Monthly Archives: January 2014

26. Tess of the D’Urbervilles & 48. Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy

I have been writing this post since November, so please forgive me if it doesn’t flow as well as it could in places!!

Thomas Hardy. It’s a name which is synonymous with tedium in my house. My mum was forced to read his books when at school and if it would be an exaggeration to say she’s bitter about it, she’s not exactly his greatest fan. Further to this we have a game at home called Echelon in which you’re given two minutes to memorise a passage from a classic book and then answer questions on it. It’s a great game and is part of the reason I was keen to read Diary of a Nobody and The Picture of Dorian Gray but the Hardy passages are usually considered an unlucky draw.

So as you can imagine I wasn’t looking forward to the two Hardy entries on The List.

Anyway The Book Depository recently had a sale on their bargain bin books and I took advantage of this to get both Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, the two Hardy novels that are apparently must reads. And I’ll be honest, the naff covers that arrived through my letterbox didn’t fill me with enthusiasm.

I’m reviewing them together because at high school I was taught the value of the “compare and contrast” essay and I don’t want to be accused of forgetting my schooling.

Far from the Madding CrowdTo start I read FftMC because according to my mum it was the worst of the two so I thought I’d get it out the way early.

And how wrong she was; I loved it! I’ll admit the first chapter had me rolling my eyes at the vacuous female lolling in a  carriage checking her makeup while issuing orders but that was the only appearance she really made and didn’t seem to bear any relation to the Bathsheba of the rest of the book.

There’s a tendency in Victorian literature to portray women as very one-dimensional characters who sit around drinking tea and sighing over men but this isn’t the case in FftMC. Instead Bathsheba inherits a farm from her uncle and rather than selling it or employing a man to run it for her, she takes the reins herself and gets involved straight away. Yes she does employ men to till the fields and tend the sheep but so did all the farmers at that time and the actual running of the farm and trading at market is done by her despite the opposition of everyone else concerned. Is that an excellent example of girl power coming from a male writer or what?

Now it is true that amid all this feminism Bathsheba commits one stupid, ‘girlish’ act which haunts her throughout the rest of the book and does a fair bit to undermine her credibility. This is unfortunate and as it was happening I felt that it didn’t quite ring true for her character but it happens amid coercion and peer pressure and doesn’t that happen to us all? I have to say that the book tailed off somewhat after that, form a powerful start I felt it struggled a bit in the middle with some havering from Bathsheba that I found a little trying but then it regained some of its former strength and built to a gripping conclusion that I definitely didn’t see coming.

Tess of the D'UrbervillesSo that was book 1. Book 2 was Tess of the D’Urbervilles which I knew slightly more about. There was a BBC adaptation a few years ago and I watched enough of it to know that Tess doesn’t have a happy life but without knowing all the details. There was a disclaimer in the front of my copy warning any “genteel reader” that they may be offended by what they are about to read which had me intrigued and it wasn’t long before I found out what he meant.

Tess, a young girl from a poor family, experiences almost all the misery anyone can expect from life. Once Hardy’s hit her the first time he just can’t seem to stop. It doesn’t matter how far she runs or how hard she works to put everything behind her, she just keeps getting knocked back down again and it seems rather excessive.

But Tess displays as much (actually more) strength as Bathsheba in that she just doesn’t give up. Despite experiencing all the worst things that could ever happen to a woman, she just picks herself up and moves on. It’s really refreshing when you consider how many books there are about people (frequently but not always women) moping about and working themselves into a frenzy over the slightest little thing.

The two books couldn’t be more different in tone – FftMC is quite lighthearted most of the time, there’s a fair amount of nights in the pub, parties and girlish giggling and it could hardly be described as hard-going. Tess on the other hand is a slog. It makes for very grim reading, even in the brief periods where everything is ok, Tess herself is so worn down by misery and the fear of discovery that the tone is never as light as in FftMC.

I personally enjoyed them both, I think it as a good thing that they were so different as I read them very close together and that can ruin an author but wasn’t the case here. As I’ve already said I was impressed with Hardy’s writing and the ballsiness of his heroines which is so unlike many of my other experiences of Victorian literature. Especially coming from a male writer, and one with a very impressive moustache at that!

I applaud you Mr Hardy and your impressive facial hair

I applaud you Mr Hardy and your impressive facial hair

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You know you’re a book addict when….

You can’t tell what’s missing from this picture:

Oops.

Keys? Check.

Oyster card? Check

Umbrella (just in case!)? Check.

Bag for life (save the planet, people)? Check.

List? Check.

Book? Check.

I’m sure there’s something else….

Yes of course! You know you’re a book addict when you pack a book to go food shopping instead of your purse. D’oh! This is better:

Much better!

What are your “You know you’re a book addict when….” scenarios?

Farewell 2013, it’s been interesting

2013 was a beast of a year in many ways but as happens with all years it has come to an end allowing me to say so long, farewell and yah-boo-sucks to the nightmare that was. But by far the best thing about 2013 was that I did lots and lots of reading, reaching my goal of 52 books with a couple of weeks to spare So I may be slightly late in doing this but here is my review of the year (we’re still less than 10 days into the new one so I think it’s ok).

