The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 October 2022.

Synopsis:

In a remote cottage in Wales two urban couples are spending their holiday with the idealistic owner and his protege. The beginning is idyllic but catastrophe lurks behind every tree, and as the holiday continues their relationships start to show their cracks.

I’m so glad this is my spin book as this has been on my TBR list for 6 years. I’ve enjoyed all of Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I’ve read so far and so I’m hoping to love this book.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.

Before next Sunday, 18 September, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. On that day the Classics 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 30 October, 2022.

Here’s my list:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge
  3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  4. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
  5. The Stars Look Down by A J Cronin
  6. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  7. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  8. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
  9. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
  10. The Birds and other short stories by Daphne du Maurier
  11. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
  12. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  13. Daisy Miller by Henry James
  14. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  15. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  16. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault
  17. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  18. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
  19. The Invisible Man by H G Wells
  20. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

I don’t mind which one is picked as I’m aiming to read all of them in due course! But which one/s would you recommend?

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First published in 1950 A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years and now I have at last read it. It was not quite what I had imagined it to be, about Alice Springs in Australia. It is actually set in three parts, with just the third part set in Australia, not in Alice Springs but in Willstown, a fictional town in the outback.

Narrated by Noel Strachan, a solicitor, this is the story of Jean Paget. It begins a few years after the Second World War, when he tells her she has inherited a considerable sum of money from her uncle. But it is held in trust until she reaches the age of thirty five. Until then she will receive about £900 a year to spend. She wonders what to do with the money and eventually decides she wants to go back to Malaya, where she had been a prisoner of war, to dig a well. She tells Noel about what had happened to her in Malaya.

The second part is about that time in Malaya during the War at the time when the Japanese invaded the island. Jean and a group of European women and children were forced by the Japanese to walk for hundreds of miles from place to place before finally managing to stay in one village. Able to speak Malay and being courageous and resourceful, she takes on the role of the leader of their group. She met an Australian soldier, Sergeant Joe Harman, also a prisoner, who was driving a lorry for the Japanese and they became friends with disastrous consequences. This section is the best in the book to my mind.

On her return after the War she writes to Noel telling him how she set about organising the villagers to dig the well so that the women would have fresh water close to their houses and also build a washing-house. And it is here that she learns more about what had happened to Joe and decides to carry on travelling to Australia to find him and thank him for the help he had given her and the other women.

The third part is set in Australia. Jean is an organiser and on her arrival in Willstown she discovers that this is a place where the young women leave as soon as they are old enough. There are no jobs or entertainment to keep them there. So Jean decides she wants to make the town into a town just like Alice Springs. And she does this with remarkable success building a workshop for the girls to make shoes and handbags, providing an ice cream parlour and a public swimming pool and shops. At the same time her search for Joe is eventually successful. She continues writing to Noel about her life in the Australian outback, letters full of detail about her enterprises and the difficulties of cattle ranching in such isolated places – a bit too much detail for me really. But the episode where Jean helped in rescuing an injured stockman is full of drama.

This is really just the bare bones of the story – there is so much more to it than that. Others have commented on the casual racism in the book. It tells it as it was, how people lived at the time, and reflects the attitudes that people had. Jean is of course the main character, a woman somewhat ahead of her time with great strength of character, determination and entrepreneurial skills. The resourcefulness she showed in Malaya is developed in Australia.

In his Author’s Note Shute explains that the forced march during WW2 took place in Sumatra and not in Malaya and the women in the group were Dutch and not British. As in his novel, the local Japanese commander was reluctant to assume responsibility for these women and, to solve his problem, marched them out of his area and took them on a trek all around Sumatra that lasted for two and a half years.

Jean Paget was based on Mrs Geysel, whom Shute had met when he visited Sumatra in 1949. She had been one of the Dutch party, then aged 21, recently married and with a young baby she had carried for over twelve hundred miles around Sumatra. A remarkable story that I really enjoyed.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is The Mousetrap and Other Plays by Agatha Christie and I am delighted as this is a book I’ve wanted to read for years!. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 7th August, 2022.

