A CLASSICS BOOK TAG

19 02 2018

I took this idea from “Madame Writer” – please visit her HERE to see her responses.

  1. An overhyped classic you really didn’t like:

One I started a couple of times but didn’t like and never finished is Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

  1. Favorite time period to read about:

I especially like to read about the medieval period, but we are talking classics here, not Historical Fiction, so I’d say the 19th Century from Jane Austen, the Brontë Sisters and Mrs Gaskell through Dickens to Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tolstoy, Kipling and the rest.

Time already for a bit of colour, so out of all those I’ll select my favourite Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights cover:

  1. Favorite fairy-tale:

Hans Anderson’s The Snow Queen.

  1. What is the most embarrassed classic you haven’t read yet:

Tolstoy’s War & Peace – though I’ve read his Anna Karenina twice, and loved it.

  1. Top 5 classics you would like to read (soon):

Dostoevsky’s The Brothers KaramazovCervantes‘ Don Quixote, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Catriona. (And War & Peace, but not “soon”!)

  1. Favorite modern book/series based on a classic:

I’ve read two so far of Martin Davies’ series featuring Sherlock Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs Hudson and young Flotsam (Flottie), the girl she has taken under her wing. Highly recommended!

  1. Favorite movie version/tv-series based on a classic:

David Suchet’s definitive rendering of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot – the books being classics, surely, by now. Also Viviane Leigh as Anna Karenina in the 1947 black-and-white film.

  1. Worst classic to movie adaptation:

Maybe The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (2005) but that is almost impossible to adapt successfully to the screen – it started as a radio programme with all the freedom that medium gives the writer. It leaves everything to the listener’s (or, later, reader’s) imagination, while a film version is simply how one person’s visualised it with all the constraints and limitations of that medium.

  1. Favorite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from:

I love the Everyman’s Library editions. Click on the ikon!

  1. An underhyped classic you’d recommend to everyone:

Laurence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet – in my view one of the greatest works of the 20th century. Durell’s poetic portrayal of Alexandria in Justine, Balthazaar, Mountolive and Clea ranks right up there with Joyce’s portrayal of Dublin in Dubliners and Ulysses, and personally I much prefer it.

 

Advertisements




The alphabet book tag A-Z

9 01 2018

I took this very nice idea from mrsrobinsonslibrary.wordpress.com – please visit her there to see her A-Z.

Now for mine …

A – Author you’ve read most books from: Paul Doherty, without question. I’ve read one or two of his books set in ancient Egypt and I like and recommend his books set in the Rome of Constantine the Great and Helen – see for example my review of Murder Imperial and The Song of the Gladiator – but it is his medieval mysteries I am addicted to. They consist, apart from one or two stand-alones, of three series, each its own little world within a world and quite unforgettable: The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan; the Hugh Corbett Medieval Mysteries; and the Canterbury Tales of Murder and Mystery.  The links are to my reviews of one of the books from each series.

B – Best sequel ever: for me, this has to be The Lord of the Rings, originally conceived and written as a sequel to The Hobbit. It won my vote for Book of the Century in the year 1999.

C – Currently reading: I’ve just started on Shepherds by J. Drew Brumbaugh. I’ll review it when I’ve finished it. (The review is now posted HERE.)

D – Drink of choice: While reading? A cuppa – a nice cup of tea, English style.

E – E-reader or physical book? I’m growing accustomed to my Kindle Reader, and it is much lighter (less strain on the wrists!) than the hardcover editions I love. Cheap paperbacks I’m not fussed about and I rarely buy new ones now, though I do buy secondhand ones when I come across something I fancy by chance somewhere.

F – Fictional character you would probably have dated in High School: Rudyard Kipling’s Kim. I loved him when I was a child and I love him still now.

G – Glad you gave this book a chance: there have been many, but a good example would be Dune: House Atreides, and all the rest of the books written by Frank Herbert’s son Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson and set in the Dune Universe. People were sneering about that first one, but I gave it a chance and have since read all their Dune books.

H – Hidden Gem: Dorothy Nimmo’s The Wigbox is a little-known gem. Click on the image for more information here on this site:

I – Important moment in your reading life: Coming across Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael quite by chance (I think it was One Corpse Too Many) triggered my lifelong love of the Medieval Mystery.

J – Juvenile favourite. Mine is probably Kim (see “F” above) but there are many others I love, from Hans Anderson’s The Snow Queen and Kingsley’s The Water Babies to the Harry Potter series and the His Dark Materials trilogy.

K – Kind of book you won’t read: books by illiterate “authors”, either unedited or “edited” by illiterate “editors”.

