Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Monday, 17 July 2017

Indiana Gothic by Pope Brock (1999)

When Pope Brock discovered the truth behind the dramatic death of his great-grandfather, Ham Dillon, he travelled to Indiana to discover more about his family’s buried history. This is the extraordinary result.
A sweeping, powerful true story that reads like the best fiction, Indiana Gothic is the tale of two married sisters living in the poor, pious American midwest at the turn of the century. Bored, beautiful Allie falls in love with her sister’s charismatic husband and a reckless affair ensues. Encompassing adultery, scandal and a sensational murder trial, this is a haunting love story that echoes across the generations.

Author: Pope Brock was born in Atlanta, Georgia, raised primarily in Baltimore, and graduated from Harvard University in 1971. After training in New York as an actor, he became a freelance journalist, and has written for the American editions of Esquire, GQ, Rolling Stones, Life and several other magazines. Brock lives in New York, with his wife and has twin girls.

My thoughts: Indiana Gothic is an atmospheric and gripping read. This is a fictional novel based on true events that Brock re-created from a few surviving documents and a lot of imagination. It is the story of a family betrayal (adultery) that led to a murder in rural America of the early 20th century.

Allie and Maggie Thompson are two somewhat rival sisters. When they were young, they promised themselves never to marry farmers. They had a happy childhood in a good family. Allie married her teacher, Link Hale, and founded a family. Maggie married Albert Hamlet Dillon (aka Ham Dillon) and started a family. The two sisters lived far apart and, with time, the desire to get closer to each other, to create strong family ties, becomes stronger. So, Allie and her husband Link move to Elnora in Idaho. Ham, the brother-in-law, offers a teaching position to Link. Ham is pleasant and sophisticated. He is handsome, charismatic, educated and ambitious, qualities to which his sister-in-law, Allie, will soon succumb, the more so since she is locked in a joyless marriage to the depressive Link Hale.

These two are undeniably made for each other. They fall in love and have a passionate and long-lasting affair. All is well until the day the two lovers decide to have a baby. The baby is born sooner than expected, if Link was the father. He is different from his brothers and sisters. In addition, he was to be called Albert Hamlet Dillon (a name suggested by Ham during a family dinner). All of these factors gradually aroused the suspicions of Link, the cheated husband... The countdown to the murder, which takes place eighteen months later, has started...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lady with Lapdog & Other Stories by Anton Chekhov

Today, I wanted to suggest an author whom I adore. Although his stories are dramatic, he has a somewhat humorous way of writing that warms the heart: it is his great art. So my dear readers, I will be frequently posting little reviews of the short stories of Anton Chekhov. Here is the first episode.

The Chemist’s Wife by Anton Chekhov (1886)
The young wife of the chemist cannot sleep. Her husband Chernomordik snores. She gets bored and feels upset, oppressed.

In the night she hears the footsteps of two men, two officers approaching. It is the doctor and the young officer Obtiossov. Passing the chemist’s shop, they decide to go in, despite the late hour, because the chemist’s wife is to their liking.

They buy her mint lozenges and then Seltz water. They talk amiably, want wine. She drinks with them, she is cheerful and momentarily escapes her loneliness. They flatter her... It is getting late and they leave with regret.

Once in the street, Obtiossov returns to the store and rings the bell again, hoping perhaps to talk more with her or to pay her court... But it is her husband who comes to serve him. His wife was much attracted by the officer, but her husband was unaware.

And here is the chemist’s wife of this little town, who repeats with bitter tears “How unhappy I am, how unhappy I am - and no one knows”

Author: Anton Pavlovitch Chekhov was born on 17 January 1860 in Taganrog, a port of Azov in southern Russia. He was a Russian playwright and short story writer and is considered to be the greatest writer of fictional short stories ever. In 1886 he graduated in medicine and practised as a medical doctor in Moscow, whilst writing in parallel. Chekhov died of tuberculosis in July 1904, he was 44 years old.

