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Posts tagged ‘Victorian Literature’

The End of the Madness

Finally, we are at the end of the Madness, aka,Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon. I cannot believe that 24 hours are over already! To say I will miss it is an understatement and I will count days until the April event comes along! This was MAGNIFICENT and so very unique, that I am still in a kind of awe of it! Don’t get me wrong, I have read through the nights many times, but this rush was something out of the world. This sense of so many readers all over the world reading together,different time zones, different genres, but united by books is so out of the world that it takes one’s breathe away!One of the most memorable events of virtual reading/blogging lives.

Now for the closing survey –

1.Which hour was most daunting for you?

Afternoon! Nights I can manage, but Sunday afternoon after a good lunch is always a snooze time

2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Depending on the interest of the readers, I would recommend,the following

  • History – The Wonder that was India by AL Basham
  • Literary – The Book of Snobs by WM Thackeray
  • Historical Fiction – The Source by James Michener
  • Chick Lit – Kissing Toads by Jemma Harvey

3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season?

I think you all are doing an awesome job! Just perfect!

4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

This is my first readathon, so cannot say much, but your tips on preparing for the readathon really really helped in keeping me going

5.How many books did you read?

2.5 😀

6.What were the names of the books you read?

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • Land of the Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal
  • Halfway through – The Book of Snobs by WM Thackeray

7. Which book did you enjoy most?

Toss up between Land of Seven Rivers and the Book of Snobs

8. Which did you enjoy least?

Least is a reletive term, but I felt The Girl on the Train was kind of cliched

9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest chance of participation, I would say 20!! Since I am still kind of new to the game, I would say, I will stick to being a participant reader for now!

Like I said, this is the end my friend! However before I close this post, a big thank you to Cleo and Brona for keeping me going and cheering me on! Finally, to the bestest hostesses in the world at Dewey’s @estellasrevenge and @capriciousreadr for your innovation, energy and passion! You guys seriously rock!!

The Bookish Time Travel Tag

As is usual in my case, I had planned to post a blog about something totally and completely different and instead I am posting this! It’s the festival season in India and I have been quite late in catching up with all the blogs but I finally did catch up and I found myself wondering what I would have answered on a particular post; and lo! Behold, Jane had actually tagged me, hoping I would do a similar post! Now Jane is one of those friends of mine who has introduced me to a number of unknown authors and we share a lot of similar bookish tastes, including a love for Victorian-Edwardian Literature and Golden Age of British Crime. Therefore, when she thinks I will enjoy writing a post, you can be rest assured I will be! Thus, without much further ado, I present to you, The Bookish Time Travel Tag! Originally created, by The Library Lizard, I was introduced to it naturally by Jane’s Post!

  1. What is your favorite historical setting for a book?

This is a very difficult one since there are several periods of History that I love

  • The Gupta Dynasty (C.300 AD) in India – This is really going back in time but this was a defining moment in South Asian history – a time of great literature and arts. Kalidas wrote Abhijanashakuntalam and Meghduta. It was also an era in which one of the best commercial comedies and my personal favorite of Sanskrit was penned Mṛcchakaika by Sudraka.
  • King David’s Jerusalem – Don’t ask me for reasons, just that I have a double degree in Middle Eastern Politics and Israel has always fascinated me!
  • Elizabethan England – Amid the squalor and the dirt and the delicate balance of peace between Catholic and Protestants and discovery of new lands, there was brilliant works being penned by Shakespeare, Marlow and jaw breakers like Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (a book I struggleth with!)
  • Regency England, specifically the country side – I am devoted to Jane Austen and I love her portrayals of the rural country lives, divorced from the over the top Regency London and therefore the simple English countryside and plots around the manor born, is and will always remain my favorite!
  • Victorian England – How can I pass up an era of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, William Thackeray, Anthony Trollope, George Gissing, Lewis Carol, Robert Louis Stevenson, Author Conon Doyle, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Robert Browning, Christian Rosseti, Oscar Wilde, to name just a few! I think you get my drift!
  • Late British Raj in India (c. 1870s to 1940s) Also known as Bengal Renssiance, this period saw incredible development in making India a modern nation state and more especially in bringing women out of the “purdah”. The women started to get degrees in Literature, Science and medicine and began to take their rightful place in the world. Not all transition was easy nor was it completely smooth, but it was an epoch making time of Indian history. Some of the best of the Indian literature was penned during this era including Michael Madhusudan Dutta’s Meghnadh Bodh Kabyo (The Slaying of Meghnadh), Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Durgeshnandini, Rassundari Devi authored the first full-fledged autobiography in modern Bengali literature and was one of the first female authors of modern India to do so. Most importantly, this was the era of Rabindranth Tagore as he wrote masterpieces after masterpeices including Geetanjali, The Home and The World, Gora etc.
  • The Bloombury London – I do not like most of authors and their views of this set, however I cannot deny that this era and this intellectual movement, was changing the way we view modern literature and economics etc. It also included in its group the very humane John Mynard Keynes and the very sensitive E.M. Forster as well as other laudable like Virginia Wolfe, Lytton Strachey, Vita-Sackville West etc.
  • The World Wars – Simply to better understand what madness drives men to kill their fellow brothers and how small misunderstandings lead to deaths of hundreds and thousands all across the world!

