Bleak House – Part III

I continue reviewing Bleak House and I even thought of reviewing it by parts, but revisiting the characters, names, places and putting my thoughts all together here, I find it easier to keep reading and to remember everything. As you may have noticed, my Bleak House posts are less academic and more like notes that I’d put down on a notebook. These posts are aimed as a review of the book, but also a personal exploration of the book and something to revisit when the plot gets too tricky (which, for what I see, will get in no time!).

Part III

8. Covering a Multitude of Sins

9. Signs and Tokens

10. The Law-Writer

Chapter 8 was very intense. At first I did not really care for it, since I thought it would focus on Esther choosing Richard’s job. But then, the subplot with Mrs. Pardiggle made me change my mind. First of all, she reminded me so much of modern ladies! Apparently, spoilt children are not a product of the 21st century. When I read about Mrs. Pardiggle children I really wanted to slap them and punish them to sit down and keep quiet for at least 3 hours. Esther was so kind to them and yet they only wanted to make her uncomfortable. But, what really moved me was the scene of the dying baby at the brickmaker’s house. I must admit it brought tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to lose a baby because you cannot afford a doctor or proper food. And again, it happens nowadays: the drunk father, the mother trying to cope with everything and the children suffering the consequences. The last paragraph, which I found remarkably moving is the following (Ada and Esther visit the brickmaker’s family at night, after the baby has died):

How little I thought, when I raised my handkerchief to look upon the tiny sleeper underneath and seemed to see a halo shine around the child through Ada’s drooping hair as her pity bent her head—how little I thought in whose unquiet bosom that handkerchief would come to lie after covering the motionless and peaceful breast! I only thought that perhaps the Angel of the child might not be all unconscious of the woman who replaced it with so compassionate a hand; not all unconscious of her presently, when we had taken leave, and left her at the door, by turns looking, and listening in terror for herself, and saying in her old soothing manner, “Jenny, Jenny!”

The visit at the brickmaker's, depicted here, not tenth as horrible as the narrative suggests.

I found Chapter 9 to be key. I know all the characters in the book are linked in one way or another but, one of the mysteries that keeps me on reading is to know how, why and what will come out of such relationships. Here, we have Mr. Lawrence Boythorn (a character I imagined as Stephen Fry!) who is funny and always plays with language and makes the reader laugh with his “unimaginable energy· But then came Mr. Guppy and his stupid, out-of-nowhere proposal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Esther worry about herself and her life a bit more, but where did this proposal come from? As modern readers, we may find difficult to understand 19th century “love” stories since the level of intimacy with your beloved one did not go beyond a gaze, but I did not see why Esther would accept Mr. Guppy (now I am thinking she will later do and I’ll be pretty happy about it, I know something like this will happen).

This is, by far, my favourite quote by Esther until now:

But, when I went upstairs to my own room, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh about it and then surprised myself still more by beginning to cry about it. In short, I was in a flutter for a little while and felt as if an old chord had been more coarsely touched than it ever had been since the days of the dear old doll, long buried in the garden.

I think the doll is a key element in her developing and growing up. The fact that she left it behind suggests me that she left her childhood and her previous self behind to become something different. But, at the bottom of her heart, she cannot get rid of the doll or her memories.

Finally, I had to re-read Chapter 10 to review it. I get lost in the bits and pieces Dickens offers of characters that I am sure, will be extremely important in future chapters. I think I may jot down all the names to keep track of their relationships and their being in general, because I tend to forget them. However, I was warned about it when I researched Bleak House, being described as Dickens’ “most complex novel”. I have to agree. apparently, a Mr. Tulkinghorn leads us to a family known under the name of Snagsby to ask the husband (a cuckolded husband in a very Chaucerian way) about a copy of legal document he wanted and taht Snagsby gave to a man known as “Nemo” which stands for “no name” in Latin. When Mr. Tulkinghorn goes to visit him, he finds him dead. I have no idea why Mr. Tulkinghorn is looking for him, the only thing I know is that Mr. Snagsby refers to the legal paper he was asked to copy as “Jarndyce” connecting this subplot directly with Esther’s.

I am really happy with the book until now and I plan on reading as much as I can. I think that there are two main reasons that keep me on reading: Esther and the relationship that can be established between all the characters in the novel, so different yet (I think) so connected.

You can also read Bleak House for free thanks to Project Gutenberg – Bleak House HTML

New book sighting!