My thoughts: This book, re-edited in 2016 by Folio Classique, contains 15 short stories, each with a common theme, namely women, indeed the book is dedicated “to the kingdom of women”. In his work one finds happy women, even more unhappy ones and also bitches, even criminals. Their common point is that they are misunderstood women, very alone, aspiring to another life and not knowing how to change their existence.
Anton Chekhov was a little misogynous, cold and taciturn and with an unparalleled sense of humour (albeit very cynical, I must confess). Chekhov tended to believe that he wrote comic stories, even when he drew tears from his readers and, thus, he was astonished to learn that great Russian writers, such as Léon Tolstoï, had read “Douchetchka” four times in the same day saying that this short story had made him more intelligent.
This is not surprising, since Anton Chekhov drew his inspiration from real life models. Moreover, some of his friends and acquaintances were angry with him for having dared to take inspiration from a part of their life.
Finally, did you know that we owe this famous aphorism to Anton Chekhov: “If you fear solitude, do not marry.” In my opinion, this gives an accurate image of Chekhov’s attitude towards women. But for my part, I love this great author: his books and short stories are a real treat.
It is for this reason that I decided to publish here, over the coming months, brief summaries of the stories I prefer. Perhaps this review has aroused you curiosity?
For my part, they go right to my heart with their mixture of romanticism and nostalgia.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975)

The beautiful, spoiled and bored Olivia, married to a civil servant, outrages society in the tiny, suffocating Indian town of Satipur by eloping with an Indian prince. This is her story and that of her step-granddaughter who, fifty years later, goes back to the heat, the dust and the squalor of the bazaars to solve the enigma of Olivia’s scandal.

Author: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, was born on 7 May 1927 in Cologne in Germany to Jewish parents. After moving to India in 1951, she married an Indian architect. The couple lived in New Delhi, and had three daughters. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala began then to elaborate her experiences in India and wrote novels and tales on Indian subjects. She lived in Britain where her family took refuge in 1939 and became a British citizen. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died in her home in New York City, where she had moved in later life, on 3 April 2013 at the age of 85.

My thoughts: This fictional historical novel was on my bookshelf for over twenty years. I read it before Easter this year and I wondered how it was that I had forgotten it all these years…Anyway, I loved this powerful gem of 181 pages, a winner of the Booker Prize in 1975.

The story takes place in India in 1923 in the English community. The narrator, Olivia’s step-granddaughter, easily switches from the past to the present, to tell us the story of Olivia and to recount her own personal search for spirituality in India. One gets an insight into the culture, customs and difficulties encountered by expats or travellers in search of wisdom, peace and spirituality, as well as learning about the scandal that took place in the 1920’s concerning Olivia, the first wife of the narrator’s grandfather.
I loved the two worlds described in the book, but I preferred the story of the old era - its characters are picturesque.
The main character, Olivia is married to Douglas, a very educated, noble man who is a workaholic and is obviously incapable of understanding his wife’s needs. Olivia is very feminine, she loves playing the piano and reading, but often feels bored and is not enthusiastic towards the British community. At a dinner party, she meets the Nawab and gradually becomes attracted to him. The Nawab is the opposite of her husband Douglas. The Nawab is the prince of Khatm. He is both an exciting man and one who knows how to influence people to his advantage. He is a man with few noble values and, therefore, is disliked by the majority of the British community, with the exception of a very few people, such as Olivia and Harry, everyone’s best friend. The latter is a handsome homosexual, who is a helpful and sensitive person in whom Olivia confides.

To sum up, this is a wonderfully profound and pleasant read. In case you wonder, Olivia ends up leaving her husband for the promise of an exciting life with the Nawab...

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris (2016)

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace.
He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult. Because you realise Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or can’t meet for lunch - without Jack - even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.
Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie.

Author:  B.A. Paris is from a Franco/Irish background and was born in 1958. She was brought up in England and moved to France when she was 21. She spent some years working as a trader in an international bank before re-training as a teacher and setting up a language school with her husband. They still live in France and have five daughters. Her first novel “Behind Closed Doors” was published in 2016 and became a tremendous bestseller.

My thoughts: After reading “The Breakdown”, which is the second book by B.A. Paris, I wanted to read this one, which is her first novel. I read it in early April and I loved it. But, to be honest, I prefer by far the first one I read. “Behind Closed Doors” is a superb psychological domestic thriller, but best suited as a summer read.

