Sunday, December 24, 2017

Final Reminder: Back to the Classics Challenge Ends in One Week!


Just one more week to submit links for the Back to the Classics Challenge! I'll be traveling for a week the day after Christmas, so this will be your final reminder before the links close just after midnight, December 31. 

Approximately 35 people have posted links (including myself, but don't worry, I'm not included in the prize drawing) out of more than 200 people who signed up originally. Odds are still pretty good -- you only have to link posts to six different book reviews to qualify for the $30 (U.S) gift certificate to Amazon.com OR The Book Depository!

Complete rules are here, and don't forget, you MUST link to a wrap-up post WITH LINKS to your reviews to qualify for the drawing. Links to the individual categories are on the sidebar of this blog. If you don't have a blog and are posting your reviews on Goodreads, just write a short-wrap up with all the links and corresponding categories in the comments section on the Final-Wrap Up Post page. If you do have a blog, post your link to your final wrap-up HERE to be included by midnight, December 31, 2017.

Thanks again to everyone who participated this year! I wish everyone happy and bookish holidays and I look forward to awarding the prize during the first week of January when I return.

Back to the Classics 2017: My Final Wrap-Up


I'm finished! It took me almost the entire year, but I did finish on time. Here's what I read for this challenge, with links to my reviews.


19th Century Classic: Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondely -- great, under-appreciated Victorian novel by woman author.



20th Century Classic: A young man is stuck living in Jerusalem at the end WWII in a boarding house with quirky characters. 

Classic by a Woman Author:  The Trail of the Serpent by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. A great Victorian sensation novel.

Classic in Translation: The Wine of Solitude by Irene Nemirovsky.

Pre-1800 Classic:  Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. 



Romance Classic: Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer 

Gothic Classic:  A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott. Another Victorian sensation novel -- written by the author of many beloved children's classics! Who knew?


Classic With a Number in the Title: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. 

Classic About an Animal (or Animal in the Title): Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau. 



Classic Set in a Place I'd Like to Visit: The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O'Brien (Ireland). 

Award-Winning Classic: Kristin Lavransdattar, Vol. I: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset.


Russian Classic: Journey Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg. A fascinating yet horrifying look at life in a Russian labor camp.

I picked some really good reads for this year's challenge. My favorites were Kristin Lavransdattar, The Trail of the Serpent, and Red Pottage, though Deerbrook was also really good. Least favorites were Journey Into the Whirlwind and The Country Girls, simply because they were rather dark and depressing, though both were very well written. Overall I'm really pleased with all the books I chose, especially because I managed to fulfill the challenge reading a majority of books by women, and six were from my own shelves. Next year I'm going to try to read more of my own books for this challenge as those TBR piles are pretty big.

And well done to everyone who participated! Congratulations and thanks for joining!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Holiday Surprise in the Deutsche Post


Yesterday I had a lovely surprise via Deutsche Post -- a present for ME that I had completely forgotten with all the holiday bustle! About a month ago, Adam at Roof Beam Reader generously offered a lovely giveaway from The Folio Society -- a brand new illustrated edition of Mansfield Park! Naturally I entered and was absolutely delighted to find out that I'd won! I gave him my address and with all the holiday excitement, promptly put it from my mind until the doorbell rang with a package from me that I didn't recognize.

To my delight, the package included the beautiful copy of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, plus a few extras! Here's what was inside:




First, a little note saying they were "Handpacked by Emma" -- how appropriate!




This GORGEOUS hard-cover volume of Mansfield Park, in a slipcase. Isn't the cover pretty?
(Yes, that is Star Wars gift wrap.)


What lovely illustrations! And the introduction is written by Lucy Worsley. 


There's Fanny with her uncle Mr. Bertram. 
I suspect he's unhappy because she won't marry Henry Crawford. 


And there were some extra surprises in the package as well:


Some beautiful bookish notecards -- they are so pretty I probably won't mail them to anyone!


And finally, this beautiful 2018 planner! It has gorgeous illustrations reproduced from the 13th and 14th centuries-- almost to beautiful to mar with my terrible handwriting!

