Having spent October slowly reading books I didn’t enjoy, November was much better, I rediscovered some old favourites, and found a new one!
Still feeling a bit Halloweeny, at the start of November, I decided to re-read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. My University housemate once had a mini-breakdown because she was older than Mary Shelley was when she wrote Frankenstein and she would probably never make such a contribution to the world, bless her. Lovely nuttiness and student stress aside, Frankenstein is definitely a contribution to English Literature. It’s a compelling gothic novel with a pretty strong yet contradictory creationist subtext, homosocial undertones, overtones and just plain tones, well-drawn characters and beautiful settings. It’s not perfect, but it’s still something of a masterpiece.
The next book I read, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, is one of the most contemporary novels on the list, and it’s wonderful. Written from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy with autism, it genuinely did make me both laugh and cry. Part coming-of-age family drama and part mystery novel, it’s sensitively written, with great understanding and affection, as well as wit. I’ve not read anything else by Mark Haddon, but I certainly will in the future.
Having finished TCIOTDITN at work the night before, I couldn’t sleep (I suffer from infrequent periods of insomnia) so turned to an old favourite, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. I had a professor at Uni who once said ‘all women love anything by Jane Austen’ I told him that that was a ridiculous mass generalisation. Luckily he liked me, because, as he put it, my tendency to argue with him sparked debates and livened up his seminars! I don’t love all Jane Austen. I think, like most writers, she perfected her style, culminating in P&P, and her other works aren’t quite up to scratch, some fall far short, but you aren’t supposed to say that about a ‘classic’. As several of said novels are on the list, we’ll revisit them later, however I’ve read Pride & Prejudice so many times that it’s become a lovely literary comfort blanket – I read it over two nights and one bath and it made me smile, and helped me sleep.
Not in the mood for any more Stephen King (Christine was in easy reach, and is on the list) I went in my loft and emerged with Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert and The Wizard of Oz, I chose the former, despite a suspicion that it would end badly for the heroine…
Reading a translated version (I don’t think my GCSE French would be quite up to the original!) I nonetheless found the language to be beautiful, but then, it has to be. None of the characters are exactly likeable, and without Flaubert’s wonderful way with words the whole thing would be depressing and distasteful. But it isn’t. As a modern audience we recognise the symptoms of Emma’s depression and understand the choices she makes, although we don’t excuse her behaviour or her lack of regard for anyone who isn’t useful to her, we still feel her pain of being disappointed by the realisation that the life she thought she wanted can never make her happy, that she will, in fact, never find what she seeks. But it’s the lyrical syntax and the biting, rather bitchy observations which pepper the chapters which keep us reading. The novel also has a confusing mix of misogyny and feminism within its pages, though if Flaubert is to be believed, he identified most with Emma of all his characters, and the misogyny expressed was just historical context, a sign of the times in which the book was written. Whichever, its interesting, and while I doubt Madame Bovary will become a regular read, I am glad I read those delightfully-constructed sentences – magnifique!
As it’s now December, I went charity-shop hunting for a copy of A Christmas Carol, oddly, I couldn’t find one, but I did purchase a couple more books from the list. Currently, I’m reading Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which I’ll review along with anything else I get through this month after the festive period, for now though, Merry Christmas – keep reading!
22 down 316 to go!