The Madness Starts

Couple of minutes left to start! I am all set at the starting line.  Dewey’s Readathon, Bring it on!

Me, the obsessive control freak, has made a list and checked and double checked all items.

  1. E-Book Reader Charged – Check
  2. Snacks set and dinner plans in place – Check
  3. Plenty of Water Bottles – Check
  4. Good Music – Check
  5. Have told Dad and all friends/relations not to call me till Sunday Evening – Check

Seems like I am all-ok to make SOME dent in my reading list!

24hrreading

I am kind of confused as to whether to read The Girl on the Train first or The Land of the Seven Rivers to kick start the event. I will fit in Dombey and Sons somewhere after that, before I am too exhausted and drop off before I know; Dickens clearly is not at his best in this one. I have kept Christie and Austen for the difficult hours (late night and afternoons) and New York and Jerusalem come in when I have revved up my engines well and all set for some ground breaking reading. Thackeray will provide a wonderful diversionary break! Well this is the plan! And now that I am almost there, a though comes to, what the hell was I thinking????

Oh! Well! To late to ponder over those philosophical conundrums. Let’s just plunge in with the Opening Meme

1.What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

India, New Delhi to be exact!

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

That had to be a toss up between The Land of Seven Rivers and New York

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

There are these absolutely melt in your mouth shortbreads that a dear friend from England sent me! That’s not only a motivation but also an indulgence!

4.Tell us a little something about yourself!

Dedicated reader, trying to be a writer, full time Project Leader in a financial conglomerate, amateur historian, devoted blogger, born traveler, occasional  exotic cuisine chef, daughter, sister, friend!

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I have read many many times through my life. But reading through 24 hours should be something else. Also I am really really impressed with all the one-world-cyber-cheering and supporting happening; from United States to the Nordics to Australia to closer home in New Delhi! This feeling is totally out of the world!

And now LET’s READ!!!

The Parisian Murders

Again, this post should have been written like anons ago, but as I have been explaining, practically in all my posts of May, that, Travel, illness, weddings and other social events kind of got me completely off tracked….however, I am back and like they say, lets get the show moving. As part of 12 Months Classical Reading Challenge, where the April theme was “A classic you’ve seen the movie/miniseries/TV show of”, I read Murders at Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe. Now, as God be my witness, with so many films and television shows based on books, I have no idea why at that point I was penning the list did I choose this one! Except, that I made the list right after the Winter holidays, where I spend another film watching marathon on every single film starring Val Kilmer. To take a minor detour from the usual book review post, let me quickly give you a background – I was 8 when I saw Top Gun….it was nearly 5 years since it had originally be released in US, but India was still playing catch up. A cousin of my best friend had gotten a VCD of film as a gift to her and we sat down to watch something that had  been cool in US 6-7 years back! Oh! Well! While my best friend drooled over Tom Cruise (natually) I was completely mesmerized by the golden haired gum chewing bad boy – Val Kilmer. I feel in love and I am still in love though I know he is old and well not as happening as he used to be, but hey…this true love and true love abides! Back to present day, while I books own my soul and I do not like films too much, there are times when I indulge and Val Kilmer movie marathon was one such indulgence. For those who do not know his film credits by heart. The Murders at Rue Morgue was a made for television movie in 1986 and had a pretty impressive star cast of George C. Scott, Rebecca De Mornay, besides Kilmer. While I saw the film, I had never read the novella and it made sense to read Poe as part of this event!

The Murder at Rue Morgue begins with the narrator sharing with the readers a theory on analytic and analysis and how the latter influences the former and then introduces us to his friend Auguste Dupin, a brilliant man not particularly social with certain eccentricities with whom the narrator shares an apartment. Their daily routines of reading through the day and writing and debating and walking the streets of Paris in the night, is disturbed as the news of the gruesome double murder of  Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter in the Rue Morgue, erupts in the city. The details of murder are bizarre and grotesque – the Madame L’Espanaye throat is badly cut that her head is barely attached and her daughter, after being strangled, has been stuffed into the chimney. The murder occurs in an inaccessible room on the fourth floor locked from the inside. The neighbors who heard the screams of the two women and ran into the house claim that they heard two voices talking – one in French and the other in another language, which each neighbor accounted for differently; one called it Italian, another Spanish, yet another English and another said Russian. There seemed no clear motive for murder either ; the mother and daughter were quite retiring ladies who saw very few people, but  shared a mutual affection. It was an interesting fact that Madame L’Espanaye had made a withdrawal of $4000 a day before her murder, but the money was found stewen all over the chamber. The police arrested the clerk who worked in the bank and has escorted Madame L’Espanaye back to her house, after she made the withdrawal, but they are unable to establish a motive and most importantly explain the murders. Dupin who had received a favor from the bank clerk starts his investigation to clear the latter’s name and reveal a most unusual and improbable events that led to the murders.