It is a surprising and suffocating story but without any spectacular twists. It is a “huis clos”, as its title evokes. It makes us think how much we know about the people we choose to marry and how much we know about the secrets of our friends and acquaintances…

It's the story of an apparently perfect couple – with the looks, career, money, a beautiful house and, as they say here, “with all the superficial things that matter”. How appearances can be deceptive!
Jack is a handsome, brilliant and dedicated lawyer and a loving husband. Grace is an elegant and gracious hostess and a devoted wife. They live in the most beautiful house in the village and they often travel to Thailand and go on getaways around the country. They are also such altruistic people; they look after Grace’s sister named Millie who has Down’s syndrome. How on earth don’t they get sympathy from us? Well, the reality is, in very subtle ways, as scary and sinister as it can be. As you know, I never give away a plot in my reviews, but put the words captive and psychopath together and you know what this domestic thriller is all about.

Monday, 15 May 2017

EDIE An American Biography by Jean Stein edited with George Plimpton (1982)

Born into a wealthy New England family. Edie Sedgwick became, in the 1960s, both an emblem of, and a memorial to, the doomed world spawned by Andy Warhol. Edie was outrageous, vulnerable and strikingly beautiful. Her childhood was dominated by a brutal but glamorous father. Fleeing to New York, she became an instant celebrity, known to everyone in the literary, artistic and fashionable worlds of the day. She was Warhol’s twin soul, his creature, the superstar of his films and, finally, the victim of a life which he created for her. Edie is an American fable on an epic scale - the story of a short, crowded and vivid life which is also the story of a decade.

Author: Jean Stein is an American author born into a Jewish family in 1934 in Los Angeles, California. Jean has worked as an editor for a number of magazines, including “The Paris Review” and “Esquire”. She is co-author, with George Plimpton, of “American Journey: The Times of Robert Kennedy” and in 1990 she became the editor of the literary journal “Grand Street”, until it ceased publication in 2004. It was described by The New York Times as “one of the most revered literary magazines of the postwar era”.

Author: George Plimpton was born on March 18, 1927 in New York City and he died in September 2003 at 76 years. George was an author, an actor and a literary patron. In 1953 he co-founded “The Paris Review” and published many books, including “Truman Capote” and “The Bogey Man”, to name but a few.

My thoughts: I’m so excited to talk to you about Edie, I mean about a book devoted to her short, intense and chaotic life. In the life of Edie there has been worldwide success and fatal degradation. Even though Edie was surrounded by a huge group of friends, acquaintances and members of her large family, she felt alone and unloved.

Edie was the muse of the great artist Andy Warhol - a character I call opportunist and who was described as a manipulator by many members of The Factory.
The Factory was an artists’ studio opened by Andy Warhol in 1964 and located in New York. It was used for the production of Warhol’s pop art works, the making of films and concerts and many party celebrations were held there too.

Returning to Edie, she felt a great emptiness in her life which drove her to get lost in the world of the night: alcohol, parties and drugs, lots of hard drugs. She died prematurely at the age of 28 years from an overdose of barbiturates. Strangely, Edie always knew she wouldn’t live long, according to her close friends. A gipsy, she said, read her palm and told her she had a short lifeline.

Edie had loneliness as an enemy. That came from her childhood as one of many offspring of one of the most prestigious rich and successful old American families: the Minturns, the Forests, the Sedgwicks.

She grew up with her many siblings on the family ranch where she never really felt at home. As a young teenager she was interned in an institution for anorexia. There were rumours of incest involving her father. The family lived in a closed circle, and always displayed a happy air, a facade. Knowing the self destructive fate reserved for some members of Edie’s family, one understands that there was a great lack of love.

In short, (if not I will write a thousand pages... hahaha...), I would say that this book is very rich in details of the American society of the sixties. We also learn about pop culture. This richly documented biography tells us historical facts about the USA, since Edie’s family was strongly linked to the history of the United States of America.
It is written in a pertinent and sincere way with the intervention and testimonies of people who worked at the Factory and members of her family, including a historian.

Edie moved me: a shy, generous, naive girl, very intelligent and gifted in the arts and terribly touching with huge black eyes and a bewitching regard... that’s how I perceive her. In addition to being the greatest model of all time, Edie created, rather than followed fashion. Her trademarks: dark eye make-up, large earrings, black opaque tights, a touch of glitter and all that enhanced by her natural grace. Her full name was Edith Minturn Sedgwick, she was born in Santa Barbara on April 20, 1943 and died on November 15, 1971.

It goes without saying that I loved this book, which is more than just a biography. I read it twice in August 2007 and 2012. “When we love, we don’t count” as we say over here!

