logo
Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: 19th-Century
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
review 2017-03-26 06:07
An Inside Job
The Moonstone (Evergreens) - Wilkie Collins

I had no idea that this book existed until my bookclub decided to make it the book of the month. In fact I had never heard of Wilkie Collins until this book was mentioned in passing. As it turns out (or at least according to some of the members of my bookclub) Wilkie lived under the shadow of Charles Dickens. In fact Wilkie and Dickens were good friends, that is until they had a falling out, and Dickens went out of his way to trash the works of Wilkie (and vice versa – I guess we can work out who won). I'm not really all that sure of any of the details beyond that, namely because I can't be bothered looking it up, even though this statement seems to be based upon a rumour that I heard from another person. The other thing about Wilkins, and this book in particular, was that I had some trouble finding it in a bookshop and ended up having to order it in, only to wander into a secondhand bookshop a week later to see a copy of this book, and Woman in White sitting on the shelf – it always happens like that.

 

So, the Moonstone is about this huge diamond that is stolen from India and finds its way to England and into the possession of a wealthy young lady (who inherited it from her uncle, who had originally stolen it from India). On her eighteenth birthday party she proudly wears it, but later that night it goes missing, and suddenly the mystery as to what happened to the diamond and who stole it begins. However, unlike most detective stories that I have read, where the mystery is pretty much solved within 24 to 48 hours of it happening, it isn't and everybody goes home. However, a year later the hunt for the diamond begins again in ernst and the mystery is eventually solved, though not as we would expect it to be solved.

 

Apparently The Moonstone is the first ever detective novel, though there was a discussion as to whether Wilkie or Poe were the first to write in this specific style of genre (apparently Poe was first, but because his story was a short story Wilkie is attributed to having the first full length novel). However the interesting thing is that it doesn't necessarily set the standard for how the genre developed in the future, though as I have said numerous times in the past, the detective novel, or even crime fiction, isn't a genre that really catches my attention. I have tried to read Agatha Christie, and despite really enjoying And Then There Were None I wasn't able to get into any of the other novels of hers that I read (though I'll probably try a couple more but I am not rushing out to do so). As for Doyle, as I have also previously mentioned, while at first I really enjoyed Sherlock Holmes, as the series dragged on I become less and less enthralled with the character and the stories.

 

The thing is that in my mind the idea of the detective fiction is that it is a game between the author and the reader to see if they can actually solve the problem before everything is revealed at the end, however my Dad, who is an avid reader of the genre, suggests that this generally isn't the case. For instance the Butler never, ever actually does it, and if he does it is generally considered to be so clichéd that the book is tossed into the recycling bin before anybody else can pick it up and have their intelligence insulted. As for Agatha Christie, my Dad suggests that her conclusions are so contrived that it is almost impossible to work it out (for instance in one of the books it turned out that everybody did it, though I still hold to my theory that Miss Marple is the real criminal, it is just that she is so clever at being able to throw the scent off the trail and pin the crime onto somebody else that she is never ever suspected, let alone caught).

 

Mind you, when I read a detective novel I generally give up trying to solve the problem pretty quickly, namely because that isn't the reason why I read – if I wanted to solve problems I would go and try debugging computer programs, or even write my own, or have an extended session on Duolingo – to me novels aren't designed to solve problems, but rather to open up one's mind to other possibilities, and to explore these possibilities through sites like Goodreads, or even my own blog. The other thing is that I suspect this style of detective fiction is rather new and wasn't the way that the original authors of the genre intended it to be.

 

The other thing about The Moonstone is that it was surprisingly amusing, which also baffled me because I never considered classical literature to actually be funny. Mind you, they probably are quite amusing, it is just that the style of humour, and the subtle references, are something that we generally wouldn't understand. Okay, I have known, and even done so myself, people who have burst out laughing at the plays of Aristophanes, and I also note that we have a few Roman comedies available, however it seems as if for quite a while most pieces of literature were actually quite serious, but then again we do have Shakespeare so I guess I am just talking rubbish again.

 

The really amusing thing about this book was the character who swore by the book Robinson Crusoe, which I have to admit does have a tendency to poke fun at those of us who happen to be religious. In fact sometimes I wonder myself at the absurdity of putting one's faith in the writings of a group of people that lived thousands of years ago. In fact a lot of people completely write off the writings of the ancients in that as far as they are concerned, if it was written over a thousand years ago then it has absolutely no application to the world today. Personally, I would disagree, though I guess the whole idea of basing one's life around Robinson Crusoe is that there is a difference between somebody who simply blindly follows a religious text, and those who go out of their way to completely debunk the text only to discover that no matter how hard they try the text stands up to scrutiny. Mind you, this does eventually come down to the way that you go about debunking the text.

