Tuesday, November 10, 2015

154. Around The World In 80 Days

Around The World In 80 Days
Jules Verne
1873
Around 250 pages









Did any other List Follower find this story inspirational for our quest?  A seemingly impossible wager is made and a lot of people bet against us?  Come to think of it, has anyone actually finished the List before?  I know there is a difference between reading 1001 novels and fearlessly trekking across the globe.  Although come to think of it, the 80 Days Quest might be easier, even in Verne's time.  After all, my project is going to take twenty years and I won't be paid a million pounds if I succeed.  Which is bullshit, in my opinion.

Getting back on track here, let's talk about this novel.  Phileas Fogg is a rich English loner who makes a wager for 20,000 pounds with several members of the Reform Club that he can travel around the world in 80 days (trains are magic to them, after all).  He is accompanied by his rather witless servant Passepartout, who seemed to be his Sancho.  Is anyone else sick of the simpering servant trope?  To complicate things, Detective Fix is convinced that Phileas is a wanted robber and attempts to stall him at every step so that he has enough time to obtain a warrant.

Having seen the film (and having been alive for twenty+ years), I was quite familiar with the story.  Still, I wasn't prepared for how much I was going to dislike Phileas.  We are supposed to see him as some great hero, but his servant actually shows a lot more bravery throughout the novel than Mr. Dullsville.  His only solution was to throw money at whatever problem he was facing.  Why did he even do this in the first place?  Obviously he wasn't really interested in actually seeing the world.

Well, I can't continue with my Phileas rant, or I won't have time to rant about the racism in this book.  I mean, good lord. The scope of the novel's setting allowed Verne to insult so many civilizations that I have legitimately lost track.  Some allowances must be made for the time period, but still very cringeworthy.

This novel is quite similar to Journey To The Center of the Earth, so if you liked that, you are sure to enjoy this.  And I do have to give Vernes some credit, he had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  I'll go easy on it since it didn't bore me out of my skull.  Still, I am not that sorry to say goodbye to Jules Verne.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

The characters never actually fly in a hot air balloon in Verne's novel, but because of the scene in the film, the image is now on some of the covers.

Trailer for film, which won Best Picture.  Prepare for some mega white washing:


UP NEXT: The Enchanted Wanderer by Nikolai Leskov.  If the author's name is Nikolai, does that mean there will still be at least four characters named Nikolai?  I guess we will find out!

Friday, November 6, 2015

153. In a Glass Darkly

In a Glass Darkly
Sheridan Le Fanu
1872
Around 400 pages









As I mentioned (bragged about) previously, I am currently an American Werewolf in London.  As such, my usual Halloween spirit has been somewhat subdued, as it is not as acceptable for an adult to get overly excited about it here.  Usually, I spend October stuffing candy corn in my face and reading horror novels.  The month ends with me dressing up as some obscure fictional character that no one is able to guess.  Unfortunately, no one here seems to even know what candy corn is (unless they are lying to protect their stash) and since I don't have access to a library, my reading material has been limited.  However, this is a collection of horror stories, so it kind of counts...right?

There are five short stories in In a Glass Darkly.  The first three kind of passed by without leaving too much of an impression on me.  They were very short, quite bizarre (did anyone else think Don't Look Now?) and didn't have very satisfying explanations.  The last two stories, which were technically novellas, were far more interesting.  "The Room in the Dragon Volant" tells the story of a naive Englishman who falls in love with a Countess.  The Countess is trapped in a brutal marriage and he attempts to save her.  "Carmilla" is about a lesbian vampire.  Apparently, this story "influenced" Bram Stoker.  That's a nice way of putting it.

If I was judging the last two stories, Le Fanu might earn a five star rating.  Unfortunately, I can't ignore "Green Tea" in which a man is being haunted by an evil monkey. I sincerely wish I could.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The title comes from the thirteenth chapter of the Corinthians, although it is deliberately misquoted (the quote is "For now we see through a glass, darkly."

UP NEXT: Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne.  Probably one of the most classic-y novels I have not yet read.  Given my sophisticated lexicon, it might surprise you that there are holes in my knowledge.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

152. The Devils

The Devils (apparently also called The Possessed or The Demons)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
1872
Around 700 pages












I feel like this book took me FOREVER to finish, but my last post was on October 7th, so I suppose it wasn't that long ago.  I also read a couple of books in between Erewhon and this as well.  I know I am bragging, but if you slogged through this disasterpiece, you would be bragging too.

