Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Romantic Novels’ Category

The Cook Investigates

Couple of weeks back, as part of Penguin’s First To Read program, I had the good luck to get a copy of Death Below Stairs by Jennifer Ashley. The book is expected to come out next year and I was glad to get a copy of what seemed like a good, old fashioned crime thriller to take my mind off the unnecessary and pointless events happening around me!

The novel is set in Victorian England, and opens with Cook Kat Holloway, starting her first day as the cook at the Rankin household at Mayfair, London. Lord Rankin is in some kind of stock brokering business, through which he has resurrected the family’s tottering fortune. He is married to Lady Emily, and resides in the Mayfair house, with her and her elder sister, Lady Cynthia. Lady Cynthia and Lady Emily are the daughter’s of the colorful Lord Clifford, who has done away with most of his inherited fortune, by a wild living and has no money for his surviving daughters. Lady Cynthia, is a bit of an eccentric, dressing up in gentleman’s clothes and doing all kinds of activities, considered to be the domain of men! The household servants are under the tutelage of Mr. Davis, a sleek but kind, efficient and gossipy butler, Mrs, Bowen, reticent but effective housekeeper, several other maids and footman and Ellen who is the assistant cook to Kat. Kat’s first day turns out to be way more than she bargained for; first she has to help Lady Cynthia take care of an injured man, whom she accidentally hurt with her carriage. Then she decides to take up the coffee to Lord Rankin, when the latter asks for the same to be sent up by Ellen, after realizing that Lord Rankin is in a habit of getting sexually free with the maids. Deciding to put a stop to such activities with the servants under her purview, Kat takes up the coffee to Lord Rankin’s library, only to discover an angry master and his guest – the mysterious Daniel McAdams. Daniel McAdams, is a friend of Kat’s who has helped her out in past from sticky situations and is a mystery man , associated in some capacity with the Legal arm of the government, and who usually moves around the city of the London, under the guise of a delivery man and man on hire.  Seeing Daniel at Lord Rankin in formal attire, surprises Kat though, she does not give away her knowledge of Daniel to her employer and makes her suspect, that there is more to things in the household than meets the eyes. Things come to a head next morning, when going to the larder, Kat finds the dead body of poor Ellen. It is now up to her and Daniel to figure who is involved and why, before more violence is committed!

The premises of the books of course intrigued me from the go – Victorian England, a Cook and a murder mystery; what is there not to like. The characters developed by the author are quite enjoyable. Kat is an exceptionally kind, but firm and efficient heroine, who lays no tuck with nonsense or sentimentality. She does good work and takes care of people she loves and cares. The Lord and Lady Rankin are typical of their position, rich and bored and with  minimal interest in the lives whose very livelihood and existence depends on them and whose safety and security are their responsibility! In Lady Cynthia, we find a character who must have seemed at odd with the norms of the then prudish Victorian Society and she seemed capable of understanding and empathizing with the lesser fortunate, despite the difficult situation that life had placed her in. I wish Ms. Ashley had focused a little more into this very interesting character and evolved her a bit more! Daniel McAdam was ….well, Daniel McAdam. Much later in the series I realized why I was not finding much to root for the hero; Ms. Ashley is a RITA Award winning author of several best selling historical romance, and Daniel McAdam seems to have come out of those novels. He is good looking, brave, smart with smoldering attraction for Kat and yet seems to hold back some mystery and yada yada yada! Nope, he seemed to be there to add romance and I would have much preferred a tobacco chewing, fat, married Inspector with a paternal interest or something like that helping Kat out, instead of a hero out of one of Harlequin Romances! This brings me to the part of the novel that I did not like – the writing! Kat’s heart throbs or beats wildly or some such boring cliche. I could not glean any originality of thought or emotions from the novel, and once again I felt, the romantic themes of a historical romance were transplanted into this book, making some of writing, just plain, incongruous with the plot and the setting. The plot however is good and Ms. Ashley had done extensive research to get the finer details right!  One of few books, where the protagonist not only investigates, but also does his/her day job; Kat plans and cooks meals for the Upstairs and we get a very interesting insight into the food and eating habits of the Victorian England. The politics and social structure while not explored in detail, however came across as accurate and adds a fine layer, to the novel setting! The ending seemed a tad bit improbable, but I must confess, this was one of the very few modern whodunit variety, where I could not guess, who actually did it, till the very end!

