for my IRL book club
  • Something by Dorothy L. Sayers -- my library has several available for digital audio download.  Probably either Strong Poison or The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. Will also count for my final category in the Back to the Classics Challenge


Persephone Readathon: September 21 - 30. Hosted by Jessie at Dwell in Possibility

Again, just trying to read more books from my own shelves. I have at least a dozen unread Persephones. Possible reads: 

  • Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson. It is the dove-grey book that I've owned the longest without reading it.
  • Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood
  • The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde. My most recent Persephone purchase, bought at the shop on my trip to London in June.
  • Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski. A birthday present -- I should read it before my next birthday.
  • The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray

Portrait of Queen Victoria, painted by Franz Winterhalter  in 1943.
I saw the original at Kensington palace in June.

Victober 2018: October 1 - 30. 

This is a new one for me, a month-long readalong of Victorian literature on Goodreads. Possible reads: 
  • The Doctor's Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  • The Dead Secret, The Evil Genius, or The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins (also RIP)
  • Tales of Mystery and the Macabre by Elizabeth Gaskell (also RIP)
  • Who Is Lost and Is Found by Margaret Oliphant
  • Is He Popenjoy? by Anthony Trollope -- for my Trollope group readalong
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson -- I've gotten hooked on Black Sails, which includes some of Stevenson's characters -- sort of a prequel which explains the relationship between Long John Silver and Captain Flint.
  • The Time Machine by H. G. Wells

The 1944 ClubOctober 15 - 21.
Hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

Possible reads: 

  • The Green Years by A. J. Cronin. I know nothing about this book, but someone left a beautiful old edition on the giveaway cart at the library last year, and I couldn't pass it up. Apparently it's about an Irish orphan who is sent to live with his grandparents in Scotland. It's only 240 pages so I'll give it a try.
  • The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker -- I have a beautiful Penguin copy that I received as a prize several years ago from an online contest -- one of the last of my Big Box of Penguins.
  • Winter Wheat by Mildred Walker -- a wonderful book set in Montana, by an author nobody reads anymore. I read it several years ago and loved it, and would love to read it again. It's a coming-of-age story about a young woman working as a teacher in WWII.

It seems like a lot, but it's split up over two months, and a lot of the books cross over into other categories. Bloggers, have you read any of these books or authors? Which do you recommend? And is anyone else signing up for fall challenges? 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Classics Spin #18: Whisky Galore: More Scottish than Outlander

I was delighted by the most recent Classics Club Spin selection. I had been actually hoping to visit Scotland this summer (after my trip to London to see Hamilton) but since we decided to visit Jane Austen country, reading Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie would have to suffice for my Scotland fix. It includes so many of my favorite bookish requirements: Mid-century -- Check! Scotland location -- check! Quirky characters -- check! I am sorry to say most of what I know about Scotland comes from reading and watching Outlander (which I realize was written by an American). This has a lot more drinking and a lot less kilts and steamy Scotsmen -- and no time-travel.

The setup: loosely based on actual events of the 1940s, this comic novel is set during WWII and is the story of the residents of Little Todday and Great Todday, two fictional islands in the Outer Hebrides. Of course there is rationing due to the war, but what hits everyone hardest is the lack of whisky -- as the story begins there hasn't been any Scotch for weeks, and everyone is rationed to one beer every other day. They are all miserable.  

The tale opens with the return of Sergeant Odd, a forty-something English solider who had been previously assigned to the island, and fallen in love with a local girl, Peggy Macroon, before he shipped off to Africa. He's ready to get married but her father keeps putting off the wedding. The locals tell him they can't possibly host a reiteach, a traditional Gaelic engagement party, when there's no whisky to be had. The first third of the book mostly deals with Odd visiting various locals so the reader is introduced to the various quirky locals. 

Finally, a miracle occurs -- a steamer called the Cabinet Minster is wrecked on a reef between the two islands, and it seems like manna from heaven when the locals realize the hold was filled with 15,000 cases of premium whisky bound for the United States (apparently much of the whisky has been diverted to sell to America to pay for the war effort -- it's not clear if the Americans have entered the war yet). The shipping company writes off the loss and the residents get busy salvaging what they can before the excise men arrive, and the engagement party is back on.

