Tag Archives: classic

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

Review (Amazon): 

“Ten . . .”
Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious “U. N. Owen.”

“Nine . . .”
At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.

“Eight . . .”
Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . as one by one . . . they begin to die.

“Seven . . .”
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: creative

Whoa. It’s been almost 2 months since I posted a review. O_O Part of that is because I tried reading One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest for book club and failed dramatically. I tried multiple times, but just couldn’t get into it. So I skipped that and moved onto this one which I read in a weekend!

I’m not sure why, but the book made me think of the board game Clue. I guess because there were so many people who were all suspects.

An island recently changed ownership and there was lots of gossip and speculation of who bought it. Was it a Mr. Owen or a Hollywood film star? It has previously been owned by an American millionaire who had the most lavish parties. So naturally when people get invites to Soldier Island, no matter how obscure the invite is, they go! Specifically Justice Wargrave from his acquaintance Constance Culmington, who he hadn’t seen in 7 or 8 years. Or Vera Claythorne who was offered a holiday secretarial post, or Phillip Lombard who was offered 100 guineas to keep an eye on things on the island. Or Emily Brent, who was offered a stay at a formal guest house (not one of those modern places with gramophones). She couldn’t even determine who the letter had come from, but it was so appealing, she went anyway. General Macarthur was invited to have a chat with some buddies from old times. Dr. Armstrong was invited by Mr. Owen who worried about his wife’s health and offered a large check to ensure the best. Tony Marston was invited out for a party. Mr. Blore…

They arrive to the island and find that Mr. and Mrs. Owen are nowhere to be found, but Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, the servants, have already arrived in advance for preparations. The house is very nice, and each room has a framed copy of “Ten Little Soldiers” (much more racist in previous versions of the book) as well as a series of ten figurines on the dining room table.

After dinner, a record is put on by Mrs. Rogers, as instructed by the owners, and it goes around to accuse each and every guest, including the Rogerses of murder. Everyone is shocked and aghast (some are in denial). They compare stories and realize that none of them know who the Owenses are. In fact, the name itself suggests from various letters to be U. N. Owen or Unkown. After the reading, Tony Marsten finishes his drink and collapses on the floor dead. One of the ten figurines is broken.

It then follows quickly that the next morning Mrs. Rogers does not awake due to an overdose, and later that day, General MacArthur is found dead from a blow to the head. The deaths follow the nursery rhyme, and each time someone dies, a figurine is broken from the table. It is decided that some of the men should go out on a search party to find the killer, but they come back empty handed. There’s no one on the island but themselves.

The following morning, Mr. Rogers is found dead out where he was chopping wood to start the fire for breakfast. Later that afternoon, Mrs. Brent is dead from a hypodermic needle (to resemble a bee sting) to the neck. The men then decide that they ought to round up all weaponry and lock it up so to do so, they search everyone’s rooms as well. Later when Vera goes up to take a bath, she finds that someone has hung seaweed from the ceiling in her room. She screams and then men run up to see the commotion. When they return downstairs, they find that Judge Wargrave has been dressed like a judge and shot, presumably using Lombard’s revolver. Again, like with the other deaths, Dr. Armstrong confirms death.

When they go to bed that evening, Lombard is surprised to see his gun back in his nightstand. Blore awakes that evening to hear steps outside. He sneaks out to see a retreating figure, and when Blore and Lombard find that Armstrong is not in his room, they and Vera assume that he is the killer (particularly because that part of the rhyme says that the soldier was eaten by a red herring). The remaining three stay together the next day, even trying to send out an SOS to the mainland, until Blore separates from the other two to go back into the house for some food, and he is killed by a large clock being pushed out of the window from Vera’s room (but Vera is outside with Lombard. Vera and Lombard assume that the missing Armstrong is who killed Blore until they find Armstrong well decomposed washed up on the beach.

At this point, they both assume that each other is the killer. Vera manages to get Lombard’s gun from him and shoots him. Then in a state of shock, she returns to her room and in a delusion, her former love entices her to hang herself with the seaweed on her ceiling.

The epilogue follows that Scotland Yard is investigating the homicides, and they are going through the records of each person. The Rogerses were thought to have let a previous employer die from neglect. Justice Wargrave convicted a likable man who most thought was innocent although after the hanging, information came out to prove that he had been guilty. Vera was the governess for a family whose child had drowned. She had swam out to save him but it was too late. Dr Armstrong had had a patient die in his care due to clumsiness. Miss Brent had a servant who had gotten pregnant. Because of the stigma, Miss Brent fired her and the girl drowned herself. And Marston hit and killed two children due to reckless driving, but they were poor and he was let off with just a fine. Lombard, MacArthur, and Blore, they weren’t too sure about. The order of deaths is recorded in the diaries and notes of various people on the island. It is confusing though that when the police found the murder scene, the chair under Vera’s body had been placed back upright. They have no idea who was the killer.

