Saturday, November 29, 2008

To Be Read Pile


Jane Austen Mysteries

What's the common factor between Jane Austen and Miss Marple ? At first sight, nothing much, except if our Jane is transformed into the main sleuth of a detective novel thanks to a brilliant pen, that of Stephanie Barron. I've only read three Jane Austen Mysteries and I look forward to reading more.
It's a great series of books, that has a "new and improved" Jane who lives the true life of a detective. The attraction clearly resides in the biographical details perfectly digested by the author and the writing style that mimics Jane's own (without the humour though, which is a shame because that's definitely what I like best about Jane. Can't have it all I guess). The plots are gripping and realistic, the characters sound very familiar. Stephanie Barron has really managed to immerse herself into the atmosphere of the period during which Jane's books were written to lead us to another dimension, the one depicted in such studies as Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullerton (published by Jones Books in 2006) in which the focus is the subtext, in which the author tries, all in all, to gather the most mundane, workaday, trivial, or even frightening in Jane's books (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, go rereading them, they're anything but cosy). That the wealth of entire families should depend on an economy of slavery is not nice. That a father should die leaving his wife and his daughters without a penny for themselves isn't nice either. It doesn't take much imagination to believe in the fact that Jane's friends and family could be great preys in a very unhealthy and dangerous 19th century. A murder has been committed and Jane investigates. The pattern might seem repetitive but it's actually not the case : as I said, the author does not betray Jane's biography and the protagonist evolves carried by her travels in new cities (the second novel opens in Bath). We meet Cassandra, the Reverend Austen, Jane gets down to the writing of The Watsons while focusing on her diary, true record of her macabre discoveries, her hunt for clues, her questionings, of her doubts and of her fears also. It's an amazing work the author has done on this series. Besides, I can only applaud the illustrator's job on the paperback covers : they are particularly clever. I have never really enjoyed the genre of the detective novel but I loved these Mysteries. They contain a great twist and are really beautifully done.

1. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor
2. Jane and the Man of the Cloth
3. Jane and the Wandering Eye
4. Jane and the Genius of the Place
5. Jane and the Stillroom Maid
6. Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House
7. Jane and the Ghosts of Netley
8. Jane and His Lordship's Legacy
9. Jane and the Barque of Frailty

2009 Reading Challenge


Theme : Fantasy and Science-Fiction
15 books belonging to these two genres, no matter who the authors are. Finished by April

3 plays by William Shakespeare Finished by June
3 novels or novellas by Henry James Finished by April
3 novels by Marcel Proust 1

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles DickensGave up in June
The Mysteries of Udolpho - Ann RadcliffeFinished by May
The Monk - Matthew Lewis Finished by May

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The House of Mirth

I have a theory that you can't really make up your mind about an author unless you read at least three of his or her books. I set a reading challenge to myself at the beginning of the year (the idea came from the C19 forum of which I am a member) : in 2008 I was going to read 3 novels by Proust (done, all excellent), 3 novels by Forster (A Room With a View was exquisite, Howards End felt like a betrayal and Where Angels Fear to Tread was very bizarre), I am currently reading my second Shakespeare play of the year and I've finally discovered Wharton properly. Well, after reading The Age of Innocence, The Custom of the Country and now The House of Mirth, I can say I'm not much for Wharton. I've never heard this criticism against her so perhaps I completely missed the point but each of her books reads like the script to a The Young and the Restless episode.
Lily Bart is a social climber, she evolves in circles of people who have way more money than she does. We meet a variety of different men and women in this book : wealthy men want to buy their trophy wives as soon as possible to show off on Fifth Avenue, women wait to be chosen and Lily is no exception, money plays first fiddle and Lily loses at the game. Strokes of genius appear here and there, as is the case in this passage where Mrs Fisher talks to Lily :

"There's Louisa, and I must be off - oh, we're on the best of terms externally, we're lunching together; but at heart it's me she's lunching on."

