Wednesday, November 21, 2018

185. The People of Hemso

The People of Hemso
August Strindberg
1887
Around 200 pages












I had to reread my review of The Red Room, as I did not recall a single detail about that novel, except that it was written by Strindberg and I didn't like it (young Amanda sounded much less cranky). Anyway, this novel was just as bad and hopefully just as forgettable.

A man named Carlsson arrives at a sleepy little farming and fishing village in Sweden. He "helps" a widow and her son to revitalize their farm but is distrusted by most of the village for being an outsider. Rightfully so, because he is kind of a jack ass. Think Bel-Ami, but worse in every way.

It's been awhile since we have had a list book that is so painfully boring; even the ones I have disliked recently have offered some intrigue. The most interesting thing that happens in this novel is that they catch a seal, but the characters themselves downplay the event by declaring they would rather have herring instead.

I read that Strindberg wrote this novel because he was homesick and living abroad in Germany and France. You would think something born out of that longing would make the location sound a bit more appealing. I expected to fall in love with this village; even Zola made the village in Germinal sound charming in its own way. But I couldn't wait to leave Hemso and never return.

In the end, I hate Strindberg as much as Strindberg hates women. So at least our feelings are reciprocated.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The island of Hemso is based on Kymmendo, where Strindberg grew up.

UP NEXT: Fortunata y Jacinta by Benito Perez Galdos. Obscure and over 800 pages...I might be awhile on this one.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

184. The Woodlanders

The Woodlanders
Thomas Hardy
1887
Around 400 pages












I have a theory that it is nearly impossible to dislike a story with a character named Giles Winterborne. Throw in Edred Fitzpiers and the novel just writes itself.

Grace Melbury was given the finest education, because her father didn't understand a literary reference once and it really embarrassed him. She returns to Little Hintock and expects to marry her childhood sweetheart, the aforementioned Giles. However, both she and her father start to feel like Giles would be beneath her (I mean, she got furnish polisher on her dress during a party at his house for goodness sake). Her father thinks a better match would be Fitzpiers, a handsome doctor with a wandering eye. Well...it's a Hardy novel, so you can tell this isn't going to end well.

Hardy's novels are all pretty similar. There is the "good" woman who is almost or sometimes completely "ruined" by a bad man. There is the "bad" woman who is somewhat free with their affections, let's say. And there is the hardworking yeoman who we all know should get the girl, but has to defeat some foppish dandy first. Despite the formula, I really enjoyed this. He's a gentle writer who lays the groundwork for twists and turns with enough subtlety that you don't realize what's going to happen.

It's always interesting to observe the absolute mania during this time over who is sleeping with whom and what impact that would have on your marriage prospects, with the marriages themselves being essentially life sentences. Our lives really get better once men butt out of our choices, don't they?

Anyway, another delightful Hardy novel and the last one for me, since I've already read Jude the Obscure and Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Definitely recommended.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Hardy considered this his best novel.

Trailer from YouTube. Minor spoilers so beware, but it might enhance your reading experience to picture this guy as Giles:



UP NEXT: The People of Hemso by August Strindberg. Oh no, not this guy again.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

183. She

She
H. Rider Haggard
1886
Around 300 pages










Well Victorian anxieties toward women have really reached a fever pitch with this novel and I have to say, I am not sorry that this is the last Haggard novel on the List. We will just have to get our racism from other sources now, like Burroughs or Kipling.

An extraordinarily ugly man named Horace Holly is entrusted with his colleague's five-year-old son, Leo. Holly promises his dying colleague that he will not only look after his son like he was his own, but will also give Leo a mysterious iron box when he turns 25. Twenty years later, Leo is a total hottie and ready to open the box. I won't spoil the contents of the box, but suffice to say, Leo, Holly, and their servant Job are soon thrown into a Haggard-y adventure, complete with cannibalistic natives and hungry lions.

The She in the title refers to She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, a 2000-year-old whose main power is extreme hotness. Her beauty is almost treated as a crime against men, forcing them to submit to her will. In fact, just about every despicable act committed by men in this novel is blamed on women (so what else is new?). As I always, I try to refrain from spoilers, but it's hard not to read this story as a cautionary tale about what happens when women are in power.  Of course, there is no denying the influence that She had on future, better characters, like Jadis the White Witch and Galadriel.

Once again, all non white people are treated with contempt and condescension. The best that can be said is that this more a case of classism than traditional racism, as their white servant Job could have been a dog for all the difference it made in the plot.

In any case, the story does contain many exciting bits; who doesn't love a battle between a crocodile and a lion? Still, it is ultimately skippable.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

According to Haggard's daughter, the name "She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed" came from a doll that Haggard was terrified of as a boy. Apparently, his nurse used the doll to scare the children she was in charge of. Can we hear that story instead?

Has never been out of print.

UP NEXT: The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. The last Hardy novel on the List. That makes me sad.

182. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson
1886
Around 150 pages








I quickly devoured the horror novels on the List, as there aren't that many to begin with. This is one of those stories that people are so familiar with they don't bother to read anymore. This is a shame, because it is actually quite an enjoyable novel.

After the evil-looking Mr. Hyde tramples a young girl, he gets Dr. Jekyll, a respectable, cultured man, to pay for the damages. Dr. Jekyll also alters his will so Mr. Hyde will be the sole beneficiary. Gabriel Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's lawyer, suspects that Mr. Hyde is blackmailing poor Dr. Jekyll and decides to get to the bottom of the issue.

Like I said, people don't really bother to read this story anymore, so there is a fundamental misunderstanding about its plot. I think most people believe that Mr. Hyde was the product of an experiment gone awry, like the Green Goblin or The Hulk. But Mr. Hyde was actually the desired outcome of the serum: he would allow Dr. Jekyll to indulge all his heavily repressed urges without suffering the pangs of a guilty conscience. Dr. Jekyll is completely aware of how he behaves as Hyde. For me, this makes the story much more complex and provides an interesting commentary on the Victorian culture of repression.

So read this novella and you too can feel superior.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The idea for this novella is said to come from a dream Stevenson had. And a ton of cocaine.

UP NEXT: She by H. Rider Haggard. More politically incorrect adventures!

Monday, August 27, 2018

181. The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge
Thomas Hardy
1886









I have just returned from a trip to Scotland and England. This next confession might cause me to level up in nerd, but every time I travel, I try to bring books that take place at my destination. This was very easy to do on this trip, as 99% of the books on The List are British. On this trip, I read Rebecca, Trainspotting, Master of Ballantrae, and, of course, The Mayor of Casterbridge. While I liked them all, The Mayor of Casterbridge may have been my favorite.

21-year-old hay trusser Michael Henchard arrives in Casterbridge with his wife Susan and his young daughter Elizabeth-Jane. He soon gets drunk on furmity laced with rum and auctions off his wife and child to a sailor, Richard Newson, for five guineas. When he sobers up, they are gone and he, naturally, blames Susan for taking him seriously in the first place. God being a woman sucks in these books. Anyway, fast forward some years and Susan returns to Casterbridge to look for her first husband.  Michael has accumulated some secrets in her absence and Susan has a few bombs to drop as well.

My friend and travel companion read the description for this book, glanced at the cover, and said she had never seen a more boring-looking novel. But I just couldn't find this story dull, as it possessed so many twists and turns. Of course, it is Hardy so I knew that we were generally moving in a sad direction, but I still gasped a few times and let out an involuntary "Daniel! NO!" What can I say? I was team Elizabeth-Jane.

Hardy's writing is so distinctly English that it is easy to settle yourself immediately into the world he creates, even if you don't happen to be visiting the UK while you read it. Only one more Hardy to go!

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Casterbridge was based on Hardy's hometown of Dorchester.

UP NEXT: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I got the order messed up and already wrote this post, so expect it shortly!

Monday, July 9, 2018

180. Kidnapped

Kidnapped
Robert Louis Stevenson
1886
Around 350 pages












Stevenson presents us with another fun adventure novel. While I am not entirely convinced that it was necessary for the Listmakers to include both Treasure Island and Kidnapped (I would have nixed Treasure Island), this was still an entertaining read.

David Balfour, a 17-year-old orphan, travels to the House of Shaws in Cramond to see his Uncle Ebenezer. His uncle is a miserly and paranoid. After staying with him a few days, David begins to suspect that his father was actually older than Ebenezer, making him the true heir of the family fortune. After narrowly escaping a booby trap set up by Ebenezer, David agrees to accompany Ebenezer alone to a pier and, predictably, is kidnapped by the captain of a ship. Oh, David. I think his uncle's name should have been a tip off.

Given the title of the novel and the extraordinary stupidity of the protagonist, you spend the beginning of this novel wondering when the adventure will actually begin. Once David is onboard the Covenant (another cursed name), things really start to pick up. I loved his relationship with Alan Stewart, and historical information very interesting (my previous knowledge of Scottish nationalism is entirely Mel Gibson-based).

So yet another fun, breezy novel. Our lightheartedness is reaching an end, however, as Hardy looms before us.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Inspired by the real life Appin murder and the James Annesley case.

UP NEXT: The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. I think we are just bouncing between Thomas Hardy, H. Rider Haggard, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Which is kind of all right with me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

179. King Solomon's Mines

King Solomon's Mines
H. Rider Haggard
1885
Around 250 pages










This book is dedicated "to all the big and little boys who read it." Tentatively, I kept reading, fearing at every turn that my vagina would prevent me from understanding the story. Thankfully, despite the burden of my female genitals, I was still able to enjoy this novel.

