Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Classic (page 1 of 2)

Scary reads for Halloween

Today I thought I’d pick out a few books from my archive that would make scary reading for Halloween tomorrow. I know, more recycling of posts, but it’s fun for me to look back at my blog, and maybe you’ll find a book you might like to read too. The links are to my reviews in the text, and where you can buy at the bottom.

Firstly, a book for all ages (well for brave 8yrs+):

Moviewatch - Coraline (3D)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.  This is a deliciously scary children’s novel that is destined to become an absolute classic. Think Clive Barker for kids, but with a sense of humour and you’re about there.  The animated film is rather wonderful too.  I never thought I’d get scared of everyday items of haberdashery, but Coraline will do that for you (see the bottom of this post if you dare!)

Now for a grown-up novel about werewolves:

red moonRed Moon by Benjamin Percy. Imagine a post 9/11 America into which a new threat has emerged to fuel a nation’s paranoia. It’s the age of the werewolf, or Lycans as Percy dubs them.  Percy’s take on the werewolf genre is firmly grounded in the real world rather than the paranormal which does add a genuinely different feel to this novel. His new approach takes the paranormal out of lycanthropy, and creates a grisly and gritty horror-thriller of speculative fiction.

… and IMHO the best vampire book yet written:

lettherightoneinLet the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. When I came to this Nordic vampire novel, I found something truly dark and horrific that needed a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve year old boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl. A bit long, but stunningly plotted and easily the equal of the best Scandicrime novels.

I shall finish with a classic:

jekyllDr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R L Stevenson. I love novels about mad professors – and this is the daddy of them all. Most of us in the modern age will know the essential twist but there is so much more to Stevenson’s clever story than that. The edition I read also contained two very Gothic short stories by Stevenson too – The Body Snatcher and Markheim – both brilliant also.

What scary books are you reading for Halloween?


You can button your own eyes at Click on the portrait in the house …

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Red Moon by Benjamin Percy
Let the Right One In John Ajvide Lindqvist
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Bookgroup Report – Always look on the bright side of life

Candide by Voltaire

This short novel is another one of those influential classic books that I had always planned to read. I’d bought a copy in preparation, and ten years later it was still sitting on the shelf. I was really pleased that we chose it at book group, and I’m mighty glad to have read it for it was really funny and not a chore at all – a verdict we all shared.

Candide, or Optimism as it is subtitled, is a fast moving romantic adventure published in 1759.  Starting off in Westphalia, young Candide falls in love above his station – with the Baron’s daughter, Miss Cunégonde, but is driven out of the castle, gets press-ganged into the Bulgarian army, flogged, shipwrecked then caught in the Lisbon earthquake (of 1755), tortured by the Inquisition (which wasn’t ‘expected’), he gets separated from his beloved again, goes to El Dorado, gets rich, gets robbed – suffering ever-worse calamities in his journey to get home and find Cunégonde again. Through all of this hardship, Candide fervently believes that he will eventually be reunited with his love.

Along the way he has many companions, the foremost of whom is Doctor Pangloss, the teacher,  philosopher, and believer in ‘the best of all possible worlds’, a personal philosophy he spreads far and wide …

One day when Miss Cunégonde went to take a walk in the little neighbouring woods, which was called a park, she saw through the bushes the sage Dr. Pangloss giving a lecture in experimental philosophy to her mother’s chambermaid, a little brown wench, very pretty and very tractable. As Miss Cunégonde had a natural disposition toward the sciences, she observed with the utmost attention the experiments which were repeated before her eyes; she perfectly well understood the force of the doctor’s reasoning upon causes and effects.  She returned home greatly flurried, quite pensive and filled with the deire of knowledge, imagining that she might be a sufficing reason for young Candide, and he for her.

Yes, this is the first of many occasions when Voltaire gets slightly saucy, rather than satirical, and very funny it is too.  I must admit, a lot of the direct satire was lost on me and the rest of the group as we were unfamiliar with the times the story was set in. It appears that the German philosopher Leibniz was a particular target as he believed in a benevolent God – however, we could all get the general themes. This was where an edition with good notes came in rather useful. One of our group who is a linguist read the book in the original French and was amused to find that the novella is billed as ‘translated from the German of Dr. Ralph’, Ralph being Voltaire.

