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review 2017-06-10 16:50
Peasants are the real heroes...
Adam Bede - Hugh Osborne,George Eliot

That's the thing with free 'purchases' on the Kindle isn't it, one wonders 'why'? Is the offering so value-less? Even with the pedigree of George Eliot there is a temptation to look such a gift horse tentatively in the mouth. But, I needn't have worried.

 

Published in 1858, "Adam Bede" was the author's second novel and came more than a decade before "Middlemarch" (see previous review) and yet it turned out to be wonderfully self-assured. Set in Hayslope in Loamshire, which we learn is in the north midlands, the book focuses on a slice of nineteenth century pastoral life, but Eliot's examination of social divisions and connections across class, gender, generations, religion, wealth, etc has some powerful resonance with contemporary Britain. For example, preaching by Christian women (150 years later and still being debated!!); the moral conundrum of support for the poor; teenage pregnancy; gender inequality; and even the responsibility of powerful elites to wider society.

 

As the title of the book suggests, the central character is Adam Bede, who is a master carpenter and curiously in this homage to the humble working man/woman, Eliot offers a compelling antidote to the modern obsession with fame and celebrity. Indeed, the book deliberately lauds several characters of substance and I particularly liked Lisbeth Bede (Adam's doting mother), Dinah Morris (who might equally have been entitled to entitle the book, if you see what I mean) and Mrs Poyser (wife of a local farmer and a complete tartar). Each of them is made all the more praiseworthy in that they must make their respective ways without the advantages conferred by privileged upbringing. Moreover, the characters are buffeted by the twists and turns of life, but it is their capacity to 'do the right thing' in the context of their respective social codes that set them apart. What Eliot seems to be implying is that it can be very difficult to warrant the deceptively simple epithet of a 'good' man/woman and consequently they represent the best of us. Yet, they are "...reared here and there in every generation of our peasant artisans - with an inheritance of affections nurtured by a simple family life of common need and common industry, and an inheritance of of faculties trained in skilful courageous labour.....They have not had the art of getting rich, but they are men of trust, and when they die before the work is all out of them, it is as if some main screw had got loose in a machine; the master who employed them says, 'Where shall I find their like?' "

This shining of a perceptive light on the value of the industrious working class was rather more interesting to me than tiresome tales of the innately powerful and rightly elevates the author among her Victorian peers.

 

Curiously, at a couple of points in the book, Eliot affects a 'time-out' and proceeds to explain her approach to the story. "So I am content to tell my simple story, without trying to make things seem better than they were; dread nothing indeed but falsity.... Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult."

This could be perceived as almost an apology for a tale steeped in realism, which might be deemed banal and yet, I found the book thoroughly absorbing. Rather, it was this signposting, explicitly leading the reader to understand an underlying theme and not trusting for it to be gleaned from the narrative that was interesting, but slightly odd.

 

Adam Bede is seen as quite eligible in his community and has set his cap towards local beauty Hetty Sorrel, but she in turn has come to the attention of the heir of the local squire, Captain Arthur Donnithorne. Indeed, the story deftly describes two successive love triangles, with Adam featuring in both, but these are hardly mainstays of the book. Instead, it is the strength of the 'supporting cast' that truly sets this book apart and the meshing of the various cogs in the community machine that mesmerize the reader as smoothly as the engine in a Rolls Royce Phantom. Certainly that compelling desire to know what happens, not only to Adam, but to half a dozen characters, is the hallmark of a great read. And 'love' in its many guises - romantic, familial, communal - triumphs, not in some mushy sentimental way, but as the warm oil that soothes the heat and grinding of components.

 

For me, the only grit in the Eliot machine was the language, which, true to form, was also kept 'real'. That is, the Loamshire dialect was written as pronounced,and slowed my reading until I got the hang of the rhythm. But, even that faint criticism had faded by the end and on reflection was absolutely right for the rural inhabitants and further separated the workers from their (not so much) 'betters'. I don't give out five stars lightly, but then my favourite shelf is fairly sparse too and yet I have placed Adam Bede there with little hesitation. 

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text 2015-04-13 03:55
Book buying spree
Being There - Dustin Hoffman,Jerzy Kosiński
Pastoral - Roger Davis,Nevil Shute
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts - Simon Garfield
Dorothy Parker Drank Here - Ellen Meister,Donna Postel

Between Daily Deals and other sales on Audible this week, I've gone on quite a shopping spree in the past few days. 

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review 2015-04-08 19:20
American Pastoral - Philip Roth

2.5 stars

 

I really enjoy Philip Roth short stories - and that's saying something, because overall, I generally don't like short stories. So when I got this book (thank you CZH), I was very excited to read one of his books, and a Pulitzer Prize winner, no less!

 

It took me weeks to get through the first few chapters. I almost gave up before the half way mark, but my rule is to get half way before I make a final decision on termination. Imagine my surprise when just before half way, perhaps 10 pages, the plot finally settles down into something I could hold onto and enjoy. Until it didn't.

 

This is Rabbit in an alternate universe, this time nicknamed "The Swede" with a different difficult family and troubled child(ren). I did spend a lot of time thinking about the Rabbit series and though sometimes tedious, at least it was linear and wrapped the story up.

 

In the future, I think I'll stick with Roth's short stories.