The less time I have, the more books I want to read! Just two days before returning to school for my final, senior term, I found this jewel in my bookshop. And it has to be mine! As the summer approaches, I usually find myself flooded with very tempting books, especially crime books. But, after giving it some thought, either the book market publishes more during the summer (people have more time to read) or I am just in a huge need for reading. Here is an update for my TBR summer list:

Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson

After reading and falling in love with The Dinosaur Feather, I have a soft spot for female, Scandinavian writers. Don’t get me wrong, I do not like all of them, in fact, some of these new Scandinavian crime novels are too much for me, but this one seems perfect. And, even for books, I’m superficial enough to love the cover and let it play a key role in my choice: I have something for red shoes after some Wizard of Oz-obsessive years during my childhood.

Summary from the Book Depository:

“One mistake changes everything…”In the middle of a rainy Swedish summer, a little girl is abducted from a crowded train. Despite hundreds of potential witnesses, no one noticed when the girl was taken. Her distraught mother was left behind at the previous station in what seemed to be a coincidence. The train crew was alerted and kept a watchful eye on the sleeping child. But when the train pulled into Stockholm Central Station, the little girl had vanished. Inspector Alex Recht and his special team of federal investigators, assisted by the investigative analyst Fredrika Bergman, are assigned to what at first appears to be a classic custody fight. But when the child is found dead in the far north of Sweden with the word “unwanted” scribbled on her forehead, the case soon turns into the investigation team’s worst nightmare–the pursuit of a brilliant and ruthless killer.

I think this book will make it to my top-priority reading books as soon as I get, that is, as soon as possible!

Also, I’d like to wish you all a happy Easter! Eat lots of chocolate bunnies and sweets and enjoy a good book :)

Reading list for A Victorian Celebration

Four weeks before finishing my senior year, events like A Victorian Celebration and the thought of reading the whole summer are the only things that keep me going. So, thinking of the books I can read, I realized that most authors are English and, being especially interested in Scottish and Irish literature, I thought, why not add them? There must be great Irish and Scottish Victorian writers out there and I can’t wait to read their works. Although Ireland was still part of the UK in the ninteenth century, life was very different for them and I’m sure that’s reflected in literature.

I’ll update this post as I discover new authors and works and add them to my TBR list:

IRISH

  • Uncle Sillas – Joseph Sheridan LeFanu

SCOTTISH

  • Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

ENGLISH

  • Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
  • Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë
  • The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
  • Middlemarch – George Elliot

This post will remain in the front page until the Victorian Celebration arrives. Please, feel free to comment and suggest as many other Victorian authors as you want :)

One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson

One Good Turn (2006), by Kate Atkinson is my second reading of the Jackson Brodie series, started with Case Histories in 2004. Summary from Book Depository:

5/5

It is the Edinburgh Festival. People queuing for a lunchtime show witness a road-rage incident – an incident which changes the lives of everyone involved. Jackson Brodie, ex-army, ex-police, ex-private detective, is also an innocent bystander – until he becomes a suspect. With Case Histories, Kate Atkinson showed how brilliantly she could explore the crime genre and make it her own. In One Good Turn she takes her masterful plotting one step further. Like a set of Russian dolls each thread of the narrative reveals itself to be related to the last. Her Dickensian cast of characters are all looking for love or money and find it in surprising places. As ever with Atkinson what each one actually discovers is their true self. Unputdownable and triumphant, One Good Turn is a sharply intelligent read that is also percipient, funny, and totally satisfying.

The following review is spoiler-free:

This is my second reading by Kate Atkinson. Apparently, I am reading the series backwards, having read When Will There Be Good News? last summer, but this does not take the pleasure out of the reading. I was already familiar with Jackson Brodie and Louise appears in this novel for the first time, although I was already familiar with her. The rest of the characters come from the previous novel, Case Histories, which I haven’t read yet, but apparently Julia also appears on it, and she is the reason why Jackson is in Edinburgh. What I loved the most is that the characters are very, very complex. Like real human beings, they have many layers and it takes yet another chapter to get to really know what they really think or who they really are. But, at the same time, they change with every chapter and it gets even more interesting to know them and the reasons behind their behaviour. These are the main characters:

  • Jackson: An ex-detective dating Julia, an actress who is working at the Edinburgh Festival.
  • Louise: A Scottish detective with a fourteen-year old.
  • Gloria: A rich housewife.
  • Martin: A best-selling author of crime novels.