Monday, 8 May 2017

Where to stay in Lucerne? The Hotel Lucerne, Autograph Collection

The Hotel Lucerne, a member of the Autograph Collection, is one of those dream hotels…a perfect location in front of a gorgeous little park, totally stunning design and service with the finest attention to detail. It is a hotel that had been on my wish list for a long time and I was excited to be staying there on our long weekend in Lucerne.

As soon as we entered the hotel we were greeted by the welcoming and ever so friendly manager and his staff. After a quick check-in, I took a look around and photographed the bar and restaurant before going up to our room on the 5th floor.

Even though the bar and restaurant areas were sublime, I won’t lie to you, we preferred to take our meals, including our breakfast, outside at different renowned restaurants, just to mix with the locals.

There is one bar, The Lounge, which was designed with even the smallest detail in mind by the French architect Jean Nouvel. The customers are locals who meet up with friends and chill out or tourists (guests of the hotel), who just come to relax in comfortable plush chairs listening to pleasant music till late into the night...

There is one restaurant, Bam Bou, which serves French-Mediterranean and gastronomic cuisine with views on an open kitchen (for those who enjoy seeing chefs in action...).

Jean Nouvel designed the hotel and specifically much of its furniture, such as the bedroom decoration items, desks, beds, bedside tables, armchairs and chairs. In contrast to the opulent ceilings, the furnishings of the rooms are suave and minimalist.

There are 30 rooms and suites at the hotel and each room has a unique decor and atmosphere which makes it special. The large, fascinating presentation of various film scenes on the ceilings and walls of the suites and studios generates a sensual atmosphere. Each of its rooms has a very large image covering a wall or ceiling, depicting a scene taken from films by Fellini, Almodovar....A DVD of the film in question is thoughtfully placed near the TV.  

Our Deluxe Studio was spacious with a beautiful open plan design, calming dark and neutral tones with some touches of strong colours and lots of comfy places to lounge around. Our photo ceiling was “Ai no corrida” by Nagisa Oshima – “Ureshii... Sonnani shitara... Atashi ...”

One of the things that really set The Lucerne Hotel apart was the very fine attention to detail both before our arrival and throughout our stay. There were magazines for us to read and we had plentiful supplies of various sorts of tea and coffee (with a Nespresso machine), water, fruit and chocolates. In addition there was a well filled mini bar with nuts, snacks, biscuits, juices and alcoholic drinks.

And let’s not forget the must in any hotel bedroom: a super bed and pillow to give you the ultimate comfort.  In front of the bed there was a flat screen TV with all the international channels....just in case you need to come back to reality and check on the news around the globe.

The large white ultra-modern bathroom was decorated with fresh orchids and a plant brunch. There were two sinks, a glass shower and a separate bath.

There were all sorts of cute little extras, amenities and gorgeous toiletries. I fell in love with the shower gel and body lotion...they smelled heavenly. I asked the staff for more of these products and was given a generous supply with a smile. The level of service was incredible!

Molton Brown, London’s bath, body & beauty products.

We loved the wide window that revealed impressive, illuminated scenes outside. We enjoyed the views of the park and the old town from inside the window. It was perfect to relax with a cup of tea in total calm, enjoying the beauty of the town.

This is truly one of most spectacular small boutique hotels I’ve visited in recent years. It has won a slew of awards...and I understand why.

The Hotel Lucerne, Autograph Collection
Sempacherstrasse 14
CH-6002 Lucerne
Tel.: +41 41 226 86 86

It goes without saying that this post is not sponsored, like all my blog posts. It’s just me sharing tips... You are welcome!

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (2014)

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways…
Nelly is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realises the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Author: Jessie Burton was born 1982 and is an English author and actress. She has so far published two novels, The Miniaturist and The Muse. Jessie Burton  graduated from the University of Oxford. She has worked as a PA in the City of London and she lives in South-East London.

My thoughts: I read this historical fiction novel a couple of months ago. Indeed,   I literally devoured its 424 pages…I loved this story immensely.

First of all, I had been attracted by the cover of the book and, after reading the summary on the back, I really wanted to read it because the place and the period interest me.

