My Ántonia

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Read 08/10/2017-16/10/2017

Rating: 4 stars

I chose this book for Nebraska in the US Road Trip reading challenge that The Reader’s Room ran from July to September. I didn’t manage to complete the challenge, but I’ve decided to carry on because I’m enjoying discovering new-to-me American authors. I hadn’t heard of Willa Cather. My Ántonia has a 34-page introduction in the Oxford World’s Classics edition that I borrowed from the library, which I skipped to read the novel, but then didn’t return to because I didn’t want someone else’s academic critique to spoil the book with earnest dullness. Maybe it wasn’t dull at all. (It looked dull.)

Anyway, to my hopefully not dull critique of the novel! Jim Burden, a New York-based lawyer for a railway company, encounters an old friend on a train journey across Iowa. They begin to reminisce about a woman, the Ántonia of the title, whom they both knew in Nebraska when they were young. Continue reading

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The End of the World: A Love Story

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Read 19/08/2017-26/08/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge

I hadn’t heard of Edward Eggleston before. I’m unsure how well known he and his brother George are in the US, but they were certainly celebrated in life and their home in Indiana is now an historical monument. I needed to find a book for the Indiana stage of the Road Trip Across America challenge I’m doing, so I Googled authors from the state and sought out something I liked the sound of. My local library wasn’t much help, so I ended up downloading Edward Eggleston’s second novel from Project Gutenberg.

The End of the World sounded like the kind of easy going 19th century literature I typically enjoy. It’s very much as you would expect a novel written in 1872 to be. The characters are extremes of human nature, almost clichés. There is the hen pecked husband who is easily manipulated by his shrewish wife, and a pair of young lovers who are kept apart by her parents because he, a farmhand and a foreigner, isn’t good enough. Lots and lots of prejudice, and lots and lots of over dramatisation. On the first page, Mrs Anderson is introduced as a manipulative harridan, and I almost stopped reading right there. However, as other characters were introduced, I realised that the descriptions were intended as comedic, and the novel was tongue in cheek. It made me think of the musicals I loved watching when I was young. Calamity Jane, Oklahoma!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Lots of rambunctious action and foolhardy decisions before everything comes right in the end. Continue reading

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

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Read 02/07/2017-09/07/2017

Rating: 5 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Road Trip Challenge.

Carson McCullers’ debut novel was a surprise. I’d read The Member of the Wedding years ago and loved it. In The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, McCullers captures the lives of people on the edges of society during the Depression. At the heart of the novel is John Singer, a mute who lives in a small unnamed mill town in the US state of Georgia. Continue reading

The Quiet American

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Read 28/06/2017-02/07/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American is somber look at the war between France and the Vietminh through the eyes of a British journalist. Fowler has made a life for himself in Saigon, with a girlfriend, a routine, and all the distance he needs from his regular life in England. Into his settled existence comes Pyle, a young and idealistic American working on a clandestine mission under cover of the medical corps. Continue reading

The Post Office Girl

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Read 01/05/2017-05/05/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Poor Christine Hoflehner. Twenty eight years old and bereft of hope. She toils away in a rural post office, caring for her sick mother, her family devastated by the Great War and the poverty that engulfed Austria as one of the losers.

Her glamorous aunt, who has lived quite a life in the Americas and has largely escaped the trials experienced by her compatriots, has returned to Europe for a holiday. She invites her sister to stay with her at her luxury Swiss hotel. Christine’s mother is too ill, though, so the honour is transferred to Christine. Her lack of enthusiasm is brilliantly rendered by Zweig. Continue reading

A Sicilian Romance

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Read 08/03/2017-11/03/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Ann Radcliffe’s novel of gothic romance is an absolute hoot. It’s very much of its time, and I had to put myself in the frame of mind of someone from the 1790s when I started reading it. The language is wonderfully flowery at times, and the plot is very different to the type of book I normally read. The good are very, very good, the bad are very, very bad, and the secrets are very, very mysterious. It was a riot of hilarity for this 21st century reader. Continue reading

The Gap of Time

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Read 04/03/2017-05/03/2017

Rating: 3 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Winter Challenge.

I’ve never seen a performance of or read The Winter’s Tale, so I was glad of the overview Jeanette Winterson provides at the start of The Gap of Time. I could understand why Winterson, who was adopted and raised by strangers attempting to be her parents, would be fascinated by the story of a lost girl taken in and raised by a stranger, and why, given the unhappiness of her own upbringing, she would be fascinated by the story’s happy ending.

It surprised me, then, that Winterson’s cover version (her term) felt so brittle at first. There was a self-consciousness about it. This is only the second work of fiction by Winterson that I’ve read. It felt to me as though she was writing at a slight remove, as though curious herself as to what she might reveal as the story unfolded. Perhaps there was a reticence because this is a work of Shakespeare, after all. These aren’t Winterson’s own characters. And perhaps Winterson’s feeling that Shakespeare’s original is talismanic for her meant that her love for it was overshadowed by a sense of responsibility to reinterpret it well. Continue reading