The book ends with a note in a bottle which was sent to Scotland Yard from the island from Justice Wargrave admitting his guilt. His time on the bench made him hunger for justice, and even murder. He himself being sick allowed him to create an elaborate murder and then kill himself in the process. Through talks with various people, he found 9 people who were guilty of crimes that the result was too difficult to prove. And then he killed them one by one, rigging an elaborate system to shoot himself in the end.

Verdict: 3 stars

I liked the idea of this book, but I found the ending to be a bit weird. It seems odd that the Justice sent a message in a bottle instead of just leaving a note, and also if one is going to fake a murder, I’d think killing by poison rather than an elaborate use of rigging up a way to fire a gun at yourself makes a lot more sense. It also didn’t make sense that Armstrong had agreed to tell the remaining others that Justice Wargrave had died when he hadn’t. I didn’t understand that at all. I also found the death of Vera to be very unrealistic and bizarre. I have read one other Agatha Christie book which I liked much better. My mom has read every one of Christie’s books which are still available, and she mentioned that she thought this one was kind of mediocre in comparison.

 

 

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Persuasion – Jane Austen

 Review (Amazon): First published in 1818, Persuasion was Jane Austen’s last work. Its mellow character and autumnal tone have long made it a favorite with Austen readers. Set in Somersetshire and Bath, the novel revolves around the lives and love affair of Sir Walter Elliot, his daughters Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary, and various in-laws, friends, suitors, and other characters, In Anne Elliot, the author created perhaps her sweetest, most appealing heroine.
At the center of the novel is Anne’s thwarted romance with Captain Frederick Wentworth, a navy man Anne met and fell in love with when she was 19. At the time, Wentworth was deemed an unsuitable match and Anne was forced to break off the relationship. Eight years later, however, they meet again. By this time Captain Wentworth has made his fortune in the navy and is an attractive “catch.” However, Anne is now uncertain about his feelings for her. But after various twists and turns of fortune, the novel ends on a happy note.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: Sweet

You know what the best thing is about classics? They’re free! Thanks to the Gutenberg project, you can get any book that is out of copyright for free.

This book is our classic for the year, and in general, I’m pretty meh on classics. Typically they are so slow and I feel like the story has been retold in countless portrayals over the year so if I haven’t read the book, it’s typically not a fresh read for me. This is only the second Jane Austen book which I have read (I have read Pride and Prejudice before which I liked).

The main character of this book is sweet 27 year old Anne Elliot. She lives with her older sister, Elizabeth, and her megalomaniacal father, Walter. Her younger sister Mary is married and lives with her husband and two kids. Anne’s father has wasted his money and refuses to cut back his lavish habits, so the decision is made for he, Anne, and Elizabeth to move to Bath and rent out their expensive home in Somersetshire to an Admiral. Anne has no desire to go to Bath, so she remains in Somersetshire, planning out a few places to stay as to prolong the eventual move.

Anne stays with her sister Mary to start out with as Mary has all sorts of issues, particularly hypochondria. Anne helps out with the children, and while there, Captain Wentworth comes to Somersetshire to visit his sister who now lives at Kellynch. When Anne was 19, she was engaged to be married to Wentworth, however her family friend Lady Russell (replacement mother of sorts) convinced Anne to break it off because she was too young and he had no status. Both Anne and Wentworth are cautious around each other, and Wentworth seems more than interested in Mary’s husband’s sisters.

A small group including Mary, Anne, and the two sisters, agrees to travel to Lyme Regis with Wentworth to visit some of his officer friends. One is in mourning as he has just lost his fiancée. Anne connects with his somber situation and they realize they both love poetry. While walking along, she catches the glimpse of a man who is walking alone, and she finds out from Mary that he is none other than the presumed heir of their estate. He had a falling out with their father years ago when he did not marry Elizabeth, securing the situation. While in Lyme, one of the sisters takes her flirting with Wentworth too far and falls, getting a severe concussion. She remains in Lyme to recover while most of the others return home.

By this time, it seems Anne needs to move out of Mary’s for her own sanity, so she decides to travel with Lady Russell to Bath. She finds from her family that William Elliot, the same man who Anne encountered in Lyme, has shown renewed interest in being part of the family. It’s initially suspected that he wants to pick up things with Elizabeth since his wife died, however, Lady Russell believes instead that it is Anne who is the object of his attention. Although Anne much likes Mr. Elliot, she believes that he is hiding something.

