Friday, August 31, 2007

Emma by Jane Austen

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1815
Number of pages: 508
ISBN: 0141028092

Started: 24 August 2007
Finished: 31 August 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

She's beautiful, rich and clever, and has decided she's perfectly happy with the single life. What Emma does love, however, is interfering in other people's business (and she is always convinced she's right). When she ignores the advice of her friend Mr Knightley and insists on matchmaking for her friend Harriet, her carefully laid plans go disastrously wrong.

Is Emma so wrapped up in other people's love lives that she fails to spot happiness when it's right under her nose? Perhaps, when it comes to affairs of the heart, she can't control everything after all...

I read my first Jane Austen last year, Pride and Prejudice, which immediately became one of my favourite novels. Today I finished my second Austen, Emma, and I'm pleased to say that Jane Austen has now cemented her position as my favourite author. Her style of writing is delightful to behold and I thoroughly enjoy every single sentence I read of hers. Even though not much appears to be happening, I find that I'm hooked from beginning to end.

I think Jane Austen builds up her characters and situations beautifully, and if I've learned anything from reading her novels, it's that deep down I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm usually pretty good at resisting flicking forward through a book to see what happens, but I'm a lost cause when it comes to Austen. Even though I may guess early on in the novel what's going to happen, I just have to flick through to see the manner in which the most important events take place between the characters.

Emma is an exquisitely crafted piece of writing. A lot of the characters are annoying in some degree, but that's how they're supposed to be. I thought I would find it difficult to like Emma, but I think, for all her faults, she is quite a decent person and she tried so very hard to avoid making the same mistakes twice. I could see her growing and maturing throughout the novel and I came to like her quite a lot. There is the same sense of humour here as there is in Pride and Prejudice, but not quite as much.

I suspect that Jane Austen's novels have their faults, but it's as though I'm looking at them through a haze (or, more likely, rose-coloured glasses). I know they're there, but for me they get lost in everything else. I've given a rating of 9 to Emma, only because I loved Pride and Prejudice a bit more This is why I love to read. And just think, I have four more of her books on my shelf that I still have the honour of reading for the first time!

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1957
Number of pages: 220
ISBN: 0140014403

Started: 22 August 2007
Finished: 25 August 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):
Cuckoos lay eggs in other birds' nests. The clutch that was fathered on the quiet little village of Midwich, one night in September, proved to possess a monstrous will of its own. It promised to make the human race look as dated as the dinosaur.

An enjoyable book, though I didn't think it was anywhere near as good as The Day of the Triffids. I felt like it could have been fleshed out a lot more; it is a fascinating concept and could have been more exciting than it was. Still, it was interesting as a reader to keep coming back after intervals of time to see how things had advanced in regards to the Children, and the ending was pretty good!

Overall, a slightly disturbing book which provided food for thought, especially in terms of the place of humans in the world. Recommended.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Diary Of A Nobody by George Grossmith

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1892
Number of pages: 174
ISBN: 0792833278

Started: 21 August 2007
Finished: 21 August 2007

Summary (taken from

'Why should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see - because I do not happen to be a `Somebody' - why my diary should not be interesting.' The Diary of a Nobody created a cultural icon, an English archetype. Anxious, accident-prone, occasionally waspish, Charles Pooter has come to be seen as the epitome of English suburban life. His diary chronicles encounters with difficult tradesmen, the delights of home improvements, small parties, minor embarrassments, and problems with his troublesome son. The suburban world he inhabits is hilariously and painfully familiar in its small-mindedness and its essential decency.

This is an excellent, light and amusing read. I wouldn't say it's laugh-out-loud funny, but it certainly had me smiling a lot, which is quite a feat.

Charles Pooter is a loveable and slightly old-fashioned, bumbling character, whose diary chronicles his life over the period of a year or so. He's a middle-class man who enjoys a pun (while the puns themselves are not uproariously funny, his reactions and elatedness at thinking them up are pretty amusing).

He (usually) enjoys the company of his friends, Gowing and Cummings (the objects of one of the best puns in the story), but is sometimes indignant at their behaviour, as well as at the behaviour of certain other characters and visitors to the household.

Even the short summaries of the diary entries at the beginning of each chapter are entertaining: 'Make the acquaintance of a Mr Padge. Don't care for him. Mr Burwin-Fosselton becomes a nuisance.'