Man, this was confusing.  Russian novels are always a bit confusing for me.  Everyone seems to go by three different names, each one longer than the last.  However, this one in particular completely baffled me.  Characters that I thought were dead would appear later and I am ninety percent sure it wasn't supposed to be a twist. Also, based on my understanding, several characters died twice.  This is embarrassing, but I was even confused by the Wikipedia plot synopsis.  I won't blame Dostoyevsky for this, as I probably wasn't paying enough attention.  But isn't it the job of the author to make me want to pay attention?

Basically, Nikolai Stavrogin (because of course his name has to be Nikolai) is a handsome aristocrat who is involved with several scandals.  Is that broad enough?  Is he even considered the main character?  Thank god the 1001 Gods don't make you take a test on this.

Like I said, horribly confusing and very dull.  I found myself unable to pick it up for days at a time.  All of the females are reduced to fainting ninnies and all of the men seemed to have a few screws loose.  Only one more Dostoyevsky left and I am afraid we will never be able to recapture the magic that was The Idiot.

RATING: *---- (feeling especially harsh today!)

Interesting Facts:

This has nothing to do with Dostoyevsky, but I visited Dublin last weekend!  While I was there, I was able to visit the Writers Museum.  I wouldn't exactly recommend it, since it didn't seem to possess a lot of interesting artifacts, just a lot of information about Irish authors.  However, thanks to The List, I saw some familiar faces in the displays, like Maria Edgeworth, James Joyce (ugh), Oliver Goldsmith, and Jonathan Swift!  Irish literature hasn't impressed me that much so far, but I still had a fun visit.

UP NEXT: In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

151. Erewhon

Erewhon
Samuel Butler
1872
Around 250 pages












I was not looking forward to this book in the slightest.  The description makes it sound like a rather dull reimagining of Gulliver's Travels and we all know how I feel about Jonathan Swift.  And by "all" I mean my mother.

Our narrator stumbles upon Erewhon, a nation with rather backward principles.  They try people in court for contracting illnesses and believe machines to be evil.  Of course, our narrator comes across a hot native and decides to escape with her.  The author is more concerned about describing the Erewhon nation (and thereby criticizing Victorian society) than laying out much of a plot.

Obviously by now, the idea of finding beauty in a society that initially seems stunted is a bit of a cliche. I didn't exactly hate it, but I didn't find the country of Erewhon to be nearly as interesting as the narrator wanted me to.  I always want a good story, not merely observations.  The love story seemed like it was thrown together to give this book some semblance of a plot, but I wasn't buying it.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Praised by George Orwell.

Was published anonymously and sold extremely well.  It was generally believed that the author was a famous person, like Lord Lytton.

UP NEXT: The Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  This is the last Dostoevsky novel on the List and he is going out with a 800 page bang.

Friday, September 25, 2015

150. Spring Torrents

Spring Torrents
Ivan Turgenev
1872
Around 175 pages












I read this in a couple hours this morning as a means of procrastination from my real work.  I am still procrastinating by writing this review.  I suppose there are worse ways of wasting your time than reading and discussing Russian literature.  That might be the most pretentious thing I have ever said.

A Russian landowner named Dmitri Sanin falls in love with Gemma after saving her brother from a fainting fit.  Apparently, he did this by brushing the boy's clothes?  Who knew dry cleaning could save lives?  Anyway, Gemma is already betrothed to a boring German shopkeeper.  Gemma might also have a rival for his affections in Maria Nikolaevna Polozov.  I personally feel like Gemma should win, because her name confuses me less.

I was certain from the very beginning that I knew exactly how the story was going to go, but I will admit, Turgenev threw me for a loop with the introduction of Maria's character.  I really wish Turgenev had elaborated more on her character; she seemed like she belonged in Dangerous Liaisons.  This is definitely my favorite of the author's works so far; I just wish he had gone into more detail.  Did I seriously just wish that a Russian novel was longer?  Okay, that might be the most pretentious thing I have ever said.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Ivan Turgenev claimed this novel was autobiographical.