Wharton shows a great deal of bravery in criticising the world she belongs to and evolves in. I thought the scene where Lily discovers the existence of the working-class was odd but well written - she's afraid she might lose everything and showing her meeting a servant and chatting was I think essential in understanding Lily's personality and the opinions of thousands who belonged to the leisure class. The end was quite clever I thought although it didn't come as a total surprise : Lily is eaten alive by this shallow society and the last pages seemed like the only logical conclusion.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A bit more about me

1) Where do you buy your books ?
On the Internet. Sad but true. I can't remember the last time I bought a book in a brick-and-mortar bookshop. Quite simply because I already know precisely what I want (down to the precise edition that I want) I am obsessed with lists and spend hours on the Internet making sure I have the best edition, looking up authors and titles, forthcoming titles as well, and I keep lists of books to buy on my computer so I just need to copy and paste in The Book Depository search engine. I have a limited budget, as I'm a student and I'm not yet working (I tried to do something part-time but I didn't have the energy to study and college comes first so I dropped the job) and The Book Depository has the most affordable prices of the Internet. I buy my Persephone books directly from Persephone as they're cheaper due to the discount when you buy 3 books, and come with a free bookmark. Money is the key, I go wherever it's cheapest. I used to go to the library a lot but as I live in Paris we don't have that many libraries that carry books in English (and 90% of what I read is in English) and it takes me too much time to go to 6 different libraries to have 6 different books and then go again to bring them back.

2) Do you buy second-hand ?
I don't. I know lots of people find it suprising so I'm going to explain : I like to be the first person to meet a book. The smell of second-hand books is not always the best and as I read everywhere including in my bed I need new books that don't carry germs. I sometimes give in and buy second-hand but the last time I did that I couldn't read the book as I was disgusted by it and ended up tossing it, so I guess I'll stick to new books. I just buy less.

3) Where do you buy your DVDs/CDs ?
Now I know lots of people still buy books in bookshops and that's totally fine, but I don't think as many people still insist on buying DVDs/CDs in shops. Perhaps I'm wrong, it's just a feeling, after all. I buy my British DVDs on Play and my American DVDs on DVDPacific. Once again, the only criteria I take into account is the price. I buy most if not all of my CDs on CDPacific. I say most because I've just bought five Loreena McKennitt CDs directly from her website. Best prices.

Alexis Bledel & Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls 5x05 We Got Us a Pippi Virgin

4) Where do you find recommendations for books/DVDs ?
My lists are so huge I can't even remember when I entered this vicious circle. My family doesn't read at all - when I bought my shelves everybody smiled, said nothing but smiled. Sounds ludicrous that I should have close to 200 books when I've never seen my mother open a book in all my life. My friends don't read much, except for school. The Internet has proven to be an excellent source of recommendations. I read blogs and forums, try to get as much information as I can about an author before adding his or her book to my list, then I read an excerpt on Amazon. If I loved the book, the vicious circle begins : has the author written any other book (if so, proceed to buy them all, which takes an awful lot of time), I go back to the websites I visited to know more about the author and check recommendations, I go to LibraryThing and try to find a group that corresponds to that and usually there's a thread somewhere about books that one should read after this author. Then another circle begins. I suppose it's the same for everybody, really. I also rely on school very much : I discovered Toni Morrison, Angela Carter and Virginia Woolf at school, all three are amazing writers and I'll forever be grateful to my teachers for these discoveries. Movie adaptations of books are usually a pretty good opportunity for me to read the original source material : The Hours by Michael Cunningham, for example (but really the examples are so numerous) is one of my very favourite books which I discovered through the just as breathtaking movie. I discovered Atonement by Ian McEwan, a true gem, because I perused (on the Internet) a list of the most awarded novels of the last ten years.
It's different when it comes to DVDs and CDs : I absolutely need to have watched or listened to those before buying any of them. Some I just trust at some point because I've heard enough (I haven't listened to every single song Billie Holiday has recorded but I have a compilation I've listened to so many times I feel the need to buy complete recordings and will do so just after the December holidays when my postal office goes back to normal) : this is the case for my favourite singers and composers (Billie Holiday, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Madeleine Peyroux, The Andrews Sisters, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Son House, Amalia Rodrigues, Loreena McKennitt, Sarah McLachlan, Thomas Newman, Claude Debussy, Frédéric Chopin, Joan Baez, early Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel) but for every new artist I need to listen to complete albums, I don't buy blindly.
Same goes for DVDs : I watch what I want to discover on the Internet first (streaming) if it doesn't have any release date for France (and the ones I want to see often don't) and then buy if I like it. For some directors I don't need to watch before buying (I'd buy anything directed by Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Borzage). More recently, I've really liked Pedro Almodovar's, Sofia Coppola's and Joe Wright's and Quentin Tarantino's work. I don't buy movies just to discover them, it'd be hurting my bank account too much. Those I truly want to own are already costing me so much. Plus it disturbs me to find things I don't like in my libraries.
Now that I'm at it and to make this more complete, my favourite actors and actresses are Gael Garcia Bernal, Myrna Loy, Lauren Graham, Tom Hollander, Toby Stephens, Margaret Sullavan, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Carey Mulligan, Keeley Hawes, Felicity Jones and Amber Tamblyn.
Angels in America is the miniseries that has had the biggest impact on me, it's amazing and you don't know what I would give to see the play. The BBC produces quality TV from time to time : I think North and South (2005), Bleak House (2005), Cambridge Spies and Cranford are outstanding. As for movies made for TV, I absolutely loved Northanger Abbey (2007), A Room With a View (2007) and Persuasion (2007).
My favourite TV shows are Gilmore Girls, closely followed by The West Wing. Then come Once and Again, Dead Like Me, American Dreams and My So-Called Life. These shows rule my life and I constantly make references to them.
You can find my list of favourite authors on my LibraryThing profile.

