Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Woodlanders – Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders - Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders – Thomas Hardy

Continuing my year of Hardy, I read The Woodlanders. This is my favourite so far – the characters (apart from Giles) are more nuanced less black and white. It is typically Hardy – there a love triangles/quadrilaterals, a fabulous sense of place (you could almost here the wind in the leaves), social class issues, pride, vanity and unhappy endings.

Here’s the summary …

The story takes place in a small woodland village called Little Hintock, and concerns the efforts of an honest woodsman, Giles Winterborne, to marry his childhood sweetheart, Grace Melbury. Although they have been informally betrothed for some time, her father has made financial sacrifices to give his adored only child a superior education and no longer considers Giles good enough for her. When the new doctor – a well-born and handsome young man named Edgar Fitzpiers – takes an interest in Grace, her father does all he can to make Grace forget Giles, and to encourage what he sees as a brilliant match. Grace has misgivings prior to the marriage as she sees a village woman (Suke Damson) coming out of his cottage very early in the morning and suspects he has been sleeping with her. She tells her father that she does not want to go on with the marriage and he becomes very angry. Later Fitzpiers tells her Suke has been to visit him because she was in agony from toothache and he extracted a molar. Grace clutches at this explanation – in fact Fitzpiers has started an affair with Suke some weeks previously. After the honeymoon, the couple take up residence in an unused wing of Melbury’s house. Soon, however, Fitzpiers begins an affair with a rich widow named Mrs. Charmond, which Grace and her father discover. Grace finds out by chance that Suke Damson has a full set of teeth and realises that Fitzpiers lied to her. The couple become progressively more estranged and Fitzpiers is assaulted by his father-in-law after he accidentally reveals his true character to him. Both Suke Damson and Mrs Charmond turn up at Grace’s house demanding to know whether Fitzpiers is all right – Grace addresses them both sarcastically as “Wives -all”. Fitzpiers later deserts Grace and goes to the Continent with Mrs Charmond. Grace realises that she has only ever really loved Giles but as there is no possibility of divorce feels that her love seems hopeless.

Melbury is told by a former legal clerk down on his luck that the law was changed in the previous year (making the setting of the action 1858) and divorce is now possible. He encourages Giles to resume his courtship of Grace. It later becomes apparent, however, that Fitzpiers’ adultery is not sufficient for Grace to be entitled to a divorce. When Fitzpiers quarrels with Mrs. Charmond and returns to Little Hintock to try to reconcile with his wife, she flees the house and turns to Giles for help. He is still convalescing from a dangerous illness, but nobly allows her to sleep in his hut during stormy weather, whilst he insists on sleeping outside. As a result, he dies. Grace later allows herself to be won back to the (at least temporarily) repentant Fitzpiers, thus sealing her fate as the wife of an unworthy man. This is after Suke’s husband Timothy Tangs has set a man trap to try to crush Fitzpiers’ leg but it only tears Grace’s skirt.

No one is left to mourn Giles except a courageous peasant girl named Marty South,who has always loved him. Marty is a plain girl whose only attribute is her beautiful hair. She is persuaded to sell this at the start of the story to a barber who is procuring it for Mrs Charmond, after Marty realises that Giles loves Grace and not her. She precipitates the final quarrel between Fitzpiers and Mrs Charmond by writing to Fitzpiers and telling him of the origin of most of Mrs Charmond’s hair.

Another review …

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/books-the-woodlanders-1887-by-thomas-hardy-1337143.html

Here is the enotes page for The Woodlanders

http://www.enotes.com/topics/woodlanders

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We are Pirates – Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates - Daniel Handler

We Are Pirates – Daniel Handler

My girls are Lemony Snicket fans – I must admit I have a bit of a soft spot for the movie – so when I heard there were books for grown-ups (I don’t want to say adult books) I was super keen to read it.

Here is the blurb …

Mega-bestselling author Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) gives us his long-awaited and most ambitious novel yet: a dark, rollicking, stunningly entertaining human comedy.
A boat has gone missing. Goods have been stolen. There is blood in the water. It is the twenty-first century and a crew of pirates is terrorizing the San Francisco Bay.
Phil is a husband, a father, a struggling radio producer, and the owner of a large condo with a view of the water. But he’d like to be a rebel and a fortune hunter.
Gwen is his daughter. She’s fourteen. She’s a student, a swimmer, and a best friend. But she’d like to be an adventurer and an outlaw.
Phil teams up with his young, attractive assistant. They head for the open road, attending a conference to seal a deal.
Gwen teams up with a new, fierce friend and some restless souls. They head for the open sea, stealing a boat to hunt for treasure.
We Are Pirates is a novel about our desperate searches for happiness and freedom, about our wild journeys beyond the boundaries of our ordinary lives.
Also, it’s about a teenage girl who pulls together a ragtag crew to commit mayhem in the San Francisco Bay, while her hapless father tries to get her home.

