Wednesday, September 24, 2014

130. The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby

The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for A Land Baby
Charles Kingsley
Around 300 pages

This particular Land Baby had trouble sitting down to write this review.  In addition to reading this novel, I have been working my way through Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust.  The language in that novel is so unbelievably beautiful that I now feel like a complete idiot every time I open my mouth or put pen to paper.  But despite the discovery of my new suck factor, we must carry on and get to Water-Babies.

I got my hands on an absolutely gorgeous illustrated version of this novel.  Although I suppose it is not too hard to find a copy of this book with pictures, since it is essentially a children's novel.  Since it isn't listed in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Die, I assumed it was going to be a fairy tale for adults.  But honestly, you would have to be a child to be able to swallow all this preaching without gagging.

Our main character here is a young, extremely dirty chimney sweep named Tom who is often beaten by his master.  After breaking into a young girl's house, Tom is chased by a mob to a pond, where he ultimately drowns.  He then becomes a water-baby and is only allowed to become a land-baby again if he can realize the error of his ways (ie it is actually not that nice to try to break horses' legs all the time).  He meets a lot of interesting creatures such as talking salmon and extremely annoying, self righteous fairies.

What can I say about Pilgrim's Progress for Kids?  At least this had talking lobsters.  I do enjoy fairy tales, but I hate having morals shoved down my throat.  I guess anybody who names a character Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby isn't a master of subtlety.

Still, this book is good for a few cute lines and pretty pictures.  Did I really just say that?  This blog is really in a state of decline.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Includes many slurs against Jews, Catholics, the Irish, black people, and Americans.  Well, I am glad that Kingsley insulted Americans as well so that I could be insulted too.  It is nice to feel included.

Considered a satire of the moral tales often published during this era.  Oh, so it was meant to be annoying?  Nope, still don't get it.

UP NEXT: Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

129. Les Miserables

Les Miserables
Victor Hugo
Around 2000 pages

I have returned, after reading one of the longest books in existence.  The internet has been trying to cheat me out of my success; quite a few websites say that this novel is around 1300 pages.  However, my version of the book was divided into five volumes, with each volume containing around 415 pages. I may be an English person as opposed to a math person, but even I know that equals upwards of 2000 pages.  Do not minimize my anguish, Internet!

I am so sick of this story by now that it took some effort to sit down and write today.  I think most people are familiar with the plot largely because of the musical.  Jean Valjean is an escaped galley slave trying to redeem himself in the eyes of God by helping as many people as he can.  Of course, he must frequently (and I mean frequently; it was like a Tom and Jerry cartoon that just wouldn't end) escape the clutches of Inspector Javert, who understands nothing but his duty to the law.  One of his acts of kindness/penance, involves saving Cosette, the daughter of the miserable prostitute Fantine, from the evil Thernadiers, who treat her as a slave.  Got all that so far?  Good, we are about two-fifths through the novel.  When Cosette grows up, she captures of the heart of a young revolutionist, Marius.  This is unfortunate for the eldest daughter of the Thernadiers, Eponine, who loves Marius jealously and viciously.  Did I mention the 1832 Rebellion in Paris?  My head hurts.  Oh whatever, just watch the movie.

There are many interesting things about this novel, although the sheer length of it makes the interest fade after awhile.  I loved analyzing Jean Valjean.  He is supposed to be such a "good" character but was he really?  After all, he was only doing charitable acts, it seemed, to get into heaven.  Would he have been so good if he had been an atheist?  Probably not. And man, was he selfish at the end.  But, of course, no spoilers...

The main villain of the novel, Thernadier, was interesting as well but he disappeared and reappeared so many times that he lost his appeal.  For me, Cosette was insufferable.  In one scene, she threw a tantrum because she wasn't included in a conversation but, of course, since she was beautiful, it was charming.  She was also incredibly bossy, with such commands as "be happy", "laugh", and "be mad".  Eponine was a lot more interesting, but she didn't get as much print time.  Seriously, Hugo?  You can lecture us on the sewers of Paris for fifty pages, but can't devote more time to the only proactive female in the novel?

I should probably wrap this up soon.  It really sounds like I hated this novel.  I did think the writing was beautiful and will probably be more charitable in a few weeks.  Right now I am still reeling from the chunk of my life that this book took away from me.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

A quarter of the book is devoted to essays that don't advance the plot.  It was much more charming when Henry Fielding did it.

Fantine's assault was actually based on a real life incident that Victor Hugo witnessed.  Thankfully, Hugo was able to intervene and save the prostitute.

What did everybody think of the recent movie adaptation?  I was disappointed with Marius's and Javert's characters.

UP NEXT: The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley.  I might have to take a break and read something completely trashy to cleanse my palate.  Any suggestions?