Monday, November 24, 2008

E.M. Delafield

The Virago Modern Classics printed by the excellent company Virago Press contains some little gems destined to expand and even redefine the notion of classic by adding to it female writers who wrote at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century and who, by the very act of writing, take pains to study women's roles in society, try to understand the relationship women have with the world (domestic or broader) that surrounds them. This year proved to be a great one for me as I discovered several Virago writers, including some of my very favourites : Sarah Waters, Rosamond Lehmann, Miles Franklin, Rebecca West, Angela Carter, Pat Barker, Charlotte Gilman, Kate Chopin.

E.M. Delafield, whose real name was Edmée Elizabeth Monica de la Pasture, was, besides a journalist (she was one of the first to visit concentration camps after the Second World War) was a successful writer and published several collections of short stories. At the very beginning of the 30s, the editor of the feminist magazine Time and Tide, Lady Rhondda (who, just like her magazine, became more and more conservative as time went by), asked her to write a series of texts she would publish. The result didn't take long to come : Diary of a Provincial Lady was crowned with success and was followed, in 1932, by The Provincial Lady Goes Further. The following year, the humorous magazine Punch published her Provincial Lady in America, and in 1940 she wrote The Provincial Lady in Wartime. These short books, full of faultless humour, left people desperate to get hold of more by E.M. Delafield and somehow this is still true (Diary of a Provincial Lady has never been out of print). Even the British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan personally wrote to the author to encourage her to publish a sequel.


I own this omnibus which is a collection of all these fictional diaries and I spent hours savouring them : the humour is scathing, very detached. The narrator, who owns a lot to the author, comments on her life which so much irony that we can't read one book right after the other. One page was taking me forever to finish as I spent my time bursting with laughter. It's a very caustic, deadpan sense of humour. E.M. Delafield's writing style can be compared to Grossmith's, the author of the Diary of a Nobody or to that of Nancy Mitford or P.G. Wodehouse. What is depicted is the conformist everyday life of Britain's good society, where husbands are forever asleep behind The Times, where the wife is constantly dealing with her servants (the portrait of Mademoiselle, the French governess, is particularly spot-on) and with her circle of friends. The problem with this kind of book is that it can be only be appreciated when you put aside some personal convictions : the Provincial Lady's ideas of class are particularly despicable and conversative. "The servant problem" made me feel ill-at-ease for several pages, but she tries to bury that with some more humour. Also, the fact that she seemed completely oblivious to the world around her, to any kind of world, really, that would go beyond her parish, had me sigh as well. My issues with this kind of books that focus on British middle-class in the first half of the 20th century are well developed and explained in The Feminine Middlebrow Novel by Nicola Humble and I already talked about it. I didn't identify with the main protagonist to say the least, but it was entertaining. I can't help typing a random passage, just to whet your appetite :

Ask Robert whether he thinks I had better wear my Blue or my Black-and-gold at Lady B.'s. He says that either will do. Ask if he can remember which one I wore last time. He cannot. Mademoiselle says it was the Blue, and offers to make slight alterations to Black-and-gold which will, she says, render it unrecognisable. I accept, and she cuts large pieces out of the back of it. I say Pas trop décolletée, and she replies intelligently Je comprends, Madame ne désire pas se voir nue au salon.
(Query : Have not the French sometimes a very strange way of expressing themselves ?)