She is still trying to figure out exactly what he is hiding when Captain Wentworth appears in Bath. Wentworth is icy toward Anne, but upon the announcement of engagement for both of Mary’s husband’s sisters, Anne assumes it is because he is disappointed by that. She receives information that an old classmate of hers is also living in Bath, and she decides to go see her. Mrs. Smith, widowed, is completely destitute, and she explains to Anne the reason–Mr. Elliot!! When Mrs. Smith heard from her nurse that Mr. Elliot was courting Anne, she knew that she had to warn her. Mr. Elliot was solely focused on money and married his wife solely for that purpose. It had not worked out the way that he wanted and he led Mr. Smith into expenses beyond what he could afford, eventually leaving Mrs. Smith with nothing.

Anne knows that she needs to inform Lady Russell about this information as she has already disapproved of Wentworth once but seems quite taken by Mr. Elliot. Charles and Mary arrive with Charles’s sister and her fiance. Mary appears to see Mr. Elliot out the window, although he was supposed to have already left Bath. When Anne looks, she sees him speaking to Elizabeth’s friend Mrs. Clay. The arrival of Mary has detoured the plan to speak to Lady Russell. In the meantime, Anne and Wentworth reconnect and decide that they were right so long ago and should be married. Even Lady Russell agrees that it is nice to see Anne happy. Obviously the announcement foiled the plans of Mr. Elliot. He left Bath shortly thereafter, followed soon by Mrs. Clay, who had also been trying to get into the family wealth by hoping to marry the widowed Walter Elliot. Anne and Wentworth marry, and help Mrs. Smith get back onto her feet.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

For a classic, this read fairly smoothly. Austen’s work always feels more modern due to her strong women characters. The downfall, like many classic novels, is that it never got really interesting. The book sort of hummed along at a steady pace, perhaps the only exception being when we find out about Mr. Elliot’s past which is still fairly tame in modern experiences. All in all, I thought it was good enough to finish!

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The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

  Summary (Amazon): The Three Musketeers is a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Set in the 17th century, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d’Artagnan after he leaves home to travel to Paris, to join the Musketeers of the Guard. D’Artagnan is not one of the musketeers of the title; those being his friends Athos, Porthos and Aramis, inseparable friends who live by the motto “all for one, one for all”, a motto which is first put forth by d’Artagnan. In genre, The Three Musketeers is primarily a historical novel and adventure. However Dumas also frequently works into the plot various injustices, abuses and absurdities of the ancien regime, giving the novel an additional political aspect at a time when the debate in France between republicans and monarchists was still fierce. The story was first serialized from March to July 1844, during the July monarchy, four years before the French Revolution of 1848 violently established the second Republic. The author’s father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas had been a well-known general in France’s Republican army during the French revolutionary wars. Although adaptations tend to portray d’Artagnan and the three musketeers as heroes, the novel portrays less appealing characters, who are willing to commit violence over slight insults and through unquestioning loyalty to the king and queen, and treat their servants and supposed social inferiors with contempt and violence.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: snooze

So for some foolish reason, I read my two longest books of the year back to back. While I loved The Goldfinch, I could not motivate myself to work on this one. It was our classic for book club, and no one finished it. I may be the only one and three weeks after the book club meeting.

I can probably summarize this 400 page book in a few paragraphs, because in the 1600s, it took a lot of time do to anything. And if you were writing a serial, you may have been paid by the word. I don’t know.

The main character, d’Artagnan, goes to Paris with a letter for the captain of the Musketeers. While there, he is challenged by three Musketeers to duels in succession, and when the duels are over, they become good friends. (d’Artagnan is not a Musketeer until much later in the story so it is more like the Three Musketeers + 1). There’s some political drama going on in France at the time involving the Cardinal, the King, the Queen, and England (particularly Lord Buckingham). The Queen loves Lord Buckingham. The Cardinal wishes to embarrass the Queen in this matter, and he gets the help of “Milady”, apparently the most swoon-worthy cunning woman in all of history. d’Artagnan falls in love with his landlord’s wife who is a helper for the Queen who is kidnapped by the Cardinal. d’Artagnan wants to find this woman, and along the way encounter “Milady” who enchants him (even though he’s supposed to be looking for his lover). He realizes that she is evil and branded, and he sets a trap for her. However she’s too clever and basically the rest of the book is d’Artagnan and the three Musketeers trying to catch Milady. Finding the woman is a plot afterthought. It turns out that at some point, Athos was married to Milady, and he helps carry out a scheme to have her sent to England to be punished by Lord Buckingham. However, the guard becomes enchanted with her, helps her escape back to France and kills Lord Buckingham. When she arrives back in France, she ends up at a convent which happens to be the same one that d’Artagnan’s lover is hidden. As her original plan is foiled last minute, Milady ends up poisoning Bonaciex. The group arrives just as Bonaciex is dying and split up to find Milady. Eventually they do, paired up with her brother-in-law who was keeping her in England, as well as an executioner who has been hurt by Milady’s trickery. They try her and execute her. They return to Paris and the cardinal pardons d’Artagnan and makes him a lieutenant in the Musketeers.

