Review: Adam Bede – George Eliot

25 - Adam Bede

Rating – 5*

Adam Bede was Eliot’s first published novel and that youth in her writing is tangible throughout. But like most debut novels, what it lacked in literary rigour, it made up for with passion in the writing. This was, I felt, a novel which the author put her heart in to and I really, really enjoyed it. The more I read of Eliot, the more I love her work, and I found it very difficult to find fault with this because I just love every word.

It has echoes of Far From the Madding Crowd in the start – maybe because it’s a quiet farming community – and pre-dates it by 20 years. For me, I preferred Eliot’s take on the quiet farming town life to Hardy’s, Eliot was a lot more brutal in plot and her characters were far superior. While Adam is the titular character of this novel, Hetty Sorrel is definitely equally as much of a main character, and the side characters are equally as rich and full of life – something which I have found a theme across all of the work of Eliot’s I have read so far.

The plot is quite sparse in the first half, it is instead full of life and the hustle and bustle of everyday village life. We follow the hard-working Adam, and he’s quite a dull man, but is diligent and, unfortunately for him, madly in love with the narcissistic Hetty – who is aware of his feelings but does not reciprocate. Hetty has longings for the finer things in life and desires to get away from the village; this is a common theme among books of the era and I imagine it was a (sadly) common theme in reality. Hetty was definitely the shining show of this book, even though intensely dislikeable in terms of how she treats Adam, I empathised with her and felt her pains, especially in the second half. If it wasn’t for the first half, where as a reader you build a relationship with the people of this village, that intense building of character made the second half hit me, as a reader, so much harder. I don’t want to spoil it, so I urge you to be patient if you decide to try this and work your way through the slow burn of character building in the first 300 or so pages.

One thing I’m noticing about Eliot’s work is her focus on religion – in Daniel Deronda she focused heavily on Judaism. In this book, she focuses in on the Methodist faith with the character of Dinah, and in part Adam’s brother Seth. I find the insights in to religion in different periods of history really interesting, and while some people found this book a little preachy I actually found it really interesting.

While not as enormous as Daniel Derdonda, or indeed Middlemarch, this book is nonetheless incredible for very different reasons. I find it hard to do anything but give a George Eliot book 5* now, I really do. So naturally, this was a 5* read. After a really pretty bad beginning with Middlemarch (which I must reread this Summer, after reading nearly all the rest of her work this year!) George Eliot has fast become one of my favourite authors of all time – and I intend to finish her bibliography this Summer and do a bit of a spotlight on her.

I leave you with parting words: do not judge this book by its cover because – frankly – this edition is hideous; just do not let that detract from what is inside.

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Review: Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

21 - Far From the Madding Crowd

Rating – 3*

Far From the Madding Crowd is my first foray in to Hardy, and I definitely will be reading more from him. However, I really didn’t enjoy this much.

Now, Hardy can write. There were periods of description in this book which I actually read twice over because it was just so beautiful. Passages about the night sky and the English countryside really set an amazing tone throughout the book and where really what kept me reading. It was the characters, and the plot, which I didn’t like.

Everyone says Bathsheba Everdene is one of the best characters in literature. She’s a strong, independent, feisty woman in a mans world. I found her to be a male interpretation of a ‘strong woman’. But then she can’t just be that, she can’t be this independent woman, instead she has to be portrayed as cruel. Then she goes gaga at the sight of a man in uniform. All of this build up of her being this independent woman who doesn’t need a man turns in to her just needing the right man. She had the potential to be incredible, but for me she was just a caricature. As for the men, they were very much a victim of the same fate – they were bland and literally were created to fit in to the right slot. The primary problem with every character is that I felt I’d read about all of them before.

The plot was predictable, and was very much driven by the predictable characters. From the outset I think it’s obvious where this was going to end up, it just went around the houses a bit to get there. There were elements which did surprise me and were unique and I really enjoyed those parts. At the beginning I found myself really heartbroken for Gabriel when he lost everything. Most of the positive parts of this book come from Gabriel. However, come the end of this book, in spite of predictable plot and characters, I found myself rooting for a happy outcome.

