Book Review: Middlemarch

Middlemarch is a book by George Eliot, set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch during 1829–32, following the lives of a huge range of characters.

From Wikipedia:

‘The narrative is variably considered to consist of three or four plots of unequal emphasis: the life of Dorothea Brooke; the career of Tertius Lydgate; the courtship of Mary Garth by Fred Vincy; and the disgrace of Bulstrode. The two main plots are those of Dorothea and Lydgate.’

Middlemarch addresses topics such as courtship and marriage, as well as politics and facing the prospect of unwelcome change as a community.

I enjoyed the beginning of Middlemarch; Eliot’s writing is witty and sarcastic, which is particularly noticeable when characters quip about the sexes.

“I don’t see how a man is to be good for much unless he has some one woman to love him dearly.”

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“We must not have you getting too learned for a woman, you know.”

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Middlemarch is not a romance, unlike Austen’s works for instance. Subsequently, Eliot’s characters are more realistic than Austen’s stereotypical romantic characters. The people in Middlemarch speak and behave like real people, in ways that Austen characters never did, making foolish choices which then impacted the plot.

Having said that, I didn’t actually enjoy many of the characters in Middlemarch, or their respective storylines. I liked seeing the life of Dorothea unfold, but I simply did not care for the seemingly endless chapters set in offices, reading about Lydgate and Bulstrode discussing various administrative duties.

As I got about halfway through the book, Middlemarch became much more of a challenge to read and complete – creating a similar experience to when I read Anna Karenina or War and Peace.

I was glad to finally finish Middlemarch but ultimately, I don’t think it was the right book for me.

– Judith

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Book Review: A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess set in a future English society where extreme youth violence is common.

‘He and his gang rampage through a dystopian future, hunting for terrible thrills.’

The book’s protagonist, Alex, narrates his violent exploits of and experiences with authorities who attempt to reform his behaviour.

As I first started reading A Clockwork Orange, I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it! While a short book, is written in unusual futuristic slang that I initially found hard to understand. This is the same barrier that I faced when reading Trainspotting.

However, the brain is a remarkable thing and adjusts to new styles of writing relatively quickly. Once I was accustomed to the language, the narrative was fairly easy to follow.

In another similarity with Trainspotting, Alex is a roguish protagonist who speaks directly to the audience through direct address – using phrases like ‘Your Humble Narrator’ – which creates a jovial tone, even while he describes the horrible things he’s seen, said and done.

The plot is filled with taboo acts and violence, and the attempts to correct Alex’s behaviour seem akin to experimentation on animals.

Alex’s acts of violence upon others are contrasted with the acts of “corrective” violence imposed upon him by the state, suggesting that within certain contexts, inflicting cruelty on others is acceptable or even advocated as the right thing to do.

The book also questions free will: If it were possible to eradicate someone’s free will to prevent them committing a crime, is that acceptable? Yet the removal of free will leaves the individual completely at risk of being controlled by another – another who may utilise this power for ill themselves.

I don’t think A Clockwork Orange answers these questions, and these are only my initial thoughts upon a first reading.

Hopefully, once I’ve explored some further analysis of the book, I’ll be able to look at these questions again.

 

– Judith

Book Review: The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Frforde, draws on a mix of genres, such as humour thriller, sci-fi, detective and fantasy. It tells the story of Thursday Next, a literary detective in an alternative 1985, where everyone is obsessed with literature. The real world and the “book world” overlap, quite literally bringing citizens’ favourite book characters to life, which is all fun and games… until Jane Eyre is kidnapped.

My favourite aspect of The Eyre Affair was its witty references to “pop” literature, such as the Dickens’ books – this reminded me of Dickensian, the BBC drama set within the fictional world of Dickens – or the Shakespeare/Marlowe conspiracy theory. At times, these references seemed a little heavy-handed, but I think this excess paid off, adding to the charm of the alternative reality.

I also appreciated how Thursday’s own narrative, in some ways, mirrored the narrative of Jane Eyre. This was a clever and well-executed idea, and I enjoyed the allusion to how Thursday’s intervention and “reconstruction” of Jane Eyre resulted in the Bronte story we know and love today.

Yet despite its title, The Eyre Affair took longer than expected to focus on its main plot, the Jane Eyre kidnapping.

A lot of time was spent building the world with at times clunky or (dare I say it) cheesy sci-fi abstract descriptions, and introducing characters who, to me, held no significant role in the narrative. Although world-building is a significant part of any series, I prefer books where this description and scene-setting is done more subtly, rather than a heavy exposition.

However, the time spent in The Eyre Affair background and character descriptions may reduce the level of exposition needed further down the line, and these characters may well be more significant in future books in the Thursday Next series, so I can’t complain too much.

Overall, despite my criticisms, I really enjoyed The Eyre Affair. Although he “relies” on existing texts and authors (to an extent) to construct his own story, he blends his own ideas and style with existing characters and texts well, and it was a fun, light-hearted read.

I’d love to read the rest of the Thursday Next series, as well as more books by Jasper Fforde, an author previously unknown to me.

– Judith