In a typical Atkinson move, the plot is easy to follow, yet complex enough the make the reading challenging and addictive. The story (or stories!) is told from the point of view of Jackson, Louise, Gloria, Martin and a unkown man. In a very modern-apporach, their lives seem to be connected in any unthinkable way. Also, Atkinson makes a great use of the Matryoshka structure, imitating the Russian dolls, there is a story within a story, blurring the limits between real life and fiction.

Like great crime novels, One Good Turn denounces different social realities and flaws. From Gloria’s status as a rich housewife to Louise’s struggle with her fourteen-year old with complete access to the Internet and a good private education, there are a lot of questions to be answered. Atkinson makes them to the reader, in an attempt to make us reflect and reach a conclusion for ourselves. Morality is then, key to read One Good Turn and review it.

For me it was that relative morality what made me enjoy the novel the most. Atkinson does not want to lecture the reader, there is not a didactic purpose: the characters are flawed (just like real-life people) and they know it and try to make the most of life. Then, they behave according to their personal situation and their problems and whether that behaviour is justified, moral or ethic is for each of us to judge yet, highly justified by the events in the story. There is no good/bad division in this book. Everything is grey.

So, One Good Turn is a great read, a great novel in every sense of the word. I am becoming a huge fan of Kate Atkinson and plan on reading the whole Jackson Brodie series. I recommend this novel to anyone who likes crime fiction. It is so rich and it has so many layers of interpretation that every reader will get a different interpretation and a different story.

Also, Atkinson put the English detective novel back on the spotlight when book shops are flooded with detective fiction and is difficult to distinguish good, high-quality reading from more commercial and forgettable literature. She is definitely a must-read for fans of the genre and her novels will make the reader reflect on long-held assumptions and beliefs. A five-star reading!

Irish Detective Fiction – Alrene Hunt

I am a big fan of crime/detective novels. Sometimes, after a hard day at school, all I want is to relax… with a crime. Depending on my tiredness, I either pick up a TV show or a book. But, when picking up a book. How to distinguish good, complex fiction from trashy best-sellers? I rely a lot on other bloggers (big thank you) and on the Internet in general. But, until now there was a gap in my shelves: Irish crime novels written by a woman. Let’s say, I was searching for the Irish Kate Atkinson or P.D James.

I came across this article last week and I was half in awe, half astonished. There are three women in a list of ten writers. Maybe there are not as many published detective fiction writers out there (as Amanda pointed out); anyways, I was in awe with one of them: Arlene Hunt. I googled all her novels and they all appeal to me although I must admit that the crimes depicted seem… too violent.

You can visit Arlene’s website and browse through all her books. It is very easy to navigate through the Books section and they are spoiler-free. She has published seven novels, six of which belong to the John and Sarah series, because any worthy detective-writer out there, she has a trademark investigator.

I haven’t read any of Arlene’s books but I can’t wait. I love Ireland, Dublin is my favourite place in the whole world and I plan on living there one day and enjoying the fantstic Irish culture and, despite what many say, weather. Her crimes depict modern problems in our society, not only in Ireland, and, the fact that she created a man and a woman for her series, reminds me of my beloved Bones. I am sure there is much of the Irish culture (and Irish English) inscribed in her works.

Although many consider Ireland still part of the UK in terms of literature, I think this fiction deserves much more attention than what it gets. I also plan on reading Scottish detective fiction, but I’ll leave that for another post.

If you know any Welsh/Irish or Scottish woman writing detective fiction, please, let me know!

My first blogging event!

I must admit I am not a fan of reading challenges or read-alongs. I like to read whenever I want and whatever I want. But, I found this event and it just felt perfect! There is no reading-list and no impositions, just two months devoted to reading one of my favourite periods and works: Victorian literature.

The event, A Victorian Celebration, is hosted by A Literary Odyssey and, if you inscribe before 1st May you can win one of the Penguin Clothbound Editions from the following selection:

  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Tess of D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

This is just perfect timing! By June I hope to have sit all my exams and I’ll be able to celebrate with some reading of my choice, without deadlines and without spending 10 hours at school. How great is that?

I hope some of you join, too!

Independet Blogger Contest at Goodreads!

Thanks to Kimberly I’ve entered by first contest as a blogger! This is the first time I actually hear of one of these events and I’m really happy that I get to participate. You can obviously vote for my blog! But, what I hope is that while voting more and more people visit and get to share the literary love at Books and Reviews:

Independent Book Blogger Awards

Vote for this blog for the Independent Book Blogger Awards!

Vote

Voting opens Tuesday, April 10, 2012!