The end.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

Not for me. I easily tire of classics, but I expected this one to be a lot more action packed than it was. I suspect too if I were more interested in history, I might have been more interested, but, alas, I am not. For me, there was not much in this book to interest me.

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The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/9e3/45106722/files/2014/12/img_0972.jpgSummary (Amazon): Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins,

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.”

His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: surprisingly current

Somehow I escaped high school without having to read this book. It’s been on my list for a while of books that I probably should have read, and luckily one of the girls in my book club brought it to our book swap meeting. It was a bit hard to get in to for me, but once I did, I actually really liked it.

The book is about Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy from a wealthy family, who is being kicked out of his prep school, Pencey, for bad grades. Holden is not a very likable character. He’s obviously from a rich family, and basically goes from prep school to prep school getting kicked out of each one. He has a very hipster mentality that everyone who conforms is a phony, and he’s significantly better than any of them. This is why I found it difficult to get into the book. I just really hate people who refuse to take advantage of the opportunities that they are presented with.

However, as the book progresses, the reader learns that Holden’s brother Allie, died from leukemia a few years earlier. His other brother, D.B., moved to Hollywood to be a film writer. It is obvious in the book that both of these factors have affected Holden tremendously. He also has a lot of similar experiences to other teenagers–who to date, who to be friends with, whether to have sex, what to become when you grow up, how to have a good relationship with your family. And let’s be honest, most real adults have those same issues too. We just have (hopefully) developed proper experience to make better decisions. Being a teenager is all about figuring out things. And Holden is no different. He has few friends at school (although it’s unclear whether he just thinks that he doesn’t). He has difficulty in certain classes, specifically ones he isn’t interested in. He has difficulty with women. He has strong feelings for a girl Jane, who his roommate goes out with. Holden doesn’t believe that his roommate gave her the proper respect that she deserved, so they get into a fist fight. But then later in the book, he goes out with this girl Sally, who he doesn’t really like, and he also solicits a prostitute but they don’t end up having sex. I kind of got the idea that he was just a confused hormonal teenager who was caught between being respectful and succumbing to his hormones.

He does have what seems to be a really great relationship with his youngest sibling, Phoebe. Before the reader even meets her, Holden has touted her as being really incredible, especially for a kid. And I thought Phoebe was really a good character. I guess maybe she shared my same thoughts about Holden. She was sympathetic toward him, but she also realized that he was unhappy (she asked Holden to name one thing he liked and he couldn’t come up with anything) and in trouble. Toward the end of the book, Holden meets her to tell her his plan to travel out west to live as a deaf-mute, but when she arrives with a suitcase so that she can come along, he is upset and tells her no. They argue and she gets very upset with him (which it seemed as this was an unusual occurrence) but eventually they somewhat make amends. Holden returns home with her, ends up in therapy, and is to start a new school the following year.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

I really felt like most of the book was a statement about mental health, especially in someone at such an important age. Holden is obviously very depressed due to his one brother’s death and due to the other brother’s absence (and possibly his success due to being phony), and I’m glad at the end, he did finally get help (It was written in the 50s and some people today still think that therapy is for wimps). It’s also a story about growing up and finding yourself. The title of the book comes from a song (that I am totally unfamiliar with) that Holden mishears as “If a body catch a body coming through the rye”. He develops this misheard lyric into an imagination where he is watching over children who are playing in a rye field on a cliff. He is responsible for catching any children who fall. Holden gets upset when he sees vulgar graffiti at Phoebe’s school which shows he has a very strong association with protecting the children–perhaps he thinks he had to grow up too fast. The book was written in 1951, but the book doesn’t seem dated at all (with the exception of typewriters!) as I think most people have experienced at least some of the same things at one point or another in their life.  I’m glad I finally read it.