Finally, to end, I would only say, it a good read, for those nights, when you need a blanket, a bowl of soup/mug of coffee or any other beverage of your choice and curl up with a book, where you do not stress your intellect, and are simply looking for entertainment and an temporary exit from the real world!

 

Matchmaking in Regency England

I finished reading Emma by Jane Austen over the weekend. It was part of a Read Along hosted by  Sarah Emsley and Dolce Bellze’s and it fitted very nicely into my Women’s Classic Literature Event. Also while I was reading it, I realized it could also be part of my Reading England project with its coverage of Southern England and Surrey to be specific. This is why I worship Jane Austen; she always complies with all my needs!  I was supposed to read it through the month of December, but greedy me, just could not let it off!

Emma begins with a description of our primary protagonist, Ms. Emma Woodhouse of Hartfield, Highbury. She is beautiful 21 years old heiress of 30,000 pounds a year, beloved daughter to a doting father and mistress of his house. She has everything going her way, financially secure, loved by all, life is as perfect as it can be. Her sister Isabella, senior to her by 7 years is married to Mr. John Knightly who is a barrister in London. His elder brother is Mr. Knightly, a friend and neighbor to Hartfield; he owns the huge acres associated to Donwell Abbey and is the primary landowner and Justice of Peace of the area. He is also one of the few people who can see faults of behavior with Emma.  The novels opens with the marriage of Miss Taylor, former governess and then best friend and companion to Emma with Mr. Weston. Mr. Weston is a self-made man, who had suffered some misfortune in his first marriage to the very rich Miss Chruchill, who had died in the fourth year of their marriage, leaving him with a young son. This son, Mr. Frank Chruchill was brought by Mr. and Mrs. Chruchill (brother and sister-in-law) to Miss Chruchill and considered the heir to their vast estate. Therefore Mr. Weston free of all responsibilities had worked had, built a fortune, bought Randalls and finally married Miss Taylor.  Emma believes that this marriage happened through her efforts and match making skills and this un-parallel success,  convinces her to continue matchmaking among her friends, like Miss Harriet Smith, a parlor border at the local school, whose parentage is unknown and Mr. Elton the local vicar, with amusing and sometime disastrous results, finally leading to mature realization in Emma of what truly constitutes marriage, love and companionship.

What can one say about this novel that that has not been said before? I love Emma because she is so unlike other Jane Austen’s heroines – blessed with brains and good heart, she still manages to act like a scatterbrain and is not above making mistakes of being ungenerous and perhaps sometime unkind. She does not completely understand human nature is often blinded by her own self conviction.What makes her well-loved is the fact that like all us mere mortals, she makes a mistakes, realizes her errors and goes about not only repenting it but also making amends. Her heart is in the right place, and if sometimes the sheer good fortune of her status and abilities carries her away, it is her heart and conscience which makes her somber and do everything in her power to make amends. Mr. Knightly is a quintessential Austen hero – mature, generous and gentlemanly. A vigorous, always in action man, duty of a man and its completion to him is first and most primary requirement of being a gentleman. The ensemble cast is equally brilliant and extremely well-drawn out; it is difficult to choose between the hypochondriac but kind Mr. Woodhouse, simple albeit silly Harriet and the up-start Eltons. I had several laugh out loud moments every time I came to passage containing Mrs. Elton. I think while writing about Jane Fairfax,  Jane Austen wanted to create an-almost model for women, the perfect, accomplished, well-spoken, elegant lady, something for lesser mortals including Emma to aspire for. The only character I could not abide by was Mr. Frank Chruchill, exactly for the reasons that Mr.Knightly enumerates! The plot is interesting and like Tom and Belleza posted in their blogs, this novel can be called mystery novel, because one really never knows what will happen – will Harriet marry? Why is Frank Chruchill so late in his visit to Randalls? Why does Jane Fairfax insist on getting her own posts? As a reader you are hooked! Some critiques have pointed out that the end is too neatly packaged and everything falls into place – well it does; but that is part of author’s creative liberty and Austen does a good job of tying up lose ends. Had she left some of the ends lose, I have a strong feeling that the same critiques would have come back and said that the story was incomplete!! The novel is set in upper-middle class Regency England and does not include the high life of London or the politics of post Napoleon Europe. In a way it’s a time capsule, isolated and standing independent of all the historical happenings of that time England, but I believe Jane Austen wrote of the world she knew and understood well and that is why her books endure, because they give us an insight to human nature – the one constant thing that never really changes. The last parting word that I have for the novel is that like all Austen novels, the book does raise the first flags of feminism and independence of a woman. In a conversation, between Harriet and Emma, where Harriet suggests that Emma should marry or will be considered an old maid by the society, Emma gives a fitting reply, a reply which I think resonates despite 200 years since it originally put down –

