Monday, 28 February 2011

Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes

This book had me mesmerised when I first read it and even now I like to return to it occasionally. If you ever wondered how Ted Hughes felt about Sylvia Plath's suicide and how he coped, this collection of 88 poems reveals so much and may answer some of your questions. -  It certainly did mine. No one knew these poems for Plath existed until they were published shortly before Hughes's death in 1998.  He thought them too "raw and unguarded" for publication. 

Sylvia Plath married Ted Hughes and they had two children together.  Both were poets.  Hughes had an affair with another woman and left Plath and the young children for her.  In 1963, Plath left food beside her childrens' beds and gased herself in an adjoining room.  Ted went on to marry his mistress, but in a bizarre twist she later also committed suicide.  These events read like bad fiction, but something of the inner-drama experienced by Ted Hughes is revealed in the poems contained in this collection.
Here's a taste from 'A Pink Wool Knitted Dress', where Hughes is remembering their wedding day in 1956:

'In that echo-gaunt, weekday chancel
I see you
Wrestling to contain your flames
In your pink wool knitted dress
And in your eye pupils – great cut jewels
Jostling their tear-flames, truly like big jewels
Shaken in a dice-cup and held up to me. '

I recommend it for all poetry lovers or just for all lovers.

Friday, 25 February 2011

 Off the bookshelf...
'It is difficult to know at what moment love begins; it is less difficult to know that it has begun.'

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, 24 February 2011

“That is the function of books… They take you out of yourself and put you down somewhere else from whence you never entirely return.” 

from Consequences - by Penelope Lively

A Book of Lost Opportunities. 'Consequences' - by Penelope Lively

3 of 5 stars
status: Read from February 17 to 24, 2011

This is a light read. Basically the book begins just before the start of the Second World War and moves up to about 2004? It follows the lives of three generations of women in the same family and tells their stories. However, it leaves a lot out and skips over some interesting events that I would love to have read about. There are some characters that floated in and out - male characters mostly: Lucas, James, Peter, Sam - that were sadly neglected and let fall by the way-side. How did they feel? What were they thinking? How did they get through life? They are lost opportunities, I think, and are what I miss most about the novel, now that I have finished it. As a result, I feel that the book lacks detail; racing ahead of itself, telling three stories speedily, instead of creating one, weighty tale.

The three generations of women have a lot in common, raising children alone and having two major love- relationships in their lives. One idea that the novelist, Penelope Lively, seems to be suggesting is that the father of your children doesn't have to be the love of your life, and that marriage is not necessary if you want to be a mother. Indeed it is quite dismissive about the whole notion of marriage - suggesting, to me, that love and marriage don't really go hand in hand, at least not always. There is a dichotomy in the text. Firstly it seems to suggest the great love between a man and a woman can alter your life, your very soul. But then, it also suggests that, sometimes, men are not really necessary to one's happiness.
Over all, I'd suggest, that this is really a book about mothers and daughters, although not in the usual, intense way that you might expect. This creates a cyclical structure to the text, although I will not ruin the story by discussing that further.

The title,'Consequences', I think, refers to one's children: the consequences of one's relationships, one's actions, one's feelings. After all, children are the things that move one's story forward - the making of future generations secures our genetic presence into the future. This is one of the main themes of the book, as one female protagonist merges into the next. One minute Lorna is the central character, then the novel suddenly becomes Molly's story and then, finally, it is through Ruth's eyes that we see the world. It is as if the three women are in fact the same woman, just living in different periods of history, dealing with different social pressures but the same isses: motherhood, finding love, and a place to belong.

I would recommend this book to a friend, for a nice read; nothing too challenging - but not to anyone considering leaving their husband/wife/partner... I wouldn't want to be the one to push them over the edge.
Also by Penelope Lively: 

Monday, 21 February 2011

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

What a phenomenal read! This book is a bit of a challenge, especially at the start, where the language being spoken is 'sort of' English!! There are several stories, which read like short stories, going on at the same time in this novel - I say at the same time, but each story is set in a different period in time, some in the past, other in the future. Each has it's own style and diction, it's own vernacular and vocabulary. It is mind boggling how one person wrote this book. And yet there is a thread running through each story which links them all. You will be amazed at the talent and skill of this author. This is a GREAT book and I think I will have to return to it at some stage to take it apart more thoroughly and analyse it. It wasn't a very popular book with my book club, but if you are prepared to stick with it, I think you will think it's worth it.  It is a novel to really get your teeth into and I know that there is an excellent audio book version of this available too. YES I recommend it to everyone!!
 Cloud Atlas: A Novel

The best gift you could ever give...