While it was frustrating, I couldn’t actually put it down. Hardy’s writing is so readable and I enjoyed that, and actually for all it’s faults this book it was still good. I still enjoyed it. It’s by far and away not the best book I’ve ever read, but it has me interested in Hardy and I really want to explore his writing more.  I just found that if he applied even a little bit of the time and effort he put in to the scenery in to the characters and plot to give three-dimensional, fleshed out individuals and a more well rounded story this could have easily been a 5* book. Unfortunately, for me it was just OK and that means 3*.

Buy this Edition || Buy A Paperback Edition

Review: Daphnis and Chloe – Longus

19 - Daphnis and Chloe

Rating – 4*

This is one of the new Little Black Classics that Penguin have released after the success of their first 80. The second batch are a little bit longer, which makes me incredibly happy as they published this little gem. It came on to my radar a couple of years ago after seeing a couple of booktubers /bloggers recommend it and I’m so glad I finally got around to it.

Daphnis and Chloe follows Daphnis (a goatherd) and Chloe (a shepherdess), who fall in love without actually understanding what these feelings they have for each other are. They learn about what they’re feeling through a frankly baffling series of events, some of which involve nymphs and pirates! Both were found abandoned as infants by their respective families, and along the way they both come to learn of their origins. It is really, really quite a sweet tale and it just warmed my heart a little bit!

One thing I wasn’t expecting is that it is actually quite a hilarious book. I found myself openly laughing at certain parts of their absolute confusion, at some of the situations they somehow got themselves in to. It was actually quite refreshing to be able to get in to a classic book without any effort. I’d seriously recommend this to anyone who wants to just try something new, this series of books is so good for that! So, this book I’ll happily give 4* to, it wasn’t quite perfect but I loved it nonetheless.

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Review: No Surrender- Constance Maud

13 - No Surrender

Rating – 3*

No Surrender is a very rare find – an out and out suffragette novel. It is billed on the Persephone catalogue as just that, which doesn’t seem something outstanding but really, there aren’t any suffragette novels so this one is something special.

This book is something remarkable. It is a multi-faceted look at the suffragette movement of the early 20th century; from the mill workers to the upper levels of society. It looks at how the movement impacted on them and why they were passionate about it. It wasn’t just about gaining a vote as many people think, it was so much more than that and sadly so much more still needs to be done.

The primary character is Jenny, a young mill worker who wants so much and not just for herself, very little of it is for herself, but it is for the people she loves. She wants her sister to have rights to her children, her mother to have right to finances, and she wants equal pay for equal work. When Jenny meets Mary, a young, upper class girl, their joint skill-set proves powerful. Their different perspectives represent the cross section of women who fought for this change to the lives of women and children.

There is no doubting it, this book is powerful. It really brings home how determined and passionate these women were. Some of the passages in this book, particularly when the girls are subject to force feeding, are hard reading. But however uncomfortable it was, I kept reading because the fictional women in this book give voice to the hundreds of nameless women who fought for the freedoms that we, as women, have today. Sadly, there is a lot that needs to still be done even 100+ years on for equality, in both Britain and across the rest of the world. But this book really brings it home how lucky women today are.

However, this book wasn’t without flaws and while it really made me think I didn’t particularly enjoy the writing. I found it clunky, I found it hard to get through, when I put the book down I had to force myself to pick it up again. I am so glad I read this and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a brutal, albeit fictional, account of the early Suffrage movement in the UK. But it has to be 3* as I didn’t enjoy the writing all that much.

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Review: Animal Farm – George Orwell

12 - Animal Farm

Rating – 4*

I finally got around to reading Animal Farm and my primary feeling is “why did it take me so long?”. Animal Farm is actually my sisters favourite book, she read it during her GCSEs. She told me, at the age of 14, that I had to read this book. She’s 20 in a couple of months and I have only just got around to this!

This book is so simple but it conveys such an important message, it’s brilliant. It is presented as a fairy story, though it is more of an elongated fable, it has the simple language of a children’s book but depth of meaning that I’ve not experienced before. Exploring communist Russia through the eyes of animals, well, it was genius. But the moral of this book still exists today, it’s just as relevant to read now as it was when it was first published in 1945.