  • In 2013 I read 52 books with a combined total of 18,897 pages (which is an average of 363.4 pages per book).
  • 57.7% of the books I read were by male authors making for a pretty even split huzzah.
  • And 68.3% of them were by authors I’d never read before which is also excellent.

new/male authors

  • I only read 4 non-fiction books which on the face of it is pretty poor but I spent a large part of my time reading dry scientific papers at work so I’m unashamed of my need for fiction in my free time.
  • What’s more disappointing is that I only read 14 off The List, something I need to improve on in 2014 otherwise I’ll never get through it all but I have hit the half-way mark (and have some reviews still to do so look out for those in the next month or so!).

list vs category

  • The majority of my books came from a used book store (mostly Skoob on the Brunswick Centre, check it out if you’re ever nearby) or from charity shops – Wimbledon is overflowing with excellent examples and they come with a feel good factor!
  • The average age of the books I read was 30.2 years – the oldest (Gulliver’s Travels) was 317 and I read three published in 2013 (The Universe Versus Alex Woods, Joyland and Mind The Child).

source vs age

  • I gave an average star rating of 3.75 which I suppose makes me pretty hard to please! To hand out some awards:
  • my least favourite book of the year was probably The Red House mostly because I was so disappointed having loved Mark Haddon’s previous work (Anyone expecting me to say Love in the Time of Cholera, you’d be right but I’ve enjoyed ranting about it too much since!)
  • The book that made me most emotional goes to The Universe Versus Alex Woods
  • The most amusing of 2013 is won by The Hundred-year-old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared
  • The best from the list would be Far From the Madding Crowd (partly because it was so unexpected!)
  • The best series is awarded to the Peter Grant series because it’s funny, set in London and opened my eyes to a genre I previously avoided
  • And the overall winner of 2013 has to go to the triumphant work that is Was by Geoff Ryman for just being wonderful.

So, that’s 2013 done and dusted, what’s in store for 2014? Well I got a reasonable book haul for Christmas including two by Joanne Harris, my first (grown-up) Terry Pratchett and a novel written without the use of the letter ‘e’. So I’m looking forward to tucking into them plus, it’s my birthday this month so here’s hoping some more books will find their way onto my (currently woefully empty) TBR shelf.

I’m also taking on a new challenge which I saw Leah post about a few days ago where you’re asked to read a book from a specific genre every month. It’s hosted on Tumblr by Eternal Books and January’s genre is historical fiction. I’ve only read one HF book before and I surprised myself by really enjoying it so I’m looking forward to getting started with this!

So Happy 2014 everyone, let’s hope it’s a good’un!

2013 storified.

January has rolled around again and with it the end to my challenge for 2013 which was to read 52 books – one every week of the year. I’m pleased to say I achieved my target and to celebrate I’m repeating something I did last year. I’ve made a story which contains all the titles of the books I’ve read over the last twelve months. It wasn’t nearly so easy this year but then there were a lot more titles this time round!  I hope you like it, I’ve linked titles to my review/the GoodReads page.

I’m calling it: Escape to Horror.

When I left The Red House that morning, I had no idea of the adventure in store. In fact it would be while I was On The Road that my life would really start Catching Fire. My sister Katherine is always accusing me of over-dramatising everything – “Oh look,” she’ll yawn as I started telling a story, “It’s The Universe versus Alex Woods again.” Little does she know that sometimes I have a reason to Fear the Worst. It’s hard to explain to someone like her how Whatever You Love can seem like Embers of a fire to one person but to you, it burns with the light of A Thousand Splendid Suns and when something threatens that thing it’s a Dark Matter which feels like Black Water Rising all around you. But enough about her, this is the story of The Road and how my life changed. It might seem like The Diary of a Young Girl right now but stick with me.

After the Snow was cleared from our street; I headed out into the world. Everything Was covered in a fine white powder – the trees looked Lost at Sea and the Rivers of London were home to confused ducks trying to swim. Our postie, Stuart Lisey however, jogged merrily past – “This is Small Change for Stuart!” he waved. He’s from Alaska so well used to the snow.

I waved back but didn’t stop to chat, I had no time for Lisey’s Story today; I was headed for town, bright lights and adventure. But I didn’t make it. Not exactly.

Not far along the road I stopped, sure I could hear Whispers Underground. I paused and crouched down, trying to work out what it was I could hear but there was nothing for a moment, then a flash of light, a scream of “Mind The Child!!” and then nothing.