E.M. Delafield has also published other works : I Visit the Soviets is an account of her 6-month visit in the USSR in 1935 and Consequences, reprinted by Persephone is worth reading although I wouldn't recommend buying it, I found it quite odd.

E.M. Delafield's daughter, R.M. Dashwood, who appears under the name of Vicky in her mother's books, has also written a book and apparently it's just as good as the Ladies ones (and it's already in my TBR pile). It is entitled, quite smartly, The Provincial Daughter. I highly recommend this website dedicated to E.M. Delafield if you're interested in reading some more about her.

E.M. Delafield

Sunday, November 23, 2008



Painter of frivolity, of transient moments of sensuality, of veiled eroticism. The last exhibition of his work ended on Jan 13, 08 in Paris in the Musée Jacquemard André. I couldn't go but I'm sure it won't be the last one. In the meantime, we can revel in reading and looking at this magnificent book (in French) written by Jean-Pierre Cuzin et Dimitri Salmon :


In which we can find the following paintings (among many others) :

Baiser à la dérobée (The Stolen Kiss), Oil on canvas, 45x55 cm, 1766, The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia
Les Heureux hasards de l’escarpolette (The Swing)
Oil on canvas, 81x 64 cm, 1767, Wallace Collection, London, UK
La Lettre d'amour (The Love Letter), Oil on canvas, 83.2x 67 cm, 1770-1780, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan, New York, USA

It is fortunate that exhibitions of his paintings (and of his drawings in the Louvre Museum) are frequent here in Paris : they would require a lot of traveling !

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Neil Gaiman's Coraline is nothing if not a little gem of children's literature. How it isn't more famous defies understanding as it completely brightened my day. The story in the form of a novella (about 70 pages long) introduces Coraline, a little girl who lives with parents a bit oblivious to their daughter's thirst for knowledge. She's bored and she wants to explore. One day, she goes exploring the wrong room, the one nobody enters. She opens a door and enters another world where everything is exactly like her own world : in this second world, she has "another" mother, and "another" father, but what happens when the other mother (who is quite odd) wants to keep Coraline for herself, as part of her possessions ?
What a lovely surprise ! Gaiman's depictions are above all poetic and the atmosphere is impeccable. The story chilled my spine towards the end : it never gets gruesome but it is excellent food for thought. The characters -from Miss Forcible and Miss Spink her two neighbours, to the cat which will remind you of our dear Cheshire- are superbly drawn, something you wouldn't expect from such a tiny story. However, I think the greatest writing emerges when Gaiman depicts Coraline's thoughts and actions. This is one intelligent little girl and she moves in words that are never demeaning even in a children's book. It made me think of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland of course, and there are many references to it (Coraline goes down a hole, the cat). Some lines also reminded me of A Series of Unfortunate Events (of which I've only read the first three books and plan on reading more, please don't spoil me !) and the way the author has to explain some things knowing he'll be adressing an audience of children. In the end, though, Gaiman has such an original voice I found it hard not to slow down in order to read some of my favourite passages out loud, just to know how the words would sound like juxtaposed the way he does juxtapose them.
The movie will be released next year. Beautiful discovery, I highly recommend it to all.