Synopsis from the book:

These four gripping plays by the undisputed Queen of Crime, here published for the first time in book form, provide yet more evidence of her mastery of the domestic thriller. Agatha Christie’s talents as a playwright are equal to her skills as a novelist and reading her plays, with their ingenious plots and colourful cast of characters, is every bit as pleasurable.

The Mousetrap has made history by becoming the longest running play ever. And Then There Were None was another huge theatrical success and was made into a superb film by Rene Clair. The two remaining plays were both adapted by Agatha Christie from her earlier novels: The Hollow, set in the English countryside and Appointment with Death, set among the exotic ruins of Petra in the suffocating heat of the Jordan desert.

Agatha Christie dramatised many of her own stories and frequently devised new twists of plot and character to surprise and enthrall her audience.

The Mousetrap opened in London’s West End in 1952 and ran continuously until 16 March 2020, when the stage performances had to be temporarily discontinued during the COVID-19 pandemic. It then re-opened on 17 May 2021. It’s set in a guest house, Monkswell Manor, wintertime “in the present day”, that is the early 1950s. The play has a twist ending, which the audience are traditionally asked not to reveal after leaving the theatre, so I’ll be limited in what I can write about it.

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.

Before next Sunday, 12 June, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. On that day the Classics 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 7 August, 2022.

Here’s my list:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge
  3. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  4. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  5. The Mousetrap and Selected Plays by Agatha Christie
  6. The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin
  7. The Stars Look Down by A J Cronin
  8. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  9. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
  10. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
  11. The Birds and other short stories by Daphne du Maurier
  12. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
  13. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  14. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
  15. How Green was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
  16. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute
  17. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  18. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
  19. The Invisible Man by H G Wells
  20. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

I don’t mind which one is picked as I’m aiming to read all of them in due course! But which one/s would you recommend?

Edited on June 9, because I’ve just realised I’ve included A Room with a View which I’ve read – it was my Classics Club Spin book from the last Spin! I just copied the previous list (with a few alterations) and didn’t realise it was still on the list. I’ve now removed it and added The Awakening by Kate Chopin instead.

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens: a Brief Overview

The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit is my last book to review on my first Classics Club list. I read this in December 2017 and didn’t write a post, mainly because it was during the Christmas/New Year period, a busy time. All I recorded was this: ‘It is long, starts very slowly and then gets more interesting, with great characters and some comic and satirical episodes. It’s a study of selfishness and hypocrisy.’

From the back cover of my paperback copy:

Moving from the sunniest farcicality to the grimmest reaches of criminal psychology, Martin Chuzzlewit is a brilliant study in selfishness and hypocrisy.

The story of an inheritance, it relates the contrasting destinies of the two descendants of the brothers Chuzzlewit, both born and bred to the same heritage of selfishness, showing how one, Martin, by good fortune escapes and how the other, Jonas, does not – only to reap a fatal harvest. Peopled with Dickens immortals as Mrs Gamp, Poll Sweedlepipe, Montague Tiggs, Chevy Slime, it is one of Dickens’ great comic masterpieces.

It was Dickens’ sixth novel, serially published in 1843-44, and was something of a flop, with a dramatic decline in sales, compared to his early books. I can understand that because it’s not one of my favourites of his books. It is too long – over 900 pages in my Penguin Classics edition. I stuck with it as I had previously enjoyed watching the 1994 TV Mini Series with an excellent cast including Paul Schofield, Keith Allen, Julia Sawalha, Ben Walden, and Lynda Bellingham amongst others.

In this case I think the TV adaptation scores over the novel, which dragged in parts for me. It is a satire, a black comedy, a romance of the sickly sentimentality sort, a story of blackmail and murder, that involves hypocrisy, greed and selfishness.

I thought the section set in America where young Martin went to seek his fortune was overdone and it became tedious. It seems that Dickens had not enjoyed his own visit to America in 1842 as in this section he mocks what he disliked about America – the corrupt newspapers, slavery, the violence, obsession with business and money and so on and so forth. I was glad when young Martin returned to England.