Thank you again to Adam, The Folio Society, and to Emma for packing my box! It was such a lovely holiday surprise! I hope everyone has such wonderful bookish gifts under the tree this holiday season. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Lemuel Gulliver Never Learns To Stay Home


I don't know WHAT I was thinking when I came up with the Classic Published before 1800 category for the Back to the Classics Challenge last year. Give me a long-winded Victorian triple-decker and I'll devour it, but any time the publication predates 1800, it is a real struggle. Years ago I read Shakespeare in college for a literature credit, and liked it, and I truly enjoyed Candide, but this category was a real struggle for me. I originally meant to read Jane Austen's Love and Freindship (sic). JA is possibly my all-time favorite author and I still couldn't get into it. But I did own a beautiful Penguin Deluxe Hardcover Classic of Gulliver's Travels, published in 1726! Not a woman author, but a book from my own shelves -- plus, it's not too long, a bonus in December!

So. All I knew about Gulliver was that he was shipwrecked and wound up in Lilliput, where everyone is about four inches tall. There are images everywhere of Gulliver tied down by tiny people, so this was not a surprise. But I was surprised to learn that Gulliver is his last name (his first name is Lemuel).


Gulliver  quickly learns the language and eventually wins the trust of the people. In one memorable anecdote, he even saves the tiny palace while it is engulfed in flames, using, um, a very practical if questionable method. 


Yes, Swift doesn't shy away from describing how Gulliver copes with the day-to-day issues of life as a giant. (I found this surprising but I admit I did wonder about how the Lilliputians would feed him).

However, I didn't realize Gulliver's stay in Lilliput is only about a quarter of the book. Things eventually take a turn for the worse in Lilliput, and eventually, Gulliver makes his way back home to England. And I figured from the title that he had some more journeys, but seriously, though, wouldn't you have learned your lesson after the first shipwreck? Better to stay home. His wife must have been most displeased. 

His second voyage leaves him stranded in the land of Brobdingnag, where Gulliver has the exact opposite problem -- now he's the tiny one, in a land of giants! It's interesting to see Gulliver experience life from the Lilliputian perspective, and I think this was my favorite part of the book. He's basically a moneymaker for the family that find him and care for him, until he makes his way to court and becomes a plaything for the Queen until circumstances return him back to England.

Again, you'd think he'd stay off ships. But nope, back he goes again in Part III, visiting the strange lands of Laputa, Balnibari and . . . Japan! (This was rather disappointing, as I've actually lived there. Gulliver doesn't find it particularly strange, though they ask him to renounce his Christian beliefs and "trample on the crucifix." I don't think Swift actually ever went there.)

Despite his vows never to leave England, he makes one last journey, and the ship is overtaken by pirates who dump him in the land of Eventually, he makes his way to the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of intelligent talking horses who are served by the sub-human Yahoos. He lives quite happily there for years as the only intelligent Yahoo, until forced to return home to his disappointment.

Overall I mostly liked this book but I did find the third section really dragged, mostly because it was a lot of politics and satire, and I'm not that familiar with that era of history and philosophy. I do prefer everyday life, which is why I liked the first half better.  I did quite like the final section where he lives with the intelligent horses. And I do always find it a little jarring when a book is published in the original 18th century Style in which all Nouns are Capitalized. (Fun fact: this is still the correct writing style in Germany, though my German is very poor so it's really not an issue).

Anyway, I'm glad to have finally read this -- and I probably won't be including this category in the Back to the Classics again!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Back to the Classics 2018: My List


It's always tough but fun for me to make my own list for the Back to the Classics Challenge -- I've read a lot of classics in the past ten years or so years, so my choices are getting a little more obscure. Last year I tried to read all women authors and nearly succeeded (the pre-1800 challenge is not my favorite -- what the heck was I thinking?). I'd love to read all women authors again but I am desperate to try and read more books off my own shelves -- my list of of owned-and-unread books is creeping dangerously close to the 200 mark. And I only read 33 of my own books so far this year! It's disgraceful. 


