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review 2018-07-17 01:55
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Moby Dick (Vintage Classics) - Herman Melville

I've been trying to read Moby-Dick for years, abandoning it many times since high school. When asked to set up a book club for those wanting to tackle the big classics, I couldn't do anything but pick the most large, 'uge, magnificent book ever written.

And, having finally finished it, it's OK. I see why people invest so much energy into this work and enjoy parsing it out, but in the end I would have preferred a little more sailing adventure and less arcane mythological references and asides. Melville had a plan and he followed through with his deconstruction of the novel by constructing an even larger novel around its architectural corpse.

There were passages of brilliant intensity and longing, rewarding humor, wide progressive streaks on race, relgion and sexuality, and romantic squeezes in the spermacetti, but the dull implacability of much of the novel was too intense for me. We were quite torn up about the book at the meeting, but we all agreed that the foreskin helmet was awesome.

'Moby-Dick' is something you have to read for yourself, if you want to. Like with everything, I suppose, your mileage may vary and you might not want to invest the energy needed to break into a novel like this, and that's OK. I gave it a solid 65% of my attention and appreciated it, but its not for everyone.

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text 2018-07-09 01:19
Reading progress update: I've read 151 out of 250 pages.
Hercule Poirot's Early Cases - Agatha Christie
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text 2018-07-08 08:45
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson,Richard Armitage

I think I've probably said this before, but it bears repeating: Richard Armitage should narrate all the things.

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text 2018-07-07 16:19
Reading progress update: I've read 48 out of 343 pages.
Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes

Oh, wow.  I'm only a few chapters in, but this is feeling mighty topical already -- even more so given that it's not historical fiction but was actually published in 1941 (note: it's set in the summer of 1939):

 

"'It is really very sad for a German to find how misjudged and abused his country is.  Of course, our enemies control the Press in foreign countries, and they have been very busy.  They have clever tongues.'

'Have they?  It is strange, isn't it, how criticism of Germany has grown even in countries which were once really very close to her.  I wonder how it could have happened.'"

(P. 25)

 

"'You are a very prejudiced person, I can see.  I suppose you will now lecture me gravely on the wickedness of Germany's claims to natural Lebensraum.  It is easy to talk when you have a large Empire.'

'On the contrary, Herr von Aschenhausen, I like to think of all people having their Lebensraum, whether they are Germans or Jews or Czechs or Poles.'

His voice grated.  He was really angry.  'It is just such thoughts as these which have weakened Britain.  In the last twenty-five years she could have established herself as ruler of the world.  Instead, she makes a Commonwealth out of an Empire, and they won't even fight to help her when she has to fight.  She leaves the riches of India untapped; she urges a representative government on Indians who were about to refuse it.  She alienates Italy with sanctions.  She weakens herself all the time and she thinks it is an improvement.'"

(P. 27)

 

"'Well, I suppose if a nation allows concentration camps, it will find it hard to believe that other people don't use similar methods.  Cheeer up, old girl, who cares what a lot of uncivilised people think anyway?  It's only the opinion of the civilised that really matters.'

'Yes, but it looks as if a lot of the civilised will be killed because they ignored the thoughts of the uncivilised.  Ignoring doesn't expose them, you know, Richard.'"

(P. 32)

 

"[...] And then bastards like von Aschenhausen come along all smiles and bows.  And wonder why people are not enthusiastic about them.  They blackmailed us with bombers one year, and go back on the agreement they had extorted out of us, and then expect to be welcomed as friends.  All within nine months."

(P. 33)

 

"There's nothing like self-pity for thoroughly dissipating a man.  And when a nation indulges in that luxury it finds itself with a dictator.  Wrongs and injustices come in at the door and reason flies out of the window.  It's a solution which does not flatter the human race."

(P. 43)

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review 2018-07-04 11:20
The Return of the Soldier (Virago Modern Classics) - Rebecca West

Kitty and Jenny sit at home, awaiting the end of the war and the return of Chris, Kitty’s husband and Jenny’s cousin. However he returns to them sooner, suffering amnesia from shell-shock. He can remember Jenny and Margaret, his first love, but has no recollection of Kitty. Between the women they have to decide if they should allow Chris to remain 15 years in the past or to find a cure. That cure will be an act of love.

 

It is little wonder that Chris resorts to only remembering his past. It is a coping mechanism, his brain’s way of allowing him to heal, by remembering the happiest time of his life. It is telling perhaps that his mind does not remember the early courtship with his wife, though she is inextricably linked to the loss of his son.

 

The house and it’s grounds are idealised. It is the house of old that Chris longs to return to, a place for him to be comfortable and to heal. Jenny marvels at its beauty in the present day, at the wonderful grounds and the many changes wrought by Kitty. With Chris’ situation her eyes are opened to the fact that these changes may not be as welcome to him as once believed.

 

The house and it’s setting are also used to juxtapose the battlefields. Rebecca West doesn’t attempt to portray the horror of war. It is mentioned briefly by Jenny, referring to the film reels seen and the dreams they cause. However the reader is left to imagine the scenes, stark in their absence, when compared with the idyllic life Chris has left behind. To Jenny it is a haven, a cocoon to keep them safe. The house is in a perpetual golden glow if her descriptions are to believed but it becomes more apparent that it may be something of a gilded cage.

 

Kitty isn’t a particularly likeable character. She seemed less concerned with Chris’ mental health than how it affected her. She thinks that by draping herself in the jewels he bought her, he will suddenly remember her. Her avoidance of him seems more caused by petulance than anxiety. She is discourteous to Margaret, though this seems less to do with jealousy and more to do with snobbery. Jenny is a more complex character. She views Margaret initially with disdain, a disdain towards her poverty and obvious signs of beauty than anything else. She is quick to assume that Margaret is unhappy with her life in her pokey little house, that her lack of style and money has leached her of beauty. She misses the signs of fidelity that are briefly brought before her when Margaret and her husband interact. She fails, initially, to see the beauty behind the shabby clothes. But she gets to know Margaret, learns the history of her and Chris and soon comes to rely on her. Margaret is ultimately selfless. She does attend on Chris in part to remember happier days, to relive her youth and in some respects to obtain closure or to confirm her life choices. She is also there for Chris, to help him heal. Chris is the tie that binds them together and though he is the focal point for the women, it is those women that are very much the focal point of the novel.

 

This is a slim volume, but nonetheless is an effecting story, despite it’s size. It is a quiet, beautifully told story of love and war. Recommended.

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