If I know myself, Harriet, mine is an active, busy mind, with a great many independent resources; and I do not perceive why I should be more in want of employment at forty or fifty than one-and-twenty. Woman’s usual occupations of eye and hand and mind will be as open to me then as they are now; or with no important variation. If I draw less, I shall read more; if I give up music, I shall take to carpet-work. And as for objects of interest, objects for the affections, which is in truth the great point of inferiority, the want of which is really the great evil to be avoided in not marrying, I shall be very well off, with all the children of a sister I love so much, to care about. There will be enough of them, in all probability, to supply every sort of sensation that declining life can need. There will be enough for every hope and every fear”

What more can I say about the inimitable Ms. Austen and her work – except, Vi! Va! Ms. Austen!

The Ripping Reads….

I finally finished two of my RIP IX reads and considering both are masterpieces and everything that could be said has been said about them. Therefore I thought of doing a short combined post on both the books and instead of doing the usual reviews, I thought I will just share some observations that have now stuck me, after my re-readings!

The precedence as always goes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, featuring the greatest of all fictional detectives, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. The book begins with Dr. Watson trying to convince Holmes to give up his use of cocaine and other such substances with Holmes replying that these are the only stimulants that keep his brain active, in the absence of work. This conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Miss Mary Morstan , a young genteel woman, who has been employed in the capacity of a governess and whose regular life has been disturbed by a note which asks her to meet a certain person that evening at six, along with two of her trusted friends, so that a great wrong that has been done to her can be righted. Miss Morstan also reveals that her father had been a Captain in the British India army and posted at Andaman Islands, from where he returned about ten years ago. He then wrote a letter to his daughter, who at time was in a boarding school, asking her to join him in London; that was the last she ever heard of him and he had since disappeared. Finally she states that for the last 6 years, she has received an expensive pearl anonymously. She then requests Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to accompany her in the evening to meet the man who wrote to her. Thus begins, the adventure of the Sign of Four, taking the reader from the fogs of London, to Cumberland, to Agra and the Andamans, in search of treasure, truth and in a very non Conan Doyle style, love. It’s a great mystery and the art of scientific deduction is wonderful to read – it makes one wistful and wish that if only one could think logically and deductively as a habit and at all the times. The narrative style is as always in a memoir of Dr. Watson and for once, some of the ending is given away, with allusions to what happened in future. However this does no harm to story in itself and it is a thrilling and nail biting narrative to read (especially the steam boat chase chapter) which has not lost even a tenth of its shine, since being published in 1890. Like I said, I can say nothing more about the novel than what has not already been said and shared; but this time two items stuck me as, well, a bit non-palatable. One was the portrayal of Mary Morstan, sweet, gentle, supportive, fragile, disdaining treasure for the sake of love – I mean Ye!! Gods!! Help me from such virtuous role models; for that’s exactly what she is – a model of ideal womanhood from Conan’s point of view. I know allowances need to be made for that particular time and the social-political rules that governed the society; but Victorian era produced a number of strong women who would disdain any namby pamby portrayal of their characters – these were women of blood, sweat, substance and strength, and while possessing a lot of compassion, they also were practical and sensible. I mean, England was ruled by such a woman at that time, not to mention, other wonderful women like Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Fry. This concept of the ‘household angel’ was enough to throw me off the book, and I cannot believe that I had been so oblivious to this angle during my earlier reads! Sir Conan Doyle wrote of a much better woman, at least vis-à-vis character in Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia“– who is intelligent, loyal and practical to a T! Hard to believe the same man wrote about Mary Morstan. The other item that hit me was the portrayal of non-whites – whether it is Mohmet Khan planning a cold-blooded murder or Tonga the indigenous tribal from Andaman, the natives can kill with no conscience, the only redeeming characteristic being their loyalty! Thank Heavens for that!! I mean as it is the brown man/woman are “savages” but imagine the greatness and generosity of Englishmen, in inspiring loyalty among this unworthy people!! Kipling was a unaplogetic and unashamed imperialist, but to think Sir Conan Doyle also sang a similar tune, is kind of unsettling; as I mentioned before allowance have to be made for the age and I do, but with Kiplings, and Doyles and Haggards, at times, it becomes difficult not to be prejudiced! Everything apart though, it is a great book and Sir Doyle does what does the best, proving time and again he is the master of “detective fiction”.

