Penguins, Green

Penguin has released a new series of cheap and cheerful classics. I think I have raved about the ingenuity of the reissuing of the Orange classic series before and bringing long forgotten classics back to the mass market. It’s also nice to see Penguin continue to embody the company’s original idea that good literature should be accessible to all. I just love how they freshen up the old titles. The new Green series harks back to the original Green crime series. The titles all look amazing and, of course, those lovely looking green spines wouldn’t look too shaby on my bookcase next to the numerous Orange Penguins I have collected. First off my list to purchase will be this:

greenpenguin

 

I read it awhile ago after a serious hunt and sourced it at a library. That copy was old, dusty and smelled a little mouldy. It was a wonderful read and now it will be great to own a copy too. You can find the complete list of the fifty titles here.

(Disclaimer: It looks like I’m raving a lot about Penguin but this isn’t a paid advertisement. I just really love how they keep invigorating old Classics!)

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The Year So Far…

I had lost my reading mojo but I think I may have quietly found it again. The past few months have been rather chaotic in my life and, to my utter dismay, I no longer found myself interested in books. What would I do with my life if I didn’t like books anymore? Happily, I’ve been reading again.

It would have been a bad time to lose my reading mojo as this year in Australia is the National Year of Reading! That’s right – 2012 is the year where all those who work in any way with books or are simply lovers of books are pushing it onto the national agenda. As a (still newish!) librarian and lover of books, this is an important year where hopefully the love and importance of a reading culture is instilled once more into society. The movement kicks off on February 14th which is also Library Lovers Day (and also Valentine’s Day!).

As part of the NYOR, I’ve given myself the small challenges of:

  1. Reading all those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages. E.g. Anna Karenina, The Female Eunuch, those Hardys, etc.
  2. Read as much as I can from my TBR pile.
  3. Read more widely and include more non-fiction.
  4. Try and read at least two books each week and for two hours each day.

I’ve read quite a variety of books this year including classics, non-fiction and a contemporary thriller. I’ve just finished Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages and the story has just blown me away. Whipple’s writing is simply amazing. Such simplicity but so vivid. Her characters are so well drawn particularly her female protagonists. This was my third Whipple and I think I like this latest one even more than the last!

Finally, I found this great and endearing post: A Girl You Should Date. Read it and I guarantee you’ll love it! šŸ™‚

 

“I Do Not Love You…”

I have just discovered the amazing poet, Pablo Neruda, and this is the poem that immediately sucked me in.

I do not love you except because I love you

I do no love you except because I love you;

I go from loving to not loving you.

From waiting to not waiting for you

My heart moves from cold to fire.

 

I love you only because it’s you the one I love;

I hate you deeply, and hating you

Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you

Is that I do not see you but love blindly.

 

Maybe January light will consume

My heart with its cruel

Ray, stealing my key to true calm.

 

Is this part of the story I am the one who

Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you.

Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.

I’m Still Here…

So, it has been a long time between drinks, or in this case, posts. I have disappeared off the blogosphere but I have now resurfaced. Hurrah! Life have taken a crazy hold this past month and it’s only probably going to get worse with the lead up to Christmas and New Year (three weeks!) but things have settled down slightly. This means that my reading has waned but never fear, I think my interest is returning. So a quick update in five bullet points or less:

1. Abandoned Reads

I was very in between books this past month. I started but couldn’t finish:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got halfway through Cold Comfort Farm but it simply didn’t hold my interest. I expected a funny and light read but, similar to my experience with Emma, I simply couldn’t get into it. I do want to return to it in the near future though. On the other hand, John Ajvide Lindqvist has never disappointed me but I didn’t have enough time to read Little Star since it was from the library and there was a queue. I will most definitely try again.

2. Reading

I’m also halfway through Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor L. Frankl which is enlightening and heartbreaking.

I’m a quarter into The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides. Any story with a character that majors in English Literature immediately grabs my interest.

3. Finished

I only finished one book this past month and it was the quite intense Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. Some parts made me squirm and were too painful to imagine but overall, I loved it and thought it was hilarious. The main character had such a voice, filled with sarcasm and dark humour that reminded me of Holden Caulfield.

