Friday, December 14, 2012

The Scarlet Letter

I cheated a bit with The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - I listened to an audio book whilst in the car. What hit me most was the language - magnificent. I love the old fashioned prose, and that way Hawthorne  used description and metaphor.

The other thing that struck me was the intensity, and this is partially created by the way the language is used. The characters' emotions are analysed and wound out through physical characteristics - their guilt and anguish is felt by the reader so potently because pages and pages are spent on developing the turmoil of the characters.
   In general, I am starting to prefer English/European classics rather than American classics. I am not very familiar with American history. But what this book did was remind me how long America has been settled and what their beginnings were like. This book is based in the 1640s! I tend to forget that there was much settlement in America before the American revolution. Even then, America seems to become what it is today after the American civil war. This book just shows what a different place American was a few hundred years ago.
   The conservatism and extreme religious beliefs/views made me think about how different society was then and is today. It also highlighted the stark different between Australia's origins which were rough and founded with convicts, whereas the American settlement seemed to be extremely conservative. Two countries born fairly recently out of extremely different origins, and yet converging in so many ways in modern times.
   Rather than the story grabbing me particularly, this novel made me quite philosophical ...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

2012 Classics Challenge Completed

I joined by to November's Autumns's 2012 Classics Challenge late last year. Here's my original post - the goal was to read seven classics, only three of which could be re-reads. My list was:

Great Expectations
Sons and Lovers
The Master and Margarita
The Grapes of Wrath
Madame Bovary
The Happy Prince
Anna Karenina

I didn't get around to reading The Grapes of Wrath - it's still sitting here waiting. But in the process of the year, I also made a commitment to the Classics Club to read 50 classics by May 2017.
   As well as those read above, I also read the following classics this year:

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
The Great Gatsby
Lady Chatterley's Lover

Here are my posts in response to the prompts posted by November's Autumn:

September Prompt
July Prompt
June Prompt
April Prompt
March Prompt
February Prompt
January Prompt

This challenge was very enjoyable, so thank-you to November's Autumn for hosting it and thinking up a prompt each month to keep us engaged. Looking back over the year as been a good activity, because although the year seems to have flown, a lot has been packed into it, and I've read a lot. It feels like a long time ago that I read some of these novels. Lots more classics reading to come ...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Past the Shallows

After taking 9 weeks to read the last novel, I flew through Favel Parrett's Past the Shallows in a few days. On the 2012 shortlist for the Miles Franklin award, this book was just a pleasure to read. This is another Australian novel for the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge.
   The language is simple, short and sharp. The sentences are long and descriptive when they need to be, and short and quick to keep the pace going when they need to. When the writing is imitating the thoughts of the young boys that are the main characters, the sentences are short and simple. The language leaves so much unsaid, and yet the characters are so vivid.

Aunty Jean is the only living female in the story. She appears both cruel and caring, self-centred and yet generous, unstable but intuitive. She knows how the boys live, and how their father treats them, and yet she doesn't do more. She buys groceries for them once during the story, and lets them starve otherwise, when she knows their father doesn't provide for them. She dissolves into tears very quickly, but then she takes Joe's safe haven away from him by contesting the Grandfather's Will and selling the house. She must have her own reasons, but she is a very complex character. The image of her that I get is of an older women, fairly large, and wearing oversized cotton dresses. There is not much description of her at all.
   It is interesting that the boys' father is only ever referred to as 'Dad' throughout the novel. I think we learn his full name once, but it doesn't have much impact. He is a faceless monster.
   Maybe Aunty Jean is afraid of Dad, which is why she doesn't interfere more. Maybe the whole community is afraid to do something - it must have been set in time some years ago, otherwise someone would get child protective services to visit (or the Fisheries staff would have made a report to child protective services after their visit).
   It is suggested that the ocean is a metaphor for Dad - that Harry fears it, and Miles both loves and hates it. Until I read this suggestion, it didn't occur to me. I thought that the way the boys related to the ocean reflected more on their own characters. Harry is more tentative and sensitive - he is not daring and rebellious like the older boys. Miles is the typical middle child, trying to please everyone - he wants to be free, but he feels obligated to look after Dad and look after Harry.
   The piecing together of memories and events is done very skilfully by Favel Parrett, and although a lot is left unresolved at the end (about Dad, mainly), is doesn't really matter. You only care for the boys, and the reader knows that all will be well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony

This is the novel that took me the last 9 weeks to read - it's 841 pages and really consists of three volumes; Australia Felix, The Way Home, and Ultima Thule. The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is written by Henry Handel Richardson, which is the pen-name of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson who was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1870. So I read it as part of the 2012 Aussie Author Challenge, but it could really be a novel for the 2012 Classics Challenge or the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

I will use extracts from the Afterword by Dorothy Green:
   "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is at once one of the simplest books to read and one of the most complex and profound: a fusion of the domestic and the sublime which has no parallel ... It is first of all an absorbing account of a marriage, of a union between a man and a young girl, who grow and change, who seem for most of their lives to be polar opposites, each with a particular 'wisdom' which contradicts the other's. Yet at the end, we find that they have exchanged that wisdom, each has learnt painfully what the other knew, and the underlying bond, the bedrock affinity between them, is re-affirmed.
   "From one point of view ... The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is a novel about money, about the struggle to get a living, or to grow rich. Set against the background of the great goldmining boom of the mid-nineteenth century, money is a bone of contention between husband and wife, even through their brief period of great prosperity". It is here that I deviate, because whilst this novel was set about 150 years ago, Richard Mahony was struggling with many of the traits that the modern Generation Y is accredited with - need for money, materialism, restlessness, and impatience towards advancement in life. It was really interesting to see these traits so described in a long-ago generation that is looked back upon as somewhat of a golden era, with very different worries from today. In fact, their worries were the same as ours.
   "Marriage and money: these are subjects of abiding interest to all human beings. But there is a third one linked with them in this novel: the circumstance of being an emigrant, of being homeless, of feeling alienated ... The first volume, Australia Felix, concerns the bustling commercial life of a society precariously based on mining, whose members are struggling towards financial security. Its movement it towards settled order from chaos; its image is earth, the stable element which nurtures life if it is not abused. The second volume, The Way Home, reveals the security is an illusion, no sooner acquired than lost, or if not lost, then regarded as irksome. Its image is the sea, the dangerous unstable element which Mary dislikes and Richard loves. Its movement is towards instability, the breaking up of established patterns. it also demonstrates the truth of Mary's assertion: 'But people are the same everywhere!'. The stuffy provincialism which drives Richard back to England is a habit of mind, not a geographical reality, a habit even more pronounced in the home country than in the colony. In the first volume and for much of the second we are conscious of the social background to the lives of the central characters, but the author gradually closes in on them as Richard's alienation progresses, until in the third volume, Ultima Thule, the narrative concentrates almost exclusively on the states of mind of Richard, Mary and their son Cuffy.
   "The secret of the power of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony to move to tears so many of its readers (including me) lies hidden in the mystery of imagination ... To try to read The Fortunes of Richard Mahony with full attention is not so much a task which every educated Australian might be expected to perform, but an unforgettable experience of the profundities which sustain the simplicities of existence; an experience which shakes and strengthens the reader who yields himself to it, and which endows the common dust with a tragic grandeur."
   That says it all. Exquisite.


I haven't posted anything throughout October or November 2012. I have a good reason, but I apologise anyway, because I value my followers and fellow bloggers more than my ego.

   I bought a business, so I am part of the way to achieving my goals. Though being a business owner will make is difficult to achieve my other goals - of being an avid reading and becoming a published author - because there is just so little time in the day.

   So, it took me nine weeks to read the novel that I started just before I bought the business. I will write a post about ti shortly. It was a lengthy novel, but it's the longest I've taken to read a book, and I must say that I am glad to finally have finished it and to be able to move on!
   More posts to follow ...