As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

10803076As I Lay Dying starts with the family’s matriarch, Addie Bundren dying and looking out the window as her son Cash builds her coffin. The Bundren family live on a rural farm in Mississippi in the 1920s. After Addie dies, the family sets out on a journey to Jefferson, the place Addie wanted to be buried.  The trip is a difficult one because it is both long and the Bundrens are poverty-stricken. Anse is the husband determined to take his wife’s body to Jefferson, but when in reality plans on getting himself a new set of teeth. Dewey Dell is the daughter who has an agenda of her own. She wants to go to Jefferson because she is pregnant and intends to have an abortion. Cash is the carpenter of the family who built his mother’s coffin and plans on going to Jefferson to buy a record player. Jewel is the illegitimate son born out of wedlock when Addie and the town’s preacher had a fling. Vardaman is the youngest of the sons. Traumatized after his mother’s death, he decides she is just like the fish he had previously caught and killed and constantly repeats “My mother is a fish.” Darl is considered the feebleminded of the family. Darl is also very intuitive and suspects that the rest of the family has ulterior motives to go to Jefferson.

When the family arrives in Jefferson after surviving a series of incidents which include Cash’s leg becoming gangrenous, Dewey Dell trying to have an abortion but ending up having sex with a guy pretending to be a doctor, and Darl being declared insane and placed in an asylum. Anse goes into a house to borrow some shovels to bury Addie’s body and starts to flirt with the lady of the house. The novel ends with Cash losing a leg, Dewey Dell not getting an abortion, Anse taking the money the family had saved to buy himself a new set of teeth, and making the lady of the house the new Mrs. Bundren.

The structure of the novel consists of narrations from each member of the family. While they are on the journey to Jefferson, they relate to what happened in the past as each narrator has a reason for making the trip. Faulkner again uses a stream-of-consciousness style in his narrative that I really struggled to understand at times.

“Bananas are gone, eaten. Gone. When it runs on the track shines again. I said God made me. I did not said to God to made me in the country. If he can make the train, why can’t He make them all in the town because flour and sugar and coffee.”

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you…I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or am not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know whether he is or not.” 

To say that reading Faulkner is intense is an understatement. Although I managed to read and enjoy, some years ago, the massive stream of consciousness that is The Sound and The Fury,  reading As I Lay Dying was a much harder experience for me. Let me just say that I considered quitting the book in several different parts. The quote by Joe in the book You by Caroline Kepnes came to my mind many times while I read this novel.

“…Faulkner you’ll never finish, never start; Faulkner that will harden and calcify…”

This novel is on my list of books in The Classics Club Challenge.


Format: Paperback, 288 pages
Published: January 30th, 1991 by Vintage (first published 1930)
ISBN: 067973225X
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Literary fiction, Classics

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

 

25622780Wide Sargasso Sea is Jean Rhys’ account of Antoinette (Bertha) Mason (aka Cosway). Fans of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre will recognize her as Rochester’s insane wife from the West Indies he kept locked in an attic. Bronte never indeed developed the character of Antoinette, leaving readers to wonder what kind of life Antoinette had and had she always been mad? In 1966, Jean Rhys finally completed Wide Sargasso Sea after working on it for nearly twenty-seven years.

The novel is structured in three parts with Antoinette and Rochester’s alternating point of view. The first and second part takes place in the West Indies, and the third part is only Antoinette’s point of view while living in England.

The story starts with Antoinette’s description of her childhood and the difficulties her family faced living in Jamaica in the 1830s shortly after the end of slavery when racial tensions were at its highest. As a white Creole child, Antoinette lives with her mother and sick brother in poverty until her mother re-marries wealthy Mr. Mason.

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Racial problems are also one of the major themes of this novel. When racial tensions erupt during Antoinette’s childhood, black workers burn down her house, Coulibri, a plantation house and symbol of oppression. After the fire that culminates in the death of her sick brother, Antoinette’s mother goes mad, and Mr. Mason places Antoinette in a convent until the age of eighteen when she leaves to marry Rochester.

“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did.”

Isolation is another strong theme in this novel, be social isolation, geographical isolation, as well as the isolation Antoinette suffers throughout the story. First, the abandonment and lack of love from her mother, the betrayal of her friend Tia, and ultimately the isolation she feels from Rochester. The entire novel has a very oppressive and claustrophobic feel to it.

The second part of the novel revolves around Antoinette and Rochester’s marriage. A marriage which is sour from the beginning. Rhys makes a point to demonstrate the couple’s incompatibility and inability to understand each other. Rochester’s failure to be flexible and to adapt to his new surroundings and new way of life, and Antoinette lack of communication skills.

“I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers, and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me thirsty, and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it.”

In the third and final part of the book, Rochester and Antoinette move back to England after the death of Rochester’s father and older brother. The story changes again to Antoinette’s point of view. The move to England and the isolation from everything she’s ever held dear, including Rochester, drives her to insanity, and the novel ends with the house fire.

I really loved this book. I think because I also felt a need to know more about Antoinette and Rochester’s story. I loved the way she depicted the Caribbean with such rich and sensual imagery. This is indeed a masterpiece where Rhys was able to beautifully merge her story to a very known novel and do it all with immense style and sensibility.

“She’ll not dress up and smile at herself in that damnable looking-glass […] I’ll take her in my arms, my lunatic. She’s mad but mine, mine. What will I care for gods or devils or for Fate itself. If she smiles or weeps or both. For me.”

This novel is part of my list of books in The Classics Club Challenge


Format: Paperback, 171 pages
Published: January 25th, 2016 by W. W. Norton Company (first published October 1966)
ISBN: 0393352560
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Postmodern Literature

Sherlock Homes: The Hound of Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

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When Sir Charles Baskerville is found suspiciously dead, his friend, Dr. James Mortimer asks Sherlock Holmes to look into the death. While the cause of death is determined to be a heart attack, Mortimer suspects foul play and fears that Sir Charles’s nephew and sole heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, may be in danger next. At the center of the investigation is the curse of the Baskervilles, which dates back to the time of the English Civil War. Supposedly the family’s ancestor, Hugo Baskerville, sold his soul to the devil, and the family has been haunted by a large spectral hound ever since. Because Sir Charles was found with a look of horror on his face when he died, appeared to be running away from something, and large paw prints had been found near his body, there is reason to believe that the “Hound” may have returned. The details of the case spark the interest of Sherlock and he agrees to take up the case. “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” is the third of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and is widely regarded as one of his best. This edition is printed on premium acid-free paper.

Review

This is by far my favorite book by Sherlock Holmes and a true tour de force. I absolutely love the gothic and eerie feeling of this book. The narrative is based on Watson’s letters and diary, and through Watson’s eye we witness the implied threat of the moor, the foggy and gloomy weather, and the spectral hound.

Doyle creates this gothic and supernatural atmosphere that seems to give explanation for all the terrifying things that are happening on the moors. And it is this very atmosphere of doom that makes this such a suspenseful book.

It is hard to believe that Doyle got tired of writing this wonderful character. This book is a classic. Hard to imagine a world with Agatha Christie or her beloved detective, Hercules Poirot, without the contribution that Doyle and Sherlock Holmes made to this genre.

This book is on my list in The Classics Club Challenge.

 


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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

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Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders. Dr. Simon Jordan, an up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness, is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember.

Review

Alias Grace is a work of fiction based on a historical event. Grace Marks was a notorious figure in the 1800’s who was sent to prison for twenty-eight years for the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his mistress Nancy Montgomery. Atwood recreates Grace’s years of incarceration. The story is told in first -person, with Grace narrating her thoughts as well as the story she tells Dr. Simon Jordan, her psychologist in prison.

Grace is really the powerhouse in this story. Her telling of the events is what makes her human, sympathetic and believable. She is not really a warm and fuzzy character. She is very complex and unpredictable. This novel touches on many important themes. Atwood told this story from the point of view of a woman in the twenty-first century. Many of the themes explored in this novel are familiar to Atwood’s fans because the author has explored these themes in other novels. Feminism, abandonment, abortion, child abuse,  mental health, human worth, suffering, trauma, and sexuality.

“If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”

The important point about this novel is that Atwood is not so interested in figuring out this mystery as she is in just telling the story and what it meant to be a woman in the mid-nineteenth century.

I’m yet to read a Margaret Atwood’s book that I don’t like. Alias Grace is a masterpiece and a must on any bookshelf.

“Gone mad is what they say, and sometimes Run mad, as if mad is a different direction, like west; as if mad is a different house you could step into, or a separate country entirely. But when you go mad you don’t go any other place, you stay where you are. And somebody else comes in.”

This novel is part of my list of books in The Classics Club Challenge


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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving “a great gentleman.” But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness” and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

Review 

Such a beautifully written novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’ve never got to watch the movie version of this title and I’m glad I haven’t. I read this book with no pre-conceived expectations and I believe that has made a big difference in the way I experienced this novel.

This is a story about Stevens, a British butler who after years of service at Darlington Hall is offered his first vacation. He sets out to explore the English countryside and meet Miss Kenton, who had worked with him in the heyday of the Darlington Hall.

“A ‘great’ butler can only be, surely, one who can point to his years of service and say that he has applied his talents to serving a great gentleman — and through the latter, to serving humanity.”

Duty and dedication are at the heart of this novel and although in today’s day and age it’s hard to conceive the role of such a dedicated butler. This is a very bittersweet recollection of a life full of sacrifices and missed opportunities. I have to say I ended this novel feeling pretty sad. My heart ached for this man who spent his entire life in pursuit of service to this house and this employer and in doing that he lost his opportunity for true love.

“I do not think I responded Immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton…their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed — why should I not admit it? — at that moment, my heart was breaking.”

This novel is part of my list of books in The Classics Club Challenge


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The End of The Affair by Graham Greene

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According to the narrator, Maurice Bendrix, this book tells a story about hate much more than about love. Bendrix is an author who decides to write a true story and he decides how much of it he will tell, at what point he will begin, and at what point he will end it. The tale begins with the night he encounters Henry Miles, the husband of Sarah, the woman with whom Bendrix had an affair. Henry, however, has no idea that Bendrix was once involved with his wife. Henry reveals to Bendrix that he believes his wife is seeing another man. Pretending to be a friend to Henry and jealous of the fact Sarah may be seeing someone rather than him, Bendrix offers to hire a private investigator to find out the truth.

Bendrix narrates in first-person for the majority of the story and by interpreting situations according to his personal feelings and bias renders Bendrix a very unreliable narrator. He allows his negative feelings to color his telling of the story. The remainder of the narrative is flashback allowing readers to gather more information to interpret the story.

Loved this book. I absolutely loved the writing, and what Greene did to the story and the characters.

“The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.”

“Love had turned into “love affair” with a beginning and an end.”

“She had always called me ‘you.’ ‘Is that you?’ on the telephone, ‘Can you? Will you? Do you?’ so that I imagined, like a fool, for a few minutes at a time, there was only one ‘you’ in the world and that was me.”

“So much in writing depends on the superficiality of one’s days.”

I highly recommend this classic.

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young widow who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behavior becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of her past.

Review

When a mysterious tenant, Helen Graham, moves into Wildfell Hall, it immediately sparks an interest in Gilbert Markham. Helen’s desire for seclusion and privacy ends up arousing suspicion and curiosity among her neighbors. Gilbert, in particular, is extremely interested in Helen and one day pays a visit to Wildfell Hall. As time goes on and their friendship deepens, Helen gives Gilbert a copy of her journal to read. The journal is an account of Helen’s life in the past six years.

The book starts with Gilbert writing a letter to his brother-in-law and the first chapters of the book are written in Gilbert’s voice. After Helen gives Gilbert her journal, Brontë starts to write in Helen’s voice. This is an interesting technique and one that worked really well in this book. The main theme of this novel is without a doubt the criticism to alcoholism and its destructive effects on the lives of people affected by it. What makes this book a classic is first and foremost Brontë’s courage to tackle the issue of alcoholism, divorce, domestic, and child abuse in an era where those topics were a huge taboo, if not altogether forbidden. Does this novel compare to the quality and ranking of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights? Probably not! The prose of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a little less embellished than the prose found in her sisters’ books.

When I tell you not to marry without love, I do not advise you to marry for love alone: there are many, many other things to be considered. Keep both heart and hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort your mind with this reflection, that though in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows, at least, will not be more than you can bear. Marriage may change your circumstances for the better, but, in my private opinion, it is far more likely to produce a contrary result.

Once considered the lesser of the Brontë’s sisters (Emily and Charlotte), Anne Brontë did a fantastic job in this way-ahead-of-its-time almost feminist novel.

This book is part of my list of books in The Classics Club Challenge.

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Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

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The Moonstone, a priceless Indian diamond which had been brought to England as spoils of war, is given to Rachel Verrinder on her eighteenth birthday. That very night, the stone is stolen. Suspicion then falls on a hunchbacked housemaid, on Rachel’s cousin Franklin Blake, on a troupe of mysterious Indian jugglers, and on Rachel herself. The phlegmatic Sergeant Cuff is called in, and with the help of Betteredge, the Robinson Crusoe-reading loquacious steward, the mystery of the missing stone is ingeniously solved.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is considered to be the first detective novel in the English Language. And being a huge fan of detective stories I had long wanted to read it, but had never gotten around doing it. So a couple of months ago I joined The Classics Club Challenge and added this book to my list.

What I absolutely loved about this novel, and perhaps the reason it’s considered a classic, is how well Collins developed the plot. The twists, the suspects, the idea of the super detective who comes in to save the day–all of this pretty much from scratch, no template or recipe to follow. The language, naturally, gives it away. This novel was first published in 1868, and the fact that he wrote it as an epistolary novel (written as a series of documents, such as letters or diary entries) made it much easier to read. It changed the pace of the book and kept it interesting.

This novel should be required reading for fans of detective novels. It is almost impossible to think of books by Agatha Christie, P.D. James, or even Arthur Conan Doyle without referring to The Moonstone. Great read!

5 star

Book Details:

Title: The Moonstone/Author: Wilkie Collins/Genre: Fiction/Crime / ISBN:9781593083229/Publisher:Barnes & Noble Classics/Rating: 5-Stars/Read: May, 2015.

The Classics Club Challenge

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So I have just agreed to the Classics Club Challenge, and what it means is that I agreed to read 50 classic titles in 5 years (4/2015-4/2020). I think it is a great initiative to read amazing literary classics.

My list was composed of books I had heard of and never read; books you know you should have read and never got around reading it, as well as inspiration from Goodreads lists and the Big Book List.

I’m not planning on reading these books in the same sequence as I have listed. Some books will have a review available, and some will not, and there is no set number of books I plan to read in a year. I will be crossing them out as I’m reading them. I have already started the year on a Dante theme, so those books I took credit for and they will be crossed out.

So here is my list:

Twain, Mark ~ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Dumas, Alexandre ~ The Three Musketeers
Hugo, Victor ~ Les Miserable
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor ~ The Brothers Karamazov
Whitman, Walt ~ Leaves of Grass
Atwood, Margarete ~ Alias Grace
Blake, William ~ Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Swift, Jonathan ~ Gulliver’s Travels
Voltaire ~ Candide
Goldsmith, Oliver ~ The Vicar of Wakefield
Hawthorne, Nathaniel ~ The House of the Seven Gables
Haywood, Eliza ~ Love in Excess
Fielding, Henry ~ Joseph Andrews
Shelley, Mary ~ The Last Man
Eliot, George ~ The Mill on the Floss
Eliot, George ~ Middlemarch
Verne, Jules ~ From the Earth to the Moon and ‘Round the Moon
Verne, Jules ~ Around the World in Eighty Days
Cervantes, Miguel ~ Don Quixote
Bronte, Charlotte ~ The Professor
Bronte, Anne ~ The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Wharton, Edith ~ The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
Wharton, Edith ~ The Age of Innocence
Stegner, Wallace ~ Angle of Repose
Woolf, Virginia ~ A Room of One’s Own
Woolf, Virginia ~ To the Lighthouse
Angelou, Maya ~ I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Ishiguro, Kasuo ~ The Remains of the Day
Cather, Willa ~ Death Comes for the Archbishop
Doyle, Arthur Conan ~ The Hound of the Baskervilles
Christie, Agatha ~ Murder on the Orient Express
Wilde, Oscar ~ The Canterville Ghost
Washington, Irving ~ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang ~ Faust
Alighieri, Dante ~ Inferno
Alighieri, Dante ~ Purgatorio
Salinger, J. D. ~ The Catcher in the Rye
Heller, Joseph ~ Catch-22
Chandler, Raymond ~ The Big Sleep
James, Henry ~ The Portrait of a Lady
Smith, Betty ~ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
O’Connor, Flannery ~ Wise Blood
Collins, Wilkie ~ The Woman in White
Collins, Wilkie ~ The Moonstone
Dickens, Charles ~ Oliver Twist
Dickens, Charles ~ Great Expectations
Austen, Jane ~ Mansfield Park
Tolstoy, Leo ~ Anna Karenina
Lowry, Lois ~ The Giver
Melville, Herman ~ Moby-Dick

What do you guys think about this challenge? Please feel free to leave a comment, and let me know if you’ve read any of these books and your thoughts about it. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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