UP NEXT: Erewhon by Samuel Butler.  Never heard of it.  I'm worried.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

149. Middlemarch

Middlemarch
George Eliot
1871
Around 850 pages








I am sorry for the long delay in between posts.  I have recently relocated to London and having been doing my best to take advantage of the city. This, coupled with the fact that this is one of the longest books on the List, meant I definitely have been slowing down on my reading output.  However, I am back now so let's talk about Middlemarch!

Middlemarch tells the story of Dorothea Brooke, who is pretty much our stereotypical saintly, perfect woman.  Dorothea marries Mr. Casaubon, despite the fact that he is "elderly" and a huge bore.  Their marriage turns out to be nothing like what she expected, but she manages to befriend her husband's cousin, Will Ladislaw.  Of course, Dorothea has that condition that many heroines we have come across are afflicted with, where every man that meets her falls in love with her.  Poor thing.  Meanwhile, a young doctor named Mr. Lydgate falls in love with Rosamund Vincy.  She is unbelievably selfish, but since he seemingly only married her for her appearance, he doesn't get a lot of my sympathy.

There are enough side characters and plots in this novel to make Anthony Trollope look like a superficial author.  Most were interesting, some I couldn't have cared less about (Mr. Bulstrode, anyone?).  I love that we are moving away from the idea that a marriage always means a happy ending.  It is fascinating watching the shift from courtship to unequal partnership.

So yes, the length is a bit intimidating. And frankly, I could have gone without about two hundred pages at the beginning of the novel.  I mean, did we really have to hear about Dorothea's plan for improving the cottages of tenant farmers?  I suppose it was included to promote her status as a goddess among women.  Still, I loved this book and was quite disappointed when it was over.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Praised by Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson, but criticized by Henry James, who claimed that the character of Will Ladislaw is the greatest failure of the novel.

UP NEXT: Spring Torrents by Ivan Turgenev.  The Book is absolutely obsessed with this guy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

148. Through The Looking Glass

Through The Looking Glass
Lewis Carroll
1871
Around 150 pages








This was an easy checkmark for me, since my edition of Alice in Wonderland came with this tiny sequel attached.  This story doesn't even feel like a different book, so expect the same kind of tepid review that you got before.

Alice steps into another world through the mirror on her mantel.  Here she finds confusing poetry and giant chessboard that she must move across to become a queen.  Of course, she meets strange creatures like Tweedledum, Tweedledee and Humpty Dumpty who are completely nonsensical and obnoxious.  I would immediately go on a rampage if I met any of these characters.

Once again, there is no denying that this book is exceedingly clever for a children's story.  There are frequent references to chess, boating, and even Latin.  I am a fully grown adult and I still don't understand everything.

Definitely an outstanding children's book, but still a little too trippy for me.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Hatta and Haigha are the counterparts to the Hatter and the March Hare from the first book.

The world in Through The Looking Glass is said to be the mirror image of Wonderland.

UP NEXT: Middlemarch by George Eliot.




Monday, August 10, 2015

147. King Lear of the Steppes

King Lear of the Steppes
Ivan Turgenev
1870
Around 200 pages












It really looks like I am phoning in it with my pictures, but honestly, I think very few people care that this book existed.  There is not even a Wikipedia page for it.  There is good reason for this, since I found the novel to be rather unremarkable.

The story starts with a party talking about the Shakespearean characters they have met in their lives: the Falstaffs, the Hamlets, the Macbeths, etc.  The narrator then talks about his encounter with a King Lear type.  As a side note, I have never met a Falstaff or a Hamlet.  I have maybe met a couple of Parises in my time.  I have to hang out with more interesting people.

Anyway, Martin Petrovich Harlov is afraid he is going to die so leaves everything to his two daughters and son-in-law.  Does everything go well?  I will give you a hint: it's a Russian novel.

Like I said, this book didn't leave that much of an impression on me and I am racking my brains trying to think of something to say about it.  I didn't find anything of the characters sympathetic; they were either whiny, antisemitic, or cold as ice.  Why couldn't the characters have chosen to explore the Katherinas or Benedicts in their lives instead?  This feels like a wasted opportunity.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

This book is too obscure to find any interesting trivia on.  However, I did just get Booklovers Trivial Pursuit.  It still makes me feel incredibly dull witted, but at least it is an improvement from regular Trivial Pursuit.

