Two hundred years and counting

I didn’t realise til I read this blog post by Calmgrove that 2017 is the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death. Should I re-read her novels? I haven’t read any (apart from my favourite, Persuasion) in years, but I know, from experience, that planning to re-read more than one novel doesn’t work with me. I shall, perhaps choose one title and see how it goes.

I love Persuasion because it’s about second chances and remaining steadfast in love. My favourite quotes:

Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

and

All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one: you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone!

Is it stupidly romantic of me to believe in true love? Is it naive to hope that my partner will remain constant?

I may re-read Persuasion again after all.

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Persuasion watercolour illustrations by C. E. Brock

 

Re-read: The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson

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The Exploits of Moominpappa, aka Moominpappa’s Memoirs is the fourth book in the Moomin series by Tove Jansson.

In this book, we find out about Moominpappa’s background and past. He is writing a memoir and he reads from it to his son Moomintroll, and Moomintroll’s friends Snufkin and Sniff.

As it turns out, Moominpappa’s early days were spent with Snufkin and Sniff’s fathers — the Joxter and the Muddler from whom, we see, many traits have been inherited by their offspring.

Moominpappa’s origins are quite romantic as he was left, wrapped in newspaper, at an orphanage run by a Hemulen. One day, having had enough of his colourless existence in the orphanage, and the Hemulen’s strict ways, he runs away.Read More »

Re-reads: Scruples by Judith Krantz

scruples.jpgI read this book for the first time in my late teens, one of the many so-called ‘sex & shopping’ novels that were popular at the time, books by people like Jackie Collins and Shirley Conran. Actually, they may still be popular, but I stopped reading them in the 80s.

When I was an ‘innocent’ teenager, the sex in these books might have been the main attraction (there’s one scene in Scruples that has remained with me all these years and, when I re-read it recently, I was surprised to find that I’d lost none of its details), but it was the ‘shopping’ or rather the details of material objects, especially clothes, that was the true draw.Read More »

Re-reads: The Stolen Lake (The Wolves Chronicles) by Joan Aiken

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The cover of the first edition published by Jonathan Cape and illustrated by Pat Marriot.

One of my favourite fantasy series is Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles. There are twelve books, including a prequel (The Whispering Mountain), with  Dido Twite the protagonist in most of the stories.

After I read Calmgrove‘s post about The Stolen Lake, I couldn’t resist re-reading it. It’s the fourth book in the main series and my favourite as I find it has the most thrilling and unusual plot. The ever plucky and pragmatic Dido is also especially endearing in this installment. I like her so much and find her optimism and can-do attitude inspiring and cheering. (I want to be Dido when I grow up.)

In this story, Dido is onboard the HMS Thrush, heading back to England. Dido, having escaped death and worse in the previous two books (Blackhearts in Battersea and Nightbirds on Nantucket), is looking forward to going home and is dismayed when the Thrush is forced to make a detour after the Captain of the ship is summoned by the Queen of New Cumbria (a country in Roman America, Aiken’s alternate history version of South America). Surprisingly, the Queen requests that he bring Dido with him.

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The Houghton Mifflin edition, with cover art by Edward Gorey.

It turns out that Queen Ginevra requires help to get back the country’s ceremonial lake which she claims has been stolen by the King Mabon, ruler of the neighbouring Lyonesse. Even more surprising is that the Queen is apparently more than a thousand years old and is waiting for the return of her husband, King Arthur. Could her longevity be linked to the noticeable absence of female children in New Cumbria?

Dido is soon in the thick of another adventure, this time one involving an imprisoned princess; shape-shifting witches; human sacrifice; cannibalism; and reincarnation.

I’d resolved to re-read less this year in order to make some progress with my TBR list, but I’ve decided to just read whatever I feel like. I will be re-reading Black Hearts in Battersea next.

Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

things-fall-apartTHINGS FALL APART

By Chinua Achebe

(Anchor Books, 209 pages)

THIS was not my first reading of the book, but my third. I read Things Fall Apart for the first time in my teens, but I admit to only skimming then. The second time I read it was in 2014. For some reason, it was a hurried read and I did not retain much of the story.

Certainly, the first time I read it, I was a very silly girl who only read white authors. My Pinterest record of the books I read in 2014 has me completing the novel on 22nd Feb. Later that year I read other African authors like Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta. I believe that was the year I decided to make a big effort to read out of my comfort zone, i.e. more Asian and African authors. However, as it was early days, the part of my brain that handles reading was stuck in a rut. It still had to be kicked in the rear out of its literary ditch.

Three years on and I think I’ve succeeded in getting to a place where it’s not just stories by dead white women that make sense to me. And yes, my ‘problem’ with Things Fall Apart was that I couldn’t ‘make sense’ of it. The writing style, the content – including setting and characters – the language, nothing about it was what I was used to. Thus, I found it hard to relate to, or made no effort to try. Sure, I had read and loved Maru by Bessie Head twenty eight years before, but that was probably due to it being an A-level text, i.e. reading it maybe fifty times over, and discussing it with my tutor would have ensured that that story made complete sense.

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Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

My partner, Don,  is Igbo, which is the ethnic group of the characters in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe was also Igbo). I think this has made a difference to my recent reading of the book. This time round, the story seemed familiar. I recognised details from what Don has told me about Igbo cultural traditions. The way of life described was still strange, but it was easier to empathise with the characters and not completely dismiss their actions as outrageous or nonsensical.

It also helped being able to discuss the book with Don. He offered a different perspective and put things into a context I would have found it hard to imagine on my own.

The story is heartbreaking, on the level of it being the tale of a man’s downfall, and also in a larger historical and social context, as the story of the colonisation of Africa. The final sentence of the novel struck me to the core. It sums up the reality of the situation – in the novel, in history, and in race relations today.