But I enjoyed the comic characters – the drunken nurse of sorts, Mrs Gamp and her invisible friend, Mrs Harris, and Sam Pecksmith, the scheming architect. The Pecksmith family’s visit to London is hilarious. These characters saved the book for me. Mrs Gamp is one of the most bizarre characters with her mispronunciations and monologues recounting her conversations with her imaginary friend Mrs Harris. Her speciality lies in the polar extremities of life, birth and death:the lying in and the laying out.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (30 Jan. 1986)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 944 pages
  • Source: my own copy
  • My Rating: 3*

Adam Bede by George Eliot

I’ve finished reading the 50 books on my first Classics Club List, but there are two books I didn’t review immediately after I finished reading them, which means now I can only write short reviews as the details are no longer fresh in my mind. And that is difficult as they are both long novels.

The first is Adam Bede by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). It was her first novel, published in 1859.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis

Carpenter Adam Bede is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves, touching not just Adam Bede, but many others, not least, pious Methodist Preacher Dinah Morris. A tale of seduction, betrayal, love and deception, the plot of Adam Bede has the quality of an English folk song. Within the setting of Hayslope, a small, rural community, Eliot brilliantly creates a sense of earthy reality, making the landscape itself as vital a presence in the novel as that of her characters themselves. (Amazon)

This is a long and slow-moving novel set in the rural community of Hayslope, a fictional village, based on Ellastone in the West Midlands in 1799. Overall I liked the book, but not as much as I remember liking Middlemarch, which I read long before I began this blog, and Silas Marner (my review). As in those two books it took me a while to get used to George Eliot’s style of writing, with her long, long sentences – some so long I had forgotten how they had started, before I got to the end. But I liked the dialect used by the characters, according to their class, that helps identify their position within the village community.

They’re cur’ous talkers i’ this country, sir; the gentry’s hard work to hunderstand ’em. I was brought hup among the gentry, sir, ‘an’ got the turn o’ their tongue when I was a bye. Why, what do you think the folks here says for ‘hevn’t you?’ – the gentry, you know, says, ‘hevn’t you’ – well, the people about here says ‘hanna yey.’ It’s what they call the dileck as is spoke hereabout, sir. That’s what I’ve heared Squire Donnithorne say many a time; it’s the dileck, says he.’

It is about love, seduction, remorse, crime and religion. a study of early 19th century rural life and education. It emphasises the value of hard work; the power of love; and the consequences of bad behaviour. As the title indicates the main character is Adam Bede, a hard working young man, a carpenter, with a strong sense of right and wrong, strong and intelligent:

In his tall stalwartness Adam Bede was a Saxon, and justified his name; but the jet black hair, made the more noticeable by its contrast with the light paper cap, and the keen glance of the dark eyes that shone from under strongly marked, prominent and mobile eyebrows, indicated a mixture of Celtic blood. The face was large and roughly hewn, and when in repose had no other beauty than such as belongs to an expression of good-humoured honest intelligence.

The novel revolves around a love ‘rectangle’ – the beautiful but self-absorbed Hetty Sorrel; Captain Arthur Donnithorne, the young squire who seduces her; Adam Bede, her unacknowledged suitor; and Dinah Morris, Hetty’s cousin, a fervent, virtuous and beautiful Methodist lay preacher.