I own Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell in an Omnibus edition that contains several texts : Cranford, but also some shorter things like Dr Harrison's Confesion, My Lady Ludlow and The Cage at Cranford, All four were taken as a basis for the 2007 miniseries produced by the BBC. It happens to be my favourite book by the author by whom I had previously read Wives and Daughters (very good) and North and South (letdown). The atmosphere and the point of view adopted is here radically different : we do not follow the lives of the members of a single household in the 19th century but rather of a much larger group of inhabitants of a town called Cranford, which distinguishes itself in the sense that it is the last center of a rural village which cares about victorian traditions that seem to disappear everywhere in the UK due to the industrial revolution. There is a solid conversative side in deciding to focus on such a thing and write about it but what I liked about Cranford was its portraits of a group of amazons, of strong, brave women, often funny, sometimes ridiculous but about whom we care because all their choices are directed towards progress and with a deep sense of fairness. They battle with their fears and do not keep to their respective positions in a stubborn manner, adapt to a new society and perhaps more importantly, help one another. The humour used is subtle and we feel and know that Gaskell cared deeply about each of her (numerous) characters. In the very good introduction to my edition, Jenny Uglow (a Gaskell scholar) explains to us that in 1854, in a letter adressed to the literary critic John Forster, and containing a plethora of gossip, Elizabeth Gaskell wrote :

"Shall I tell you a Cranfordism? An old lady, a Mrs Frances Wright, said to one of my cousins, " I have never been able to spell since I lost my teeth "

The humour of Cranford is another instance in a long tradition of comedies of manners. However, if we and the author laugh at this little community, we do realize throughout that this essentially feminine community which slowly tries to break free from conventions and find happiness is what makes the UK great. The narrative of Cranford is episodic : the narrator, Mary Smith, tells us the events that occured when she visited Miss Matty and Deborah Jenkins : under her pen, it's of course Mrs Gaskell who depicts the coups de théâtre, the micro revolutions, the decisions, the smiles of Cranford. It is, no more no less, an excellent chronicle. With the text of Dr Harrison's Confession, we become privy to a quidproquo when Dr Harrison arrives in town. This young single doctor freshly coming from London has all the women of the town fall head over heels for him and yet - because of his awkardness and because of the particularity of Cranford that makes even the smallest gesture feel like an invitation – finds himself promised to four different women and will almost lose the one he loves.

As for Lady Ludlow, she is a reactionary aristocrat who refuses any education to young women and to the poor because «knowing how to read is not what maid ought to know » : her opinions are extreme and completely unsurprising in an aristocrary that has just witnessed the Terror following the French Revolution. It is precisely when remembering this Terror that Lady Ludlow will describe the escape from France of several of her aristocrat friends who will not reach Callais and will lose their lives. The advantages of the Revolution are never adressed : the narrative perhaps didn't invite for this but even though it was told from the point of view of an aristocrat, the fact is that the French Revolution was not and is still not understood by the surrounding European regimes : when in France we do know the golden legend (which is based on true facts : the battle for true equality for all, also for the abolition of slavery), the UK only remembers the regicide and the hunt for nobles than accompanied it and slowed down the realisation of ideals on the verge of becoming laws. It was interesting to have Lady Ludlow's partial point of view and the narrative of the escape of two of her relatives was very gripping but this particular aspect worried me.

Do read Cranford and these short texts by Elizabeth Gaskell : it is an entire period that is depicted under our very eyes. It seems to me that this Omnibus would make a perfect introduction to a class on the Industrial Revolution and more generally to the transition 1850 symbolised. The miniseries produced by the BBC has an exceptional cast and is a little gem of television, I highly recommend it.

The Duchess & Edith Wharton

I went to see The Duchess on Thursday. I have Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgiana Spencer in my TBR pile and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. My problem when it comes to biopics is that they're often too generic : they're so little contextualized (costume does not context make) that they lose all meaning so much so that at some point you will, inevitably, be able to change the main protagonist's name without changing anything else in the movie and it will still make sense. The Duchess most definitely doesn't avoid being yet another biopic about yet another important person. Halfway through the movie I wondered exactly what was special about the story : I think Georgiana's life was interesting enough to make a movie out of it but there was so little mention of her political influence, so little mention of anything else really besides the fact that the Duke didn't love her and that she loved Charles Grey. It becomes tedious enough at the end to allow you to wonder why they chose Georgiana when they could have chosen any woman in the 18th century and her story would have been the same - married to a man she did not love, loved another, her husband had affairs, she had a passionate one and was forced to turn away from it. Been there, done that ?
The acting was top notch, especially coming from Keira Knightley and Hayley Atwell (who plays Bess Foster), Ralph Fiennes had some good moments too and I adored the score. However, the whole movie seemed very shallow. I can't wait to read my copy of the biography so I can finally see why Georgiana deserves to be famous. Is it really because she was forced to give up love ?

