Heidi by Johanna Spyri Review

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Heidi by Johanna Spyri, ISBN 9780147514028, Puffin in Bloom edition

The classic children’s book Heidi by Johanna Spyri is a delightful story which I re-read recently. I was given this gorgeous Puffin in Bloom edition for Christmas (see picture). I couldn’t remember anything about Heidi as I had last read it more than twenty years ago. So it was great to revisit this story as an adult.

If you’re not familiar with this classic, it’s a simple story about a little girl named Heidi who goes to live with her grandfather, Uncle Alp, in the Swiss Alps. There she lives a peaceful existence, frolicking around the mountainside with Peter the goat-herd and all the goats. Then Continue reading

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell Review

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my all-time favourite classics. I also love the BBC period drama from a while ago starring the dreamy Richard Armitage. I don’t think I have told you before how much I love these BBC adaptations of classics. Anyway… Set around 1851, North and South has often been referred to as Pride and Prejudice with a social conscience. It is a love story at its core but also explores the differences between the agricultural South of England and the industrialised North and the lives of factory workers.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, penguin classic

North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale, the daughter of a parson, who enjoyed a genteel upbringing in the southern England countryside. When her father leaves the Church over a crisis of conscience, the family moves to the northern mill town of Milton in the north. A place far different from the rural South. Milton is a town in the throes of the industrial revolution.

At first Margaret hates the ugliness and dirtiness of Milton. But over time she sees Continue reading

Longbourn by Jo Baker – Pride and Prejudice gets down to earth

Longbourn by Jo Baker, (kindle edition), Published August 15th 2013 by Transworld Digital
Longbourn by Jo Baker, (kindle edition), Published August 15th 2013 by Transworld Digital

Ah, Pride and Prejudice … it is the classic book that keeps on proving to be fertile ground for other writers to grow their own stories. I’ve read many a P&P spin-off. Some good. Some downright terrible. But never have I read a book quite as clever as this. It’s such a good idea, I wish I had of thought of it.

In Longbourn by Jo Baker, the characters we know and love from Pride and Prejudice take a backseat. This is the tale of the servants who wait on their every whim. The servants who scrub the mud off Elizabeth Bennett’s shoes after she goes traipsing through the fields. The servants who deliver all the letters for the family, clean the undergarments of five young ladies, worry about their future after Mr Bennett dies and Mr Collins takes over the house, and put up with the moods of a very passionate family.

I guess you could call in a cross between P&P and Downton Abbey, but I don’t believe it is trying to be a gimmick. It is simply a very good, very clever story.

Much of the book is told from the point-of-view of Sarah, a maid who was rescued from the poor house by Mrs Hill, the housekeeper, and brought up to see to the needs of the household. There’s also a young girl called Polly and the old Mr Hill working in Longbourn. Sarah’s whole world is Longbourn and unlike the privileged girls upstairs, she wonders if she will ever get to experience anything in her life.

And then along comes James Smith – a young man with a mysterious past and someone who Sarah doesn’t like or trust on sight. Although he is a hard worker, she wonders where he came from and what he is hiding. With the arrival of Mr Bingley and the opening up of Netherfield, Sarah meets an exotic footman of Mr Bingley’s who may offer her the escape from drudgery she has been searching for.

As Sarah and James’s stories are laid out, in the background the story of P&P unfolds – but not entirely as we know it. Such as …

  • What does Mr Collins arrival mean to the Longbourn servants? And how does Elizabeth’s refusal jeopardise them?
  • We all know what a cad Mr Wickham was and how he favoured young girls. What happens when he visits Longbourn?
  • Why is Mrs Bennett the way she is and does Mr Bennett have a reason to feel guilty?
  • Whilst the girls go off to balls, how is a household run during this time – especially on a budget. Taking care of the laundry of five young women is no easy task!
  • Lydia and Kitty love the militia but P&P mentions little about the war that is being fought at this time. Longbourn tells the reader more about the realities of this time for those in the army and those less privileged.

I found this book rich in its characters and content. It is part ode to P&P, part history lesson in the realities of the time, part suspense and also a love story. Though I love Mr Darcy, here he is no more than a stern, slightly terrifying stranger in the parlour.

I was a bit sceptical picking this up as it reeked of gimmick, but I’m glad I did.

Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (Penguin Classic, 251 pages, published 1948)
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (Penguin Classic, 251 pages, published 1949)

Big Brother is watching you. He sees what you are doing. He listens to your conversations. He can even read your thoughts. So you better toe the party line and conform with the rest of society  – or you’re dead.

