Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Mayor of Casterbridge

I read this book in 2006, and loved it so much that I recorded it.
 So I have just finished listening to the tapes. Here is the first page:

   "The Mayor of Casterbridge" has a wonderful introduction with Michael and Susan Henchard walking down the road to Weydon-Priors, not speaking.  When they arrived at the fair, Michael bought furmity (laced) and, in this drunken state, sold his wife and child to a sailor Richard Newson.  When Newson ended up lost at sea, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane returned to Casterbridge and discovered that Michael was the mayor.  He married Susan again and eventually Elizabeth-Jane discovered that Michael was her father.  But after Susan died, it was discovered that Michael's daughter had died and Elizabeth-Jane was actually Newson's daughter.
   But the plot thickens!
   Michael had had an affair with Lucetta, and after Susan's death, Lucetta arrived in town expecting to marry Michael.  But she fell in love with his adversary, Donald Farfrae, and married him. Donald had started as Michael's manager but took over his business, his house, and finally his woman.
   The subtitle of this book is 'the story of a man of character' and that has confused many people. But the word "character" means simply 'the qualities that make a person who he is'. Michael had many flaws and no self-esteem, causing him to lose everything.
  When the town learned that Lucetta, who has married Donald, had been involved with Michael they organized a 'skimmington'.  What is a 'skimmington'?

A skimmington is a procession made through a village intended to bring ridicule on and make an example of a nagging wife or an unfaithful husband.

   I really loved this book.  Michael was a real 'rascal' and all the bad choices that he made, came back to haunt him. There were always twists and interesting surprises.  This might be my favourite Hardy!

Victorian Literature

This summer, I had a desire to return to Victorian literature.  I found a formula for Victorian literature in a book called "How to Read Novels Like a Professor". And I said, "Ah hah!  That's why I love them".
Victorian novels have:
1.) a linear narrative
2.) plots centering around individuals either growing up or coming apart
3.) characters in whom readers can invest large emotional capital
4.) clear resolutions that give emotional pleasure
   Most of these novels were first published monthly,  either in magazines or in freestanding installments.  It often took two years to read the entire book.  So authors needed great continuity, memorable characters (often with odd names, weird quirks, grotesque appearances or goofy catchphrases).  The plot must be the driving force, with cliff-hangers at the end of the episode and a recap at the beginning of the next episode.
  These forms of story were very popular.  Subscriptions could jump by tens of thousands during the run of a particularly exciting new novel.  Bookstalls could be picked clean in an hour.  Some authors became very rich from these serialized novels.  Thomas Hardy was on of them.
   I had already read three of Hardy's novels and planned to re-read them, as well as reading three others.  I love to re-read a good book!
   The formula for Victorian literature gives some of the reasons that I love these books.  But I also really enjoy the syntax.  Thomas Hardy can put a sentence together in a magical way!  Of course, his vocabulary far exceeds anything I can imagine and sometimes I read with the dictionary beside me.  Most often, though, the manageable 'Oxford' is not sufficient and I need to get the unmanageable two-volume dictionary from the shelf.  But I love the words!
  Thomas Hardy is perhaps best known for his description of place.  I love, love, love England!  Perhaps because both of my parents were born there. When I visited, I was enthralled with the countryside.  In my mind, I could see Hardy's characters walking across the moors and it thrilled me!

Here are some pictures of my visit:

    Hardy always thought of himself as a poet.  He wrote poems, on and off, for nearly seventy years, resulting in almost a thousand poems.  He was about to issue a new volume of poems when he died at 88.
   But I am interested in his novels.  He wrote fourteen novels and I have discovered that, although they are not all available in the library system, you can buy them from the internet.
                 Hardy's family were not able to send him to university, so he
              became apprenticed to an architect who specialized in church
              restoration.  However, the weather in London did not agree with him
              and he returned home to the country where he began to write.

                 Hardy was married twice but had no children.  His ashes were
               buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Will Ferguson

Will Ferguson is a fascinating author and deserves a page of his own.  I was anxious to read "419" because I had read two books by Will and really enjoyed them.  I knew he was a talented man.  But I didn't realize the extent of his talent.
Will was born on a trading post- Fort Vermillion, Alberta.  He has lived in different parts of Canada, working for Katimavik and Canada World Youth.  He studied film production and screenwriting.  For five years, he taught English in Japan.  He married there, and returned to Canada, where he experienced severe reverse culture shock, resulting in his first trilogy of books.
I have read the first in that series: "Why I Hate Canadians".  It is basically his observations on Canadian history and culture.  But his humour makes it such fun to read.  I loved that book!  It won the Giller Prize in 2012.
I have also read his book that was originally titled "Generica".  The title later changed to "Happiness", which really captures the essence of the book.  It is a parody of self-help books- a very clever concept!
It raises many questions-basically: Do we experience happiness or the pursuit of happiness?  What if every self-help book could lead to happiness?  What would happen if people were truly happy? Can you really experience happiness without sadness?  Is underlying sadness what makes us human?
A very clever man- right?  Such diversity in his writing!  He has written 13 books and won 14 awards, including the Leacock Medal for Humour.  He was on the panel for Canada Reads in 2003.
He currently lives in Calgary.  What will Will think of next?

