Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Europeans by Henry James

The Europeans was James’s fourth novel which I enjoyed reading a good deal. It is easy going, short and fun to read without being over simplistic.

Felix and Eugenia are siblings from Europe who arrive in America to visit their relatives in the form of the New Englander Wentworth family. The Wentworth’s behave very graciously and welcome their foreign kin to live with them in one of the cottages on their property. What ensues is part romance, part comedy as the differences between the two cultures come to the fore.

The story is mostly set on the Wentworth estate which we rarely leave meaning the story is character driven with a lot of spoken dialogue which I always enjoy providing it’s done well (and Henry James does it well) the characters are developed thoroughly and drive the story along. There is also a good amount of humour.       

It certainly couldn’t be described as an exciting book but it isn’t boring either as the characters are interesting with a fair amount of tension in parts. My main criticism, which is small, is the occasional use of French without any provided translation (which is becoming a literary bugbear of mine) but other than that it was an enjoyable read.

I recommend it as a good introduction to Henry James novels

Final verdict 3/5


Monday, 20 February 2012

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

"Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at their being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them."

Catherine is 17 when she is taken by childless neighbours to spend time with them in Bath. She quickly makes friends with other people her own age, finds herself a love interest and begins to forge her way in this new society she finds herself in. As she is younger than other Austen heroines she is also more naïve, not very experienced at reading people and is sometimes rather silly.

The plot is a rather a simple one in terms of its themes and contains less minor characters than say Mansfield Park, instead it just gets on with the business of dealing with the usual ‘girl will eventually marry the right man after various conversations and misunderstandings’ overall plot arc.

Northanger Abbey is different to the other Austen novels I have read (although I have STILL yet to read P&P) it’s different for various reasons but mostly it’s because it is a lighter and less layered read. Northanger Abbey is known for its parody of other Gothic novels which were popular during Austin’s time, although anyone who is familiar with works such as Dracula or Jane Eyre and has an understanding of the usual gothic elements could probably appreciate these parts of the novel.

"I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible."

While it might lack depth it does have two very likeable characters in both Catherine and Henry Tilney, a couple of unlikeable characters and some very funny lines and observations. The first half of the novel is set in Bath before switching the action to Northanger Abbey, this change of scenery keeps the story fresh and drives the eventual coupling of Catherine and Henry. The humor and wit in Northanger Abbey is not as subtle as other Austen’s novels making the novel overall a quick, easy, sparkly read and is a great introduction to Jane Austen.
Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

This is unquestionably the most disgusting, violent and profane book I have ever read but that is counterbalanced by its ridiculous nature. It is difficult to be offended in any meaningful way by something so fundamentally silly.
Manfried and Hegel Grossbart are two peasant brothers journeying through the landscapes of medieval Europe seeking their fortune in the treasure filled tombs of Egypt. On their travels they encounter witches, demons, monsters, bandits and mercenaries all of which are intent on killing them but none of whom are as evil or disgusting as the brothers themselves.

Jesse Bullington got straight down to business having the Grossbarts murder an entire family (including four children) in cold blood within the first few pages and from then on it is a novel of extreme violence and gore. The Grossbarts spend the rest of the book threatening, assaulting, robbing, mutilating, murdering and generally ruining the lives of anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths. They utter the foulest profanities and blasphemies I have ever read on paper and cause mayhem wherever they go. Barely a page goes by when a character wasn’t cursing or leaking vomit, blood or excrement. In general the story is poorly put together with ridiculous, unconvincing dialogue and two dimensional cardboard characters I cared little or nothing about.

Because the brothers are so monumentally evil and stupid I found it impossible to feel any pity or kind feelings towards them, I couldn’t wait for them to get their just deserts which never seemed to come. I feel Bullington was trying too hard to shock and offend rather than focusing on developing the characters or story in any significant way.

It’s not all bad; because the book doesn’t take itself too seriously it is easy to read and I found myself making a significant dent in it quite early on. Their first encounter with a monster in the forest was quite impressive. Some of the fights are pretty exciting and dramatic but sadly all of this is overshadowed by the book’s faults, of which there are many. One thing Bullington has definitely achieved is to have created two of the most despicable figures to come out of recent fiction. Oh yes and the front cover is pretty cool.

Towards the end the book completely lost its thread and became quite difficult to follow with too many new (and arguably quite pointless) characters introduced near the end of the book when it would have been best left as it was before.

Not a book I would re-read
Final verdict 2/5

By Chris

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Great Expectations BBC trailer

Since quite a few people were curious about the new BBC version of Great Expectations staring Gillian Anderson which was shown in the UK over Christmas I’ve posted the trailer below.