Hermione Lee's biography of Edith Wharton is now part of my TBR pile as I borrowed it from the library yesterday. I wish I didn't, it's so heavy I can barely lift it, I should have bought it instead but when you're a poor student, you tend to rely on the library more than the average person. I didn't check it out on purpose but I realised later that it might be good to read it in parallel with Wharton's The House of Mirth which I bought earlier this year. I've started it on the bus and it's already my favourite Wharton so far. I haven't read that much by her, only The Age of Innocence and The Custom of the Country and as much as I absolutely loved the details of her perfect prose and her sharp criticism of American society, I thought the stories - although excellent too from a feminist point of view - read too much like melodrama, even like soap operas, especially the end of The Age of Innocence. I hope The House of Mirth will change my mind.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Loreena McKennitt, City of Ashes

I've just finished City of Ashes , the second volume in the Mortal Instruments trilogy written by Cassandra Clare. Boy was that bad. I liked the first book enough to continue despite obvious flaws but the second one was completely ludicrous : characters who die but are suddenly alive again, 2 battles per chapter if not more (is there anything else besides monsters and demons in this book? All they do is fight, constantly). Character development is once again lacking, towards the end of the book a major character is believed to be dead (quite a graphic death too, lots of horror in the book in general) and the reaction of a close friend of this character is developed in... one sentence. Then said friend moves on to something else altogether. What's the point of introducing these characters in the first place if they act like robots most of the time ? The end (another cheap cliché plot twist) made me laugh and I don't think it was supposed to. What a headache, it's a wonder I kept reading.
Anyway, looking forward to my next fantasy book, American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I'm also right in the middle of King Lear, which I'm enjoying very much indeed. It takes me quite a while to read a play by Shakespeare : I read the play once without knowing anything of the plot, then I look for and print a summary of each act that I put next to me for a second reading to make sure I understood everything and to concentrate more on the words than on the plot. Then I read the supplemental material that comes with the excellent Arden edition of the play, and then I read at least one book of literary criticism about the play. I've only just finished my first reading and I'll be printing a summary tomorrow first thing.

I treated myself to a little end-of-the-year present as I bought five Loreena McKennitt CDs that were missing from my collection. The prices dropped on her official website and I thought it was a good opportunity to finally buy them as I've been staring at the covers for so long. Up till now I only had Elemental and The Book of Secrets, which are both excellent. I bought The Mask and Mirror, To Drive the Cold Winter Away, An Ancient Muse, A Midwinter Night's Dream (I bought the special edition that comes with a DVD that takes a look at her Ancient Muse Tour) and her live CD Nights from the Alhambra that also comes with a DVD of the concert. I hope I'll receive all of this shortly. In the meantime, I can listen to the MP3 files of all these albums as they came with my order, so the wait isn't completely unbearable. I adore Loreena's music. I like to call it world music as she draws inspiration from so many continents and cultures, each CD is such a rich world. Her music touches me, makes me want to dance, feels like a real voyage. First track in Morrocco, next track India, you dance, Shakespeare's words, Celtic themes, then she goes to Ireland, murmurs of voices, choral, old folk songs sung with her beautiful soprano voice. Each work is a wonderful experience and I'm so happy I only have 3 more CDs left to make my collection complete. I have enough to keep me warm but I can still look forward to great discoveries, just what I love.
Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) and Elinor Dashwood (Emma Thompson)

Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!
Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811) - Chapter 3

Marianne's words sound so true sometimes. Now if I could only find the Season 6!Jess to my Rory (Gilmore Girls), the George to my Lucy (A Room With a View), the Nick to my Nora (The Thin Man), the Nan to my Florence (Tipping the Velvet) the Alan to my Esther (Bleak House), the Alfred to my Klara (The Shop Around the Corner), the Goldberg to my Sally (Sally Lockhart : The Tiger in the Well) or the Danny to my CJ (The West Wing)...!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Feminine Middlebrow, City of Bones, Arthur

I have finished two books recently : The Feminine Middlebrow Novel : 1920s 1950s by Nicola Humble, which is a book of literary criticism that takes a look at the kind of books Virago Press and Persephone Books (which I both love) reprint. It was a very good read, ten times better than A Very Great Profession : The Woman's Novel 1914-1939 by Nicola Beauman which read more like a collection of extensive quotes from books with lots of paraphrase. Humble's book was well researched and felt like literary criticism, I needed a sheet of paper with me the whole time as I was jotting down titles of books to check out. She makes it clear that even though some of this literature is indeed conservative, we find many radical elements in it, which is basically what I've been saying for years : I read this type of literature because it sheds some light on women's lives in this period and I'm interested in how they can break free from conventions and find happiness. The author seems to read this type of books for the same reason I do and it was some serious relief to find somebody I could fully agree with. Very very interesting and illuminating in many aspects.