In the end Candide’s optimism may have been tempered by the hard reality of life, but there are a lot of laughs along the way. Candide’s travels and encounters may owe a lot to Gulliver’s travels which preceded it, but what struck our book group most was the surreal edge to the humour – where else would you encounter an old woman with one buttock?  This led our book group to decide that Voltaire’s heir is none other than Monty Python, who in The Life of Brian, also simultaneously espoused and satirised optimism – here’s Eric Idle …

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best ….
And … always look on the bright side of life…

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I bought my book. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Candideby Voltaire
Gulliver’s Travels (Oxford World’s Classics)by Jonathan Swift
Monty Python’s Life of Brian [DVD] [1979]

Is this a case of middle-aged disappointment?

Now my daughter is ten, she tends to read books to herself, but occasionally at bedtime I still read to her when there’s a book she requests.  We’ve had great fun revisiting some of her toddler books – I kept a pile of our favourites – you know the ones – The Gruffalo, Kipper, The very hungry caterpillar, etc. Recently she requested that I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to her, as she tried to read it by herself, but just ‘didn’t get it’.  So we’ve read a chapter at a time over the past few weeks, when she was in the mood to be read to.

As a child, I read both Alice books again and again – although I much preferred Through the Looking Glass as it has a) Jabberwocky, b) Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and most importantly, c) knitting sheep. But back to Alice the first, I was delighted that I could read Alice again, this time with funny voices…

So we started:  Alice saw the White Rabbit and fell down the hole – fine.  She drank and ate and changed size several times, cried a river and scared a little mouse with tales of her cat Dinah – still fine.  But by the mouse’s lecture on Will the Conqueror and the Dodo’s Caucus Race, it was starting to already get a bit mad for my daughter, who’s much more used to ‘wimpy’ or ‘dorky’ diaries of modern school children set in the real world.  By the time we got halfway at the pig and pepper, if it hadn’t been for the Cheshire Cat, I really would have lost her attention.  We kept on reading right to the end, but I think Juliet was just enjoying being read to, rather than understanding what was going on. I tried to explain that each chapter was really a separate adventure with different creatures that would come together at the end, but that seemed to confuse her more.

What about my experience on this re-reading.  The largest part of the story is in dialogue – whether it be Alice talking to herself, or the characters talking to at each other. Having to concentrate on consistency in my voices reading all these terribly convoluted conversations with their often circular arguments, it struck me that not only were they all talking at each other nearly all the time, but they were not listening to each other either, Alice included.  She was fine on her own with her philosophies, but she was as bad as all the others the rest of the time – what a chatterbox!  Again it was up to the Cheshire Cat to save the day.

Four decades on, the result was that I found the book a bit of a disappointment. I can only conclude that it is possibly a story best read by oneself rather than aloud; to have the space and time to re-view the scenes as you go if needed.  It certainly wasn’t the fantasy that I had loved so much as a child.  It was completely bonkers, full of maddening and argumentative characters – most of whom had few redeeming features, and had a heroine who was a proper little madam.

Rather than reading Alice in Wonderland again, I would however like to read Martin Gardner’s book The Annotated Alice which has everything you ever wanted to know about the book explained. As for Juliet and I, we are going to persevere and read Through the Looking Glass together, but I might re-read it to myself first!

Have you ever re-read a favourite book from years before and been disappointed?

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To explore Alice on Amazon UK, click below:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition

Look inside …

Take one book – a 1965 Puffin paperback of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Pages well tanned, covers worn, spine well-creased and starting to fall apart – it’s my well-loved edition I had as a child.  The painting on the front is by Shirley Hughes.

Then I opened the front cover and found this …

I loved playing Libraries as a kid.  Obviously no-one took this particular book out of my library, as I’ve not used my date stamper.  See how the newer paper of the insert has not discoloured.  We moved from Coulsdon to South Croydon in 1970, but I think the library ticket must have been inserted before then.  The address on the left doesn’t look like my writing though … a mystery!

