Friday, December 30, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde
published 1891
completed November 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray centers around Dorian Gray. Shocking, right? Basil Howard, a talented artist paints a portrait of Dorian. Lord Henry happens to visit during one of these sittings and Dorian is fascinated by Lord Henry's hedonistic lifestyle. Upon completion of the painting Dorian expresses that he would trade his soul for the painting to take the signs of his aging so that he could forever remain in his current state of beauty. His wish is granted.

The hedonism espoused by Lord Henry inspires Dorian to a life of narcissism and debauchery. People find difficulty reconciling Dorian's outward appearance with the whispering they hear about his personal life. It's thought-provoking to consider the affect of that kind of lifestyle. It seemed to snowball for Dorian. His depravity started out simple until he got to the point where nothing was unthinkable. Once someone goes down that road, how easy is it to go back to respectability? Dorian tried, and it seemed like he could, but inside he hadn't changed. He couldn't seem to evoke any true concern for anyone outside of himself.

I can't pretend that I understand all or even a small amount of what Wilde meant by this book. I found it dark and intriguing. Despite this being a novella of less than two hundred pages, it's a dense read. It took much longer for me to read than expected, but I did really enjoyed it (with the exception of one chapter detailing tapestries and jewels). Wilde's writing is superb, and as such, there are no throw away lines. It was a slow read for me as it took time to digest almost nearly every sentence. I look forward to reading this one again to hopefully pick up more insight into its meaning.

Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? What did you think? Any insights you'd like to share?

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens
published 1850
completed December 2011

This book took me forever to read. I had good intentions of reading it with Adam of Roof Beam Reader when he hosted a readalong in July. I really did try. I got about 100 pages in then decided to shelve it for later. I read bits of it here and there over the next few months then finally finished it only a couple of weeks ago.

My choice to read it at such a slow and stretched out pace, detracted from the book for me. I really loved the second half, but I think my experience with the first half was lessened by my haphazard approach. I am my own worst enemy sometimes.

David Copperfield is narrated by Mr. Copperfield himself, and the story begins just before his birth. There is an enormous cast of characters, sometimes difficult to keep straight, taking part in numerous side stories. At first, I had difficulty making much sense of where the story seemed to be going and why all of these characters were being introduced. By the end, it all made sense. The conclusion of the story was perfect.

One of the many themes of David Copperfield was marriage. There are so many different examples of marriages, some of which work, and others that have devastating affects. Mothers also play an important role throughout the story, and again, we see many different types of mothers and the resulting consequences. Love in general was discussed towards the end, and David Copperfield ruminates on how it changes as we age. So true. Our first young love, all giggles and blushing, is much different than a more mature love of two people who are ready to share a life together.

The writing was wonderful, such a great mix of humor, and touching moments, both sweet and sad. By the end, I was underlining so many passages. As is typical in a Dickens novel, there are numerous memorable characters. Mr. Micawber was a favorite, with his passion for writing letters providing much of the comic relief. I also loved the descriptions of Traddles' hair. I loved Betsey Trotwood and her transformation throughout. Watching David Copperfield grow up and mature, was delightful. Earlier in the year I read Oliver Twist, and I had difficulty relating to Oliver because he seemed too perfect. David Copperfield is not perfect. He makes mistakes, gets taken advantage of, but learns from his experiences and becomes an amazing man and husband.

I completely understand why Dickens would consider David Copperfield his best. It was difficult to see where it was going, but by the end, I was amazed at how well all of the pieces of this well-crafted story fit together. It's a long one that requires a bit of attention during slower times, but I really enjoyed the journey of reading this one. Highly recommended for lovers of classics.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fall on Your Knees by Ann Marie-McDonald

Fall on Your Knees

by Ann-Marie McDonald
published 1996
completed November 2011

This had been on my TBR list forever, so I was extremely excited when I found a copy about a year ago at a charity shop. It's a thick one, so I kept putting it off, but I added to my list for Roof Beam Reader's 2011 TBR Pile Challenge in an effort to force myself to delve in. It was worth it.