UP NEXT: Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.  Already checked off.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

146. He Knew He Was Right

He Knew He Was Right
Anthony Trollope
1869
Around 930 pages








Of course, we know I am going to complain about this novel being way too long.  How could I not?  930 pages for a plot that I will be soon be summing up in two sentences is just ridiculous.  However, I am still a bit sad that I'm done with this novel.  I will miss reading chapters that have titles like "Hugh Stanbury smokes a pipe," "Shewing what Nora Rowley thought about carriages," and finally, because the first one was such a cliffhanger, "Hugh Stanbury smokes another pipe."

All right, I promised you a one sentence summary so here we go:  Louis Trevelyan believes that one of his wife's oldest friends, Colonel Osbourne, is a "rogue"and doesn't believe that his wife Emily should see him anymore.  Emily feels accused by this and does not comply, leading Louis feeling so emasculated that he starts to lose his mind.  Of course, since this is Anthony Trollope, there are quite a few subplots as well that I thought were a lot more interesting than the main one.  My favorite was the story of the courtship between Mr. Gibson and the French daughters.  He can't really decide which one he likes best and they don't take it very well.  No spoilers, but one of them ends up with a carving knife.

From the premise, you can tell that parts of this novel are going to be extremely frustrating for feminist readers.  There is a feminist character in this book, Wallachia Petrie, who is treated like a maniacal leper.  I found the other female characters, however, to be quite empowering.  I guess they are just not allowed to talk about their own empowerment or they would become "unmarriageable shrews" like Wallachia.  Still, the women in this novel refuse to let their lives be dictated for them, even if it means being miserable.  The women are still at the mercy of the whims of ridiculous, foolish men but at least Trollope is pointing out the absurdity of it.

Like I said, the main storyline didn't really grab me.  Sure, I wanted to strangle Louis (who wouldn't?) but I was mostly sick of the two main characters' whining.  Funnily enough, I think the secondary characters were pretty sick of it too.  Let's just bump the French sisters up to top billing and call it a day.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Anthony Trollope thought that this work was a failure.  He thought that Louis Trevelyan was "unsympathetic" and the secondary characters were more interesting.  Hey, that's what I thought too!  Anthony and I are tight.

This is the first part of the BBC adaptation from YouTube.  Is there a single English novel that has not been adapted in a BBC miniseries?


UP NEXT: King Lear of the Steppes by Ivan Turgenev.  This should be cheerful.

Monday, July 13, 2015

145. War and Peace

War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy
1869
Around 1500 pages







The Book argues that this book is too often seen as a test of endurance for dedicated readers rather than the masterpiece it is.  I happen to see it as both.  To be honest, after Remembrance of Things Past, this seems like a magazine.

Since this book is approximately a million pages long, I will not go into a lot of detail about the plot.  The story follows a whole myriad of characters, including Pierre Bezukhov, a socially awkward illegitimate child, Natasha Rostova, a non socially awkward romantic, Napoleon, I assumed I don't need an explanation for, and Prince Andrey, a philosophical military officer.

Certainly you can argue that this book tends to get tedious.  Particularly in the War part of War and Peace.  But honestly, I didn't want it to end.  There is so much depth here that I would highly recommend reading it with a friend to help unpack some of the content.  Rich characters, rich experience.  It's nice to know that some of these epic doorstops can be worth it.  I am stressing the word "some," Herman Melville.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Any thoughts on the movie?  Here's a trailer:


Praised by...well, everybody.  Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, etc.


UP NEXT: He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope.  It is supposed to be around 850 pages.  Someone take his typewriter.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

144. Sentimental Education

Sentimental Education
Gustave Flaubert
1869
Around 500 pages












I was very excited to get my hands on more Flaubert since I, like most people, was only familiar with him because of Madame Bovary.  I wasn't overly thrilled by this novel but I don't blame Flaubert.  When you have a main character as insufferable as Frederic Moreau, there is little the author can do in way of consolation.

