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Thursday, 21 January 2010
Time to share again...
it's been a while. I've been so busy at the start of this year that I haven't been as friendly as I should have! Happy new year to all the readers of this blog!
One thing I have been doing lots of is reading, so here's a run down on my 2010 books so far (including Christmas 2009 reads):
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson- *** stars
'Instantly the spirit of hell awoke in me and raged...I was suddenly struck through the heart by a cold thrill of terror.'
I have been meaning to read more classics and this Christmas, I decided to be pro-active and request a few. This was my first venture into classics for a while. A nice short one to begin with and one which delves straight in with a violent encounter within the first few pages- a mysterious and huge hulk of a man stamps over a young girl in the street.
A novel filled with a lot of heresay, misinformation and most of all, a vagueness of identity. A lawyer who is a good friend of Dr Jekyll is concerned when his friend decrees in his will that all his possessions be left to a Mr Hyde, in the event of his death or prolonged absence. The lawyer takes it on himself to find out why his friend would make such a request, when none of the people around him seem to know who this mysterious man, Mr Hyde, is. Meanwhile, Mr Hyde begins to pop up more and more often, his actions becoming more and more aggressive.
It ends up being a race against time to save Dr Jekyll from the grips of his murderous acquaintance. However, what the lawyer doesn't realise, is that Dr Jekyll is hiding a secret that will astound him and everyone else.
Although I enjoyed the contrast of the two characters here, I found that I wasn't that close to any of the characters. And although Dr Jekyll finally reveals his secret to his friend, I wonder why and how he stumbled upon his discovery. Although it's clear he continues to use his secret because of his freedom to act and do as he wishes, seemingly without repercussions. However, I never found out why a man who obviously has good social standing and education, wanted to create a formula to make himself into a monster in the first place.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle *** and a half stars
“‘Snap goes our third thread, and we end where we began....I tell you, Watson, this time we have got a foe man who is worthy of our steel.’”
Sherlock Holmes to me is always a swashbuckling ride of gentlemen, clever criminals and a lot of humour. The dynamic between Watson and Holmes is always amusing, with Watson constantly being undermined, even though Holmes obviously respects him. Watson is almost the reader, stumbling through the narrative trying to make sense, whilst Holmes is the writer who knows all the answers but wants you to find them on your own.
What's refreshing about this novel is that Holmes is faced with a seemingly supernatural force, a 'hound' who stalks the moors and in particular, seeks to either kill or frighten the Baskerville family from the home they reside in on the moors.
The landscape undoubtedly hangs throughout the narrative: haunting, foggy and cloudy- the sign of a good writer knowing how to convey the scene. Doyle can sometimes overwrite but I think this is more a sign of the time in which it was written.
Holmes is thoroughly amusing with his observations and habits. He seems to always be about thirty steps ahead of the other characters and readers, which can be amusing or very irritating. What I think he really represents is the ideal detective, one who is a gentleman, rational, and almost always right. His flaws are that he is also rather arrogant, he makes others feel incredibly stupid (particularly Watson, who in this novel is upset that his diary entries are worthless as Holmes seems to already know everything), and no matter how ridiculous the outcome, he always seems to have guessed it already.
I may be a modern reader but part of me hoped Holmes might screw up, just once...
Nonetheless, an interesting read with a good plot. The hound and the moors are truly scary and dismal prospects, portrayed well. The characters are generally believable, although the villain of the piece is a little far fetched- having the power to manipulate several women to extremem lengths, being able to control a crazy hound, having a long-winded back story of going abroad and discovering secrets about his family history which prompts him to plot an equally long-winded revenge ... You might be a good villain but really...
The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe- ** and a half stars
Having just read The Woman in the Dunes, I speedily checked this out of the library. Although potentially a good premise: a private investigator searches for the husband of a strange woman, the novel disappointed me.
The characters had great promise - a strangely cold, slightly drunk and inactive woman as the wife, an investigator who feels no one is ever looking for him, a 'brother' of the wife who is shady in more ways than one, and a sad clerk who lies compulsively about the missing husband and things in his own life. However, they left me unsatisfied.
What I found mainly though is that although I wanted to uncover the story, I had no idea what was going on! Dialogue is often unmarked and starts out of nowhere, I had no idea where the characters were and how they got there and I had no idea what the main character was really doing. I am disappointed as The Woman in the Dunes was so exciting because I was easily able to become enthralled. However, this is a hard read. Perhaps it is the translation, I am not sure.
However, I still see the promise and I'll be checking out his other novels.
Reef by Romesh Gunesekera - *** stars
I recently read Monkfish Moon, a collection of short stories by the same writer. I like the way he uses language so brutally, conveying strange lands and lives I have never experienced in an accessible but fascinating way. Reading the short stories, I yearned for them not to finish so quickly, having only just begun to feel settled.
Then onto Reef... Triton, a young boy is thrown into the life of Mister Salgado, a wealthy marine biologist, both living in Sri Lanka. The story mainly follows Triton's growth from odd jobs boy to master chef. His descriptions of food and his obvious pride are both endearing and a little boring at times, depending on their length. The relationship between he and Mister Salgado though, is fascinating and complex. The fact that Mister Salgado doesn't like to eat in front of others is an example of the jarring in their relationship with a simple issue like this- Triton loves food and wants to show it off at every opportunity and Mister Salgado wants to keep it private and quiet.
Some of the political issues are not as well explained as I would like but there is a sense of trouble brewing throughout. I think the element of marine life and the sea is meant to be a symbolic representation of the country being overthrown by water, as it is later overthrown by violence, but this isn't always as clear as it should be either.
I think the character of Nili really rejuvenates the story about a third of the way through. One of my major issues is that Triton barely leaves the house and therefore doesn't develop any kind of relationship with others who do not visit the house, particularly women. I guess the suggestion is that he does so in England, later in the novel.
Overall, I enjoyed the read. I only took two sittings to read it. Triton is likeable, Mister Salgado a complex fellow, Nili, endearing and a little controversial. The story is also interesting and written well. As I said, I guess my main qualm is the isolation in terms of Triton and sometimes the discussion between Mister Salgado and his friends, which aren't always clear to an outsider. Still one of the better novels I have read for a long time and a good writer I hope to read more of.
Next novel: Wuthering Heights