Saturday, December 2, 2017

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2017: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay


I chose Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay as my read for the Back to the Classics 2017 Challenge category “Classic Set in a Place You'd Like to Visit”.  I have never been to Australia and probably never will visit given the expense and the distance but I have long been interested in it as both a country and a landscape.  Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fiction, but Hanging Rock is a real volcanic rock formation located in Victoria, Australia.
 
The story features the students and teachers of a girl’s boarding school located a few miles from Hanging Rock, a popular local attraction for day trips and outings.   As the book opens on Valentine’s Day 1900, the girls and two of the teachers are preparing to go for a picnic at the rocks.   Later, however, party turns tragic, when three girls and one teacher go missing. This mysterious event affects not only the remaining staff and students but also two young men who happened to also be at Hanging Rock that days; some of the ripple effects are quite terrible, while others are quite providential.
 
This is a very short book (198 pages in the pictured Penguin edition I read)  and it is structured as a faux-history/ true crime format which I found interesting.  In particular, the ambiguity in the book really worked for me and the lush, atmospheric writing was a pleasure to ponder and digest. I think there is a lot of subtext in the book, for the reader who cares to look for it. I was especially drawn to the author’s depiction of the natural world as something independent and uncaring of humans, but always present and threatening.  However, there is an actual “ending” to the book which was cut from the manuscript when the book was first published in 1967 which somewhat takes away the ambiguity I so enjoyed and definitely pushes the book in to speculative fiction territory. 

There is also a really good film of Picnic at Hanging Rock directed by Peter Wier.  It is pretty good, as I recall; very atmospheric and creepy.

Friday, November 10, 2017

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2017: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père


“All for one and one for all” was never actually stated in the translation by Jacques Le Clercq in the 1999 Modern Library edition that I read.  I wonder where that comes from and if it is maybe even apocryphal?  

I find my reaction to finally experiencing a classic fiction source that has sparked so many adaptations, spin-offs, etc. to be quite varied.  Which is normal, of course. But I still have this idea that I am obligated to appreciate anything deemed “classic”. Silly, yet true.  Frankly, I was less than enamored when I finally read Frankenstein and also I thought The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would have been a thousand times better if had been less familiar with the story prior to reading it.  However, I have been delighted by pretty much everything I have read by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

Which brings me to Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas.  I liked it, but with reservations which are mostly based on reading a book written 200 years ago and which is set in a time period 200 years before it was written. I don’t know why sometimes my 21st century mores get in the way of reading older books and sometimes they don’t.  But in this case, I was annoyed by the moral ambiguity of 17th century Europe as portrayed by a 19th century author…in particular since the one female villain is so severely punished (her greatest evil seeming to be having the intellect of a man but born in to a female body) whereas the male bad guys are actually respected as worthy adversaries. Milady deserved better.  Frankly, I much prefer her depiction in the 1993 movie version starring Rebecca De Mornay. Whatever faults that movie may have (Charlie Sheen as Aramis?), it gives Milady (and Athos) a more nuanced personality than in the book. I guess one could argue that the book does allow for a more generous reading of Milady in the negative spaces, but you have to be a better reader that I am to get that.

My other reservation is that it isn’t particularly well written. There is literal mustache twirling going on.  One of the chapter title’s is literallyThe Plot Thickens”.  This book’s success rests I think on its characters, who are very memorable, despite their questionable behavior. I mean, these guys are constantly walking around, looking for a fight. And they very often actively work AGAINST the best interests of France in their support of Queen Anne.   Who knows, maybe Dumas was deliberately writing them as anti-heroes? That is for someone’s term paper to work out!

So, in summary, I am happy to have finally experienced Dumas’ original but I don’t think I will read on in his oeuvre.  I read this for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge: Read a book with a number in the title.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

BIRD BOX by JOSH MALERMAN

Yikes, this was a creepy book.  It made me think of the more memorable Twilight Zone episodes I have seen.  I would classify it as Horror, a genre I almost never read, but to my relief it was light on the gore factor and heavier on the suspense side of things.  