Frederic Moreau is a young countryman who desperately wants to make it in Parisian society but lacks the courage to really try.  He falls in love with Madame Arnoux but is unwilling to do anything about it.  In fact, he meets quite a few women that he barely has the courage to speak to.  In the second half of the novel, he is a bit more courageous but also loses a bit of his kindness.  All this is going on during the 1848 French Revolution, although Frederic rather passively watches from the sidelines, despite the involvement of many of his friends.

God, I hate this character.  Frederic was constantly getting in the way of his own happiness because of his cowardice.  Therefore, he was getting in the way of my happiness by never letting anything interesting happen in his own life.  I would have loved to hear about his affairs with married women or his adventures in the Revolution.  But no, Frederic wouldn't allow that.  Of course, this didn't stop Frederic from admiring himself.  At one point, he gazes in the mirror at his reflection for quite a few minutes because he thinks himself so handsome.  I am 90% sure I have dated this man.

So is this novel still enjoyable, even with such an insufferable character?  Barely.  I always enjoy Flaubert's writing style, but I was definitely ready for this book to be over.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Praised by Emile Zola and George Sand.

UP NEXT: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  This is a big one, but thankfully, I've already read it so you won't have to wait nine years for a post.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

143. Phineas Finn

Phineas Finn
Anthony Trollope
1867-68
Around 730 pages










I have finally cleared up the numbering confusion that you are no doubt sick of hearing everyone talk about.  Now onto this novel.  Everyone I have described it to has nearly keeled over with boredom as soon as I start talking about it.  Maybe I should stop leading with the rights of Irish tenant farmers.  Anyway, hopefully I can do a better job of making it sound interesting here, because I really enjoyed this novel.

Phineas Finn is a young Irishman who stands for Parliament, despite being poor and inexperienced.  Because he is so pleasant and handsome, he makes many influential friends.  He becomes acquainted with Lady Laura Standish and her brutish brother Oswald.  He quickly falls in love with Laura, who may already be engaged to his rival, Robert Kennedy.  He also meets a witty heiress, Violet Effingham, who is violently urged by both Lord Brentford and Lady Laura to marry Oswald.  Oh yeah and he is admired by a widow named Madame Max Goesler.  Also, he is loved by Mary Flood Jones in Ireland.  Basically, he is drowning in bitches.

Like most people, I don't exactly have a firm grasp of nineteenth century British politics.  Come to think of it, I don't have a firm grasp on twenty-first century politics.  However, this did not detract from my enjoyment in the slightest bit.  Trollope at one point apologizes to female readers for talking about politics when in all likelihood all us women folk want to hear about is his love for Mary.  I am choosing not to be offended by this, since it is altogether true.

In fact, Trollope is quite forward thinking in his view of women.  Without giving anything away, a woman decides to live apart from her husband when his temper is too much for her.  Most of our principal characters support her decision.  While there are still major problems (i.e.  Mary being seen as the best of her sex simply because she has no mind of her own) but at least we have some complex female characters.

I have gone on way too long so I will wrap it up.  All in all, I would read a grocery list if Trollope wrote it.  Although, come to think of it, it would probably be 800 pages.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Second novel in the Palliser series.

UP NEXT: Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert.  Excited to read more from his canon.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

140. Little Women

Little Women
Louisa May Alcott
1868-69
Around 400 pages









I resent this novel, mostly because the plot did not go the way I wanted it to.  Yes, I realize that I am pouting.  But let me throw my tantrum; it has been a rough week.

The story follows the lives of the four March sisters.  Meg is a beauty who I suppose represents the domestic feminine ideal.  Jo is an aspiring writer and attracts the attentions of the next door neighbor, Laurie.  Beth is nauseatingly sweet and "good".  And Amy.  Well, Amy is kind of a bitch.  If you want a sappier synopsis, check out the trailer for the 1992 film at the bottom of the page.

My main grievances with this novel cannot be revealed without major spoilers, so I will refrain.  This is an important novel, though, since it at least suggests that a woman can have an identity outside of marriage and love.

So a little on the sappy side and it makes The Pickwick Papers sound like a much better novel than it actually was.  Still, worthy of its place on The List.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

There are two sequels: "Little Men" and "Jo's Boys".  I have read both; neither are that remarkable.

