Tuesday 11 June 2013

Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy

Yes, it's more 19th Century literature. :) After Germinal, I thought I'd share one of the books I'd enjoyed.

I'd never read Hardy before starting this course, I think I had it in my head that he was one of these writers that killed all his characters off. (If you haven't guessed, at the moment, everybody dying at the end of the book is not one of my favourite plot developments - kind of ironic as I've just started reading Game of Thrones.)

Now, this may be the case for Hardy's other novels, but not here.

So the plot - Bathsheba Everdene has three suitors - a shepherd (Gabriel Oak), a farmer (Boldwood) and a soldier (Troy). The story follows the events over the course of a farming year.

This was actually a really easy read, and in some ways the plot reminded me of a soap opera. Even the dialogue
"...she has her faults," said Gabriel..."And the greatest of them is - well, what it is always."
"Beating people down; ay, 'tis so."
"O no."
"What, then?"
Gabriel,...glanced back to where he had witnessed her performance over the hedge, and said, "Vanity."

You've got adultery, death, madness, reversal of fortune, in some ways the plot wouldn't be out of place on Emmerdale. And from the start you are rooting for Gabriel to end up with the girl, even though Bathsheba does treat him badly.

There's a point at the beginning of the story, when Gabriel's fortunes take a turn for the worse, that I knew what was coming up, I anticipated it - and even said "Oh no!" out loud whilst reading. (Apart from anything else because I'm a dog lover) It had the inevitability of watching a car crash. You could see what was going to happen but there was no way of stopping it. I think the phrase "You bitch." also escaped my mouth later on. I think this is the only book on the course (so far) where I got so involved with what was happening on the page.

So as much as I wouldn't recommend Germinal as a first 19th Century novel, I would recommend Far From the Madding Crowd.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Germinal by Emile Zola

I'm reading quite a bit of nineteenth century fiction at the moment, as I'm studying for an English lit. degree. So may as well post my thoughts here, just in case any of you are tempted by 19th century novels. Spoilers will ensue.

Man goes to work at a mine, tries to set up a union, things get out of hand, lots of people die, the situation reverts to what it was before he turned up (only worse).

This is the one book of the course (so far) that I have hated, and really resented that I've had to take time out from reading something that I may have enjoyed.

I can appreciate it as a literature  - if I have to. I can see what the experiment is - the characters having to follow this predetermined genetic pathway. But Gods it is depressing and really not the sort of thing I want to read at the moment. I also don't believe that everything always has to end badly, that people (characters) have no redeeming characteristics.

Whilst I can appreciate it as literature, as a story it has perhaps a handful of redeemable characters and all you can say about them is that they're not as bad as the rest. Most everybody dies - including the animals - some characters are lucky and just die, others get raped or castrated first.

Just not how I want to spend my limited reading time.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Master and God by Lindsey Davis

I read this a while ago, actually have read quite a few books over the past months. This one I received as an ARC.

I must confess I am a big fan of the Falco "detective" series (set in Rome a few years earlier during the rule of Vespasian) also written by Lindsey Davis but had never read any of her historical novels before. And I had a slightly mixed response to Master and God.

Set during the rule of the Emperor Domitian, Master and God charts his rule through the eyes of two of his subjects - Gaius, a Praetorian Guard, and Hairdresser Flavia Lucilla. Now I'm pretty sure that the idea here is that because we are experiencing events through the eyes of two "ordinary" characters that we feel the terror of Domitian's rule more acutely than we otherwise would. However, I'm not sure I ever felt the threat and terror of Domitian as much as I needed to. I knew that the ordinary people were living in dangerous times because I was told, but I didn't get a complete sense of underlying fear - it was a time of disappearances where the wrong word could mean the end of your life but it felt a little safer than I think it needed to. You know how when you watch a television series every week and you know that even when the main characters are in dire peril they are still somehow going to survive - this had a similar feel. Maybe this was also because the parts which focus on Domitian are somewhat drier, so I didn't feel he was as present as perhaps he should have been in the story. Even when he wasn't 'on page' I feel that I should have had more of a sense of the threat of his presence.

What worked for me most were the characters of the ordinary people. Lindsey Davis has a brilliant way of getting you into the heads of her characters and making them real, partly I think through her ability to write colloquially which makes you feel as if you are there. I felt invested in the relationship that gradually developed between Gaius and Lucilla. They were very much two people caught up in situations that were beyond their control that they just had to make the best of. I think that where it didn't work for me as an historical novel, it absolutely worked as a story of two people from different worlds gradually coming together in a strong relationship. Lindsey Davis has a way of writing characters so that the reader appreciates not only what they say and do, but also what their motivations are, how they are thinking and how they judge the situations in which they find themselves.
'I respect you.'
'Don't insult me. You are a disgrace, Vinius.'
'So my wives tell me.'
She stormed off. The dog, who knew how to make choices, slunk after her.'
These are flawed people but they are all the more compelling because of that. Overall then, I very much enjoyed the book and would definitely try another historical novel by Lindsey Davis, though I think my first love will always be the Falco series. I think she makes the Roman era come alive and if you haven't read her work before I would definitely recommend it.

(Hopefully not too bad for my first review back