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Several cups of tea later, still persevering with Middlemarch by George Eliot.

As promised, I have endeavoured to sit down and give Middlemarch a fair trial this weekend. I must be honest and say that it hasn’t been the easiest of endeavours. I have reached Chapter 15, but am still finding it very slow going. While the characters have become slightly more interesting, the pace of the story and the fact that there are so many different storylines simultaneously at play makes, in my opinion, for a less satisfying read. Perhaps I have been spoilt by the fast pace of modern novels and the quick witticisms of authors like Austen and Woolf, but I still feel as if I am waiting for this novel to really begin, and I’m already well into ‘Book Two’.

I’m happy to say that the storyline has moved away from the overly pious Miss Brooke and her new husband, whose ill-founded and misguided opinions did nothing but irritate me; however, I think this may well have been Eliot’s intention. I can only suppose, and hope, that with a fuller knowledge and understanding of the characters and the connections between them, I will come to find the minutiae of provincial life in 19th century England a little more engaging that I do at present. We shall see. I am by no means done with Middlemarch yet and fully intend to enjoy it more. I have heard it recommended and held-up as a true classic so often that I am determined to see in it what others have done before me, however long that may take (and however many dissatisfied blogs I have to write).

I have a sneaking suspicion that this book is going to require significantly more cups of tea than those I have read already, after all as C. S. Lewis said, ‘You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me’, I think I shall have to make that my motto, whilst reading Middlemarch at least.

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Exciting…continuing Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

Only one hundred pages to go now. I got engrossed last night and stayed up horribly late reading, I’ve been shattered all day as a result, oops. I’m finding the book really gripping and the constant sensation that you are on the brink of something terrible never fails to keep you reading (even when it’s far past your bedtime).

I failed in my efforts of not becoming afraid of Mrs Danvers and, am happy to say she quite terrifies me. There aren’t enough scary women in classic novels. She reminds me of the typical Disney villain (and half of them are women) – demonstrating, from the outset, an inane and irrational hatred of the book’s heroine. At the point I’m at at the moment, her story’s not really been fully explained and I already have a plethora of theories about her, ranging from the wild to the ridiculous.

Nothing’s what it seems in this novel, from the characters themselves to the constantly unexpected plot. As a reader, you can’t help feeling that, as a result of the book’s narrator, it’s rather a case of the blind leading the blind. She (whose name has still not been revealed) is so young, innocent and meek that you find yourself clawing at the small snippets of information given to you (which go utterly misinterpreted by her) and wishing you could march in there and tell her to pull herself together. This, for me, has been the one disappointment of the book so far – to read, caged by the thoughts of such a weak and insipid narrator. So far, anyway, women have not been represented in the best light in the novel. They’re either evil, deranged, unfaithful, snobby, weak or clumsy – not the qualities one would choose to have one’s sex represented by.

Gender politics aside though, the book has really turned out to be a good read and I’m looking forward to sitting myself down with a cup of tea and devouring the last hundred pages…quite a turn-around when you consider Du Maurier’s still describing flowers by the vase-load whenever she can – but, I’m willing to put that aside for such a well written and exciting story. See, I’m getting wiser already and I’m only on book two.

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Filed under 20th century, Books, Daphne Du Maurier, Fiction, Novel

Anything could happen…reading Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf.

Well, having had a bit of a head-start on this one (by virtue of the fact that I had already begun reading prior to my brother  suggesting the blog), I am well on my way through the book.

It’s a curious one, to say the least. Having previously read other books by Virginia Woolf (and liked them) I thought I had a pretty good idea of the type of book to expect. I’ve been surprised. I chose Orlando having seen Jeanette Winterson – another of my favourite writers – recommend it as a book that meant a lot to her on the BBC’s week of books programmes. Winterson said that when she read Orlando, prior to her becoming an author, it inspired her and made her think ‘that’s how I want to write’- and it’s very easy to see the similarity.

Orlando, or Orlando: A Biography to give it its full title, is beautifully and unexpectedly written.  It does tend towards Woolf’s stream of consciousness style of writing, but by no means as much so as Mrs Dalloway or To The Lighthouse, for example. Ostensibly it’s far less serious than the other Woolf novels I’ve read, yet at the same time cleverly confronts some big issues head-on. At times Woolf, or Orlando’s biographer as the narrator describes themself, directly addresses the reader, something I’ve always been fond of…and a device that seems to be used less and less these days. Thumbs up so far.

There’s no predicting the plot of this book, least of all because the story world does not abide by the same rules and confines of our own. The ‘biographer’ is always keen to emphasise their responsibility to the reader to convey facts and truth, and yet the story being told is more than a little bit fantastical. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but suffice to say not many protagonists go to bed a man and wake up a woman…just when you thought you were starting to ‘get it’. Anything could, and probably will, happen. As for the often cited feminism of the book, well, I’ll have to keep thinking on that one; especially since the Duke – ‘…Orlando was a man till the age of thirty; when he became a woman…’ – is now wearing a skirt and pearls.

Anyway, so far so good. Brownie points for engaging and striking language, unusual narration and a consciously chronological – but by no means linear – story. Goodness knows what’s going to happen before the end – sixty-ish pages to go – I’ll keep you posted.

On a positive/negative note, depending upon your viewpoint, I’m beginning to see that what with all this reading I’ll have to seriously neglect my Minesweeper obsession. C’est la vie. As for the tea addiction, even though Orlando isn’t a fan of it…I’ll just pop the kettle on.

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Filed under 20th century, Books, Fiction, Novel, Virginia Woolf