A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

1649385E.M. Forster is an author I’ve always meant to read but never have. I started doing a buddy reads thing with my best friend and co-organizer of my Atlanta book club last year, and our most recent selection was A Room With a View. I quickly downloaded a free copy onto my Kindle and settled in.

Lucy is a young girl on holiday in Italy. She wants to break out of the constricting, conservative mold of proper English society, but constantly finds herself and her means thwarted by older cousin and chaperone, Charlotte. They meet many interesting characters abroad including an older gentleman and his younger son, George Emerson. The Emersons aren’t the right kinds of people, but George and Lucy share a kiss in a field of violets that puts Twilight to shame. After the incident, Lucy and Charlotte flee to Rome and then back to England where we discover Lucy’s become engaged to a colossal douchebag named Cecil. But then the Emersons move into the neighborhood and things get very interesting.

I’m glad I read this around Valentine’s Day. If you were unsatisfied with Twilight, try this! Seriously, a great love story not just between two lovers, but also between a woman and who she wants to be – free to love and live as she chooses. It’s short, sweet, and simple, but poses a lot of questions about English society and the changing of societal norms from the Victorian Era to the Edwardian period. Plot and substance! Plus, you can watch the miniseries that has Daniel Day Lewis. I repeat, Daniel Day Lewis.

Victoria wasn’t as enamored because she couldn’t connect or like any of the characters beyond George Emerson. She wanted to like and love Lucy but wasn’t able to. She thought Lucy did a whole lot of talking about breaking free without a whole lot of actual doing. This is a valid complaint (until the end, at least), but I just think she’s a product of her time. We can’t hold her to the standards we hold women to today, can we? I think that can be one of the hardest parts of reading literature over 100 years old.

Anyway, loved this and will be exploring Forster further. Highly recommended.

SeptembEYRE: Finale!

IMG_20130901_071408It’s all over, folks. Our dear little Jane Eyre has transformed into Jane Rochester. Now that her marriage plot has ended let’s discuss the last fourth of the novel.

St. John Eyre Rivers. That man has some serious issues, no? He’s described as marble – cold and hard. His marriage proposal to Jane was seriously unsettling to me – all 30 or so pages of it. Some of the things he said about Jane’s character were truly horrible. Do we still like St. John? Do we understand where he comes from and his lack of warmth? Do we agree with his decision to need a missionary companion more than an emotional connection?

I think St. John exists solely as the antithesis of Mr. Rochester. We need to see Jane interact with this man of God to not only get Jane back to Rochester, but also to the get the reader back there as well. I know my final impressions of Mr. R were ones of assholery.

What did you think of Jane’s inheritance? I mostly think it just helps bring Jane closer to Mr. R’s equal. Now that she can support herself and doesn’t need a man, she can marry freely and openly a man of her own choosing.

Back in Millcote, Jane learns that Thornfield has gone BANG in a blaze of fire provided by the ever lovely Bertha (could someone else have done it?). Mr. R has lost a hand, an eye, and his vision. Now he’s finally ready for his dear little elf, Jane. Quickly, they marry and live the happily ever after. What about these crippling events (beyond Bertha’s demise) finally set Jane and Mr. R up for marriage? Are they truly now on equal footing? I’m at least glad R has no need to make Jane into a trophy wife.

As for our supporting cast, I’m glad Jane stays close with her cousins. I’m not surprised St. John meets an early end. Pilot!! So happy to see Adele back under Jane’s guidance. But I was a bit miffed not to have Mrs. Fairfax back. I know she was mentioned, but I wanted to talk with her a bit.

This has been such a marvelous read-a-long! Thanks to everyone who has visited and commented. A HUGE thanks to Kerry for hosting. I can’t wait for more group reading in the future!

RATING: starstarstarstarstar

SeptembEYRE: Week Three

IMG_20130901_071408All of the things happened this week, am I right? First, there was the love confession and proposal in the garden plus the creepily split tree. Mr. Rochester then tried to make Jane a trophy wife by adorning her in silk and jewels. Next we had the wedding that wasn’t meant to be and the uncovering of Bertha Mason. These events all led to Jane’s fleeing Thornfield, wandering the countryside in destitution before finally finding solace (sort of) with St. John and his sisters. Who is named St. John?

So much plot progression and so many symbols. We’re left without knowing what will become of our dear Jane. I couldn’t help but think she was a tab bit melodramatic in her exit. I know she’s prone to passionate outflows, but she’s also practically minded as well. At least have a place to go for goodness sake.