The second book that I read for RIP IX is “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. I had originally read this novel when I was 15, through the night, when I was racked with fever and could not sleep. I had deep impressions from that read – all very gothic and creepy. The story is too well-known from me to write in detail – Maxim De Winters, the owner of the Manderley, an estate on the Cornish Cost, brings home a young wife after the accidental death of his first wife Rebecca, in a boating accident, a year ago. The second Mrs De Winter, is a young, shy woman who has great hopes of her future, that come to standstill, as she grapples with the presence of Rebecca in Manderley, whose presence is overwhelming and who continues to run the house from her grave! It could be that fever had induced my brain to be more sensitive, because, when I had read this book the first time I had felt the terrifying presence of Rebecca, I was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and I felt all the apprehensions and illogical fears of the second Mrs. De Winters. I should have waited for another bout of fever, before re-reading this book! I know people rant and rave about this book and I may be offending half a million readers if not more, but only a teenager, with really low self-esteem can like this book! My whole problem with the book is the second Mrs. De Winters – I can understand being shy and I can empathize with the feeling of being left out and not belonging, but Mrs. De Winters made me want to throw up and throw the book at her. She does not even try; for heavens’s sake, she is not even willing to try. She goes around the house like a mouse, when she has no reason to, and is perpetually afraid of Mrs. Danver who is just a big ol’ bully who should be set in her place. She does not even try to manage the house or stake her claim as the mistress – had she tried and then failed, that would have added a complex layer to the narrative, besides adding on to her oh-i-am-so-scared characterization. She is embarrassed in the presence of Mrs. Van Hopper, she is embarrassed with Maxim and she is embarrassed when Mrs. Danver finds her in East Wing! Mrs. Van Hopper is embarrassing and it could be that the second Mrs. De Winters’s initial life may have been a trial, but as Jane Austen had showed us, that one can still act sensible in presence of distressing environs; case to point, Elizabeth Bingley with Mrs. Bingley as a painful dimwitted loud mother or Jane Fairfax with her poor, silly aunt. But of course, no understanding of self-worth, enters the poor little Mrs. De Winters’s head until her lord and master, declares his undying love her and confesses that he never loved Rebecca – I mean what value do we women have unless, it is to be made worthy by the acceptance of the man. Also let’s not forget, that the Lord and the Master is a great man of courage and forbearance, who can murder to save his family name from infamy but cannot divorce for the fear of scandal. Such wonderful choice makes this declaration of love, even more touching; after all who can resist the love of a cowardly soul, who cannot face the truth; no matter how far he would have to go hide it. Only by such love, can one make herself a complete woman!!! By such standards, I should really consider myself an absolute failure and consider becoming a nun!!!! The redeeming feature of the novel, really are the last 100 pages as the body of Rebecca is discovered, and the mystery unfolds to an unexpected and unbelievable climax. This is where Ms. Du Maurier revealed her exceptional brilliance and expertise of her craft and as a reader; you are left breathless and shocked by the sudden twist of the tale!! It is this end, which makes the book in my view a classic and preserves it from the morbid and irritating presence of Mrs De Winter, the second! I never realized how disgusted I was with this novel, until I wrote this piece! Writing I guess is therapeutic!