All of the animals on this farm had human counterparts. The pigs were the government (in the metaphor of Russia they were Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky etc.), the horses were the hard-working members of society who believed in the government, the dogs were (essentially) the KGB. The revolution becomes much less idyllic with the pigs ruling the roost; changing laws put out at the start to suit their pleasure, by the end of the book “All animals are equal” becomes “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

I think it is fair to say that this is the best novella I have ever read. At just 120 pages I was blown away. This covered so much ground and really made such a big societal event manageable. I can see why this book is on reading lists for pre-16 education. What Orwell achieved in this book is mindblowing. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s a book I would definitely love to reread, so I gave it 4* but I’m still teetering on whether or not to bump it to 5*. I wish I had read this before I read 1984!

Review: Daniel Deronda – George Eliot

09 - Daniel Deronda

Rating – 5*

This is the best book I’ve read so far this year. After I read Middlemarch last year, I was disappointed. It wasn’t what I was expecting, I was truly expecting to adore that book and instead it was just okay. But, I kept going with her work and every book I read by this woman just gets better and better. This one I could scarcely put down – I finished the 914 page beast in 5 days and that was me pacing myself!

Daniel Deronda tells a story in two parts, both the story of Daniel and of Gwendolen, and naturally they interweave beautifully. We start in what is almost the middle of the book, where we meet Gwendolen Harleth in a casino. Observing her winning streak at the roulette table is Daniel Deronda. And that is the last we see of him until Chapter 16 and Gwendolen’s story takes precedence. At first it seems like these two narratives are utterly unrelated. Yet each is enhanced by the other, and by the parallels it is possible to draw between them.

The plot itself is magnificent, it weaves in and out, back and forth, and is so incredibly perfect. I could go on and on about it, it was great.  The thing which surprised me most was the thread of Judaism which I really wasn’t expecting, but it surprised me in the best possible way. Mirah is one of the most beautiful characters I have had the pleasure of reading, yes she was a little stereotypical but she was wonderful and I really, really adored her. Daniel, oh how I wish there were more of Daniel! Though he is the titular character, the main thread of this novel I felt was actually handed to Gwendolen – his story just wove in perfectly with hers. Him finding out his origins was a great plot point but the thing that was most interesting about him was his open-mindedness, his acceptance and kind heart; he too had faults but his good traits outweighed them. Gwendolen however did annoy me, she was selfish, rude, and downright abhorrent in fact; but I loved her. The growth of her through the novel was something special, her tenacity, her zest for life, and ultimately her journey in to an adulthood that noone deserves which she took for the better of her family is one filled with pain. She grows up quickly, learns quickly and as she becomes more downtrodden, her voice in the novel becomes quieter… it’s quite fantastic, actually.

Oh this novel was incredible. George Eliot is up there as one of my favourite authors, and because I loved this so much I really want to retry Middlemarch. Her writing is sheer magic, her command of imagery and characterisation is second to none, her ability to create the perfect atmosphere for village life astounds me. This woman is a deity.

Naturally this book got 5* from me and the title of best book in 2016 so far. The rest of the year has a LOT to live up to!

Review: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft

08 - A Vindication of the RIghts of Women

Rating – 4*

Published in 1792 this book is worryingly still relevant. Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of the also incredible Mary Shelley, was very much before her time. This is considered to be the classic feminist text and I am so, so glad I finally got around to it.

At it’s core this is a criticism of discussion which was happening in the late 18th century (for much before and after, in all honesty) about what a woman’s place was in the world. Wollstonecraf is clear, concise, and passionate about the equality of the sexes in this book. Her main criticism is that sexism, the division between the sexes at least, begins from a very young age. At the point this was written it was still not common practice to send a daughter to school, instead teach her home crafts so she will make a good marriage material so, in the latter part of the book she puts forward the absolutely scandalous notion of both male and female children being schooled together to a certain level.