Considered a strong contribution to the feminist canon.

1994 Trailer:

139. The Moonstone

The Moonstone
Wilkie Collins
1868
Around 450 pages












In my eagerness to review The Idiot (speaking of idiots), I accidentally skipped both Little Women and The Moonstone.  So now the ordering is a bit screwed up and the most recent review, Maldoror, will be a bit hidden.  But nobody cares about that novel anyway, so we should be good to go.

Rachel Verinder inherits a diamond, called the Moonstone, from her corrupt uncle who stole it from India.  Because, you know, white people.  Rachel wears it on her dress for a party and it is stolen that night.  Suspicion falls on the Indian jugglers hired that night (again, white people).  Her cousin, Franklin Blake, attempts to solve the case while dodging suspicion himself.

I find these early examples of detective literature a lot more enjoyable than the mystery novels that are pumped out now with alarming frequency.  I loved all the twists and I had fun trying to guess the ending.  The mystery genre will never be my favorite, but this is still a fun novel.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Considered the first detective novel.

Introduced the "gentleman detective" archetype.

UP NEXT: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

142. Maldoror

Maldoror
Comte de Lautreamont
1868
Around 300 pages












"It would not be well that all men should read the pages that are to follow; a few only may savor their bitter fruit without danger.  So, timid soul, before penetrating further into such uncharted lands, set your feet the other way."  If a novel sucks, but it tells you ahead of time that it is going to suck, can you even blame the author?  Probably not.  But let's go ahead and do it anyway.

There really isn't a plot to outline here.  The book is divided into six cantos and describes disgusting/horrifying scenes that sometimes involve the evil Maldoror.  Highlights include a man being skinned alive, an eagle ripping out the heart of a dragon, and a graphic rape/murder scene.  Much of the novel felt like it was written by a little boy, determined to do whatever it took to gross out the little girl next to him.  This simply elicited many eye rolls from me, but it horrified my parents when I read a passage out loud to them.  Granted, the paragraph I read had the term "vagina of darkness" in it.

But despite being disgusting and rather mundane in its own way, I found myself rereading a couple of sentences that were just pure poetry.  Still, not worth the read.

Lautreamont says, "Do not be hard on one who has but tried out his lyre.  It gives forth so strange a sound."  Love the line, hate the author.  Is that too harsh?

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Salvador Dali illustrated one edition of the book.

UP NEXT: Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope.  Why does The List keep forcing me to read random books in a series??  Obviously if I am obsessive enough to follow this list in the first place I am going to have a problem going out of order.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

141. The Idiot

The Idiot
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
1868-1869
Around 600 pages












In the Harry Potter books, the character Ron Weasley mentions a magical book that you can never stop reading, so you just have to go around trying to do everything with one hand.  This is how I felt about The Idiot.  I was incapable of doing anything else but reading this novel.  I managed to fit some vacuuming in, but that's about it.  Keep in mind this is a DOSTOYEVSKY novel, ladies and gentleman (that's singular because I don't think a man has ever commented on this site).

The Idiot, also known as Bitches Be Crazy, starts with a Russian prince arriving in St. Petersburg after being in Switzerland for years.  He is epileptic (finally an explanation for a nineteenth century illness) so most people assume he is an idiot.  He is also socially awkward, which doesn't help.  He is most quiet, except for when he rants about the evils of the Catholic Church.  Wait a second...is this my biography?

I'll revisit that later.  Anyway, he becomes captivated by the very beautiful Nastassya Filippovna.  In addition to being pretty insane, she is also involved with several other men.  He also bonds with the Yepanchin family, particularly the youngest daughter Aglaya.  Aglaya is also kind of an unpredictable nightmare.  So is her mother.  Did Dostoyevsky ever speak to a woman in his life?

Still, that didn't ruin it for me.  I absolutely loved the prince and felt personally insulted when someone was mean to him.  Even the most minor characters had interesting personalities.  The ending left me absolutely shocked.

An author hasn't redeemed himself so well since David Copperfield.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Akira Kurosawa adapted this into a film.  Yes, please.  I need this NOW.