The Miniaturist is a very good historical novel that cleverly combines intrigue with particular destinies and the history of a society and an era. I would say that this novel is ambitious. I really enjoyed being immersed in the golden age of Amsterdam: the prosperity of the city and the Dutch East India Company, the unlimited enrichment of the merchants. Puritanism dominates the city and obliges everyone to hide feelings and to guard against any misconduct. People have to keep their secrets closely to themselves. In reading this book I often had in mind the paintings of Vermeer, which I admire so much.

This fictional novel tells the story of Petronella Oortman, aka Nella. Nella is an open-minded girl and with an imaginative and dreamy disposition.
In 1686 Petronella Oortman has just married. She is only 18 years old and her husband is the handsome and rich merchant Johannes Brandt, an important man in the commercial community and 39 years old.
She arrives alone at her new home and is greeted coldly by Marin, the sister of her husband. Marin is a prude, a rigid old maid who has no intention of leaving the running of the house to Nella. In this house there are only two servants, which is surprising for that of rich man such as Johannes. There is Cornelia, the insolent and familiar servant, and Otto, a black man, a former slave “saved” by Johannes.

Nella becomes quickly bored. She is lonely, unoccupied and ignored by her husband, except when the latter offers her an extraordinary gift: a miniature house that is a faithful recreation of their opulent home on the banks of the Herengracht.
Marin gives her a book/guide where all the shops in Amsterdam are listed so that Nella can order items to furnish her miniature house. Nella orders three small objects from a miniaturist. They are perfect reproductions, but soon more objects arrive without having been ordered and their precision seems to show that the one who manufactures them knows the house and even the secrets of its occupants. The miniaturist finally becomes an obsession for Nella.
The bonds between Marin, Nella and the two servants will become closer, the women will have to face the events that trouble the household with strength. How will everyone turn out? More dignified or meaner and baser?

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Breakdown by B A Paris (2017)

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside - the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.
But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.
The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt. Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

Author: B.A. Paris is from a Franco/Irish background and was born in 1958. She was brought up in England and moved to France when she was 21. She spent some years working as a trader in an international bank before re-training as a teacher and setting up a language school with her husband. They still live in France and have five daughters. Her first novel “Behind Closed Doors” was published in 2016 and became a tremendous bestseller.

My thoughts: After I finished “The Breakdown” I immediately purchased her first novel “Behind Closed Doors” - I had enjoyed reading this psychological thriller so much. I am pleased to say that I have also enjoyed reading “Behind Closed Doors”, which I will review in due course.
I ordered The Breakdown in mid-March in the original English version. As soon as I received it from Payot bookstore in Geneva, I started reading it and I finished all 415 pages that same weekend. This book was a real great surprise: I knew it to be good, but I wasn’t expecting it to be extraordinary, which it certainly turned out to be.
To summarise it, without giving away too much of the plot, it’s the story of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the story of a split-second decision taken by Cass, the main character, which has such a devastating impact on her life.
It relates the consequences of her decision not to stop to help that motorist she came across in an isolated place in the woods, not far from her cottage, that Friday night at eleven thirty.
Gradually, Cass learns that she knew Jane Walters, the victim who was brutally murdered. Cass had made her acquaintance just a few weeks before and they had begun a good friendship. That shakes Cass. Her previously peaceful and happy life, a life without drama at the side of her loving husband (they have been married for a year) and in the company her childhood friend, Rachel, who is like a sister to her, is turned upside down. Cass starts undergo many things that have suddenly caught up with her and throw her off-balance.
Cass starts to have memory lapses and she feels the threat of dementia hanging over her: ten years before her mother died, she was diagnosed with dementia and Cass fears it is hereditary.
I will stop here and tell you that if you like very well written psychological thrillers and a well developed and consistent story, without descending into clichés and improbable plot twists, you will love this book.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The People of the Abyss by Jack London (1903)

The People of the Abyss is a narrative about life in the East End of London in 1902. Jack London wrote this first-hand account by living in the East End (including the Whitechapel District) for several months, sometimes staying in workhouses or sleeping on the streets. The conditions he experienced and wrote about were the same as those endured by an estimated 500,000 of the contemporary London poor.

Author: Jack London was born on January 12, 1876 in San Francisco. After his birth, his mother turned him over to an ex-slave, who raised him through his infancy. She remained a major maternal figure throughout his life. London was passionate about socialism and workers’ rights.  He wrote several powerful works. He was one of the first writers to earn worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his writing alone. London died young, at the age of 40.

