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Posts Tagged ‘modern classic’

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Just a short review for this one, as it is the third (I think) time that I have read it. I remember the first time I read this book, not long after it was written, and I was howling with laughter. A couple of reads further on, and I still think it’s funny, and I still think that Fielding captured the viewpoint of a particular type of woman in the mid 1990s.

I did feel a bit more cynical about it this time around though, and got annoyed with Bridget for her constant need for approval and her desperation to feel attractive to men. But yes, it’s funny, and I still love the parallels with Pride and Prejudice. Looking forward to rereading the sequel, and reading for the first time the third book in the series.

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When 19 year old Flora Poste finds herself orphaned and with little income, she decides to throw herself upon the mercy of her relatives, the Starkadders, at Cold Comfort Farm.  When she arrives at the farm, she finds her hitherto unencountered relatives in a state of fragmentation and despondency.  Her relatives include her perpetually distraught cousin Judith, and Judith’s husband Amos, who loves to preach hellfire and damnation, the good looking but arrogant Seth and the reticent and suspicious Rueben, and the ethereal young child Elfine.  It being Flora’s nature to organise people’s lives, she decides that she must take the opportunity to lead the Starkadders into a more conventional state of existence.  However, the biggest obstacle to Flora’s plans is the elusive matriarch, Aunt Ada Doom, a formidable woman who saw something in the woodshed decades earlier and has never recovered, and who has not left the farm for twenty years.  Will Flora be able to rise to the challenge?

This book is extremely well written, with some wonderfully descriptive passages, especially with regard to the dull and gloomy state of the farm, which reflects the attitudes of the people who live within it.

It’s described as hilarious; I would personally say that it was very amusing in parts, although it did not provide any big belly-laughs.  Nonetheless, it was enjoyable throughout, with plenty of acerbic observations.

Flora is of course the main character, and although the book is narrated in the third person, events are largely portrayed from Flora’s point of view.  Credit must go to Stella Gibbons for making her such a likeable person, when in fact she spends much of her life interfering in the business of others and making wry observations on their lesser qualities.  However, her good intentions shine through, and it was impossible for me not to hope that things turned out just as she had hoped (as for whether they did or not – I’m giving nothing away, but I would highly recommend that you read it to find out)!

All of the characters are portrayed well and with good humour.  Flora herself reminded me somewhat of Emma Woodhouse, from Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ (Austen is referenced a few times throughout the book), and I like to think that if Austen herself had been writing novels some 120 years after her own lifetime, this would be the sort of thing she had written.

This is a gently diverting novel, which will make you smile, and it is an enjoyable book, which I suspect will benefit from repeated reads.

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This is a chilling story of a very different America, sometime in the 21st century.  It is narrated by Offred, a ‘Handmaid’ – a woman who exists only for the purposes of procreation, and whose life beyond that purpose is worthless.

In the world in which the novel takes place, women are placed into categories, with no choice or education.  Offred’s tale is that of many other Handmaid’s – a woman who belongs to a wealthy childless couple, and who is expected to provide them with a child.  The details of exactly how America came to be like this are hazy, although the reader can surmise that it is probably through nuclear attack.

Offred recalls her life before this new society – the Gileadean Society – came into being. A life that many readers would recognise – happily married with a daughter and a good job (when she did not realise how happy she actually was); and how, shortly after the inception of the Gileadeans, she was herded to a centre with other prospective Handmaid’s to be ‘trained’ for her new role in life.  She also describes her life with the family with whom she lives – the Commander (what he is a Commander of is never clarified) and his wife Serena Joy.

This was a fantastic book – extremely well written, and despite the initial absurdity of the premise, I soon found myself seeing how such events could unfold (indeed, many of the shocking events in the book have taken place in one form or another throughout history).  Characterisation is excellent.  Offred was entirely believable, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that she could easily have been someone I knew.  Also believable were the couple who she lived with, her friend Moira and various other characters. The fact that each and every character was so well drawn, and so easy to invest in added to the disturbing sense that this was a reality one could imagine all too well.

There is much that is left unsaid in this book, and therefore a certain amount that a reader must assume.  Margaret Atwood’s writing is spare, but she has a wonderful way of placing you in the moment.  There is a sinister undertone to this story; a sense of apprehension about what might be about to come next.

Mainly this book made me feel relieved – relieved that this is not my life, and relieved that I could put the book down and leave the world which the narrator inhabited.  This does not mean that I did not enjoy reading it.  I would recommend this book very highly indeed.  It’s not often that a book comes along totally rocks my world – this is one of those rare occasions when I’m prepared to say that I think this just might be my new all-time favourite read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

So begins what is probably Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novel.

Our unnamed narrator is a young girl working as a companion to a lady in Monte Carlo, when she meets Maxim De Winter, a handsome and mysterious widower, who has come to get away from the aftermath of his wife’s death.  The narrator is instantly taken with de Winter, and a swift engagement and wedding soon follows.

However, when de Winter takes her back to his Manderley, his family home and estate, she discovers a very different way of life, which is still very much consumed with de Winter’s dead wife, Rebecca.  The staff and local residents are very intrigued by de Winter’s young wife, and she feels that she can never compare to Rebecca, especially in the eyes of Mrs Danvers, the cold housekeeper at Manderley, who seems to resent the new Mrs de Winter.

And our narrator soon learns that nothing at Manderley is quite what it seems, and she finds herself wondering who exactly she married, and what secrets are held in by the walls of Manderley….

I have meant to read this book for a very long time, and I wish I had read it sooner. There is a dark and sinister atmosphere thoughout the whole book, and the reader knows only as much as the narrator, so that her discoveries and worries become our own.

Manderley is effectively another character in the book, with it’s brooding intensity. Rebecca also, despite not being alive, is a major presence throughout the story.

The writing is very clever, and there are twists and turns in the story which, if I was not already familiar with the story, would not have guessed.  In truth, any reader who does not know the story would be kept guessing until the end.

The characters are also all very believable, from the hateful Mrs Danvers, to Maxin’s well meaning sister in law Beatrice, our narrator, and most of all, Maxim himself, who at times is a mass of contradictions.

I can certainly see why this novel has become a modern classic, and it is deserving of all the acclaim it has received.

Highly recommended.  I shall be seeking out more work by Daphne Du Maurier.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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