Now that, this is done, I promise to be more concise with my other answers!!

  1. What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

Again there are so many of them, but in keeping with my promise, I am limiting myself to three only –

  • I would love to meet Jane Austen and share a cup of tea with her as the country society meets and greets each other and hear her gentle satire and words of wisdom as one individual meets the other.
  • Rabindranth Tagore and travel with him through the streets of 1890s Calcutta and visit all those places which are now iconic but then just a places for the intellectuals to meet and discuss how to work better with the British Masters!
  • M.Kaye and walk with her through the streets of my city of Delhi in 1920s as we explore the old Delhi and Meherauli ruins, especially the latter before it became the current up market residential area. I would also love to visit the then summer capital of British India with her, Shimla and have lunch at the celebrated Wildflower Hall and visit the Governer’s House and do all the things the British did then , before it came back into fashion thanks to The Indian Summer!
  1. What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

I have to hang my head in shame and say “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis when I was may be a 10-12 year old. I would have also loved to have read Margaret Kennedy in my 20s rather than waiting all these years. I also really wish I had started reading Emilie Zola a couple of years earlier, instead of waiting for so long to take up his books!

  1. What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

This one is a tough one simply because I keep thinking, and I have every intention of re-reading all most all the books I have loved through the years. But if I have to pick one and since I cannot pick one, I would say it has to be a toss-up between The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and The Discworld Series by Sir Terry Pratchet. I think both of these two incredibly talented authors manage to remind us of what is truly important, with a gritty plot and humor!

  1. What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book? E.g. Panem from The Hunger Game

I will have to skip this one! I am more of past/history person than a futuristic one!

  1. What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period(can be historical or futuristic)?

Oh!! How in the world can I keep this answer short?????!!!! Let me try

  • The Far Pavillions and The Shadow of the Moon by MM Kaye
  • The Book Thief by Mark Zukas
  • The Conquer Series by Conn Iggulden
  • The War of Roses Series by Conn Iggulden
  • The Source by James Mitchner
  • London by Edward Rutherford
  • New Forest by Edward Rutherford
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Finnigan
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Mila 18 by Leon Uris
  1. Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

No! Nix! Never!!

  1. If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

There is sooooooo much to cover, I would not know where to start and where to end – I would naturally do all the things I mentioned in #Q2.

  • I would also love to visit Rueil and see Edward Manet paint the House in Rueil and The Garden Path in Rueil.
  • I would lIke to follow Sir Author Conon Doyle across the busy Victorian London as he helped clear the injustices against George Edalji and Oscar Slator.
  • I would for sure want to take a voyage to Middle East with Mark Twain as he wrote The Innocents Aboard and visit Yuguslavia, poised on the edge of World War II with Barbra West as she wrote her seminal Black lamb and the Grey Falcon.
  • And of course, I would want to walk the streets of Calcutta and Delhi with Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and Ahmed Ali respectively, as the last vestiges of a great Hindu-Muslim syncretic culture practically disappeared forever into the horizon!
  1. Favorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?
  • The Source by James Michener that cover the birth of Israel from 9831 BCE to 1963
  • London by Edward Rutherford that tells the story of the development of the city of London from the nascent beginning in 54 BCE to the current commercial hub of 2007
  1. What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

The Conquer Series by Conn Igulden

1500 words and I am finally done!