This was the first tale where Poe had introduced his now famous Dupin and he does full justice to his character. Dupin is not flamboyant like his competitor Mr. Holmes and he does not display any habits like violin playing or indulging in drugs. He is however eccentric, anti-social, connoisseur of books, with brilliance that like a streak of bright light hurtling at you. The mental processes which Poe showcases through Dupin are steeped in psychology and human behavior and the reader has to pay very close attention to all the details to genuinely enjoy the marvels of a brilliant mind. The novella is not a nail biting mystery, where you are hanging on by each page, but a slow revelation in intellectual persistence and layer by layer, the mystery is revealed. The conclusion, I thought both for the film and book was a bit exotic  and sensational – but then considering the time and audience the books were being written for, it seems to also kind of fall in place.  The language is simple, but since Poe uses a lot of psychological analysis in moving his plot forward, it is not a breezy mystery read to be rushed through! A very fine read and though I have not yet given up my devotion to Holmes, I have every intention of exploring a bit more of Mr. Dupin’s mind!

A final P.S. note before I end this post – this film is the an example of very reason why I do not like watching films based on books! On reading the novella, I discovered there is no Horace (Val Kilmer) and Dupin played by Scott is an old retired police officer who was discharged from the police force for disagreeing with the chief! There is his daughter played by De Mornay who is engaged to philandering but innocent of the murder bank clerk! I understand taking artistic liberties, but this is just stretching the whole liberty to a new height!! Stick to the books I say!

 

Piracy in Restoration England

After much wringing of hand and utter confusion and mental distress, I plodded forth to read Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier as part of my Reading England project, focusing on Cornwall. As many are already aware, I had no patience with Rebecca and completely lost my sanity with Jamaica Inn, why then would I venture to another Du Maurier? What can I say, except I was hoping for third time lucky??!! Not the best logic, but considering there is a huge reading population that swear by Du Maurier, I really really wanted to give her another chance before I shut the door completely, hence the Frenchman’s Creek adventure.

The book is set in Restoration England, and at the very onset, we are introduced to Dona, Lady St. Columb, who has made a hasty departure from the decadent London Court of Charles II and is heading for her husband’s Cornish country estate of Navron with her children. Dona who has been married for six years, has adapted to the life of Charles II court of being vacuousness and frivolity without really ever belonging to it. After an attempted practical joke on a old Countess, that jars Dona to reality, she heads to Navron, seeking peace and trying to find her true self, away from the bustle of London and her clumsy husband Harry. In Navron, she soon discovers, that the county has been pillaged  by attacks from a French pirate and Dona soon learns that Navron which overlooks the creek that flows into the ocean is used by the French pirate as a hideaway. Her exploration of the creek soon brings her in contact with the great Pirate himself and Dona seeking adventure, soon becoming friends and then falls in love with him. She finally agrees to go on piracy expedition with him against one of her neighbor’s vessels. The attack is a success and Dona promises to return to the pirate after she has met her children; however once she is back in Navron, she discovers that Harry and his detestable friend, Rockingham are back with some serious designs of harming the pirate and Dona has very little time to decide on actions that will determine the pirate’s as well as her fate!

Restoration England, Cornwall and Pirates, how bad can the book be? Guess again! It was TERRIBLE! No third time lucky for me. The characters are all ridiculous and unbelievable.Lets start with Dona, she is beautiful and she is bold. That’s the beginning and end of her. She married a man of her choice and them she found him clumsy, though through the novel I could figure out that Harry, albeit clumsy was devoted to Dona. She finds the life of London shallow., after indulging in all manners of shenanigans for six years. She finds Rockingham impertinent, after she allowed him to flirt with her and kiss her. I mean this woman does everything she wants, without thought or deliberation and when the results are not to her liking, she claims boredom and dissatisfaction. The way she treats Harry is disgraceful; she orders him about, never giving him any explanation of her conduct, behaving in a illogical autocratic manner through the novel. In my opinion, Harry should have left her to begin with. Then we have our Frenchman, who is a rich, aristocrat who indulges in  Piracy because of boredom. Arrrrgggghhhh! What is it with this boredom??? Is there no better way to kill it than doing something criminal.The justification Ms. Maurier is quick to point out is that the Frenchman only robbed the rich. I may have lost my common sense here, but being rich is not a crime for which you have to pay through the actions of a Robin Hoodsque character. However stealing last I checked was a crime, regardless whom you steel from! The remaining cast and crew are nothing to write about, there is the cliched loyal servant and the classic evil villain and the goofy nobleman. At least in Jamaica Inn, there was some brilliant and torrid description of the land and climate, that set the stage for the adventure; the language in this book is just placid; it hardly changes or moves, except for one reddening storm, which came and went! There is no originality in the plot nor is there any real thrill and  I kept going simply because I wanted to finish what I had started, as a form a self torture for picking up another Du Maurier.

I know I have sworn this before, but I am truly never ever reading any Du Maurier again! She is completely unbearable. A complete waste of time!

P.S. As I look back on my review of Jamaica Inn, O had warned me that this was a bad book and I had said I would not even venture near it and then I clean FORGOT!! Next time as an act of kindness if you see me attempting another Du Maurier, just point me towards Jamaica Inn review and then this one!

The Denizens of the Castle

I had read Shirley Jackson’s The House on the Hill, as part of last year’s RIP and absolutely loved it. Therefore when this year’s RIP came about, it made perfect sense to revisit another work by this brilliant author and I picked up the highly recommended We have Always Lived in the Castle.

The book begins with the narrative of Mary Katherine Blackwood, or Merricat as she is called by her sister, Constance, who is on her way to the village to get groceries and books from the Library. Merricat tells the reader that only she can make this trip to the village because Constance is still struggles to leave even the Blackwood garden, for the last 6 years. Merricat knows that she is being taunted at while she goes about doing her chores and in her mind she plots revenge against her hecklers.  It is soon revealed that in the now almost empty Blackwood mansion, Merricat lives with her elder sister Constance and their invalid uncle Julian. They have very few visitors and most of their day is spent cooking , reading and cleaning, while Uncle Julian writes his book. This has been the state of things for last 6 years, when Constance and Merricat’s parents, brother and aunt were killed due to Arsenic poisoning after dinner. Constance was charged by the police, but acquitted due to lack of evidence.  Since then the two sisters had sequestered themselves in the Blackwood house, never going out and almost never entertaining guests, living their lives in an inward looking set routine. Things however begin to change, when their cousin Charles comes visiting. While Constance is happy to finally have some company, both Merricat and Uncle Julian are dissatisfied with the change. Uncle Julian feels that Charles is here to get his nieces money and disrupt his work; while Merricat believes Charles is responsible for the breakdown of her daily routine and happy lives and for most importantly making Constance disgruntled with their lives, when she had been completely content with her lot, until Charles came. She begins to plot various schemes to get Charles out of the house and out of their lives, none of which work and she finally takes the drastic measure of burning down the house, leading to interesting revelations about the death of the Blackwood family and the new direction the lives of the sister would now have to take!

The book is brilliant! Ms. Jackson does not disappoint and from the very opening narrative, the reader’s attention is grabbed and curiosity aroused as to what happened to the Blackwoods.  In Merricat, Ms. Jackson draws a brilliant character – obsessed, unapologetic and completely reckless, she is a unique creation if there is ever one. Her imaginations whether it about living on the moon or the discovery of three powerful words which will halt the changes that are happening in her life, leaves the reader in awe. I love the unapologetic attitude of Merricat and the fact that Ms. Jackson did not find any reasons to explain and elaborate the whys and the hows. I loved the irreverent approach of this is what it is and deal with it! In creating Constance, we find a perfect foil to Merricat’s character; Constance blames herself for what happened to the family and its fortunes and therefore accepts her sister’s anomalies and stands by her, irrespective of the latter’s action or more importantly its implication on Constance’s own life. She accepts her losss, because she feels she is worthy of the blame. Between the actions of the two sisters, there is a constant sense of feeling sympathy and discomposure, alternately! The constant cycle of food and preparation of it is wonderfully put down to reflect the one semblance of normalcy in the dysfunctional Blackwood family and how the ritual of breakfast, lunch and dinner provides, rhythm and occupation to players. I loved the ending – an irreverent end where apparently “evil” wins in a way that it allows the Blackwood sisters, again alternating the feelings of sympathy and disquiet! The language is simple and here again lies the brilliance of Ms. Jackson – without any blood and gore and through the means of clear simple words and phrases, she is able to convey a distinct discomfort and strangeness to the readers. There are no high flown theatrics, but as a reader you are left feeling eerie!

I am so glad I finally read this one – it was a perfect, absolutely perfect RIP reads and one of the best works I have read in the thriller/horror genr

The Horrifying Times…..

Yay! RIP X is here!!  I have had such fun in the past in participating in these events, that this absolutely no question of passing this up! This annual event is hosted by Carl V. Anderson over at Stainless Steel Droppings; but this year to celebrate the 10th edition of RIP (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril); the event is being hosted by The Estella Society!

rip10

(Image by Abigail Larson)

The event runs starts from September 01st to October 31st and there are multiple perils for the indulgent reader/viewer; the only clause being, that you read or watch anything under the following genre –

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

I have decided to naturally sign up for the Peril The First and this means and I quote directly from the site “Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.” My nominees for this year are –

  • We have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson – Thanks to The Estella Society’s last year’s Readalong, I was introduced to the brilliance of Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House and I have been since then planning to read more of her work. This event is just the event to get kick started on another of Ms. Jackson’s Nuggets!
  • In a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu – Heard much, but read practically nothing. I was once told by one of my university professors that not to have read Sheridan Le Fanu is not to have truly ventured into the Gothic genre in the truest sense of the term. So this time I plan to read Le Fanu and “truly” understand Gothic!
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde – What can I say about this book that has not already been said! This is a re-read and I remember reading it way back and being extremely uncomfortable through the night. Time to revisit an old, I can hardly say friend, but rather an indulgence in its most macabre sense!
  • The Shining by Stephen King – I know …I must be one of those very few, practically non-existent population that has not read this book, but I am never been much of a Stephen King fan; however this one is considered a cult classic and I think I will give this one a shot, before I consign my entire Stephen King reading as an unmitigated disaster!

Finally I am for sure participating in the Peril of the Group Read, which runs from September 18th to October 18th. This year we are reading The Quick by Lauren Owen. I have never read Lauren Owen, but the reviews sound awesome and it’s a thriller based in Victorian England…need I say more??

So without further ado, here’s to RIP X…let the mayhem begin!

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!!

The Mills of Manchester…

Mary Barton” by Elizabeth Gaskell had been lying on top of one of my bookshelves for some time At least for 3 years, it remained in the same corner of my book shelf, untouched and unread. As everybody knows, I worship Elizabeth Gaskell and I would normally never let a work of hers that I possessed, lay unused especially for such a long time. But the blurb behind the book and I am quoting verbatim from Penguin Classic publication –

“Mary Barton, the daughter of disillusioned trade unionist, rejects her working-class lover Jem Wilson in the hope of marrying Henry Carson, the mill owner’s son, and making a better life for herself and her father. But when Henry is shot down in the street and Jem becomes the main suspect, Mary finds herself painfully torn between the two me.”

Gave this book a very “Hard Times “feel and I was not sure I wanted to tackle sadness or hardship when my reality was hardly joyous for more reasons than one! Anyway, when Classic Club declared its  November event as the Victorian Era Literature and it seemed like a good time for me to prod myself to finally take this book down and start reading it!!

Mary Barton”, as the name suggests is the story of Mary Barton, a young girl apprenticed as a dressmaker, whose father, John Barton is a mill worker in the Manchester factories, circa. 1841-42. As the story progresses, the reader realizes that Mary, like many other girls, has aspirations of a better life – a life outside the squalor and poverty of the mill workers colony and dreams of being a grand lady. This cherished dream of hers gets a boost, when Henry Carson, the wealthy and handsome son of Mr. Carson one of wealthiest mill owners of the city, starts courting her. She is also courted by Jem Wilson, a workshop supervisor and the son of John Barton’s closest friend; however in her aspirations for higher life, she does not encourage Jem’s suit. It is very clear that Mary Barton is not in love with Henry Carson, but nevertheless is flattered by his attention; furthermore the good life that she so wishes, is not only for self, but also for her father, whom she loves desperately and wants him to be comfortable in his old age. All this while, the socio-economic condition of the Manchester Mill workers, worsens; as wages are brought down lower and lower, many of the factory workers are laid off and their children and other dependents begin to die due to malnutrition and illness. John Barton, one of the spokesperson for the mill workers trade union grows bitter and bitter as first the mill owners and then the government turn away from the pitiful conditions of the workers and deaths due to starvation increase. The increased divide finally lead the trade unionists to take some harsh actions, to have higher authorities listen to their demands. Amidst this unrest, Henry Carson is shot and Jem Wilson is imprisoned as the prime accused. It is now up to Mary Barton to decide what her heart truly wants and how can she go ahead in achieving its object.

To begin with never go by the blurb, it says what the book is, without really saying what the book is. Therefore not only do not judge the book by its cover, but also use discretion when reading a blurb. To begin with, the blurb makes Mary Barton out to be one social-climbing opportunist, which she is anything but. Like all young girls, she dreams of better and richer life, but that’s for the enriched value of life itself. How many of us have not wished for a better, more prosperous life? In a restricted, confined Victorian society, Mary leveraged the only option available to her – that of marrying someone better. She is conscious of Jem Wilson’s liking for her and because she thinks that she may seek another man, goes out of her way, to not make sure she does not encourage him or raise his hopes, that may lead to him being hurt. The wish of for bettering herself does not discount that she is a generous and a loyal friend and a dutiful daughter. Her decision are made well before any shots are fired and there is no social-climbing in her sincere wish to do what is best and what is right, all the while following the dictates of her heart! You will really like Mary for all her courage and gusto in doing everything in her power to make someone’s life better or comfortable. The supporting characters are also brilliantly drawn – you cannot help but be touched by the humanity and kindness in both John Barton and Job Leigh’s character. The simplicity and dignity of Alice and Margaret’s life and conduct is wonderful and extremely joyous, especially in the atmosphere that is both sobering and tragic. You cannot help but love the Wilson cousins – Jem and Will; they steal the reader’s heart with their honesty and earnestness. Finally, there is Mr. Carson, a wealthy man, who worked his way to the top from his childhood in grinding poverty and who in his most testing times, showed how much greatness, mankind is truly capable off! I know Ms. Gaskell wrote this book as a social commentary of her times, but it’s more than just a social drama – there is a sense of thrill and chase, especially in the second half of the book, that makes you want to reach the next page as soon as possible. The pace never flags – it a big book, 494 pages – I read it through the night. No credit to my reading skills and all kudos to Ms. Gaskell fast-moving plot that keeps you going. There are bits and pieces on Christianity and faith which may a bit challenging, but are completely in keeping with the social times of the era she wrote in and are far and few and do not really distract one from the plot! One of the key factors of this novel which makes it easy to read despite the very serious nature of the subject is that Ms. Gaskell is never didactic or pedantic. She never preaches, but observes and provides incidents, written with extreme sympathy and understanding. Not for once did she make this tenacious issue black and white – her sympathy was for the workers, but she was gentle in her exhortations of the owners, allowing them with far more human elements, than books of such genre usually allow. Most importantly, she succeeds in showcasing that even in amid most painful and difficult times, good things do happen and the most vengeful is capable of kindness and forgiveness.

Ms. Gaskell, thy name is versatility and you are truly one of under-sung but brilliant heroes of that age!!

Once Upon A Time, let Ms. Gakell lead you on further….

On this night after Halloween, it makes sense that I close my RIP IX readings with Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Gothic Tales” (Yeah!! I know I am day late, but with everyone going crazy with the “Halloween rage” thingy, it’s good that I did not pile on to already overcrowded bandwagon of Halloween celebrations). I state close, though I did mention in my RIP post that I would be reading 4, besides the read along is because my 4th book is completely untenable, unpalatable, un-everything!! If I thought “Rebecca” was OTT and “The Sign of Four” had a weird appraisal of women, then “Angelica” wins hands down on all that  is unbelievable dumb, stupid and all kinds of unpleasant adjective. I could not go on beyond the 100 pages – there is not one bit of scare and I completely hated Angelica and the entire family. I am not sure if the book gets better later but I am no longer making an effort to find out. I am so thoroughly disappointed – I was really looking forward to Arthur Phillips’s work and it was such a letdown!

Anyway, this post is about “Gothic Tales” and not “Angelica” which does not deserve even one sentence and I have already wasted 3! “Gothic Tales” is an anthology of all works mystery, gothic and horror genre written by Elizabeth Gaskell between 1851 and 1861, published mostly in Household Words and the Christmas special edition of All Year Round. Elizabeth Gaskell with her complete flexibility and virtuosity of the art weaves tales which are old legends like “Disappearances” as well as a ghastly ghostly tale of a secret marriage and a mysterious child that roams the freezing Northumberland in “The Old Nurse’s Tale.” There is an absolutely terrifying doppelgänger and threatens the future of the one person the witch who gave the curse loves in “The Poor Clare”. “Lois the Witch” is a sympathetic take on the young women accused of witchcraft in the Salem Witch hunt in 16th Century. Another sympathetic and heartbreaking novella is the “Crooked Branch”, a tragic tale of love gone awry. “The Doom of the Griffiths” is also a sympathetic narrative of loneliness, filial love and loyalty. Then there is “Curious if True” a fun and extremely weird narrative that includes all famous fairy tale characters including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast etc. The other novellas include “The Squire’s tale” and “The Grey Woman”, stories about ruthless highway men and chases across countries.

The book is a brilliant collection of all kinds of weird tales, some downright scary and others plain bizarre and yet others which points to utter foolishness of men and women in believing in stupid superstitious nonsense. Each tale is distinctive and is located in a different time and different geographies. We move between England, United States, Netherlands, Germany and travel between 17th to 19th centuries. These are not short stories but novellas and reading one does take time, simply because of the lovely details Ms. Gaskell has put in. Like a storyteller from old (I realize that she is from the old!!) she sits around the fire and tells you the story in a “once upon a time” style. There is no rushing, no get to the point in her tale, no breathtaking actions; but a slow meandering walk in which you follow her lead and suddenly you are in the middle of thick events. If you want fast paced adventure, she is not for you, but like a wine, if you savor this book slow, well get ready to sleep with the lights turned on!! This collection more than ever convinces me of the extreme brilliance of Ms. Gaskell – she is completely in her element writing a North and South and can turn her eye equally masterfully to satire; Cranford being the prime example. And now Gothic Tales is a testimony to the fact that an author need not really have a declared “genre” as long as he or she had a great tale to tell and knows how to create the atmosphere and evoke the reader’s imagination with use of words.

Considering that this year, my RIP reads have been borderline, disasters, I am eternally grateful to the last Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell and Ms. Shirley Jackson, from rescuing it from complete and utter annihilation!

P.S. Yes …you know what I will say – I would again urge all too please help us in supporting the project that I am currently leading. This help from you will ensure preservation and continuation of a now practically extinct culture – there are many ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

The Ripping Reads….

I finally finished two of my RIP IX reads and considering both are masterpieces and everything that could be said has been said about them. Therefore I thought of doing a short combined post on both the books and instead of doing the usual reviews, I thought I will just share some observations that have now stuck me, after my re-readings!

The precedence as always goes to Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four, featuring the greatest of all fictional detectives, Mr. Sherlock Holmes and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson. The book begins with Dr. Watson trying to convince Holmes to give up his use of cocaine and other such substances with Holmes replying that these are the only stimulants that keep his brain active, in the absence of work. This conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Miss Mary Morstan , a young genteel woman, who has been employed in the capacity of a governess and whose regular life has been disturbed by a note which asks her to meet a certain person that evening at six, along with two of her trusted friends, so that a great wrong that has been done to her can be righted. Miss Morstan also reveals that her father had been a Captain in the British India army and posted at Andaman Islands, from where he returned about ten years ago. He then wrote a letter to his daughter, who at time was in a boarding school, asking her to join him in London; that was the last she ever heard of him and he had since disappeared. Finally she states that for the last 6 years, she has received an expensive pearl anonymously. She then requests Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to accompany her in the evening to meet the man who wrote to her. Thus begins, the adventure of the Sign of Four, taking the reader from the fogs of London, to Cumberland, to Agra and the Andamans, in search of treasure, truth and in a very non Conan Doyle style, love. It’s a great mystery and the art of scientific deduction is wonderful to read – it makes one wistful and wish that if only one could think logically and deductively as a habit and at all the times. The narrative style is as always in a memoir of Dr. Watson and for once, some of the ending is given away, with allusions to what happened in future. However this does no harm to story in itself and it is a thrilling and nail biting narrative to read (especially the steam boat chase chapter) which has not lost even a tenth of its shine, since being published in 1890. Like I said, I can say nothing more about the novel than what has not already been said and shared; but this time two items stuck me as, well, a bit non-palatable. One was the portrayal of Mary Morstan, sweet, gentle, supportive, fragile, disdaining treasure for the sake of love – I mean Ye!! Gods!! Help me from such virtuous role models; for that’s exactly what she is – a model of ideal womanhood from Conan’s point of view. I know allowances need to be made for that particular time and the social-political rules that governed the society; but Victorian era produced a number of strong women who would disdain any namby pamby portrayal of their characters – these were women of blood, sweat, substance and strength, and while possessing a lot of compassion, they also were practical and sensible. I mean, England was ruled by such a woman at that time, not to mention, other wonderful women like Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, Millicent Fawcett and Elizabeth Fry. This concept of the ‘household angel’ was enough to throw me off the book, and I cannot believe that I had been so oblivious to this angle during my earlier reads! Sir Conan Doyle wrote of a much better woman, at least vis-à-vis character in Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia“– who is intelligent, loyal and practical to a T! Hard to believe the same man wrote about Mary Morstan. The other item that hit me was the portrayal of non-whites – whether it is Mohmet Khan planning a cold-blooded murder or Tonga the indigenous tribal from Andaman, the natives can kill with no conscience, the only redeeming characteristic being their loyalty! Thank Heavens for that!! I mean as it is the brown man/woman are “savages” but imagine the greatness and generosity of Englishmen, in inspiring loyalty among this unworthy people!! Kipling was a unaplogetic and unashamed imperialist, but to think Sir Conan Doyle also sang a similar tune, is kind of unsettling; as I mentioned before allowance have to be made for the age and I do, but with Kiplings, and Doyles and Haggards, at times, it becomes difficult not to be prejudiced! Everything apart though, it is a great book and Sir Doyle does what does the best, proving time and again he is the master of “detective fiction”.

The second book that I read for RIP IX is “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier. I had originally read this novel when I was 15, through the night, when I was racked with fever and could not sleep. I had deep impressions from that read – all very gothic and creepy. The story is too well-known from me to write in detail – Maxim De Winters, the owner of the Manderley, an estate on the Cornish Cost, brings home a young wife after the accidental death of his first wife Rebecca, in a boating accident, a year ago. The second Mrs De Winter, is a young, shy woman who has great hopes of her future, that come to standstill, as she grapples with the presence of Rebecca in Manderley, whose presence is overwhelming and who continues to run the house from her grave! It could be that fever had induced my brain to be more sensitive, because, when I had read this book the first time I had felt the terrifying presence of Rebecca, I was afraid of Mrs. Danvers and I felt all the apprehensions and illogical fears of the second Mrs. De Winters. I should have waited for another bout of fever, before re-reading this book! I know people rant and rave about this book and I may be offending half a million readers if not more, but only a teenager, with really low self-esteem can like this book! My whole problem with the book is the second Mrs. De Winters – I can understand being shy and I can empathize with the feeling of being left out and not belonging, but Mrs. De Winters made me want to throw up and throw the book at her. She does not even try; for heavens’s sake, she is not even willing to try. She goes around the house like a mouse, when she has no reason to, and is perpetually afraid of Mrs. Danver who is just a big ol’ bully who should be set in her place. She does not even try to manage the house or stake her claim as the mistress – had she tried and then failed, that would have added a complex layer to the narrative, besides adding on to her oh-i-am-so-scared characterization. She is embarrassed in the presence of Mrs. Van Hopper, she is embarrassed with Maxim and she is embarrassed when Mrs. Danver finds her in East Wing! Mrs. Van Hopper is embarrassing and it could be that the second Mrs. De Winters’s initial life may have been a trial, but as Jane Austen had showed us, that one can still act sensible in presence of distressing environs; case to point, Elizabeth Bingley with Mrs. Bingley as a painful dimwitted loud mother or Jane Fairfax with her poor, silly aunt. But of course, no understanding of self-worth, enters the poor little Mrs. De Winters’s head until her lord and master, declares his undying love her and confesses that he never loved Rebecca – I mean what value do we women have unless, it is to be made worthy by the acceptance of the man. Also let’s not forget, that the Lord and the Master is a great man of courage and forbearance, who can murder to save his family name from infamy but cannot divorce for the fear of scandal. Such wonderful choice makes this declaration of love, even more touching; after all who can resist the love of a cowardly soul, who cannot face the truth; no matter how far he would have to go hide it. Only by such love, can one make herself a complete woman!!! By such standards, I should really consider myself an absolute failure and consider becoming a nun!!!! The redeeming feature of the novel, really are the last 100 pages as the body of Rebecca is discovered, and the mystery unfolds to an unexpected and unbelievable climax. This is where Ms. Du Maurier revealed her exceptional brilliance and expertise of her craft and as a reader; you are left breathless and shocked by the sudden twist of the tale!! It is this end, which makes the book in my view a classic and preserves it from the morbid and irritating presence of Mrs De Winter, the second! I never realized how disgusted I was with this novel, until I wrote this piece! Writing I guess is therapeutic!