UP NEXT: Maldoror by Comte de Lautreaumont.  What?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

138. Therese Raquin

Therese Raquin
Emile Zola
1867
Around 200 pages










What a relief that this novel was only 200 pages, after trudging through The Last Chronicle of Barset for over three weeks.  Our next novel, Dostoevsky's The Idiot, is around 650 pages, so I might have to take a break with some Atwood.  Anyway, this was an absolutely fantastic novel and I am eager to see what else Zola has to offer.

I am hesitant to disclose any details of the plot, since it all seems like spoilers.  Suffice to say, Therese is in a very unhappy marriage with her sickly cousin Camille (yes, this is a man).  She meets Camille's new friend, Laurent, and begins a heated affair.  The two lovers must decide how far they are willing to go to be together.

I found this story pretty fascinating, albeit a bit predictable.  I loved the idea that Therese was content with her existence until she started to read novels that opened up new doors for her.  I wonder if I would be happier without novels?  I shudder at the thought.  Without giving too much away, the entire plot made me wonder: would this scenario actually happen or is it only happening because the reader needs it to happen?  I wish I could make myself clearer.  Damn the no spoiler rule that I made up and only I enforce.

Overall, a great read.  Sorry for the vagueness.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Adapted into a play by Zola.  Also adapted into an opera and a musical.

Louis Ulbach, a critic, called the novel "putrid".

UP NEXT: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Ugh.


Friday, March 20, 2015

137. The Last Chronicle of Barset

The Last Chronicle of Barset
Anthony Trollope
1867
Around 860 pages









This the last novel in the series The Chronicles of Barsetshire.  The fact that I didn't read the rest of the series before reading this book goes against everything everything I stand for.  Okay, that might be an exaggeration but it is certainly not something that I like to do.  However, considering that this book alone is 860 pages, I figured I could make an exception.

Mr. Crawley is a clergyman who is accused of stealing a "cheque" for twenty pounds.  Apparently, he is slightly insane so we are supposed to consider it a great pity that he would be tried like a normal person.  Anyway, Mr. Crawley's daughter, Grace, is loved by Henry Grantly.  Henry's father doesn't want him to marry Grace because of the shame that her father has brought on the Crawley family.  Grace's friend, Lily Dale, is loved by John Eames, but she still carries a torch for a man who jilted her at the altar.  They are other subplots, of course.  How else could it be that many pages??  Can you tell I get over how long this novel was?

Trollope himself said that he found the premise to be rather dubious (that Crawley would simply "forget" how twenty pounds came into his possession).  I certainly wish that the Crawley storyline could have been shortened.  I would have liked to spend more time with Miss Demolines or Mrs. Broughton, both of whom I thought were hilarious.  And for such an elongated storyline to have such a simple conclusion seemed pretty silly.

We also get the perfect, pious, filial, beautiful woman in Grace Crawley that I am always complaining about.  At least Lily Dale had a few more opinions.

Still, I really liked this book.  It was extremely well written and I was never truly bored, which is quite a feat in a novel of this size.  Has anybody read the full series?  Thoughts?

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Favorite of Anthony Trollope's.

Last in a series of six books.

UP NEXT: Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

136. Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Jules Verne
1864
Around 230 pages

Well, this book was a huge disappointment.  I was imagining some great adventure and all I really got was about two hundred pages of walking in caves.  It was like the part of Lord of the Rings that everybody hates when Frodo and Sam are walking, and then they keep walking, and then they walk some more.  Please have some mercy on us.

Let's start with the characters.  The Professor insists on taking his nephew, Axel, on this journey, even though the journey will be extremely dangerous and Axel doesn't want to go.  In fact, the persistence of the Professor is quite disturbing at times, especially when Axel is on the brink of death during multiple moments during the novel.  Not to mention the fact that the Professor is extremely cranky all the time.  It is hard to feel too sorry for Axel, though, since he is one of the whiniest characters you will ever meet.  Every once in awhile he would declare that he was dying, seemingly just for attention.  Finally, there is their Icelandic guide, Hans, who they pretty much treat as a dog throughout the entire novel.  In fact, when you are reading this, pretend that Hans is a dog.  I promise the story still makes sense.

I was expecting a kind of Alice in Wonderland sort of adventure but nothing at all happens in this novel.  At one point, it looks like they are being attacked by animals but it turns out that it was just a dream.  A total bore.