I’ve heard rumour that its showing in the US in April but it is possible I’m thinking of something else (I do that a lot) As explained in my previous post I only watched the first episode as I didn’t think it was any good but that was more to do with the general atmosphere of the thing and not the actors, although it is strange to that Pip is more beautiful than Estella.
They are also filming a new film version starring Helena Bonham Carter so perhaps we will all be sick of Pip and his adventures, it seems overkill.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

London and in fact the whole country it seems has gone slightly Dickens mad with the TV specials, constant promotions and the media hype. It’s great really, we have Dickens’s birthday, the Queens Jubilee, a huge Shakespeare festival and the Olympics all in the same year. 2013 may feel like a total come-down after all this year’s excitement.
I did not read Great Expectations because of all the hype although perhaps it has somehow filtered down to me. The BBC recently aired a new version of Great Expectations over Christmas which was pretty bad (and I feel bad for saying that because I love Gillian Anderson). While watching episode one I found myself getting quite defensive over a book and author I had never read so I decided that rather than put myself through two more episodes I would just read the dam thing.
Great Expectations needs little in the way of plot synopsis as like many of Dickens’s novels the general gist of the plot is known by many. After saying that the novel did throw up a few surprises by giving me some rather beautiful sentences scattered throughout and a couple of delicious plot twists at the end. 
There are many many strengths to this novel. The plot is a great one, the characters are brilliant, the places are vividly described, the gothic elements are a nice touch and there also social and moral issues which thread through and combine the whole thing. It’s a rich novel and one which you can really curl up with and get into. I also loved the general view that money doesn’t always equal happiness, the very flawed man in the main character Pip and the general darkness of it all.
 Yes the writing isn’t the most easy to get on with (but not Henry James hard) and it did also lull in a couple of places in the middle where I just wanted Dickens to ‘get on with it’ but if you are prepared to give this novel your full attention and accept that you are probably not going to rush through it (although why would you want to) then you will be rewarded.
I’m not quite ready to pick up Bleak House yet but Oliver I think is next on my list.
Posted by Jess

Friday, 3 February 2012

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses is essentially a coming of age story. After his mother sells the Texan ranch he has grown up on, sixteen year old John Grady Cole loses everything and sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. They are both searching for work as a ranch hand and abit of adventure. On the Mexican border they both meet Jimmy Blevins a young boy whose hot-headedness leads them into big trouble.
Much of the story is set on the Mexican boarder where the landscapes are vividly described. Readers of McCarthy will know already how well landscapes and the country are so well drawn that you cannot think of the characters without also thinking of the landscapes they inhabit.
The novel is set in 1949 but you wouldn’t know it as it has the feel of a western, so much so that I was surprised when planes and other more modern mod-cons were mentioned. Most of the travel is done in rugged landscapes on horseback and the place and characters in All the Pretty Horses seem cut off from the rest of the world. The plot does kind of plod along which I think is deliberate and while I appreciated this style in context with the novel this style certainly didn’t make it a page turner.  However I did keep reading because of the descriptions, the dialogue, the plot and of course the writing.
Like The Road and Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses will be a book that stays with me although out of those three I would recommend The Road and Blood Meridian more as it took me a little longer (around 30 pages) to get into this one compared with the other McCormacs I have read.
Posted by Jess

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ and others

I can remember when I first picked up The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾. I guess I was around 14 or 15 years old and in the stage of my reading life where I was helping myself to books from my parent’s bookshelf. I didn’t find Adrian Mole in my parent’s bookcase however I found it in the bathroom, by the toilet, where it had been for some weeks. I figured no-one would miss it as surely no one would keep a current book in the bathroom next to the toilet (yes I was that unfamiliar with some peoples reading and toilet habits)

Anyway all of the Adrian Mole books are written in the form of a diary beginning at the rather precocious age of 13 ¾ and finishing (I presume so far) into Adrian’s middle(ish)  age. The books take the reader not only through Adrian’s life but also cover various political and social events in Britain. But I would say that the main reason for the book’s popularity is that they are really very funny. It takes A LOT to make me laugh out loud while reading a book (most you will normally get out of me is an inward chuckle) but this particular series of book does. Adrian has a rather ‘woe is me’ attitude to life which is used to great comic effect. I personally think that Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ is not one of the best books in the overall series and that it really gets going more as he comes into adult life.

Not entirely sure I like the pastel looking nature of the new editions but neither the less I will thoroughly enjoy re-reading them all again.

I’m also not entirely sure that Adrian Mole would have huge appeal outside of the UK given that the books are so packed full of British cultural references, the last book for example contains references to MP expenses, the explosion of misery memoirs and the Jeremy Kyle show. Would anyone not living in the UK really ‘get these’?  Shout me down if you think I’m wrong but these really are very British books.

Posted by Jess