 

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The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Emmuska Orczy

imageBook Description (Amazon): An irresistible blend of romance, intrigue, and suspense, this timeless historical adventure recalls the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution, when ruthless mobs ruled the streets of Paris and hundreds of royals were condemned to face the guillotine each day. The only hope of many was a courageous leader who spirited aristocrats across the Channel to England and safety. Known by the name of the wildflower he leaves as a calling card, the Pimpernel becomes the darling of the people and is particularly admired by Marguerite Blakeney, who scorns her foppish husband as ardently as she esteems this gallant hero.

My Review (Spoilers):

Executive Summary: cunning

This is one of my mom’s favorite books, and recently a girl in my book club brought it for a swap. She was raving about it, and I thought, OK, it’s time to actually read it. Since it’s a classic, it’s available for free download through the Project Gutenberg which I love. This book has something that I hate, and it’s not anything to do with the book itself. I hate when I read a book that was amazing and creative and totally new…a hundred years after it was amazing and creative and totally new. So by now, people are familiar with the idea of a hero who has a disguise. And because of that, I guessed who the Scarlet Pimpernel was very early in the book. And that was disappointing to me.

The book is set in the midst of the French Revolution when all aristocracy and anyone who might even be remotely aristocratic are being sent to the guillotine. Savage frog eaters! Meanwhile in England, a man known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel and his league of heroes have been running wild operations including dressing as old ladies to rescue as many of the aristocracy as possible. No one knows the identity of this man, but of course the French would love to know.

After the intro in France, we go to a pub “The Fisherman’s Rest” in Dover and are introduced to Andrew Ffoulkes and Antony Dewherst, two members of the league. They are waiting for some recently rescued aristocracy to arrive. Eventually the Comtesse de Tournay and her son and daughter arrive. Shortly thereafter, the most clever woman in the world, Marguerite St. Just Blakeney arrives and a fight occurs between the Comptesse and Lady Blakeney. Lady Blakeney is accused of being the one who turned the de St. Cyrs, another aristocratic family, into the authorities and the husband is still in France and will probably be executed because of her. (Marguerite was a French actress and moved to England and got married to Sir Percy Blakeney, a rich, but foolish man.)

Percy then arrives and the Comtesse’s son challenges Percy to a duel (since Percy’s wife insulted his mother). Percy continues to decline Vicomte until Marguerite steps in and basically mocks them into stopping. Marguerite then steps out to bid farewell to her brother, Armand.  During her goodbye to him, she tells her brother that Sir Percy knows about the situation regarding the Comtesse. But he doesn’t know the full story and that is why they are estranged. He leaves to go to France.

Percy leaves and Marguerite thinks back on the situation with the Marquis de St. Cyr, the family she turned into the authorities. When they were younger, her brother Armand loved one of the de St. Cyrs, but he was a mere plebeian. Despite that, he sent her a poem, and the next day he was beaten within an inch of his life for even considering the idea. After the Revolution began, she thoughtlessly mentioned the story to some people who then conveyed the story to those in charge who promptly arrested him and his family. Once they were arrested, there was nothing she could do. She was unaware how much this would upset Percy when she told him.

Marguerite heads back to The Fisherman’s Rest and runs into Chavelin, a Frenchman she was familiar with. He tells her he is there to discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel and take him back to France to the guillotine.  He asks Marguerite to help him, but she laughs it off.

Later that evening only Ffoulkes and Dewherst are hanging out in the coffee room of the pub. Once they are alone, they begin to reveal that they are both working for the Scarlet Pimpernel. They are reading the instructions on how to proceed on rescuing Comte de Tournay when they are attacked by Chauvelin and his men. And in the process of searching him, they find a letter from Armand. Now Chauvelin has some blackmail to make Marguerite help him.

Chauvelin corners Marguerite at the opera, revealing her brother’s letter. She agrees to help him with his plan. She is to watch everyone who Ffoulkes and Dewherst speak to at the party they are all going to the following evening. If she succeeds in helping Chauvelin discover who the Scarlet Pimpernel is, he will return Armand’s letter to her and set him free. When Percy joins her in the booth, she doesn’t tell him anything.

At the party, she is the real belle of the ball. She manages to read a note of Dewherst’s from the Scarlet Pimpernel and uses her acting skills to evade his suspicion. She relays the information to Chauvelin. “I start tomorrow. If you wish to speak to me, I shall be in the supper room at one o’clock precisely.” Chauvelin goes into the supper room and finds Sir Blakeney napping. He waits and sees no one else until Blakeney is awakened for Marguerite to go home.