Allan Quartermain, a white hunter in Africa, is approached by Sir Henry Curtis and his friend Captain Good, who are searching for Curtis's brother. His brother was last seen hunting for King Solomon's lost mines. Quartermain agrees, as long as it gets a share of the treasure (should they find anything) or his son is provided a stipend (should he be killed along the way). Your son would probably rather you be alive and present in his life rather than sliced in half by an elephant (even if it did come with a cash prize) but whatever. Manliness and whatnot.  Let the adventure and political incorrectness begin!

Oof. Well, there are obviously plenty of cringeworthy moments in this novel. Quartermain's meditations on the impossibility of racial mixing are particularly uncomfortable. But, as The Book points out, his views are actually not quite as horrifying as they could have been. He does have some amount of respect for the cultures he is observing and there are POC who are not portrayed as completely amoral savages (although we get plenty of those as well). Of course, it's unfair to judge his writings based on 21st century ethics, but that's never stopped me before.

This was still, in many ways, a thrilling adventure. I did feel slightly resentful of Haggard when he would frequently write something along the lines of "I will leave it to the reader's imagination." Dude, that's just lazy. However, it was still a nice break from some of the other books on The List, that don't seem to leave the main character's drawing room. Because of its influence, it deserves its place on the List.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Haggard wrote the novel as part of a wager with his brother, who said he couldn't write a novel as good as Treasure Island.

Started the "Lost World" genre.

Quartermain was one of the inspirations behind Indiana Jones.

UP NEXT: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I've already read this one, so expect a review soon!

Monday, April 9, 2018

178. Germinal

Germinal
Emile Zola
1885
Around 550 pages








Old Amanda would have had a stroke over my new reading style. First I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without having read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Now I have read books seven, nine, and thirteen out of Zola's Les Rougon-Macquart series. Clearly, I am much more easy going than I was before. *returns to book list I've been obsessively following for eight years*

Germinal tells the story of Etienne, who you may remember as Nana's brother. He is starving and desperate for work, because no one can be happy in Zola's novels. He arrives at Montsou, a bleak mining town, and finds employment as a mine cart pusher. He is almost immediately enamoured by Catherine, another mine worker (once he realizes she is not a boy; due to the poor health of the workers her body is really underdeveloped). Gradually, Etienne develops socialist ideas and leads the workers in a mine strike. Zola spends the rest of the novel outlining why these kind of strikes never work.

I think I read the novel in a much more pessimistic way than perhaps Zola intended. Even the title seems to imply a seed being sown for a better future, but based on the ending I'm a bit baffled by this. In any case, like in any Zola novel, the writing is excellent, the pacing is a bit slow, but the characters are so richly detailed I was reluctant to leave them.

Sidenote: Is it odd that I found the sex scene at the climax of the novel to be one of the most erotic scenes I've ever read? *crickets*

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

13th novel out of Zola's 20 novel series.

Title refers to a month in the French Republican Calendar.

UP NEXT: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard. I am fairly pumped.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

177. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
1884
Around 370 pages













Many people might have already read this in high school or middle school, but my school never assigned it, probably not trusting the students to handle the material...appropriately. A fair assessment, as I once overheard some kid say he was excited to wear his grandfather's robes at a local KKK meeting. Anyway, having never read any Mark Twain used to be my embarrassing literary secret. Now I can go back to being properly ashamed that I haven't the read The Trial yet.

Having never read Tom Sawyer, I had to take Huck's word for it at the beginning that they are had some crazy adventures together and had somehow ended up with a large amount of money. Huck begins the novel living with the Widow Douglas, who promises to make him "sivilized." Or the South version of civilized in any case. Huck's alcoholic and abusive father kidnaps him once he learns that Huck has some money and takes him to an isolated cabin. Huck is able to escape by faking his own death and meets up with Jim, an escaped slave who is trying to get to Cairo, Illinois, to buy his family's freedom. The two bond and have adventures together. I would like to read a version where things get a little steamier between them, but we must work with what we have.

I have heard this called the American Don Quixote. This, to me, is an insult both to Cervantes and American literature as a whole. If anyone said this in my presence, as a proper gentleman, I would have no choice but to challenge them to an arm wrestling contest. I just found this novel extremely hard to get through. For one thing, the racial content, while progressive for its time, is slightly nauseating. I also found the dialect really difficult to wade through. I completely understand why Twain did this; there is no way we would have gotten a grasp of Huck's character if the book had been written in the King's English. Still, I legitimately had a harder time deciphering this than I do with Shakespeare.

That being said, there were a few laugh out loud moments. Huck was definitely an intriguing character who was extremely intelligent (discounting his inability to ever remember his aliases) but denied an education.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Different adaptations of replaced all instances of the word "nigger" with "hipster" or "robot." Way to solve racism guys!

Ernest Hemingway praised the novel, but criticized the ending for "cheating."

UP NEXT: Germinal by Emile Zola. I have already read this one, so expect a review up in the next couple of weeks!