WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (8)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (8)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I feel like I haven’t done much reading in the last month because I’ve been moving to my student house, so the only steady book I’ve been reading is Middlemarch by George Eliot.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

I read War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Wise Children by Angela Carter and Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, in preparation for my next year at university. This month, I also had 2 new books sent to me to read: Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery by Jem Bloomfield and Weave A Murderous Web by Anne-Rothman Hicks. I also read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon – a short Stephen King novel in the midst of moving stresses.

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

As usual, I have no idea, but I hope I pick up some more books in a genre I’ll really enjoy, like horrors or thrillers.


– Judith

Advertisements

Read and Review: The Phantom of the Opera

Read and Review: The Phantom of the Opera
  • Title: The Phantom of the Opera / Le Fantôme de l’Opéra
  • Author: Gaston Leroux
  • Published: 1910

My Photo [The Phantom of the Opera]

The Phantom of the Opera*, a story perhaps best known through the stage adaptation, was originally a Gothic horror novel. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is the name given to a man living secretly below the Paris Opera House. One is not entirely sure if he is man or ghost – or something much worse. He becomes captivated by the sound of Christine Daaé’s beautiful singing, develops an obsessive love for her, and kidnaps her, leading to a series of horrific events.

*I mentioned The Phantom of the Opera about a year ago on my blog, and now I’ve finally read it!

I liked reading this book; it was genuinely thrilling and had some truly scary moments, which I hadn’t anticipated because of how tame the kidnapping plot in the 2004 film adaptation is. There is palpable danger and tension throughout, due to the Phantom’s cruel and malignant hold over the Opera House.

My favourite character is – and probably always will be – Raoul simply because I liked him in the film adaptation.

In the novel however, what I enjoyed was the development of his and Christine’s romance from childhood sweethearts to adults in love. I shared in his frustration and upset that Christine was already ‘pledged’ away to the ‘Phantom’ and there was not much he could do to rescue her from this. Raoul’s helplessness as the heroic figure was especially emphasised in the torture scenes, where he and Christine are separated and suffering separately in different ways. This was a nice subversion of the “damsel in distress” convention.

Whilst on the subject of torture, I liked how Leroux unashamedly introduced taboo subjects such as death, torture, violence, and suicide because this added to the Gothic and horrific tone of the book.

Yet for me, where The Phantom of the Opera fell slightly in my esteem was its use of both a prologue and an epilogue.

I didn’t read the prologue, so as to leave the plot as mysterious as possible for myself (which worked well!). On skim-reading it in preparation for this review however, my issue with the prologue is the same as the epilogue; it ties up questions about the ‘Phantom’ instantly – who he really is, what he really is, and where he came from.

I much preferred seeing the ‘Phantom’ as a liminal figure who could be both man or ghost – once his presence is rationalised and his true self revealed, I felt this removed some of the horror*.

**It’s rather like seeing a magic trick performed behind the scenes, then watching the same trick being performed; something has been lost.

Furthermore, because of the prologue and epilogue, the book is written as if a true account by Leroux and thus there are a few passages of letter-reading and the inclusion of administrative documents, which is not the most dynamic way of introducing new information.

All in all, I much enjoyed reading The Phantom of the Opera, and it was nice to finally read the story on which many musicals and films have been based.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

Read and Review: Sons and Lovers

Read and Review: Sons and Lovers
  • Title: Sons and Lovers
  • Author: D.H. Lawrence
  • Published: 1913

Sons and Lovers is a story which ‘concerns childhood and adolescence and all that go with them, including fear, shame, self‑consciousness, emotional hypersensitivity, sexual awakening’ (Morrison, 2013).

The book focuses upon Mrs Morel, and her youngest son Paul, as well as the relationships he has with two different women in the town: Miriam and Clara. Paul and his mother have an intensely close relationship, and the two behave as lovers – hence the title – which then has an impact on the way Paul sees the world and forms relationships with others.

Sons and Lovers has Lawrence’s clear imprint upon it; the use of Nottinghamshire dialect, characters from a working-class background, the setting of a mining town, and touching on themes such as class, gender, and sexuality.

Yet despite Lawrence’s clear coverage of Paul’s Oedipus Complex*, I found Sons and Lovers less sexually explicit than Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was a relief!

*Oedipus Complex: A theory that the unconscious mind desires sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex (e.g. sons being sexually attracted to their mothers)

Another difference between Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Sons and Lovers is that in Sons and Lovers, the novel follows the daily life of Mrs Morel and her family over a period of time and, well, that’s about it. As Paul flitted between Miriam, Clara, and Mrs Morel, I never got the impression that the action was building to anything. Thus, when the book ended, it just ended.