This short post doesn’t do justice to the novel. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads when I read it in 2015, but I have started to re-read it and I am enjoying it. I think that this time round maybe l’ll change my rating to 4 stars …

~~~

The other book I have left to review is Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens – my post will follow next week.

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon

Cécile is Dead by Georges Simenon, translated by Anthea Bell, an Inspector Maigret novel.

Synopsis (Amazon)

Poor Cécile! And yet she was still young. Maigret had seen her papers: barely twenty-eight years old. But it would be difficult to look more like an old maid, to move less gracefully, in spite of the care she took to be friendly and pleasant. Those black dresses that she must make for herself from bad paper patterns, that ridiculous green hat!

In the dreary suburbs of Paris, the merciless greed of a seemingly respectable woman is unearthed by her long suffering niece, and Maigret discovers the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

This novel has been published in a previous translation as Maigret and the Spinster.


My thoughts:

This is one of the best Maigret books I’ve read – and it is complicated, remarkably so in a novella of just 151 pages. At first it seems quite straight forward. Cécile has been wanting to see Detective Chief Inspector Maigret for months, sitting patiently in the ‘Aquarium’, as the waiting room at the Police Judiciaire in Paris, is known. She was convinced that someone had been breaking into her aunt’s apartment. But no one takes her seriously and Maigret is always busy, until one day he decides to see her. But she had left the waiting room, so he goes to the apartment where she lives with her elderly aunt, Juliette Boynet, the owner of the apartment building. She wasn’t there, but her aunt was – lying dead on the floor, strangled. Cécile was missing and the title tells you why – she was indeed dead.

And from then on, the mystery became more complex, with several suspects with a variety of motives. Juliette was very wealthy, but also miserly. She had a large family, mostly estranged from her and at odds with each other. They all turn up for her funeral, arguing about who should take precedence in the funeral cortège, and about who should inherit her money and property.

Maigret has to sort it out in his own way – musing over the details and feeling bad that he hadn’t spoken to Cécile earlier, thinking her worry over an intruder who just moved things around the apartment without taking anything was trivial. We see more of how he thinks and works when later in the investigation he is accompanied by an American, a Mr Spencer Oates from the Institute of Criminology of Philadelphia, who had asked if he could study Maigret’s methods.

This is the second time I’ve read Cécile is Dead. I first read it in 2018, but didn’t write about it at that time. Reading it for the second time, I realised I had forgotten all the details – it was like reading a new book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is either the 20th or the 22nd Maigret novel – Amazon records it as the 20th, whereas Goodreads has it as the 22nd! Whichever it is, it is a good read.

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00SSKM6OC
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin (4 Jun. 2015)
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 151 pages
  • Source: I bought the e-book
  • My Rating: 4*

A Room with a View by E M Forster

A Room with a View by E M Forster is an early twentieth century comedy of manners, satirising the manners and social conventions of Vistorian/Edwardian society. It is Forster’s third novel, first published in 1908, a short novel of 161 pages and is light reading with some humorous dialogue.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lucy has her rigid, middle-class life mapped out for her, until she visits Florence with her uptight cousin Charlotte, and finds her neatly ordered existence thrown off balance. Her eyes are opened by the unconventional characters she meets at the Pension Bertolini: flamboyant romantic novelist Eleanor Lavish, the Cockney Signora, curious Mr Emerson and, most of all, his passionate son George.

Lucy finds herself torn between the intensity of life in Italy and the repressed morals of Edwardian England, personified in her terminally dull fiancé Cecil Vyse. Will she ever learn to follow her own heart? (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

I enjoyed Forster’s A Passage to India years ago and was looking forward to reading A Room with a View. Overall I enjoyed it, although I was rather underwhelmed by it and even in parts bored, especially near the end of the book, where there are some philosophical paragraphs that left me thinking I didn’t really understand them. It is about a young woman, Lucy Honeychurch, and her journey to self-discovery as she breaks out of the restrained culture of Edwardian England. It’s also a romance. The writing is ambiguous at times, so that you have to read between the lines in places.

It begins in Florence where Lucy is staying at the Pensione Bertolini, with her older cousin and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett. At dinner, they were complaining that their rooms didn’t have views over the River Arno as they had been promised.They were rather taken aback by two other guests, a Mr Emerson and his son George who offered to swap rooms with them. The Emersons are not bound by the conventions of the day and Charlotte considers they are ill-bred. But Lucy is attracted by the Emersons’ free thinking ideas. They spend time in Florence visiting various locations including the Santa Croce church, the Piazza Della Signoria and the San Miniato church, with its beautiful facade, and take a trip into the hills. Lucy finds herself in a little open terrace, covered in violets:

From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam.