I do not wish to obligate anyone to do this and I know we all have very busy lives, but there are some people whose posts and thoughts I would love to read and add more on to my TBR  Stefanie @ https://somanybooksblog.com/

Cleo @ http://cleoclassical.blogspot.in/

Brona @ http://bronasbooks.blogspot.in/

Lauren @ https://wheretheresinktherespaper.wordpress.com/

Ruth @ http://greatbookstudy.blogspot.in/

This was a wonderful post and it brought back a lot of memories of books that I would love to revisit. Naturally, I also added quite a few from Jane’s post to my TBR, but that’s what bookish blogs are about! J

October and Reading

October is HERE! Yes…October is REALLY HERE!! So what if it feels like I am inside a boiler and there are no winds with a hint of chill and no delicious smell of wood fire smoke signaling the onset of Winter, but October the calendar assures me is here! As most of you know I live only between October to March, the rest of the months are just a bid to survive somehow. Fall and Winter bring out the best in the geography I live in and being a Winter borne, I take it much more in my stride than the pelting merciless heat of the summer! Everything about this season is joyous….more festivals, more holidays, more travels and naturally the hope of new year and new beginning! But I am as always getting ahead of myself and I must stop and add, that this is an especially good season to get a big book, a comfortable blanket and a big cup of coffee/tea/Irish coffee and indulge in my most favorite work time  – Reading (Reading cannot be a past time; I was born to read but am forced to work!)

My October Reading plans do not look very good, especially since I have HUGE left overs from September! But like I said, this is the season of more holidays, so heaven have mercy and I should be able to get through more, this month for sure! ( One’s gotta be Optimistic!) I was immensely proud of myself about not giving into the temptation and not going for Classic Club Spin #14. Just as I finished patting my back, I stumbled on Lauren’s blog and discovered the Victober and I was in before I knew the whats and hows. So while Classic Club would have been only 1 book added on to my tottering pile, I have now added 4. I have a IQ score that is tagged under the category of Superior, but when I do things like this, I feel somebody messed up the scoring for sure!! Anyhow I am in with 4 books written during the Victorian age for sure. I just need to quickly figure out what those books are and get going. Besides this additional load, I have the 12 Months Classical Challenge Reading Event and the theme is  A Classic by a Female Author and I go with O Pioneer by Willa Cather. Because I know that reading a female author for the Victober is also a criterion, I will combine it with the Women’s Classical Reading Event and read a novel; just need to figure out what that novel is! Under my woefully neglected Reading England project I am planning to read Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy covering Dorset. I read Hardy years back and I did not get him at all. Hopefully as a more mature individual I will find something to appreciate, but I am not holding out on that hope very strongly!!I also have to finish Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome as part of my September Reading England Project. (Yes! I am hanging my head in shame!)

Finally come my read alongs and they remain completely unchanged and thank fully I have added only one book, which is a matter of some rejoice! I will continue reading   The Pickwick Paper Read Along and chase to catch up with Cleo  in reading The Brother Karmazov’s by Foydor Dostoyevsky and Jane Eyer by Charlotte Bronte Read Along, the latter, hosted by Hamlette. I  also  am reading The Silk Road – A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan and Jerusalem, A Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore from last month, but these two I am taking slowly and I think these two books will stretch to December! The only addition to this never ending pile is How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization by Mortimer J Adler and again I have been tempted by Cleo to join this as well! To be very fair, I did not need much temptation!!!Thankfully, this too is a book that will stretch for week on ends and each chapter is small and adds to my never ending efforts to read and better understand the nuances of philosophy and concepts like Truth, morality etc!

