Six Degrees of Separation: from Vanity Fair to Oliver Twist

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with with Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. I read this book in December 2004 (I know this as I’d written the date at the front of the book). I loved it. I didn’t watch the recent TV adaptation, not wanting to lose my own mental pictures of the characters and it always irritates me when adaptations move away from the original story.

Vanity Fair

 

The main character in Vanity Fair is Becky Sharp, an orphan who was brought up at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for young ladies in Chiswick Mall, which leads me to my first link in the chain –

Pinkerton’s Sister by Rushforth. The main character is Alice Pinkerton who is most definitely eccentric. The book begins: ‘The madwoman in the attic was standing at the window.’  It’s a bizarre story, funny, even ludicrous at times, full of literary and musical references and I got lost in it for hours. It’s a very long and detailed book and I don’t suppose it’s everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it.

Pinkerton's Sister

My second link followed on naturally to another book by Peter Rushforth, A Dead Language. I was disappointed with this book as it was so hard to understand what was going on – it’s about Alice’s brother Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, the young naval lieutenant who abandoned Madame Butterfly as he is about to set sail for Japan. It is strange and I didn’t finish it.

A Dead Language

It leads me on to another book with ‘dead’ in the title – The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer. This is about Eve Singer, a TV crime reporter, who will go to any length to get the latest scoop. But when a twisted serial killer starts using her to gain the publicity he craves, Eve must decide how far she’s willing to go – and how close she’ll let him get.

The Beautiful Dead

The fantastic TV drama Killing Eve is based on Codename Villanelle, a series of novellas by  Luke Jennings.  Eve Polastri, a desk-bound MI5 officer, begins to track down talented psychopathic assassin Villanelle, while both women become obsessed with each other.

Killing Eve: Codename Villanelle

In Worth Killing For by Ed James  DI Simon Fenchurch witnesses a murder when a woman is attacked by a young hoodie on a bike, who snatches her mobile and handbag. The hoodie is part of a phone-theft gang, run by the mysterious Kamal.

This reminded me so much of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, in which young boys are recruited by Fagan to ‘pick-a pocket-or two’. After running away from the workhouse  Oliver is lured into a den of thieves peopled by vivid and memorable characters – the Artful Dodger, vicious burglar Bill Sikes, his dog Bull’s Eye, prostitute Nancy, and the cunning master-thief Fagin.

Oliver Twist

I am so surprised at where this chain has ended – from one classic to another, both about an orphan, but very different in style. Both Vanity Fair and Oliver Twist were first published as serials, before being published as books – Vanity Fair in 1847-48 and Oliver Twist in 1837-39. In between it has passed through two rather strange literary novels and three books focusing on death and murder!

Next month (December 1, 2018), we’ll begin with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten of the Longest Books I’ve Read

Top Ten Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.

The rules are simple:

  • Each Tuesday, Jana assigns a new topic. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want.
  • Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to The Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.
  • Add your name to the Linky widget on that day’s post so that everyone can check out other bloggers’ lists.
  • Or if you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.

This week’s topic is Ten of the Longest Books I’ve Read.

In the past I used to prefer reading long books, so most of the ones listed below are ones I read years ago. These days I tend to shy away from really long books, unless they’re e-books, as they’re usually heavy to hold or in such a small font that I find them difficult to read, or both.

In page number order(which vary according to different editions) they are:

Les Misérables

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, 1,231 pages.

The October Horse (Masters of Rome)

The October Horse by Colleen McCullough, 1,124 pages

The Pillars of the Earth (The Pillars of the Earth, #1)

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, 1,088 pages

The Grass Crown

The Grass Crown by Colleen McCullough, 1,043 pages

The Mists of Avalon

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley, 1,009 pages

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, 1,006 pages

The Way We Live Now

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, 976 pages.

War and Peace

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 975 pages.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 960 pages.

Gone With the Wind

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, 959 pages.

My favourites of these books are Gone with the Wind and War and Peace – both of these surprised me at how much I enjoyed them.