I also read something very different (which I finished only yesterday), City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, which is a YA urban fantasy novel that was published last year. I absolutely never read fantasy. My main concern when it comes to genre literature (science fiction, fantasy, detective novels, etc) is that it will, at some point, fail in the character development department. As a consequence, the major flaw I found in City of Bones didn't came as a surprise : although it's no revolution, it was actually quite well written and fast-paced (you absolutely do not have time to catch your breath, it's action followed by action followed by action) but the characters are shallow and some of them complete stereotypes (the heroine, Clary, is yet another perfect girl). I didn't expect much when I picked it up, anyway. However, I did find some great things in it : I loved her take on religion, it's very much a book of its time and I enjoyed that a great deal. Lots of information about the world she built, too much in my opinion as I couldn't follow it all and it gives you absolutely no time to digest it, but I loved the fact that it's urban, meaning taking place here in Manhattan but in the "underworld" of Manhattan. Clary and Simon have read fantasy books, know as much as we do and then one day this whole world is suddenly true - Simon says it best : when Jace (a Shadowhunter, i.e. someone who hunts demons) appears, it's as if he came straight out of a fantasy novel, in many ways, his meeting Clary was 16 years in the making. We can all relate to that, what if one day you met the heroes and heroines from your favourite books ? It's the very popular dynamic of the boy next door vs "the new dangerous kid" we all know. I also enjoyed that the author made such an extensive use of mythology : all creatures exist in her world, from faeries to werewolves to hybrids, to humans. Some parts felt more like horror than YA fantasy, I saw the author is a great fan of gothic horror and it really shows. Not complaining, it's just not something I'm used to. Although I still thought some parts really rang a bell (Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials are used extensively), she made up for it by the richness of the world she describes. I was spoiled as to many revelations and some of them were very cliché - !spoilers! oh dear, "I'm your father", really ? I thought we had all got over that (but one of them was quite brave !spoilers! Clare and Jace's relationship made complete sense to me, how can you possibly talk about incest when two people love each other and haven't even been raised together is beyond me - let them be, let them be happy, and I hope she's making a point she'll develop in another book, although in a YA novel it would surprise me if they give her that much freedom), but the writing was solid. All in all, the author has good ideas, it's very entertaining and the relationships I thought were quite well described and one of them even brave. However, as seems to be the case in most fantasy novels, the same pattern keeps repeating itself (does somebody/something die on every page ? I stopped counting at 15) and the characters made me feel like I'd "been there done that" more than once. I will soon start the sequel (it's a trilogy), City of Ashes as I can't stop reading in the middle of a series, and I have hopes it'll get better. The third book in the saga, City of Glass, will be out in March 2009, although apparently numerous ARC are already circulating.

I finally received my copy of the second season of Arthur (released in the UK, bought on Play), the cartoon based on Marc Brown's books. I'm so excited, it's my very favourite cartoon : the first series was so good and I can't wait to see the episodes again. Both came with a bunch of stickers, and although I'm probably too old to use those, they completely made my day !

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Number 4, Privet Drive

I can think of nothing in particular to associate November 18 to. It’s a random date for a random journal. I’ve just decided I needed somewhere where I could talk about everything I wanted, one place to put all my thoughts on, instead of my posts being scattered on different forums and on different LJ communities. The title of this journal is a very transparent reference to Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which is one of my favourite books. As you probably know, it’s a novel which warns us all about the consequences of mistaking fiction for reality. I think we could all learn a great deal from Catherine Morland’s journey. I hope to post reviews of books, and probably a lot less frequently reviews of movies and other things that catch my eye and I think are worth mentioning.

This blog is dedicated to all the people who inspire me, to all the people who make me want to read.