I know this is one of my longest posts, but I cannot end, without once again urging all of your help in the Indiegogo Crowdfunding project which I am managing. We are not doing that well and your help would really make a difference. Again, there are a couple of ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

The Cliff and Morality…

I just finished my first of the two Margaret Kennedy for the Margret Kennedy Week that Jane is hosting. I read “The Feast”, published in 1950, has  had been in my TBR for a VERY LONG TIME! And now that I have read it, I cannot help but kick myself and think – why the hell did I wait so long to read this novel????!!!! It has completely blown me away!

The story begins with Father Bott putting off his age-old ritual of playing chess when his dear friend Reverend Seddon visited him. Father Bott explains that he has to prepare for an unexpected Funeral for 7 people, who died when the edge of the cliff collapsed over Pendizack Hotel. The narrative then reverses back to the last 7 days preceding this event. Pendzac kHotel is run by the Siddals – rather Mrs. Siddal who is a lady and forced to convert her husband’s property into a hotel to educate her sons because her husband, though perfectly intelligent, with all functional limbs is incapable of earning or maintaining his family’s livelihood. It becomes clear right at the very start, that Mrs. Siddal though proclaiming that the conversion of the house to the hotel is an effort to improve the lives of all her three sons, it is actually to put her youngest and favorite son Duff through to Oxford that is her primary concern. In fact she is so determined and engrossed in making this happen, that she is ready to sacrifice the lives of her other sons including her eldest son’s marriage to make this happen. Gerry is the eldest of Siddon sons and a doctor by profession – responsible, sincere and self-effacing; he bears his mother’s inattention to him with equanimity. He tries to help out in the running of the hotel as and when possible and accepts that his income is critical to make his mother’s ambition a success, regardless of his own wishes and aspirations. The hotel is run with the help of Nancibel and Ms. Ellis. Nancibel is a lovely, generous local girl who worked in ATS during the war and was on the brink of getting married when her fiancée cried it off. Now she lives with her parents at the cottage and works full time at the hotel. Ms. Ellis is an impoverished gentlewoman who feels the loss of her status bitterly; she believes herself superior to performing such menial tasks as changing beds sheets and often shy’s away from all work and spends her time in malicious gossip. The guests occupying the hotel at the time of this event include Canon Wraxton and his daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Paley, Lord and Lady Gifford and the Cove family. They are soon joined by Anna Lechren and her secretary cum chauffer Bruce. Cannon Wraxton is a loud, unhappy quarrelsome man who argues and contests everything and constantly bullies his daughter. Evangeline Wraxton is his young daughter who abides by her quarrelsome father, because of a deathbed wish made to her mother, that she would always take care of Cannon Wraxton; however this has unexpected results as Evangeline slowly succumbs to neurosis caused by her father’s temperament and bullish behavior! Mr and Mrs Paley, an unhappily married couple who no longer find any joy or companionship in each other’s company especially since the tragic death of their daughter. Sir Henry Giffordis an aristocratic upright kind gentleman, who takes interest in his work and understands his obligation to the country as a statesman, though he is no longer happy in his marriage. Lady Gifford is a lazy hypochondriac woman who lives beyond her means and flouts all laws, believing that nothing can touch her because of her place. They have three children, of whom three have been adopted. The Coves family consists of a mother and three daughters who seem to live on the strictest economy as funds for them seem scarce. Finally this motley crew is joined by Anna Lechene, a famous novelist and her secretary cum driver cum aspiring writer Bruce. Over a period of 7 days, this group interact with each other, through incidents and daily lives routines, that propel the story forward with wonderful re-grouping of old loyalties and changing of dynamics – there are two romances, several friendships, self-realization and freeing oneself form his/her “prison soul”! On the 7th day, the poor Cove children who always dreamt of holding a feast, are finally able to organize one, with help of others. There are invitation cards sent out, fancy dresses selected and a whole range of food and wines! Everybody who attends gets into the swing of this grand party and then…the cliff collapses!

