Here we go, another set of mini-reviews that couldn’t possibly fit in review posts of their own xD A bit of a theme, this edition of my mini-reviews, as the books I review are mainly classics that I read in the last few months, and short ones at that 😉 Included in this batch of reviews are:
- Heinrich von Kleist’s The Duel
- Henry James’ The Diary of a Man At Fifty
- Lyman Frank Baum’s The Wondrous Wizard of Oz
- Edith Wharton’s Madame de Treymes
- Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome
Without further ado…
By: Heinrich von Kleist
Format/Source: Paperback; my copy
One of the few novellas written by the master German playwright, The Duel was considered by Thomas Mann and others to be one of the great works of German literature. The story of a virtuous woman slandered by a nobleman, it is a precise study of a subject that fascinated von Kleist: That people are sometimes seemingly punished for their very innocence.
I had been meaning to read more classic German literature so I was delighted to see this listed with Melville House’s The Art of the Novella series. The Duel was an interesting read, very accessible and easy to just slip into the story and the lives of these characters. It’s a fascinating look at honour, chivalry, and women’s role during the medieval period, as well as the role of the duel and the deadly consequences that result from it, both from the act itself and the implications afterwards. It’s also a fascinating study of one’s word, innocence and truthfulness and how these things were weighed during such a period. The writing was quite lovely as well, I highly recommend this title from The Art of the Novella series 🙂
The Diary of a Man at Fifty
By: Henry James
Returning to Florence after 25 years of military service, a man finds himself haunted by memories of a thwarted love affair that took place on the banks of the Arno during his youth. On inquiring after the erstwhile object of his affections, he encounters a young man in amorous pursuit of her daughter. Eager to spare his young friend the sorrow that has marred his own life, the man finds himself deliberating the morality of recounting his own story.
I sort of have a love-hate relationship with Henry James’ works. On the one hand, I can’t put them down, he writes some fascinating characters and scenarios and really gets into the mind frame of these characters. On the other hand, omg, the angst and crappy outcomes for these characters. It’s like much too much sometimes; you need to be in the mood to read his books and you have to space them out, I find. Anyway, I was curious about this short story as I kept on seeing it in the bookstore and the cover caught my attnetion. Plus, it was set in Florence.
The story was interesting enough, I suppose, but the reveal about the love story left me a little -_-; He was led to think otherwise about a woman he loved and ended up rather bittersweet about it otherwise. He tries to impart some wisdom to the younger man who’s in the same situation as he was, try to save him the trouble that would pain him later on. But like all Henry James novels I’ve read to date, there’s a sucker-punch at the end that leaves the reader feeling really bad for the main character about lost time, misinterpretation of other people, memory, and lost chances. Unlike other novels however, that did linger on afterwards and thus I rate it a little higher than what I thought it was going to be.
The Wondrous Wizard of Oz
By: Lyman Frank Baum
Dorothy is a young girl who lives on a Kansas farm with her Uncle Henry, Aunt Em, and little dog Toto. One day the farmhouse, with Dorothy inside, is caught up in a tornado and deposited in a field in the country of the Munchkins. The falling house kills the Wicked Witch of the East.
I read the book years ago but I didn’t remember much of it and wanted to revisit it after playing the Wizard of Oz edition of Temple Run on my iPod (my brother got me hooked to those kinds of games). It was quite easy to settle into the story and follow Dorothy as she is transported from her home in Kansas to the land of the Munchkins and onward. Obviously it’s easy to recall the classic movie as you follow the book–I never watched it in its entirety and yet I know it–but there are obviously a few differences, namely that the shoes Dorothy took from the Wicked Witch of the East were silver, not ruby red 😛
The structure of the story and the fantastical elements were great and pretty tight, with a fable/fairy tale sort of structure and dialogue at times. That the author conjured elements up like the porcelain people in the south and winged monkeys that are commanded from a gold cup was pretty cool, not to mention the reveal regarding the Wizard of Oz himself. And Toto is so cute 😛
Overall, The Wondrous Wizard of Oz was a quick but fantastic read. I’m glad I revisited it 🙂
Madame de Treymes
By: Edith Wharton
An American in Paris at the turn of the nineteenth century, John Durham pays court to an old flame, Fanny Frisbee, now married to the dissolute Marquis de Malrive. Devoutly Catholic, Fanny’s husband is unlikely to grant her a divorce or relinquish custody of their young son, who is heir to the family title. When the Malrive family, urged by Fanny’s enigmatic sister-in-law, Madame de Treymes, agrees to a divorce, John must decide whether or not he will pursue a future with the woman he loves, but which forces her to give up her son.
Moving along with Edith Wharton’s bibliography, I read Madame de Treymes, which is a relatively short read. It was a curious read in which the drama is set in the backdrop of Paris in the nineteenth century. The highlight of this novella I think is Edith Wharton’s ability to present a conflict within a relationship in a way that’s simply put but at the same time has complex ramnifications: to the characters themselves, their relationship, and to the people around them. I admit, it was a bit of a slow slog to get to the actual confrontations, especially between John Durham and Madame de Treymes, which doesn’t happen until the end of the novel, but it’s well worth it when you get to it.
The ending is a little vague and abrupt, but nonetheless it’s a fascinating read. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this story as a starting point for Edith Wharton’s works, but it’s great to pick up if you’re looking for a short classic to read.
By: Edith Wharton
Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a “hired girl”, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.
I read this book early this year but never got around to typing up a review for it, probably because I didn’t really know what to write about it. It’s much darker than her other books, I think, and much more depressing (I can see why people may have hated it reading it in high school). Ethan Frome is pretty much trapped in his life and marriage to Zeena, who is absolutely horrible; I was having a hard time trying to emphathise with her and her own experiences. So I can see why Ethan was quite taken by the hired girl that comes to live with them. But like any Edith Wharton novel, there’s going to be tragedy, and the tragedy of this novel has quite a profound effect with the ending in which
Wow, just wow. I’m glad to have finally read it though, to see what everyone was talking about…
And those are my mini reviews for now! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future?