The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

“You start a question, and it’s like starting a stone. You sit quietly on the top of a hill; and away the stone goes, starting others…”

There are certain works of art where the more you learn about their creation, the more you appreciate how brilliant they are. Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a brilliant poem, and one of my favourites, yet it gains an extra levels of “wow” when you realise he wrote it on a whim in a friendly poetry competition with a friend. So it goes with Jekyll & Hyde, which is a brilliant book in its own right but becomes even more amazing when you realise Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it in six weeks, in bed, while recovering from illness. (And, in honour of that marvellous feat, I have elected to write this review in bed too, and to try and write it as quickly as possible!)Read More »

Through The Looking Glass

“I said you LOOKED like an egg, Sir. And some eggs are very pretty, you know.”

Just as the book preceding this one acted as a palate cleanser, Through The Looking Glass was a literary oasis for me; a brief, whimsical respite between two fearfully oppressive books. After Tess of the D’Urbervilles almost broke my brain, Lewis Carroll was there to lift my spirits with another dose of fantastical invention and frivolity, with a book that is childish in the best possible sense.Read More »

Tess Of The D’Urbervilles

This review of what is, perhaps, Thomas Hardy’s most famous and well-received novel, has genuinely angered me as I’ve written it. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is an unrelenting tale of woe and injustice, against both its heroine and the reader, and to discuss that in any degree of detail requires spoiling the event early on in the novel which precipitates the entire narrative – though I promise not to spoil anything further about the plot. Although it’s mentioned in most blurbs and synopses of the book, it’s the type of event which would serve as a comeuppance to a more disreputable heroine in a moral tale. Here, however, it’s a paragon of injustice which Hardy wields like a battle-axe in order to critique sexual morals and gender roles of the Victorian age (while also taking your standard potshots at organised religion and the ways of provincial life).Read More »

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is my palate cleanser. Suffering from a fierce book hangover after Great Expectations, I needed to blitz through something light-hearted and so utterly contrary to the gloomy books I’d been reading in recent weeks that it would reinvigorate me on my classics-devouring quest. Lewis Carroll was the man to rise to that challenge, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the book to meet it; a story that is saturated to the point of bursting with whimsy, intelligence and mad imagination in ways I have never before encountered while reading any book.Read More »

Great Expectations

It’s been over six months since I last read a novel by Charles Dickens (I’m not counting A Christmas Carol, that was only a short story!) because as much as I enjoyed it, Hard Times was actually pretty difficult to wade through. It was perfectly content to rely so heavily on its satire of Utilitarian ideas and the treatment of the working classes during the industrial revolution that, by the novel’s end, 200 pages felt like 500. The opposite, I think, can be said of Great Expectations. Its 500 pages simply flew by in a whirlwind of memorable characters, slightly contrived but thoroughly enjoyable plotting, and themes treated so lightly that teasing them out was actually a great deal of fun.Read More »

Middlemarch

I can’t remember when I last read a book which actually won me over despite skepticism forming in my mind as I read its opening chapters. I’ve certainly read books recently that have started out strongly but, as they wear on, squander the goodwill built up in their opening chapters (looking at you, Vanity Fair), so to find the antithesis of such a book in George Eliot’s exquisite meditation on Victorian provincial life, Middlemarch, was a wonderful surprise.Read More »

The Turn of the Screw

Dear Mr Henry James,

If it wasn’t already clear in my review of Heart of Darkness, my fascination with a book and the level of ambiguity with which it’s written tend to correlate quite well. When reading your wonderful novel The Turn Of The Screw, it struck me that not only must you have discovered this, but you had so clearly set yourself a challenge to see how much of a novel’s particulars you could keep under wraps while still maintaining my interest in the story. Read More »

Heart of Darkness

It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream–making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams…No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence–that which makes its truth, its meaning–its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream-alone…”

I’ve set myself some pretty interesting challenges on this blog over the last few months, but I can’t remember having as much trouble trying to figure out my thoughts on a book as I have with Joseph Conrad’s brilliantly written yet enigmatic tale of the dark side of imperialism and man’s obsession, Heart of Darkness.Read More »

A Christmas Carol

Marley was dead, to begin with…This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

I woke up the other day with a peculiar notion lodged in my brain. It was my first day off in many many weeks, and I finally had a good stretch of time to catch up on all the TV I’d missed, and to finish the book I’d been reading for so long. However, this idea was too stubborn to be shifted, and I knew it would be a worthwhile undertaking, so here is the result. The idea was this: to read and reflect on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” in time for Christmas, in amongst all the present-wrapping and TV-watching and chocolate-eating that is essential in the run up to Christmas Day!Read More »

Frankenstein

To be honest, I was not expecting to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein anytime soon. I studied the Gothic genre during my A Levels, and this was on my “Read Me Soon Please” list throughout, but I never got around to reading it at the time. Unexpectedly, however, recent circumstances led me to put down the book I’ve been reading for almost two months (which I have now resumed, and a review of which shall appear as soon as I can muster enough brain power to wrap my head around it) in order to read “Frankenstein” quickly and messily.Read More »

Hard Times

Hard Times concerns itself with the goings-on of several varied protagonists in the fictional Northern industrial populace of Coketown. Given the novel’s title and industrial setting, those going in with no real preconceptions of the text (like me) might presume a few things about the tone of the novel, the course the plot will likely take, and the types of characters who will carry that plot. But this story, one of Charles Dickens’ least-read works and certainly his shortest, challenged my prejudices at every turn with pointed satire, surprising emotional power and witty, brilliant writing.Read More »