Thats that then! So here’s to happy reading and some wonderful autumnal moments in October!!

 

 

 

Notes on Bookish Readings When Ill

I have been writing this post in my mind for the last 3 weeks since I have recovered from a painfully long bout of bronchio-asthma, but there have been out of station weddings to attend and friends to visit and preparation for a Project Management exam, that  blogging took a back seat and worse, for a while there was not enough time to even read! Anyway, such things are happily in the past and I hope I am back to the settled rhythm of daily reading and frequent blogging!

While I was laid up three weeks, I was mostly in a irritable temper, struggling to breathe while fever came and went and the Indian summer heat rose. I could not eat much and doing almost anything gave me a headache. The only thing I was capable of was watching endless reruns of F.R.I.E.N.D.S , but for such bookish creature like us, you can watch only so much of sitcoms, without yearning to dive back into books. Herein lay the problem, I was too ill, to read my April reading plan books….I could not bear to look at Shakespeare or Poe, Spenser made my eyes dance and see things and Willa Cather was simply out of the question! So I decided to hunt the ever reliable internet for some suggested readings when ill. However for once, the cyber space completely let me down; while some sites suggested the tried and tested Austens and Rowlings, most sites suggested some very grim readings, biographies filled with struggle and toil and one site even suggested As I lay Dying (I don’t know if the guy was being funny!!) I don’t know why people would read such stuff when they are physically so unwell, which in turn has to have a psychological impact! Why read depressing stuff when you are already  down and out, but I guess, different strokes for different folks and for a different folk like me and I am hoping other like me, we need a much more cheerful reading list. Therefore, I humbly present to you 10 books/series/authors  you ought to read if you feel like laughing out loud or even chuckling a bit or simply take your mind off the physical trauma, when laid up with maladies –

  1. Jane Austen – Devoted as I am to Ms. Austen, I must say she has helped me recover several times in my life and made the illness more bearable. I do not recommend all her works but Pride and Prejudice, Emma and the lesser known Lady Susan! In the author’s own words – light, bright and sparkling!
  2. Terry Pratchett- I have said this before and I will keep saying it again, the world is a better place, thanks to Sir Terry. When your are completely fatigued with the mundane sameness of your surroundings, compounded by a sever iron grip variety headache, take a walk in the Discworld and meet the witches and the watch and Death and so many more characters, that will take you to whole new world and keep you there laughing, agreeing and coming out as a much more happier, healthier and even a better human being!
  3. Short Stories by Saki – The much lesser known Hector Hugo Munro, aka, Saki is the perfect anecdote when you are irritable and cannot stand your fellow creatures! Saki’s short stories filled with irreverent humor and biting sarcasm is a treat, as you wander into a 1900’s England filled with social gaities and find succinct observations, served with irony and dash of laughter to help recover your soul!
  4. Sherlock Holmes Series by Arthur Conan Doyle – You want to escape the physical discomfort, then there is no better escape than Victorian England where a hook nosed, opium using detective takes you down the lanes of England and Europe to unravel some of the most unbelievable acts of crime!
  5. Father Brown Series by G.K. Chesterton – While very different in tenor, than the Sherlock Holmes series, Father Brown is another detective, with whom you will be alert and constantly involved as you unravel one gritty mystery after another, in a intuitive, philosophical and patient way, that characterizes , one of the best detectives in Fiction!
  6. Miss Marple Series by Agatha Christie – When you are ill, and need a distraction, who better than the queen of crime. While all most all her books are addictive, I prefer Miss Marple, because I cannot get over the impression of a weak woolly old lady going after some of the most ruthless criminals and that kind of always makes me feel better and hope that I will recover soon!
  7. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling – Cliched, I know! But I cannot help it! The wizard world is such a pick me up and then there are all kinds of fantastic creatures and constantly changing dynamics and yes, there are several deaths, but the books always end in hope! So it is way better option than As I Lay Dying, when ill!
  8. Lord Wimsey’s Series by Dorothy Sayers – I read my first and only Dorothy Sayers when I was ill and she did me a world of good! First impressions are not usually a thing to go buy, but I am taking a chance here – me think reading her when ill, will make you feel infinitely better! At any case I can vouch for Busman’s Journey, among all the other books in the series!
  9. Jeeves and Wooster by PG Woodhouse – Need I say anything! A Jeeves is exactly what you need when so ill,but it being in short supply and only available in fiction, wade through the mis– adventures of Bertie Wooster in 1920s England as he is rescued and saved every time by the dependable Jeeves!
  10. Asterix Comic Books by  written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo – Follow the Gauls through one magnificent adventure in Roman world after another, as they meet Caesars and Cleopatras and discover pun like never before! Laughter and more laughter!