"419" by Will Ferguson

I love book clubs because you experience different responses to every book.  Barbara and I have often differed in our responses.  Often our differences are extreme.  Such was the case with this book.  Since Barbara was away, our discussion happened on the internet.

I was sorry to have missed the June meeting; I was travelling.  Just now finding time to read 419 and am loving it. 
I understand you were not fond of the book and am wondering why.  I can imagine the shifting of place/person may be one reason, although I find that adds to the intrigue.  I am enjoying reading this novel more than I have any others for several months.

A connection to the novel is really central to the enjoyment.  I can see where your enjoyment would be increased by your understanding of the country.  Our life experiences and connections are so different.
My problems with the book:
1.) characters- I love getting inside the skin of a character.  I need characters that I can cheer for or even characters that I can hate. I had no feeling for any of the characters.  Amina took up many, many pages and her name was not mentioned until chapter 47.  I spent pages wondering who she is and where she is going and why.  I never felt that any of those questions were answered after persevering through the story.
2.) description- there was too much for my interest.  It overwhelmed the plot.  I wanted to get on with the plot while the pages were filled with detailed description.
3.) plot- too confusing with such uneven plot lines and when they came together it was chaotic.
Basically, and perhaps the real reason, I had difficulty with this book is because it is so depressing.  In last night's discussion it led to the whole aspect of scamming and I become discouraged about what the world has become.  Who can you trust?  Anyone?  It becomes overwhelming.

Have finished 419 now.  What a memorable read and in my opinion a fantastic novel.  A novel--not a true story, not real people, with a few flaws in the plot, elements of the unbelievable, but a wonderful story of Nigeria.  It is a chaotic country with 12 linguistic groups and  8 major ethnic groups.  A collection of people brought together by the British Empire that really do not belong together. Amina was probably the best described.  The story highlighted numerous times that she was Sahel.  African Sahel is a narrow band all across Africa from Ertrea, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal to Mauritania.  Only a tiny sliver of it goes through northern present day Nigeria.  If she was from Nigeria, although it was obvious she did not feel so, it was from the part where the strictest Sharea Law would have been.  Her pregnancy would have been out of wedlock or with a man other than her husband, most likely the former, and her family would have not only had the right but the obligation to kill her based on their strict beliefs.  She was fleeing that.  And through her we see so much of present day Nigeria and its diversity, what the west and the oil industry has done.
You are correct the novel had special meaning to me.  I  have met many Nigerians from those hectic years right after the civil war.  People with names like Sunday on a banjo, chief Ajao who sent my daughter designer clothes from Paris when she was a baby and introduced us to many famous musicians from around the world when we were in Manhattan and he would be visiting.  Fascinating people. I had my iPad next to me for most of the read checking places, expressions, words etc.
When reading I never expect the characters to be real people; they aren't.  I do expect them to capture a semblance of the characters who might be a part of the story.  I think Will Ferguson excelled in doing this.  If I had been at the book group, I would have given it an 8, a high rating for me.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

A Tale of Two Books

Two books that I just read.
Two books that are popular now.
Two books with intriguing premises.
Two books that take place in different countries, in different centuries.
Two books that made me think long after I closed the covers.
Two books with irritating male protagonists!

Daniel Grube, with his 5 children and newly-married 15-year-old wife, left Pennsylvania to look for a new home.
Daniel was unkind, unforgiving, unprepared.
Although he was an abolitionist, he just happened to buy a slave that he did not have the money to pay for.

Harold Fry received a message from a friend that he has not seen in 20 years that she was dying.  He told her to hang on, while he walked 600 miles, thinking that she would survive if he kept going.
Harold was also unprepared (walking in yachting shoes) .
He also was unkind in expecting Queenie to continue living for his sake.

Both books are written by women and I felt that both male protagonists embodied those characteristics that women dislike. Neither Daniel nor Harold would listen to advice and made irrational decisions, affecting many people negatively.  They were unloving and unkind.
My husband says that I should 'cut these guys a little slack'.  After all, maybe these irritating guys are the reason that I couldn't put the books down and couldn't forget them long after the books were read.

Monday, 1 July 2013

"When She Woke"

A retelling of an old story.  From the Puritans to a dystopian thriller.
Same themes: shame and guilt
  Similar names: Hannah Payne / Hester Prynne; Rev. Dale / Rev. Dimmesdale; Pearl- the child