Sunday, 20 February 2011

My Corner ... My Rules!

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I did not like this book - mostly because of the graphic portrayal of sexual violence that it contained. I still think of the characters, which were so realistic, but I think that the author just loved to inflict pain on the female characters in the novel.  I did find myself racing through the book - it certainly moved at a rapid pace. The plot had so many twists and turns, it really kept you on your toes. It was hugely popular with my book club and most of the members went on to read the rest of the trilogy. Yet, the scenes of violence were too disturbing for me, and I did not enjoy being in the dark world that the novelist created. I did not rush out to read the sequel and will always warn friends about the violence in the novel before suggesting that they read it.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Virginia Woolf said that every woman needs a room of her own. A fine idea... but right now, I am happy to take whatever little corner I can get.

Pride and Prejudice - just another love story?

What I like about Pride and Prejudice is that it is not simply a book about love. Money matters are at the heart of it. We have a group of women who depend on marrying well to guarantee their financial security. Mrs Bennet is keenly aware of her responsibility to find wealthy husbands for her daughters as she cannot make them financially secure herself. Mr Bennet seems incapable of grasping the urgency of the matter, and keeps to his library rather than seeing his daughters wed.

Austen is at pains to point out how annoying Mrs Bennet is and how tiresome the daughters find her. However, it cannot escape our notice that Lizzy's affections for Darcy changed as soon as she sees his big estate in Derbyshire and she jokingly admits to Jane that she must date her falling in love with Darcy from that point.

In fact, she does indeed fall in love with a wealthy man, and does, in fact, exactly what her mother would have wanted her to do. Perhaps the years of listening to her mother's plots for marrying them off has subliminally effected her. In this way, Austen shows herself to be very practical and not at all like the fairytale romance novelist that some readers consider her to be.

Charlotte Lucas, another clever female character, is similarly practical when it comes to affairs of the heart and secures her independance in the world, through matrimony, all be it a less than perfect union. Jane too marries a financially secure man with whom she has fallen in love. Indeed, she is so good, how could Austen deny her that? It is only Lydia, the youngest daughter who broke with all the social norms of the day, and ran away to live with Wickham outside of wedlock, who is unfortunate enough to be bestowed with an impoverished husband. It is clear that Austen punishes her for her unruly behaviour and for disgracing her family.

So, if we consider what advice Pride and Prejudice holds for young women, it is clear that Austen is nothing of not pragmatic: make sure you fall in love with someone who is wealthy, if you want a happy life, the happiest life.

What I love about the novel is that the more you read it, the more you see in it and the more you understand how comlicated the text really is.


A proper place for Mr Darcy ....

Jane Austen's Guide to Dating - by Lauren Henderson

Contains Austens 10 principles for dating: ‘What Not to Do!’ and ‘What to do Instead!’… all gleaned from the novles of the master-writer herself.  Here

is a sample of chapter headings:  'If you like someone, make it clear that you do'; 'Have faith in your own instincts'; 'Don't settle - Don't marry for money, or convenience, or out of Loneliness'.... etc. and my own particular favourite: 'If your lover needs a reprimand, let him have it'.  


Friday, 18 February 2011

Freedom - by Jonathan Franzen

I was expecting so much with this novel… but it didn’t live up to the hype.  I think Oprah’s enthusing just made it even more disappointing.  I thought the characters were quite interesting, but I couldn’t warm to Pattie.  Every aspect of her life was revealed to us, yet she just came across as so mundane.  Not unlike another American heroine, Scarlett O'Hara, she seemed to waste her life dreaming of one man, while longing for another.  No matter how hard she tried to be a good mother, she still managed to  mess up her relationship with her son.  That was the most depressing part of the whole story, as it doesn't bode well for the rest of us.
As for the title of the book - well it is all too obvious.  Each character is struggling to deal with all the freedom that life has thrown at them: freedom to make decisions; to love or to hate; to waste their life if they want; to mess up royally if they choose; to try and save the world or not.  I must admit that the passages about conserving flora and fauna in the Appalachian Mountains were a little too detailed for my liking and slowed the plot right down.
  After all the time I invested in this novel, the ending was especially unrewarding - every issue was resolved, every problem worked through. It just didn't seem believable. Must there always be a happy ending?  It seemed such a cop-out.  Perhaps Franzen had an eye on Hollywood and a possible film deal when finishing the book?   That said, 'Freedom' was thought-provoking and, once in a while, the characters still float into my mind.  By the end, I was glad to have finished it, but I will not be recommending it to my friends.

 Also by Jonathan Franzen:  The Corrections: A Novel, How to Be Alone: Essays
To Kindle or not to Kindle… that is the question!  Can I bare to give up that sensual experience whenever I pick up a book?  The rasping sound of pages turning; the scent of paper and ink fresh from the printers; the pure satisfaction that is felt as, when finished, it finds a home on the shelf next to books that have gone before.

From Jane Austen’s ’Mansfield Park’ - 1957 edition:

Fanny at the window …’astonished to see Mr Crawford!’

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy by Maya Slater

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy: A NovelI enjoyed reading this version of the Lizzy - Darcy affair, from Darcy’s point of view, simply because I enjoy all things Austen.  However, the author does add a few creative detours regarding the plot line of Pride and Prejudice, most specifically with regard to Darcy’s friendship with Lord Byron.  This idea is quite interesting.  As Darcy and Bingley did mix in the same society as the infamous poet, it is entirely probable that they may have known each other.  They certainly both were uncommonly fond of their sisters, although Byron, perhaps, took that sentiment to extremes, one might say.  
However, I cannot allow the idea that Darcy was 'tinkering' with the girl from below stairs in his bedroom, while Lizzy and Jane slept a few bedrooms away in theirs, during their stay in Netherfield.  It is shocking even to consider!  But, undoubtedly, the temptation to write a few passionate, period 'love scenes' for Darcy was obviously too great to resist. 
Yet, perhaps, Darcy would have been a man of the world, although I think his distaste for Wickham's wild behaviour while at college, would seem to suggest that he was above such clandestine activity and in his friend's house too! 
 Still, it was interesting to revisit Austen's story from a different perspective, especially noting when first Darcy began to fall for Lizzy and how he was wonderfully oblivious to Caroline Bennet's obvious (and desperate) attempts to flirt with him.  This was particularly enjoyable and clever too, as it was somewhat reminiscent of Austen's tongue in cheek style.  It was wonderfully pleasing to see what Darcy could not see, knowing, as we do, how Caroline desired him for a husband.  He is tantalizingly close, but just out of her grasp.  Poor Caroline!
This is not a serious book, but rather a bit of fun between reads, and for that I recommend it to all Darcy fans and deserving friends!

The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy: A Novel

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

There is just so much of interest for the Jane Austen fan in this novel. Every character, every plotline, mirrors one created by Jane Austen.

So, if the character hosting the book club is reading Pride and Prejudice, say, you can be sure that her personal circumstances are similar to those of Lizzy Bennet etc. It happens every time.  There are many, many Austen echoes running through the novel.  Even some of the characters names come from the original texts. (I wont give all the references away - half the fun is discovering the little nods to Austen yourself!)

It was great fun seeing how Karen Joy Fowler managed to turn the stories inside out, to make them fit together; to propel them into the modern period.
For that alone, I found it most enjoyable. It was cleverly done and most of the time I didn’t find it overly-contrived or laboured.

This book contained a wonderful array of characters, each dealing with their own set of problems and struggling to keep on top of things.  Mothers, daughters, brothers and fathers - they are all here.  But above all, this is a book about friendship and how a group of strangers come together because of their interest in Jane Austen.

To truly love or appreciate this book, you need to love, or at least know, the works of Jane Austen. Otherwise, so much is overlooked. I’d happily recommend it to Austenites… but to anyone else, I might suggest looking at Austen herself first, before reading.