Novellas in November: Short Classics

It’s the final week of Novellas in November and the focus is on classic literature.

Animal Farm by George Orwell, first published in 1945, is an allegorical novella, of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. It tells the story of a farm where the animals rebel against the farmer, Mr Jones, and throw him off the land. They hope to create a society where they are all equal, free and happy. Ultimately, the farm ends up in a state that is as bad, if not worse than it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon. It begins as the old boar Major tells the animals about his dream of overthrowing the human race when the produce of their labour would then be their own and he incites them to rebel. In the story that follows the Major is based on Marx, Farmer Jones on the Tsar, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball are based on Stalin and Trotsky respectively. Their revolution began by declaring that all animals are equal and ended with the added phrase but some animals are more equal than others.

This is one of those classics that I knew the story roughly, but had not read the book, until this month. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at the violence of the deaths in it and the pathos of Boxer’s story. Boxer, a cart horse is described as an enormous beast. He is hardworking, but naive and ignorant, struggling to learn the alphabet, representing the Russian working class who helped oust the Tsar. He is shown as the farm’s most dedicated and loyal worker – convinced that ‘Napoleon is always right‘, but eventually he is betrayed by him.

It is a deceptively easy read that can be read on two levels either as a simple fairy tale style story – initially Animal Farm had a subtitle, A Fairy Story – or as a satire against Stalin. It is thought provoking and moving.

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I’ve read several short classics since I began writing this blog. These are some of my favourites:

Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen. Lady Susan is a finished novella, whereas The Watsons and Sanditon are two unfinished fragments. I loved these stories. Told in a series of letters, Lady Susan is the  story of an unscrupulous widow who plans to force her daughter into a marriage against her wishes. Lady Susan is an attractive and entertaining and totally wicked character, who nevertheless almost manages to fool people for some of the time at least. She is also trying to captivate her sister-in-law’s brother, whilst still holding on to the affections of a previous lover.

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, a fast moving action-story, beginning with an international conspiracy, involving anarchists, financiers and German spies. Richard Hannay, having found Scudder, murdered in his London flat, fears for his life and goes on the run, chased by villains in a series of exciting episodes, culminating in the discovery of the location of the ‘thirty-nine steps’. Hannay is a remarkable character, resourceful, and a master of disguise. As well as fleeing for his life he is searching for Scudder’s notebook, which contains clues to the international conspiracy.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, a quick read and very entertaining. The narrator is not named, although Holly Golightly calls him ‘Fred’ after her brother. He’s a writer and at the beginning of the book he is reminiscing about Holly with Joe Bell, who ran a bar around the corner on Lexington Avenue. They hadn’t seen or heard from Holly  for over two years. She used to live in the apartment below Fred’s in a brownstone in the East Seventies in New York. Her past is almost as unknown as her present whereabouts. She’s a free spirit, charming and carefree, but craves attention.

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Even though Ethan Frome is a tragedy there is light to contrast the darkness, and there is love and hope set against repression and misery. It’s a book where I hoped the ending would be a happy one, although I knew it couldn’t be. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Ethan’s life had changed when his father died and he had had to give up his studies to work on the farm. His wife Zeena had always been ill and needing help in the house, which was why her cousin Mattie came to live with them. At first it worked out quite well, but Ethan couldn’t shrug off a sense of dread.

Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin You create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period. On Sunday 22 November, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. I’ve just made it as the result hasn’t been posted yet! The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that numb er on your Spin List by 30th January, 2021.

I have just 7 books left on my list, so I’ve repeated the list twice (minus the 7th book for second repeat).

  1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  4. The Big Sleep by Raymond Challoner
  5. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  6. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  7. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  8. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  9. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  10. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  11. The Big Sleep by Raymond Challoner
  12. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  13. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  14. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  15. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  16. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  17. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  18. The Big Sleep by Raymond Challoner
  19. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  20. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollop

Classics Club Spin

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It’s time for another Classics Club Spin.  I was wondering if one was due, so I’m pleased to find it is, especially as I haven’t made much progress with reading any off my list recently.

    • Before Sunday 19th April 2020, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. This is your Spin List.  I only have 9 unread books left on my list so I’ve listed them twice and added two more books that I’d like to read.
    • You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.
    • On 19th April the folks at 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 1st June 2020.

 

      1. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
      2. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
      3. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
      4. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
      5. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
      6. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
      7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      8. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
      9. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      10. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
      11. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
      12. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
      13. Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert
      14. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
      15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
      16. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
      17. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
      18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
      19. I’ll Never Be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier
      20. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

Have you read any of these and loved them? Any that you didn’t enjoy?

