Saturday, May 24, 2014

119. A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens
Around 250 pages

I am currently in bed after a rather serious surgery on my leg and foot.  It is uncomfortable as hell and I am not allowed to put weight on the right foot for six weeks.  That's right fellas: I am hell on wheels.  In any case, I expect to be reading a lot this summer and updating this blog frequently.

I was willing to give Dickens another chance after Nicholas Nickelby and David Copperfield.  However, I am forced to realize that giving a man a second chance is always a stupid thing to do.  This was one of the dullest books I have ever read.

If you haven't read the book, the only part you are probably familiar with is the opening sentence, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  For those of you don't understand this quote, it means that its the best of times when you are not reading this novel and the worst of times when you are.  That is my interpretation at least.

Basically, this book is about the start of the French Revolution.  While this might sound interesting, there are so many boring characters thrown into the mix and it becomes exceedingly dull.  Lucie Manette is a character we all seen roughly 500 times?  She is a perfect, meek angel that everybody falls in love with.  Groan.

Overall, one of my least favorite Dickens' novel.  Hopefully the next one will serve as a better distraction.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Most of the characters in this novel are flat.

A Tale of Two Cities is considered the least humorous of Dickens' novels.

UP NEXT: Max Havelaar by Multatuli. Huh?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

118. Oblomov

Ivan Goncharov
Around 500 pages

I recently took a trip to Boston and miscalculating how many books I would need to sustain me for the duration of the weekend (I know every reader has been in this situation before).  Luckily, I visited Brattle Bookshop during my stay, which is one of the coolest shops I have ever been to.  I found this book here, picked up a couple of plays, and successfully resisted spending $500 on Henry Fielding's works.

I have to admit that I had a certain amount of trepidation about starting this novel.  The Russian novels I have experienced so far have been dreary, long winded, and even seemed to make it a point not to be too entertaining.  However, and I have lost track of the number of times I have said this, I was pleasantly surprised with this book and would highly recommend it.

Oblomov is truly a protagonist unlike any other.  He suffers from oblomovitis, that is to say, extreme laziness and apathy.  It takes him around fifty pages to get out of bed and he spends most of these pages dreading getting up, since doing so would involve paying bills and writing letters.  Eventually, he falls in love (which was an even bigger pain in the ass back then as it is today).  Can he overcome his lethargy to win Olga?

Actually, the real question of this post is can I overcome my own lethargy to write it?  I started this entry a couple of days ago and I keep taking breaks to stare into space.  This, in essence, is why I loved this book. The hero isn't facing some sort of external crisis that he is better for in the long run.  It also isn't something internal that, though lamentable, isn't something that a lot of people have to deal with.  But you can't relate to overcoming laziness and doing a bunch of administrative busy work that will slowly kill your soul (and no, I am not being overly dramatic; I am renewing my passport right now and it is an absolute nightmare)?

I suppose I should slip in some criticisms.  I didn't find the character Zakhar quite as charming as I think I was supposed to and his scenes went on a little too long.  The dream sequence was a little odd but I suppose it gave us background information on Oblomov's character so I will let it slide.

Overall, a great, obscure little novel that is well worth the read.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Extremely popular upon its release.

Condemns serfdom.

UP NEXT: Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  Probably one of the most famous novels of all time that I haven't read.   I think I tried it once before and hated it, but after David Copperfield I am ready to give it another go.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

117. Adam Bede

Adam Bede
George Eliot
Around 615 pages

When I first started this novel, I absolutely hated it, which is why I haven't gotten to this blog in a little while.  However, despite some annoying characters and a somewhat unsatisfying ending, I really enjoyed this book.

Let me start by saying that Wikipedia says that the plot revolves around a "love rectangle".  Why would it be a rectangle?  There are five people involved, which would mean it is a love pentagon. Even if we exclude one of the less important characters, Seth, wouldn't it be a love square?  Am I neurotic for getting irrationally annoyed at this?  Yes?  Okay then, I will move on.

Hetty Sorrel is a beautiful, selfish milkmaid beloved by both Captain Arthur Donnithorne and Adam Bede.  Adam's brother Seth is in love with Dinah Morris, Hetty's cousin, who is one of the most annoying, self righteous characters that I have ever encountered.  Hetty, of course, falls for Arthur since Adam is a rather dull character who strangely switches dialects throughout the novel.  Let's just say Arthur does not intend to make an honest woman out of Hetty.  Oh, the scandal!  Do you have all the that?  The plot is even more confusing than the choice of shapes assigned to describe it.

Overall, this was quite an entertaining novel, but, as your fearless reviewer, I have to nitpick.  Like I said, Dinah Morris is one of those Melanie Wilkes-esque characters that is so "good" that her dialogue is just plain irritating.  It did, however, lend itself to a funny scene where Hetty dresses up in the plain clothes Dinah does. The only thing that would have made it better would be if Hetty started singing "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee".  But you can't have everything in this world.

Hetty and Arthur are by far the most interesting characters but, of course, Eliot wants to treat them as a cautionary tale.  I never give away endings, so I will just say that I was quite disappointed with the one that Eliot came up with.  Everything was tied together a bit too neatly, people seemed to settle, and some dick moves were made.

Overall, a good book but it would have been better if it had been titled "Hetty Sorrel" rather than "Adam Bede".  Of course, in that case I guess the story would pretty much be "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" or "Madame Bovary" so I suppose it is fine as it is.

Great first experience with George Eliot.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Praised by Charles Dickens but criticized heavily by Henry James.

Adapted by BBC in 1991.

UP NEXT: Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov.  Here come the Russians!  I am in the middle of doing a few rereads but I will try to get back here within a couple weeks!