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr was my Classics Club Spin book for August. It was first published in 1946. Carr (1906 – 1977) was an American writer who also wrote under the pseudonym of Carter Dickson and Carr Dickson. In 1936 he was elected to the Detection Club in London. He Who Whispers is one of his ‘locked room’  mysteries/impossible crimes, featuring Dr Gideon Fell, an amateur sleuth.

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was pleased to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s well written, set in 1945 just after the end of the Second World War when Miles Hammond is finding it hard to getting used to peacetime. London is still showing the scars of the war and he feels that his life is unreal. He has been discharged from the Army after being in hospital suffering from diesel-oil poisoning.

Then, gasping out to the end like a gauleiter swallowing poison, the war is over. You come out of hospital – a little shakily, your discharge papers in your pocket – into a London still pinched by shortages; a London of long queues, erratic buses, dry pubs; a London where they turn on the street-lights and immediately turn them off again to save fuel; but a place free at last from the intolerable weight of threats.

People didn’t celebrate that victory hysterically, as for some reason or other the newspapers liked to make out. What the newsreels showed was only a bubble on the huge surface of the town. Like himself, Miles Hammond thought, most people were a little apathetic because they could not yet think of it as real. (page 6)

His friend, Dr Gideon Fell, has invited him to dinner as a guest at the Murder Club, their first meeting in five years, where the speaker is Professor Rigaud. But when he arrives he finds none of the members of the Club have turned up. The only other people there are the Professor, and a beautiful blonde called Barbara Morell. Rigaud, however, tells them the story he had prepared for the Club – a tale of an impossible murder on the top of a ruined tower, that had once been part of a French chateau burnt down by the Hugeunots in the 16th century, and a mysterious woman, Miss Fay Seton.

The body of Howard Brooke was found lying on the parapet of the tower by two children between 10 minutes to 4 and 5 minutes past 4. He had been stabbed through his body with a sword-stick and yet the evidence showed conclusively that during this time not a living soul came near him. Rigaud points out the difficulties of scaling the wall of the tower, leading Miles to suspect he is alluding to ‘some sort of supernatural being that could float in the air‘ – in other words, a vampire.

Now, six years later Miles, Rigaud and Barbara together with Dr Fell set about trying to solve the mystery. I was fascinated by Dr Fell, supposedly based upon G. K. Chesterton (author of the Father Brown stories), in his appearance and personality. He’s immensely tall and fat, with a big mop of grey-streaked hair, and wearing a long, dark cape. He strides along ‘with a rolling motion like an emperor, and the sound of his throat-clearing preceded him like a war-cry‘.

I thought the characterisation was excellent and there is a great sense of location. The book is full of tension and there is a real sense of approaching danger and disaster as the characters struggle to uncover the truth. It is only due to Dr Fell’s ingenuity that their fears are calmed and he produces a rational explanation and reveals the truth. I too was puzzled and the book had kept me guessing right to the end. Even then when I knew what had happened I was so involved with the characters that  I was left wondering –  what happened next? 

Now, I’m keen to read more of John Dickson Carr’s books. There are a lot of them – see the list at Fantastic Fiction.

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books in association with H.Hamilton (1953)
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • Rating: 4*

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin. The Club has four new moderators – Brona, Deb, Kay and Margaret (not me). And I’m pleased to see they are carrying on with the Classics Club Spin!

The Spin rules:

  •  List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
  • Number them from 1 to 20.
  • On Wednesday 1st August, the Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st August, 2018.

This is my list:

All Quiet on the Western FrontAppleby's EndBirdsongClouds of Witness: Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery…The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin (Maigret #10)

  1. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  2. Appleby’s End by Michael Innes
  3. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
  4. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  5. The Dancer at the Gai Moulin by Georges Simenon

Far From the Madding CrowdGreenmantle (Richard Hannay, #2)Gulliver's TravelsHe Who Whispers (Dr. Gideon Fell, #16)Love in the Time of Cholera

6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
7. Greenmantle by John Buchan
8. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
9. He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr
10.Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The Man in the Queue (Inspector Alan Grant, #1)Oliver TwistParade's EndThe Return of the NativeThe Riddle of the Third Mile (Inspector Morse, #6)

11.The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
12.Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
13.Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
14.The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
15.The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter

Ruling Passion (Dalziel & Pascoe, #3)The Shadow PuppetThe Saint-Fiacre Affair (Maigret, #13)Sweet ThursdayThree Men in a Boat (Three Men, #1)

16.Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill
17.The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon
18.The Saint- Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
19.Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
20.Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

It shouldn’t matter which one comes up as I do want to read these books – but I’d like it to be one of the shorter books!

