Book Review: Something Fresh

Image via BBC.

“Old man absentmindedly steals scarab beetle. Misunderstandings ensue.”

Something Fresh is the first in the Blandings series by PG Wodehouse. It is a well-crafted story that places a comical spin on the family affairs and romantic entanglements of the English upper class.

The characters all slot neatly together, which in turn creates great comedy, as there are many kept secrets and mistaken identities – it was like reading a modern Shakespeare comedy.

I asked my friend Sam, who lives and breathes PG Wodehouse (and also lent me his copy, nice) and created the witty synopsis above, to tell me why he likes him so much.

“It’s partly because of the innocence of the world which he’s created – it appeals to the romantic escapist in me – but also his masterful way with language is second to none. Light comedy has never had so much depth.” he explained.

I agree – Wodehouse’s narration is wonderfully witty; he makes reoccurring jokes, satirical commentary addressed directly to the reader or skilfully plays with the language. Subsequently, there are so many creative, quirky, and quotable sentences that I simply couldn’t write them all down.

I particularly liked the characters Joan Valentine and Ashe Marson. To see the pair’s growing friendship, growing rivalry, and growing affection was charming.

Also, I liked how strong and sassy Joan was – she directly criticises the notion of the damsel in distress used so often in novels and refuses to be given advantages simply because of her gender, insisting on being treated as Ashe’s equal. I especially liked the ending scenes between Joan and Ashe; I couldn’t stop smiling.

The ending to Something Fresh was neatly tied up which made such a nice change from modern books which, more often than not, request you read part two to find out what happens next. Sometimes, stories linked by the same characters and same settings, rather than the same narrative, can work just as well – if not better. Who knew.

I thoroughly enjoyed, and definitely recommend, Something Fresh. When can I read the sequel?

– Judith

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Book Review: Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery by Jem Bloomfield

From Amazon:

‘In Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery, Jem Bloomfield investigates the literary legend that the famous playwright left his mark on the Authorized Version. He delves into the historical, textual and literary evidence, showing that the story isn’t true – but that there are much more engrossing stories to be told about Shakespeare and the Bible.’

My Photo [Shakespeare and Bible]

I’m an English student at the University of Nottingham. Last year, I studied a module called Shakespeare’s Histories: Critical Approaches. Jem Bloomfield was one of the lecturers responsible for providing some thoroughly enjoyable lectures, talking to us about Shakespeare’s works, as well as the literary, historical and religious contexts.

One lecture that I particularly found interesting was exploring the intertextual links between Shakespeare’s plays such as Richard II and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and various editions of The Bible.

When Jem contacted me his year to ask if I wanted to read his new book, which explores potential links between the King James Bible and Shakespeare, needless to say, I was interested.

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery was a good, quick read. As Jem talks* you through a variety of literary, linguistic, and contextual evidence, it soon becomes clear religion and Early Modern Theatre are subjects he is passionate about.

*I say talks; the book captures Jem’s voice wonderfully as he debunks a myth I never even knew existed, recreating the feel of another engaging lecture.

The structure of the book is mostly clear. Jem discusses why the Psalm 46 myth is merely a myth, then moves on to answering questions such as why the legend even exists, and what attracts people to it. However, the only section that tripped me up was the chapter focused on Rudyard Kipling. I didn’t really understand this section, which was a shame, as I followed everything else quite easily.

Nonetheless, if you’d like to learn some interesting things about Shakespeare and the Bible, presented in an engaging and accessible way, I recommend Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

Shakespeare and the Psalms Mystery is available as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

– 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