There you go folks, that’s my list and my recommendation! What are yours?

 

The Queen of Carlingford

I was talking to Jane from Beyond Eden Rock the other day about the right books at the right time and in some weird Karma twist, it happened to me over the weekend! I had tried to read Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant more than a year ago, but I was not hooked in the first two chapters, and after a brief struggle completely gave up on it. It lay among my other unreads for many months and until last month, I had no desire whatsoever to pick it up again. However, as I had previously mentioned, the Women’s Classic Literature Event is about reading women authors and venturing into those works which I would never normally venture into! (For instance, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf) Therefore I decided to revisit Miss Marjoriebanks as part of February reading for the event. I had a really awful Friday with more disastrous and disappointments than I can usually handle and desperately need a distraction to regain my Zen self by Monday. Ms. Oliphant was ever gracious in providing that and more!

Miss Marhoribanks, Lucilla, as she was christened by her parents, Dr. Marjoribanks and his wife of Carlingsford at the age of 15 loses her mother to illness and decided that the aim of her her life is to be a comfort to her Papa. However Dr. Marjoribanks has a different opinion on this matter and sends Lucilla back to her school after the necessary period of mourning and keeps her there for 3 years and it is not until she is 19 that she actually returns to Carlingford to do her duty and be a comfort to her papa. Her plans include the reorganization of the Carlingford’s society to show them culture, beauty, brilliance and break down the provincial and parochial mindset and cliches!Considering her youth and her recent return to her home, it would have been a daunting task for any weak minded young lady, however Miss Marjoribanks goes about the whole venture with all the clearheaded ability of a born leader and manager as she orders upholstery for the drawing room that enhances her complexion and goes about organizing an “Evening” instead of party dressed in a white dress – “high”. There are vexations that daunt her enterprise – Tom Marjoribank, her penniless cousin who proposes to her and is sent of to India to better his fortunes by an unimpressed Lucilla; Mr. Cavendish the man about town from whom much is expected including becoming a member of the Parliament and marrying Lucilla to improve his candidature, but who instead is infatuated with the drawing masters pretty but absolutely unpleasant daughter Barbra Lake and the Archdeacon who has a a bone to pick with Mr. Cavendish stemming from a shared past! But Lucilla sees everything through with wit, grace and magnanimity, arranging matters and forcing things to the right conclusion for the betterment of all society even though, there are times that the society does seem ungrateful to her for all her efforts. Trial finally comes Lucilla’s way when her father Dr. Marjoribanks passes away, the circumstances she always took for granted change overnight and though life offers a golden opportunities yet again, she finally is forced to contend what is really true in her heart and make decisions which cannot be avoided anymore!