My thoughts: I came across this masterpiece in 2008 while watching a TV documentary about the Victorian era. I immediately wanted to read London’s non-fiction novel. I nevertheless had to wait over a month, as no bookstore in Geneva had it in stock. I enjoyed reading it and was impressed by London’s courage to disguise himself as a tramp for three months roaming the slums of London. He writes about the economic degradation of the poor and homeless on the streets of London, people who have been exploited by imperialism and capitalism. Jack London felt motivated to write about those men and women in order to give a voice to the ignored masses, because the stories of the rich, powerful and fashionable filled the pages of newspapers and novels. In these pages, we take an in depth look into the lives of those unfortunate families. Let me tell you that I adored this book but that I wouldn’t read it twice. I still have in mind their chaotic and hard lives and I found them particularly brave.
This is a kind of report and, despite the very harsh conditions of the life of its protagonists, there is always a bit of hope and light. This is perhaps why these people are doing their best to have a better life, even if, in the end, only a few of them succeed.

Monday, 13 March 2017

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (2007)

It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come…

Author: Ian McEwan is an English novelist, born in Aldershot, Hampshire, on 21 June 1948. His father was a working-class Scotsman who had worked his way up through the army to the rank of major. He spent much of his childhood in East Asia, Germany and North Africa, where his father was posted. His family returned to England when he was twelve. He was educated at Woolverstone Hall School, the University of Sussex, receiving his degree in English literature in 1970 and the University of East Anglia, where he undertook a master’s degree in literature. The Times featured him on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”, and in 2008, The Daily Telegraph ranked him number 19 in their list of “The 100 most powerful people in British culture”

My thoughts: I read this book at the end of January (it had been on my shelf for a decade). I read it in four days. It’s a small book of 166 pages. The keyword of this novel is nostalgia: it is an irresistible mixture of innocence and sensuality. I loved the effective use of flashbacks throughout the disastrous wedding night to show both of the key characters’ different upbringings. I liked the insightful development of the two characters, which I found touching.

This is the story of an unexpected encounter of two very young people (both 22 years old). Edward Mayhew earned a degree in History and comes from a modest family. Florence Ponting comes from a wealthy family, she’s beautiful, and is the principal player in a string quartet - she intends to pursue her classical music career.
After their splendid wedding in July 1962, they drive to a hotel on the Dorset coast to spend their honeymoon. On their wedding night Florence, although deeply in love with Edward, apprehends having sexual intercourse with him. She needs to overcome some issues to make this marriage work. Walking out on Chesil Beach, Dorset, they are about to find out things concerning each other that the stifling society of 1962 has prevented them from learning before. Now, is their honeymoon night to be a total disaster and ruin their marriage?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Wuthering Heights by Emily Jane Brontë (1847)

Wuthering Heights is the wild and passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley. Wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, he leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

Author: Emily Jane Brontë was born on July 30, 1818 in the village of Thornton. She was the fifth of six children of an Irish priest of the Church of England. She lost her mother as a child. Emily had a strong personality, she was independent and loved solitude and was very attracted to the supernatural. As children, the Brontë sisters had creative games and as they grew up this evolved into a ritual, with each of them taking care of their respective novel every evening. This is how Emily Brontë wrote her first and only novel “Wuthering Heights”, published under the male pseudonym Ellis Bell. She died shortly afterwards of tuberculosis at the age of 30 years.

My thoughts: I read this great novel just before Christmas and I loved it. I came across a brilliant review of it looking at Brian’s “Babbling books” blog and felt intrigued by this classic masterpiece.