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

‘… in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.’

The Grapes of Wrath

Shocking and controversial when it was first published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic remains his undisputed masterpiece.

Set against the background of dust bowl Oklahoma and Californian migrant life, it tells of the Joad family, who, like thousands of others, are forced to travel West in search of the promised land. Their story is one of false hopes, thwarted desires and broken dreams, yet out of their suffering Steinbeck created a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision; an eloquent tribute to the endurance and dignity of the human spirit. (Amazon)

I loved The Grapes of Wrath. It’s a book that totally surprised me by how much I loved it and I’m sure that whatever I write about it will not do it justice – my post merely skims the surface of this brilliant book. My copy has an Introduction by Robert DeMott, who is an American author, scholar, and editor best known for his influential scholarship on John Steinbeck and in it he writes that The Grapes of Wrath is the greatest of Steinbeck’s seventeen novels.

Steinbeck’s aggressive mixture of native philosophy, common sense politics, blue-collar radicalism, working class characters, folk wisdom, and home-spun literary form – all set to a rhythmic style and nervy, raw dialect – qualified the novel as the ‘American book” he set out to write. (page 1)

Cannery Row was the first of Steinbeck’s novels that I read and I thought then that Steinbeck’s style is perfect for me. With both books I felt that I was there in the thick of everything he described. His writing conjures up such vivid pictures and together with his use of dialect I really felt I was there in America in the 1930s travelling with the Joad family on their epic journey from Oklahoma to California. What a long, hard journey with such high hopes of a better life and what a tragedy when they arrived to find their dreams were shattered, their illusions destroyed and their hopes denied.

I liked the structure of the book with chapters advancing the story of the Joad family’s journey interspersed with general chapters about the current situation in the country giving snapshots of living conditions. But it’s the landscape and the characters (so many of them) together that made such an impression on me. I liked all the details Steinbeck gives, for example how everything, no matter how small has meaning and memories attached, how to decide what to leave and what to take as the Joads packed up to leave their home. Their belongings and their land is their whole being:

How can we live without our lives? How will we know it’s us without our past? No. Leave it. Burn it. They sat and looked at it and burned it into their memories. How’ll it be not to know what land’s outside the door? How if you wake up in the night and know—and know the willow tree’s not there? Can you live without the willow tree? Well, no, you can’t. The willow tree is you. The pain on that mattress there—that dreadful pain—that’s you. (page 93)

Throughout the book, Steinbeck shows the inhumanity of man to man and also the dignity and compassion, the essential goodness and perseverance of individuals against such appalling conditions and inhumane treatment. Inevitably, I found myself comparing it to the situation today with the influx of migrants and refugees and the problems of illegal immigrants.