Furthermore, for a book which frequently refers to the gender inequalities between men and women, the portrayal of women in Sons and Lovers was not a positive one. It’s clear Paul uses his relationships with Miriam and Clara to satisfy his physical needs and not much else.  Miriam regularly speaks of her desire not to be held back in life because she is a woman, yet spends her entire time moping around the non-committal Paul, only ever seeing her future in relation to his. We are told Clara is a suffragist, yet scenes of Clara expressing her feminist beliefs are omitted, and instead we are provided more details of Clara’s clinging to Paul.

I can understand why Sons and Lovers has received high praise from readers and critics alike; Lawrence’s writing is good, and his descriptions are detailed and lifelike. The theme of incestuous love between mother and son is certainly one most writers would steer well clear of, but Lawrence tackles it in an interesting way.

Morrison writes that ‘For those new to his [that is, Lawrence’s] work, Sons and Lovers is the place to start.’ (The Guardian, 2013).

Whilst I disagree with this, I can’t deny that I enjoy Lawrence’s writing, and there is no doubt in my mind that I will read more of his novels in future.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (7)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (7)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I have 3 novels on the go currently; Wise Children by Angela Carter, Middlemarch by George Eliot, and Dreamcatcher by Stephen King.

2. What did you recently finish reading?

Last month, I was in a reading slump and hadn’t read much at all. This month has been the exact opposite!

I’ve read:

  • [re-read] Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
  • Painted by Kirsten McKenzie
  • Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
  • Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  • The Teacher by Katerina Diamond
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • Thinner by Richard Bachman / Stephen King

When I get going, I think my reading average is roughly 3 books a week!

I’m working on writing and posting book reviews for most of these books; the benefit of reading a lot not only means I can cross more books off my Goodreads list but I can generate more blog content!

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

I have no idea! I’ve been reading quite an eclectic mix of books at the minute, so I could pick up absolutely anything.


– Judith

Read and Review: Swallows and Amazons

Read and Review: Swallows and Amazons
  • Title: Swallows and Amazons
  • Author: Arthur Ransome
  • Published: 1930

Swallows and Amazons follows the lives of John, Susan, Titty and Roger Walker as they stay at a farm near a lake in the Lake District during the school holidays. They borrow a boat named Swallow to go sailing and make a camp on a nearby island. Soon, they find themselves under attack from the fierce Amazon pirates [also known to some as Ruth and Peggy Blackett], who sail a boat named Amazon. The two groups of children have many outdoor adventures, including sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and general piracy.

I really enjoyed this book. Swallows and Amazons is just a good, a heart-warming, children’s adventure story, in a similar league to other popular children’s series such as Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books (which I loved as a girl).

The children explore an island, forage for supplies, engage in a pirate “battle”, and learn about some buried pirate treasure.

Ransome’s writing style is witty, and this subtle humour permeates the narration and added to my enjoyment of the novel. His characters, although children, use sarcasm and sharp wit within their dialogue and this is brilliant.

When I started Swallows and Amazons, I was a little wary of, in a story set in the 30s, the 2 boys and 2 girls falling into simple and constrictive gender stereotypes. However, I was pleasantly proved wrong. Whilst Susan, as the eldest girl, is mostly responsible for the cooking*, all the other roles and responsibilities – such as tidying, fishing, sailing, washing up – are shared by the children as best they can. This is only amplified when the “pirates” Ruth (who’s pirate name is Nancy) and Peggy appear on the island, proving that little girls can be just as adventurous and pirate-like as little boys.

*Inner housewife moment: I actually really love the little details Ransome includes of the meals Susan prepares, the way the tents are made homely, and all the little supplies the children need. This was one of my favourite parts of the Famous Five series too, when Anne takes on the role of cook and homemaker.

I think my favourite thing about Swallows and Amazons is that, in Ransome’s narration, he takes the children seriously and never belittles their imaginative minds and games. For example, John Walker is not John Walker, he is Captain. The local village is not just a local village, they are savage natives.

This, I think, is the charm of older children’s books – from authors like Ransome, Blyton, and C.S. Lewis for example –  in contrast to children’s fiction nowadays. Yes, the childlike essence of the story naturally appeals to his primary audience of children, but the writing style, characters and plot are also incredibly enjoyable for older readers too, which I think modern children’s fiction lacks – it is written specifically with a 7 year old in mind, and no-one else.**

**Feel free to challenge me on this, this is my own experience: The modern children’s books I read when I was a 7 year old I’d never read again. The books that do stick in my mind as a 7 year old and I would read again are classics such as the Famous Five series, the Chronicles of Narnia series, The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women, and so on.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Swallows and Amazons and read it in just a few days. There are 11 more books in this series, that I will probably / most definitely read in the future.

If you didn’t read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it.

If you did read this book as a child, I encourage you to read it again.

***

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this review, please click ‘Like’ and don’t forget to ‘Follow’ for more book reviews.

– Judith

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (6)

WWW Wednesdays: What Am I Reading? (6)

WWW Wednesdays is a weekly meme that is hosted by Taking on a World of Words. The “rules” are simple – answer the 3 questions below:


1. What are you currently reading?

I’m not reading any novels at the minute!