L – Longest book you’ve read: A Glastonbury Romance by John Cooper Powys. I have read all 1, 120 pages twice but still haven’t got round to writing a proper review!

M – Major book hangover because of: Lin Anderson’s Easy Kill. Read my review of it here and you will see why it moved and upset me.

N – Number of bookshelves you own: Six bookcases, and books everywhere. (But my Kindle is definitely easing the pressure!)

O – One book you’ve read multiple times: The Bhagavad Gita.

P – Preferred place to read: The beach in summer or when I’m travelling. Otherwise anywhere warm and cosy.

Q – Quotes that inspire you: Here are a few I like

ALICE BORCHARDT

I have often thought if one could impart the doings of mankind to a rose, the only thing it would understand would be the sweet drawn-out lovemaking of a drowsy afternoon. (The Silver Wolf)

ALDOUS HUXLEY

Chastity – the most unnatural of all the sexual perversions. (Eyeless in Gaza)

EMILY DICKINSON

A face devoid of love or grace,
A hateful, hard, successful face …

LAURENCE DURRELL

I find art easy. I find life difficult.

WILLIAM GOLDING

We did everything adults would do. What went wrong? (Lord of the Flies)

R – Reading regrets: My TBR list grows longer and longer while the reading time left to me in this life grows shorter by the day.

S – A series you’ve started and need to finish: Shakespeare’s plays! There are still several I have neither read nor seen.

T – Three of your all-time favourite books:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

**************************

U – Unapologetic fangirl:

The James Bond novels – and the early, Sean Connery, films.

V – A Villain permanently etched on your brain:

Charles Dickins’ Fagin – in the book and as portrayed by Ron Moody:

W – Worst book habit: Writing notes and comments in books.

X – X marks the spot: pick the 27th book from the left on the top left shelf:

Balthazar – the second volume in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, another series I love and have read right through three times – and plan to read again!

 

Y – Your latest purchase: I take this to mean of a physical book, so Yeats’s Ghosts, the Secret Life of W. B. Yeats, by Brenda Maddox (a hardcover, secondhand, but like new). I will let you all know what I make of it!

Z – zzzz-snatcher: The Cold Heart trilogy by Lynda la Plante – three books (Cold HeartCold BloodCold Shoulder), three nights up all night!





THE GODS THEMSELVES by Isaac Asimov

27 11 2017

One of the great classic works of SF.

The title is part of a line from a play (“The Maid of Orleans”) by the German poet Friedrich Schiller: Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.

In the first part of the book, Against Stupidity, the problem of free, clean energy has finally been solved, and the scientist who came up with the solution is universally lauded. Oh, there are a few scientists who consider the whole system, which involves exchanging matter with a para-universe, inherently dangerous, but they are dismissed by everyone as trouble-makers. (And their careers as scientists brought to a dead stop if they dare to speak out.)

In Part II, The Gods Themselves, we find ourselves in that “para-universe”. This is a stunning creation and the book should be read to experience this other world if for no other reason. It is so, so different, yet so, so believable … and yes, of course, the stupid rule the roost there, too.

In Part III, we are on the Moon – our Moon – and again the book would be worth reading just for this depiction of what life on the Moon might be like. This Part is naturally entitled “Contend in Vain”, but with an important question mark: Contend in Vain?

It would be too easy to spoil this wonderful story, so I will simply finish by saying how happy I am to have rediscovered my early love of Isaac Asimov (my grandmother had all his books) and that I plan on re-reading many more of them.





ALL GOOD DEEDS by Stacy Green

3 11 2017

Quite by chance, I started on All Good Deeds while in the middle of re-reading Edgar Wallace’s The Four Just Men, so I had a couple of days of vigilante justice delivered in two very different styles, one set in Edwardian London in 1914, the other in present-day Pennsylvania. And while the heroes of the London story are cultured middle-aged males (there are only three of them, actually) the protagonist of the modern story is a pushy, opinionated young woman who goes rushing in where “just men” would – no, not fear to tread, but certainly think very, very carefully before they trod.

Lucy’s one concern – and It’s become an obsession – is abused children. Years ago when she was working for the Child Protection Services, she was responsible for monitoring a boy of eleven who had been allowed to go on living with his family against her advice and had then murdered his nine-year-old sister. The boy, Justin, subsequently spent several years in juvenile prison but was later released back into society without being tagged as a child-molester. Lucy fought against his release because she considered him a danger but she was overuled by the judge.

Now a nine-year-old girl called Kailey has disappeared, been kidnapped, and Justin not only lives right there in the immediate neighbourhood but turns out to have been in direct contact with the girl prior to her disappearance.