Anyway, let’s talk Rochester. Do we like him at all? He seems such a bear to me and not in a good way. His trying to make Jane into something shiny really pissed me off, but I’m glad Jane put her foot down. Do we feel sorry for him in regards to Bertha? Do we wholeheartedly believe his story? Do we think he should be free to marry? And what of the first Mrs. Rochester?

A whole paragraph of questions with no answers!! I don’t have much commentary other than I both loved and hated Rochester and Jane at various points. Bertha has always been an intriguing literary character and one I’ve never wholly known what to make of. Rochester makes her out to be this utterly unsympathetic demonic monster whose only happiness is destroying him. How convenient.

Jane’s brief visit to beggar-dom was heartbreaking until it was eye-rollingingly over the top. Two days of begging and she’s ready to keel over and die. Really? I’d think Jane’s spirit would keep her going a bit longer, no? What did y’all think?

Now that St. John has come into Jane’s life, the novel’s end is nigh. What are you hoping happens in the last few chapters?

Sorry for the rambling post – writing this in a flash before dashing off to work. Can’t wait ’til the finale next week.

SeptembERYE: Week Two

IMG_20130901_071408Gypsies, oh my! That’s the scene that particularly stands out to me from this week’s reading. I’ve been thinking about how this particular development changed my views of Rochester – and I must say they are, on the whole, not improved. It just felt so underhanded and sleazy.  I do think Jane had an inkling what was going on though and was a smart cookie not to divulge too much. She’s quite the clever spirit.

Then there are the Ingram women and the rest of the festive party that come to visit Thornfield. Aren’t they a lovely bunch? Assholes. Some part of me thinks that Rochester deserves Ingram as his bride. He makes such fascinating choices in his wives don’t you think? I can’t help but scream internally at Jane to run away from these vapid, horrid people before she gets in too deep. But since she already claims to love Rochester, I suppose I am much too late.

Jane also journeys back to Gateshead to confront her dying aunt. The Reeds are still pretty despicable, but at least Jane knows she has a relative out there looking for her and who wants to give her MONEY. What will Jane do? I’m glad no one shed a tear (Georgiana doesn’t count) over Aunt Reed. Loved seeing Bessie and her happy, healthy family.

As for the happenings on the third floor? What is this Grace Poole up to? Why the secrets? Why am I asking questions I already know the answers to…haha.

Still absolutely loving the story and loving Bronte’s imagery. Have you noticed how much nature tends to follow or augment Jane’s character? She’s constantly described alongside the moon or the wind or the birds.

Okay! Let me know what about this week’s reading you enjoyed most and what you liked least down in the comments.

Join Us for SeptembEYRE!

IMG_20130901_071408I have my Classics Club list organized by year – meaning, I have my 75 books sorted into 14/15 book mini-lists with a year attached to said mini-list. That makes the list feel more manageable. Mind Games. Anyway, this year Jane Eyre is on the list and I couldn’t be happier that there’s also a fabulous readalong happening during September to facilitate my reading.

Super huge thanks to Entomology of a Bookworm for hosting the event! Head over to her page and sign up if you want to participate. The reading schedules look like this:

 

September 2nd: Kick-off post, introductions, why you’re reading, etc.
September 9th: Chapters I-XI
September 16th: Chapters XII-XXI
September 23rd: Chapters XXII-XXIX
September 30th: Chapters XXX-End

This reading will be my second time through Jane’s story. In college, I first read Bronte’s most popular novel for a class on women in literature. I loved it then and can only hope to love it more this time around. Charlotte Bronte is one of my top 5 favorite authors of all time. I love everything the woman wrote.  To honor this most wonderful of readalongs, I purchased a new, lovely copy of Jane Eyre to replace my tattered and torn Norton edition. As you can see in the picture, I’m thrilled to have a shiny, new, and supremely gorgeous Penguin English Library edition. Yay for the pretty!

Enough writing – time for reading!! Follow me on twitter for all my incoherent ramblings: @wickedinnuendo

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (Audio)

imagesThe End of the Affair was a random audiobook buy. I had credits to spare and saw Colin Firth’s name as narrator and clicked purchase without thinking. Because Colin Firth. Obviously. Mr. Darcy aside, Graham Greene is one of those author’s I’ve been meaning to read but just haven’t found the time until Colin Firth pushed him in my direction.

Greene’s novel is about the end of an affair. How’s that for a summary? Maurice Bendricks is a bitter ex-lover to a woman named Sarah. Their affair took place during WWII until it abruptly ended after a particularly deadly air raid in London. Sarah ends their relationship and Maurice is left with what he describes as ‘hate’ rather than love. God, faith, and Catholicism now enter the picture.

