Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.

Before next Sunday, 11 December, 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 29 January, 2023.

Here’s my list:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  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?

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: a Mini Review of a Short Classic

The first weekly theme for Novellas in November is short classics and I read Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s 1954 novel about a group of boys stranded on a desert island. It was his first novel and it certainly packs a punch. It was described as ‘A post-apocalyptic, dystopian survivor-fantasy … [A novel] for all time … A cult classic.’ Guardian. It’s a quick read of just 183 pages.

What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages? What’s grown-ups going to think? Going off-hunting pigs-letting fires out-and now!

A plane crashes on a desert island. The only survivors are a group of schoolboys. By day, they explore the dazzling beaches, gorging fruit, seeking shelter, and ripping off their uniforms to swim in the lagoon. At night, in the darkness of the jungle, they are haunted by nightmares of a primitive beast. Orphaned by society, they must forge their own; but it isn’t long before their innocent games devolve into a murderous hunt …

I thought I’d read this book years ago. But as soon as I began reading I realised I hadn’t read it – it’s one of those books you think you’ve read because you know the basic outline of what happens.

It is frighteningly believable. What at first seemed to the boys as a great adventure – stranded on a desert island, leaving them free to play all day without any annoying interference from adults, soon descended into a sinister nightmare scenario. They elected a leader, Ralph who initially made friends with Jack, the leader of a group of choirboys. But soon the two fell out as Jack, disappointed at not being chosen as leader, tried to take over – and a battle for power followed.

Ralph wanted to make sure they were seen if a ship passed the island and organised the boys to keep a fire going as a smoke signal. But when one of the younger boys thought he saw a beast in the jungle panic set in. Jack made himself the leader of the hunters, promising to hunt and kill the beast band the boys let the fire go out as they joined the hunt. Things got completely out of hand ending in chaos. It is absolutely gripping and very dark, showing the savage side of human nature.

Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Amazon:

Joseph decides to take his mistress and son, together with a few friends, to stay in a cabin in deepest Wales for the weekend – with absolutely disastrous results. Beryl Bainbridge’s gift for deadpan dialogue and spare narrative, and her darkly comic vision of the world, are all in evidence in this early novel.

I read Another Part of the Wood because I’ve enjoyed other books by Beryl Bainbridge. It’s a novella, really, as it’s only 159 pages. I love her style, dark humour with clear, concise prose, and fully realised characters. It was her second book, first published in 1968. She revised the book and reissued it in 1979. My copy is a Fontana edition published in 1980. I read it at this time because it’s the novel that came up for me to read for the latest Classics Club Spin. It’s also one of my TBRs, a book that I’ve owned since 2016.

Like all of Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I’ve read it is well written and makes compulsive reading, with individual, mainly unlikable, characters who are mostly at odds with each other. I enjoyed the oddness, never really knowing what would happen next. The title has a theatrical feeling, pointing out the different scenes in the book as the action switches from one part of the wood to another, with one or more of the characters taking centre stage.

It’s set in Flintshire, Wales, in a holiday camp, which consists of huts in a wood at the foot of a mountain. There is George, the owner of the land, and Balfour who works in a factory during the week and helps him at the weekends. George, is obsessed with the Holocaust and Balfour, a shy, quiet man suffers from some sort of illness – he gets sick very suddenly with a high temperature and the shivers as though he’s turned to ice. All he can do is hide away and sleep it off.

The book begins as George’s friend, Joseph, a selfish, insensitive man, arrives for the weekend from London, with his young son, Roland, his girlfriend Dotty, and Kidney, a fat teenager who apparently has learning disabilities and a health problem (never explained), dependent on his pills. In addition Joseph has invited another couple to join them, Lionel and his wife, May, an unhappy couple with a dysfunctional and argumentative relationship. They are all townies, like fish out of water in the countryside and find the huts claustrophobic and too basic – May refuses to use either the chemical toilet or the bushes.

The atmosphere is tense right from the start and rises throughout the book as their relationships become increasingly fractious. Having promised Roland that he would take him for a walk up the mountain, Joseph leaves him to his own devices. He withholds Kidney’s pills and argues with Dotty. Dotty and Balfour walk off to the village where she buys a coat of many colours and Balfour falls ill. The wood, as in fairy tales, is not a safe place.

The world was a deep deceptive forest, full of promises and little glades and clearings, and in the dark depths roamed the wolves, savage, snapping their great teeth, waiting to spring on those who wandered from the path. (page 73)

There’s a sense of foreboding, the sense that something terrible is about to happen … but what, and who is in danger? I felt that more than one of these characters could come to a sticky end. And I was unsure, fearing the worst for one particular character – and sadly I was right. It was inevitable.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 29th January 2023.

Synopsis

I grew as impudent a Thief, and as dexterous as ever Moll Cut-Purse was’

Born and abandoned in Newgate Prison, Moll Flanders is forced to make her own way in life. She duly embarks on a career that includes husband-hunting, incest, bigamy, prostitution and pick-pocketing, until her crimes eventually catch up with her. One of the earliest and most vivid female narrators in the history of the English novel, Moll recounts her adventures with irresistible wit and candour—and enough guile that the reader is left uncertain whether she is ultimately a redeemed sinner or a successful opportunist. 

I hesitated before adding this book to my Classics Club list and now I’m not sure that I do want to read it. I’m hoping that at least I’ll like it. If you have read it I’d love to know what you thought of 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, 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.