A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Dickens in December

Dickens in December is hosted by Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Delia at Postcards from Asia.

Wow. The book is just… wow. It is absolutely brilliant. I really couldn’t write a lot about the book without revealing anything that a potential reader might not like to know beforehand. I hardly knew anything about the book before I started reading it, except perhaps that it was amazing. The twists and turns in the plot and the suspense definitely added to the reading experience.

(From here) The novel depicts the plight of the French
peasantry demoralized by the French 
aristocracy in the years leading up to the
revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries
toward the former 
aristocrats in the early years of the
revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during
the same time period.

There was a reason I read The Old Curiosity Shop before I read this: I wanted to read something that not many people recommend, so that I won’t be obligated even in the slightest subconscious way to like it – although I did find out later that The Old Curiosity Shop is a particular favourite among the Dickens aficionados. I loved it and when I began reading A Tale of Two Cities, the heavier prose (in comparison to TOCS) made me doubt, initially, that I would enjoy it quite as much. The book isn’t enjoyable, really: the wry, twisted humour doesn’t quite make it ha-ha-funny and the characters aren’t as eccentrically realistic as in TOCS.

The book is much darker and harder to get through; but that is the way it supposed to be: it couldn’t have been otherwise. Though the book is about the Revolution, the fact that my knowledge of the world history is despicable didn’t quite matter, as the ideas involved are far from redundant. Every revolution, every ‘strike-back’ must have that biased brutality, that makes you wonder just whom to consider the villian. It is heart wrenching and horrifyingly bone chilling and very graphic and gory and that is what makes it such a beautifully haunting tale. The themes and the characters are powerful, memorable: Sydney Carton has taken Levin’s (Tolstoy – Anna Karenina) place as my favourite character in a novel. Their emotions, behaviour are terrifyingly genuine and saddening.

I couldn’t initially see what people meant about the first and the last lines of the book being perfect, but I do now. The beginning and the ending form a beautiful wooden frame that perfectly holds the story, a crinkly sparkly gift wrap, if you may. The ending of A Tale of Two Cities contains the very essence of the book and if not for anything else, I do think everyone should read it to its very last page to experience that.

TOCS, though quite bleak, still had a touch of romance to it, something that made it unlikely to ever have happened: there aren’t many Nells in this world, after all. On the other hand, A Tale of Two Cities as a historical fiction presents the sinister reality of the French Revolution in an unforgettable manner. This is a book I’d like to read over and over: I’m sure every read would reveal something new and even more amazing about the book.

The Terror by Dan Simmons – R.I.P. VII

I wanted to buy a non-fiction book on Mary Celeste (I don’t remember its name) when I came across this one. If there is one thing I have always been scared of, it’s water and oceans and sea life and such and the premise of this book, a lost expedition, seemed fascinating. 

It was snowing during the burial. The wind was blowing
hard, as it always does here on this godforsaken Arctic Waste. Just north of
the burial site rose Sheer Black Cliffs, as inaccessible as the Mountains of
the Moon. The lanterns lit on
Erebus and Terror were only the
dimmest of glows through the blowing snow. Occasionally a fragment of Cold Moon
would appear from between quickly moving clouds, but even this thin, pale
moonlight was quickly lost in the snow and dark. Dear God, this is truly a
Stygian bleakness.

Summary: The Terror by Dan Simmons is a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s Expedition to the Arctic to find the Northwest Passage. As the two ships, Erebus and Terror are stuck in the ice, the crew is stalked by a monster, that is killing them off one by one. Almost all the characters in the book are based on actual members of the expedition, including Franklin, captain of Erebus, Captain Crozier, captain of Terror, Fitzjames and Dr. Goodsir.

My thoughts: This was supposed to be my first read for the R.I.P Challenge. I have to admit, it took me much longer than I had expected to finish reading this book. There were times when I felt absolutely bored, but trudged on, determined to complete the book, and I am very glad I did. The book is massive, but entirely worth it. If I’d written a review halfway through the book: I would have said that I didn’t like the book, which is why this review is going to seem haphazard. I don’t know what else to say, but, all the boring details in the first half of the book are thoroughly redeemed by the immense excitement in the last few hundred pages. 
For those of you who want to read the book to actually find out what happened to the Franklin expedition, here’s a fair warning: it’s historical fiction, you won’t get anything that seems remotely plausible. Then again, when someone is lost in the Arctic and never heard of again, who’s to say, what can be possible. If you read the book for the horror fiction and not for the history lesson, you will love it (Okay, I can’t guarantee love, but I’m sure you’ll at least like it.)
Very few authors can master as many different voices as Simmons has in one book! I especially liked Crozier’s point of view and sometimes, Dr. Goodsir’s. The shifts in the points of view and time took some getting used to, but the book was so long that I did have enough time to get fully accustomed to the writing style. The characters are really wonderful and so is their desperation, you almost experience the dreary atmosphere in the air. The book is tastefully gruesome, if there is such a thing as that, and the writer knows exactly how to shock, scare and amuse you. 
Crozier enjoys his
walk in spite of the creeping cold that has made his face, fingers, legs, and
feet feel like they are on fire. He knows that this is preferable to them being
numb. And he enjoys the walk in spite of the fact that between the slow
moanings and sudden shrieks of the ice moving under and around him in the dark
and the constant moan of the wind, he is certain that he is being stalked.
I’m going to end this clumsy review-rant by saying that, if not anything else, this book is definitely unlike anything I have read before. It is a haunting mixture of the eerie feelings that history and fate bring on, freaky descriptions of ice and being lost at sea, not to mention, we do get a glimpse of Eskimo mythology, again very tastefully managed. Even without the haunted mansions, pale white ghosts or vampires and zombies, it still does scare. So if you have some time on your hands and seem to like horror fiction, spend this Halloween experiencing The Terror! 

Favourite Historical Fiction Books

I’ve recently began enjoying the historical fiction genre and I decided this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (Rewind!) to list them. I’m not sure how long this list is going to be, hence the title is favourite historical fiction books rather than top ten.

Historical fiction, as I understand it anyway, is a fictionalized account of something that actually happened in history (like a retelling) or a novel with a historically accurate setting but fictional characters or a book which presents an alternate history. I may be wrong, but this is what this list includes, books which I loved for that fascinating, at time eerie feeling I had a thought, that even some of this might have actually happened. I have never been good at remembering dates, so whatever I do know of the world history, it’s through reading fiction.

Here are the books, in no particular order:

The Crucible by Arthur Miller: This was the first full-length play I read and I enjoyed it immensely. I was looking for a book that best described the Salem Witch Trials and this drama does it. It has been argued (a lot) whether this play is historically accurate, though the characters are based on the real people, who were in the town of Salem when it all went down and the atmosphere of hysteria is portrayed most convincingly. For me, it gives a basic idea about the witch trials, not to mention tells a whole lot more about Miller’s views on McCarthyism. Not to go too much into the details, let me just say, this is definitely a fascinating piece of fiction.

11/22/63 by Stephen King: Could I just say, I loved this book? This is the story of the man who goes back in time to prevent JFK’s assassination in ’63 and instead finds a home for himself in the past. I loved the characters and the he has made the time travel seem so believable. I recently found out that King had the idea for this book a while before he published his first novel, Carrie, and has now released it almost forty years later. Isn’t that kind of amazing?

The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore: I read this last month (or this month not sure) but if you scroll down  just a bit you’ll find a long review! This book is about, as you can tell by the title, a werewolf in Paris. The story is set in France, where the War of 1870 and the fall of the Paris Commune form the perfect backdrop for a gruesome tale of a boy, who cannot control his inner monster.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke: This book is just something else. It is an alternate history of the 19th Century England during the Napoleonic Wars, based on the premise that magic once existed. And, in this tale, the two eponymous magicians bring magic to back to England. The author has created a wonderful sense of the past and the English and even the war with her precise imagery. I loved the parts when the Jonathan Strange, probably my favourite fictional character, invented tricks to win the war or to confuse the enemy like magically creating roads and moving entire towns, thus rendering any maps useless.  And how can you miss the fact that he helped defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo?

Honourable mentions: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt, Perfume by Patrick Sueskind and This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson.

I might have missed some, but I do love all these and I also do welcome recommendations!

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” asked Sam, leaning closer to her over the card table and dropping his voice.
“What’s weird?” she said, turning to him.
“That you can have this whole entire life, with all your opinions, your loves, your fears. Eventually those parts of you disappear. And then the people who could remember those parts of you disappear, and before long all that’s left is your name in some ledger. This Marcy person – she had a favorite food. She had friends and people she disliked. We don’t even know how she died.” Sam smiled sadly. “I guess that’s why I like preservation better than history. In preservation I feel like I can keep some of it from slipping away.”
As he spoke Connie noticed that his face was attractive in a wonderfully flawed sort of way; it held a sharp, straight nose peeling with sunburn, and mischievous green eyes bracketed by deep smile lines. His hair was pulled back in a ponytail, a brown color bleached by the sun. Connie smiled at him.
“I can see that. But history’s not as different as you might think.” She brushed her fingers over Marcy Lamson’s name scrawled on the page. “Don’t you think Marcy would be surprised if she knew that some random people in 1991 were reading her name and thinking about her? She probably never even imagined 1991. In a way” – Connie hesitated – “it offers her a kind of immortality. At least this way she gets to be remembered. Or thought about. Noticed.”
Doesn’t this sound like a charming book? It was very fascinating. The last time I read about the Salem witches was in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane was another way of looking at a terribly captivating time in history.
Connie Goodwin, a Harvard graduate, gets her hands on a bible and an ornate key in her grandmother’s ancient house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. The key contains a paper with the name Deliverance Dane written on it. This seems like a perfect source for her dissertation to Connie, who decides to search for the long lost recipe book of Deliverance Dane, who appears to have been a Salem witch. Along the way, we’re treated to glimpses of the past and of Deliverance’s life.
I loved the first half of the book. I loved the descriptions of Deliverance’s life, and what they told us about the lives of the women of her time. The rich, musty, earthy feel of the past, of history, was evident throughout the book. I also enjoyed Connie’s journey to uncovering the truth. I lost much of my interest halfway through the book, though, when the story turned from all its historical goodness to fantasy. I was looking for a book that told me about the witch hunts and the victims of the witch trials and their terrifying but intriguing past. I didn’t think it would turn into a “Ooh, magic exits” thing; as it did once the modern-day characters started performing magic themselves! I had hoped against this very predictable twist from the moment I started reading the book, but I was disappointed. The plot wasn’t very quick paced; the author concentrated more on noticing and describing in detail the littlest things.
That being said, it was a good read. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical books, can deal a relatively slower plot and doesn’t mind a dash of fantasy! I won’t say I loved the book, but I am glad I read it.

Reading Shakespeare

“In nature’s infinite book of secrecy
a little I can read – Soothsayer”

That’s right. I am doing the unimaginable; reading a Shakespearean play. I don’t even know how I got here. It started when I read two German books in one night, desperately wanting to read something English next. And I have always wanted to read a real play. Two days alone at home (no one to disturb me, no errands to run) seems like the best time; the coffee and rain being added advantages.

So, here I am, reading the Antony & Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Why this play? Firstly, I wanted to read a tragedy and I wasn’t too keen on reading Romeo and Juliet, somehow. A few years ago my sister forced me to watch a documentary on Cleopatra, and I remember being completely fascinated, in spite of myself. There isn’t anything not fascinating about Roman history, anyway.

I haven’t ever read any plays and this isn’t particularly easy for a first-time-play-reader. But although finishing it seems like a terrifyingly daunting task, I do love what I am reading right now. I’ll get back to you once I’m done!