Hilarity ensues when the resident self-important gentry, Captain Wagget, decides that everyone is flaunting the law (and enjoying themselves), so he tries to get the police and military involved. There are also some really funny bits with the local school master, George Campbell, whose domineering mother is trying to prevent his engagement. 

I really enjoyed this book. I do think it started out a bit slow, and I had a little trouble with Gaelic references and some of the dialect written phonetically into the dialogue. It's not what I'd describe as a rip-roaring yarn but more of a simmer -- perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I'd been sipping a wee dram myself while I'd been reading it! It was definitely worth sticking with. I feel like I got a real flavor of the islands, so to speak, and I enjoyed all the colorful characters. I really wish now that I had been able to visit Scotland this summer. 

Eddie Izzard as Captain Wagget
There have been two film adaptations of Whisky Galore -- the first one from 1949 starred Gordon Jackson (Hudson from Upstairs, Downstairs) as Mr. Campbell and is a classic comedy from the British Ealing studios.  The 2016 remake stars Eddie Izzard as Captain Wagget which I think is brilliant -- I love his stand-up and he's wonderful in almost every film and TV role. Sadly neither version is available from Netflix or at my library so I'll have to see if I can get one via inter-library loan, or I may just suck it up and see if I can find a cheap copy on the internet. 

Bloggers, has anyone seen either version? And how did everyone do with their spin picks? 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: We Will Never Know Because It's Unfinished

It's taken me more than ten years, but I've finally finished all the major works of Charles Dickens. I had put off reading his unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, because I suspected I'd be frustrated with only half the story. I'm not going to lie, I was absolutely correct, but if you're a Dickens fan it's still worth reading.

Published serially in 1870, Drood is the story of a young engaged couple, the eponymous Edwin, and Rosa Bud. Both orphans, they have been betrothed since children by their parents, who were friends and partners. However, Edwin and Rosa don't really love one another. At the beginning of the novel, Edwin is introduced to a brother and sister, Neville and Helena Landless, who are studying in the town of Cloisterham, where Rosa is attending school. Neville finds himself attracted to Rosa, and Edwin is attracted to Rosa. Neville is also offended that Edwin treats Rosa in an offhand manner, and after several drinks, heated words are exchanged. Neville thus gets a reputation as a hothead with a grudge. 

The two seem to make it up on Christmas Eve, but the following day, Edwin is nowhere to be found. Naturally, suspicion falls on Neville. Eventually, Edwin's watch, chain, and shirt pin are found in a river, but no body. (There is also a pointed reference to a quicklime pit). After several months, Rosa gets a visit from Edwin's creepy uncle Jasper, the Cloisterham choirmaster (and a secret opium addict). He confesses that he's been desperately in love with her for years. Rosa is naturally revulsed and flees to London, to her guardian, Mr. Grewgious, and meets up with the Landlesses again. We also meet some other characters who may or may not be private detectives or spies -- but that's pretty much it. Dickens only wrote half the novel before he suffered a stroke in June of 1870 (after working a full day on Drood). He never regained consciousness and there is no written outline of the story; however, Dickens had discussed the novel with various people so it is generally believed that (highlight for spoiler) Uncle Jasper is indeed the murderer.

Having read many mysteries, (including Dickens' masterpiece Bleak House, one of my all-time favorite novels) I had my own suspicions about the real murderer. Since the fragment was published there have been various film and TV adaptations, most recently in 2012, and a musical. 

Clearly, this is Rosa cowering in in revulsion from Uncle Jasper.

I really liked this story, though it had been some time since I'd read Dickens, I'd forgotten how different his writing style is to Trollope and Hardy. He definitely tends toward more flowery descriptions and over-the-top, eccentric side characters (with particularly descriptive names); and as usual, the young ingenue Rosa has essentially no personality except she's so pretty, men fall in love with her at the drop of a hat (except Edwin, of course). Written just a few years after Our Mutual Friend, I'm sure this would have been among my favorite Dickens novels if it had been finished -- I felt like the story was just starting to get really good when it was sadly over. I'm not sure how the TV adaptations conclude the story but I've requested the 2012 miniseries from the library.