It is wisely a fairly short book (my paperback had 258 pages), I only wish I had been able to read it in one go at night…because this book, if you get into it, will make you question those normal creaks and sighs a quiet house makes…perfectly normal sounds…perfectly innocent sounds….nothing to worry about…right? 

The scare factor of Bird Box rests primarily on our fear of the unknown.  In the book, there is something outside which causes humans to go berserk and harm themselves and others when they see it.  To combat this, people have taken to boarding up their windows and if they go outside, they have to use blindfolds.  The main character of the book is Malorie who has been living alone with her two children for four years. At the start of the book, she has decided to take the supreme risk of leaving the house for forever and taking a boat down the river to some sort of sanctuary…and she has to do all this blindfolded with two blindfolded children who are only four years old, not knowing if they will be harmed by the creatures (whatever they are), other humans who may of inexplicably survived and/or other animals. 

My only criticism is the book is that it was a little unclear as to the practicalities of humans and/or dogs surviving on canned food over many years which has a naturally limited shelf life not to mention quantity.  But that is a small niggle. I wanted to read a scary book and this one did the job most adequately! 

This was my second RIP 2017 read which means I have completed Peril the Second! Muah Ha ha! 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

SHUTTER ISLAND by DENNIS LEHANE

I can't believe it is October already!  Reading Shutter Island was akin to a rollercoaster ride; it was a little scary but thrilling and once I got going, I couldn’t really stop. I read its 325 pages amazingly quickly, pretty much over the course of one Sunday.  

The initial plot set up is quite simple: two Federal Marshals are sent to investigate the disappearance/ escape of a female inmate at the seemingly impregnable Ashecliff Hospital for the Criminally Insane located on a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts.    
“From the sea it didn’t look like much. You have to picture it the way Teddy Daniels saw it on  that calm morning in September of 1954. A scrub plain in the middle of the outer harbor. Barely an island, you’d think, so much the idea of one. What purpose could it have he may have thought.  What purpose.”    
The story is told in close third person from the perspective of Agent Daniels who is mourning the death of his wife from a few years prior and also probably suffering from what we now call PTSD as a result of his experiences in WWII.  As Daniels investigates the mystery with his new partner Agent Aule, it soon becomes clear that Daniels has a lot of personal baggage that he is lugging around. The reader quickly starts to wonder who Daniels really working for and does he have an ulterior motive for taking this case? And how legitimate is Ashecliff Hospital? Are the rumors of experimental therapy true? 

As the story progresses there are secrets upon secrets to be unearthed and nothing is what it seems or rather, situations can be misinterpreted…what could be considered sinister from one perspective could appear completely benign in a different light.  Lehane did a great job of keeping the reader slightly off balance for about the first half…then the book slips into nightmare-mode filled with acute paranoia and one's sense of reality is dangling only by a thread…

I knew part of the “twist” in the plot, even though I’ve never seen the film, but there were plenty of other reveals and details that I didn’t know that made reading it enjoyable none the less.

This was my first RIP read of 2017! One more chilling yet thrilling book to go.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

R.I.P. XII Challenge

With triple digit heat, it doesn’t feel much like fall in my neck of the woods. And yet, the calendar says that on September 22, Autumn will officially begin.  And that means that the RIP challenge (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril ) is back, hosted in this year by Andi at Estella’s Revenge and Heather at My Capricious Life

I participated last year for the first time and enjoyed the excuse to get to some of the spookier books on my to-be-read list.   I am again signing up for Peril the Second, which requires me to read only two books that fit in any of the following genres: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, Gothic, horror or supernatural.   



This may change, but I plan on reading Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane  (I’ve not seen the film BUT somehow, somewhere the “twist” ending was spoiled for me but hopefully I will like the book anyway)and Bird Box by Josh Malerman,  which is supposed to be creepy as all get out. 

