I bought this book back in January, simply because the blurb likened it to I Capture The Castle, and ended up “saving” it for the Persephone Reading Week (hosted by Verity and Claire). I had great expectations from this book (if you may excuse the totally unnecessary pun), not only because of the blurb comparing it to one of my favourite books from last year, but also because the writer is Charles Dickens’ great-granddaugher, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The title of this book is inspired by Tennyson’s Mariana:

She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary;
I would that I were dead!”

and it’s the story of a young girl, Mary, reflecting on her life as a child, teenager and finally, an adult. In the opening chapter itself, Mary hears the news that a British Destroyer has sunk, and the next-of-kin of those departed have been informed. There are some survivors. There’s a storm outdoors, the telephone lines are down, and there’s nothing she can do in that point in time to find out whether she’s going to be the recipient of good news, or bad; whether her dearest has survived or not.

While she restlessly awaits the morning to go into town, she reflects on her life – from the time she was eight years old until now. The idyllic visits to her grandparents’ estate in Chabury during the vacations, the stress of school, her hilarious experience at a school for drama, her fantastic year in Paris (being courted by the romantic Pierre) and of course, the “happily ever after” before now.

I don’t know what it is about the name “Mary,” but the characters are oft’ quite contrary (as in the nursery rhyme). The protagonist of the Dickens’ novel is no different. She’s spoilt, wants her own way most of the time, and her mother normally gives in.

“You’re so utterly wrapped up in yourself that you have no interests outside your own egotism. You’ve obviously been accustomed to having your own way all your life – someone to do this and that for you, to listen to your complaints and pander to your moods -“

Despite that, I found myself rooting for Mary through the book – her naivety coupled with her innocence and idealism make her quite a charming character. There were times she was annoying, and deserved to be put in place, though, and at some points she just seemed very weak-minded and self-pitying. Was it the childhood romance gone wrong? Or, the indulgent Uncle who lived with her and her mother? Or, just a part of growing up, struggling with identity and desiring independence?

The writing is humorous, and the book an easy, “fun” read. It’s not like one giant reflection on her life. Instead, it’s like numerous continuous flashbacks, with no nod to the present.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and half-wish I’d read it when I was still a teenager. While I had no trouble relating to Mary now, I think I’d’ve loved her much much more when I was sixteen.

Have you read any other Monica Dickens? Would you recommend them?

And how’s your Persephone Reading Week coming along?


Claire & Verity are hosting Persephone Reading Week#2 this week (yep, am a day late with my post). I missed out on this last year, but was quite looking forward to reading a couple of Persephone books this year. In fact, I’d even picked out a couple of books and kept it aside for this week.

I’m not going to commit to anything, but I do want to read both of them this week. If not both, definitely the one.

Look forward to all the Persephone-related posts in the blog’o’sphere, and adding some more books to my to-be-read collection.

Are you joining in in Persephone Reading Week#2? What are your reading plans?

Angela Carter’s debut book, Shadow Dance, is the fifth book by her that I’ve read, and it’s as bizarre as the previous three. Due to a million other things, I wasn’t able to get my thoughts out on this sooner, which is a pity, as I wanted it to tie in with Claire’s Angela Carter  Month, which I have mentioned before. Oh well, better late than never, I guess.

Shadow Dance is set in London in the 1960s (similar to Several Perceptions), and it focuses on the darker side of London, with unlikeable characters taking centerstage. The opening chapter of the book itself dove straight into the story: the return of a young beautiful girl who was raped and had her face knifed (and subsequently scarred for life) by the idiosyncratic Honeybuzzard.

However, neither the girl (Ghislaine) nor Honey are the protagonists of the book – at least, neither of them seem to be the protagonists to me. Yes, the book does revolve around them, but it’s through the eyes of Morris – a weak indecisive character, who runs an antique shop with Honey.

Morris had slept with Ghislaine, despite being married, and spends most of the book trying to avoid her, as she returns to reality, after spending a fair bit of time at the hospital. Her return affects a fair few people, who frequented the same bar as her. It also affects the wives of the many people who slept with her.

Honeybuzzard is away when Ghislaine returns, and when he makes an appearance in the book, it’s with a new lover in tow: Emily. Emily doesn’t know Honey (or Morris) very well, but she does cook for them and help them keep the store. A mysterious character, obsessed with cleanliness, Emily rarely smiles and remains a figure of much contemplation.

As the many characters in the book come together, so the story evolves, and keeps the reader turning page after page, delighting in the beautiful, yet macabre, writing.

He lived in a state of guilty fear, starting at sudden noises, frightened of shadows. He was tormented by a recurrent dream, a mutation of the nightmare of the first night. /he dreamed he was cutting Ghislaine’s face with a kitchen knife. The knife was blunt and kept slipping. Her head came off in his hands, after a while, and he cut her into a turnip lantern, put a candle inside and lit it through her freshly carved mouth.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, which is an incredibly strong debut. I find it takes a special kind of talent for the writer to write a book, where none of the characters are really likeable, and yet, the story is completely captivating. One keeps hoping that one of the characters will redeem themselves, and one keeps wondering how much worse a character can get. It’s a fascinating glimpse into people, their personalities and how they live with themselves, just to get by.

I do wonder though, how I’d read this book, if it was my first Carter. Would I enjoy it as much as I did, or would it be way too disturbing?

Don’t you love Terry Pratchett books? I do, despite never having read any in my teenage years, and Nation, a non-Discworld story, is no exception. Set in an alternate universe (or a parallel universe, if you like), this is the story of a young boy (Mau) whose homecoming has been ruined by a massive tidal wave, which has completely destroyed his village. There are no survivors, but him; and then he meets another survivor – from a shipwreck. Daphne, a posh British girl, with some royal blood, who doesn’t speak the same language as Mau, nor is she accustomed to his kind of lifestyle.

As they try getting acquainted with one another, Pratchett exploits the humour surrounding language and cultural differences, keeping the reader thoroughly entertained; be it Daphne cooking for him, or him not realising what pointing a gun at him meant; be it the importance of trousers or the lack of clothes altogether.

As more people seek refuge in the ‘Nation’, the tone of the book changes. The humour remains, but the book takes a more philosophical turn, exploring ideas of nontheism, as Mau’s faith gradually evolves – from hating the gods for taking away the Nation to figuring out the importance of belief. As the two children grow up gradually, the nature of responsibilities they take on, for both – themselves and the people on the island – increases. Mau leads the people as they look for answers, while Daphne learns about breastfeeding, child-bearing and looking after the children of the other women on the island.

I did enjoy this book, despite the last chapter tying things up all too neatly. At the same time, it’s important to remember that this is a young adult book, so that should not be surprising.

Claire sent me a copy of The Bloody Chamber last month, and I resisted opening it ’til the Angela Carter month kicked off. My previous experience with Angela Carter’s short stories collection wasn’t great, so despite the great things I’ve read about this collection, I was ever so slightly ambivalent about it.

Nonetheless, my fears (if I may call the ambivalence so) were quickly allayed as I lost myself in the title story, The Bloody Chamber – a story that starts in an almost “happily-ever-after” fairytale-esque manner. Yet, a combination of the title and familiarity with Angela Carter’s writing was reason enough to believe that the story would take a gothic turn. And so it did. I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the story for even a second though, and it was enough to believe that this collection of short stories would be more enjoyable, less random.

The other stories followed suit; re-vamped fairy tales, re-invented characters, but these stories aren’t just re-told in a different voice. That would be the most unfair assessment of all. These stories are original, picking up on some of the latent themes prevalent in the classic fairytales we’ve known and loved, and improvising on them to create dark depraved tales which delighted and shocked me.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the stories that make an appearance in this collection, and despite being a big fan of the original (who didn’t love the Disney movie?), I was thoroughly wowed by Carter’s more adult version. Abundant with vice and a hint of sexuality, the re-working of this story seemed almost real, while simultaneously being totally fantastical.

While I did love most of the stories in this collection, a couple did leave me feeling indifferent. Puss in Boots was one of them, and annoyingly enough, I can’t really pinpoint what I didn’t really enjoy about it. It just didn’t grab me like the others did. Is that good enough a reason? I don’t know, but, it’s all I’ve got.

It’s a provocative gothic collection, surreal as always (and these are fairy tales, so the surrealism element automatically gets incremented), but totally captivating. I recommend it highly, simply because it takes the safe happy world of fairy tales, and turns it upside down, while teasing you and making you beg for more; be it the re-working of Sleeping Beauty, or the overhauling of Red Riding Hood.

Again, thanks Claire for the giveaway. I’m really happy I won! :)

Have you read any gothic fairy tales? Which ones would you recommend?

PS: I recently finished The Book Of Lost Things which also has fairy-tales twisted and re-told in the narrative. I was very impressed by it as well, and despite Connolly being no Angela Carter, I thoroughly loved it, so it’s something else I’d rate quite highly.

I’ve been AWOL last few weeks, as I’ve been moving house, and working overtime! Not the best combination. The new place still doesn’t have internet, but, thank god for tethering. I apologise for disappearing into thin air, but hopefully, I’m back!

I’ve got two books still to review, from my reading in March, plus I just finished The Bloody Chamber so, lots to catch up on! March wasn’t a great reading month for me, so I’d ideally like to finish last month’s book stack this month. Not counting on it though, as I’ll be travelling for about ten days in ten days time (seriously!), and work’s just piling on as well.

Also, Claire’s hosting the Angela Carter month this month, so, I’d recommend stopping by there irrespective of whether you’re an Angela Carter newbie, or a fan. As already said, I’ve just finished The Bloody Chamber, and I’ll be penning down my thoughts on the book tonight.

I plan to read a couple of more Carters this month, with Shadow Dance and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman being the most likely. I’m really looking forward to reading them, as well as seeing what everyone else is reading, and how they’re getting on with her works.

Finally, it would be almost rude to talk about moving home, and not sharing pics of my new work area and bookshelf. The bookshelf’s already overflowing, but I absolutely love it. And I adore my new workspace as well. It’s still missing my big screen, which is still at my old place, but I don’t have the guts to attempt getting it on the tube, so, going to have to find someone willing to make the trek and give me a hand.

Spent all day yesterday building my favourite part of the room, and I am pleased with the results, so here goes…

Moving house is annoying, but, when the end result looks like that, there’s some gratification. Don’t you think so?

Also, what do you have planned for April, when spring’s ’round the corner, and hopefully, we’ll be able to put away our overcoats for the next six months? Can’t wait!

Death At Intervals (also published as Death With Interruptions) is an extremely surreal book by the Nobel Laureate, Jose Saramago. In a country (not necessarily futuristic), people have stopped dying one new year’s day, in spite of illness, accidents and life in general.

The different strata of society react differently: people are initially joyous as they contemplate immortality; the religious people and the philosophers try debating it out – without death, what is the point of religion – and, the politicians, who try and figure out the socio-economic repercussions.

However, the implications of immortality are far severe than people initially realised, and while they resort to euthanasia, and taking relatives outside the country, in order to die a natural death, a new criminal organisation, the maphia, come into action, who provide the services of ensuring old, ill and suffering family members die.

The maphia would not be what it is had it failed to find a solution to the problem. It really is a shame, if you will allow us a brief aside, that the brilliant intellects leading these criminal organisations should have departed from the strait and narrow path of respect for the law and disobeyed the wise biblical precept that urges us to earn our daily bread by the sweat of our brow, but facts are facts, and while repeating adamastor’s sad words, ah, but my heart is sick to tell the tale, we will set down here the distressing news of the trick deployed by the maphia to get round a difficulty which was, to all appearances, insoluble.

While the first half of this book asks the important philosophical questions about the importance of death, and debates euthanasia, the second half of the book has the anthropomorphic death herself as the narrator. The significance of “death” signing off with a “d” instead of “D” is also discussed, when she (yes, death is anthropomorphised as a female) sends a letter to a newspaper editor, where she says Death is far scarier and omniscient than she, herself.

She changes tactics, from ensuring no one dies to sending a letter to the victim a week prior to his death, so that he has sufficient time to wrap up his affairs. Of course, when it comes to death, a heads up might not be the best way forward….

I can’t say I enjoyed the book despite its interesting premise though. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it – I just found the writing really difficult to read at times (above quote withstanding). The punctuation is random, and even long conversations lacked quotations, so much so that I had to go back and re-read chunks to figure out the flow of the conversation.

Don’t get me wrong – it is a fantastic book with captivating debates on politics, religion and economics, and I think it’s one of those that would definitely be worth a re-read.

Have you read this book by Saramago? Or, any others? How do they compare? I think I’d like to try Blindness next….