One of the best things about studying English was the number of books I would never have read without “required reading lists” that have since become some of my favourites. Mrs Dalloway is one of those books! When I first saw it on the syllabus I was a little daunted, I’d heard that it was quite experimental and that Virginia Woolf’s writing style was about as deep as the mid-Atlantic. Left to my own devices this would have probably languished on my to-read list for years, if not indefinitely, as it was I had a week to read it and so I took the plunge.
What first struck me was how different the structure, or rather lack of structure was. Reading Virginia Woolf is like waking up inside somebody else’s brain- still retaining some sense of yourself but completely surrounded by another persons thoughts and feelings, ranging from the mundane to the complex. So what is it even about? I will applaud the person who can sum it up properly, because I’ve been sitting for ages trying to work out what to write! At it’s most basic, the novel follows the progress of one day as Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party- you can’t imagine how long it’s taken me to reduce the book to this small sentence that still doesn’t seem to be right. It’s funny how the best books do that to you isn’t it? Somehow the traditional plot takes a backseat and leaves space for Woolf’s beautiful writing to take the prize. It’s not a story in the traditional sense of beginning, middle and end and there’s not really a character you could definitively point to and say there’s the main character. The more I read, the more I thought of Mrs Dalloway as Woolf’s way of processing the way she saw the world. It’s hard to describe how surreal this experience is. There are no chapters in Mrs Dalloway, so there never felt like there was a natural pause. The result of this was that when I prized myself away from the pages I felt almost dazed (in a good way) as the real world came back into focus!
I could keep talking about this book for ages, but in the end I can’t really do much better than encourage you to read it for yourself and if you have read it to plead with you to talk to me about it!
Seriously, please read Mrs Dalloway, then come back here and tell me what you thought!
“This is a story about a snow-covered island you won’t find on any map. It’s the story of a girl, Minou. A year ago, her mother walked out into the rain and never came back. It’s about a magician and a priest and a dog called No Name. It’s about a father’s endless hunt for the truth. It’s about a dead boy who listens, and Minou’s search for her mother’s voice. It’s a story of how even the most isolated places have their own secrets. It’s a story you will never forget.”
I initially picked up this book because of the cover; I know that this is some kind of cardinal sin, but it’s true. There was something eye-catching to me about the simple drawing and the blue background, and so I picked it up. I then walked around the shop with it for a while just in case something better caught my eye, it came down to a choice of two, long story short I left with this one…cover art won the day. Why am I telling you this? Well, to try and explain my feelings about this book. I’m conflicted. When I picked it up I was intrigued by the blurb (which I’ve written above), but I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the book, and I like to be sure I’m going to enjoy a book before I spend my money on it!
As it turns out, it did take me a while to warm up to The Vanishing Act; the style of writing felt stilted and annoying but the more I read, the more it began to feel refreshingly different. The book is written from Minou’s perspective and restricted to her comprehension of the world. This is, at times, very frustrating. It felt like secrets were being deliberately being kept from me, and any one who knows me will appreciate how much I dislike being kept in suspense. The truth seemed to hover in the margins of this book without ever making its way into the text itself and I wanted to scream at Minou for failing to see what I felt seemed so obvious. What soon became apparent, however, is that I was expecting to much of Minou. I was trying to make her an omniscient narrator when what she is really, is a twelve year old girl who is dealing with massive loss. Mette Jakobsen really captures Minou’s naivety and innocence without making the writing absurd and I think this is one of the strengths of the novel, that, and her ability to create a sense of sadness that is not too cloying.
So did I enjoy The Vanishing Act? It’s hard to say, it made me think about lots of things- and I enjoyed that. It was different from any of my safe bet books- and I enjoyed that. I suppose it comes down to this question, “do I want you to read this book?”, and the answer is yes!
It’s Time for a little confession: I love this book. There is nothing like snuggling up with a blanket, a cup of tea and a really good novel on a rainy day, don’t you agree? Brighter Than The Sun serves this purpose perfectly. It’s a light, bright and (coincidentally) sunny read. Even better, it’s sure to cheer you up when the weather is grim, and really, what more could you ask for? This is the first book I read by Julia Quinn and before I started it, I don’t mind admitting I was a little sceptical. I’m very picky when it comes to historical fiction as it’s so easy to get it horribly wrong but Quinn avoids this. The reason is that her heroine, Eleanor, is so engaging. She’s sufficiently modern minded to make her identifiable, but is equally endowed with enough Regency England morality to make her fit the setting well enough to keep me reading. I’m not sure about you, but for me this is a really hard balance for authors to get right. I get really annoyed with this genre when the time period is just used as an excuse for the words “Rake” and “The Season” to be thrown in and then conveniently forgotten. Plus the writing is funny, well paced and, crucially, the interplay between Eleanor and Charles makes you really root for them. The two of them are really equally matched; Charles is demanding but Eleanor is no pushover and what’s really nice is the way both characters seem to learn from each other.