From the start, we are immersed in an oppressive atmosphere, whether as a result of the nature of the surroundings or because of the characters and the feelings they exhibit. The novel begins with the narrator, Mr. Lockwood. He visits Heathcliff in his imposing home, Wuthering Heights, in order to rent Thrushcross Grange, of which Heathcliff is the owner. From there, we begin to be introduced to each of the characters. Just like Mr. Lockwood, we are curious to comprehend Heathcliff, his history and that of those around him.
Mrs. Dean, the housekeeper at Thrushcross, tells Mr. Lockwood the history of Heathcliff’s life. Heathcliff was a small boy when he was rescued from famine and poverty by Mr. Earnshaw during a visit to Liverpool. The latter took Heathcliff, aged six, to his home as a “gift” for his two children, Catherine and Hindley. At the beginning Heathcliff was badly accepted by Catherine and Hindley. But little by little, Catherine and the adopted “poor” boy Heathcliff became friends and accomplices. But this was not the case with Hindley, who humiliated Heathcliff. When they grow up, Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love, but, alas, Catherine opted for a marriage of reason, in order to eventually help find a good social status for Heathcliff.  The latter was shattered to overhear unflattering half confidences concerning him that Catherine shared with their maid, Mrs. Dean (aka Nelly). On a whim, he disappeared and upon his return several years later he was rich, resentful and determined to make everyone pay for the hurt he had suffered.
Towards the end of the book, it is Mr. Lockwood who tells us the saga of this family and its descendants. We learn what fate was reserved for Heathcliff, his nephews and his son.

We are caught in a spider’s web, trapped, like these characters. The heaviness of the atmosphere is suffocating. The life of these characters is a combination of circumstances, a vicious circle. Their strings are pulled by a manipulative and abusive man, a man of few feelings, Heathcliff. It is with these simple words that I summarise this masterpiece. It is brilliantly written with elegance and a touch of black British humour. When I think that it was a young writer who wrote it, I am amazed by her ability to describe the human soul so accurately, in all its psychological ambivalence. I have to admit that this is not an easy read.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Outsider by Albert Camus (1942)

“When the bell rang again and the door of the box opened, it was the silence of the room that rose towards me, the silence, and this singular sensation that I had when I noticed that the young journalist had averted his eyes. I did not look towards Mary. I did not have the time because the president told me in a bizarre way that I would have my head cut off in a public place in the name of the French people...”

Author: Albert Camus was a French writer and philosopher born on November 7, 1913 in Mondovi in Algeria. The second child of a modest family, he never knew his father, who died during the First World War. His mother, of Spanish origin, was half deaf and almost illiterate. Camus was marked by the disadvantaged environment in which he lived with his mother and brother. He discovered a passion for writing which helped him to fill the emptiness in his life. The Outsider was Albert Camus’s first novel.  Camus enjoyed great success as a writer and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957. In January 1960, at the age of 46, he was killed in a car accident in the company of his editor friend Michel Gallimard.

My thoughts: Anyone who has read this book will remember the famous opening lines of Camus’s novel. They set the tone for what will follow:

“Aujourd'hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas.”
Strangely this sentence does not sound extraordinary in English
“My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.”

This is the first book that I read this year, in January. I loved each of its 183 pages. I found it easy to read and very entertaining and I highly recommend it to you. The main character, “l'Etranger”, alias Meursault, is a young man who lives in insensitivity and indifference. He is not very talkative and mixes little with society, so he is “foreign” to the world which surrounds him.

Meursault (the narrator) receives a telegram announcing the death of his mother. He immediately takes two days leave and leaves Algiers in the direction of Marengo (80km away) to attend his mother’s funeral. She lived in one of the old peoples’ homes in that town. Back in Algiers, he meets Marie Cardona, a former work colleague, who will become his mistress. Meursault strikes up a friendship with his next-door neighbour, Raymond. The latter had been in a fight with the brother of his mistress because he suspects her of cheating on him. He therefore asks Meursault to help him to write a letter to avenge himself.

Invited by Raymond to spend a Sunday in his seaside hut, Meursault goes there with Marie. Two Arabs, one of whom is the brother of Raymond’s mistress, are looking for a fight on the beach, but nothing occurs. A little later Meursault sees the Arabs again and he kills one (by accident) with Raymond’s pistol. He is arrested, tried, and condemned to death.

The novel is structured in two parts. The first traces the daily life of Meursault after he learns of the death of his mother until the he commits the murder on the beach. The second part describes his life in prison and the phases of his trial until his death sentence.

In this story we meet funny, strange and endearing characters. Marie Cardona who is the mistress of Meursault. Raymond Sintès who is the best friend of Meursault and also his next door neighbour. The elderly Salamano the second neighbour on Meursault’s landing, who has lived with his dog for eight years. Céleste who is the owner of the restaurant where Meursault eats. Emmanuel who is the colleague with whom Meursault often eats. Perez who is the only man who cried upon the death of Meursault’s mother and who becomes a witness at the trial of the man who had not mourned the death of his own mother.