To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

 

My rating: 4.7/5.0

This book is an absolute classic, and a completely unmissable read. I read it before for my GCSE English Literature class, but being fourteen at the time I returned to it now, suspecting that it might mean slightly more to me six years later. And it did.

It’s heartbreaking, thought-provoking and totally page turning. I think I read it in the space of two days. The characters have such depth to them, and through the eyes of seven/eight year old Scout Finch (Jean Louise if we’re being formal!), they all come majestically to life. One thing that struck me is that I was still a little scared of Scout’s initial impression of Boo Radley! I guess the idea of an unseen phantom that one can’t put a face to is infinitely more terrifying than something you can quantify, hence the extensive imaginations of children.

Moving through the book and seeing the trial of Tom Robinson from Scout’s perspective makes it seem even more abhorrent. The innocence she has, which her brother Jem loses, becomes all the more precious in light of the outcome. One almost begins to detest the machinations of adults, purely because of the effect it has on children.

I cannot begin to this book justice here, but suffice to say that if you have no read it you must; and if you have read it, return to it, I almost guarantee you it will provide you with something new.

B

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Book Review: Spoils of Time Trilogy – Penny Vincenzi

A couple of weeks ago I had no internet.

“No internet?!” I hear you cry… and I wasn’t even in a remote corner of the globe, I was in my home. The problem was that my broadband provider was Sky and they’re… not good… to say the least. Anyway, whilst I was in this wifi black hole I managed to read quite a lot of books, about five in the space of two weeks. Three of those books were the books that I’m going to review today; the three that make up the Spoils of Time Trilogy by Penny Vincenzi.

This series is made up of  the books ‘No Angel’, ‘Something Dangerous’ and ‘Into Temptation’ and it chronicles the lives of the Lytton Dynasty, focusing mostly around a lead female character by the name of Lady Celia Lytton née Beckenham. I think I will deal with the trilogy as a whole when discussing it, but will rate each book in turn at the end of my review.

The books begin in about 1908, the heyday of the Edwardian era and we are introduced to Lady Celia, who immediately comes across as strong-minded, determined, a little bit sly and a woman who certainly knows what she wants. Possibly a little bit too much of a modern sensibility for a woman living at such a time, but don’t forget that this was the time of the suffragettes and the Fabian society, so perhaps it is not out of place. She quickly entices and marries Oliver Lytton, a kind and fairly gentle soul who is the inheritor of a small but successful publishing company that goes by the family surname. Throughout the next half of the book Celia produces three children; Giles, and twins Venetia and Adele, before adopting a child from the slums of London who for the entirety books is known as Barty.

One thing that strikes me about Vincenzi books is that whilst her writing is rich in detail, her characters have a particular trait/fate that always comes forward, and is constantly represented by their actions. In that sense it is almost like a fairy tale. Celia, as mentioned before is extremely strong minded – almost to the point of bullying on several occasions – and this is contrasted to her long suffering husband. Her children also suffer at the hands of her own ambition, with Giles emerging as a shy and with low self-esteem. The twins fare a little better because they have each other and thus a lifelong bond is formed in the constant absence of their mother.

There are hundreds of characters in these three books, and more plot twists than I could possibly care to mention but that’s what makes them such an addictive read. The huge amounts of characters don’t detract from the story either, it’s not like Game of Thrones where you read about one character and then don’t hear about them again for twenty chapters. The books span the time period from the Edwardian era through to the late 1960s, and through that time (in no particular order!) we are shown the horrors of two World Wars through the eyes of the characters, the rise of the Fascists across Europe and how it affects all involved, the Wall Street crash, the roaring twenties, the depression, the change of British society as the 40’s came to a close and the 50’s began… it is really interesting to anyone who has a passing interest in social history. Of course it is fiction, but lots of the events that occur in the book are real and for someone who doesn’t wish to pursue their interest to academic texts would find this book fascinating.

Naturally there are issues with it, as afore mentioned characters can sometimes feel stereotyped or pigeonholed in order to fit the line of the story. I, for one, can’t help but feel sorry for Oliver and Giles but it becomes frustrating because they don’t seem to do anything about it. Another thing that frustrated me about these books was the ending. I won’t ruin it for you in case you wish to go off and read them, but suffice to say it comes to a rather abrupt halt, and one to which you think the publishers of Vincenzi were gasping for their novel, leaving her  little time to end it properly. If I were to pick a main criticism of these books it would be the end; after nearly 2000 pages of storyline, for it to end the way it does feels a little unfair.

Anyway, I really hope you do go and read the books. It’s a great summer read, but the books are quite big so if you’ve got an e-reader I suggest you get it on there! It’s a wonderful escape into the first half of the 20th century, a century so rich in history and intrigue it’s impossible to not be excited about it. And Vincenzi does do it justice; her plot lines fit wonderfully, and her characters don’t appear to jar against the edges of the time to which their bound. Well worth a read if you fancy something light, but not too light!

Covers and Ratings: (apologies the covers are different sizes – blame amazon!)

 Rating: 3.8/5.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Rating: 4.2/5.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Rating: 3.6/5.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time!

B

XO

An Elegy To English Literature

Well not really, because I suck at writing poetry – but here are some of my thoughts on the discipline as I leave it behind.

Okay so today’s the day. Today was the last day where I was technically a student of English Literature. Of course, if anyone loves reading and continues to love it then they are always, in some way, a student of English Lit. I have studied English Lit, properly, since I was 14 at GCSE level. I don’t really count what you did before that as studying it, before that level you’re kind of just placing the building blocks for what is to come later.

I then went on to A Level English Lit which I absolutely loved – exploring the contexts and connections between authors and their works. It fascinated me to look for hidden clues in either a poem or a novel (or any other form for that matter), as to what a writer was thinking, or trying to put across as they did so. What I liked the most however, was not the analysis of the actual text itself, but to look at how it’s context had so affected it. I think this is why A Level was so awesome for me, it was about developing an understanding of where authors had got their influence from, discussing how intertextuality was rife throughout literature and making links between different themes etc. I was lucky at A Level that we got one topic which I find interesting; the literature of the First World War, and the second topic was so open ended (Love Through The Ages) that we could basically study what we wanted – within reason.

I liked Lit so much then that I decided to take it on to University in a joint major with History. And this is where the downward slide began. I was made to study texts that I didn’t care for, by writers whose style I really didn’t like. This is hardly surprising of course but it really got me down. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed various aspects we did; Renaissance Sonnets, Hamlet, British Romanticism, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter etc. but some just drove me to distraction (I’m looking at you Virginia Woolf and Seamus Heaney). I just couldn’t bring myself to care about what they had to say, and I figured that this wasn’t a good thing when studying at University! Even though I love reading, and I love exploring contexts, influences and literary devices that authors and poets used, I realised that I had to be on my terms. It had to be books that I had chosen because I wanted to read  them, not because they fitted well into the section of literary theory that I should be coming to grips with at that moment in time.

So I changed my major to straight History, with a minor in Philosophy. History is one of those subjects that I am so passionate about, that even when we were studying Victorian social surveys, I still found myself moderately interested. I have a burning want to know everything there is to know about a History (even though that’s impossible), and I found my love of English wasn’t quite up to this. I figured that I should rectify this now whilst I still had the chance, before diving into ENG201 Literary Theory module next year (ew!).

I sat my last ever English exam today. I think it went alright. I feel as if I passed at least which is always a plus point! And tonight, I am going to curl up with my kindle, download something totally new (I’ve been wanting to read some Oscar Wilde for a while now) and enjoy just for the sake of it. Yes, I may wonder if Wilde’s Victorian/Edwardian context influenced his work, and how his unique position as the author affected the text… but at least I won’t have to memorise any quotes!

Until next time,

B

XO

Book Review: ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks

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Rating: 4.6/5.0

Read: March 2013

I love this book, and I return to it again and again, ever since I studied in my penultimate year at school. In my mind it is so important that we keep the memory of the horrors of the 20th Century alive. I won’t say lest we repeat them, because as a history student, I believe that we don’t “learn” from history (the many cycles of history show us that, but I’m not going to go into that here). Instead, I believe it’s important to remember them, so the men who died in the choking, stinking mud of a French field, truly did not die in vain. Possibly this is too arrogant a task seeing as we do not remember their faces, or sometimes even their names, but we should at least remember the events in which they partook. We owe them that at least.

I read this book on my kindle this time around and I found myself highlighting so many things that I found interesting, here are some which I thought worth mentioning. The part where Stephen Wraysford, the protagonist, is Amiens cathedral at the beginning and he gets this overwhelming sense of foreboding from being there, it’s scary but I love the lines “it was a memento mori on an institutional scale” and “So many dead, he thought, only waiting for another eyelid’s flicker before this generation joins them”. I’ll admit, it might be a slightly morbid statement, but I think it’s astonishing the power behind those words when you realise that they’re completely true. The First World War was the first war fought on an “institutional scale” with men used like cogs and wheels in a factory.

My favourite line from the book, and unfortunately another morbid one, is “This is not a war, this is an exploration of how far men can be degraded”. I think that line truly brings home some of the horrors of the First World War. I truly believe that books like this are important in keeping alive the memories of those thousands of men for generations to come. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, and whilst I don’t really believe it, partly due to cynicism and partly because of my history, maybe just maybe we could vow never to do such a thing again.