Percy and Marguerite leave the party late and head to their house on the river. Her great moral dilemma with her brother or the Scarlet Pimpernel brought her to tell Percy the full story about the de St. Cyrs. He does not seem to change his opinion of her. Eventually the story leads to her confessing that Armand is in trouble. He promises to help.

Marguerite goes to bed and awakes suddenly to find a note slipped under her door. Her husband is leaving (presumably to rescue Armand) and he is leaving immediately. She runs out to catch him, but he reveals little more.

While Percy is gone, she goes into his study, which she rarely does. Suddenly she realizes that Percy cannot be as foolish as everyone thinks since he flawlessly manages the vast fortune that he inherited. As she is pondering this, she finds the ring of the Scarlet Pimpernel (to no one’s surprise). Shortly thereafter, a runner brings her the letter that Armand wrote (which means that Chauvelin knows who the Scarlet Pimpernel is). Marguerite is completely gutted, but she keeps her senses. She goes immediately to Ffoulkes and tells him what has happened.

He agrees to help her. She sets off in her carriage and he meets her at The Fisherman’s Rest when he arrives. The intention is to sail to Calais the following day and hopefully arrive before or near Chauvelin. The weather is stormy, so it takes a while to set off. They are hoping that Percy survived in the storm. When they arrive in Calais,  they head to Chat Gris, a dirty pub. They find that Percy has been there and is expected back for dinner. Marguerite agrees to stay at the pub well hidden while Ffoulkes heads to find Percy to tip him off.

While they are both gone, Chauvelin arrives with some of his henchmen who he sends away on orders. While they are away, Percy comes in, pretending to be his idiot self, eating dinner and chatting with the spy. But at the very end, he gives Chauvelin some snuff that is filled with pepper, rendering him immobilized while Percy slips away. The men return and say that the tall Englishman talked to a nearby farmer and borrowed his cart. They are sent back to retrieve this person and come back with one of the farmer’s friends, this Polish Jew who offers up his cart for payment. Chauvelin agrees.

They head out to Pere Blanchard’s hut, and Marguerite follows. I don’t really understand how she managed to keep up with a horse cart but perhaps they weren’t going very fast. They arrive at the hut with no sign of Percy, but his ship is parked nearby.  Marguerite sees the boat and plans to go alert the people (her brother and Comte) inside the hut, however she is seen and captured. Chauvelin’s plan is to wait outside the hut for Percy to arrive and the soldiers are not to do anything to the fugitives inside until Percy arrives and Chauvelin gives the orders.

Eventually Percy in his “typical” fashion is heard down the beach singing “God Save the Queen”. Marguerite realizes that her brother is about to be killed so she screams and tries to make it to the hut. She is stopped and the soldiers go inside to grab the fugitives, but they are gone. One of the soldiers saw them sneak out but his orders were not to do anything to them until Chauvelin gave orders. The soldiers eventually realize that the fugitives have headed out to Percy’s boat and are getting away.

Chauvelin leaves the Jew to be beaten and leaves Marguerite just because as he and the rest of his men try to cut off Percy from where he is heading (a note was found in the hut). Once the soldiers leave, Marguerite realizes that Percy is the Jew and the Scarlet Pimpernel has once again evaded capture. The boat was given orders to return to get him, and Ffoulkes appears to help Percy and Marguerite get to the boat and return to England. Percy and Marguerite end their estrangement and happy endings all around.

Verdict: 4 stars.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to rank this book. If I were being completely honest, I’d have given it 3.5 stars, but I bumped it up the remaining 0.5 because of its literary influence. I suspect that the Scarlet Pimpernel might have implanted the idea that created such characters as Superman. I felt the first half of the book was a bit slow, but I did enjoy the second half. And in terms of classics, I’d prefer this to a Dickens any day!

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The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

imageBook Description (Amazon):  The novel tells of a young man named Dorian Gray, the subject of a painting by artist Basil Hallward. Basil is impressed by Dorian’s beauty and becomes infatuated with him, believing his beauty is responsible for a new mode in his art. Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil’s, and becomes enthralled by Lord Henry’s world view. Espousing a new hedonism, Lord Henry suggests the only things worth pursuing in life are beauty and fulfilment of the senses. Realizing that one day his beauty will fade, Dorian (whimsically) expresses a desire to sell his soul to ensure the portrait Basil has painted would age rather than he. Dorian’s wish is fulfilled, and when he subsequently pursues a life of debauchery, the portrait serves as a reminder of the effect each act has upon his soul, with each sin displayed as a disfigurement of his form, or through a sign of aging.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: dark

So apparently this is the only actual novel that Oscar Wilde ever wrote. And one of the great things about classics is the Project Gutenberg so I was able to get the book free on my iPad (thus the really fancy cover). In general, I don’t really like classics. I’m the sort of person who much prefers a good plot to flowery detailed language, so classics in general don’t really suit my fancy. That being said, I thought this book actually had a pretty good balance of both.