Fall on Your Knees follows multiple generations of the Piper family. I don't really want to say much about the plot because I think there is more impact in reading it as it unfolds. This is my kind of book. It's character-driven, and the writing is beautiful. Dealing with abuse, you'd expect it to be depressing. At times it is, but not because MacDonald manipulates you into feeling that way. It only felt depressing because I loved these characters and empathized with the situations in which they found themselves. What is truly heart-breaking is that these characters don't even seem to recognize how difficult a life they have. About half-way in, I had to put it down for a few weeks because it was weighing heavily on me. You have to be in the right mood for this.

One of the interesting themes that runs throughout is that of secrets. The Piper family is full of them. Francis particularly has a secret that is kept from the age of four or five. How horrifying to carry that weight. Each secret was kept with the assumption that they were protecting someone, but it only served to further divide an already broken family. Some secrets the reader is privy to, but one in particular mystery is carried throughout the book. The last hundred pages or so allow the reader to finally see the entire picture. The story is so incredibly well-crafted that the ending left me completely satisfied. Not happy, because it's not that kind of book, but in awe of the story that MacDonald weaved.

Its subject is dark, but Ann-Marie MacDonald writes an incredibly moving tale. It's quite the roller coaster ride with many highs and lows, but in all honestly, many more lows. If your heart can handle reading about abuse (never really graphic), in many horrifying forms, I would highly recommend Fall on Your Knees.

Have you read Fall on Your Knees? What did you think? Particularly about the ending?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What's in a Name 4 Wrap-Up

This is my second time participating in Beth Fish Reads What's in a Name Challenge. It is one of my favorites. It's always fun trying to find book titles to fit in with the different categories. Here is my completed list, linked to my reviews.

  1. Number--The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  2. Gem--The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
  3. Size--Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  4. Travel or Movement--Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  5. Evil--Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  6. Life Stage--Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Four Mini-Reviews of Really Great Books

Brideshead Revisited

by Evelyn Waugh
published 1945
completed May 2011

Brideshead Revisited starts with Charles Ryder coming upon Brideshead, a huge estate, at a time when the British military has taken it over. Memories rush in of a time when he was young and was swept into the life of the upper-class family who owned Brideshead. It's is a tale of heartache for almost all involved. I ended up not knowing quite what to think of Charles Ryder--his motives are ambiguous. The theme of religion, specifically Catholicism, is thought-provoking throughout the book, as much is discussed of the pressure that religion places on families. Waugh's writing is brilliant, and the characters are memorable, particularly Sebastian and his mother. Highly recommended.

**I did watch the 2008 movie adaptation, and was surprised that they changed some major plot points. The movie by itself was great, but not a fair representation some of the pivotal relationships in the book.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier
published 1999
completed October 2011

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fictionalized account of the story behind the famous painting by Vermeer as featured on the book's cover. Griet is sent to become at maid at Vermeer's home to help with her family's financial difficulties. Being Protestant, Griet finds it an adjustment to work in the home of Catholics. When cleaning Vermeer's studio, she displays to him her unique eye for art, which begins to unravel a dramatic set of events. The story was compelling. Griet was young and naive. Watching her mature as she was forced into the adult world, learning to navigate these new situations she found herself in, not always successfully, was fascinating and heart-breaking. I highly recommend this one.

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield
published 2006
completed April 2011

Although there are several side stories in The Thirteenth Tale, the book centers around the mysterious author Vida Winter. During each interview, when asked about her personal history, Ms. Winter always tells a different story. None are believed to be true. When she takes ill, she seeks out Margaret Lea, for a unique reason, to which to write her biography. Once the stories of the family began, I was captivated. So eerie, unique, and disturbing. There are several shocking moments throughout the book that come out of nowhere, in a good way. As a ghost story, The Thirteenth Tale delivers. The writing, the characters, and the story are all top-notch. Go read it. Now!