Did you ever play libraries as a child?

It is a book I’d love to re-read though, but I shall use my new copy kindly sent by the OUP, as my old one is so falling apart.

To buy from, click below:
The Secret Garden (Oxford World’s Classics) by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Whale of a Read!

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

This was our Book Group’s choice for our Christmas  read – we always tackle a classic over the festive season. This time we couldn’t decide between ourselves, so everyone threw a suggestion in the hat and this came out.

Moby Dick is one of those books I always planned to read eventually as it is such an influential classic.  Amazingly I didn’t have a copy so I ordered the Oxford World’s Classics edition, which has helpful notes, an introductory essay by Tony Tanner which explores many of the facets of the book, and extracts from Melville’s correspondence with Nathaniel Hawthorne about the book.  Christmas came and it hadn’t arrived – stuck in the backlog, so I downloaded it as my first Kindle book – paying for the same edition I’d ordered.

Published in 1851, Moby Dick is the tale of one man’s obsession with catching a wily old white whale.  Captain Ahab lost his leg to Moby, and won’t stop at anything to get his revenge on the creature.   The story is narrated by Ishmael, who wants to get experience on a whaling ship.

In New Bedford, Massachusetts, he agrees to share a room, little knowing the other occupant is a tattooed Polynesian harpooner; however once they both get over the shock, Ishmael and Queequeg become bosum pals and Queequeg is, despite his savage ways, a delight and fast became my favourite character.

Before leaving for Nantucket to find a ship, they visit the Seaman’s Bethel – the Whaler’s chapel in New Bedford.  This is real (see right).  On my last US holiday back in 2004 we passed through New Bedford (on our way to Battleship Cover at Fall River with its collection of old naval vessels).  Anyway, we visited the whaling museum and passed by the chapel, which sadly wasn’t open but did provide the photo-op.

Back to the whale, off they go to Nantucket where they sign on for the crew of the Pequod which is due to sail on a three year voyage.  We’re up to chapter 16 and still no sign of Captain Ahab; Ishmael is getting curious, worried even about his to-be boss …

Turning back I accosted Captain Peleg, inquiring where Captain Ahab was to be found.
‘And what dost thou want of Captain Ahab? It’s all right enough; thou art shipped.’
‘Yes, but I should like to see him.’
‘But I don’t think thou wilt be able to at present. I don’t know exactly what’s the matter with him; but he keeps close inside the house; a sort of sick, and yet he don’t look so. In fact, he ain’t sick; but no, he isn’t well either. Any how, young man, he won’t always see me, so I don’t suppose he will thee. He’s a queer man, Captain Ahab – so some think – but a good one. Oh, thou’lt like him well enough; no fear, no fear. He’s a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn’t speak much; but, when he does speak, then you may well listen….’

We don’t fully meet Ahab for another twelve chapters, and several days after setting sail.

It was one of those less lowering, but sill grey and gloomy enough mornings of the transition, when with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water with a vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I mounted to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I leveled my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me. Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarterdeck.

I’m not going to outline any more of the plot, but you can see that it’s shaping up to be an epic saga – and I would have been very happy to read it as such. However, the book is much more than an adventure yarn.

Melville had experience as a sailor on a whaling-ship, and he was inspired by actual events earlier in the 1800s when a Nantucket ship was sunk after being rammed by a whale, and the alleged killing of a great albino whale off the coast of Chile. Melville has Ishmael, the character is himself an auto-didact, tell us all he learns about whales, whaling and the philosophy of it all – and I do mean all! We have many chapters on the natural history of this giant creature – all the different sub-species, whale anatomy – with individual chapters on the spout, tail, and so on. Then there were chapters about the business of whaling in great detail.  Melville wants to educate us as well as entertain and make us think.

