Possibly my proudest moment of 2020 reading, or possibly of my reading ever, is the fact that I have read ‘Les Miserables’ (along with a lovely group of bookstagrammers).
This is a story that I am sure so many of us think we know thanks to the wonderful musical, or maybe more recently the BBC dramatisation. I certainly thought that I knew and loved the story. However, I was wrong. For obvious reasons (mainly the length of the book), the musical is an adaptation of the tale and excludes parts of the story. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that but I would now certainly recommend that you take the chance to read the book to enrich your understanding of the tale.
This book holds a beautiful story; a chance Victor Hugo has taken to pass comment on the France he was exiled from and the society it was becoming. There are some chunks of history used to contextualise some of the characters and events – however, if they are not for you, it is possible to skim-read those sections. Yet, for me they were part of the rich tapestry of the book.
Jean Valjean has become one of my favourite characters in literature. Quite a complex character but demonstrating some of the best characteristics of human nature, yet he is considered (by true identity) to be one of the worst members of society. Overall, I found him a hero who Hugo seems to think is a victim of the society he has the unfortunate luck to be part of.
All the characters Hugo creates are so alive on every page. They have so much about them – they are all fascinating characters.
This book is simply beautiful. Please do not be put off because it is rather large. It is a story that we can all enjoy and possibly learn a little about ourselves from. So, if you can, pick up ‘Les Miserables’, because it could well become one of your favourite reads – as it has for me.
November (I know, a little late), ‘The Dead Secret’ was picked for the buddy read for all of us who love a sensation novel, in the Victorian Sensation Book Club.
I had not heard of this novel from the pen of Collins, but that is always the beauty of a readalong – you find new titles.
I really enjoyed this book and, if you are not used to classics, this would be a great place to start. It has all the ingredients of an engaging read – a colourful collection of characters, a secret and a big old house with closed rooms. Elements of a gothic setting along the way.
I found this a real page-turner because the mystery is in place almost immediately, as the death of the lady of the house, a letter and a lady’s maid that the rest of the staff find a little strange disappearing draws you into ‘The Dead Secret’. I enjoy the narrative style of Wilkie Collins and, despite working out small parts of the mystery slightly before they were revealed did not take away from the enjoyment of reading this book.
I also felt that this was a book where you could see the friendship between Collins and fellow author Charles Dickens. As I read, some of the characters such as Uncle Joseph had a vibe of Dickens about them. That, for me, just made the book even more fascinating, as I love the idea of great literary connections.
So, if you would like to have a go at a novel by Wilkie Collins, I would suggest that you start with this piece of esacapism.
This is a re-read for me, for a lovely group who ‘recapture the classics’.
This is a novel that really is a classic. And one that should not hold the fear that often comes with the classics, as it is a short, sharp, simple read. Do not get me wrong – this does not take away from what a wonderful story this is.
‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is an excellent tale with a great gothic feel. I also think it is a fantastic commentary on the attitudes of society at the time. There is a clear reference to the ideas of morality and character, but also (I think) the fears of some of the changes of the era. Could man’s interest in science be moving us away from the good, moral path of tradition?
As I hate to spoil books for those who may wish to read them, I will not reveal much of the narrative. However, I will say that this story is beautifully written by Stevenson. It also contains all the ingredients of a thrilling read, with murder, mystery, dark settings and intriguing characters.
If you are not sure about the classics but love a good story ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ would an excellent place to start. It really is a great and classic tale.
August was a mont for the fabulous Victorian Sensation Book Club. This is always a highlight of the buddy reads as we enjoy some of the classics together. This month, the ‘unfinished’ novel of choice came from the pen of Charles Dickens – ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.
This is quite a strange novel to read, as at the back of your mind all the time is the fact that Dickens never finished it. However, this story has all the elements of a Dickens tale – creatively named characters, excellent atmospheric setting and beautiful writing. However, for me, this was an interesting but slightly difficult novel to read. For quite a long time, and possibly until the end, it is not entirely clear where the story is going. It was obviously supposed to be a longer book. Yet, there was a great sense of mystery surronding many of the characters. Mr Jasper, choir master, was brilliantly complex and, even with what Dickens left us, we still do not really know if he is good, bad or completely misunderstood.
You can really feel that this is a sensation novel. You can recognise that there was a mentor and student relationship between Wilkie Collins and Dickens. However, I really wish that this had been completed because, for me, it is a confused book that doesn’t quite find its way.
Although, I am now going to read and research all the ideas that different scholars and literary critics have about how this may have endedm and see if it connects with any of my own ideas.
So, I have decided to start sharing my Thursday thoughts. It is a little random idea I had to share some of my other bookish thoughts.
My first set of thoughts are about the classics. There is, of course, a whole genre of classic literature, which covers so many other genres. Some you may have read and loved; some you may have read and hated (or DNF), and some you may have read because you had to. Or, maybe you have not read any of them, and that is fine too. I am not writing this because I want to preach about the classics or because I want to judge anyone’s reading preferences. I am writing this because I just want to share my own thoughts (and fears) of the classics.
I love classics adpated for TV. However, I have not always read them and, let’s be honest, that absolutely okay. Yet, the reason for this has occasionally been the fear of the classics. But, thanks to the great bookstagram community, I have started tackling all sorts of classics with the support of amazing buddy reads (which have also been a great lockdown highlight): non-judgemental spaces to read and discuss books with other brilliant bookworms.
This has led me to read books that I never thought I would have the nerve to tackle due to the classic fear. Vanity Fair, a book I always considered a brick, has been read and enjoyed. Great Expectations has become a favourite of mine. And, currently, Les Miserables (a real brick) is being read and I absolutely adore it. Hugo’s writing is just beautiful.
So, I guess, what my rambling is trying to say is that maybe you can pick up that classic, you may enjoy it. And, if you don’t it does not matter at all. After all, if we all liked the same thing, the world would be a dull place.
I would like to thank my lovely bookstagram friend Mrs D for encouraging me to have a ‘Great Expectations Buddy Read’. This is a book that I remember having a go at about 10 years ago, but I didn’t get very far. I think Dickens has always seemed daunting, so I needed a bit of a push to give it a go.
‘Great Expectations’ is a story that I am sure so many of us think we know. It is certainly a tale I thought I knew from various film and television adaptations. However, there is so much more to the book that I think you would ever be able to transfer to the screen. It also struck me that this always seems to follow set ideas when it is adapted. Pip always seems to be played as an innocent, Miss Havisham as so old and odd, and Estella as simply cold-hearted. That is, of course, part of their characters but not the be all and end all. Dickens has such a creative way of crafting his characters that they are never so simple.
The story of Pip and his coming of age is a great adventure but also highlights some real flaws in human nature. Especially some of the expectations we and society place place on ourselves and, sometime, there expectations are also our undoing. However, there is also the ease with which some people are manipulated or moulded into a certain way of being and thinking about themselves or others.
Dickens’ writing style brings every single moment of this story to life. You really feel you are on the marshes and in London – and especially when you are in the walls of ‘Satis House’, that famous home of Miss Havisham. The settings are as much part of the story as the characters and the action.
Reading this has certainly given me the bug to read more Dickens. Although, I cannot deny that I am still a little intimidated by some of his larger books.
Do you have a favourite Dickens novel?