Something Wicked This Way Comes

by Ray Bradbury
completed November 2011
published 1962

A traveling carnival comes to town. Two young friends, Will and Jim, sneak out in the middle of the night to visit it, only to discover that it is not quite what it seems. A unique cast of terrifyingly evil characters are operating the carnival, and the young friends get sucked into a chilling battle of good and evil. It took me a little while to get in sync with the writing on this one, but once I did, I really enjoyed it. The writing is beautiful, and at times poetic. I read this around Halloween, and it was perfect. Very creepy story, exceptional characters, and an amazingly fast paced ending. Most definitely recommended.

**Trying to wrap-up a few challenges so there might be more than one post a day. Sorry! Thanks for understanding.

The TBR Double Dare

I decided to sign up for one more challenge this year. I'm doing The TBR Double Dare hosted by C. B. James of, Ready When You Are, C. B. I have soooo many books on my shelf that I really need to read. I've been acquiring books over the past couple of years at a ridiculous rate so I really need to crack down and read what I have.

The challenge details and sign-up can be found here. The basics are that you are to read books that are in your possession as of midnight January 1, 2012 either on your personal shelves, checked out library books, or on your library hold list. The challenge runs from January 1 to April 1. I can do this! Join us. It should be fun. Won't it feel so good to have read more of the books we own that call to us from the bookshelves in our homes, begging to be read? C'mon, you know you want to.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Villette by Charlotte Brontë


by Charlotte Brontë
published 1853
completed December 2011

Villette has been sitting on my shelf for several years as part of a collection of Brontë novels. I didn't feel an urgency to get to it until I saw a post on it by Allie, of A Literary Odyssey. She loved it, so it got placed a little closer to the top of the pile. I've read Jane Eyre twice, and while I enjoyed it, I can't really say that I loved it. I can honestly say that I loved Villette. I rated it a 5 out of 5 on goodreads, and I don't do that often.

Lucy Snowe, orphaned at a young age, travels to a foreign land as a young adult. With no family to speak of, she seeks a situation that will allow her independence and finds a position teaching English at a school.  Lucy Snowe narrates as she looks back on her young life, often breaking the fourth wall to add retrospective insight to particular moments.

Unlike Jane Eyre, I wouldn't really call this a love story, although there is much talk of love. The focus of Villette is more on the protagonist's inner conflict. The following quote gives insight into her mindset.
Some lives are thus blessed: it is God's will: it is the attesting trace and lingering evidence of Eden. Other lives run from the first another course. Other travellers encounter weather fitful and gusty, wild and variable--breast adverse winds, are belated and overtaken by the early closing winter night.
It's apparent that she feels that she is one of those travelers to whom constant storms will arrive.She is isolated and lonely. Her sorrow and loss as a child has made her close herself off from others, and she is unable admit her need for love and friendship. Lucy feigns indifference when often there is inner struggle about her desire to express her feelings in many situations.

Despite all of her efforts to hide her emotions, Lucy finally allows some through in the second to last chapter, which I found utterly satisfying. It's a bit of a spoilery quote so beware, but I found it beautiful.
In such in adequate language my feelings struggled for expression: they could not get it; speech, brittle and unmalleable, and cold as ice, dissolved or shivered in the effort. He watched me still; he gently raised his hand to stroke my hair; it touched my lips in passing; I pressed it close, I paid it tribute. He was my king; royal for me had been that hand's bounty; to offer homage was both a joy and a duty.

The ending is ambiguous,which may bother some readers, but it felt right. The writing in Villette is exquisite. I found it a slow, but luxurious read, though very dark. There is an underlying sadness to this book, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would highly recommend Villette with one caveat--it probably isn't for everyone (some find it boring), but it is certainly worth a try for any Brontë fan.

**Advanced warning that there may multiple posts over the next few days. I have a few challenges to wrap up, so forgive me.