4. Other News

I made a little side trip to Sydney over the weekend to see the play Gross und Klein (big and small) starring Cate Blanchett. It was an amazing production and performance. The set design also blew me away. It was quite experimental and very minimalistic but it worked so well. It’s always such a thrill seeing Cate Blanchett live on stage and I’m lucky enough to see her for the third time. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend it!

Gross und Klein

5. New buys

I think I have finally curbed by book buying urge. I have only bought 3 books these past few months:

  • High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
  • The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
  • The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

And I must, must, must, stop borrowing so many books from the library. I keep borrowing and borrowing meaning to read them but I never get around to it so they end up just sitting on my shelves looking sadly back at me. At least I get their stats up!

I’ll be back and lurking around on your respective blogs in no time. šŸ™‚

 

Review: “Berlin Syndrome” by Melanie Joosten [2011]

Disclaimer: This is a review copy kindly sent to me by Scribe.

It is Berlin, 2006 and Claire, a woman from Melbourne, is mid-way drifting through a backpacking slash working holiday through the old Soviet countries. Claire is an architectural photographer and is working on a coffee table book of Soviet buildings. While visiting Checkpoint Charlie, Claire meets a local man, Andi, who randomly offers her strawberries. Delighted by this chance encounter, Claire sits down to chat with Andi who lets on the meeting may not have been random:

‘Sometimes I like to just sit there and complicate the world.’

He had watched for her reaction.

Clare had laughed, throwing her head back in a pantomime of enjoyment. Would it annoy him after some time? Would he stop trying to make her laugh?

Complicate? You mean contemplate…but it’s very funny.’

He had laughed with her. It was a good choice. He had almost gone with compensate. Consummate. Concentrate. Consecrate. Complicate had definitely been the best choice. – p. 15

Claire and Andi both connect and are attracted to each other but neither work up the courage to say anything. They go their separate ways but through another chance encounter at a bookstore a few days later, Claire goes home with Andi. The two begin a seemingly normal relationship and both Claire and Andi connect through their mutual disconnection in the world. Claire has left and given up keeping in touch with her friends and family, only sending her mother a few emails here and there to let her know that Claire is alright. Constantly travelling, Claire is searching for something that she cannot define and constantly looking into the distance.

‘But maybe we are always looking forward to something else,’ heĀ  said … ‘I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Not if there are things to look forward to.’

‘It is impossible to be present in the present.’ [Claire] – p. 51

Andi only has his father with whom he shares a stilted relationship. Both are alone in the world. The romance develops but it soon disintegrates into something entirely sinister beginning with a locked front door:

She felt slighted, wanted to kick something. She gave the door a half-hearted nudge with the toe of her shoe. It was one thing not to be able to get in. But not get out? How could he have forgotten she was here? How could he have locked her in? She kicked the door again, harder, and a scuff mark appeared like a rebuke. – p. 57

Andi, utterly but quite rationally in love with Claire but completely deluded, wants to ensure that she won’t be able to leave him and so virtually keeps Claire locked in his apartment. He brings her gifts and does not harm her, hoping that Claire will soon warm to the idea and return his love once again. Like most lovers, Andi wants to save Claire:

‘Running away? What have I [Claire] ever run away from? You don’t know me at all!’

‘I’m just trying to help. I’m giving you a place just to be yourself. In the moment, not looking to the future. That’s what you said you wanted, isn’t it?’ He is doing this for her. Why can she not see that? – p. 97

Andi lives in an isolated apartment block and have taken away all forms of communication from Claire. Trapped, Claire eventually reforms a rather twisted relationship with Andi who wants nothing but Claire.

Berlin Syndrome is a really thrilling read and is the debut novel from a Melbourne writer. The prose is sparse but polished and, I found, very elegant. The small, claustrophobic cast was well drawn and in a rather bizarre sense, both Claire and Andi really complemented one another. They were really two lost souls and you felt for their loneliness and disconnectedness. I’m wondering if the title is a play on Stockholm Syndrome? I don’t want to put anybody off but if you liked Room by Emma Donoghue or Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson, then you’ll probably like this too because it’s in a similar vein.

Review: “Greenbanks” by Dorothy Whipple [1932]

Disclaimer: This is a review copy kindly sent to me by Persephone.