kennedy-badgeThis is a social drama, a morality tale, a romance and so much more! Ms. Kennedy draws complex characters that have their whimsical follies and non-sense as well as a realization of self-worth through daily everyday occurrences and no miraculous fictional turn of events. They are all rich, powerful and intriguing characters that draw you to the tale and keep you glued on. It’s the characters more than the events that actually propel the story forward. More than anything else, Ms. Kennedy understood both the most noble and the very base instinct of the human heart and her characters brought them forth with force and unerring honesty! Simple percepts on human behaviors’, like the less you have the more you give and the more you have the more you covet, is brought out beautifully through the story, without once steering to a high moral tome or sounding even remotely pedagogic. The book was written in the back drop post World War II when England was recovering from the aftermath of the War and the left inclining Labor Party was in power; this change in political – social order is beautifully portrayed through the everyday lives and decisions made by the characters. And then there is the language of the novel, such beautiful metaphors – such lovely phrases, Ms. Kennedy sure knew what would touch the reader’s hearts – “Their shoulders hold the sky suspended. They stand and earth’s foundations stay!” or “We are members of one another. An arm has no integrity if it is amputated. It is nothing unless it is part of a body, with a heart to pump blood through it and a brain to guide it.” And my favorite “Do you pay enough? Does anybody pay enough? Has any man repaid a millionth part all that he has received? Where would you be without us? Did you ever read Helen Keller? Blind, Deaf, Dumb…a soul in a prison, an intellect frozen by solitude….unable to reach us! All alone!

This one of the best books I have ever read and going by this and my previous experience of Ms. Kennedy’s work, she is soon joining my personal high gods of best-loved authors! Viva Ms. Kennedy, you were truly marvelous!!

P.S. I am now about to start The Wild Swan!Yay!

A Knightly Tale…

I finally finished reading “Katherine” by Anya Seton as part of the Classic Club Spin #7. It took me a while to finish this book as different matters of great importance intruded and I can’t quite believe how much my life has changed between the time I began the book and now when I have finished it! But enough about remembrance of the past, onward to the book!

“Katherine” is a historical novel based on the true life of Lady Katherine Swynford and her love for John of Gaunt which spanned nearly 40 decades. I had resisted reading up on Wikipedia because I did not want my novel to be colored by historical details, at least until I actually finished the book and then went in search of the “real story’ (Do you ever read up on the real events that surrounds the historical novel…I always do!!!) The book begins with a penniless 15-year-old Katherine finally returning to her sister, who is one of the waiting women for Queen of England and it is on the behest of the Queen herself, that she returns to London from the Convent of Sheppey. Her unique beauty soon rouses the interest among the Lords and Knights of the Court; Hugh Swynford one of the landed knights falls in love with her immediately; however his lack of ability to express his feelings leads him to practically molest Katherine until she is rescued by Duke of Lancaster, the magnificent John of Gaunt. Hugh confesses his feelings for Katherine and proposes marriage to her which is looked on favorably by all including her sister Philippa who herself is engaged to Geoffrey Chaucer. John of Gaunt is at this 26-year-old and one of the popular Princes of the kingdom and his marriage the Blanche , the beautiful and generous daughter of Duke of Lancaster has made him the richest man in England, even richer than his own father, the King. Hugh Swynford is one his knight and through this relation springs forth the kindness that Blanche shows to Katherine and of whom she is truly fond off, that the latter’s years of marriage is made bearable to her. However the Plague epidemic soon sweeps through England again and Katherine on her way to visit Blanche discovers that the Duchess herself had caught the dreaded illness and is left alone. Katherine nurses her through her last days and sees to the Duchess religious comfort before she dies. The Duke slowly recovering from his Duchess’s death begins to realize his feelings for Katherine and when in France where Hugh is wounded, has Katherine called to have Hugh nursed. Despite the Duke open declaration of love for Katherine, who returns his love, she refuses to become his mistress as she cannot bring shame to her husband. However Hugh would soon die and John and Katherine are united and continue to live together despite John marrying the Infanta Constance of Castile for political reasons. Their life together is wonderful but soon like all good things, it comes to end, by a secret of the past , pulling the two lives apart leading to an almost tragic end.