So this year, I swear that every single book for this challenge must be from my own shelves -- except the children's classic, since I don't own any that I haven't read. And without further delay, here's my tentative list: 


1.  A 19th century classic. Who Was Lost and Is Found by Margaret Oliphant. She was a fairly prolific Victorian writer, but this book has exactly ZERO ratings on Goodreads. I found it at John King Used & Rare Books in Detroit, and it's an 1895 edition! I think it's the oldest book I own. 



2.  A 20th century classic. Whisky Galore by Compton MacKenzie. I love wartime stories and I've heard this is quite funny. Also, there's a tiny chance I might go to Scotland next year -- it would be a perfect read for the trip!

3.  A classic by a woman author. Edith Wharton! I have four of her books on my TBR shelves, but I think I want to read The Children; The Fruit of the Tree; or Hudson River Bracketed. 




4.  A classic in translation.
 A Love Story by Emile Zola. I haven't read any Zola in ages, and there's a new translation from Oxford World's Classics that the publisher was kind enough to send me for free.




5. A children's classic. Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery. I finally got around to reading Anne of Green Gables about 10 years ago and couldn't believe I'd taken so long to read it -- and then promptly put off reading the rest of the series. I've wanted to read this one for years! (This will be the exception to my read-my-own-books rule)





6.  A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction. Definitely fiction! I bought several British Library Crime Classics last year on a trip to London -- how could I resist those covers? 




7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. Mark Twain -- I own both Roughing It and Letters from Hawaii. Or possibly Orient Express by Graham Greene -- I'm guessing it has little in common with the Agatha Christie mystery, but I've mostly liked his work so far so I'll give it a try. 





8. A classic with a single-word title. Westwood by Stella Gibbons or Peony by Pearl S. Buck. I also have a Virago Modern Classic that looks really good, Crossriggs by Mary and Jane Findlater.




9. A classic with a color in the title. Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple. Or maybe Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxeley.



10. A classic by an author that's new to you. Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane, a German language classic. I have a newly published Persephone edition, and I feel like I should actually read something German while I live here in Germany.




11. A classic that scares you.  Les Miserables, by far the longest book on my TBR shelves. I have two different copies, the Penguin Hardcover classic and also a mass-market Signet paperback. (They have different translations but I haven't decided which one, so I'd love recommendations if anyone's read either of them.)



12. Re-read a favorite classic.  I haven't read Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell in ages, and it's one of my all-time favorites! Or maybe I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

I have yet to finish this challenge reading the original books on my list, but you never know, this could be the year! I'm really looking forward to tackling this list. Can't wait to see what everyone else is reading!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Back to the Classics 2018


It's back! Once again, I'm hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge.  I hope to encourage bloggers to discover and enjoy classic books they might not have tried, or just never got around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) prize from Amazon.com or The Book Depository!

Here's how it works:


The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read all 12 books to participate in this challenge!

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

And here are the categories for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge:


1.  A 19th century classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.


2.  A 20th century classic - any book published between 1900 and 1968. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.


3.  A classic by a woman author


4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories). Modern translations are acceptable as long as the original work fits the guidelines for publications as explained in the challenge rules.


5. A children's classic. Indulge your inner child and read that classic that you somehow missed years ago. Short stories are fine, but it must be a complete volume. Young adult and picture books don't count!


6.  A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction. This can be a true crime story, mystery, detective novel, spy novel, etc., as long as a crime is an integral part of the story and it was published at least 50 years ago. Examples include The 39 Steps, Strangers on a Train, In Cold Blood, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, etc.  The Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones list is an excellent source for suggestions. 


7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction. The journey itself must be the major plot point -- not just the destination. Good examples include The Hobbit, Around the World in 80 Days, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, Kon-Tiki, Travels with Charley, etc. 

8. A classic with a single-word title. No articles please! Proper names are fine -- Emma, Germinal, Middlemarch, Kidnapped, etc.