Beginning in 1909, Greenbanks is largely a poignant examination of the changing role of women but also a quiet family saga taking place during a critical period in history. The Ashton family reside in the estate Greenbanks. Louisa, a kindly and gentle housewife, is the matriarch and is happiest looking after and loving her children and grandchildren. Her husband, Richard, is a philanderer, which is an open secret within the family but Louisa turns a blind eye. Three of the grown Ashton children continue to live at Greenbanks while two of the girls are married. Letty has married Ambrose, the antithesis of her father, for his safety and stability and who is the mother of four children. The youngest at four years old, Rachel, is Louisa’s favourite grandchild and constant visitor at Greenbanks.

As events unfold, the Ashton women struggle to define or redefine their role and place. Letty, having married the stable but utterly boring and arrogant Ambrose, is stifled by her domestic and maternal duties:

‘Is there something wrong with me?’ she asked in alarm. ‘This is no more than other women have to put up with. Why don’t I like housekeeping?’

She thought of her mother who loved it, who snatched opportunities from every season: seville oranges for marmalade in January, strawberry, raspberry, plum as they appeared; who hailed the first spring cabbage with delight and presented early garden peas in triumph to her family; who used up unripe tomatoes in chutney and excess of mint in jelly for the winter mutton; who always had a pot of this or that to give to friends when they called … Her mother lived for and through other people, but Letty wanted something for herself. – p. 40

But Letty is committed to her place in life and the husband that she has chosen and she goes about her duties half-hearted waiting for the day when she can finally be free from her domestic duties. Letty is afraid of controversy and village gossip and Kate Barlow remains a constant warning to her.

Kate, a childhood schoolmate of the Ashton children, is a fallen woman who inadvertently returns to Greenbanks. As an orphan living with her grandfather, Louisa took pity on Kate and took Kate under her wings, trying to include her in activities Louisa’s own children participated in. Later as a teenager, at a dance Louisa chaperoned, Kate falls in love and has a short-lived fling with tragic circumstances, forcing Kate to leave the town in disgrace. Louisa bumps into Kate in London and after re-establishing a friendship with Kate, invites her to move to Greenbanks as Louisa’s companion to mixed opinions. Kate, however, remains suspicious of the society that has shunned her and who is resigned to repenting for her disgrace for the rest of her life.

Louisa herself is constantly changing and re-adjusting her role as her family grows and moves on, marries or simply become inaccessible. What is Louisa’s place after a lifetime spent as a Wife and Mother when she is no longer a wife and mother?

All her children had left her, she thought; died, married, gone to other places. All but one, now. It was one of life’s ironies that the only one left to her should be Jim, the one, she admitted, she could have best done without. They had all gone, but nothing in her life had been like this; this was a rending hole that nothing could fill again. – p. 79

Louisa’s relationship with her granddaughter Rachel is perhaps the most endearing and marks the contrast between two women from different generations. As the novel spans over sixteen very turbulent years, Rachel grows up in rapidly changing times and ideals. When selecting schools to send Rachel’s brothers, Ambrose muses that he:

intended to send his three sons to public schools; but it would be a severe strain on his resources and he was glad to be able to save on Rachel. She need not go away to school; nobody asked where a girl had been educated. And he did not believe in all this education for women; in fact, he considered knowledge definitely unbecoming to them. It destroyed their charm; they did not listen so well if they knew too much. – p. 137

But Ambrose too is struggling to retain his place in society and as the patriarch of the family, acting only in a way that he has been bought up to know. Admittedly, his stubbornness prevents him from seeing the bigger picture or accepting an alternative perspective which is highlighted when a brilliant seventeen-year-old Rachel finally stands up to Ambrose:

‘Oxford – bah! Do you think the men want you there? Poking in, trying to ape men. I’ve no patience with these women intellectuals – lot of frumps!’

‘Good Lord, do you think I’m going to bother about whether the men want me there or not?’ cried Rachel. ‘And when have you seen any women intellectuals, Father? And aren’t men intellectuals ever frumps? These reasons for refusing a State Scholarship are all silly – positively silly.’ – p. 238.

These four women mark a period of mass transitionĀ  – both socially and historically. A world war transpires within the novel at some stage which stuns the world and Greenbanks.

This is such a wonderful and beautiful story and rather heartbreaking too for what once was. The heartwarming relationship between Louisa and Rachel bookends the generations and Rachel is such a feisty character. She says one of my most favourite lines I’ve ever come across in a novel:

‘… have you had lunch?’

