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review 2018-01-11 04:09
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

Over fifty years later and people are still trying to match this book. I grew up in a small town in America, and had a childhood very unlike the one Will and Jim were enjoying before it was interrupted, but Bradbury writes in such a way that his nostalgia becomes your own. I felt it. The narration feels like a fairy tale, this is a book that does well aloud.

I meant to re-read this for Halloween, but I didn't get to it until the turkey was gone. <i>Something Wicked This Way Comes</i> is about childhood, and growing up, and what fear can drive people to do to each other and themselves. It is the stuff of a million novels, but Bradbury makes it work with his fantastic elements, the carnival-as-explicit-metaphor, and the acknowledgement that the character's lives cannot go back to the way things were.

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review 2016-01-28 00:00
Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson
Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded (Oxford World's Classics) - Alice Wakely,Samuel Richardson,Tom Keymer

The more I read of the 18th century, the more I am astonished how long it took people to figure out how to tell a story.

About a quarter of the way through writing 'Pamela' Richardson seems to have realized that the epistolary format is awkward and prevents the author from putting in any sense of suspense or drama into a story. So he half gives it up, getting rid of the letters that chopped up the, I use this word lightly, action and leaves behind a narrative that still lacks all suspense and must keep justifying its existence. Nor does it help that Pamela, modest as she is, can't help but sing the praises of her virtue and prudence at every opportunity. Whether its against cross housemaids who fail to say their prayers every night, crass housekeepers who tell vulgar stories, or noble ladies who turn up their noses at their social inferiors, Pamela is more devout, modestly reticent and utterly without affectation than anybody.

It may be unfair of me to judge Pamela so harshly, however, in the face of the abuse that she takes throughout the book. It's mostly verbal, but this one time she gets smacked on the shoulder and falls down in tears. To spare others the trouble, here's a near-comprehensive list of what Pamela is called by her master, her master's sister and his second-best housekeeper and sometimes she gets so down she calls herself a few things:

(it's half the book, so I don't want to spoil it)

Little fool
Foolish hussy
Foolish slut
Artful young baggage
[one possessed of] vanity and conceit, and pride too
Silly girl
Subtle, artful gypsy
Little equivocator
Equivocator, again!
Pretty fool
Pert creature
Little witch
Idle slut
Little villain
Saucy slut
Naughty girl
Pretty preacher
Ungrateful baggage
An impertinent
"Thou strange medley of inconsistence"
Amiable gewgaw
The speaking picture
The romantic ideot
Unworthy object
Specious hypocrite
Perverse Pamela, ungrateful runaway
Vile forward one
Fallen angel
Mistress of arts
Wicked girl
[one possessed of a] little, plotting, guileful heart
Intriguing little slut [as in plotting, not interesting]

(spoiler show)

And don't think each of those was used just once.

And she still says by the end: "Dear sir, said I, pray give me more of your sweet injunctions."

and later, for the book goes on and on long after it should have left off: "O dearest, dear sir, said I, have you nothing more to honour me with? You oblige and improve me at the same time.--What a happy lot is mine!"

I get that hussy and slut didn't have the connotations they do now - in fact, 'Pamela' marks the beginning of the period in which a common variant for housewife, hussy, became a derogatory term. Thanks Samuel Richardson! - but it leaves me questioning the morals of the whole century.

Indeed. This book could be adapted faithfully and be a harrowing thriller. Richardson intended this book as a guide to young women of proper behavior in distressing situations. I insist that nobody else read this ever again.

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review 2015-12-15 00:00
The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics)
The Mysteries of Udolpho (Oxford World's Classics) - Ann Radcliffe,Bonamy Dobrée,Terry Castle

This is the story about how Emily St Aubert, a modest young woman of good character, overcomes her high principles and decides that maybe her legal guardian is not correct in locking her and her aunt up in his remote Italian castle in order to obtain possession of their estates. Of stalkers suitors she had plenty, and held them off graciously in order to remain free for her pure Valancourt. To love is appropriate, even if acquaintances have observed the object of that love at gaming tables spending money he does not possess.

This novel is ridiculous. I can also see what made people so mad about it. There were long sequences of words where nothing happened except for the stopping of the carriage to take in a view. Radcliffe was opposed to the idea of "horror" over "suspense". She certainly lives up to that idea, unfortunately it all seems to have gotten out of her hands. She drops more hints and secrets and unutterable sights than she can ultimately handle. And yet, I enjoyed reading it. The impossibility of the castle, the bizarre introduction in volume 4 of a new cast all reminded me of that phenomenon of a decade ago: Lost.

'The Mysteries of Udolpho' is the 'Lost' of its century. There are mysteries in each character's past, however innocuous, and a conspiracy of silence until their isn't, and revelations that are hidden until the writer gets around to deciding what those revelations signify or what they will even be. I enjoyed 'Lost' immensely, 'Udolpho' less so, but I can appreciate how millions were drawn into the play and inspired, among many others, the fond ridicule of Jane Austen.

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review 2015-10-28 00:00
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Oxford World's Classics)
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Oxford World's Classics) - Laurence Sterne,Ian Campbell Ross

'Tristram Shandy' was my October, and I'm a little upset about that. It's true that I was able to squeeze in a few other things, but a few graphic novels and a child's book fail to even out the scales of a month.

Sterne for his day, I'm sure, was hilarious. Countenances must have lit up left and right while waistcoats and stays threatened to burst from bodies quaking with mirth. As for myself, with one exception, all of 'Tristram Shandy's humor was strictly academic. I could recognize why someone of the period would think the various fumblings and misfortunes and dicknoses were funny, but that's worth a golf-clap in acknowledgement of cleverness and a weary swipe of the finger as I move on to the next chapter.

Shandy's voice and the looping, ever-digressive narrative are inventive and ground-breaking, but my e-book edition dispensed with most of the trickery, leaving only brackets with notes like [Blank Page] instead of an empty field to sketch one's mistress, or the famous marbled pages. Somehow I doubt their presence would have gotten me invested in the narrative. Sterne trolls his readers by delaying any momentum in his story as long as space permits him. He is illustrating a point, to be sure, but I can't abide cleverness for its own sake if it fails to entertain or inspire me.

I'll take my own share of the blame, I'm merely a dull reader, but I'll never recommend this book to anyone except as an artifact. Not alive.

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