This is such a good read, and one that I think I'll re-read quite often. I was originally going to give this a rating of 8, but it crept up to 9, and then 10, while I was writing this review and remembering how thoroughly enjoyable it was. Very highly recommended!

Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence

Rating: 6/10

Published: 1928
Number of pages: 400
ISBN: 0143039617

Started: 13 August 2007
Finished: 20 August 2007

Summary (taken from BCF's Reading Circle blurb):

Constance Chatterley feels trapped in her sexless marriage to the invalid Sir Clifford. Unable to fulfill his wife emotionally or physically, Clifford encourages her to have a liaison with a man of their own class. But Connie is attracted instead to her husband's gamekeeper and embarks on a passionate affair that brings new life to her stifled existence. Can she find a true equality with Mellors, despite the vast gulf between their positions in society? One of the most controversial novels in English literature, Lady Chatterley's Lover is an erotically charged and psychologically powerful depiction of adult relationships.

I was a bit disappointed in this book for a few reasons. The first being that I never really got a clear picture of any of the characters. It was probably just me, but I felt there were contradictions all over the place when they were being described (and it was throughout the whole book, not just the beginning). One moment Clifford seemed to be strong and the next moment weak (physically, not mentally). If the physical description of him was supposed to be symbolic of his mental strength, I didn't find it to be very effective. I couldn't like Connie at all; Mellors was perhaps the only character I had any real understanding and liking of.

I also found the text a bit too repetitive for my liking. I'm not referring to the parts where a single phrase or word was repeated - I could handle that. My problem was where whole ideas were repeated and ruminated over ad nauseum. I like a bit of deep conversation in a book, particularly when it concerns the state of humanity, but the long passages of dialogue and thoughts bored me to tears in this book.

The beginning was very drawn out and not particularly interesting, however, it seemed to pick up a little around the time that Connie and Mellors were first meeting, before becoming boring again. It then seemed to be in a big damn hurry to finish.

There were a couple of redeeming points: the descriptions of the woods were nice, although it would have helped the ol' imagination if I'd actually heard of any of those particular plants before! I mostly enjoyed the scenes between Connie and Mellors (not just the sex scenes!), except when Connie was being clingy and demanding over and over that Mellors tell her they'd be together and that he loved her.

At least the ending was somewhat of a surprise to me. I've seen a movie adaptation of this and I'm sure it ended differently (Connie staying with Clifford while Mellors went to work at the pits).

I'm glad I read the book, if only so I can better understand its importance in the history of literature, but I'll not be reading it again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Anne Of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1908
Number of pages: 320
ISBN: 0451528824

Started: 8 August 2007
Finished: 10 August 2007

Summary (taken from

Anne, a mischievous, red-haired, eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.

I once saw a mini-series of Anne... but didn't remember much of what it was about, which was good because it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book.

I found Anne to be a simply enchanting character, and wise beyond her years. I love her way of looking at things, and the pleasure that she takes in everyday things that other people would take for granted. I especially like that she didn't lose that aspect of herself whenever bad things happened.

I'll definitely be reading the following novels (and re-watching the mini-series). I can't wait to see what Anne gets up to next!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1911
Number of pages: 230
ISBN: 1566197139

Started: 7 August 2007
Finished: 8 August 2007

Summary (taken from wikipedia):
It is a story of a mischievous little boy who won't grow up. Peter Pan, a fierce swordfighter, spends his never-ending childhood adventuring on the island of Neverland as leader of the Lost Boys. The story features some fantastical elements, one of them being that Peter has the ability to fly, and his friends include a fairy named Tinker Bell. In addition, a crocodile that has swallowed a ticking clock stalks the pirate leader, Captain Hook, Peter's nemesis.

This is an utterly magical tale of young boy without a mother who is the leader of the lost boys and lives in Neverland. He convinces three children to fly from their nursery and join him so that the girl, Wendy, can be mother to the lost boys.

Putting aside the sexism, which I guess I have to make allowances for seeing the time it was written, (Wendy does nothing but cook, clean and sew), it's a very enjoyable and imaginative romp. There are a lot of little touches that I loved, such as Mrs Darling tidying up her children's minds, and Peter losing his shadow.