The story begins a bit slowly, but soon picks up the pace and practically never lets up. Ms. Seton did not spend too many words to describe her characters; instead she got on with her story, which brought out the depth and the beauty of all her actors. The character of Katherine never flags – she is beautiful and she is noble and she is generous. Her only flaw is her blind love for John which makes her oblivious to everyone and everything especially the bumbling, but absolutely sincere and equally heartfelt love of Hugh. John of Gaunt is , well John of Gaunt, Prince of the Kingdom, the foremost knight of a chivalric era, loyal, kind with a tinge of vulnerability that makes him well, stereotypical hero. You love him, but then he is exactly like heroes especially Dukes and Earls are in books. Just wrong enough to be very right. It’s the minor characters that shine – Hugh, the wonderful Blanche, the ever loyal friend Hawsie, Richard III and other such historical persona like John Wycliffe, John Ball and Wat Taylor. In writing these historical figures, Ms. Seaton showed her true potential – they are all wonderful, colorful and like I have said so many times, like humans, carry an equal measure of good and bad. It is these characters that bring this story to life and add depth in what would otherwise have been a linear and very simple even maudlin love story. The book meanders a bit in terms of religion and spirituality, but one must remember that 14th century England was as religious as it was political and both these factors made it a buzzing bubbling melting pot. The historical battles and civil strives though described minimalistically, make a strong impression of the disturbance that surrounded the life and times of John of Gaunt that make this book a page turner. Finally the book’s descriptions of palaces, churches and the land is beautiful and dazzling– there was enough research done, especially considering the author was no historian and writing in 1950, when information was not easily accessible;  to assure the reader of authenticity of 1300s with those brushes of realism – the squalor and smell among the awe-inspiring splendors of 14th century England, that makes this book a living, breathing, vibrating tale!

Definitely, most definitely a book that should be read at least once; now it makes perfect sense why its part of BBC’s 100 Big Reads!

Book Reading in June and Other Bookish Musings

June is here and the heat will not go away….not in the near future!! Oh! How I hate summers!! Sigh!! Winter!! Oh! Lovely winter…Come Soon!! I just realized that I have used more exclamation marks in the last couple of sentences, that I have used words! See..there I go again! I have to stop! Ok….really need to start a new paragraph and subject!!

First of all Reading plans for June – among other sundry and random reading, the following I will complete because of Classic Club reasons or others like I had already begun them –

  1. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – This is a part of my The Classic Club Spin#6. I did have some reservation about this one, but so far and it’s not far, since I have only proceeded to chapter 4, it’s holding up!!
  2. The Good Soilder by Ford Maddox Ford and Dubliners by James Joyce – While I began reading both in my sudden obsession for the Lost Generation, (Hence the Katherine Mansfield post!), it very nicely coincides with The Classic Club event of the month which they published today was to be on World War 1/The Lost Generation literature
  3. The Tin Drum by Gunther Grasse – This modern classic is well different. It’s not an easy read and it’s a lot like solving mental math problems except you are kind of solving world problems to really delve into this book about a family surviving World War II and Nazi occupation. This one takes time and I really do not think I will be able to finish it in June
  4. Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell – I love Gaskell….love every work of hers; whether it’s a novel with social message like North and South or a comedy of manners like Cranford; but this is the first time I will be reading any of her “gothic” stuff; but I have high hopes….
  5. The Elixir of Immortality by Gabi Gleichann – This is light reading! At least hope so; the few pages that I have so far ventured does not so far seem like that can be read through a night; but I could be wrong. Reasons for picking this one – Jewish History in medieval Spain and Portugal. I think that just about sums it up!!