I was thinking about counting this as my Classic Crime novel for the Back to the Classics challenge -- my final category for the challenge. However, I'm a little torn because I don't know how the story is resolved or if there's a crime at all -- what if Edwin just took off or got hit on the head and is supposed to reappear at the end with amnesia? Or if it was just an accident? Bloggers, what do you think? 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Long View: A Marriage in Reverse

Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles is one of my favorite discoveries since I began book blogging.  I knew she'd written other books, so I was really pleased to find one a couple of years ago while on a trip to London (I think I bought ten books on a that trip in less than seven days). I was determined to read it this year, so I put it on my TBR Pile Challenge list for this year. 

Though I didn't love it as much as the Cazalets, The Light Years is still engrossing and the story is ultimately heartbreaking. Published in 1956, it's the tale of the marriage between Antonia and Conrad Fleming. The interesting twist of the story is that it's told in reverse. The book begins about 1950, on the evening of a dinner party held in honor of their son Julian's engagement, to a sweet but rather silly twenty-ish girl named June. 

Just as Antonia and Conrad's marriage is breaking down, Julian and June's marriage is about to begin, and Antonia suspects that history will ultimately repeat itself. As the book progresses, we go back through different periods of Conrad and Antonia's marriage, where we learn about love, jealousy, infidelity, and betrayal. The book traces Antonia's life with Conrad and we see how she developed from a shy young girl to the sophisticated yet jaded woman she becomes. 

I really liked this book thought it was harder to get into than the Cazalet series, which has a much more straightforward narrative. There's a lot more psychological insights into characters in this book; also, the characters aren't quite as likable, though they're very realistic. Conrad in particular is quite horrible -- basically, he only marries Antonia so he can mold her into someone he can admire and show off. I realize this is the first half of the 20th century when most wives were considered possessions, but he is particularly condescending to women. 

Here is an exchange between Antonia and Conrad about books and reading: 

"You do not want a well informed wife?"

"I am not an information addict. No. I want you to be informed about your pleasures. I do not like the people who read fifteen books by a man who was written three worth reading."

"But if one enjoys reading, one must be resigned to many disappointments."

"Disappointments -- certainly. But if you read a book and are disappointed, it is because you intended to be pleased." (pp. 262-263)

OK, not sure about this last statement -- frankly, I always intend to be pleased by a book, Even if I don't necessarily enjoy them overall, I usually appreciate them for some reason. I suppose that's not necessarily the same as being pleased, but at least I don't feel like I've wasted my time. But I digress.

I really like this cover from the Italian edition. 
Here is another insight that Antonia has about Conrad soon after their marriage: 

The trouble was that they were not now leading a married life. She was not certain what she meant by this, but essentially she felt that Conrad was not treating her as an equally responsible person. . . . He was kind, he was charming, but she felt like a child, or like that song that her mother's friends had hummed and whistled while they marked the tennis court, or prepared the bridge tables: a great big beautiful doll. He was deliberately preventing her from taking on those responsibilities which she felt should be hers -- or even discovering what those responsibilities were. . . (p. 270)

So, we learn eventually that Conrad isn't really interested in Antonia so much for herself, as much as he's just looking for a trophy. This section of the book is set nearly 90 years ago and clearly times have changed, but I still found it horribly offensive. Conrad is just toxic and I'm sorry Antonia put up with it for more than 20 years. However, it is an interesting character study, and I liked the reverse time structure. I have since bought another one of Howard's earlier novels called The Sea Change, and her memoir, Slipstream. Apparently she had a very interesting life -- she was an actress and model before she became an author, and was married three times; one of her husbands was Kingsley Amis and she ran in literary circles. 

This is my eleventh book for the TBR Pile Challenge 2018 -- only one left to go and I'm finished!