For me, this broke up the story too much, so that I ended up skimming through the whaling manual to cut to the chase, (rather as I did with War and Peace on my first reading as a teenager – I only read the Peace chapters fully).   This destroyed the momentum of the plot and diluted the impact of the sad tale for me.  Whatever you may think of it though, whales and whaling during this time-period are a fascinating business. Overall, I’m really glad I persevered to the end – it was a very worthwhile read, and those who did likewise in our group also got a lot out of this revered tome. (7/10 overall)

One of our group watched the John Huston film starring Gregory Peck to back it up, (the film also has a magnificent cameo by Orson Welles as the preacher in the chapel so I’m told).

On perusing my shelves, I may not have had a copy of Moby Dick, but I did find two more well thought of books on whales and whaling – Leviathan by Philip Hoare, and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philibrick – both of which I am now minded to read sooner rather than later!

P.S. Did you know – the First Mate of the Pequod is called ‘Starbuck’ – and they did name Starbucks after him, although apparently only after Pequod was rejected!

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To buy from, click below:
Moby Dick (Oxford World’s Classics) by Herman Melville
Moby Dick [DVD] starring Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, directed by John Huston (1956)
Moby Dick [DVD] Mini-series starring Patrick Stewart (2004)
… and some further reading:
In the Heart of the Sea: The Epic True Story that Inspired ‘Moby Dick’ by Nathaniel Philibrick
Leviathan by Philip Hoare

What could have possessed Dr Jekyll?

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
by R L Stevenson

When I received an email from the publicist for this new series of classic novels in quality pocket hardback format from Whites books, Jekyll and Hyde was the one that leapt out of the list as I’d never read it before.

The book duly arrived – a nicely designed white hardback, the same size as a small paperback, with a great cover, and printed on thick white paper.  It was nice to read, except when I was tired;  then the whiter than white pages and their not quite matt finish made it difficult to concentrate on the text…

…But the extras made up for that.  This edition was prefaced by Ian Rankin in an interesting piece in which he wonders how shocked the novella’s original readers would have been without our foreknowledge of the story’s big twist,  sadly that surprise is lost on us the modern reader.   Better still are two other Stevenson short stories, The Body Snatcher and Markheim, more Gothic horror.

So back to Jekyll and Hyde – and if you don’t know the twist – look away now!

I liked the way that the novel is narrated in the first instance by Mr Utterson, a lawyer and friend of Jekyll, who begins to wonder why he isn’t seeing his friend these days, and why he is changing his will to favour Mr Hyde, a rather disturbing and ill-favoured gentleman who eventually murders another man.  Utterson is increasingly concerned, and becomes even more so when another friend Dr Lanyon becomes ill and dies leaving a letter for Utterson. The story then changes hands to the testimony of Lanyon, and finally to Jekyll who confesses all in his what could be construed as his suicide note.

The novella is strongly Christian in it’s picture of good and evil.  Jekyll starts out as such a good man with not an ounce of evil in his body, but once he makes his potion and discovers the outlet for the repressed darker side of his soul, it quickly starts to take over.  From having taken his drug to let his evil side out, Hyde starts to become the dominant side of him and he has to keep taking the drug to maintain his Jekyll-ness ; in the end the drug runs out and he gets stuck into the worst kind of cold turkey.  Not being an expert in Satan’s fall from Heaven and the original allegorical allusions, it was a modern reading of the perils of drug addiction that came through to me. I can imagine though, if I were a Victorian, being totally shocked that a good man could harbour such depravity inside him! Wikipedia offers even more interpretations and fascinating background to its writing.

The accompanying two short stories in this volume were written in the years immediately preceding Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and both are suitably horrific. In The Body-snatchers, two young doctors become resurrection men themselves and a pact over not asking where the bodies come from becomes their undoing. In Markheim, an antique dealer is stabbed to death in his shop on Christmas Day by Markheim, who then has to investigate noises upstairs. Was there a witness, or is it an apparition of the devil come to take him to hell?

These short stories and novella are all the better for their brevity and the tension was nigh unbearable in Jekyll and Hyde. I enjoyed them very much and should read much more Victorian literature, sensation or otherwise. (8/10)
Book kindly supplied by the publisher

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To buy this book from, click below:
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R L Stevenson

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