This is pretty much the premise of George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Published back in 1949, it is a dystopian novel set in a totalitarian society called Oceania which is in a state of constant warfare. Or are they? The government controls everything: what people read, who they should hate, where they work, who they marry (if they are allowed to marry at all), what they watch on TV and do in their spare time, and even how they think. The people are under constant surveillance with cameras and microphones hidden everywhere. People never know when they are being watched or listened to so learn to control everything they say and do. The government even encourages children to spy and tell on their parents.

Winston Smith is one of many faceless people toiling away for the Party. His job is to “correct” documents such as newspaper articles that have already been printed – effectively rewriting the past – to fit in with the current agenda of the Party. He also writes out of history people who have been killed by the Party, making it so that they never ever existed.

Then Winston starts to question the work he is doing. Especially when Oceania goes from fighting with one enemy nation to being their ally against another enemy – something that the general public doesn’t even notice. He starts writing down all his negative thoughts about Big Brother in a notebook in the corner of his apartment that gives him privacy from the telescreen. By this action he has signed his own death warrant should the thought police catch him.

Then two things happen: 1) He meets Julia – a rebellious young woman who he thought was a party devotee, but  it turns out she is in love with him  2) He starts to suspect that a colleague called O’Brien may be a member of the resistance movement. If so, Winston wants to join the fight. Once Winston starts down this path, nothing will ever be the same again.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is thought-provoking and downright scary. At times it lost me as it went off on a bit of an ideological rant (probably why I was given this book to study in high school) but I kept on reading hoping for there to be a happy ending to this bleak story. You will have to read the book for yourself if you want to find that out.

Love in a Cold Climate: A Review

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (ISBN: 9780141037448, pages 249, pub 1949)

I picked up Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford for $10 as part of the Penguin classics range, knowing little about it. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how funny this book was. Really funny. This biting look at English upper-class society reminded me of Jane Austen’s clever observations of people in books like Pride and Prejudice.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Fanny, a young woman born into privilege but who is an observer of those around her rather than a key player. Although she goes from a green girl with a keen eye for the silliness of upper-class society to a wife and mother during the course of the book, her story barely causes a wrinkle in the story’s fabric. This is very much the story of Lady Montdore and her beautiful daughter, Polly.

Lady Montdore is a larger-than-life character who dominates every scene she is in. She despairs about her daughter Polly (Leopoldina), a beautiful young woman who should be “destined for an exceptional marriage” given her beauty and breeding but who seems to have no interest in any man her mother puts in front of her.

Our narrator Fanny has an eccentric upper-class family full of neurotic aunts and uncles. Her mother is known as “the bolter” for running from numerous love affairs and has left Fanny to grow up between her aunts and uncles. Her Uncle Matthew calls people he dislikes “sewers” and has a superstition that if he writes the name of somebody he dislikes on pieces of paper and puts it in a drawer that the person will die in a year. The drawers in his house are overflowing with bits of paper.

The reader is introduced to different players in the story and then the great big scandal involving Polly drops into the middle of it all. Not a whole lot of action happens in this book. It is very much an enjoyable character-based romp through the grand halls of the English aristocracy in the time between the two world wars. It was definitely worth the read.

 

 

Jane Eyre Laid Bare: A Review

Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve SInclair
Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve Sinclair (e-book) 336 pages, pub Oct 2012

I don’t really know what made me choose Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve Sinclair to read. I saw it when scrolling through a list of e-books on Amazon and bought it on impulse because I love the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and wanted to see what the “naughty” version of it was like. I thought it could be interesting. I thought wrong. But I can’t say I wasn’t warned. A quick look at reviews posted on goodreads showed that those who disliked it did so with a passion bordering on venomous. Still, I thought I would give it a go.

Basically, this book is the fantastic classic Jane Eyre with random sex thrown in – and not even good sex. It was cringe-worthy. The parts I liked best were the parts closest to passages from the original book. I flicked quickly through this book just so I could get it over and done with. And don’t even get me started on the terrible ending …

I’ve come to the conclusion that classics are classics for a reason – because they are pretty much the perfect read in their original form. To cut them up, and inject gratuitous raunchiness into them that in no way enhances the original story, could be seen as a form of sacrilege. It just made me appreciate how much more passionate the original Jane Eyre story was because of what it hinted at but didn’t say. Less truly is more and it was more powerful for me when the passion between Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre was implied rather than outlined in kinky detail. Was it really necessary to learn that Jane and the other girls at the orphanage she grew up in were “very close” friends?