I read somewhere that this was a Victorian Emma; maybe it was. I also felt is was a dash of Elizabeth Gaskell’s  Cranford and Anthony Trollop’s Barchestshire Chronicles all mixed together. But the book is undeniably and uniquely Carlingford and Ms. Oliphant is absolutely original in her efforts. Provincial towns dictated by Victorian mores must have seem absurd to many authors and writers of that era and this came forth in their works and the styles may overlap with each other. But this novel is soooo much more than just a comedy of manners and a social satire.  Ms. Oliphant brought to life characters that were real and throbbed of life. Lucilla is a brilliant heroine who has all the qualities that make a good heroine and yet enough frailties to make her human and to touch the readers heart. She is an independent strong minded, smart as a whip girl who has no tuck with standard social mores, and brings it down with using the inner workings of those very mores. She has courage and is undaunted in the face of struggle and believes that one can overcome anything if one puts their mind to it. She has fault and fails but is intelligent enough to see those failures, learn from her mistakes and adapt to the change. Even during her most difficult time, she sustains and her own ideas against the opinions of the entire society and finally is generous in her triumphs! You cheer for her, you laugh at her and with her and are completely entertained and invigorated by her antics. The other cast of characters do justice and are a perfect foil to Lucilla – Dr. Marjoribanks with his in-toleration for all kinds of social standards and his ability to laugh at the circumstances, even when de-throned in the domestic domain by his own daughter, the poor luckless but devoted Tom, Mr. Cavendish veering from highs to lows and undecided of what choices he should make. The entire ensemble is brilliant and you are completely hooked till the very end. The plot while lengthy and some may contend very narrow since it focuses purely on the happenings in a small town, in an era when great things where happening in England, never flags and you turn page after page with a host of emotions from chagrin to laughter to anger to amusement to being anxious to relief. Its all there and you cherish each page and emotions its adds on to a rich reading experience . The language is simple and there is no lyricism so to speak off, but there is plenty of wit and reading between the lines that keeps you laughing through the very end! It is a testimony to Ms. Oliphant’s brilliance and ability as an author that she wrote such bright optimistic work during a darkest period of her life – she had lost her 10 year old daughter, widowed and struggling to bring up her other children.

Needless to say I LOVED this book! Ms. Marjoribanks has reinforced my belief that anything can be conquered with courage and ability and as I face another daunting Monday, with all the energy that had seemed lost on Friday, I have to say this novel has become one my favorites and I can see it joining my go-to books shelves!

Bookish Snapshots – 2014

2014 has finally come to an end and I cannot in all honesty say I will miss it. It’s been one of the worst years of my adult life and good riddance to bad rubbish is all I have to say for these last 12 months. Having said that, there is a need to qualify the previous statement with some home truths – this has been a year of loss of more than one kind and of illness; however it’s also been a year of wonderful friendships that have sustained me through some dark days. It’s been year of finally figuring out what really matters and going after it, even if I fall a couple of times on the way. Finally it’s been a year which I could not have survived without the therapy of books and more books. Through my difficulties, it was the friendship and care of both the fictional and non-fictional characters that kept me going.

This last post of the year is therefore nothing but a quick round up of the how my reading mapped out for the year with a listing of the best books for me in 2014.

To begin with, in my 1st January 2014 blog post, I had laid down a reading plan for the year; my score against this plan is well middling, with win some and loose some!

  1. 2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – I was expected to read at-least 15 Historical Fiction works and I completed 18 (review for two yet to come). Phew! One thing done!
  2. A Century of Books – I read about 10 books between the stated time period of 1850-1949; at this rate it will be 2024 before I finish this project. I have therefore decided to extend the deadline by 2019, which makes it 5 years – 20 books per year, way more doable!!
  3. Books on History – I failed miserably – I had planned on 12 and I finished only 4. This is one area of serious improvement. I have been neglecting non-fiction for last couple of years and it’s time to get back to it!
  4. Poetry – I had planned on reading 4 volumes through the year and I managed 3 including Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost. Not bad at all for starters!

Now for the final round up of my top 12 books (I want to break all stereotypes in 2015 so I am not going with a top 10/15 kind of thing!)