When I woke up there were stars before my eyes but as they cleared I could see a strange face peering down at me. “Vicky Angel’s back with us.” The face said and then it disappeared and I could hear whispers in the corner. I hauled myself up onto one elbow and looked around. There were three signs on the wall – Life! Death! Prizes! – they screamed at me in bright colours and flashing lights. The one nearest me was Prizes! which I could only hope was a good thing. I was lying on the floor and I saw that the face I’d seen earlier belonged to a little man who couldn’t be taller than knee-height. He was talking to a woman who was taller than anyone I’d seen before. They looked like a right Double Act! Seeing me moving the man came over and smiled at me. “My name’s Artemis Fowl,” He said, “You must be Joyland’s newest arrival. I wonder how it is you found us here, Far From the Madding Crowd as we are. Personally, I was following the Moon Over Soho when I crossed a sand Dune and found myself here. My colleague,” and here he paused to glance over at the woman he’d been talking to, “Was a queen in her own land, but she got fed up of being ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and wanted to live her own life. So what’s your story? The Secret History inside your head?”

I opened my mouth to reply but the little man’s head jerked and he scuttled away. “You know what we call him?” The tall woman on the other side of the room called out, “’The Hobbit‘. Because he’s so little and he lives in a hole in the ground down by The Deathly Hallows.” She seemed to think that explained the odd nickname but she may have been talking Norwegian for all I knew. “Come on, I’ll show you around.”

She was away the moment I’d scrambled to my feet, striding out into the sun. I was still unsteady on my feet and wavering I stepped out into the Brave New World beyond the room I’d woken up in. Looking down for a moment I saw that the path in front of me had a Noughts & Crosses motif and I was standing on a cross. Instinct told me to avoid the noughts and I realised I was right when two steps on a Mockingjay launched itself out of the circle on the path and flew past so close to me I could feel its wings brush past my arm. I’d never seen one before, my Dad told me that they used to live in the woods around our village but one day they all just disappeared. Then I remembered another story from home. The one about The 100 year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. All of a sudden it didn’t seem so far-fetched; in fact I had a feeling I might know where that man had gone to.

After this revelation I had to rush to catch up with my leader who was marching off like The Kite Runner I’d watched one year at our town festival. That had been His Last Bow, he’d run so fast that his heart had burst but he’d caught the kite. I stopped running for a moment as I suddenly realised the woman in front of me had vanished. I looked around but she was nowhere in sight. Defeated and thoroughly confused I wandered down the path to my left towards a crowd hoping to spy her.

I pushed through the group and saw the words The Hunger Games on a banner above a sobbing young girl on the stage. “What’s happening here?” I wondered aloud.

“It’s the same old thing, ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker‘,” The man next to me explained, “She’s The Book Thief we’ve been after all month so now we’re teaching her a lesson. Until she admits it, she’s not eating. Suffer the Little Children, that’s what I say. It’s the only way they learn.”

To the left of the stage Tracy was sat on, there was a tower emblazoned with the words ‘Life of Pi’ and right at the top I could just make out a pair of young boys held on with ropes and peering over the side with a look of terror on their faces. The man beside me followed my gaze and sighed, “Oh. Them. They came here together and they wouldn’t stop crying. We put them there and as long as they keep sobbing we keep raising the platform. Eventually they’ll realise how good it is here and we’ll let them down.”

I gasped, I couldn’t believe the horrors these people were inflicting on these innocent children. I thought I’d found myself in a land of freedom and joy but it seemed very different now. Spinning around I saw other ‘punishment booths’ and one in particular drew my eye. A few feet away from the main crowd was a boy about my age who was limping along on a treadmill beneath a sign declaring ‘Gulliver’s Travels. I stole across to look at him and I was shocked by how thin he was and by the broken look in his eyes. As I was standing there he raised his head and our eyes met. He opened his mouth to speak and I could see that in his mouth there was only a single White Fang and that his lips were cracked and bloody. “Get out of here,” he breathed in a raspy voice, “you must, get out of here. But be careful, if they catch you running you’ll end up in here with me.” With that his head dropped and he wouldn’t look at me again. I began to back away until I felt a hand on my shoulder. Craning my neck I realised that my guide had returned and was standing over me smiling at the boy on the treadmill.

“There you are” she turned her smile on me. “I was worried you’d got lost. We think you’ll fit in here perfectly, you’re just right for The Casual Vacancy we’ve got open at the moment. Just one formality to check, we need to know about your parentage.”

“You want to know whose Daughter Am I? Why? Do you only want me for My Beautiful Genome or something?!” The laugh died on my lips as I caught sight of the look in my captor’s eyes.

I’ve lost track of the days since then but there has been no joy in my life since. It turns out that they did want me for my genome, people only ever stumble into Joyland by chance and children are very rare. The punishments are their way of ensuring dominance but what they really need is a way to bring in new life. Following the recommendations of some doctor in his book – The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes – they’ve started a breeding programme but it was mostly destroyed by disease just before I arrived, Love in the Time of Cholera is rarely successful.

I haven’t given them any children yet. Every night Before I Go To Sleep I pray to whoever may be up there that someday I’ll find my way out of here and back to the family I never dreamed I’d miss so much. Until then I’m doing my best to break whatever rules I can so that I might earn a reprieve and find myself in one of those punishment booths that filled me with dread the first day I was here.