9. A classic with a color in the title. The Woman in White; Anne of Green Gables; The Red and the Black, and so on. (Silver, gold, etc. are acceptable. Basically, if it's a color in a Crayola box of crayons, it's fine!)


10. A classic by an author that's new to you. Choose an author you've never read before.


11. A classic that scares you. Is there a classic you've been putting off forever? A really long book which intimidates you because of its sheer length? Now's the time to read it, and hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised!


12. Re-read a favorite classic. Like me, you probably have a lot of favorites -- choose one and read it again, then tell us why you love it so much. 


And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2018. Books started before January 1, 2018 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2018. I'll post links for each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year. (The exception is the Final Wrap-Up link which I'll post later in the year, to avoid confusion).
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2018. Please include links within your final wrap-up so that I can easily confirm all your categories. If I cannot find your reviews, I will not enter your name in the drawing. Also, it is OK to rearrange books to fit different categories in your wrap-up post. Most books could count toward several different categories, so it's fine if you change them, as long as they are identified in your wrap-up post. If you do not have a blog and wish to link your reviews on Goodreads, you MUST post a wrap-up in the comments section of the Final Wrap-Up Link.
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1968 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously. Recent translations of classics are acceptable.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn't count. 
  • Multiple books by the same author are also acceptable. 
  • Children's classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge; and please, no picture books.
  • Single short stories and short poems do not count, but you may use full-length narrative poems like The Odyssey and short story collections like The Canterbury Tales, as long as it is the entire book.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. For example, if you have a Goodreads account, you could create a dedicated list to the challenge, and link to that with a tentative list (the list can change throughout the challenge). If you do use Goodreads, make sure you indicate in each review or in your wrap-up which book corresponds to which category, otherwise I will not count it.
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2018. After that, I will close the link and you'll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. Also, make sure you add your link to the Linky below, NOT IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. If I don't see your name in the original Linky, YOU WILL BE INELIGIBLE. If you've made a mistake with your link, just add a second one and let me know in the comments. It's no problem for me to delete an incorrect link.
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you're going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order. 
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2019. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here
So what are you waiting for? Sign up at the linky below! I'll be posting my list of possible reads for 2018 in the next few days. Happy reading!


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Only 30 days left for the Back to the Classics Challenge!



There are only 30 days left for the Back to the Classics Challenge! Did you sign up for the challenge? Have you completed six or more books? There is still time to complete the challenge and qualify for the prize drawing by posting a short wrap-up and linking here.

So far only 15 people have linked to wrap-up posts so odds are in your favor! You have until midnight, December 31 (PST) to post. What are you waiting for?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

TBR Pile Challenge 2018!


Every so often, I drift away from blogging -- sometimes it just ends up feeling like homework. And yet inevitably, something is so irresistible I'm drawn back in -- sometimes it's a book I'm just dying to share, or a challenge that sounds like too much fun to miss -- like Adam's TBR Pile Challenge, which has been on hiatus for two years. How can I possibly resist? It's nearly impossible -- especially since my owned-and-unread shelves are pretty much filled to bursting.

I moved overseas a year and a half ago and nearly all the books I brought I hadn't read, so in theory, the owned-and-unred list should be shrinking, right? Sadly, it is not. Curse the wonderfully efficient military library system and all the digital downloads! I'm getting close to my goal of 100 books completed for 2017, and yet less than ONE THIRD are from my own shelves!

So, I hope that this list of twelve books from my own TBR shelves (plus two alternates) will be completed during the 2018 calendar year. This time I want to read all women authors. Most of these books are from my Persephone and Virago shelves. 


Photo courtesy of my daughter, who has a fancy camera and knows how to use it.

In alphabetical order, by author:

1. Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim. Bought last year when I was on an EVA binge. Completed 1/10/18.

2. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain. I've been meaning to read it since 2014, when it began showing up on WWI reading lists.

3. Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather. I only have two unread works by Cather on the shelves. I chose this one over Alexander's Bridge, and I hope I made the right choice.

4. Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson. Probably the Persephone I've had unread the longest.

5. The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau. A discovery at Half-Price books in Austin, TX, which had quite a few green Viragos.

6. The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard. Bought on a trip to London last year. I loved her Cazalet Chronicles and I've heard this one isn't quite as good, but I'm optimistic.

7. Heat Lightning by Helen Hull. A Persephone book by an American author. I don't know much about it other than it's set in the Michigan which is my home state.


8. The Lacquer Lady by F. Tennyson Jesse. Another Virago find at Half-Price Books. I think I bought it the same time as The Willow Cabin.

9. London War Notes, 1939-1945 by Mollie Panter-Downes. Another Persephone, I was excited to buy this since I loved her short stories. Simon from Stuck in a Book raved about this and it was out of print for years (and very expensive) before Persephone reprinted it a couple of years ago. It's a collection of essays written for the New Yorker during the war.


10. The Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter. I'm a little intimidated by this one because it's very long -- also, I tried to read Porter's Ship of Fools last year and really disliked the characters. I think I paid $1 for it at the library sale so hopefully it won't end up on the to-be-donated pile.


11. Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas by Edith Wharton. I love Wharton and always keep an eye out for her books in the secondhand shops. I've owned this one for years and never gotten around to it. This one includes Bunner Sisters which I've heard is excellent.

12. Miss Mole by E. H. Young. One of the very first books published by the Virago imprint. I know many people love it and I've had a copy for years and I just keep putting it off.

Alternates:


Photo also taken by DaughterTM

Fenny by Lettice Cooper. Bought last year after reading and loving National Provincial for the 1938 Club.

Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby. I bought nearly all her novels after reading South Riding. I think this is the last one I haven't read yet.

So -- some great women authors that I love, and some that I haven't read yet. Some novellas, short stories, and two non-fiction books. After looking at the pile, I realize that many of these books are near (or surpassing) the 500 page mark. I measured and it's thirteen inches high. Well, I don't mind lengthy books, as long as I'm enjoying it. Bloggers, have you read read anything on my list? Good choices or bad? And are you participating in the TBR Pile Challenge?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The 1968 Club: Cousin Kate is Regency Gothic


Since The House on the Strand just missed the cutoff for the 1968 Club, I dug around and realized there was a Georgette Heyer novel published that year that I'd never read! It had been awhile since I read any Heyer, and this one turned out to have Gothic overtones as well, so it was seasonally appropriate. 

Cover of the first edition, it is so wonderfully Gothic. 

The story: our heroine Kate Malvern is 24, orphaned and impoverished, and can't seem to hold down a job as a governess, but is still spunky and doesn't seem concerned that she's never been presented and is probably considered off the shelf by Regency-era standards. Kate has been sacked after receiving an unwanted proposal from the brother of her employer, and turns to her old nanny Sarah, who is now married and running an Inn. Kate spent her childhood following her father through his military postings in Spain and Portugal, and has few qualifications or prospects, though she thinks she might find employment as a upscale lady's maid. Sarah is scandalized by the thought of her former charge stooping so low, and contacts Kate's long-estranged aunt, Lady Minerva Broome. Auntie had been estranged from her older half-brother, Kate's father, years ago after became the second wife of the wealthy (and much older) Lord Timothy.

So. Lady Minerva sweeps up out of nowhere and whisks Kate back to her estate, Staplewood, which she has spent years transforming into a showplace. It is also the home of her young son Torquil, who is sickly and spoiled though beautifully handsome -- and a little strange. Kate wins over everyone, including the charming and rather detached Lord Timothy, and his nephew Philip, who dislikes Lady Minerva. Kate can't understand the old estrangement between her late father and his half-sister until she realizes that maybe Auntie has ulterior motives of bringing Kate to Staplewood. Torquil is alternately charming and paranoid and Kate finds herself attracted to Philip. 


