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The Misanthrope- Moliere

The Misanthrope by Moliere is a play about manners and ethics of the French nobility. Alceste is a rather grumpy, off putting character who believes in personal integrity- in acting and talking to someone the same way as you talk and feel about them when they aren’t there (no being polite to their face and bitching behind their back- be rude to them in person too if that is how you feel!) He would rather not falsely call someone a friend, until he truly considers them as such. Most of his contempories prefer to hide negative thoughts about someone in order to follow social niceties.

Surprisingly, he has fallen in love with a socialite who loves to say witty but rude things about people she and her guests have in common. She says she loves him, but is she true?

The play contrasts the extremes of fake pleasantness vs harsh truthfullness in its characters, with only Alceste’s friend Philinte acting with a happy medium- being polite in social circumstances, but truthful when a friend needs to be told how he is going wrong.

It is a fairly pleasant read, but I found myself wondering by the end what the point really was. It is funny because recently my brother and I ended up accidentally both separately attending Tartuffe (or the Hypocrite) at the theatre on the same night. He felt like he couldn’t see why that play was written- what the point was- whereas I didn’t feel that way. Tartuffe is a play about a conman who has weaselled his way into the favour of the father of a rich family by pretending to be a holy man. He in fact is a terrible man who wants to sleep with the wife and steal all their money. He is creepy, dirty, sleazy and the type of man who makes your skin crawl, but at the start the whole family can see this but not get the dad (and grandma) to. This set it up for a good fun time of the family trying to plan how to bring him down, with lots of humour and awkwardness and catastophies and a steady drive towards the climactic confrontation. At the same time there was an underlying commentary on  people who are false or self serving in religion, and those who are gullible or seem to prefer to not look too deeply at what is going on.

I suspect that like with many plays, I would perhaps have gotten more out of the Misanthrope if I saw it performed. I suppose that the issue around where the border is between telling white lies to keep people happy and being fake, is one that holds throughout the ages and is still worth contemplating now.

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The Pillars of the Earth

-by Ken Follett

This book was leant to me by a friend who loves historical fiction, with the  praise of being her favourite book ever. Unexpectedly, it is about the building of a cathedral in twelfth century England. Spanning 50 years, it follows a group of key figures who are working towards the building of the cathedral, and their enemies who want to stop them. Politics, religion and ambition intertwine, shaping the outcome of whole towns.

The story is based very much in a few character’s everyday life and thoughts, with the interconnected, overarching politics seeming both an outside force that is slightly set apart from them, and a web they are inherently involved in and creating. Each main character has different areas they focus on based on their interests, having both somewhat mundane and somewhat specialised areas- the master builder will think about his family, relationship and sex, as well as wax lyrical about the beauty and mathematics of building a cathedral; the priest focusses on both the practical aspects of running the priory and building the cathedral, and the spiritual aspects of what he is doing.

At 1070 pages, it is a long read, but not a difficult one. There are diversions into stories that I can’t quite call side stories- each character has the time and space in this novel to have a significant period of there life explored, and while not all that happens directly influences the main story of the building, everything comes together in the end to inexorably lead towards the final building. I often found these diversion, or explorations, to be some of the most interesting bits- they were often about how a relationship formed or changed. The novel could still work without a lot of these explorations and be much shorter, but but the length and depth gives a sense of the slow, steady progress of time, and the holistic nature of life (everything is interconnected).

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The Rosie Project

-by Graeme Simsion

Don is a genetics professor who is searching for a wife. His efforts so far have not been successful at all, and as a logical person he decides there has to be a way to eliminate unlikely matches earlier and streamline the process. He creates a 16 page questionnaire, which has to be answered in a very specific way to prove compatibility. But then Rosie comes along- in reality she just wants an answer to a question to settle a bet, but he mistakes her as a candidate and his world is never the same again.

I loved this book. While it is easy to imagine how the main character Don, who probably has undiagnosed Aspergers syndrome,  could be annoying or exasperating to those in his life, it is really fun and interesting to read his story.  Don’s way of thinking means that he often has less detail about the things we usually notice and describe to give a reader a sense of a room or a person, but more about things we don’t- more little facts about human nature and the inconsistencies we live with without realising. There were a few things that he pointed out that made total sense to me- for example he doesn’t decorate his apartment, because the human brain ignores things that are the same as previously and only notices the new- so he thinks what is the use paying and arranging decorations that he will only appreciate for a week or so. For me, I can’t see things if there is too much clutter- if the fridge is full I can’t see anything to eat, so I keep it at least half empty, and I have noticed that if you leave some mess out long enough you stop noticing it.

All in all this book is very light hearted and easy to read. I imagine almost anyone would enjoy it, unless they are the type of person who just has one genre they like and don’t like any others.

 

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Outlander- Diana Gabaldon

I was quite surprised by this book. I am not sure quite what I was expecting- probably a fun historical fantasy adventure that could be classified as ‘young adult’, because the last time I have read books with elements of historical fiction and fantasy was a few years ago. Also it was recommended by two friends who I know as bright bubbly mothers and professionals. I was pre-warned that the outlander TV series has an entire episode around a rape or something similar (haven’t watched it yet and it was mentioned in undertones in the tearoom- I think that’s what she said) that one of the girls found a bit too much. But I was still caught by surprise at how ‘adult’ this book was.

 

Claire Randall is on a holiday with her husband researching his family history in Scotland after the end of the second world war which kept them apart for most of their married life. Unexpectedly, Claire finds herself transported back in time to 1743, where she finds herself caught between a skirmish of the English and the Scottish. She is taken to be kept an eye on by the Scots, and after a period of disbelief, learns to live among them. And it is rough. There is poverty and corrupt use of power, men who have never heard of feminism, people who enjoy torture, there is rape, witch trials, domestic violence,  almost being killed by wild animals, infighting and sex… lots of sex.

 

The writing style was fairly straight forward. It was written in first person from Claire’s point of view. The Scots’ speech was written in their accent with local words thrown in, but I didn’t find it was too hard to understand.

 

There is always something fascinating about historical works- what I found most interesting was the harshness of life, compared with say  most of Shakespeare’s plays, or the Tudors series- which do have violence and treacherous politics but still manage to have a sheen of pleasantness, respectability and orderliness. Life in Outlander seems much more archaic and less modern than life in those other works which were set in a time 200 years earlier- the focus on nobility in the earlier works is probably the reason for this.

 

Overall I still haven’t decided if I am going to keep on with the series- at times it was a bit too adult and I wasn’t enjoying it, but there is a part of me that wants to read the next books because they go to interesting places and times.

 

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Top Ten Tuesday and January Wrap up.

This week at Broke and Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesdays it is all about ‘the visuals’, so here are my top 10 picture books:

-Home for a Bunny
-There is a Monster at the End of This Book
-Possum Magic
-Mister men
-Buster cat goes out
-Fox in sox
-Pirate Pete and the Zylonites- by Wendy Milotti
-Something Horrid- by Knarelle Beard
-Elephant Elements- by Bernadette Gervais and Francesco Pittau
-Theodore mouse up in the air


Reading Challenges: January

Not much progress this month unfortunately, but I have a pretty good excuse. It is coming up to exams so for the past 6 weeks I have been studying for around 2 hours after work and at least 6 hours every non work day (Christmas included!)

So yes, I have read a total of 2 books. Reviews for Outlander and the Rosie Project will be scheduled in the next 2 weeks.

Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge

  • Outlander

Contemporary Romance Reading Challenge

  • The Rosie Project

Rock My TBR Challenge

  • Outlander

52 Books in 52 Weeks

  1. Outlander
  2. The Rosie Project

Netflix and Books Challenge

  • Outlander (500+ pages) -50 points
  • Gilmore Girls seasons 4-6 -150 points

All About Austen

  • Rewatched Austenland with a friend who had never seen it before- so much fun.
  • Jane Austen Book club– technically I read this just before New years, but my review was posted this year, if you wanted to read it.

Colour Coded Challenge

  • Red: the Rosie Project

2017 Diverse Reads Book Challenge

  • the Rosie Project: main character with Aspergers
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The Jane Austen Book Club

I got this book in a recent Opshop* with questions running through my mind. Had I really not read this book yet? Didn’t I get it a few years ago? What happened to it? Surely a book about two of my favourite things (Austen and books) would be remembered!

The first chapter I did remember, and cleared up a bit of the confusion- I could have sworn that the incident described from Jocelyn’s past was from the book Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. I also remember not liking Divine Secrets but with my only memory being the passage falsely attributed to it!  I am pretty sure I read them around the same time- thus the mix up.

As I read on I realised that I didn’t remember anything past the first chapter. Sounds pretty dire for the book- either it was unmemorable, or I didn’t like it enough and stopped reading it. I have only ever stopped reading a handful of books in my life. But I liked the book more as it continued, and my overall summary is that it is a fairly pleasant read. It it based around a small group of people who meet to discuss Austen’s books. Each time a different person hosts, and we delve into an aspect of their past, or in Prudie’s case her present. This makes it somewhat like those Love Actually type movies, or a collection of short stories. Personally I quite like these movies, but prefer my books to have more of a driving narrative. There are a lot of Austen spin offs and reproductions out there, and unfortunately I find most don’t live up to the original. I love a lot of the BBC productions, and Austenland (the movie), but have yet to found a book that really captures her magic.

 

 

*second hand store for you non-Aussie/NZ readers (short for opportunity shop- cheap second hand goods with profits going to charity)

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Once Upon a Dream- a twisted tale

Once Upon a Dream-  a Twisted Tale, by Liz Braswell, is a retake of Sleeping Beauty. It is part of a series, with the Disney branding, which takes a look at how the story might have gone if a key point went wrong. The first title in the series, a Whole New World, follow the political upheaval when Jafar gets the lamp, not Aladdin. Once Upon a Dream is the second book, and it asks ‘what if sleeping beauty didn’t wake up when she was kissed by the prince- what if he was sucked into her dream and they had to escape together?’

The font size and short chapters (sometimes only a few pages long) make me suspect that the target audience is probably the younger reader (maybe tweens?), but after the first few chapters it was enthralling enough that I didn’t care. There was also some psychological aspects which were quiet complex and mature- as Aurora Rose travelled deeper into her dream world, she was delving deeper into her own mind. I found myself a bit surprised at the depth that was put into this ‘fairy tale’- this could have just been a fun, interesting,magical adventure, but the exploration of Aurora inner workings was a great addition. I found myself internally feeling ‘yes- that’s how it is meant to be’ at several points.

I love Disney, and unlike some sequels and spin offs, this book was not a disappointment. I actually felt really disappointed that it is not me who gets to write this series- because the mix of fantasy and psychological it so me! If there are any Disney staff out there reading this- pick me next time! 😛

 

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The book of Chameleons

Book: The Book of Chameleons- José Eduardo Agualusa
Around the World:
how obtained: kindle version ~$5


 

Angola is a south western African nation. It was under Portuguese rule from the mid-1600s until Independence in 1975. There was then 27 years of civil war, ending only in 2002. The book of Chameleons is set shortly after this, in the house of Felix Ventura, and albino man who collects books, and sells new pasts to people who don’t like their own history. The narrator is a laughing chameleon, a friendly companion to Felix, who sometimes ends up in his dreams in a human form.

A mysterious man shows up for a new past. And then he keeps showing up, to ask more details about his family and childhood- as if he actually believed Felix that the made up story was all true. The man becomes obsessed with a man living in the sewers. A woman becomes Felix’s love interest. And somehow, the real history of these people comes out amongst the made up fantasies, and purposeful misremembering.

I really enjoyed this book- it has been one of my favourites so far. It is fairly short (~3hr read), with chapters only a couple pages at times. The narrator is pleasant, intelligent and rather straightforward in descriptions for a lizard, but with a few odd perspectives and dream sequences thrown in. The story line is gentle- there is a climax, and some dark happening in the past are discussed, but it is never depressing or angst provoking. Suitable for when you are in the mood for learning and growing, and also for when relaxing on a holiday- this book is suitable for most people in most situations.

 

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The Teacher of Cheops

Book: The Teacher of Cheops-Albert Salvadó
Around the World: Andorra
how obtained: kindle version


Andorra is a tiny little principality of around 79000 people that lies on the border of France and Spain. For many years, the leaders of the country were jointly the bishop of Spain and the president of France! They still are the figurehead leaders, but there is now a parliament.

This book is the only one of Salvado’s books to be translated from Catalan to English. He has written historical fiction, crime/suspense, children’s books and essays. The teacher of Cheops is set in Egypt in the time of Pharaoh Snefru. Sedum is born a slave, but through chance, quick thinking and the self serving manipulation of a high priest is able to rise to the station of a free man and palace accountant. Its main theme is the interplay between destiny and creating your own destiny- how much does the world and others affect us, and how much can we change it.

I enjoyed most of this book- with its little diversions into philosophy, aspects of suspense,and just being a very different setting to the other books I have been reading lately. The main things I didn’t like were just a few uncomfortable scenes/passages. The main one was right near the start- Sedum’s mother was a disfigured 14 year old, who had been born free but was now a slave. Another slave escapes and seeks refuge in the closed of area of the tent she is in. He holds her still, with a hand over her mouth to stop her from giving him away. And then they have sex. It is written that she becomes aroused by him holding her and wants it to happen, but at no point is anything verbalised, she isn’t asked, he has just overpowered her, they never even look at each others faces, and as mentioned, she is only 14. Going from scared to wanting sex with this stranger within a few seconds, in a 14 year old who has never had sex or any kind of romantic touch before, doesn’t ring true to me. I feel like her internal monologue was really just a way to gloss over what was happening- ‘see its not rape- she wanted it’.

But if you get past that, the rest is pretty ok. There are a few scenes with violence/torture- but I found the short, to the point way of writing about it made it less confronting than most violent movies (it pretty much goes ‘she didn’t talk. so they cut off her lips. and then she did’).

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Samko Talé’s Cemetery Book

Book: Samko Talé’s Cemetery Book- Daniela Kapitánová
Around the World: Slovakia
how obtained: kindle version ~$3


This book is set in post soviet union Slovakia. Samko is an intellectually challenged man, and the town drunkard who may or may not have future-telling ability has said he will write a cemetery book. So he wrote the book that we read now, but as he doesn’t know what to say about the cemetery, he instead talks about the people his life intersects with and things that have happened in the past.

Samko is a deeply flawed author- he is repetitive and circular. He has no imagination or  flexibility in his thought- he gets caught up in how things should be and can’t understand why people are doing things in a different way. Unfortunately his beliefs were shaped during communist rule, and by fearful, racist, restrictive, judgemental people. The topic of his meandering monologue flits back and forth between a few key people in his life- a friend from school, his sisters (one of whom he thoroughly disapproves of because she is  a  musician, promotes herself and wears odd clothes on album covers etc), a gypsy who competes with him for recycling to collect, the odd boarder upstairs…

Personally I didn’t really enjoy this book- Samko’s repetitiveness was annoying, and I just didn’t see the point of it all. I kind of felt like there was meant to be something at the end of the book that tied everything together and made us realise something, but it just ended. For me, it was like when you friend tries to tell you a story, but forgets partway though what they were trying to tell you and trails off “and then we, you know, hung out for a while… yeah …”

Maybe there is something I missed- if so, let me know what you thought.