Interesting Facts:

In some of the English language versions, Axel's name was changed to Henry, Lidenbrock's name was changed to Hardwigg, and Grauben's name was changed to Gretchen.

Trailer for the latest adaptation:
UP NEXT: The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

Monday, February 2, 2015

135. Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky
1866
Around 570 pages












This is the first book that I have actually listened to on audio CDs.  It took me a few months, but I managed to listen to the entire thing during my commute.  It was a bit of a chore to sit through, so I imagine that it would have taken me that long even if I had read it.

Raskolnikov or, as I call him, The Whiniest Literary Character of All Time, kills a cruel pawnbroker and her sister.  The character that is subjected to his whining and guilt the most, besides the reader, is Sonya, a prostitute with a heart of gold.

Man, this book was a snore.  I have thoroughly enjoyed other Dostoevsky novels, so I don't know why this one was so hard for me to swallow.  Maybe it is because not enough happened in this novel.   Most of the plot was focused on one of the first scenes and that can get tiring really quickly.  It was much more interesting to read about the crime and ultimate punishment in The Brothers Karamazov.  At least that novel kept moving forward.

I don't know what my crime was, but I was certainly punished with this novel.  I'll be here all week, folks.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Woody Allen's 2005 Matchpoint is roughly based on this novel.

There are over 25 film adaptations of this novel.

UP NEXT: Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne.  This is a short novel, so I hopefully I will back by sometime next week.

134. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
1865
Around 120 pages










Finally, there isn't a two month break between posts since I have already read this and the next novel, Crime and Punishment.  I am hoping to get both these posts out by tonight to make up for my absence lately.  Now onto a story we are all familiar with.

Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a strange world with many memorable characters, like the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, and the Cheshire Cat.  Math puns ensue.

I have never been a huge fan of any form of art that is considered "trippy" whether it be a book, a Pink Floyd album, or a Dali film.  However, even I have to admit that this is a great children's novel. Just like with Water-Babies, it was interesting exploring children's literature as an adult.  It almost made me want to follow the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Die, but I think if I did that my family would have to host an intervention.

I would recommend reading this novel, even if you read it when you were a kid, since there will certainly be things you catch that you didn't appreciate the first time around.  If you are like me, there will still be things you don't get and then you will have to get your older brother to explain bases.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Part of the literary nonsense genre.

Trailer for Disney version:
Trailer for the newest Tim Burton version.  I have a suspicion that I would absolutely hate this.  Thoughts?
UP NEXT: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Brace yourselves.

133. Our Mutual Friend

Our Mutual Friend
Charles Dickens
1865
Around 900 pages














There were days where I simply couldn't will myself to pick up this book and days where I couldn't put it down.  Perhaps it was because of the sheer size, but this is one of the hardest books I have ever had to get through that I actually enjoyed.

A body is found in the Thames River and is identified as John Harmon.  Harmon was to inherit the estate of a rich old miser on the condition that he marry Bella Wilfer.  However, because of his death, the miser's estate goes to the Boffins, a quintessential example of a good, poor couple.  The Boffins decide to take in Bella, since she no longer has a fiancĂ©.  I actually Bella to be one of the most insufferable Dickens characters ever.  The way she talked to her father was just plain nauseating.

Several parts of this novel had me laughing out loud.  I loved the Lammles, a manipulative young couple who were reminiscent of the Thenardiers in Les Miserables.  Silas Wegg, an old man who attempts to blackmail the Boffins, also repeatedly made me chuckle.  However, I can't completely make this post a rave.  For one thing, I found some of the plot twists to be absolutely absurd and kind of hindered my enjoyment of the novel, since they caused quite a few continuity issues.  This book is also insanely long.  After all this time, Dickens still doesn't know when to shut up.

Our Mutual Friend is our last Dickens novel!  Although I wished for this moment to come many times (mostly while I was reading A Tale of Two Cities) I am really going to miss reading his novels. Oh well.  I still have a few tucked away that I can experience for the first time.  I mean, how can a book titled Barnaby Rudge be bad?

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Referenced many times in the tv show Lost.

The characters were heavily criticized by Henry James.

Trailer for the BBC version:

UP NEXT: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll