Saturday, 30 April 2011

'Lady Chatterley's Lover': Readalong Post Two

I had originally scheduled this to post itself yesterday. More to the point, actually, I thought I had. Turns out not so much. So a little belatedly, here are my thoughts on the second half of Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence.

This is the second half of the Lady Chatterley's Lover readalong hosted over at A Literary Odyssey.

My post on the first half of the book can be found here.

I rolled into the second half of the book admiring Lady Chatterley in a strange way for having the character to go against social conventions and take her husband's gamekeeper as her lover. My admiration was rapidly sapped by the second half of the book. As Lady Chatterley falls more in love with Mellors, she loses the spark and sense of independence that I had so respected and becomes rather feable. I admit that by the end I had come back around slightly towards respect, it was far away from how I felt in the first half. Perhaps I'm more of a feminist than I realised but I was frustrated by Lady Chatterley doggedly pursuing freedom from Clifford only to lose her sense of self and individuality in her love of Mellors.

I also found that the portrayals of sex became more...odd. I appreciate that the effect that might have been being pursued was one of unity and of the characters merging together but the excessive references to waves and colours became a bit much for me. Don't judge me for preferring the earlier sensory descriptions to the later metaphorical ones!

Clifford remained as vain and uncharismatic as he was early on. More so, I suppose, as he begins to fear Connie's independence.

I think the most interesting character of the second part of the book is Mrs. Bolton, a carer taken on by Connie to free herself from the role. Mrs. Bolton highlights the disparity between the classes brilliantly. She is intrigued by her upper class employers and is eager to learn more about their lies but at the same time despises Clifford as the owner of the mines that killed her husband. The relationship between the two is extremely complex and I found it kind of disturbing. She treats him as a child, and he is happy to let her, becoming increasingly dependant on her. I'm sure Freud would have had a field day...

Again, I find myself writing about the characers but I've been left with an impression that they were the novel. The plot felt almost incidental to how they developed and interacted and were affected by external forces.

Overall: I'm definitely glad I read this book - it does raise some interesting points on social class, love and sex and social history. There isn't so much in the way of plot but the characters are interesting enough that it doesn't seem to matter. I think it would perhaps benefit from being read quickly, as I found that my dawdling through the second half just allowed me more time to become annoyed by Lady Chatterley.

The writing style is strong and direct and it's worth reading if just to experience Lawrence's unique voice. I would read other books by Lawrence so I suppose that's as good an indication of my impression as any!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Review: 'Trespass' by Rose Tremain

Date finished: 11 April 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Borrowed from my mum

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Published: by Vintage Books in January 2011

The Synopsis (taken from Waterstones.com)

In a silent valley stands an isolated stone farmhouse, the Mas Lunel. Its owner is Aramon Lunel, an alcoholic so haunted by his violent past that he's become incapable of all meaningful action, letting his hunting dogs starve and his land go to ruin. Meanwhile, his sister, Audrun, alone in her modern bungalow within sight of the Mas Lunel, dreams of exacting retribution for the unspoken betrayals that have blighted her life. Into this closed Cevenol world comes Anthony Verey, a wealthy but disillusioned antiques dealer from London. Now in his sixties, Anthony hopes to remake his life in France, and he begins looking at properties in the region. From the moment he arrives at the Mas Lunel, a frightening and unstoppable series of consequences is set in motion. Two worlds and two cultures collide. Ancient boundaries are crossed, taboos are broken, a violent crime is committed. And all the time the Cevennes hills remain, as cruel and seductive as ever, unforgettably captured in this powerful and unsettling novel, which reveals yet another dimension to Rose Tremain's extraordinary imagination.

The Review

My mum bought this book and read it first. We often share books and in the vast majority of cases her thoughts on how much I'll enjoy it are spot on. So when she handed me Trespass and said, "I'll be interested to see what you think...", I was intrigued. Usually, it's something along the lines of "Read this, you'll love it!" or "The story in this is superb". So I kind of felt like I was being experimented before I even started...

I've obviously heard of Tremain before, if only because I've noticed a sizeable line of her books in a book shop every now and then. I knew about the volume of work but I couldn't have told you anything about the subject matter. Onto that subject matter...

Audrun and Aramon Lunel are brother and sister that are destroying each other. Perhaps even have already succeeded. They live almost in utter isolation at the Mas Lunel and their proximity torments each of them daily. I really felt for Audrun as a woman struggling with an unimaginable burden but was slightly repelled by her twisted focus. Equally, Aramon is a sorry man drinking himself into oblivion but, again, I found his history abhorrent and almost couldn't bear to read about his sordid view of the world.

Anthony Verey is struggling in obscurity; running an antique shop with very few customers and a shadow of the former famous man he once was. He no longer connects with people and identifies only with the objects under his care: his "beloveds", as he calls them. In his youth, Anthony was a respected valuer and noted expert - in his own mind, he is still the Anthony Verey. Needless to say, he is tormented and all but broken and looks to his older sister to save him.

Veronica Verey lives in France and has an overly-maternal attitude towards Anthony. Her partner, Kitty, is somewhat less enthused. The problem I had with 'V' is an almost complete disregard for anyone other than the Verey family. She claims to love Kitty but when Anthony arrives and starts taking over their lives, V turns her back on Kitty with an utter disregard for the pain she is causing. That said, I couldn't find it in myself to feel too bad for Kitty because her hatred for Anthony seems solely borne out of jealousy and she has such a lack of personal identity that I found myself just willing her to stand up for herself!

As you can see, this is a book that is all about its characters, these five predominantly. I believe that one of my texts to my mum when I was about half way through read "What is up with the people in this book?!" Unusually, I managed to enjoy the book despite not identifying with any of the characters or even liking any of them! I wouldn't want to know any of them and I certainly wouldn't want to intrude on their painful world but they are disturbingly captivating.

The story, equally, isn't an easy one to read. The subject matter can be tough and the relationships are destructive and harrowing. My A-Level English Literature teacher loved a bit of pathetic fallacy and I suppose it's ingrained in my psyche somewhere that I should be looking out for it. This book has it in spades. As the heat builds in the story, so it builds in the Mas Lunel and the surrounding area. It was that that kept me reading. It might not always be pleasant but it is certainly compelling.

I'm not exactly clamouring to read more of Tremain's writing straight away - I'm pretty sure my perception of humanity has been damaged enough for this month! However, I'm not completely put off and would possibly pick up another in the future. A mixed reaction, I suppose.

Overall:
This is a strange book with some tough subject matter but the tension is engineered brilliantly and the story is a blend of heartache, memories and, of course, trespass. - this is a good read for a hot summer's day and will stay with you for a while after you finish it.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Giving LitAddictedBrit a makeover!

When I first started blogging, I just picked up a Blogger template and ran with it. After all, I didn't know how it would pan out, whether it would be a phase or whether my IT skills ran to doing anything more! Since it has transpired that I love blogging and don't want to give it up in the near future, I figured I would have to face down the IT demons sooner or later!

This sunny Bank Holiday weekend has seen me finally try and go for it - it's still a bit work-in-progress like (for some reason, my header just insists on having a white background...) but I kind of like it.

Anyway, in case you were wondering where you'd ended up - it's the same old blog, just with a bit of make-up. Hope you like it!

*If you have any thoughts on bits you think need improving or if you spot a glitch, feel free to point it out! I can't guarantee I'll be able to fix it but still...it'd be nice to know!*

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Thoughts on 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

Ordinarily, when I finish a book, I post in my usual 'review' format. But how do you review a book that is not only extremely well known but extremely popular? I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that this book is worthy of your time - that much should by now be a given.

I loved this book as much as I had hoped I would and happily add my small voice to the cacophony of recommendations.

Since having finished the book, I learned that the version read today is different to that originally published - Wilde was criticised for the 'homoerotic overtones' of his work and apparently plugged in an extra six chapters in an effort not to shroud the overtones but make them relevant. "Provide background" is, I think, how it was referred to. I agree with Wilde's preface though:
"Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault...

There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all
"
A wonderful riposte.

The Story

As I am sure you know, Basil Hallward paints the work of his life in a portrait of the achingly beautiful Dorian Gray. In an almost petulant moment, Dorian, having realised just how good-looking he really is, wishes that he could retain his youth and beauty forever. But, as it turns out, eternal allure is not all it's cracked up to be...

As Dorian becomes more and more under the sway of the irritatingly verbose Lord Henry, he also comes to the realisation that his "wish" has been granted and the portrait displayed in his home is bearing the brunt of his abuse of his soul. The difference between the eager and naive Dorian who falls utterly in love with an equally naive and charming actress and the bitter Dorian who blackmails an old friend into destroying the corpse of an older friend is striking but not as ludicrous as it sounds. The evil seeps in gradually and Dorian's fall is slow and painful to 'watch'. Like when you set off walking up a hill, look round and realise just how high you've climbed...

Some thoughts...

An unusual aspect for me was how readily Dorian gives up his grip on morality. Is the only reason people don't roam around drug dens, brothels and indulge in the odd murder that we're concerened our visages will reflect our soul? I'd like to think not...