The Lost Man by Jane Harper: Blog Tour Review

He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him, and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.

The Lost Man

Little, Brown|7 February 2019 |384 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*

As I loved Force of Nature by Jane Harper I was absolutely delighted when Caollin Douglas at Little, Brown Publishing asked me if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Jane Harper’s latest book, The Lost Man. I wasn’t disappointed – I loved it.

Blurb:

Did Cameron walk to his death under the unrelenting sun of the Australian Outback? If not, what happened? Set in the unfamiliar, isolating and disorientating landscape of the Outback, The Lost Man combines intrigue, surprise and intellect to create a gripping and thrilling narrative.

Two brothers meet at the remote border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of the outback. In an isolated part of Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes hours apart.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish.

Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

My thoughts:

This is essentially a family drama and is very much character-driven, set in an isolated part of Australia hundreds of miles from anywhere and revolving around the death of Cameron Bright. There are three Bright brothers – Nathan the oldest, then Cameron and the youngest brother, Bub. They have a vast cattle ranch in the Queensland outback. 

The book begins with the discovery of Cameron’s body lying at the the base of the headstone of the stockman’s grave – a headstone standing alone, a metre high, facing west, towards the desert, in a land of mirages. It provides the only bit of shade for miles around. He had obviously died an agonising death in the intense forty-five degrees of heat, crawling round the headstone in search of its shade as the earth rotated around the sun. Nathan and Bub meet at the site and can’t understand why he was there – his car was found several kilometres away and at first they assumed he had just walked away to end his life, but that didn’t seem to make sense. Nathan just can’t believe Cameron would do that. There is little actual police investigation and so Nathan delves into the past on his own looking for answers. He is astonished at what he finds.

Nathan is a solitary man, divorced and living alone, a three hours’ drive from the rest of the family. There is a mystery surrounding his isolation not just from his family but also from the small town, three hours drive away. Whereas, Cameron, who took over the ranch after his father died, is well liked, married with two little girls. The youngest brother, Bub, meanwhile is an angry young man, resentful of the way Cameron runs the business, mainly because he thinks his views are being ignored. As Nathan tries to fathom what had happened hidden passions and resentments begin to surface and it becomes clear that this is a dysfunctional family. He realises there was a lot about his family he had never known.

Throughout the book the Australian outback looms large, a huge and isolated territory, red earth stretching for hundreds of miles, with its unbearable heat, dust and, at times, the threat of flood. But it’s the characters, as their past history and relationships are exposed and they became real personalities, that made the book such compelling reading for me. I liked the storytelling, the details of the legends surrounding the stockman, the drama of the family grieving over Cameron’s death – and the mystery of his death – was it suicide or murder, and if it was murder who had killed him and why?

It’s a powerful and absorbing book and after I finished it I wondered about the title – just which one of the men was the ‘Lost Man‘. I’m still not sure, maybe they all were …

Blog tour banners

Source: Review copy as part of The Lost Man blog tour, via NetGalley– Thank you.

About the Author

Australian Jane Harper, author of The Lost Man, The Dry and Force of Nature

Jane Harper is the author of the international bestsellers The Dry and Force of Nature.

Her books are published in more than 36 territories worldwide, with film rights sold to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea. Jane has won numerous top awards including the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel, the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year, the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year and the Australian Indie Awards Book of the Year. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and now lives in Melbourne.

You can find out more by visiting Jane’s website and finding her on FacebookInstagram and Twitter @janeharperautho.

Challenges:

When Are You Reading? Challenge 2019

Here’s another challenge I can’t ignore! It’s hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.  It involves reading a book predominantly set in each of the twelve time periods.

I read a lot of historical fiction so I’m hoping I’ll find a book for each of these periods.

  • Pre-1300:
  • 1300-1499:
  • 1500-1699:
  • 1700-1799:
  • 1800-1899:
  • 1900-1919:
  • 1920-1939:
  • 1940-1959:
  • 1960-1979:
  • 1980-1999:
  • 2000-Present:
  • The Future:

Determination of what year a book belongs in is the decision of the participant. On the whole, choose a year where the largest part of the action occurs or the most important event.

 

The Classics Club Spin

It’s time for another  Classics Club Spin. By 27 November compile a Spin List of twenty ‘chunkster’ books that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

spinning book

On Tuesday 27th November, 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 31st January, 2019.