The book begins when Lord Henry Wotten visits his longtime friend Basil Hallward, an artist, and they discuss Basil’s new muse, a young man named Dorian Gray. Dorian has classic good looks and has sat for Basil a number of times. Basil is convinced that his art has changed for the better since meeting Dorian. Lord Henry of course is interested in meeting the young man as well. Unfortunately Lord Henry is a blathering, philosophizing trouble maker.

When Dorian meets Lord Henry, he is captivated by his “worldly ideas”. Henry tells Dorian that his youth is the most important thing and basically that he will never be as young or as good looking as he is that very moment. (Who cares about intellect or experiences or any of the good things you get out of growing older.) Dorian is easily influenced and lets this affect him greatly. He looks at the painting that he has just sat for and realizes that he has already grown older than he is in that painting. Dorian wishes that the painting could age and he could remain the same.

Dorian somewhat randomly goes to a shoddy second rate theater where he falls in love with the main actress, Sibyl. He adores her and returns night after night to watch her various performances. Eventually he decides that he cannot live without her and proposes marriage. He tells Basil and Henry and the three plan to see her the next evening in her performance. When they arrive, she has “lost” her acting prowess, realizing that it was just pretend and now she has a wonderful life to look forward to. Dorian is embarrassed and apparently was only in love with her acting in the first place. After the show, he tells her that the engagement is off and he never wants to see her again.

He goes to look at the painting and he realizes that the painting now has fine lines around the face whereas his own face hasn’t aged. He realizes that when he thought about swapping with the painting, it has somehow come true. He decides that he should right the situation and make amends with Sibyl the following day, but the next morning, he finds that Sibyl has committed suicide.

Dorian continues to do worse and worse things, never aging or looking as sinister as he really is. Eventually the mental stress catches up with him and he finally confronts Basil, blaming him for the curse of the painting. As he shows Basil the painting (the only person he has ever shown), Dorian kills him. He enlists the help of a previous friend to dispose of the body. (It goes unnoticed as Basil was about to depart for Paris when he was killed.)

He goes to an opium den that he apparently frequents regularly in the slums. As he is leaving, one of the women calls him “Prince Charming”–the name that Sibyl had called him. Sibyl’s brother, her only sibling, is in earshot and the name “Prince Charming” stirs a memory in him. He follows Dorian but relents on killing him when he sees that the man he expected is much too young to be the right man who killed his sister. James (the brother) goes back inside and the woman tells him that Dorian has not aged in 18 years (since Sibyl was killed). (I thought for a second that this woman actually was Sibyl and the suicide was a fake but it was not…)

James follows Dorian to his home and then follows him out to the country to a party he is at. James is accidentally killed by a bird hunter while he is hiding waiting for Dorian. This seems to rattle Dorian significantly, and he starts to tell Henry what happened to Basil. Henry obviously doesn’t believe him. Dorian tries to change his ways but the painting doesn’t alter for the positive. So eventually Dorian comes to the realization that he has to destroy the painting. He stabs it with the same knife he had used to kill Basil. In the end, he is the one who is killed and becomes old like the painting while the painting reverts to its original young portrait.

Verdict: 3 Stars

That’s probably the best verdict I could give to a classic. On the scale of classics by themselves, I think it would be one of the best I’ve read. I thought that the idea was interesting and probably very unique at the time of the original release. It’ll probably be another year before I read a classic so at least this was a pretty good one!

 

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Interview with a Vampire – Anne Rice

interviewBook Description (Amazon): Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force–a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses. It is a novel only Anne Rice could write.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: imaginative

The book club topic this month is for everyone to pick a novel by the same author–Anne Rice. I had never read Interview with a Vampire (or any of Rice’s books) and I figured that was the best one to start with. My sister, however, loves Rice and lent me this book (which is awesome and old), the sequel, and the movie (which I will post about later when I watch it). I travelled over the Thanksgiving holiday so I finished the book easily on the flight.

So it’s my understanding that there hadn’t really been any vampire books from the original Dracula type stories until Rice came out with this book in 1975. Indirectly, I suspect Rice is responsible for Twilight. 

