“Lie With Me”: Book Review

I’ve been listening to some quite intense audiobooks recently (A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four being among them), so I decided to get a couple of light, modern reads that could help break up my venture into the world of Sherlock Holmes. One such book was Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me, a contemporary thriller that really surprised me.

Lie With MePlot Overview

TitleLie With Me.
Author: Sabine Durrant.
Publication: 2016, Mulholland Books.
Length: 9 hours / 293 pages.
Genre: Contemporary Thriller.

If there is one thing that I know for sure about this book, it is that it is not at all what I expected. From the blurb, I believed that it was going to be a story about manipulation, and perhaps even abduction, but it’s not. It’s a story about Paul Morris, a failed writer with a lot of secrets.

Paul is a distinctly unpleasant narrator; whether he is seeking money or sex, he is constantly searching for ways to exploit those around him. He is selfish, and he doesn’t seem to care very much for the people around him. His world is changed, however, when he is reunited with an old friend from university, Andrew Hopkins. He becomes involved in Andrew’s social circle and, soon, he is travelling to Pyros with his new friends.

Yet this holiday is certainly not a happy one. The friends are haunted by mystery, and by death. Young girls are being raped and murdered, and Paul can’t seem to make sense of any of it. Then, finally, Paul realises what has been happening, but by then it is far too late. I won’t say any more, because there is a lot of mystery in this book, and there is a wonderful delight in unravelling the mystery as you read. Let me just say that the outcome is not at all what I expected; this book kept me guessing until the very end.

*** THE NEXT SECTION OF THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW, THEN I SUGGEST THAT YOU SKIP TO THE “MY CONCLUSION” SECTION OF THIS POST! ***

Going Deeper into the Novel…

In this section of my reviews, I like to choose a couple of themes from the book that I can discuss a little more thoroughly. This time, I would like to talk about Paul as a narrator, and about truth.

Paul the Narrator

From almost the very beginning of this book, I bore an intense dislike for Paul Morris. He is an extremely selfish man, especially when it comes to women. He undresses them with his eyes, constantly objectifying them. This makes for a very interesting style of narration, because, as readers, we are brought into the mind of such a despicable person. Yet Paul is a very three-dimensional character, and the more time that he spends with Alice, his girlfriend and Andrew’s friend, the more he seems to change. He begins to repent his actions and realise his mistakes, yet if there’s one thing that Paul comes to realise, it’s that you can’t change the past.

Truth

IMG-3409.jpgAs Andrew tells Paul just before the police come knocking, “all truth is subjective”. For a long time, I believed that Paul harboured a dual personality. There is a moment in the book where he finds blood on his hands, covering his skin and clothes. Then, he finds a dead dog, and he can’t seem to remember where the blood came from. I assumed that there was a part of Paul that was psychopathic and that his waking-self blocked out these memories of violence so as to protect himself. This was a really interesting train of thought because it allowed me to consider the subjectivity of narration. It would be easy for Paul to commit terrible crimes, but then not report them to his readers.

At the same time, this book asks us to consider the morality in bending the truth. By the end of the novel, we learn just how much truth has been bent, for although Paul may not be guilty of all the crimes that he is accused of, he is guilty of other crimes. He pays the price for his sexism, and for the death of Andrew’s sister. He is constantly lying and, as I mentioned earlier, he really does present himself as a terrible human being. He thus pays the price for his own villainy.

My Conclusion

I was honestly so surprised by this book and so, so impressed. Currently reading through the Sherlock Holmes stories and having read a few Agatha Christie novels in the past, I am usually pretty good at guessing where a story is going. This book really caught me out, though. I was absolutely certain of what the outcome was going to be, but I was wrong, and I absolutely loved it.

The book’s strongest points are probably Durrant’s descriptive style of writing, which is absolutely superb, and, of course, its mystery. Paul quickly became the protagonist that I unashamedly loved to hate. The other characters were somewhat two-dimensional in comparison to Paul, but this is not at all a criticism. In fact, it emphasises Paul’s selfishness, and how he simply doesn’t want to understand the people around him unless they can aid him in some way.

Lie With Me is a contemporary thriller/mystery that provides a fantastic insight into the human mind. It contains a few sexual scenes, which came as a bit of a surprise, but they were necessary to demonstrate Paul’s selfish character. It may also seem a little slow at times, although this is quickly redeemed by the overarching drama, as well as by Durrant’s impeccable descriptions. This is therefore a book that I simply have to recommend. If you’re looking for a really good mystery, then this is the book for you.


Thank you for reading! You can check out an A-Z list of all my reviews here.

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“Grace after Henry”: Book Review

Eithne Shortall’s Grace after Henry is the second ARC book that I have ever read, and is courtesy of the Readers First programme, where you can receive free books in exchange for some honest reviews. It is not a book that I would ordinarily read, but I can honestly say that this book surprised me: it is not as simple as it may at first appear.

cover-22.jpgPlot Overview

Title: Grace after Henry.
Author: Eithne Shortall.
Publication: 2018, Corvus.
Length: 417 pages.

Grace after Henry is essentially a romance; it is certainly not a book that I would ordinarily pick up off a shelf, but that does not necessarily mean that I did not enjoy it. Much of its plot is revealed by the book’s blurb, which leaves its readers with no doubt as to what this book is about:

Grace sees her boyfriend Henry everywhere. In the supermarket, on the street, at the graveyard. Only Henry is dead. He died two months earlier, leaving a huge hole in Grace’s life and in her heart. But then Henry turns up to fix the boiler one evening, and Grace can’t decide if she’s hallucinating or has suddenly developed psychic powers. Grace isn’t going mad – the man in front of her is not Henry at all, but someone else who looks uncannily like him. The hole in Grace’s heart grows ever larger. Grace becomes captivated by this stranger, Andy – to her, he is Henry, and yet he is not. Reminded of everything she once had, can Grace recreate that lost love with Andy, resurrecting Henry in the process, or does loving Andy mean letting go of Henry?

In the very first chapter of this novel, we witness the death of Henry Walsh. His partner, Grace, then takes control of the narrative and reveals to us her sorrow as she struggles through the bereavement process. She cannot imagine a life without Henry, such was the intensity of their relationship.

Yet, as the blurb reveals, Grace’s emotional upheaval does not end with the death of Henry. It is common, after a bereavement, to imagine seeing your loved one in the streets, shops, and everywhere you go. Andy Cunningham is not a mere hallucination, though. He is real flesh and blood and looks exactly like Henry.

*** If you want to avoid plot spoilers, I suggest skipping the rest of this section, as I give a lot of the story away! ***

Andy doesn’t just look like Henry; he seems to hold a part of him inside of himself. This is because, as Grace soon discovers, Andy is Henry’s biological twin, for Henry, although he never knew this, was adopted.

The rest of the story follows the complex relationships forged before and after Henry’s death, which are all bound by the controversy regarding Irish adoption and abortion laws. It may seem a little cliqued in parts, but this story is one of pure emotion. As readers, we come to really understand Grace, appreciating the confusion that is caused by Andy’s appearance. This is a story of love, heartbreak, and a sense of homelessness, themes which are tied together by Eithne Shortall’s powerful writing techniques.

Going Deeper into the Novel…

There’s a lot of emotion in Grace after Henry, yet most of this derives, not from the initial loss of Henry, but by the flashbacks methodically placed throughout the narrative, and by the issues surrounding pregnancy in Ireland.

The Flashbacks

The majority of Grace after Henry is written in a chronological style. One event follows another from the beginning of the book to its end. Yet separating this chronology, there are some rare glimpses into conversations had between Grace and Henry. At first, I believed these flashbacks to be future moments – perhaps in an afterlife – where the couple became reunited. As I read on, however, I realised that they were flashbacks.

Inside.jpgThese interjections into the main story provide important insights to both the relationship between Grace and Henry, and to the bereavement process. At first, Grace only remembers the positive things about Henry. She remembers the moment that he first told her he loved her, and how they used to cycle through the park together.

When she meets Andy, however, this harmony is disrupted. Grace now remembers the arguments they had, associating Henry with anger. Then she thinks of real moments that they shared, not unpleasant, but not idealised, either. She remembers the brutal moments they went through together, re-experiencing the intensity of it all.

Towards the end of the book, these flashbacks become less and less frequent as Grace appears to reach a state of peace. Although she will always miss being around Henry, she no longer craves him. For me, this really mirrors the journey of the narrative and helps to build a stronger impression of Grace, as well as her thoughts. When she first loses Henry, she remembers only the good, and then accepts the bad, and then, finally, seems able to move on. These flashbacks thus bring a kind of emotion to the narrative that complement the main, linear story of Grace after Henry.

Pregnancy in Ireland

There are certain Irish laws and practices that have always been a source of controversy. Grace after Henry does not exactly challenge these traditions, but it does examine them, indicating that they could be a source of serious injury amongst parents and children alike.

So, for those of you who don’t know, having an abortion was, in Ireland, illegal (at least when this book was written). Pregnant women who were unwilling to raise their children could therefore either travel to England for an abortion (a practice that was deeply frowned upon by a lot of people), or they could have their child in secret, where it could be adopted. Their reputation remained intact, and no laws were broken.

I imagined all of Ireland’s lineage written out in perfect sets of family trees – only when a magic marker was rubbed over the chart, all these secrets were exposed and unseen lines started to fly across the board making connections between relatives entirely unknown to each other.
–  Grace after Henry, Eithne Shortall.

Without giving too much away about the novel, the latter of these practices is explored in great depth as Eithne Shortall considers the pain it can provoke. This is mainly revealed by Andy, who fights against the secrecy of the tradition as he attempts to discover where he came from. Yet the adoptive parents’ points of view are also considered as they refuse to admit that they have become a part of the controversy. They claim that their adoption was different, because the brutality of other adoption schemes was “unthinkable”.

My Conclusion

When I first read this book’s blurb, I really did not think that it would be something that I would enjoy. Romances – even the classics – always seem too slow for me. I like things with a little more action (and a few more Gothic castles). Grace after Henry did manage to surprise me, though, because, although I cringe whenever I consider the implausibility of the story, the novel makes it more believable by admitting its strangeness. Grace is constantly telling herself how ridiculous it all is, and how impossible it is that Andy even exists. I think that this incredulity makes the book far more manageable, for although the story is extremely unlikely, the fact that it admits this, makes it easier to enjoy.

Cover 1.jpgIt’s an interesting book, both due to its links to Irish controversy and due to this unusual acceptance of its own implausibility. It’s biggest strength, though, is, in my opinion, how it deals with the bereavement process. The emotion in this book is almost tangible; it is slow, methodical and honest in how it deals with Grace’s emotions. Everything seems so honest that, when Andy arrives, it becomes difficult to realise just how unlikely the story really is. This emotion is enhanced by the other characters, as well as by the flashbacks Eithne Shortall uses to separate the main events in the novel.

It is heartwrenching, exciting, and – perhaps most surprisingly – thrilling. Grace’s character was so well developed that I soon found myself speeding through its coveted short chapters, desperate to know what happened next and, ultimately, what her decision was: does Andy’s appearance give her another chance of love, or does he remind her too much of Henry? The entire book leads up to this one question, and if you want to know the answer, you’ll just have to give this book a read!


Thank you so much for reading this review. This book was a part of my June 2018 reading challenge which means that I only have one more book to go! As it is the end of the month now, though, I think that I am going to have to accept that Dracula will not be finished in this month. Instead, I plan to make it a part of my July 2018 reading challenge.

Click here to check out an A-Z list of all of my reviews (so far)!

“Perfect Match”: Book Review

I’ve made it my mission to read more books this summer (both classics and modern reads). As a part of this, I have recently signed up to the Readers First website, where you can win free ARC copies of books in exchange for some honest reviews. I’ve had a few books sent to me from this website, but Perfect Match is the only one I have finished.

Perfect Match.jpgPlot Overview

TitlePerfect Match.
Author: D. B. Thorne.
Publication: 2018, Corvus.
Length: 352 pages.

Perfect Match is undeniably a thrilling read. I couldn’t help rereading certain parts of the mystery as they were presented to me. Yet the complex murders of various women are interwoven with what is, to me, the main storyline of this novel. Perfect Match may be, at least partially, about the mysterious deaths unfurling around Solomon Mullan (without giving too much away, these murders are intellectual, and have a fair amount to do with Shakespeare), but it is also about Solomon’s development as a character, and this is not clear from the blurb, which I don’t believe gives a fair impression of this book:

When Solomon’s sister is found drugged and in a coma after an online date, Solomon can’t believe this was just a terrible accident. Determined to find out what happened to his sister, and with the police unwilling to help, Solomon begins an investigation of his own. He soon uncovers a rash of similar cases; other women found brutally murdered or assaulted after an online date. There is a predator out there, working the streets of London, preying on young women. Solomon sets out to bring him to justice, putting him on a collision course with a deadly killer who is fiendishly clever and more twisted than anyone could possibly imagine…  –  blurb.

The victim of an acid attack, Solomon’s journey is particularly striking. His disfigurements affect his everyday life and have prevented him from leaving the house for years on end. Yet as he is forced from the house by the attack on his sister, he begins to experience a newfound confidence. This is, however, arguably only an act, as, after all, theatre is what this book is really about. For in a disappointing, yet vividly real ending, we are brought face to face with the unerring nature of fear and anxiety.

Going Deeper into the Novel…

There’s a surprising amount to this book, but what particularly interested me was Solomon’s development after the acid attack, the somewhat negative presentations of the police force, and the importance of theatre.

Solomon’s Development

As I mentioned earlier, a big part of this novel concerns itself with the interior struggle of its main protagonist, Solomon Mullan. He is constantly mocked and abused by those around him; even when he takes measures to improve his appearance, he is either met by laughter, or a form of pity that he simply cannot stand to look at.

He would never look human again, and nobody would ever be able to look at him without surprise, dismay, disgust or, in most cases, fear.
–  D. B. Thorne, Perfect Match.

For me, this reveals the pure power of anxiety as it affects Solomon throughout his investigations, giving the impression that the whole world really is against him. Yet, to an extent, it is against him, which reveals how superficial our modern society is, and how so many people struggle to understand anyone who is different to themselves.

The Police Force

Perhaps the main problem faced by Solomon is the lack of support that he recieves. He consistently tells the police force of his suspicions regarding the attacks on women, even, at several stages in the novel, providing evidence to support his assertions. Yet every time that this happens, the police force shuts him down, telling him that he needs to stop inventing wild theories, and, essentially, to go away.

Perfect Match 2.jpgThere is an underlying motive to the police investigations, and Perfect Match emphasises how being a police officer could, to some people, seem like any other job. Inspector Fox, to whom Solomon continually reports, constantly repeats that she has quotas to fill and expectations to meet. She is obsessed with gaining a promotion and, in her desire to achieve it, she neglects her duties and puts many people’s lives at risk.

This doesn’t exactly give a positive impression of the police force, yet it is redeemed by Sergeant Bright, who consistantly attempts to convince Fox that there are links between the attacks, and by Fox herself, who eventually realises her mistake. I therefore doubt that this is a direct comment on the police, but rather a message for everyone; sometimes, we get too obsessed with figures and promotions and, when this happens, we can neglect other, more important things, such as morality.

The Importance of Theatre

I don’t want to give too much away about the actual attacks recorded in this novel, for the surprises and twists presented in Perfect Match really are admirable. Yet, as I mentioned already, they have a certain connection to Shakespeare, and also to theatre.

His goal was authenticity, stripped of artifice and theatricality. His ambition was the purest form of performance possible. His drama was real, played out on the world stage, his players entirely genuine, experiencing the emotions rather than acting them out.  –  D. B. Thorne, Perfect Match.

These links relate again to the superficiality of our modern society. Everything in our world is based on appearance – on the act – rather than the person behind such acts. Perfect Match reveals what can happen when someone becomes obsessed with this act, and forgets about reality. I won’t say anything more here in case of giving the plot away, but this individual – the one obsessed with appearances – rejects who they really are for the sake of how the world sees them.

My Conclusion

There’s a lot to love about this book. It’s clever, gripping and gives a very accurate portrayal of human suffering. Yet I did have my misgivings when I first started reading. There are a few minor phrasing issues in it that suggested to me that it may not have been read very thoroughly. These uncertainties soon abated as I got further into the story, however; as the plot improved, so did the style of writing.

Perfect Match 3.jpgHaving now finished Perfect Match, I find myself struggling to describe how I feel about it. The plot was certainly gripping; I read this novel in a very short space of time. It was also thought-provoking, if only because the attacks, and the reasons for these attacks, were so original. Perhaps its strongest point is its characters, or, more specifically, Solomon. He was described so clearly, his emotions so poignant, that I really came to sympathise with his character and actually care about what happened to him.

Overall, the only way to sum up my experiences of Perfect Match, is to say that it surprised me. Upon reading the blurb and even the first few chapters, I wasn’t expecting to love it. In fact, I wasn’t even expecting to be able to finish it.

Then it got interesting, and, before I knew it, I was hooked. I came to understand Solomon’s journey, and I came to despise the intelligent, yet horrific mind that was abusing women all over the city. D. B. Thorne takes us inside the mind of the killer and it is there, in that mind, that we are shown the true complexity of the human being.


Thank you so much for reading this review. This book was a part of my June 2018 reading challenge which means, for those of you keeping up with my progress, that I only have four more books to go!

Click here to check out an A-Z list of all of my reviews (so far)!

“The Castle of Otranto”: Book Review

I had the pleasure of reading Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto over a month ago, but what with all my deadlines and exams, I never got around to posting a review of it. Now that I have more time on my hands, however, it’s time for me to share my thoughts on what is, in my opinion, one of the most important novels ever written.

CoverA Bit of Context

TitleThe Castle of Otranto.
Author: Horace Walpole.
Publication: 1764.
My Edition: 2017, Amazon.
Length: 78 pages.

Composed during the eighteenth century, The Castle of Otranto is generally regarded as the first ever gothic novel. Its second edition even includes the word “Gothic” in its subtitle, the full name being, The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story.

Writers of this period sought to revive a medievalism that was associated with both excitement and terror. This was because one of the main focusses for Romantic writers was that of emotion. Just as poets such as William Wordsworth and Lord Byron sought to evoke emotions such as sorrow and heartache from their poetry, Walpole intended The Castle of Otranto to incite real fear in his readers.

IMG_2066.jpgWalpole himself was an interesting character, too. His father, Sir Robert Walpole, has been recorded as the first British Prime Minister. Yet Walpole seemed less interested in political affairs. Whilst his father promoted a new world order, Walpole valued history.

He sent his friends around various medieval ruins, where they recorded certain architectural and decorative features. Walpole then built what is today known as Strawberry Hill, an artificial gothic building that he filled with his Medieval collections. Unlike his father, he was fascinated by this medievalism, and this fascination is what prompted the writing of The Castle of Otranto.

Plot Overview

I always try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I do like to give an overview of at least the beginning of the story. If you’re worried, I suggest that you skip these next two sections of my review and simply read the conclusion at the end at the end of the post.

The Castle of Otranto follows the story of a small family: Manfred, the Prince of Otranto; Hippolita, his wife; and Conrad and Matilda, their children. The drama begins at the very start of the novel, during Conrad’s wedding to the beautiful Princess Isabella. There is no build up; before the couple can make their vows, Manfred’s only son is crushed to death by a giant helmet that appears to have fallen from the sky.

Necklace.jpgYet this is only the beginning of the supernatural events unfurling in the castle. As the story progresses, servants begin to shout of vanishing giants and pictures seen moving within their frames. These peculiarities reflect the story’s main narrative as Manfred, desperate for a new heir, attempts to assault Isabella and rejects his daughter entirely.

Walpole considers issues of inheritance, power and morality as Manfred’s struggle to hold onto Otranto grows steadily weaker. He sacrifices everything for the sake of a male heir, only to realise that his daughter is not quite as useless as she first appeared. This is a story of love, murder and a remarkable amount of action as the castle slowly comes alive around the characters. It is filled with dark passages, trap doors and moving portraits, as well as that giant helmet that triggered these events in the first place.

At the same time, though, there are constant mysteries underpinning the characters’ actions. After all, why is Manfred so sure that Otranto will fall out of his control? Who is the mysterious youth who is capturing everyone’s attention and, perhaps more importantly, what is the thing lurking in the castle?

Going Deeper into the Novel…

It’s fair to say that there is a lot going on in this novel. It probably contains the most action in a book of its size that I have ever come across. I don’t want to analyse all of it, though; that would waste everyone’s time. So let me focus on three of its most interesting elements: gothic conventions, masculinity and the Church.

Gothic Conventions

As the first gothic novel, many gothic conventions derive from The Castle of Otranto. From Mary Shelley to Stephen King, there are clear links to this book throughout the genre, so it makes sense to identify some of them.

Firstly, there is the gothic heroine. After the villain, she is the most prominent character, focussed on far more than any male hero is. She is also usually beautiful, virtuous and lusted after by the villain. In the case of The Castle of Otranto, Isabella is the clear gothic heroine. She is constantly talked about, both in terms of the narrative and amongst other characters. She is also clearly persecuted by Manfred.

He, of course, is the gothic villain. Yet a gothic villain isn’t like any ordinary villain. Manfred is not purely evil; we can see some good in him, particularly towards the end of the novel, and we can also understand his motivations. He is deeply troubled and also extremely self-destructive. He arguably causes more pain for himself than he does for any of the novel’s other characters.

IMG_2120.jpgAnother convention is that of the gothic hero. In the case of The Castle of Otranto, we have Theodore. He opposes the villain, yet is not presented as particularly powerful. Whilst the hero may be handsome and brave, the villain is often the stronger force. This is why the destruction of the villain is rarely so simple as an attack from the hero.

Then there is the castle, itself, the convention that derives most clearly from The Castle of Otranto. It is the seat of the villain’s power, yet often does not belong to them. They are the usurper, having stolen the castle from the hero and heroine. By the end of the story, the castle is generally returned to its rightful owners.

Masculinity

There are two main presentations of masculinity in The Castle of Otranto: Manfred’s and Theodore’s. The latter is quite a generic presentation; Theodore is handsome, brave and the clear hero of the story. Both desirable and courageous, he is what young men would aspire to be, or at least what young women would hope for.

Manfred is a much more interesting character, for whilst Theodore represents masculine ideals, Manfred represents masculine realities.

Matilda assured her he was well, and supported his misfortune with manly fortitude  –  Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto.

During this time, men were encouraged to display a “manly fortitude”, appearing unaffected by emotional or domestic affairs. This means that whilst Hippolita screams and cries over the death of Conrad, Manfred turns his attention to more practical things, such as the production of a new heir. This emotional detachment may appear to be one of the factors that make Manfred into a villain, but this isn’t necessarily his fault. Emotional detachment was seen as a desirable attribute in men; from this point of view, Manfred is merely a product of the gendered society that he has grown up in.

The Church

Religion plays a constant role in The Castle of Otranto. It is presented as a sanctuary for Isabella, the source of justice for Jerome and as a final punishment for Manfred. These differing presentations suggest that the Church is, within this novel, exceptionally powerful. It is the ultimate force of moral justice that overshadows every sordid deed Manfred commits. Just as the supernatural beings within the castle watch over the characters so, in a sense, do the eyes of God.

[S]he knew even Manfred’s violence would not dare to profane the sacredness of the place  –  Horace Walpole, The Castle of Otranto.

Church 3.jpgThis is particularly important when considering the presence of Fortune within the narrative. Without giving too much away, one interpretation to be had is that the castle is coming alive in order to punish Manfred for his moral crimes. This punishment is associated with the Medieval concept of Fortune and the Wheel of Fortune, which is the idea that any man who is wealthy or successful can have all of his power taken away from him with a mere spin from Fortune’s wheel.

Yet arguably, it is not the secular Fortune causing the supernatural tragedies in The Castle of Otranto at all; rather, it is God. From this point of view, Manfred is being punished for his sins against the Christian order. After all, sins such as incest and murder were particularly frowned upon by the Church. His journey ends with his returning to the Church, “taking the cowl” and, in a sense, being re-educated in the Christian principles of morality. The Castle of Otranto can thus be read as a circular journey of repentance and, in the case of God, forgiveness.

My Conclusion

I honestly really enjoyed reading The Castle of Otranto, but not in the same way that I enjoyed reading other gothic novels. Many people note how shockingly ‘badly’ this novel is written, but I have to disagree. Walpole may have used a simplistic style of writing, but this isn’t necessarily ‘bad’. If nothing else, it demonstrates how he was attempting to make his work more accessible by opening it up to the less educated classes.

Open Book.jpgIt’s important to remember that this was the first gothic novel, so whilst the events of the story may, to us, seem predictable, and whilst the dark dungeons and trap doors may, now, seem repetitive and unoriginal, readers during the Romantic period would have never imagined such scenes. It’s very different to anything that I have ever read before, perhaps due to the mere strangeness of the giant-figure, as this, unlike many other aspects of the novel, has not become a common gothic convention.

The most interesting thing about reading The Castle of Otranto probably lies in the comparisons that can be made to other gothic books. After all, isn’t the idea of a castle coming to life pretty much the main plot of Stephen King’s The Shining? And how often have we seen terrified damosels in white dresses running down dark corridors? I’m thinking particularly of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but the trope of the persecuted heroine appears throughout gothic literature.

Let me put it this way: I can understand why people don’t necessarily appreciate The Castle of Otranto, but I don’t agree with them. It may not be the most elaborate of gothic novels, but it was the first one! Walpole began a new genre of fiction, so, when considering that, is it really possible not to love The Castle of Otranto?

A-Z of Reviews

Below is an alphabetised list of all my reviews. Just click on the name of the text to get reading! If you’d rather just read my most recent reviews, you can click here for books and here for all other forms of review.

Books (The Classics)

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
 by Lewis Carroll.
The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
The Lais of Marie de France by Marie de France.
Le Morte Darthur by Thomas Malory.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
Roxana by Daniel Defoe.
Villette by Charlotte Brontë.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

Books (Modern Reads)

Accidental Damage by Alice May.
Grace after Henry by Eithne Shortall.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.
The Inferior by Peadar O’Guilín.
Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant.
Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.
Perfect Match by D. B. Thorne.
The Shining by Stephen King.

Books (Series)

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes 1).
The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes 2).

Plays

The Duchess of Malfi (RSC Performance) by John Webster.
King Lear (BBC Drama) by William Shakespeare.
The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare.

Poems

The Odyssey by Homer.
Pearl by unknown.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by unknown.
Sir Orfeo by unknown.

Short Stories

“The Bottle Imp” by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The Dead” by James Joyce.

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”: Book Review

IMG-2843As a child, I would often fall asleep listening to various adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I came to love the story and its characters, but have never, since entering adulthood, considered this book from a literary perspective. Perhaps, in my mind, it will always be a children’s book; after all, its protagonist is a child, and it considers such imaginative creatures and scenarios that it would seem out of place alongside the Victorian realism of its time. I was therefore surprised when I noticed this book, along with Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, on my reading list for this university term, but having now appreciated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as an adult, I realise my mistake: whilst it was once written for children, it has long since been considered an adult read, dealing with issues and themes that are considered in many other Victorian novels, such as Brontë’s Villette, and Dickens’ Great Expectations.

A Bit of Context

The first shocking thing I discovered when beginning to study Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was that the man named ‘Lewis Carroll’ did not exist. This name was actually a pseudonym for the writer, Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who was known for his physical deformities, occasional deafness, and, interestingly, a quite severe stammer. This stammer produced the inspiration for the character of the Dodo within the novel, as Carroll would often pronounce his name ‘Do-Do-Dodgeson’.

It has often been noted that, because of Carroll’s stammer and general awkward manner, he became much more comfortable in the company of children, than in the company of adults. Within his own family, he would put on performances for his younger siblings, and wrote much fiction for the purposes of the family magazine. Then, in 1856, he met the Liddell children, one of which, by the name of Alice, became the inspiration for Carroll’s most well-known stories.

IMG-2841.jpgAt the time of publication, however, Alice in Wonderland, along with Through the Looking-Glass, was met with chiefly negative reviews. Cast alongside Victorian realist works such as the novels of the Brontë sisters and Thomas Hardy, there seemed no place for Carroll’s fantastical adventures. However, he enlisted John Tenniel to produce illustrations for the books, and it was perhaps these, more than anything else, that began to win favour for Carroll’s stories.

I would ordinarily end my context section here, but I feel honour-bound to address the scandal often associated with Lewis Carroll. I have already said that he maintained strong relationships with children, particularly young girls, and he often used them as subjects in his photography. This connection he had with children was doubtless unusual, and has since caused much speculation regarding the nature of these relationships, critics often suggesting that there was something sinister to them.

The first thing I want to say is that there is no proof of Carroll committing any crimes or atrocities. The only suggestion towards anything untoward taking place, lies in the fallout between Carroll and the Liddell family. Sometime in the 1860s, Carroll stopped visiting the girls, and it has often been noted that Mrs Liddell burned Carroll’s early letters to Alice, and even Carroll himself ripped pages from his diary during the time of this separation. Nobody knows what happened during this time, or what caused the fallout, and so perhaps it is wrong to speculate, particularly as there is no real evidence, but all of this certainly casts a shadow over the writer of some of our best-known children’s books.

Going Deeper into the Novel…

IMG-2834.JPGThat was quite a bit more context than I was planning to throw at you, but the life and history of Lewis Carroll certainly is an interesting one. Now, though, I will turn to the most important thing: the text, and begin by talking about issues regarding identity. Brought on by the Industrial Revolution, and thus the bringing together of entire rural communities into a few overpopulated cities, questions regarding the individual began to circulate. After all, in a place so bursting with life, what made one person all that different from another? Carroll focusses on Alice’s identity crises throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as she grows as large as the white rabbit’s house, and shrinks so small that she fears she will be gobbled up by an innocent puppy. The body is distorted and played with in this way, and Alice often supposes that, as she is growing taller, she is also growing more mature. From the minute she falls down the rabbit hole, she begins to question who she is, and often complains of not knowing herself, as she considers the possibility of having switched into the body and personality of another girl her age.

‘Who in the world am I’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle! And she began thinking over all the children she knew that were of the same age as herself, to see if she could have been changed for any of them. ‘I’m sure I’m not Ada,’ she said, ‘for her hair goes in such long ringlets, and mine doesn’t go in ringlets at all; and I’m sure I ca’n’t be Mabel, for I know all sorts of things, and she, oh, she knows such a very little! Besides, she’s she, and I’m I, and – oh dear, how puzzling it all is! – Lewis Carroll,  “The Pool of Tears”.

IMG-2835.jpgIn a way, these questions regarding the self can be especially targeted at adolescents, as they are still growing and changing and are, perhaps, easily influenced by the world around them. After all, Alice often soaks up her environment in Wonderland, and uses her experiences of it to answer her questions from the real world. For example, towards the end of the story, Alice sees a guinea pig breaking into applause, and then being stuffed inside a sack and sat on. She uses this to explain occassions she has read about where “[t]here was some attempt at applause, which was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court” (Lewis Carroll, “Who Stole the Tarts?”).

Another big theme running throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is that of class. Alice is the typical middle to upper-class child; she has been well educated, and continually notes the importance of proper articulation, as she often corrects herself, along with others, on their use of the English language. Not everyone she meets has been granted the same comforts and education as she has, however, and conflicts sometimes arise from these differences.

‘We had the best of educations – in fact, we went to school every day-‘ ‘I’ve been to a day-school, too,’ said Alice. ‘You needn’t be as proud as all that.’ ‘With extras?’ asked the Mock Turtle, a little anxiously. ‘Yes,’ said Alice ‘we learned French and music.’ ‘And washing?’ said the Mock Turtle. ‘Certainly not!’ said Alice indignantly. – Lewis Carroll, “The Mock Turtle’s Story”.

There are instances throughout the novel of such class conflicts, such as when the Duchess’ cook takes to throwing pans and plates at her. The servant is essentially rebelling against her mistress, yet the Duchess takes no notice of the cook, at all. For me, this represents the class struggle in England, as the working class attempts to rebel against the masters, performing strikes and demanding better pay. For a long time, though, these attempts are quashed by the upper classes, as they essentially ignore the attacks made from the workers, just as the Duchess ignores her cook.

Alice, too, demonstrates her upper-class position, through her condemnation of Bill the Lizard. In the court, Bill is one of the jurors taking notes as witnesses come forward, yet Alice takes his pen away from him and calls him stupid, watching him as he attempts to write with his finger, instead; really, she is being exceptionally cruel, yet this is passed off as comedy by Carroll. This may have been an incidental reference to the oppression of the rich over the poor, for Carroll himself had a wealthy upbringing, or it may indicate towards the issues of suffering that were so often suppressed and ignored by the upper classes.IMG-2842

My Conclusion

Throughout this review, I have considered Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as both a children’s book and an adult’s book, and I really cannot decide which category it should fall into. It certainly tackles adult themes and subverts traditional children’s songs and rhymes, yet the story itself has been loved by children for generations, and it seems wrong to say it is only suitable for adults. I think, then, it must be both: let children enjoy the story, but, as you grow older, don’t reject the stories of Lewis Carroll, because they can still be enjoyable, both for the story and for more critical purposes.

IMG-2838.jpgI’m going to be honest: I read this book in a day, and look forward to getting stuck into Through the Looking-Glass as soon as I can, because, when it really comes down to it, Lewis Carroll knows how to tell a good story. There’s nothing quite like these books when it comes to imagination, not even Terry Pratchett’s or J. R. R. Tolkien’s works. They’re fantastical, unbelievable, and somehow mesmerising, if only because they are just so different to what we are used to reading. So, whether you’re already familiar with Alice’s adventures or not, I thoroughly recommend you give this book a read, and see whether you think it is only meant for children. It’s very short, and each chapter is only a couple of pages long, which makes it easily accessible and a good read for when you only have a few short breaks in a day. Read it to analyse it, or read it for the sake of a good story; either way, read it!


Thanks for reading, and please do comment below if you’ve read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or have any other comments regarding Lewis Carroll, or pretty much anything else that takes your fancy!

“Villette”: Book Review

It’s been a while since I’ve written a nice, simple book review – or, in fact, any kind of blog post at all – for which I apologise. Sometimes, when I set about writing blog posts, I see them as obligations, which isn’t right, and I want to get back to a time when I wrote blog posts purely for my own enjoyment. In the spirit of this, I’m going to give you a review of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, her lesser known, and generally less popular, novel.

A Bit of Context

Most people will associate the name Brontë with either Emily’s Wuthering Heights, or Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. More fervent readers may also think of Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but only a few will consider Villette. This isn’t necessarily because it isn’t any good, however; George Eliot herself noted: “I am only just returned to a sense of the real world about me, for I have been reading Villette, a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre.” Before I plunge into the full-on glorification of this book though, I want to give you a little bit of context.

IMG-2832.jpgCharlotte Brontë published Villette in 1853, under her pseudonym, Currer Bell. This was six years after her release of the infamous Jane Eyre, however, and by this time it was widely known that the author who went by the name, “Currer Bell”, was, in fact, a woman. Nevertheless, Charlotte associated herself with her pseudonym and tended to use it as a way of distancing herself – and her reputation as a female writer – from her work, and so published Villette under her male persona, despite the circulating knowledge that the man named Bell did not exist.

Villette is composed as a semi-autobiographical work; just as the governess figure is considered in Jane Eyre, it is again explored by this second novel. Ten years before Villette was published, Charlotte had spent some time in Brussels, where she had worked as a foreign governess, an identity also assumed by Lucy Snowe in Villette. It is also suspected that Monsieur Paul, the head of English in the school that Lucy takes up work, was based on either Constantin Heger, or James Taylor, two men Charlotte had romantic associations with during her time in Brussels. That’s quite enough context for now, though, so let’s get on with talking about the text!

Going Deeper into the Text…

As I mentioned earlier, Villette tends to be less popular than Jane Eyre, and there isn’t a definite reason for this, other than, perhaps, that Lucy Snowe, the narrator of Villette, isn’t quite as memorable as Jane and Cathy Linton. Whilst these heroines distinctively enforce their personalities throughout their novels, Lucy is often depicted as shying away from her own appearance and as concealing her opinions, even from us, her readers. There are often moments when Lucy withholds information from us, waiting for a time when it better suits her; she plays with us, constantly tricking us and concealing her true motives.

headOne reason for this concealment may be that Villette teaches the importance of desiring the ‘right’ person. Lucy, who originally admires the handsome and mysterious Doctor John, soon learns that her feelings for him will never be returned, and that the letters he sends to her convey only friendship. She thus moves her affections onto the more suitable, although sometimes unbearable and clearly antagonistic, Monsieur Paul. I won’t give away much more about the plot, because I really do recommend this one, but the idea is that Lucy is forced, through a mixture of personal misfortunes and social conventions, to move onto the more suitable love-interest, suggesting that this is a message for all women reading Villette.

Life is still life, whatever its pangs; our eyes and ears and their use remain with us, though the prospect of what pleases be wholly withdrawn, and the sound of what consoles be quite silenced – Villette, Charlotte Brontë

This isn’t necessarily a very positive outlook to the text, but this is only one reading, and it could be that Charlotte is viewing this need to marry the ‘right’ person ironically, and, in reality, she may completely disagree with it. Another reading of the text is its focus on the self, and this one is perhaps less controversial and more universally accepted. In typical Brontëian fashion, Lucy is forced to move away from England due to a personal tragedy (including the death of her mother, an experience shared by Charlotte). She sets off, completely alone, to an unknown country, where she is valued as a foreigner. The text thus opens up into discussions regarding the human mind, different cultures, women, and education, as Lucy is accused of possessing a writing ability that couldn’t exist if she hadn’t been gifted a classical education – which she hadn’t. As Lucy’s readers, we experience the sights of Villette as she describes them, and come to learn as she does, as we follow her journey from the innocent, English girl, to the successful Frenchwoman, her vulnerabilities and ‘fragilities’ (concerning her love-interests), seemingly eradicated.

My Conclusion

As you have probably gathered, I really enjoyed reading Villette. It’s not quite as Gothic as Wuthering Heights, which remains my favourite Brontë novel, but it does have some gothic elements that I very much appreciated. It also considers much of the same social contexts explored through Austen’s works, but, whilst I have never… let’s say, adored Austen’s writing style, I found Brontë’s portrayal of them much more engaging. Whilst some people don’t like it because they don’t like Lucy’s character, I actually found that she made the book all the more impressive. Whilst she is by no means perfect, we can understand her actions; she is accessible, and she is real.

Maybe Villette‘s just one of these ‘Marmite’ books, and you either love it or hate it, but, regardless, I thoroughly recommend that you give it a read. I am yet to find a fusion of Gothicism and the romantic love story that is quite as satisfying as the Brontë sisters’ works. So, my advice: give it a chance (because it does take a while to get going), keep reading until the end (because the last few pages will make you shiver), and don’t judge Lucy too harshly, just because she’s not perfect.


Thanks for reading, and please do comment below if you’ve read Villette or have any other comments regarding the Brontë sisters, or pretty much anything else that takes your fancy!

If you have time to check out my (somewhat old) review of Wuthering Heights, you can view this here. Thanks again!