So far as Lucy is concerned, she was right all along and this is an open-and-shut case. When she learns that the Detective in charge of the investigation is Justin’s half-brother and that he insists there is no evidence against Justin, she starts taking things into her own hands. Not for the first time. Several pedophiles who had evaded official justice have already met their maker after a brief encounter with her.

But further developments sow doubts in the reader’s mind about Justin being in any real sense a pedophile, or dangerous. And a young man approaches Lucy in a bar and informs her that he knows her secret: a word from him to the police would result in Lucy being arrested and charged with a whole series of murders.

The reader is torn in two.

Great writing.

But the moral of the story? All Good Deeds is described as “a psychological thriller”. I’m not sure what that means. That the bad guys have psychological problems? Well, yes, but so does Lucy, when judged by normal standards of behaviour in any civilised society.

I wonder where this will go in the second book in the series …

And The Four Just Men? It is a classic. A little slow perhaps (life then was slower) but essential reading. If you haven’t read it, read it. You can download it almost free from Amazon and completely free here.





A GLASTONBURY ROMANCE by John Cowper Powys

6 01 2015

powys_glastonburyFor those of you who don’t know this work, a quotation from Margaret Drabble will put you in the picture. It is one of several which feature on the back of the edition I have here.

A genius – a fearless writer, who writes with reckless passion of flowers and graveyards, incest and teacups, property and religion and the occult. Everything is here in this astonishing work. Margaret Drabble, Daily Telegraph, Book of the Century.

Let me start by saying of this 1,120-page novel that the actual story – the action – could be boiled down to, say, 150 pages. If you introduced all the unforgettable minor characters and recounted, briefly, their individual stories – the sub-plots – then perhaps 300 pages. That leaves more than 800 pages of discursive asides and purely descriptive writing. Powys is not a writer to use one word when ten will do the job better, or ten in place of a hundred, or a hundred when a thousand would really do the job properly. But who, on surveying the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican says, or even thinks, Couldn’t he have done this on a square of canvas like any other artist??

The thing is, Powys, like Michaelangelo, was right. Nine times out of ten those discursive asides and descriptive passages are masterpieces. And without those 800 pages, all the rounded and distinctive minor characters would be flat and forgettable. As would the setting and the story itself. As it is, both are branded on the brain and it is as though you not just lived for a while in the Glastonbury of the Crows and the Dekkers and Bloody Johnny (Mayor Geard) but grew up there among them.

I cannot write a full review here – to do so would require a dissertation of many thousands of words – but I would just like to mention something that struck me about the title, “A Glastonbury Romance”. Somewhere in the course of the book (on p778, actually!) Powys refers to “the invisible Watchers of the Glastonbury Divine Comedy” – simply in passing, and not to make a point. But that’s what this work is, really. Not a ‘romance’ in any sense of that term, but a divine comedy: a ‘comedy’ reminiscent in some ways of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”, in others of “Hamlet” with a happy – or at least happier – ending; ‘divine’ like Homer and Blake in that the other world impinges continually on this one. (Incidentally, he also refers to it (p904) as “this modest chronicle”. Hah!)

There is no way I could ever give this book less than five stars although many times I fell asleep reading it and the book clattered to the floor. The fault is in me, not Powys, of whom, as Henry Miller said, “To encounter [Powys] … is to arrive at the very fount of creation.” Believe me, the spirit was willing but the flesh is weak.





PETER ABELARD by Helen Waddell

15 08 2014

Peter Abelard coverThis is a love story – one of the greatest (“Abelard and Heloise” rings all the bells, like Tristan and Isolde, Dante and Beatrice, Antony and Cleopatra)  and Peter Abelard, Helen Waddell’s wonderful novel, is probably the best retelling of it. 

But her novel is more than that, for it is also the story of Peter Abelard himself, the leading philosopher and theologian of his age and one of the great tragic figures of all the ages.

“It is the strong who have enemies: it is on the mountain peaks that the thunderbolts fall,” says Gilles de Vannes, Canon of Notre Dame, quoting St Jerome. Fat old Gilles, with his razor-sharp mind, is the confidant of both Abelard and Heloise and provides the anchor that holds the story down. He knew them both in the beginning, before they met –

‘He [Heloise’s uncle, Fulbert] is ambitious for her, as you have yourself perceived. He bade me say that she will be at your disposal at any hour you choose.’ Gilles’ voice rasped like a saw.

Abelard sat grimly silent. Suddenly he rose, and coming down the room, stood square in front of Gilles. ‘Is the man right in his wits?’ 

– and is still there weeping over their fate at the end:

She [Heloise] got up quickly and crossed the room to the window, that he [Gilles] might not see her agony. And standing there, struggling to control herself, she heard behind her a small stifled sound. She turned round. He had his face to the wall, but she could see the old Silenus mask distorted with soundless weeping, the hands opening and closing in impotent despair. 