At a push you may be forced to admit that the idea of a man falling from a tree and immediately proposing marriage is a little bit ridiculous, but I can forgive Quinn if you can. There’s enough motive on both sides of the match to make the haste if not totally realistic, at least understandable and quite frankly is an Earl fell out of a tree and proposed to me, I’d at least consider it! Additionally, what’s nice about Julia Quinn’s novels is that her characters often reappear in other stories; one of my favourite things is to spend half an hour imagining the afterlives of characters and Quinn really taps into this in a subtle enough way not to detract from other stories. Obviously if you are looking for a book that really stretches all the boundaries, this is never going to be it; but if you are looking for a nice book to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon with I can’t think of better one. What do you think? What’s your favourite rainy day read?
Wuthering Heights, it’s just one of those books isn’t it? A classic that is just waiting to be loved. Heathcliff, Cathy, dark moors it’s got it all, plus it’s on nearly every “Read Before you Die” list ever made. Basically, in every quantifiable way, Wuthering Heights has made it to the big leagues (any book that has it’s own song qualifies for “big leagues”). Here’s the thing though- I just don’t love it. Oh, I’ve tried to love it, I’ve read, and re-read it, several times. At first I thought it was just because I was trying to make it romantic, it’s not, so I gave it another chance. Still nothing but annoyance. It’s frustrating, all the signs are there, well one sign- the heroine is called Cathy…I’m called Kathy, so obviously this means the book should be my favourite. I even dressed up as Cathy one Halloween because I thought this connection was so worth pointing out, it was my first year of Uni, it was the English Society Party, I apologise.
The thing is Wuthering Heights is just a bit weird. Isn’t it? To begin with the narrative structure is all over the place, we get a couple of chapters about the narrator, then nothing. Not. One. Thing. Then he gets ill and forces his servant to gossip about his neighbours to pass the time, this is when it all goes downhill for me. Also I’m a bit of a wimp…dead people outside my window at night? No thank you. On so many levels the detached and analytical part of my brain almost convinces me that this book is a masterpiece. It really is a testament to the dangerous and obsessive side of love and I am constantly amazed that all of it came from the mind of a sheltered vicar’s daughter. Emily Bronte really gets inside your head and makes you think, and feel. All this aside, though, I just don’t get it and this frustrates me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never felt remotely the way Cathy and Heathcliff feel about each other that I can’t identify with Wuthering Heights, perhaps it’s because I don’t want to feel remotely this way about anyone…I don’t know, but there’s just something about it that makes me finish the last page, shut the book and think “well I’m never reading that again”. Then again, there is equally something about it that makes me pick it up and start the process all over after a many months have passed. I guess that’s part of the intrigue, I keep reading because I want to understand it but at the end of the day, perhaps I never will. I do love the song though!
Ok, so here’s the thing- no body likes romance fiction… wait, nobody admits that they like romance fiction. It’s all there, in that little word “admits”, who actually admits to liking romance fiction other than your friendly neighbourhood cat lady? At least that’s the way it seems from where I’m standing.
What is it about this genre that makes us go all red-faced and hastily change the subject? The fact of the matter is even though we all enjoy a good romance it’s just not ok for anyone who isn’t knitting *I Love Darcy* jumpers to own up to it, right?
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They tell you to write about what you know and what I know is books. I love books, I love reading them, I love writing about them, I’ve literally paid money to know more about books…You could call it an obsession, but I prefer life calling! For the past four years at University my day to day life has revolved around books. I’ve just finished my Masters and honestly, I didn’t want it to stop so I decided to start a blog about books and so here I am.
The thing about studying English is that it can really convince you that there is such a thing as “proper” fiction. This really annoyed me because most of the books I truly love were never ones that fitted neatly into “proper”. I wrote my dissertation on romance fiction, and although my tutor was really enthusiastic about this she also told me that even five years ago it wouldn’t have been considered an acceptable topic. So although academia has done so much to remove itself from the dusty old men with moustaches stereotype it seems like it still has a little way to go. I suppose this didn’t really surprise me but it did get me thinking; I recently came across a quote by Oscar Wilde and it seems to capture what I want this blog to be about, he said: “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” At university we used to joke that none of us has read a book because we wanted to in years, all of us looked forward to the holidays so we could read anything, it’s silly when I think about it. So this blog is an experiment. It’s an ode to the books I love (and the ones I don’t).
Thank you for taking the time to read this, I hope you’ll enjoy reading the blog as much as I enjoy writing it, I’d love to connect & hear from everyone, you can find me here or on twitter, and remember, if you have any thoughts, feeling or opinions please don’t keep them to yourself!