‘Er – no,’ said John. ‘Will you come to Reece’s?’

‘I’d love to, but I must pay for myself, because I want to eat a lot.’ – p. 324

Now there’s honesty for you! Dorothy Whipple writes so eloquently and quietly. The passing of time is so seamless. Characters grow and age without you realising it and by the book’s end, sixteen years have lapsed. I have read only one other Whipple, Someone at a Distance, but I think I Greenbanks tops that. A wonderful and, at times, a desperately sad read.

Review: “East Lynne” by Ellen Wood [1860]

Spanning across nearly a decade, this sweeping Sensation novel charts the disgraceful downfall and eventual partial redemption of aristocrat Isabel Vane. Left impoverished after her father’s death and at the mercy of her cruel and spiteful aunt, the quiet and timid Isabel accepts the marriage proposal of Thomas Carlyle after they meet again. Mr Carlyle, a humble, albeit a successful and popular, lawyer had earlier purchased the Vanes estate, East Lynne. Isabel, with no other options, marries Mr. Carlyle believing that she will one day learn to love him. Isabel admires and likes Mr. Carlyle enough and he in turn is thoughtful, considerate and deeply in love with Isabel. Although Isabel had believed that coming back to her former home at East Lynne would bring her happiness, Isabel is lonely and dominated in her house by Mr. Carlyle’s older sister, Cornelia, who has moved in with them and leaving Isabel with no say in the running of the domestic. After the birth of their three children, Isabel’s health deteriorates and she is sent to recuperate at the seaside. Despite her pleas for her children to accompany her, Isabel is denied this by the doctor and Cornelia who admonishes her about the expenses.

“The children are not going to the sea-side,” said she [Cornelia]. “They are not ordered there.”

“But they must go with me,” replied Lady Isabel. “Of course they are not expressly ordered to it. Why should they not go?”

“What should they not?” retorted Miss Corny. “Why, on account of the expense, to be sure. I can tell you what it is, Lady Isabel, what with one expense and another, your husband will soon be on the the road to ruin. Your journey with Joyce and Peter will cost enough, ma’am, without taking a van-load of nurses and children.” – p. 209

Left alone at the seaside to recover her health, Isabel bumps into Captain Levison whom she had previously felt attracted to when they were acquainted in their youth. Despite having been warned by Isabel’s uncle that Captain Levison was a bad influence, Isabel can’t deny his allure. Frightened and confused, Isabel flees back to East Lynne but a series of coincidences have Mr. Carlyle invite Captain Levison to stay at East Lynne. While Mr. Carlyle becomes heavily involved in acquitting a falsely condemned man, the brother of a family friend, pretty Barbara Hare, Isabel grows jealous and is swayed under Captain Levison’s influence. One night, both Isabel and Captain Levison disappear.

The hand-writing, his wife’s, swam before the eyes of Mr Carlyle. All, save the disgraceful fact that she had flown – and a horrible suspicion began to dawn upon him with whom – was totally incomprehensible. How had he outrages her? in what manner had he goaded her to it? – p. 281

A year passes and Lady Isabel is hiding in France, deeply regretting having run away with Captain Levison who, as soon as he received what he wanted, treats Isabel badly and leaves her unmarried just as she is about to give birth to their child. Seeking repentance, and missing her other children dreadfully, Isabel begins her journey back to England when she is involved in an accident. Misidentified, the authorities notifies her uncle that Isabel has died and the news travels back to Mr. Carlyle who is now married to Barbara. Isabel, with her face and figure scarred, adopts a disguise and a new name and, again, through twisted coincidences is recommended as a governess to Mr. Carlyle’s family which includes his children with Barbara. And so Lady Isabel returns to East Lynne once more, this time under an eccentric disguise and a new name, Madame Vine, and as a stranger to her children in a house that was once hers.

I quite enjoyed this book, being a huge fan of Sensation fiction. This, along with Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret makes up the core Sensation trilogy. Many of the plot lines were contrived but I quite enjoyed it. It’s like a Victorian soap opera. Isabel remained an elusive character though and while I didn’t despise her, I also didn’t quite warm to her although I did pity her and her tragic circumstances. Unlike other adulteresses in many other Victorian fiction, Isabel is not painted as a ‘scarlet woman’ but merely a woman who made one mistake that ultimately cost her everything.