  1. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope – The characters, the subtle irony and a vivid display of Victorian England in all her grandeur as well as her pettiness. Oh! Mr. Trollope, you remain the best among the best!
  2. The Source by James Michener – This was a re-read and with age, this book’s depth just keeps on increasing. Michener’s story telling is compassionate and as sympathetic as this book takes the reader through more than 2000 years of Israel-Palestinian history through her people. Historically accurate and completely free of judgment, this book discusses the definition of “God”, “identity” and “homeland” without any fanatic aspersions. Viva Mr. Michener!
  3. The Complete Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield by Katherine Mansfield – This was the first time ever I read Katherine Mansfield and I simply fell in love with her work! Beautiful poetic language, sensitivity to glean what is not so obvious and fun. Brilliant is the only adjective that seems appropriate!
  4. The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern – Innovative narration style together with deep understanding of mankind made this book a wonderful read! I mentioned this in my post as well that what could have been a clichéd story, has been very cleverly crafted into a lovely heart searing sometimes tragic and sometimes optimistic tale.
  5. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – Speechless – I decide to quote what I felt directly from my post on this book –“The book is SCARY!!! I am not someone who is usually daunted by supernatural plots, but for the last three nights, I have slept with the lights on!!!!!I am so glad that I read this book finally and I have to agree with Stephen King (whose books by the way I really dislike!) who wrote that this book was one of the finest horror novels of late 20th century!!”
  6. Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey – Gorgeous, sumptuous and absolutely delightful. More 17th century customs, to long forgotten cuisines to damm good story, Ms. Bailey pulls it all together to make this novel a scintillating read!!
  7. The Feast by Margaret Kennedy – Oh! Lovely! Simple and lovely – a morality tale for the modern world told with humor, honesty and some of most moving words. I can now say “Margaret Kennedy” devotee for life!
  8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold – Unique narrative, a very balanced approach to what goes in being bad without giving into maudlin sentiments and a very creative understanding including one of the most intriguing images of what heaven constitutes off!
  9. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell – What can I say about Ms. Gaskell that has not already been said? True picture of 19th century mill workers condition, with all its harsh realities does not make this book tragic. In fact, Ms. Gaskell, very finely teaches us to look beyond the obvious to discover true greatness of mankind!! Sheer brilliance!
  10. My Antonia by Willa Cather – Wonderful characterization, beautiful description of the land and relationships that go beyond the clichés, Ms. Cather captivates us in this early 20th century tale of friendship, generosity and human endurance in the frontier towns of US.
  11. The Narrow Road to Deep North by Richard Flanagan – Intense, difficult, and dark, yet this book is a marvel. Through deep moving and soul searing words, Mr. Flanagan brings forth a tale of surviving love and war, in the back drop of a Japanese POW camp during World War II
  12. The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric – I am yet to do the review, but one word, is enough – SPLENDID!!

That rounds up my year of reading. To end, I came across this poem in The New Yorker and I wanted to quote it last line as they seemed very apt!  It’s by Ian Frazier and goes something like this –

Dear friends, this year was not real great.

There’s no need to enumerate

Just how gloomy it’s appearing.

Ever-better days are nearing!

Though dark nightmares be distinguished,

Still the light is not extinguished

By the darkness crowding ’round it.

Find hope’s advent by the sound it

Makes somewhere out in the distance:

Bells that ring with soft insistence,

Hoofbeats, voices singing faintly,

Hymns unearthly, almost saintly,

Mailmen’s footsteps, babies’ crying,

Wings of angels quickly flying,

News worth calling from the steeple, “Peace on earth, good will to people.”

Here’s wishing all of you & your loved ones a brilliant, successful and joyful 2015!! Cheers!!

Murder and More in Victorian England

I have often heard that there is a time and a place for everything!! Apparently this holds true for books as well. Take the case of Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I had bought more than 3 years ago and only read it like couple of weeks ago as part of Classic Club’s Victorian Age Reading Event. The case was same with Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I had bought the book, well over a year ago after mention by Jane (She has till date never led me wrong vis-à-vis new authors!!! Thank You Jane!) But for one reason or another I did not read it till last week – again propelled by the Victorian Reading Event (Big Yay to Classic Club for always making me read what I should have read long back!!)

Now about Lady Audley’s Secret…..