Steinbeck’s first wife, Carol chose the novel’s title from Howe’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ –  Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord, He is trampling on the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored… , which in turn is taken from the Book of Revelation Ch14:19-20: ‘So the angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes, and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.'(NIV)

~~~

This book slots into the only reading challenge I’m doing this year – What’s in a Name 2018. It fits into the category of a book with a ‘fruit or vegetable‘ in the title. It is also one of my TBR books (a book I’ve owned prior to 1 January 2018) and also a book on my Classics Club list.

  • Format: Paperback
  • Print Length: 476 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Modern Classics 2000 (first published 1939)
  • Source: A present
  • My Rating: 5*

WWW Wednesday: 13 June 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The Grapes of WrathOn Beulah Height (Dalziel & Pascoe, #17)

I’m making good progress with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and I’m still loving it.The Joads have arrived in California and it’s not what they expected – too many homeless, hungry people desperate for work being moved on from place to place. Steinbeck’s writing is detailed and richly descriptive. I feel as though I’m on the road with the characters.

I’m also reading On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, crime fiction about missing children in a Yorkshire village. A little girl took her dog out for a walk early one morning and didn’t come home. Three little girls had disappeared 15 years earlier and their bodies were never found. I’ve read nearly half the book and as usual with Hill’s books I love the characterisation, the humour and his use of dialect. It’s the first of my 10 Books of Summer.

Recently finished: Come a Little Closer by Rachel Abbott – definitely creepy and disturbing. It’s the first book of hers I’ve read, but the seventh one she’s written. It reads well as a standalone. It’s described as a psychological thriller and the characters are certainly unstable, stressed and in complex and dangerous relationships. I gave it three stars on Goodreads – maybe that’s being generous, as I’m not at all sure I did ‘like’ it.

Come A Little Closer (DCI Tom Douglas #7)

Synopsis:

They will be coming soon. They come every night. 
  
Snow is falling softly as a young woman takes her last breath. 
  
Fifteen miles away, two women sit silently in a dark kitchen. They don’t speak, because there is nothing left to be said. 
  
Another woman boards a plane to escape the man who is trying to steal her life. But she will have to return, sooner or later. 
  
These strangers have one thing in common. They each made one bad choice – and now they have no choices left. Soon they won’t be strangers, they’ll be family… 
  
When DCI Tom Douglas is called to the cold, lonely scene of a suspicious death, he is baffled. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get there? 
  
How many more must die? Who is controlling them, and how can they be stopped?

I may write more about this book once I’ve sorted out my thoughts about it.

Reading next: Stalker by Lisa Stone, due to be published tomorrow 14 June.

Synopsis:

Someone is always watching…

Derek Flint is a loner. He lives with his mother and spends his
evenings watching his clients on the CCTV cameras he has installed inside their homes. He likes their companionship – even if it’s through a screen.

When a series of crimes hits Derek’s neighbourhood, DC Beth Mayes begins to suspect he’s involved. How does he know so much about the victims’ lives? Why won’t he let anyone into his office? And what is his mother hiding in that strange, lonely house?

As the crimes become more violent, Beth must race against the clock to find out who is behind the attacks. Will she uncover the truth in time? And is Derek more dangerous than even she has guessed?

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

The Inheritance

This week I’m featuring The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott, a book I’ll be reading in the next few days.

It begins:

In a green park, where troops of bright-eyed deer lay sleeping under drooping tees and a clear lake mirrored in its bosom the flowers that grew upon its edge, there stood Lord Hamilton’s stately home, half castle and half mansion. Here and there rose a gray old tower or ivy-covered arch, while the blooming gardens that lay around it and the light balconies added grace and beauty to the old decaying castle, making it a fair and pleasant home.

Synopsis:

Synopsis:

Here at last is the book “Jo” wrote. Generations of fans have longed to plumb that first romance, hinted at so captivatingly on the pages of “Little Women,” Alcott’s autobiographical classic. Now, after nearly one hundred fifty years spent among archived family documents, Louisa May Alcott’s debut novel finally reaches its eager public.

Set in an English country manor, the story follows the turbulent fortunes of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan whose loyalty and beauty win her the patronage of wealthy friends until a jealous rival contrives to rob her of her position. In the locket around her neck, she carries a deep secret about her natural birthright. But an even greater truth lies hidden in Edith’s heart – her deep reverence for the kind and noble Lord Percy, the only friend who can save her from the deceitful, envious machinations of Lady Ida. Reminiscent of Jane Austen in its charms, this chaste but stirringly passionate novel affirms the conquering power of both love and courtesy. (Goodreads)

∼ ∼ 

The Inheritance was first published in 1997. The manuscript was found in the Houghton Library at Harvard University by two professors, Joel Myerson and Daniel Shealy who were researching Alcott’s letters and journals.

What do you think – would you read on?