Abelard agrees to teach Heloise at home, privately. Indeed, he moves into their house, board and lodging being one of the blandishments that induce him to go along with the idea. And of course they grow close. Heloise is very beautiful, very sweet and very intelligent; Abelard is a youing man still, charming and charismatic.

Then Heloise panics and runs. Abelard goes after her, searching the countryside around Paris  and returns home that night in despair only to find her waiting for him in his room.

He fumbled at the latch, the door fell open: he came in a step or two, bewildered by the light: she saw his eyes seeking, not yet comprehending, suddenly wild with hope. She was there at the window: he saw the small white oval of her face, the black pools of her eyes. With a little stifled cry, she held out her arms to him: he was on his knees at her feet, his head buried in her lap, his whole body shaking with a terrible tearless sobbing. […] She stooped and took his head and carried it to her breast.

They have passed the point of no return. At one point, they journey back from Britanny together, Heloise disguised as a boy, and of course make love in the forest. What was there in love that taught a man all the mysteries of the ancient faiths? He looked at the young creature riding ahead of him, with a kind of awe. Was that the Heloise he knew, or had Psyche become Eros …?

The only person in Paris who is not aware of what is happening is Fulbert, Heloise’s uncle (Or was he really her father? – which would be ironical considering his attitude to Abelard, who was willing to sacrifice his career in the Church to marriage.) And when he does find out, it is Heloise who is against the idea of marriage. Eventually, she becomes pregnant, they compromise, get married in secret, and she bears him a son. But this is not enough for Fulbert, who has swung from guileless and doting to remorselessly vindictive: he has Abelard castrated.

The end of the story, in a sense.

Abelard joins a monastery, Heloise a convent (at his insistence).

However, Helen Waddell’s account of the rest of Abelard’s life, the accusations of heresy, the trial, and so on, is a masterpiece:

‘Have you read the “De Trinitate”, Gilles?’

Gilles nodded. ‘It is more than his accusers have, I’ll be bound.’

‘And is it heretical?’

‘Of course it is heretical. Every book that ever was written about the Trinity is heretical, barring the Athanasian Creed. And even that only saves itself by contradicting everything it says as fast as it says it.’ 

But he is tried at the Council of Soissons, where, in a complete travesty of justice even by the standards of the medieval Church, Abelard is sentenced after being found not guilty: his book is to be burnt and he is to be incarcerated for life. By the time his friends arrange his release, he is a broken man. He retreats with one young disciple to a hermitage in the forest, and there, as a result of a mystical insight into the nature of the Incarnation, formulates the doctrine known as the Moral Atonement, condemnned by the Church as patripassianism. [In his own words:] “How cruel and unjust it appears that anyone should have demanded the blood of the innocent as any kind of ransom. Or have been in any way delighted with the death of the innocent, let alone that God should have found the death of His Son so acceptable, that through it he should have been reconciled to the whole world ” In brief: God suffers when man or any passible creature suffers, and it is by identifying with Christ on the Cross that man becomes God.

This is what places him among the ranks of the great heresiarchs.

Reprinted nine times in its year of publication (1933) and in print continuously ever since, this is a book that must be read (and read again) by anyone interested in medieval Paris and/or the medieval Church, but especially by those who appreciate a marvellous and very moving love-story that has now established itself as one of the classics of the genre.

H and A LettersBut for what happens to him and Heloise later, when they reestablish contact after ten years, it is necessary to turn to another book: The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Here we meet the new Heloise, “famed for her learning and administrative genius as an abbess,” who addresses Abelard in the opening paragraph of the first letter as “my beloved” and “my only love” and who beneath the surface is clearly still the old Heloise: in that same first letter she says “God is my witness that Augustus, Emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess for ever, it would be dearer and more honourable to me to be called not his Empress but your whore“. Her love had not changed one iota.

“Where is the learned Heloise?” asked Francois Villon, the Paris ‘gutter-poet’, sometime in the 1450s. “Where is he who for her sake was castrated and forced to live the life of a monk – Peter Abelard, who for love of her suffered so much misfortune, shed so many a tear? But then, where are the snows of yesteryear?”

The Penguin Classics edition of the letters that I have in my hand also contains Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum, Abelard’s own account of his misfortunes, on which of course much of the novel is based. Abelard’s own words again: “But success always puffs up fools with pride  I began to think myself the only philosopher in the world, with nothing to fear from anyone, and so I yielded to the lusts of the flesh  There was in Paris at the time a young girl named Heloise, the niece of one of the canons …’ 

Heloise on Abelard