If you haven’t read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte then perhaps give this a read – but if you have read the classic then this may really, really annoy you. Its probably best not to bother with this version that adds sex parties, sex toys from Japan and servants going at it like rabbits to a classic. What next Fifty Shades of Darcy? Sensual and Sensuality? Whipping Heights? Alice gets it on in wonderland? Kinkyrella? Pokemehontas? Hmm … on second thought maybe I should jump on the bandwagon and write me an e-book!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (ISBN: 9781844080380, 440 pages, First published 1938)

With those words the haunting tale of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier begins. Reading this book again, after so many years, reconfirmed why Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite ‘classic’ authors. Written in the 1930s, it is a story that will still enthrall a reader of today.

Rebecca is told from the perspective of a young woman whose name we never learn.  We meet her in Monte Carlo where she is employed as the ‘companion’ (slave) of a rich older lady. One day she  meets Maxim de Winter – a rich, much older Englishman who is master to a great English pile called Manderley. Maxim is in Monte Carlo to recover from the tragic drowning death of his wife, Rebecca.

After a whirlwind romance, conducted when the heroine’s boss is laid up ill in bed, Maxim asks her to become the next Mrs de Winter. Young and in love, she agrees and they return to England. There she finds Manderley, the beautiful, famed estate by the sea. A place frozen in time.

The house is still furnished according to Rebecca’s tastes. The housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, runs the house and the servants as though Rebecca is still alive. Though Maxim never speaks of Rebecca, a change has come over him. It is though he can’t forget his first wife and is mourning her still.

The unnamed heroine is plain, shy and unable to stand up for herself. The servants walk all over her and she is terrified of social engagements. Her only friend seems to be the dog, Jasper. Everyone talks of Rebecca – her beauty; her style and wit; how she was the perfect wife and hostess. It isn’t long until the heroine has a fully fledged obsession with Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier slowly, but surely, tightens the strings of the story and you are left waiting for the heroine to snap.

Daphne du Maurier’s control over the tension is masterful. The heroine finds a used tissue in an old coat of Rebecca’s. Such a small thing gives the new Mrs de Winter a push closer to the edge. We are privy to her inner turmoil but her husband remains oblivious to his young wife’s dark thoughts as she constantly compares herself to Rebecca and sees nothing but her own inadequacy.

But then MAJOR PLOT TWIST and the story goes off in a direction that a first time reader won’t expect, and a returning reader will appreciate as the workings of a great writer. Now a different kind of pace builds and you find yourself wondering how Daphne du Maurier manipulated you into the corner you’re in.

It’s no wonder that Hitchcock made this into a film. It’s also no wonder that this book, written in the 1930s, was a hit in its day and has now entered the realm of being a modern-day classic.

The evocative language and thrilling plot make for page-turning reading. I wouldn’t be surprised if tonight I dream of Manderley …

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Side of Persuasion

Captain Wentworth’s Diary by Amanda Grange (ISBN: 970709082811, 223 pages, Published 2007)

A couple of months back I wrote about one of my favourite books – Persuasion by Jane Austen. At the time, fellow blogger Northern Mummy left a comment on my blog telling me about a series of books written by Amanda Grange which tell the Jane Austen stories we all know and love from the perspective of the male protagonists. Captain Wentworth’s Diary looks at all the action of Persuasion from Frederick Wentworth’s point-of-view. Of course, I had to go out and hunt this book down!

We first meet Frederick as a young man at the start of a stellar career in the British navy. On shore leave he goes to stay with his brother Edward, a curate who lives in a small country village. It is here that Frederick meets a certain Miss Anne Elliot in whom he finds a kindred spirit. This side of the story – how Frederick and Anne meet and fall in love – is something we never hear about in much detail in Persuasion. It is with a rush of guilty pleasure that I read Amanda Grange’s version of events.

Ultimately, Frederick proposes and Anne accepts, only to refuse him when persuaded to by her mother’s friend, Lady Russell. Eight years pass … during this time Frederick becomes Captain Wentworth and wins his fortune fighting in the Napoleonic wars. Fate leads him back to the village where he met Anne. There he finds Anne much altered after all these years. They are like strangers now and he has no idea of how she feels to see him again.

I won’t give away anything more. It was interesting to read a whole new take on Persuasion. The author did a pretty good job of channeling Jane Austen. I wouldn’t say that this is a literary masterpiece, but it was a nice way to pass my reading time.