Honestly, I should have read this one in print. Not because Colin wasn’t great – he was terrific and had such nuanced character changes in his voice that amazed me – but because Graham’s writing really deserves to be read. Each and every word seems so precisely chosen and his turns of phrase are so powerful. I can’t wait to reread this one day.

The story itself is rather hit and miss with me. Bendricks is hardly a lovable character and the religious undertones of the novel are not of any particular interest to me. However, the actual unraveling of the love affair between Bendricks and Sarah feels very visceral and poignant. And in contrast, his growing friendship and connection with cuckolded husband, Henry, is endearing. The humanity of this short novel is what truly wins me over.

Going back to the Catholicism, while I’m not particularly religious, I did appreciate that Bendricks’s final relationship with God is strained, troubled, and filled with questions you’re not sure will ever be answered. I like that he’s not just some enchanted new believer and still struggles in spite of, perhaps because of, his new beliefs.

Oddly, I can’t say I would recommend this story to most readers. To Graham Greene fans, yes. To those who just want to listen to Colin Firth’s yummy voice, yes. Or to those readers who will read anything as long as the writing is beyond gorgeous.

Have you read anything by Graham Greene? Does his overt Catholicism bother or enhance your reading?

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

6534328Another Classics Club choice moved over to the read column! As always, I enjoyed my time spent with Gaskell and her characters. My edition is the Penguin Clothbound and I’m in love with the green end papers. I now want something in my house that is exactly that shade of green.

Cranford is the story of Cranford. Ha! Cranford is a small town in England with a mostly female population. And as with most Victorian literature, there is a lot of society gossip, money, and class discussions. Each chapter relays a town anecdote, particularly those events which surround Miss Mattie – an old maid and a delightfully endearing lady. Our narrator, Miss Smith, is reliable, witty, and someone who adores Miss Mattie just as much as her readers.

Being that this was my third Gaskell, I was immediately comfortable with her writing style and still think she writes some of the most accessible Victorian literature. Cranford’s story isn’t deep with any symbolic meaning and is often light, funny, and just plain enjoyable to read. The tribe of female characters we get to know range from catty to completely selfless and realistically reflect the many kinds of women who exist in any town in all the world. At roughly 190 pages, Cranford is a novel you visit briefly and hope to one day return to.

What was most appealing to me was Gaskell’s humor. I smirked often at some little bit of hilarity and laughed out loud more than once at some biting turn of phrase. Gaskell is such a keen observationist (not a word, apparently) and gifted storyteller. You often believe you are looking directly through her eyes at the goings on. Her talent makes her humor all the more effortless and genuine. Plus, it never hurts to root for the happiness of a book’s main characters and to laugh alongside them in their many trials, tribulations, and joys.

I don’t think Cranford will ever be my favorite Gaskell novel, but I still enjoyed my time and reading experience. And I’m sure I’ll find myself deep within its pages in another few years when I’m feeling an itch for lighter Victorian fare. Wives and Daughters might always remain my favorite – most likely due to its luckiness at being my first Gaskell. If you haven’t read anything by Gaskell, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Add something of hers to your classics list today!

Bonus:

Gaskell is often compared to Austen and with Cranford the comparisons ring very true.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

5246Dear Edith Wharton, I love you. My crush on you knows no bounds and I rank you right alongside Jane Austen. Ethan Frome was awesometacular. Not entirely sure how I will keep myself from living in a Wharton vacuum the rest of the reading year.

Ethan is a guy with a wife. Zeena is that wife and she is a hypocondriac. And just kind of utterly detestable. Zeena has a cousin. Mattie is young, vivacious, and without many plans for her future. She comes to live with the Fromes to help out around the house since Zeena is worthless. Ethan quickly becomes smitten. An elm tree and a sled play large roles.

Ethan Frome is more novella than novel, but still nothing short of brilliant. That ending! I just kind of sat stunned not completely understanding what had happened. So I read the last 10 pages again. And sort of squealed at the ridiculous.

As a character study, Wharton is perfection. I’ve known this some time having reading The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. But as much as I loved those longer novels, I think Ethan Frome has replaced them as my favorite. Which makes me think that Wharton might be even better as a short story writer. This amazes me. I’m crazy excited for her story collections – specifically the ghostly ones.

I recommend this gem to anyone and everyone. It’s so easy to read – give yourself a couple of hours and you’ll knock it out. I’m not sure whether the characters are likeable or even people we should feel sorry for, but I’m still thinking about them nearly 24 hours later. They’ve definitely made a dent in my blackened heart!