This is definitely less of a light-hearted Regency romp I was expecting. Aunt Minerva is a little sinister and I found Torquil downright creepy. There were definitely elements in this book I was not expecting, and I enjoyed it although I did think the characters didn't have nearly as much development as in some of her other book -- it was almost as if Heyer was concentrating so much on the Gothic side that she didn't have time to work on the charming characters that I've grown to expect. It was close to the end of her writing career (#54 out of 58 novels, by my count) so it's possible that the quality of her work was declining. I've only read ten of her novels and I mostly chose them at random, so I don't know if I can judge accurately. But, overall, a fun and diverting read set in the Regency period, which is the whole point of reading Georgette Heyer. 

Thanks again to Kaggsy and Simon for organizing the 1968 Club! Is anyone else signed up? What did you read? And which other Georgette Heyer books do you recommend?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Time Travel Rarely Ends Well


For this year's RIP Challenge, I had intended to reread either Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (one of my all-time favorite novels) or My Cousin Rachel, which was recently adapted into a movie. I may yet read both of these, but I also discovered that The House on the Strand was available from my library's digital catalog as an audiobook -- so I've crossed one of her lesser-known novels off my to-read list! House on the Strand is the fifth of du Maurier's novels that I've read, and I absolutely loved it -- it's a close second to Rebecca and I don't think it gets nearly the attention it deserves.

Here's the setup: published in 1969, this is the story of a forty-something man named Dick Young, told as a first person narrative. Dick recently left a high-pressure publishing job in London and is spending the summer holidays in Cornwall at a house called Kilmarth, the home of his oldest friend, Magnus Lane, a noted professor of biophysics. Dick's wife Vita and two stepsons are due to join him in a week or so, but before they arrive, Magnus asks Dick to do him a favor -- Magnus is trying to create a drug that will actually allow the user to travel back in time -- not physically, but through memory -- and he wants Dick to be his guinea pig.

Magnus explains that somehow, memories are biologically passed down, and by taking the drug, the user can somehow access memories that are centuries old, as if they've actually traveled into the past and are experiencing it in real time. The user is just an observer, and can't be seen or heard by the people in the past; also, if the user makes physical contact with anyone, they will be instantly returned back to the present, with very uncomfortable side effects.

Dick takes the plunge and goes back in time to the 1300s, observing a man named Roger Kylmerth who lived in the original property. Roger was the steward of a Cornish aristocrat, Sir Henry Champernoune, and Dick is immersed in the intrigues between Henry's manipulative widow Joanna and the beautiful Isolda, wife of another aristocrat, who is carrying on an affair with Joanna's brother. Roger is secretly in love with Isolde, and is something of a doppleganger for Dick, who becomes obsessed with Isolda and the drama surrounding her life. Dick becomes more and more obsessed with Isolda and the long-dead players in this Middle Ages drama, to the detriment of his life in the present.

I really, really enjoyed this book, though I did find the parts set in the past a bit confusing -- it was harder on audio because I couldn't flip back to earlier sections to reread and clarify who was who (apparently the print version has family trees and a map, which would have been extremely helpful). Luckily, I'd gotten used to some of the Cornish names after reading so many of the Poldark novels -- names like Bodrugon and Trenwyth are pretty familiar now, and listening on audio, I've learned how they're actually pronounced.

Overall, though, the parts of the book that were most fascinating were how Dick reconciles his new obsession with the people in the present, particularly his wife who shows up unexpectedly early. He has to make up excuses as to why he disappears for hours at a time, and returns confused and dirty after wandering around the countryside in a trancelike state while under the influence of the drug as he follows Roger, Isolda, and the rest of the historical Cornish characters. It becomes increasingly apparent to the reader that Dick is putting himself in grave danger, both from the drug itself, and in physical danger since he has no concept of the present while he's traveling into the past -- it's hard to look both ways crossing the street when you think you're in the Middle Ages, when cars didn't exist.

This book is a really interesting psychological study -- is this really happening to Dick, or is he just hallucinating?  Is it all just the drugs, or is Dick subconsciously working through his personal issues in the present? I got really invested in the story, and became really worried about what was going to happen to everyone, in both narratives. I found this a really interesting twist on how time travel works and the physical and mental effects on the traveler.