Regardless, I was fascinated by Dorian's ruminations on the nature of the soul throughout his journey and by his progressing anger at Basil for "cursing" him with a face that won't reflect his depravity. Almost as though he feels like he should be dark, just because he can. Driven by Lord Henry Wotton's influence, Dorian endlessly pursues sensual gratification with a wanton disregard of the destruction he leaves in his wake. The duplicity is, of course, disturbing but somewhat deliciously so. One constant is Dorian's immaturity - possibly because he never has the need to think through his actions. So long as he doesn't get caught out, he can be as base as he wants and swan elegently back through high society.

The writing and tone is flawless. Dorian is a wonderfully developed character and I couldn't get enough of Wilde's portrayal of such a unique man. The ending is superb and the edge of insanity is as subtly and woven into the tale as everything else. I found this not only to be quite thought-provoking but a wonderfully sinister story with just a few glimmers of light and nobility.

Dorian Gray in film...


I must also admit that I have seen the recent film adaptation. It reflects Dorian's seedy descent well but largely focuses on his 'pleasures' with a hasty recognition of his decreasing mental stability tagged on at the point where Basil tries to intervene. Rather than the novel's grim conclusion, the film diverts off and adds an utterly unnecessary 'romance'. As always, I recommend reading the novel first - it provides a psychological background to the otherwise superficial film and I can imagine that the film would be fairly hollow without.

Overall: This is one of those classics that is classic for a reason - it's brilliantly corrupt and devilishly gothic and...well, just read it!

Friday, 15 April 2011

A Readalong, some Censorship and 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D.H.Lawrence

This weekend, the participants in in A Literary Odyssey's readalong of this novel will be posting their thoughts on the first half (I think...)

I have always been intrigued by this book. I think any book that is so widely censored as this one holds a certain mystique. It was originally published in 1928...in Italy. Lawrence's tale was so "scandalous" that it wasn't published in the UK until 1960. The bold publishers were met with prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (an Act that, rather ashamedly, is still in force in the UK today...). Fortunately, the Judge reached a 'not guilty' verdict on the basis of the book's recognised literary merit (and a couple of helpful testimonies from other "respected" authors - E.M.Forster and Helen Gardner) and the book managed to remain in circulation.

It unfortunately met similar treatment in a number of other countries, meaning that when Lawrence died in 1930 he had no idea of the controversy his words would cause or the notoriety that would result.

So, why was it so controversial? Not only does Lawrence deal with - *cue whisper* - sex but he dared to drop the f-bomb and the dreaded "c-word". It probably didn't help that he blurred the boundaries of class and social position too.

But why should you read it?

When I first loaded this book on a sunny afternoon in my garden with my eReader, I was intrigued. 50 pages in and I wasn't sure what I thought. I couldn't find a great deal in the characters that I wanted to read about and I struggled with Lawrence's style. Rather than a story, I felt like I was tackling an academic essay on sex with a particular focus on whether women and men regard sex differently and, if so, why? Not that it wasn't without it's entertainments...I like this particular quote by a "gentleman":
"We're free to talk to anybody; so why shouldn't we be free to make love to any woman who inclines us that way?...I can't see I do a woman any more harm by sleeping with her than I do by dancing with her...or even talking to her about the weather"
Ah, the romance...warms your heart, doesn't it? The first 50 or so pages are jam-packed with such gems. Ladies, guard your chastity and beware men wanting to talk about the weather, apparently...

We are introduced very early on to the two main characters: Connie and Clifford Chatterley. Connie is a vibrant and intellectual young woman brought up if not to challenge men, certainly to be opinionated and passionate. Clifford is a damaged man in many ways - after returning from the First World War "more or less in bits", Clifford is paralysed from the waist down and labouring under the weight of a persistent fear.

As I am now beginning to learn, at the halfway point, this book's characters are complex and fascinating. At first, Connie appeared to me to be shallow and almost unsupportive. Once you 'meet' her sister, however, you see how she is being broken by the weight of her position. Which is where the controversy comes in. Connie feels isolated by her life and stifled. The longer she lives without a physical relationship, the greyer she becomes. Fidelity, if you will, is killing her. The progression from liveliness to emptiness is strangely moving and her approach to love and life is unique, particularly for the time in which she is portrayed. In short, Connie is one fascinating woman to read about!

The reason I love this book, and the same reason for which it was supressed for so many years, is its tackling of one simple human issue: yes, you guessed it - sex. How important is it to our "connexion" (as Lawrence calls it) with our romantic partners? Can we love and be close without it? Can sex be separated from love or are they variations on a theme? Somehow without approaching the essay tone of the first part of the book.

