The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

One of my favourite places ever is a local Oxfam charity bookshop. It is always like a wonderland of books, as it often brings to your attention books that you did not even know you needed. The last time I entered the shop, that is exactly what happened to me. Nestled in the classics section was a novella by Jack London called ‘The Scarlet Plague’ and it immediately grabbed my attention. I have never read a book by Jack London (although ‘The Call of the Wild’ is on my to-be-read pile) but I have had a an interest in him since my first visit to Canada, when I discovered that he had ventured on the Klondike Trail.

‘The Scarlet Plague’ is a great little read and a book that I am a glad I have decided to read as an introduction to London’s work. This is one of those classics that was set in the far future (post-2013) but actually is still very relevant today. In fact, the date if this tale is irrelevant but the story is highly relevant – and is a stark warning of what could happen if almost ALL of mankind was to be wiped out by plague. It is a fascinating study of how the world would have to start again and those who had never experienced the ‘modern’ world would never really be able to comprehend it – it would seem stranger than fiction.

I thought this book was wonderful and a great, undiscovered gem. Have you ever stumbled across a surprise, joyful read?

Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

This month’s ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’ choice was ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. This is a book that my mum had suggested I read rather a long time ago, but I had never quite got round to it. Now, I wish I had read it sooner (although, I do love reading with the lovely group on bookstagram).

Now, I have been slightly naughty and read ahead, because I could not put this book down. It takes me a while to read classics as you certainly need to concentrate to really enjoy the tales. And this tale is certainly enjoyable. To me, this novel reads like a classic detective novel. Although our investigator Robert Audley is not any kind of criminal investigator, he is determined to find out the fate of his friend George Talboys, simply motivated by his loyalty. I would not consider this a particularly complex story, but the writing makes it gripping and a thrilling read. There is also an interesting power play as Lady Audley appears to use her feminine fragility in order to attempt to control those around her, however this does not work on all or always make her particularly popular. In this novel there are twists and turns, and even when you think there are no more revelations another is sprung on you in the final chapters.

I am not going to reveal any spoilers other than it is a truly wonderful and atmospheric read. I would encourage you all to pick up this book and be introduced to a new writer and a new classic novel that should be on the shelves of all fans of Victorian literature.

Any favourites from the Victorian age you think I should pick up and read?

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

My second Collins was just as wonderful as my first – I often wonder why it has taken me so long to take the plunge to read his work.

This novel is a slow burn to begin with as Collins introduces his colourful characters and sets his haunting scene. ‘The Woman in White’ sets Walter Hartright on quite an adventure. There are many twists and turns as Hartright and Marian try to ensure that Laura is safe from Sir Percival Glyde and the literally larger-than-life Count Fosco. How can they ensure that her fate does not mirror that of ‘The Woman in White’?

It is one of the best classic mystery novels. However, there are those that have described it as a ‘ghost’ story. Now, I know for some that does not seem to make sense. Collins had not written your traditional ghostly tale, however I think there are ghosts in this tale. This is about the ghosts of past lives, not the ghost of dead souls. This tale, for me, is one that warns about the risks of the past catching up with you and the lengths to which some people will go to keep those ghosts buried. And, let’s be honest, for the rather Mr Fairie – he is eventually made to feel like he is seeing a ghost…

This is, on some levels, a novel of its time – women being manipulated by men (appearing not to have the character not to be), however, there are moments when that is challenged slightly. Yet one of the things about the classics is that they are written in the past and that should not ever taint our view of a good story. Collins may have had some views we would not always agree with now, but he was a master storyteller and deserves his classic author status.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Bookstagram community has been one of the best spaces I have found. It has brought together so many fabulous bookish people and it has encouraged me to read all sorts of books that I may not have read or have had on the to-be-read pile for a while.

My latest read-along (that I actually managed to complete and stick to) was ‘The Moonstone’, as part of the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’. This has been a lovely community where, in the month of November, we read a section a week shared our thoughts. There have been great discussions and such a friendly atmosphere (and the end of November does not mean that the chatting stops).

And, now to the novel, my only regret has been that I did not read this sooner. ‘The Moonstone’ is a story I have known for a long time thanks to TV and Radio adaptations, but I had never got round to picking the book up. What wasted time that was because I absolutely loved this!

From the moment I started this book I could not put it down. Collins created a wonderful detective story (some say the first modern one in fact) from the word go. You are drawn into the narrative by how ‘The Moonstone’ ended up leaving India and arriving in England. Even that simple introduction is shrouded in mystery just as the rest of the tale is. Collins creates a colourful cast of characters who become mixed up in the mystery of ‘The Moonstone’. However, together, they eventually also manage to solve the mystery of this magnificent stone.

This is a tale that has stood the test of time as it can still engage modern audiences. However, it is also a novel of its time with references specific to the period but all of that is the context of the era.

Reading ‘The Moonstone’ has firmly cemented Wilkie Collins in the territory of one of my favourite authors of the classics. I can not wait for the next read with the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’, which is ‘The Woman in White’ in January.

Toto – The Dog-gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo

One thing on the New Year’s Honours list was Sir Michael Morpurgo. This is a man who has done so much for Children’s literature, he has brought the love reading and appreciation of History to so many over the years that it was a well-deserved accolade. I still remember that ‘The Wreck of Zanzibar’ was the first Morpurgo book I read, and I have not stopped since.

I admire writers bringing the classics to a new generation or offering a new perspective of a well-loved tale – it is quite a talent. I admit that I have never read the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I do have a little bit of a fear of the original film (although I do love ‘Wicked’) – however, the beautiful illustrations by Emma Chichester-Clark on the cover and the name of Morpurgo attracted me to this book.

The story is told from the perspective of Dorothy’s loyal companion Toto. From my knowledge of the original tale (and the skill of Morpurgo) it is faithful to the original and the characters have the same charm. I enjoyed this book from the word go – drawn in by the skill of the storytelling and the beauty of the illustrations. I am now tempted to finally read the original classic tale to have an even better understanding of the story. However, this book is a lovely way to introduce children to a classic novel.

Have you read any retellings of the classic? Any you would recommend?