Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell

NineteenEightyFourPlease note that there are some spoilers in the last four paragraphs; I don’t go into a great amount of detail, but do be careful if you haven’t read the end of the book!

This book is #77 on my Classics Club List.

Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there were still privacy, love, and friendship … His [mother] had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable. Such things, he saw, could not happen today.

(Part One, Chapter III)

Almost everybody knows that chilling phrase, ‘Big Brother is watching you’. At some uncertain age, we all inevitably grasp the significance of those words, even if we have never read the book which gave birth to it. What’s more, the phrase seems even more apt today than it was when the book was first published. Though the year 1984 has long passed us by, Orwell’s novel is still hugely relevant to its readers. Continue reading

Castle Rackrent (1800), by Maria Edgeworth

castlerackrentThis book is #3 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014, and #49 on my Classics Club list.

Oh, dear. I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew these past few weeks, first with A Sentimental Journey and now with Castle Rackrent. Eighteenth-century literature has certainly done an excellent job of kicking my butt with these two short novels.

I originally wanted to read Castle Rackrent because I studied another of Edgeworth’s novels, Patronage, a few years ago. I enjoyed it immensely, and figured Castle Rackrent would be more of the same.

Sadly, it was not to be. Castle Rackrent is the story of a wealthy Anglo-Irish family told through the eyes of their faithful old servant, Thady. A succession of four equally unpleasant masters is what we’re presented with, complete with the story of their unhappy wives and their reckless spending of ancestral money. Continue reading

My Favourite Classics (Top Ten Tuesday)

favouriteclassicsEvery week the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish prompt bloggers to compose a Top Ten list based on a weekly theme. This week’s theme is ‘Top Ten Favourite Classic Books’. Since I don’t think I’ve actually shared a list of my favourite books yet, I thought today would be as good a chance as any to share some of them with my lovely readers. :)

So here they are, just for you… Continue reading

A Sentimental Journey (1768), by Laurence Sterne

sentimentaljourneyThis book is #6 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Well, it’s been a while since I posted a book review. But fear not! I haven’t been neglecting my reading. In fact, now that the winter break has begun, I’ve finally been able to focus on Books I Actually Want to Read, rather than constantly struggling through the tyranny of Books I Must Read For Class or Risk Failing. Meanwhile, I’ve got a backlog of reviews that I’m hoping to share with you all, starting with another travel-inspired tome.

There are several reasons why I wanted to read Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy. Not only is it a turning-point in the history of travel writing, it also makes fun of the self-obsessed and narrow-minded travel accounts of older generations, something I’m sure almost everyone enjoys, if only in small doses. Sterne’s novel was also a precursor to the approach of Romantic writers like Goethe, whose Italian Journey I read earlier this year. Continue reading

… And We’re Back. (Plus My Top Ten Favourite Book Titles.)

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Regular readers may have noticed I’ve been rather silent these past few weeks. It’s been about a month since I last posted, a fact which I was amazed to discover when I logged on this morning for the first time in a long while. There is a (fairly) good explanation for this, and for my neglect of my favourite blogs and websites.

Here in the southern hemisphere it’s that most joyous time of the year: winter. Unfortunately, before we can all enjoy wrapping ourselves in blankets and sipping warm tea of a chilly afternoon, university exams loom over the immediate future. As a long-standing Arts student I don’t actually have exams, but I did have to write roughly eight thousand words’ worth of essays before the semester was over. So, naturally, the past few weeks have been spent in a kind of robotic sleep-eat-work-sleep routine, punctuated by the occasional anxiety attack (complete with paper-bag breathing exercises) and sleepless night.

Despite this routine (or perhaps because of it), I have finally made it through to the other side of the semester.  Continue reading

Longbourn (2013), by Jo Baker

longbournI’m sure that many reviews of Jo Baker’s Longbourn begin like this, but I’ll say it anyway: I don’t usually read Jane Austen sequels. Or prequels. Or indeed anything ‘inspired by’, ‘in the style of’, or ‘after’ Jane Austen. In fact, many years ago now I declared my household a ‘Jane Austen Sequel-Free Zone’, a new development my family had no trouble getting behind on account of them not really caring about Jane Austen at all (it’s tough, but with family you have to love them for all their qualities, good and bad).

The reason behind this strict ruling is simple. I admire Jane Austen. I admire her as a writer, and in particular as a comic writer of incredible skill and subtlety. Continue reading

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller (1979), by Italo Calvino

ifonawintersnightatravellerWarning! This review contains one potential spoiler in the very last paragraph. Please read it with your eyes closed to avoid learning what it is.

In the realm of experimental fiction, there are two kinds of books: Clever Books and Books That Are Too Clever For Their Own Good. And Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller comes very close to being a Book That Is Too Clever For Its Own Good.

I first decided I wanted to read this book when I read a quote from the novel in Umberto Eco’s The Infinity of Lists. It’s a fabulous description of a character entering a bookshop. In Calvino’s hands this simple action is transformed into a kind of military assault: Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Covers I’d Frame as Art

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly prompt at The Broke and the Bookish. This time the theme is ‘Top Ten Book Covers I’d Frame As Pieces of Art’. Now I’ll admit (a little shamefully) that I am a bit of a visual person, and I do tend to fall into the trap of judging a book by its cover. A lot. I know, it’s terrible. This week’s prompt, however, lets me indulge my shockingly bad habit, so I just couldn’t resist.

Top Ten Book Covers I’d Frame as Pieces of Art

1. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I’m a big fan of this style, showing only slices of the image instead of the whole thing:

Luminaries

Continue reading

The Iliad (c. 720 BCE), by Homer

iliadThis book was the March/April read for Reading the Classics. It is also #2 on my Classics Club list.

Okay, everybody. I’m going to try to remain calm. I’ve only just spent the past two months tackling one of the most famous texts in the history of Western civilisation. Because I’m just cool like that.

Honestly, I’m still a little amazed that I’ve finished. When you’ve been reading a book for more than a month, you begin to shudder at the sight of its oh-so-familiar cover, taunting you with your laziness. It almost seems to take on a life of its own, glaring at you from across the room. My copy of the Iliad spent most of April giving me significant looks and asking, ‘are you really going to re-read your favourite Terry Pratchett novel for the upteenth time, instead of reading me?’*

I just want to stress, people, that I do not usually feel like my books are alive. Or that they speak to me. Apart from in the perfectly healthy way that their authors originally intended them to. But the Iliad came close to breaking me.

The Iliad begins with what might very well be the most epic hissy fit in all of history. Continue reading