I found it a little confusing at first and I went back and re-read the start, but once it all fell into place I really enjoyed it. To me it seemed to be a modern fable, the children, the old man and the black man would go on an adventure, discover something about themselves and the world around them (that it is fundamentally a good place) and return and get on with their lives – better people for their new self-knowledge, but no this convention is completely turned upside down! Let’s just say not everyone makes it back as a better person. There’s brutality, despair and the breaking up of the team. This might make it sound very dark, but it is a witty and original novel (that’s got to be a good thing) with some surprising elements (well I was surprised).

More reviews …

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/review-we-are-pirates-a-witty-adult-novel-by-lemony-snicket-author-daniel-handler/2015/01/27/443cacf8-a34b-11e4-b146-577832eafcb4_story.html

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/we-are-pirates-review-lemony-snicket-but-for-adults

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The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy

The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy

I read this at school. I think it was one of the reasons I never read Hardy again (until late last year) or it could be because of my very creepy english teacher.

I vaguely remember waffling on in an essay about how an event can be like a stone in a pond – the ripples just keep moving outwards (very metaphorical).

I was much more sympathetic this time round to all of the characters, but Henchard in particular.

Here is the blurb …

In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.

And here is the Wikipedia plot summary.

This was different from the previous Hardy novels that I have read. First, there wasn’t a main female protagonist (no Fancy Day or Bathsheba Everdene). It was all about Henchard and how his character flaws bring about his downfall – although the poor man couldn’t get a break (even the bird is sacrificed!). Hardy can be cruel to his characters.

You could also argue that it is a fight between the old ways (Henchard) and the new (Farfrae) and the passing away of a way of life in rural England, but ultimately it is a tragedy –  Henchard is brought low by his own impulsive actions; selling his wife, trying to keep that a secret and rash business decisions.

Here is the cliff notes on The Mayor of Casterbridge

The Thomas Hardy page at Victoria Web and The Mayor of Casterbridge page.

I am really glad we (my Victorian group and I) have embarked on this Thomas Hardy marathon – just Tess to go.

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Excellent Women – Barbara Pym

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym

Excellent Women – Barbara Pym

I really enjoyed reading Jane and Prudenceso when I was off for a resort holiday I thought I definitely need to read a Pym novel. I love them – all that talk about clothes and hats and food and the tea drinking …

Here is the blurb …

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym’s richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman’s daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those “excellent women,” the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighbors–anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door–the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

These women – single, a bit frumpy,  in distressed circumstances – are expected to do all of the drudgery (make the tea, do the flowers even paint walls when the vicar proves to be inept). It is a quietly funny novel, but with an underlying feel of loneliness or unhappiness.

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/apr/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview30

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

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The Tidal Zone – Sarah Moss

The Tidal Zone - Sarah Moss

The Tidal Zone – Sarah Moss

I read about this book here – and as I tend to enjoy everything recommended by dovergreyreader, I decided promptly to download it to my kindle.

Here is the blurb …

Adam is a stay-at-home dad who is also working on a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. He is a good man and he is happy. But one day, he receives a call from his daughter’s school to inform him that, for no apparent reason, fifteen-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. In that moment, he is plunged into a world of waiting, agonising, not knowing. The story of his life and the lives of his family are rewritten and re-told around this shocking central event, around a body that has inexplicably failed. In this exceptionally courageous and unflinching novel of contemporary life Sarah Moss goes where most of us wouldn’t dare to look, and the result is riveting – unbearably sad, but also miraculously funny and ultimately hopeful. The Tidal Zone explores parental love, overwhelming fear, illness and recovery. It is about clever teenagers and the challenges of marriage. It is about the NHS, academia, sex and gender in the twenty-first century, the work-life juggle, and the politics of packing lunches and loading dishwashers. It confirms Sarah Moss as a unique voice in modern fiction and a writer of luminous intelligence.

This novel is beautifully written – a compelling page turner about modern families, working and non-working parents, the over-whelming fear, panic and guilt that come with an ill child. It also to some extent explores different life/work choices.

This novel explores what it is like to be a parent in today’s world – where paying the mortgage and supporting a family are harder than ever before, the unrelenting grind of domesticity, a world where you are judged by your job (or lack of one).

More reviews …

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/09/the-tidal-zone-sarah-moss-review-novel-nhs-parental-anxiety

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/book-review-the-tidal-zone-by-sarah-moss-parenting-through-a-prism-of-trauma-a7134981.html

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