The only thing I really didn't like was the characterization of the women in this book, none of whom come off as sympathetic except the luminous Isolde, who doesn't seem especially developed. For a female writer, du Maurier has a lot of terrible women in her books. However, I still loved it and it's definitely one of my top reads of the year.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia


No, this is not a blog posting about The Princess Bride, probably the most quotable movie ever. (Though I really should reread it someday -- does Vizzini actually say the line in the book? I can't remember. And I didn't realize until after I'd written this post that it's the 30th anniversary of The Princess Bride!!)

Anyway. After a solid month of reading (with some other audiobooks mixed in), I have finally finished the 950-page behemoth that is The Far Pavilions. Written by M. M. Kaye, in 1978, this is an epic story about an Englishman, raised as an Indian, who falls in love with a half-Indian princess against the backdrop of the Second Anglo-Afghan War in the late 1800s. (Did you know there was a second Anglo-Indian War? I never knew there was a first, but I'm a Yank and we are not taught such things in school. I barely learned about the British Raj and the East India Company).

So. The book start with the birth of young Ashton Pelham-Martin, born in the Himalayas in the 1850s to English parents -- an eccentric academic father and a young mother who dies in childbirth. His father then dies of cholera during the Indian Rebellion of 1858. Fearing for his safety as a foreigner, little Ash is then raised by his Indian nurse Sita as Hindu boy whom she renames Ashok. (He has dark hair and eyes and can pass for a native). He spends much of his childhood knowing nothing of his family history and ends up as a servant in the local prince's household, until palace intrigues force his adoptive mother to reveal his true parentage and return him to his ancestral home in England.


Because of his upbringing, Ashton's loyalties are forever divided between his Englishness and his love for India, and eventually he joins the military and returns to India, where his knowledge of Indian language and culture make him both invaluable and suspect to the British Raj. There is romance, there are intrigues, there are battles and action scenes galore. Also, lots and lots of war strategy and politics which I wasn't expecting. It's a very dense read so I definitely couldn't zip through it. (But I did learn that the Soviets invading Afghanistan in the 1980s wasn't a new idea).

Overall, I really enjoyed the book but darn it all, my edition was 955 pages with tiny print and very narrow margins, and honestly, I think M. M. Kaye could have used some more editing. Naturally, there are amazing coincidences and lots of exposition where characters are explaining political and military history and I do feel like there was a lot more telling of events than showing. Plus, the book is so huge, I really feel like it could have been split into three stories: Ash's childhood, the love story with the Indian princess, Anjuli; and the Afghan war story.

Also, I found Anjuli's character to be incredibly undeveloped and there are chapters upon chapters when she's barely mentioned, which I found irritating. She's hardly in the final third of the book at all. One of the blurbs on the back cover describes it as "a high-adventure love-story" but if you're looking for a sweeping romance, this isn't it. I was expecting Gone With the Wind in the Himalayas, but there's far more war and politics than character development in this book, which I found disappointing. Also: NO MAPS, which is a pet peeve when characters are traveling in books, and there is a lot of traveling in this one. I am unfamiliar with Indian and Afghani geography, so I found this especially irritating. (However, they do include a diagram of a military compound).

However, I did like that Ashton really was supporting the Indian and then the Afghani viewpoint, rather than blindly following the British Colonial idea that White People Know Best. I'm debating now as to whether I should watch the 1980s TV adaptation, which turned a book of nearly a thousand pages into a six-episode mini-series starring lots of white people, including Amy Irving as a half-Indian princess. Seriously.

That's Ben Cross as the adult Ashton, and Amy Irving in brownface as Anjuli. Really.
I'm still planning on reading The Raj Quartet (also turned into a mini-series), which is thankfully divided into four different books since it totals nearly 1800 pages. And A Suitable Boy, because it would be nice to read an epic book set in India actually written by someone Indian. It won't be for a while because I'm not quite sure if I can dive right in to another epic doorstopper.