2. What did you recently finish reading?

I recently finished Desperation by Stephen King; this one has taken me longer to get through – not because it’s not an enjoyable novel or a particularly long one, I’ve just been in a bit of a reading slump recently. I also read Humble Pie, Gordon Ramsay’s autobiography.

3. What do you think you’ll read next?

At this rate, as long as I read something I’ll be happy. I was recently gifted Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome, so that will be the next book I try and read.


I apologise for such a short WWW update; hopefully I get out of this reading slump soon!

– Judith

Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Themes in: D.H. Lawrence’s Short Stories

Image via blogs.nottingham.ac.uk.

This post was written in advance, and is also the penultimate blog post on themes (for the time being).

I’m going to talk about the themes of war, class and gender and how these overlap across  England, My England, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, and Monkey Nuts – three short stories by the Nottinghamshire writer D.H. Lawrence.

Class

In Monkey Nuts, Joe, a young soldier, and Albert, Joe’s corporal have come back from the war and work together unloading hay. There are close, and unified in their working-class status; despite Albert being Joe’s corporal, Joe ‘never thought of [him]… as a master’. This closeness, whilst interpreted as some as brotherly affection, has led to others interpreting the relationship between Albert and Joe as homoerotic.* Nonetheless, this intense relationship which has flourished, regardless of social status, suggests how war was helped to somewhat break down the class system in Britain.

*There are further nods to this as the two live together and even share a bed.

In contrast, The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter presents the relationship between people of differing classes completely differently. Firstly, the classes are geographically separate – Jack, a doctor, lives atop a hill in the village, whereas the working-class homes are below him in the valley, providing a clear metaphor that the working-class are also “below” him in all ways. Secondly, Jack finds visiting the working-class homes to treat the sick ‘stimulation’ for his mind. Free indirect discourse provides access to Jack’s thoughts; he thinks working-class are ‘emotional’, providing an interesting break from his own rational mind. The view that the middle-class are logical and intelligent, whereas the working-class are merely bumbling, emotional and a little odd is clearly discriminatory.**

**The fact that a working-class woman later throws herself in a pond probably doesn’t help matters.

War

England, My England is a story mostly focused on the theme of war. Evelyn is a middle-class man who joins the army, seemingly for something to curb his idleness and boredom – another suggestion that working-class lifestyle and labour is merely a “holiday” for someone belonging to a higher class. However, despite his wife’s enthusiasm and the general atmosphere of patriotism and excitement, Evelyn doesn’t share others’ favouritism of England, and is continuously upfront about what he’s going to do. A key sentence is ‘The distinction between German and English was not for him the distinction between good and bad’. This sentence is significant when context is considered. Lawrence was English, but his wife was German. As a result, Lawrence experienced lots of anti-German animosity because of his wife and was heavily critical of British propaganda. Lawrence saw war for what it was, and is: killing, and however, unsavoury that sounds, that’s the truth.

War is also a theme in Monkey Nuts. As previously mentioned, Joe and Albert are ex-soldiers, and work together unloading hay. Miss Stokes, a land-girl, passes them each day. This mix of both men and women in a working environment highlights how the war not only helped to partially erode class boundaries, but gender boundaries too.***

***If this was a history-themed blog, I could talk at length about women’s work in war and the women’s movement thanks to my History A Level, but it isn’t, so I won’t.

Gender

Following on from this, Miss Stokes is attracted to Joe and manages to hold power over him in such a way that she begins trying to start a relationship with him. However, she ignores his lack of interest and desire to be with her, and he is subsequently pressured into seeing her. This is a subversion of gender stereotypes, as it would be more common for a man to initiate the process of courtship a woman.

Similarly, in The Horse-Dealer’s Daughter, Mabel (the working-class woman mentioned earlier) is rescued from the pond by Jack. He resuscitates her, takes her to his home and lies her by the fire and fetches dry clothes for her. Upon waking, Mabel interprets his life-saving actions as a declaration of his love for her. She begins to urgently repeat, chant and insists to him that ‘You love me’. Again, through free indirect discourse, we learn that Jack is categorically not in love with her, he merely saved her life as his duty as doctor. He is shocked at Mabel’s increasingly affectionate actions, such as kissing and embracing him. This increasingly predatory behaviour causes Jack to admit that he does indeed love her, so as not to upset the emotionally fragile Mabel.

In these two different stories, Lawrence has created female characters who initiate romantic behaviour, regardless of whether the men want it or not. I find this incredibly interesting, although I am not certain as to the reason behind this choice. It strikes me as a subversion – perhaps to emphasis to a male readership how truly horrible sexual assault and/or unwanted advances are, perhaps for another reason entirely.

***

Thank you for reading this blog post! Those are my summarised thoughts on the three stories.

I hope you enjoyed it – please click ‘Like’ if you did, or leave some feedback in a comment below.

– Judith