I have only 18 unread books left on my list – and not all of them are ‘chunksters’! So, I’ve repeated two titles (that are ‘chunksters’) to make the numbers up to 20 – Parade’s End and Little Dorrit.

  1. Greenmantle by John Buchan
  2. The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  3. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  4. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  5. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
  6. Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  7. The Forsyte Saga (1) : The Man of Property by John Galsworthy
  8. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  9. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  10. Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill
  11. Three Man in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
  12. Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford
  13. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  14. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  15. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
  16. Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  17. The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon
  18. The Saint- Fiacre Affair by Georges Simenon
  19. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
  20. The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

I don’t mind which one I get especially as there is more time than usual for a Spin and I hope to read them all at some time.

Merry Christmas

Christmas bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Enjoy the festive season – I wish you all happy holidays and happy reading!

 

My Life in Books 2017

I saw this on Reading, Writing, Working, Playing‘s blog and thought I’d do my own version, based on books I’ve read in 2017. It’s another way at looking back at the books.

  • In high school I was: The One That Got Away (Annabel Kantaria)
  • People might be surprised Sometimes I Lie  (Alice Feeney)
  • I will never be: An Artist of the Floating World (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • My fantasy job is: (at) The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Arundhati Roy)
  • At the end of a long day I need: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar (Chris Packham)
  • I hate it when: The Devil Rides Out (Dennis Wheatley)
  • Wish I had: (the) Missing Pieces (Heather Gudenkauf)
  • My family reunions are: Extraordinary People (Peter May)
  • At a party you’d find me with: The Man Who Climbs Trees (James Aldred)
  • I’ve never been to: Birdcage Walk (Helen Dunmore)
  • A happy day includes: A Dedicated Man (Peter Robinson)
  • Motto I live by: Don’t Let Go (Harlan Coben)
  • On my bucket list is:  How to Stop Time (Matt Haig)
  • In my next life, I want to have: The  Waters of Eternal Youth ( Donna Leon)

What’s your Year in Books been like? Do let me know.

Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake

A Golden Age Mystery

Published: 2017, Ipso Books. First published in 1940, Collins UK (The Crime Club)

Source: Review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 4*

I really enjoyed Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake*. It’s a Golden Age mystery first published in the UK in 1940; in the US as The Summer Camp Mystery, later in 1971 as Malice with Murder; and in 1987, as Murder with Malice.

There are several allusions to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The train to Wonderland plunges into a tunnel, just as Alice enters Wonderland through a rabbit hole. But in this case Wonderland is a holiday camp, set on a cliff top overlooking the sea. And all is not well in Wonderland as there is a prankster in the camp , the self-styled ‘Mad Hatter’, who is playing nasty and cruel practical jokes on the holiday makers. Swimmers are ducked in the sea and held down, tennis balls are coated in treacle, left with a note that refers to a part of dormouse’s story in Alice in Wonderland. Then the jokes get more dangerous. The camp’s owners are concerned not just for the guests but also for their business as they fear a rival firm with a grudge against the company is trying to ruin them.

There are hundreds of visitors at Wonderland, but the action revolves around a few characters including Paul Perry, a young man who calls himself a scientist, but who is there taking notes for the Mass Observation project, Mr and Mrs Thistlethwaite and their teenage daughter, Sally, Albert Morley, a timid little man, brothers Mortimer and Teddy Wise, the camp’s managers, their secretary Esmeralda Jones and Nigel Strangeways, a private detective.

Like other Golden Age mysteries, Malice in Wonderland presents a puzzle, plenty of suspects, clues planted along the way and a detective who solves the puzzle. It also presents a picture of life just before the Second World War, the social attitudes and in particular the beginnings of the holiday camps. By the 1930s there were several camps, including Warners and Butlins, at seaside locations. Wonderland has dining-halls presenting food cooked by London chefs, a ballroom, bars, an indoor swimming-bath, a concert hall, a gymnasium and numerous playrooms, plus a programme of entertainment with professional hosts and hostesses. It’s described as ‘the biggest, brightest and most ambitious of all the holiday camps that had sprung up over England during the last year or two.’

I loved the setting, the interesting characters, and the fiendishly difficult mystery to solve (I only solved it just before the denouement). And it’s well written with humour and style.

*Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis (1904 – 1972), one of the leading British poets of the 1930s. He published his first Nigel Strangeways detective novel, A Question of Proof in 1935. Malice in Wonderland is the 6th in the series.

My thanks to the publisher for a digital ARC via NetGalley.

Amazon UK