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review 2015-01-23 21:25
Sunset Song
Sunset Song (Canongate Classic) - Lewis Grassic Gibbon

 



REVISIT VIA BBC: Listen here

Description: Divided between her love of the land and the harshness of farming life, young Chris Guthrie finally decides to stay in the rural community of her childhood. Yet World War I and the changes that follow make her a widow and mock the efforts of her youth.

Episode 1/2 (1 hour): Chris is torn between the love of the land and her ambition to be a teacher.

Episode 2/2: After her father's death, Chris is determined to work the farm, alone if needs be.

watch a dramatised production. Not the best of quality but hey! who's going to be so picky at this stage. There is, allegedly, a new film in production as we speak.




PAPER READ: fireside, sipping scotch and toasting Rabbie Burns.

Edited with an introduction by Tom Crawford. Map of Kinraddie

Dedication: To Jean Baxter

Arbuthnott is the real Kinraddie

Opening - KINRADDIE lands had been won by a Norman childe, Cospatric de Gondeshil, in the days of William de Lyon, when gryphons and such-like beasts still roamed the Scots countryside and folk would waken in their beds to hear the children screaming, with a great wolf-beast, come through the hide window, tearing at their throats.

Dunnottar Castle.

I know there are many historical-fictionistas out there who dislike dialects and there is a further modernist warning:

Gibbon's style is one of the great achievements of the trilogy and should be seen in relation to Scottish forerunners like John Galt as well as in the context of modernist innovators such as James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and William Faulkner (Tom Crawford, Canongate Books)
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review 2014-12-24 05:15
A pastoral comedy with shades of Robin Hood
As You Like It - William Shakespeare

Back when I first read this play for university English I didn't think all that much of it because I had simply thrown it in with that collection of boring Shakespearian plays called 'The Comedy's' (not that I found all of the comedy's boring, just most of them because there were, in my opinion, simply romantic comedy's which me, as a young adult male, really didn't appreciate). However, it wasn't until later when the theatre group that a couple of my friend's were members of decided to put on a production of this play that my opinion of it changed (as well as coming to understand what my English lecturer was saying about it).

In a way it seems that Shakespeare has taken a number of older poems (including a poem by Thomas Lodge called Rosalynde) and created what can be considered a pastoral play. The idea of the pastoral in Shakespeare's day is an idyllic country setting where the inhabitants live in peace and prosperity without the rigours of the daily city life of the political machinations that large groups of people inevitably create. In a way it is very much like our ideal of living in a country cottage with a white picket fence. It is the ideal lifestyle where one not only lives off the land, but lives a peaceful life in beautiful surroundings.

This is illustrated in this play with the opening scene in the court of the local duke, who has just usurped the previous ruler (Duke Senior) and sent him into exile. The rest of the play is set in the mystical forest of Arden. There has been some debate as to were this forest is located, either being a forest near where Shakespeare's family lived, or whether he means the Ardennes in France. However I suspect that the forest of Arden is a picture of the pastoral world where one escapes the political machinations of the royal court, as is the case here. Duke Senior, upon being usurped from his throne, flees to the forest where, in a way, his authority is restored.

 

As You Like It - The Forest of Arden

 

 

The interesting thing that I have noticed is the similarities between Robin Hood and Duke Senoir. While the story of Robin Hood seems to change depending on which version you are reading, there is some similarities in that Robin Hood appears to have been a noble that had been dispossessed of his lands and he lived in a forest with his allies. Shakespeare even makes a direct connection between Duke Senior and Robin Hood within the play itself. However, the difference between this play and Robin Hood is that the Duke Senior plotline is actually more of a minor plot than the major plot, which involves Rosalind and her interaction with Orlando (though as Shakespeare is prone to do, he does weave these plots together quite seemlessly).

The idea of gender was discussed heavily in my English subject namely because you see a single character playing multiple, and concurrent, gender roles. For instance, at one stage, Rosalind has four different gender identities – namely a boy would be playing Rosalind's character (because women were not allowed to act on stage at the time) who then pretends to be a boy as she flees from the Duke, and when she is in the forest, she then, as the boy in disguise, pretends to play herself (therefore we have a boy playing a girl, playing a boy, who in turn is playing a girl). However, unlike my university lecturer, I do not necessarily see Shakespeare exploring the role of gender but rather using the number of layers that is overlaid to create a very interesting scene.

As with most of Shakespeare's romantic comedies, the comedy mostly revolves around the idea of courtship, where one party is trying to persuade the other party to marry them. However, there seems to be this idea of curing Orlando of the sickness of 'being in love'. I'm not sure if you can call it a sickness per se, however having been a teenager (and even a young adult) I can understand how 'being in love' can affect somebody, such us sitting down thinking of one's beloved and not being able to do anything else (which is the case with Orlando because he seems to spend his time carving love poems into the trees).

The other interesting thing about this play is that I believe it is the play which has the most number of people getting married at the end (I believe there are four couples all getting married at once), and we even have the appearance of Hymen, the Roman God of marriage, to preside over the ceremony. However I note that the ceremony does not take place on stage, but off, probably because what we are seeing is in effect a pastoral wedding – one that is not held in a church but rather outside in a forest - and with the appearance of Hymen, suggests that maybe this is looking back at a more idealistic (and possibly pre-Christian) age where the rigours and struggles of the modern world have been left behind.

 

As You Like It - Pastoral Scene

 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1134269245
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