The novel opens with the beautiful and extremely talented, albeit impoverished governess Lucy Graham making a great match and marrying Sir Michael Audley, Bart. Audley Court. The new Lady Audley is liked by all both for her beauty as well her child like behavior which endears her to everyone except her step-daughter Alicia, who till the arrival of Lady Audley had reigned supreme both over her father and his house. Parallel to these events, George Talboys is returning home to England after three years; he had been gold mining in Australia and had finally made his fortune after bitter struggle and was now looking forward to re-uniting with his lovely wife and child. On reaching London, he runs into his old Eton schoolmate and friend, Robert Audley, a young indolent barrister, who also happens to be the nephew of Sir Michael. The two friends catch up on each other’s lives and it is revealed that George Talboys who was the only son of a very rich Squire had married a beautiful but penniless girl, which had incensed his father, who had then disinherited him. George Talboys had then sold his Naval commission and left for Europe with his pretty bride and had spent some luxurious months, while the money from the commission lasted. However once the money ran out, the Talboys returned to England and settled down in a house, which they shared with his bride’s father. As money ran low, there were arguments and dissatisfaction among the couple, until George deserted his wife and new born son and left in the middle of the night to make his fortune. He now hoped that his beautiful wife would forgive him and they would now settle down to a life of happy domesticity and love. George Talboys plans are dashed when on he learns of his wife’s death a week before he reached England. Heartbroken and depressed beyond his depth, he makes Robert Audley the guardian for his son’s education – the little boy had lived with his grandfather and wants to set off to Australia again to bury his sorrow in the wilderness of the land, but falls ill. Robert Audley nurses him back and finally convinces him to take a trip with him to Russia. As George Talboy’s spirit and heath mend, Robert Audley takes him to Audley Court, which he visits annually during the hunting season. Robert always stays at his uncle’s place during the hunting season, but this year is turned away as Lady Audley is unwell and unable to act as a hostess to visitors. Robert Audley and George Talboy take up residence at one of the Inns near Audley Court and one day when Sir Michael and Lady Audley are out, convince Alicia to take them on a tour of the house. George Talboy comes back from this tour of Audley Court visibly disturbed, but by morning regains his composure. He and Michael decide to spend the day fishing and return to the Inn for dinner before taking the last train back to London. They settle themselves down for a day of peaceful fishing and Robert Audley falls asleep; George Talboy again restless gets up and starts walking towards Audley Court. When Robert Audley finally wakes up, he hurries to the Inn, thinking that George Talboy must have wandered off and the comeback for dinner per their agreement. But the innkeeper tells Robert Audley that George Talboy never came back to the Inn and the barrister soon discovers that no one has seen his friend; George Talboy seems to have disappeared from the very face of the earth on a balmy afternoon. Robert is not satisfied by the way the disappearance is treated by all including Talboy’s own father, and begins in earnest to search for his friend, by piecing together his life before he left for Australia. As he slowly gets nearer to the truth, he is torn between his duty and his loyalties and face the horrifying facts, that threatens to destroy everything he holds sacred.

The book written in 1862 discusses things that Henry James said “that ladies are not accustomed to know”. Written more than 160 years ago, the book is all about murder, treachery, blackmail and bigamy – things that could simply not be discussed in the polite Victorian circles during afternoon tea visits and often considered “racy”. Yet the book is marvelously well written, with a taut plot and with strong characters that do not let you rest, until you reach the last page of the book and naturally was a rip-roaring success that brought justified praise and recognition to Braddon. The characters are extremely well drawn out and it is they and not the events that propel the story forward. I could not warm to either Lady Audley or Alicia Audley but both their characters were extremely believable and their angst and actions are alike understandable, in the shadow of their past. Robert Audley is the quintessential Victorian hero, a bit sardonic, but intelligent and generous, whose loyalties are clear and conduct is always that of a gentleman. But my favorite cast in this ensemble was Sir Michael –the kind generous noble man, deeply in love with wife, sincere enough to know and face the truth and honorable in every conduct, even when the worst comes to his doorstop. The novel naturally being a mystery tale keeps you hooked, but there are these clever tricks where Ms. Braddon pulls an unexpected whopper that hits you as a reader and you are left thinking “Wow! That I did not see coming!” She does this judiciously and cautiously without descending to theatrics and manages a fine balance between a social commentary and a good read.

An awesome book…again one that I should have read long back!!

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