Speaking of light reading, here is something I have been mulling over since last night…the last week at work was extremely stressful and all most all the five evenings were spent socializing, leaving me with very little “me” time! The little “me” time I had was spent in reading The Tin Drum or Dubliners, while great books, can hardly be called uplifting, cheery books. By the time Saturday night came, I was tired, sore and completely not interested in meeting anyone or doing anything! I wanted some comfort food (Pizza with all kinds of cheesy stuff! Yes! I know the health hazards, but it was a choice between physical health or sanity and I thought, sanity was kind of more important for the moment!) and some nonsensical book where I have to exercise my brain in very very limited capacity – so I read through two Georgette Heyer – The Grand Sophy and A Civil Contract and two Lisa Kleypas (Yes!! I was reading ‘romance’ novels – how shall I ever hold up my head again!!!)

But now more to the point, I have been wondering, if after all the fine reading, sometimes our minds want to play hooky and just tramp about aimlessly. But then to me reading is playing hookey or rather it is the only way of living and letting my mind wander….then why the high fields or the low fields? Why when I am reading some intense literature for a while, suddenly, I need something absolutely frivolous and nonsensical – I mean like last night, I was so exhausted, I did not even to go to my comfort books like Jane Austen, Agatha Christies or Harry Potters! I needed something completely that was a no brainer and while I LOVE Georgette Heyer, her irony and sense of fun is just brilliant; I can say very little about the Lisa Kleypas novels and even while I was reading them, I knew, there was absolutely nothing in them vis-à-vis intellectual nourishment and though I know many people enjoy her works and I cannot say they are bad (remember I devoured two of them in one go)…they are not me! Yet the only thing my mind could have processed last night were such novels!! Why do you think that happens? Do you have such “interesting” read days?

And one more spin….

So the Classic Club has initiated another Classic Spin. The rules of course never change; same ol, same ol!
• Pick 20 Classics of your choice
• On Monday, i.e. Aug 19th, the Club will pick a number
• You read the book that you have marked against the number through August and September

Now the big question, will I do it again? I know the last time I was absolutely bowled over by Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation and was extremely grateful that the Spin had forced me to re-visit a book I was determined not to like since my first initiation with it at school. I loved the book as an adult and as everybody who visits the blog is aware, made me brave enough to venture forth to Bleak House. While all this is good, let’s not forget the lessons of the past and I had quite detested reading through Madam Bovary, my Classic Club Spin book for April and it reinforced all my first dislike for the book. The success rate is of course 50% and this one chance can heavily tilt the balance in favor of my future participation or non-participation in this activity!

Yes! I know! The nail baiting moment! The single instant in time on which the very direction of one’s life and destiny is to be decided!!! (Yes! I am aware that I am high on drama quotient!)

And the answer is – YES!!! (Yeah! I know! Big Surprise? What can we expect from an inveterate nerd???)
Let’s face it, the nerd bookish me loves books and a chance to offer a classic is like double chocolate icing on an ice cream cake! So how in the blazes could I let another such chance go? Besides, there is no denying that I am reading and redefining my opinions on books that I would not have otherwise touched!

This time I have decided to be a little more bold and adventurous and set forth in the brave new world! What that means in simple English is that this time to be free of all prejudices, I am listing books that I have never read and though I might have read other works of the author, the book listed below in themselves are complete uncharted waters!

So to the sound of rolling drums – here goes the Spin list
1. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (I know I had listed this one as to read in July, but I never got around to it!)
3. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
4. Middlemarch by George Eliot
5. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí¬a Márquez
7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
8. Wives and Daughter by Elizabeth Gaskell
9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
10. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
11. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
12. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
13. King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
14. My Antonia by Willa Cather
15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
16. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
17. The Wings of Dove by Henry James
18. The Name of a Rose by Umberto Eco
19. A Room with a View by E.M Forster
20. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Let’s wait now for what faith decides on August 19th!

%d bloggers like this: