Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

March 18, 2016


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of all the writers I’ve read, Tolstoy is best able to capture the totality of human nature. Again and again, I was floored by the depth of his  characters’ internal worlds, his ability to sketch out the motivations and contradictions and fantasies of people whose circumstances are so varied and different from his own.

Anna Karenina is, for those that don’t know, the story of an aristocratic woman who has an affair. There’s also a lot about a guy who likes farming. That’s it. As far as plots go, it’s not the greatest hook, but around this unexceptional subject is more insight into the human condition than you’ll find in a hundred best sellers. Read the rest of this entry »


Les Miserables (Part 3) – 10 differences between the novel and musical

September 9, 2013

Do you like lists?  I like lists.  They’re fun.

1. Backstory.  Reading Les Miserables is like watching the reading the appendices of the musical – it gives you more backstory on the characters and era than you ever wanted to know.

2. Jean Valjean goes back to prison after he reveals himself in court to save the wrongly accused man.  He escapes by faking his own death.

3. Gavroche is the Thernadiers’ abandoned son.  They also have another daughter besides Eponine, and two more sons that they sell to be raised as nobles.

4. Jean Valjean and Corsette live in a monastery for most of her childhood.  Valjean first enters the monastery by using his mad-convict skillz to scale the outer wall.  He then smuggles himself out in a coffin, and re-enters by the front door to apply for the job of gardener. Read the rest of this entry »

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo (Part 2)

August 8, 2013

Maybe the best thing I can say about Les Miserables is that it made me look at Christianity differently.  I was raised Christian but stopped believing and practising when I was a teenager.  If I was forced to categorise myself, I’d say I was an atheist.  As an adult, I have to admit to having more of an ear for the negatives of religion – the wars, hatefulness and discrimination justified by doctrine; the parasitic opulence; the criminal concealment of child sex abuse.  This novel has not made these sins any more excusable.

It has, however, reminded me of the positive side of Christianity.  A good writer makes you sympathise with a character, and once you are hooked, the unfolding of their story allows you to experience a shade of a life you have never lived. Read the rest of this entry »

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo (Part 1)

July 2, 2013

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Miserables is a monumental novel with monumental faults.  At over twelve hundred pages in a single volume, it is, literally, the biggest book I have read.  When I take it out of my bag on the bus, I feel like I’m unfolding a piece of furniture.  If I leave it on my desk at work, people stop and ask “what’s that”, as if it’s sheer size makes it unrecognisable as a book.  My Arts degree was a smaller commitment (not that that’s saying much).

Luckily, most of it’s really good.  The scale of Hugo’s ambition and intellect is dazzling.  He attempts to capture the entirety of the social and cultural climate of his age, and in most cases, succeeds.  Unfortunately, he’s also a self-indulgent wind-bag who is so eager to display his vast knowledge and research that he is prone to long, trying tangents. Read the rest of this entry »

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

February 2, 2011

Frankenstein (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism) by Mary Shelley

My favourite part of my copy of Frankenstein, a Wordsworth Classics edition, is the Introduction.  Written by Doctor Siv Jansson, it succinctly explains some of the key themes of the novel and how they explore the social anxieties of early 19th Century Europe.  According to Jansson, Frankenstein’s monster (who is never named in the novel, but who I’ll just refer to by his most common pop culture name for ease) represents: the fear of science perverting the natural order; the terrible consequences of defying the Christian God by creating life; and paranoia about a British revolution (this last one was a bit of a reach).  Jansson also explains how Shelley was concerned with “the essential ‘masculinity’ of scientific thought, and the responsibility of the scientist in the aftermath of his experiments”, and how the Monster becomes brutalised because Frankenstein fails to nurture him.

All of which sounds really interesting.  But it’s not.  In fact, just like her protagonist, Shelley has unleashed upon the world a hideous, shambling creation that causes only pain, although in the novel’s case it is the pain of boredom, and overwrought writing. Read the rest of this entry »

A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

June 3, 2010

review by Gabriel

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet is the premier Sherlock Holmes adventure, and therefore a pretty influential text in the detective fiction genre.  It’s a hell of a lot of fun and could be held up as an example on how to write sentences, create a sense of place and establish important characters.  However, I assume that Conan Doyle was still perfecting his craft when he wrote it, because there are some poor structural choices that really dampen the excitement of the book.  There are also some thundering clichés, especially surrounding one character that becomes a sinkhole for bad writing. Read the rest of this entry »