And if the characters aren’t enough to entice you or the crazy ending, just know that Wharton’s writing is top notch. Her ability to paint a landscape is genius particularly with so few words. You have nothing to lose here, folks, and everything to gain! Win-Win.

Bonus: 

That pickle holder or whatever it was ended up quite the symbol. Crafty little bugger.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

1938Wow, I did not expect my relationship with this story to grow quite so complicated. I thought I’d open the book, get completely engrossed, berate myself for not reading as a child, and finish in nearly one or two sittings. Did. Not. Happen. As I write this, I still have not finished the beast.

I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly why Little Women has become my bookish Everest. After chatting with the Litwits this Sunday, I think it might have something to do with not reading as a younger girl. Many said their love of the novel is born out of the nostalgia that comes with Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy’s story. Since time travel isn’t a thing yet, not much I can do in that department.

Let’s get into the nitty gritty. Alcott’s novel is really long – much longer than I had anticipated. Plus, I have the Norton Critical Edition with lots of tiny font which just naturally slows down the process. For me, the pacing was just all over the place. The first half was steady, but dull. The second a roller coaster – slow uphill battles followed by swishing dives as the plot took its twists and turns. The flow bothered me.

Marmee was ultimately another annoyance. Sadly. I felt like her entire role was preachy-ass tool. Never good. As for all the preaching, it’s hard to sit through as an adult woman living in the 21st Century. Many of the morals being taught to the young ladies are antiquated and outdated – all of which can be overlooked if done properly and not nearly so much. But to feel like the purpose of 50% of the novel is to teach girls to be good housewives starts to irritate fairly quickly.

Obviously, Little Women has some fantastic elements as well. The sisters immediately come to mind. They are fantastically drawn characters – able to resemble each other yet be their own individual person. Jo has always been a great favorite for all bookish ladies (I did love the movie as a child!). I imagine that Jo most closely resembles Alcott sense this is the character everyone identifies with the most. And each girl while trying to be so good and please her parents often falls into periods of terribly selfish behavior which was a breath of fresh air.

I also love that Alcott was not afraid to kill Beth or have Jo refuse Laurie’s proposal. Unexpected twists such as these irk many readers, but keep the story fresh and interesting. How boring if everything had happened all happily tied up with a neat little pink bow. Yuck. I’m glad Alcott had some guts.

In reading some of the criticism, I learned that Alcott herself was not a fan of this book calling it “dull”. Ha! I’m on her side. She didn’t even like girls or stories about girls. Bless her. From now on I think I’ll stick to more factual reads on Alcott herself and skip the fiction. She seems like quite a fascinating person and someone I might be able to relate to immensely!

P.S. I promise to finish the novel. I’ve only got 60 pages left, but didn’t feel that the book’s finale would ultimately change my opinion. After all, I already know how the damn thing ends. Feel free to tell me why you love or don’t love Little Women in the comments! I’d love to hear your personal stories.

P.P.S. I finished…bleh.

March Meetup: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

16299So I read and reviewed ATTWN last year and was excited for the Litwits to discuss this novel because I sort of expected it to be a hit! And it was. I don’t think a single member was too disappointed. That’s a huge win when you have a very diversified group of literary ladies.

Christie’s page-turning plot was no doubt a leading cause. We talked in depth of how intricately her narrative was plotted – what with all the characters and their layered pasts. Christie also takes great care in how she divulges all the twists and turns (of which there are many) to her readers – never letting them in on a secret too early. For this reason, her killer is next to impossible to suss out. In today’s far too often cookie-cutter mystery, Christie’s shocking reveals really set her among history’s elite whodunnit novelists.

We had fun delving into each character’s gritty back story and their particular reason for being selected among the doomed party. Whether or not they were actually to blame, how they lived with their culpability, and ultimately how crazy they had to have been. The psychological aspects of Christie’s story are so deliciously wrought with morality questions that it’s easy to understand why many readers and high schools across the nation deem her genre novels literary classics.

I think the only bit anyone didn’t agree on was the ending. Some loved Christie’s unveiling of the murderer through the novel’s last chapter – a letter from the actual killer. Others wished they had been left never knowing who was responsible. I was actually genuinely surprised at how many Litwits would have been satisfied without the killer’s identity being revealed!

So we Litwits highly recommend this or any other Christie novel for book clubs or individuals across the globe. We have some Christie aficionados among us who recommend The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and The Body in the Library. Happy Reading!