There is also a group read planned for Slade House by David Mitchell which I might read as well, since I also have a copy and I have really enjoyed everything else I have read by Mitchell.  We'll see if I manage it.




Are any of you taking part in the RIP XII or do you have any seasonal reads on deck for the fall months?

Friday, August 25, 2017

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2017: The Call of the Wild by Jack London

As a animal lover and dog owner, at first I wasn't sure if I could handle this book...and this after reading The Yearling! The story is told from the point of view of Buck, a young Saint Bernard/Scotch Shepherd mix (google them, they are gorgeous dogs) who is dognapped from his northern California home and sold as a sled dog up north at the height of the Klondike gold rush of the late 1800s.

This is a very short novella, the Puffin edition pictured above is only 150 pages long, which was good for me because I didn't find the writing style that engaging although it was very descriptive and evocative of place.  Buck encounters hardship along the way but he also has joyful moments. It is questionable, however, if the ending is a happy one. It depends upon the perspective of the reader.

I did think that much of the canine behavior depicted was familiar based on dogs I have known, but I also think London  anthropomorphized a little too much now and again.  Dogs are smart, don't get me wrong. And in many ways, they are smarter than humans. But I don't think they reason in the same way that humans do and sometimes London attributed this kind of thinking and action to Buck. 

I chose Jack London's The Call of the Wild for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 category of a "Classic About an Animal or With an Animal in the Title".   This is also another two for the price of one since it is also included on the Modern Library’s 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century, of which I now have only 28 left to read.
Here are two of my fierce huskies!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Initially I was going to read The Yearling for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge category “Classic About an Animal or With an Animal in the Title”.  However, I have now decided to use it in the “Award Winning Classic” since The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1939.  (I think I will read The Call of the Wild for the Animal category instead…but we’ll see 😃. )

I am fairly sure I either saw the movie as a child and/or read an abridged version of the book, because lots of it seemed very familiar.  Since I was aware of the basic story line, I figured the book would make me cry and it did, but probably for different reasons than it would were I still a child. Although as best I can tell (i.e. Wikipedia), the book wasn’t written for children, I can see how it could be marketed to tweens and teens. It is a coming of age story after all. But I think a more mature reader will be able to see points that would probably be overlooked by a child or even a young adult. 

So, clearly the story is more than just a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn in post Civil War Florida.  In fact, the fawn, named Flag, doesn’t even show up until about half way through the novel. The focus of The Yearling is the boy, Jody Baxter, and his transition from 12 to 13 and from boy to man.  Jody is an only child, his parents having lost 6 children before his birth. His father tends to humor him, believing that the trials of adulthood will come soon enough, whereas his mother, hardened perhaps as a preventative to more loss, is more strict,  The Baxter’s nearest neighbors are the rough and slightly dangerous Forresters who live 14 miles away.  The nearest town is Volusia, a day’s ride and across the St. Johns River. This is where the Baxters go to trade and purchase goods they can’t raise themselves and to visit the coquettish Grandma Hutto.  

I appreciated that Rawlings does not romanticize the past or a life lived off the land. The book is pretty clear in its message that neighbors are mandatory for survival and that subsistence farming is hard and precarious work. There is also a strong message about taking only what one needs and hunting only for meat and not for sport.

All the dialogue is in dialect, which is normally a pet peeve of mine, but it didn’t bother me in this case. I had no trouble understanding it and in fact, it enabled me to really “hear” the speech rhythms of the characters. There really wasn’t much I didn’t love about this book. I loved the detail of the Florida scrub and wildlife; I loved the description of the food, clothing and domiciles.  I didn’t even mind the parts about hunting.  Reading The Yearling gave me the same sort of satisfaction  as an adult that I had as a child reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books, that sense of a completely different time and place that you could jump into anytime you opened the pages.

I read the paperback edition pictured above re-issued for the 50th anniversary of the book and with reproduced beautiful woodcut illustrations from previous editions, which I really enjoyed looking at at the start of each chapter.