And then there's the Lover. But that's a discussion for another time - there's far too much to say when I've already gone on for long enough, I think! So far, this is certainly one to try out! The ideas on social class are just starting to develop and the dynamic between Connie and Clifford shifting dramatically so I have high hopes for the second half.

As you have no doubt noticed, I am only halfway through this book and could talk about it all day! In fact, if you see this, I'm amazed you've read this far...and grateful, of course. Our thoughts on the second half of the book will be posted in exactly a fortnight's time on the 29th April 2011.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Review: 'Blameless' by Gail Carriger

Phewf - nearly a month behind on the review of this one! Sorry guys - let's crack on!

Date finished:
25 March 2011

Rating: 4 stars

Format: Paperback

Source: Bought (December 2010)

Genre: Steampunk/Urban Fantasy

Published: (in the UK) by Orbit Books in September 2010

The Synopsis

As with most series, I think the synopsis of this book gives away a lot about the first and second books - if you desperately want to read a synopsis, check out the Goodreads page here

The Review

There isn't a huge amount to add to this review that I haven't already said in my reviews of the first two books of the Parasol Protectorate series: Soulless and Changeless.

As ever, Carriger's characters are razor sharp and a witty take on Victorian society. The more I read of this series, the more in love with them all I become - to name but a few, I adore Floot, the 'classic' English butler who follows Alexia with a reserved and only slightly sarcastic air, Ivy with her penchant for ludicrous hats but utter adoration for her rogue best friend and Lyall for being the perfect, ever-suffering Beta to the gruff Lord Maccon as Alpha. Obviously, the cast wouldn't be complete without a dour Queen Victoria making an appearance!

The history of the preternaturals is expanded on in this book but there is still the usual adventure, misunderstandings and twists that made its predecessors so wonderful. The humour is consistently dry and right up my street - these books always have me at least giggling to myself a little bit every time I get stuck in. The plot in this is a bit stronger than in Changeless so, all in all, a great mid-point for the series. I will definitely be picking up Heartless when it comes out later in the year!

Overall: I would (and in fact do, regularly) recommend these books highly - Carriger's style is utterly charming and creates an absolutely perfect alternative Victorian era full of supernatural beings and extraordinary inventions. If you're new to either steampunk (like I was...) or urban fantasy, this series is a great place to start!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Weekly Geeks: 'Spring is in the Air' (yes, again!)

Yep, I'm on my favourite topic again! Spring...this time I have an excuse: this week's Weekly Geeks post is kind of a review of the year so far and look at the months to come, featuring things such as...

Favourite book of 2011 so far;
Any plans for reading differently in Spring-Summer;
Any plans for 'spring cleaning' book organising;

So here are some of my thoughts on the year so far and where I plan on going for the Spring-Summer...

Favourite book of 2011: Even though I've only read twelve books I'm torn between Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and The Girl at the Lion D'Or by Sebastian Faulks - I loved them both but for utterly different reasons. Rebecca was masterfully written and has a delightfully sinister gothic air surrounding it. The Girl at the Lion D'Or had some of the most spectacularly crafted characters I have read in a long time and a powerfully emotional story. I suspect that at a push, I'd slightly prefer the Faulks because of my lasting sympathy for Anne...


Winter reading v. summer reading: I can't wait to get stuck in to spring and summer - I read way more while the sun is out because one of my favourite things in the entire world is sitting out in the sunshine, sipping on ice cold wine and munching endless amounts of jalapeno-stuffed olives. Yes, it's very specific but it's honestly my idea of a heavenly afternoon. Plus, we usually go on holiday which provides plenty of opportunities for lazy afternoons in European parks or sat outside quaint bars soaking up the sunshine that the UK just can't seem to manage!

Spring cleaning/re-organising: Seeing as we only moved a year ago, most of my belongings were culled at that point and I haven't yet accumulated enough to warrant a spring clear out. Also, I got an eReader so my books are still as neatly organised as they were when the shelves went up. However, since I made it all the way through the TBR Dare without buying any books, I intend to have a little splurge very soon :)

Plans for the Spring? Read more; blog more; enjoy the sunshine - keeping it simple!