I know this is one of my longest posts, but I cannot end, without once again urging all of your help in the Indiegogo Crowdfunding project which I am managing. We are not doing that well and your help would really make a difference. Again, there are a couple of ways to support this cause –

  1. We need financial patronage – We need your monetary help to complete this project. Every contribution is of great value and you have our heartfelt appreciation for any amount that you put forth. You can pay via a credit/debit card, directly at Indiegogo’s Website (The project is called Identity on a Palate)
  2. Help us Spread the Word – Please share this campaign on your social network so that more people can become aware of this project. The more people see this, more the chances of us reaching our goal. Please so send me the link or a mail for the same, as we would love to see this live!

Please do help and Thank You again!

A House on the Hill…

As part of the RIP 2014, The Estella Society organized a Readalong – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. While I was only planning to take part in Peril the First, but scrolling through Carl’s post I came across this reading event and I just had to be a part of it!!

I had never read any works of Shirley Jackson before and I am usually skeptical of books that belong to the horror/supernatural genre. I am usually very disappointed in the endings of such genre and I do never feel even a twinge of fear and in fact find some plots absolutely laughable. However I had heard some great things about the The Haunting of Hill House and though I had not seen any of the movies based on this book, I knew it was rated very high among 20th century literature. It had been part of my TBD for a long time and the Readalong came as a great opportunity to finish at least one book out of the ever-growing list.

The book opens with a description of the Hill House and Dr. James Montague has undertaken to conduct a study on the supernatural phenomena surrounding the house. He is joined in this investigation by three other members, two of whom he has himself picked – Eleanor Vance and Theodora along with Luke Sanderson who is the heir to the house. Dr. Montague on their first night at the house reveals that The Hill House was built by Hugh Crane who hoped his family would live in the house; however his first wife died while coming up to the house when her carriage crashed in the tree on the driveway and he lost his second and third wife as well. Hugh Crane’s two daughters were brought up in the house and the younger one married and the elder one continued living in the house with a companion, a girl from the village to whom she finally left the house. There were antagonism between the villagers and the younger sister versus the companion on this and soon the companion complained of thieving incidents and other such events in the house, before committing suicide. Since then anyone who has rented the house has never managed to complete the duration of their lease and have always moved away in a hurry. As the four participants settle in, events begin occurring in the house that disturb and threaten them. Soon Eleanor Vance begins to experience phenomena that others are oblivious to and slowly begins to lose grip on reality as she becomes subject to more such episodes. Finally concerned, Dr. Montague forces her to leave the house, though she resists such eviction. As she drives down the driveway, she crashes into the large oak tree.

The characters in the book are minimalistically drawn but are very real. While the author does not spend to many lines in describing her protagonists, their actions bring out the nature of their character far more illustratively. There are some marvelously humorous events that take of some of the stress after the intense action and offer a much-needed relief in the chilling narrative. The star of the book naturally is The House – from the very beginning it dominates the plot line and all the other characters are just supporting this mammoth. It creeps and shudders and laughs and plays and thunders and booms making it well know that the house and the house alone is what matters and no one can tame or ever truly own it. The beauty of the book lies in the fact there is no blood or gore or horrifying monsters; but rather the use of subtle psychology and the feeling of things creeping behind you that makes it a terrifying read. There are no loud incidents, no clutching of throats or ghosts rising from the graveyard, but a far more petrifying phenomena – when one realizes that one alone is being subjected to supernatural things while others continue to live out their lives as normal. The understanding that you are holding the hand of a friend while sleeping only to wake up and realize it’s someone else’s hand or sitting in a room while something thunders and threatens to enter your room, a nameless horror, but never does, and you wait for it to come back again another night is truly terrifying and distressing.

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!!