 

As for basing your life around Robinson Crusoe, well, I'm sure it is possible, but I'm not really going to give it a try. Maybe I'll just stick with Mr Men (though I hope I haven't lost the one that I thought I put in my bag this morning).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1938970519
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-03-06 11:16
He's Back
The Return of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle

When we last left our fearsome detective he was plummeting to his death having cornered his arch-nemesis Dr Moriarty on the Reisenbarch Falls. Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle (Arty to his friends, and me) had thought that he has seen the last of him and was planning on taking it easy having put the famous detective to rest. Unfortunately that wasn’t going to be the case because we now see the beginning of what has since become the term ‘back by popular demand’. Well, sure, the fans may not have been satisfied with the short stories and couple of novels that had been released, but it seems that Arty had pretty much become sick of Holmes and the only reason that Holmes managed to survive the fall is not just because of public pressure, but because the financial gain that no doubt was heading Arty’s way was quite alluring.

 

Anyway, in the first story we learn that not only had Holmes survived that fateful encounter, but that he had been lying low for quite a while because he wanted to make it appear that he was actually dead. The main reason for that is because Moriatey’s second in command had taken over the organisation and Holmes wanted to bring it to an end without alerting his enemies. Anyway, he manages to do so, and then solves a multitude of other cases and finishes us preventing a European wide war when he steps in and locates a note that the Prime Minister of England had believed that he has lost. Actually, the final adventure in this particular book has the Prime Minister of England coming to Holmes for his assistance.

 

Okay, this collection of short stories appeared around ten years after the previous one so there was no doubt a long time between drinks. Maybe the reason Doyle decided to bring Holmes back from the dead is the same reason that bands from the 80s and earlier do come back tours – they have run out of money. For instance, I saw John Cleese live a year ago and when I mentioned that to a friend he made mention that the only time John Cleese goes on tour is when he runs out of money. Maybe that is why Simon and Garfunkle put aside their differences and went on a world tour (though I suspect that even a rumour of a comeback tour would be enough to set them up for the rest of their lives).

 

The thing is that I really didn’t think all that much of this book. In a sense the things that I loved about Holmes were missing. His cocaine addiction and his brothel visiting habits (as well has being a prize fighter) actually made the character seem really really cool. However, come short story collection number three and all of the sudden he seems to be little more than a cardboard figure that seems to have no personality beyond being able to solve crimes. Okay, they are short stories, and the audience most likely wanted more of these short, easy to digest, crime stories, but I personally wanted something a little more. Further, the cleverness of some of the stories that appeared in the first couple of collections no longer seem to be the case here – they are just good old murder mysteries. Well, not all of them, but there is at least one dead body appearing in most of the stories.

 

Interestingly Inspector LeStrade makes an appearance now. The only reason that LeStrade comes to mind was because he appeared in an adventure game that I played as a kid called, not surprisingly, Sherlock Holmes. I was a bit baffled as to the significance of this character, but my Dad pointed out that he was a police officer that would always come to the wrong conclusions. Mind you, he didn’t come across as bumbling in that sense, rather lazy. Anyway, two more to go (and a re-read of Hounds of the Baskervilles), but I think I’ll put my next dose of Sherlock Holmes on hold for a little while.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/470322583
Like Reblog Comment
review 2017-03-03 04:50
Lark Rise - Flora Thompson

Lark Rise, the first book from Flora Thompson's trilogy, is a history of the English hamlet famously depicted in the BBC adaptation Lark Rise to Candleford. Thompson's story is semi-autobiographical, drawing from her childhood and those who featured in it.

 

She writes with humor and heartwarming nostalgia. Each chapter is focused on an aspect of the country lifestyle with which she was accustomed. Her memories are rendered with profound detail, allowing for the type of visual imagery that makes a reader feel as if he or she is lying among soft blades of grass or greeting the morning sun before milking the cows.

 

So much of the intricacies of hamlet life are vivid through Thompson's character Laura, who's reprimanded for her precociousness and whimsical appreciation of life. I read this book after watching the television series twice. I had begun to read this novel with the hopes of better understanding the characters I had grown to love from the screen.