One of the biggest arguments put forward by her was that women are groomed to appeal to men; they aren’t allowed their freedom of choice, from a young age all they are expected to do is to become a wife, a good marriage is after all good for her and the best she can hope for in life. Women are expected to be mindless creatures who have the sole purpose of satisfying men, catering to their every need and whim. If a woman does not have looks or money she is not worthy. It’s disturbing that a lot of it is still highly relevant today. Popular culture still perpetrates the idea what women need to be ‘beautiful’ above all else, that being well dressed and sexually appealing to men is the biggest success a woman can hope for. It’s just heartbreaking that, ultimately, this is still an issue nearly 225 years later!

I downloaded this from Audible, narrated by the wonderful Fiona Shaw and it was fantastic; I’d highly recommend the audiobook to anyone who maybe finds a physical non-fiction book a bit too heavy going! Fiona has a great tone and it was actually a really soothing read, however passionate she got!

I happily gave this 4* and it is definitely one I’d like to read again!

Review: Villette – Charlotte Bronte

07a - Villette

Rating – 3*

This book was great, but not perfect. Villette is a semi-autobiographical novel of Charlotte’s life, of her time working in Brussels, which may explain why it was so detailed. Compared to Jane Eyre this is darker, it’s a lot more grown up, the language is beautiful, but I hesitate to compare the two to the extent saying which was the better book. This book is a lot more mature, as I said, but if Jane Eyre is the story of true love, hope and positivity then this is the complete antithesis of that; it’s about a woman who has been disappointed, lost everything dear and has given up hoping and dreaming.

Villette follows the story of Lucy Snowe, an orphan with absolutely no family. It starts when she is around 14 and living with her godmother, Mrs Bretton. Eventually she ends up moving to Villette, a little village in France, wherein she ends up teaching English in a school. The majority of the book has very little to no clear plot, maybe it is because it was more autobiographical therefore that was the plot. It has to be said that it isn’t nearly as exciting or dramatic as I remember Jane Eyre being, but as can be expected from a Bronte, the prose and characters are exquisite.

Lucy Snowe is one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve come across, especially compared to Jane. She holds information back from the reader, never quite telling you everything. She is difficult to like and relate to but, somehow, I did find myself liking her come the end. For the first part of the book, she is a secondary character in her own story. She narrates her experiences as a child in her godmother’s home and tells the stories of Polly and Graham when they were children. While she is telling the story, we learn very little about her and this is somewhat true of most of the book, and even though the tone of the novel is mostly hopeful, there is always an underlying feeling of sadness and loneliness in Lucy’s narrative. Ultimately, Lucy is a proud woman who desires to make her own way in the world and I respected that.

On the whole, and thinking about it over night, I really loved this book. The ending was a bit of a shocker but I understand why it was written in such an ambiguous way. Initially I gave this 3*, mulling it over I think maybe 4* – it’s definitely a 3.5* at the very least! I did enjoy this but, have to say it, Anne is still my favourite Bronte!

Review: Les Misérables – Victor Hugo

06 - Les Misérables

Rating – 4*

This book was a beast which took me the entirety of the month to get through but it was oh-so-worth it. I listened to this primarily as, once again, my physical and audio versions were different translations; the Penguin edition is Norman Denny and the Naxos audio translation is Isabel F. Hapgood. As a result, I generally stuck to the audio version because flip-flopping between the two translations was quite confusing! Also, it is worth saying that I went in to this book knowing practically nothing. I haven’t seen any adaptation of it as I always knew I wanted to read the book first. This book is incredible and trying to condense all my feeling in to a concise review has been a challenge!

Everything in this book was incredible. The plot was enormous and spanned so many things, but more than anything this was a character study. This was definitely more character driven than plot driven and I loved that! The characters were so rounded and real, their struggles felt believable, I believed in this people and even the characters I hated were equally as fascinating. Jean Valjean, really being the main character, is the one I felt most invested in and his story, this book, really did wrench my heart at times. The first part of this book, with Fantine, had me in tears at more than one point! His struggles over the course of the novel, the two sides of him conflicting, is a really interesting read and one I am so, so glad I finally got around to.

In the end I rated this book 4 stars. I’ve read some long books in my time, most of them are incredible. They’ve stood the test of time for a reason. This book was one of them but… I wasn’t compelled to keep picking this up. If I didn’t pick it up for 2 or 3 days I didn’t feel I missed it. Don’t misunderstand me, when I was reading this book I didn’t want to put it down but I also didn’t have the desire to keep picking it up (as I did with The Count of Monte Cristo). A big book is a commitment and it has to have the momentum to keep you going and, this didn’t really. My main issues with this book were that I found myself lost at times as Hugo does like to go off on extreme tangents which last a considerable amount of time. It’s that reason why I found myself not really engaging 100% with it while I was reading it. Some of these tangents were really interesting, I really enjoyed some of them but I think I would, and could, have got just as much out of an abridged version and I really hate myself for thinking that! This book is as much about French history and philosophy as it is about Jean Valjean and some of that was very much appreciated!

If you love a big book, if you want to make a commitment for an indeterminate period of time, I do recommend this book. However, if you want a more fast paced French epic, definitely pick The Count of Monte Cristo up over this. Maybe this is one where familiarity would be a good thing and having seen the musical or the movie would have been of benefit, who knows? All I know is I enjoyed it and I am most certainly a convert to French classic literature!

Classics Ahoy || Book Haul IX

So I’ve gone a little classics mad as of late. Since the start of December I have acquired quite a number. I received a good number of book tokens for my birthday at the end of November and a fair amount at Christmas, combined with relatives who are now no longer trying to not buy me books I’ve been very happy. I also was lucky enough to win a book token of £50 for my local store, Jarrold where I added to the classics!

 So, I bought a lot of Clothbound Classics this past few months. I have more than doubled my already quite large collection. First off I purchased the Dickens collection from Amazon – it was in their flash sales at £40 and with student discount I really couldn’t say no. I already had a copy of A Christmas Carol which was a gift a few years ago and I have gifted that to a family member.

The set contained Bleak House, Oliver Twist, Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations and, as I said, A Christmas Carol.

Then, between birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, and gifts to myself I added a few more to the collection. Tess of the D’ubervilles was a present from my grandmother, my parents (mum) bought Far From the Madding Crowd because she liked the bees on the cover! I preordered The Tenant of Wildfell Hall back in November when it was first announced as a clothbound edition as I loved the book and really wanted to add it to my collection.

The Woman in White was a bargain – I found it in an Oxfam shop for £5. It was a little battered but I couldn’t say no at that price! War and Peace was an impulse buy. I went in Waterstones to buy a paperback edition of Frankenstein and came out with that. I loved Anna Karenina so I decided it was definitely a good purchase even though I have a paperbakc somewhere… I want to read this this Summer for certain! Finally there is Dracula. I love Dracula and have been lusting after this edition for quite some time. When I won the gift voucher I decided that buying it was acceptable.

20160201_225840364_iOSPenguin owns my heart. I also went a little mad with PEL editions. What you’ll notice here is I have some duplicates. There are some books I own as Clothbound here. I’m not going to lie, I like to have collections in both and I do find a paperback easier to read. Essentially, I collect the clothbound editions as pretty objects and the paperbacks as functional objects.

So, since December I have accumulated these. Jane Eyre, Hard Times, The Sign of Four, Daniel Deronda, North and South, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Frankenstein, The House of Mirth and finally, A Room with a View.

Phew.

Daniel Deronda was the one I paid a bit for. I have discovered a love of George Eliot and Daniel Deronda is pretty much impossible to find new. This edition was about £10 from Ebay and I really don’t regret it. I also purchased another book with it from the same seller for about £2.50 so it averaged out at the £6 a book I would ordinarily pay for them.

Finally the very little popular fiction I acquired.20160201_230158477_iOS It’s a very small pile indeedy. I purchased The Chimes and The Buried Giant with the voucher I won. I really want to reread The Buried Giant as I didn’t much care for it initially but it’s a book which has stuck with me quite a bit so I’m interested to see if my opinion of it changes on a reread.

I also picked up some charity shop bargains in the shape of KitchenCollected Stories of Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Poor Things.

What can be drawn from this haul is I’m going to be reading a lot of classics in the near future and I’m very excited about that!