So what have been your favourite reads of the first quarter of this year? Any plans to shake it up, spring clean and change anything about your reading or blogging?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Review: 'The Book of Tomorrow' by Cecelia Ahern

Date finished: 16 March 2011

Rating: 3 stars

Format: eBook

Source: NetGalley

Genre: Contemporary fiction; 'chick lit'

Published: by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd in October 2009

The Synopsis (taken from waterstones.com)

Tamara Goodwin has always got everything she's ever wanted. Born into a family of wealth, she grew up in a mansion with its own private beach, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and all that a girl could ever wish for. She's always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. But then suddenly her dad is gone and life for Tamara and her mother changes forever. Left with a mountain of debt, they have no choice but to sell everything they own and move to the country. Nestled next to Kilsaney Castle, their gatehouse is a world away from Tamara's childhood. With her mother shut away with grief, and her aunt busy tending to her, Tamara is lonely and bored and longs to return to Dublin. When a travelling library passes through Kilsaney Demesne, Tamara is intrigued. Her eyes rest on a mysterious large leather bound tome locked with a gold clasp and padlock. What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its' core.

The Review

A few years ago, I read P.S. I love you and cried pretty much all the way through it. It didn't change my literary world but it was a nice little read. That was pretty much what I expected from The Book of Tomorrow and I wasn't disappointed. Actually, this reminded me a lot of the amateur detective-type books I read as a teen, like the Nancy Drew series, for example.

To give her credit where its due, Ahern does broach emotional subject matter in a style that still manages to be reasonably light. Tamara's father kills himself in his study and it is Tamara who finds him. To make it more gut-wrenching, the last words she yelled at him were that she hated him and never wanted to see him again.

The characters are a tad one-dimensional but they're an eclectic bunch that still manage to create a brilliant backdrop to Tamara's tale. The dialogue is snappy in a teenage way with hefty doses of sarcasm, occasionally to the extent that I felt old but always to the creation of a perfect narrator in Tamara.

While trying to get used to her new life amongst these locals, after finding a mysterious book on board the local travelling library, Tamara finds she has a window to the future. What's lovely about the novel is that it doesn't spend time rationalising the 'magic' - the book can write the future, move on with the story! It's a curious thing - the well-worn questions: would you want to know your future? If you knew your future, would you change it? Could you if you tried?

Alongside Tamara's realisation of her own faults and glimmers of the future is a mystery surrounding the 'creepy aunt'. This is where it reminded me of my childhood favourites - a quiet and secluded house, an aunt who appears to be going to great lengths to hide her past, a somewhat reclusive uncle and a catatonic mother - but what are they hiding...? There's the obligatory teen attempt at stealth and over-dramatisation and, in the end, it's all innocently enjoyable!

Overall: This is a quick little read with some great comic moments and a cosy-style mystery. Like I said, it's not going to break your literary world apart but it will keep you entertained for a few hours! Guiltless fun and perfect for a sunny afternoon in the garden!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Sunshine, Daffodils and a Spring catch-up

Ah, I do love daffodils. I don't know whether it's because they only pop up at just the right time when you're just plain sick of the cold and both going to and coming back from work in the dark. And they have such sunny little faces! Anyway, I like them and it's spring so they're everywhere so that's happy news!

What has been somewhat less happy has been my reading month.

I changed departments at work earlier in the month and have been spending a lot of time getting myself up to speed. And, as I'm now in litigation, the speed is really fast!

So, the numbers are small but here they are!...

Complete books read: 3 (and three quarters...)

Pages: 1255 (including my three-quarters!)

This month, these lovely offerings were:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Book of Tomorrow by Cecelia Ahern
Blameless by Gail Carriger

Like I said, a poor reading month. Ordinarily, I'd compare how many male authors I've read against how many female and how many eBooks I've read compared to paperbacks and so on. But I don't suppose there's a great deal of point in doing that for this month! However, for this quarter, those numbers look a little like this...

Male v. Female 3 by men; 8 by women

I realised my subconscious' leaning towards female authors when I wrote a post about women writers - I was a tad disappointed when I realised but I thought then, and still think now, that as long as its subconcious, it's not too bad. But still, I think I might make a little push to read more male authors and see if I notice the difference.

eBook v. Paperback 4 eBooks; 7 paperbacks

This split has largely been down to my participation in the TBR DARE - I vowed to read only books I already owned from 1st January 2011 to today without buying any more at all! It was really tough but I'm rather proud of managing to curb my book buying habits to zero for a whole quarter of the year. My LibraryThing and Amazon wishlists are bursting at the seams, though...obviously...

Where to next?

I'm currently reading 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and am absolutely in love with it. I just can't get enough of the way that Wilde writes and now that my book buying ban is lifted, I will definitely be grabbing up some of his short stories.

Today commenced the Lady Chatterley's Lover readalong at A Literary Odyssey - it isn't too late to sign up here. My views and those of the other participants will be up in a fortnight's time.


As always, I have a ton of books to read and what with a holiday touring around Italy and a good couple of bank holidays coming up, the reading future is looking bright :)