As anticipated in the title, a person (only ever referred to as “the boy”) is interviewing a vampire for his life story. The vampire, Louis, was originally an indigo plantation owner near New Orleans in the late 1700s. His father is dead so he is the head of the plantation with his mother, sister, and brother. After his brother mysteriously dies, he delves into a deep depression. He is visited by a vampire named Lestat who wants to own Louis’s plantation.  A deal is made. Lestat turns Louis into a vampire; Louis moves his mother and sister out from the plantation; and Lestat and his old, blind father move in. Lestat is quite controlling of Louis but yet teaches him very little (Lestat likely knows very little himself since there are no other vampires with him and since his father is still alive, he obviously hasn’t been a vampire very long).

Louis has moral and psychological issues with killing humans whereas Lestat does not (and also does not understand why Louis does). Lestat kills wildly and eventually the slaves on the plantation begin to suspect something suspicious is happening. They plan an uprising. Lestat’s father is dying, and Louis finishes him off so that they can burn down the estate and escape to New Orleans.

Louis hasn’t eaten for a while, and he hears a small girl crying alongside her mother who is dead from the plague. Louis feeds on her, and Lestat sees him. Lestat decides to return to the girl and turn her into a vampire so that he can entice Louis to stay. Louis hates the idea but he soon becomes her parent/tutor and loves her tremendously. Claudia has the killing instincts of Lestat but the curiosity of Louis. As time goes on, she continues to become more and more angry that Lestat created her as she can never age. Although her mind is that of a woman, her body is stuck as a child. Eventually she plots to kill Lestat. Louis doesn’t want to, but he also won’t stop her, so one evening, she entices him to feed on a poisoned child and then cuts his throat. She and Louis dump Lestat’s body in a nearby swamp.

Louis and Claudia plan a trip to Europe to find others like themselves. Before they leave New Orleans, Lestat appears back from the dead with a young assistant vampire and attacks them. They manage to set the house on fire and escape to Europe. Lestat must be dead.

Based on Claudia’s readings, presumably the old stories of vampires such as Dracula, the pair begin in eastern Europe. They find vampires, but nothing like themselves. These old vampires are more like zombies. Frustrated, they decide to go to Paris–somewhere they can both speak fluently. There they discover a group of vampires with a leader named Armand. Among the group, he is the oldest but he did not create all the others. Most of the others, specifically a vampire called Santiago, are set in the old ways and are suspicious of Louis and Claudia (mostly suspecting that they killed their maker which is a crime punishable by death).

Armand tells Claudia that she should kill herself because she shouldn’t be a vampire at all. He loves Louis and wants Louis to leave Claudia, but he knows that Louis will never voluntarily do that. So Claudia convinces Louis to make a new vampire to care for her–a doll maker named Madeleine. Madeleine loves Claudia and makes her lots of child sized “adult clothes”. She uses her talents to create furniture and other stuff for Claudia to make her happy. The three live together for a while until Claudia tells Louis that she and Madeleine wish to return to New Orleans. They begin planning this while Armand teaches Louis additional vampire skills like climbing.

In the midst of their planning, the three are suddenly kidnapped by Santiago and his goons.  Lestat has come for them. He is lonely and wants Louis to return to live with him. Louis has no interest, but is willing to return in exchange for Claudia’s safety. Santiago only wants Louis and Claudia to suffer for trying to kill their creator. Louis is forcibly put into a coffin to starve but is eventually rescued by Armand. Louis finds that Claudia and Madeleine were left outside when the sun rose to be killed. Lestat returns to New Orleans. Louis is beside himself and decides to burn the theatre to the ground. Only Armand survives.

Armand and Louis travel around Europe. Louis tries to forget about Claudia and the terrible situation in Paris, but he never really recovers. Eventually Armand leaves as Louis’s depression has dissolved their attachment. Louis returns to New Orleans. While there, he discovers that Lestat still lives but is surviving on animals and is essentially mad.

As Louis finishes his interview, the boy asks Louis if he will convert him into a vampire. Louis is mortified. He figured that after his story of evil and pain, that no one would ever choose that for themselves. However, the boy ends the story with the intention of tracking down Lestat, presumably to be converted.

Verdict: 4 stars. Despite reading this many years after it was published, it is easy to see how this book rejuvenated vampires in popular culture. The story itself was enticing and explored many levels of morality and evil both in humans and in vampires.  The writing style was fluid, but not so flowery that it was hard to read. It seemed appropriate for the story. I’m really glad I finally read this book, although I do wish I had read it before reading all of the young adult fiction involving vampires.

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