 

My dismay lies in the fact that Lark Rise was not plot driven, nor did Thompson particularly invest in character development, rather they were used as eyes with which she could guide the reader along the roads of her hometown. Nevertheless, the fleeting moments wherein Thompson offered information about Edmund or Twister had me verbally pronouncing (alone in my room where no one could hear me or question my sanity) my pain upon knowing the dismal futures they had yet to discover. These endings were not demonstrated in the show, and therefore they served as a great surprise for me, albeit a sad one, while reading it on the page.

 

Finally, because Thompson is a woman recounting a personal history at a point in time where technology has distracted from the natural delicacies of nature and life has essentially progressed beyond farming and spring fairs, Lark Rise reads as a melancholic dream of long ago, an intimate love letter to a simpler time.

 

 

AND the illustrations for each of the chapters were absolutely beautiful etchings 

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-02-14 08:54
Birth of the Boy Book
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson,Patrick Scott

Despite this book being the progenitor of pretty much all of the pirate books of the 20th Century, as well as being an influence of many of the adventure and 'boys' books that came afterwards, I found this book rather dull. Maybe it has a lot to do with my lack of enthusiasm for 19th Century English novels (which does not include [author:Jules Verne], since he is French). In fact, I can't really think of any 19th Century English novels that I would actually jump up and say 'this is brilliant'. Personally, I really don't know what it is that makes me find much of the literature of the 19th Century boring, but generally I do (though I probably should make a note of the fact that Stevenson is actually a Scot).

 

Anyway, this is a story of a boy, Jim Hawkins, who stumbles across a treasure map and then goes and shows it to a mutual acquaintance, Dr Liversey. Together they hire a crew and go and look for the treasure on Treasure Island. However, while they are hiring a crew, they bring on board a cook, Long John Silver, who then goes and hires the rest of the crew. As it turns out, Long John was the cook on the ship of Captain Flint, the pirate who buried the treasure originally, and the crew he hires were all pirates on that same vessel. So, when they arrive at Treasure Island, Long John and his men take over the ship, and those still loyal to Hawkins and Liversey, manage to escape. However, to cut a long story short (not that Treasure Island is really all that long), they outsmart the pirates, get the treasure, and all return to England happy men.

 

Now, this was Stevenson's first novel, he wrote travel narratives before that, but this book was his first foray into the realm of the imagination. Further, his adventure into this realm pretty much changed the scene of the novel ever since, and many of the 'boys books' of the 20th Century can all look back to Stevenson for inspiration. It is not that Stevenson wrote the first adventure novel. Such stories have been floating around for eons. What Stevenson did is that he constructed it so that that appealed to the modern reader. Not only is it supposed to be exciting (I didn't find it all that exciting) but it was also short and easy to read. It is aimed at a young audience, though many adults have read and come to appreciate it (me not being among them).

 

Now, the best character in the book by far is Long John Silver. I always expected him to be a pirate captain, but he is much more sneakier than that. The fact that he escapes at the end of the book goes a long way to show this character's shrewdness. However, he also has a sense of morality (one which almost gets him killed). When he had captured Hawkins, the other pirates wanted to kill him, but Silver intervenes (and in the process almost gets himself killed). Silver, while being the man with the plan, demonstrates that it is not easy to take charge of a gang of pirates. He planned on taking over the ship, but the pirates ended up jumping the gun, as they do most of the way through the book, which in the end sows the seeds of their failure.

 

However, the character that I found the most out of place would have been Jim Hawkins. He is a seven year old boy who is looking after his sick mother after his father dies, and he simply runs off on an adventure to find a lost treasure. Granted, one could argue that he went off after the treasure to support his mother, but considering the time it takes to travel, and the fact that the adventure would take at least a year, if he is lucky, then it really makes no sense. However, this is a 'boys' book which means that the character is one way to appeal to boys.

 

The other interesting thing is to notice all of the pirate jargon and paraphernalia in this book. Phrases such as 'pieces of eight' and 'shiver me timbers' as well as the Jolly Roger, all find their birthplace in this book. While I may consider the book, and the story, somewhat dull, one cannot help but admire the influence that Stevenson's writing has had upon the literary world.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/220453075
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-02-01 14:42
Centuries of Change
Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw The Most Change? - Ian Mortimer

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years.  Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change.  In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

 

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods.  Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began.  Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization.  At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

 

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book.  The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion.  Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions.  When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

 

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one.  While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

 

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time.  Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?