All I knew of Peter Pan before I read the book was what I'd seen in a movie called Hook. I had no idea Peter was so arrogant or violent (all those little kids murdering people!) and I was expecting Tinkerbell to be a sweet little thing. Some rude shocks there! Highly enjoyable and recommended. Now to watch the Disney version.

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1872
Number of pages: 152
ISBN: 1587155958

Started: 4 August 2007
Finished: 6 August 2007

Summary (taken from

A chilling tale of the un-dead, Carmilla is a beautifully written example of the gothic genre. The story takes the reader into the dark, mysterious world of a girl and her family tormented by visitations and nightmares. While the continual reoccurrence of a beautiful woman, unknown, yet familiar, meanders through the lives of the characters, to the very heart of the story, the precise use of language emphasises and heightens the images that the book presents and sends the reader spiralling towards its bloody conclusion. Said to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker's gothic masterpiece 'Dracula', Carmilla stands out as a classic horror masterpiece.

I thought this was a wonderful book and can easily see why it was the inspiration for Dracula. It's beautifully written and the descriptions of the 'schloss' and the surrounding countryside are simply mouth-watering. Having said that, I did struggle a little with the style of writing at times - I like to be challenged though!

It was always going to be interesting to read this book because Dracula became an immediate favourite of mine the first time I read it. This one stood up well, although it was perhaps lacking in some respects; because it is so much shorter than Dracula, I feel that the story and characters weren't developed as fully and I was left with some unanswered questions at the end.

One thing that surprised me a little was the graphic nature of Laura and Carmilla's relationship - I didn't expect the writing to be so risque coming from that time period! I think in this respect Carmilla was more graphic than Dracula.

I would highly recommend reading Carmilla, particularly if you have read and liked Dracula. The differences and similarities are interesting to note.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1962
Number of pages: 393
ISBN: 0141024879

Started: 26 July 2007
Finished: 3 August 2007

Summary (taken from blurb):

Tyrannical Nurse Ratched rules her ward in an Oregon State mental hospital with a strict, unbending routine. Her patients, cowed by mind-numbing medication and the threat of electric shock therapy, dare not oppose her. But everything changes with the arrival of McMurphy - the swaggering, fun-loving trickster with a devilish grin. McMurphy battles Nurse Ratched and the ward regime, challenging everyone's beliefs about madness...who, of them all, is really insane?

Beware! Contains possible spoilers!

This is a brilliant book - every bit as good as everyone says it is. The ending was a bit of a surprise to me, and heart-breaking. It reminded me a bit of Of Mice and Men, which I read a couple of months ago (I cried at the end of both books).

McMurphy is a wonderful character, probably one of my favourites in literature, and I loved his relationship with the Chief. He made such a wonderful impact on the lives of the other patients, which Kesey portrayed beautifully in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I loved seeing the Chief change and become more aware of his surroundings (with the lifting of the fog) and, of course, when he began speaking again.

I watched the movie immediately afterwards and thoroughly enjoyed it, although I think the book is much better. Both book and movie very highly recommended.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

August Reading List

Having polished off 6 books during July, I thought I'd make a list of the books I intend reading during August. I don't expect to get through so many books now that the rush to get through Harry Potter has passed. After I finish my current book I'll be dedicating the rest of the month to catching up with various books for the Book Club Forum's reading circles.

First up will be Carmilla, by J Sheridan LeFanu. This is one of the books to be read for the Comparative Reading Circle we're doing; the other book is Dracula, which I read a couple of months ago. It looks like a relatively short read so it shouldn't take me too long to get through.

Following that will be Anne of Green Gables, by LM Montgomery. This has been chosen as the August book for the 'normal' reading circle. I've been wanting to read this for ages and I'm quite looking forward to it.

Following that, I'll try to get through Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence. This one was July's reading circle choice, but because I was so caught up with Harry Potter I never got around to it. Luckily the circle is always open so I can read it whenever and post comments later. I could just let it pass by, but then I know I won't get around to reading it for years, so it's best that I read it while I have the motivation to do so!

I haven't been doing so well with the audio book of Peter Pan. I find it so much more difficult to listen to an audio book than to read a hard copy; I get too easily distracted. I'm thinking I might give up on the audio version and try reading the actual book later in the month (providing I get through the others I've listed above!)