And it is there on that terrace that she comes across George and she is shocked and delighted, I think, when he kisses her. Charlotte witnesses the scene and urges/persuades Lucy to move to Rome where she meets Cecil Vyse, a most boring and priggish young man, whom she knew in England. The second half of the book takes place in England at Lucy’s home at Windy Corner where we meet the rest of her family and Lucy has to decide between the insufferable Cecil and the unconventional George. Will she give into convention or will she choose George, despite opposition from her family?

E M Forster from Goodreads:

Edward Morgan Forster, generally published as E.M. Forster, was an novelist, essayist, and short story writer. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. His humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: “Only connect”.

He had five novels published in his lifetime, achieving his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924) which takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.

Forster’s views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society. He is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised for his attachment to mysticism. His other works include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Maurice (1971), his posthumously published novel which tells of the coming of age of an explicitly gay male character.

A Room with a View was my Classics Club Spin book to read between 20th March and the 30th April. It is on my Classics Club list and it counts toward the Back to the Classics Challenge (as a 20th century classic).

Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

I have an old hardback copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (first published in 1831) in a very small font, too small for my eyes to cope with these days and a 49p e-book that I downloaded years ago when first got a Kindle. But I didn’t start reading it until a few months ago when FictionFan mentioned she was intending to read it and hold a Review-Along on her blog. I knew next to nothing about the book, not having seen any of the many films or TV versions, but I had read Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables back in 2008 and enjoyed it very much. So, I had high expectations that I would enjoy this one too.

But when I began reading my e-bookI was so disappointed – I thought it was so boring and it was hard to read, the sentences stilted and stumbling and obtuse with no flow. I was tempted to abandon it, after all it is a long book, and there are plenty of other books I want to read. However, I persevered, thinking surely it would get better. It didn’t, so then I wondered if it was me or the translation and began to look for another edition and I ended up with the Oxford World Classics edition, translated and with an introduction by Alban Krailsheimer, Notre-Dame de Paris, which is so much better, so much easier to read!

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The English title is so misleading – this book is not just about the hunchback Quasimodo, the bell-ringer of Notre-Dame, it is historical fiction on a grand scale, with a large cast of characters. It revolves around four main characters – the beautiful gypsy dancer, Esmeralda who fell hopelessly in love with the handsome womaniser, Captain Phoebus de Châteaupers, who has no intentions of marrying her. She in turn is loved by Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre-Dame and by Quasimodo, the deformed and deaf bell-ringer of the cathedral of Notre-Dame.

But that is not all – it is also the story of the cathedral itself, Notre-Dame de Paris, and Hugo describes it at great length, focusing on the Gothic architectural elements of its structure, particularly its use of the pointed arch and including its flying buttresses, clerestory windows, and stained glass. He was a great advocate for the preservation of its Gothic architecture and was also extremely upset about the changes to the cathedral, the repairs and additions that had been done over the years. And it is not just the cathedral, Hugo also devotes many pages to describing Paris, seeing it from a bird’s eye view and also to the invention of the printing press and its effect on culture, described by Hugo as ‘the greatest event in history’. These digressions were not what I expected to read – I just wanted to get on with the story. I was impatient with the digressions, but looking back at Les Mis, that is exactly what he had done in that book too, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The story of the main characters’ relationships is told in a complicated way, going forward and backward in time, filling in the background of the characters, whilst revolving around the events of 1482, during the reign of Louis XI (who makes an appearance in the book). And it is melodramatic, playing on all our emotions. Quasimodo was so named because he was found, abandoned on Quasimodo Sunday (that is the second Sunday after Easter) when he was four years old. He was ‘adopted’ by the sinister Archdeacon, Claude Frollo, and grew up in the cathedral, isolated by his deafness caused by all the years he’d spent ringing the bells, and feared because of his hideous appearance.

This book has everything! It is by turns a farcical comedy, a tale of obsessions and unrequited passions, of love and lust, of a terrible miscarriage of justice, of outsiders, of violent mobs, of cruelty, arrogant men, silly women, of monsters, of alchemy, of intolerance, of prejudice, jealousy, fury, torture, corruption and above all of tragedy. And it has a cast of colourful and distinct characters, that I either despised, loved or hated, including Esmeralda’s little goat Djali, who could dance and do tricks and spells (I loved Djali). It is difficult for me to love the book and equally as hard to dislike it as a whole, set firmly in its medieval time frame, against the dramatic backdrop of the cathedral (even though I grew impatient with all the architectural details). But I was convinced by the end of the book that Hugo had successfully brought the place and the people of 1482 dramatically to life for me.

My apologies to FictionFan for being nearly a week late to her Review-Along and thanks for nudging me into reading Notre-Dame de Paris at long last. I am glad I read it even if I can’t give it more than 3 stars – I  liked it, a good, enjoyable book.