Mini-reviews seem to be my friend these days 😛 Included in this post are reviews for the following titles:
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese
- Patrick deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor
- Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World
- Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago
Sonnets from the Portuguese
By: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a prolific writer and reviewer in the Victorian period, and in her lifetime, her reputation as a poet was at least as great as that of her husband, poet Robert Browning. Some of her poetry has been noted in recent years for strong feminist themes, but the poems for which Elizabeth Barrett Browning is undoubtedly best know are Sonnets from the Portuguese.
Written for Robert Browning, who had affectionately nicknamed her his “little Portuguese,” the sequence is a celebration of marriage, and of one of the most famous romances of the nineteenth century. Recognized for their Victorian tradition and discipline, these are some of the most passionate and memorable love poems in the English language. There are forty-four poems in the collection, including the very beautiful sonnet, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
I first read this collection two years ago (review) when I was first making a serious foray into poetry. Revisiting it now after having read quite a range of poetry, I find her poetry evokes a lot more emotion out of me with the passion conveyed about her love for Robert Browning and how that love affects her. I suppose you could say I appreciated this collection a lot more than I did the first time around 😛
By: Patrick deWitt
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase
Lucien (Lucy) Minor is the resident odd duck in the hamlet of Bury. Friendless and loveless, young and aimless, Lucy is a compulsive liar, a sickly weakling in a town famous for begetting brutish giants. Then Lucy accepts employment assisting the majordomo of the remote, foreboding Castle Von Aux. While tending to his new post as undermajordomo, he soon discovers the place harbours many dark secrets, not least of which is the whereabouts of the castle’s master, Baron Von Aux. In the local village, he also encounters thieves, madmen, aristocrats, and Klara, a delicate beauty whose love he must compete for with the exceptionally handsome partisan soldier, Adolphus. Thus begins a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery, and cold-blooded murder.
This was a bit of a weird read, I admit. The language was a bit amusing in that the comedy of manners is out in full force here, but the book is very much a coming of age tale for Lucy as he comes to the castle to work as undermajordomo, falls in love, and faces some pretty harrowing obstacles along the way; by the end of the novel it really felt like he came of age, especially when the reader thinks about where he was at the start of the novel. I honestly don’t have much to say about the book as I found it a bit boring somewhere midway but nonetheless it has some of the author’s signature wry humour.
Brave New World
By: Aldous Huxley
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…Huxley’s ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.
Fun fact: I first read this book on a February six years ago; seemed fitting then that six years later, on a February, given the current political climate that I would be revisiting this title. I remember feeling startled by its clinical presentation of the World State and just the chilling possibility of these aspects coming to be, and years later these elements are pretty scary (human reproduction and eugenics like an assembly plant, the way children are brainwashed and conditioned a certain way at a young age and grouped according to social norms or values, upper society distracted by hedonistic pleasure, the way the State just runs everything, etc.). It did strike me how despite of all of these changes, this social goal of things being comfortable and the absence of strong relationships (monogamy, the family unit, etc.) there’s still an in/out in society. Just everything about the World State is chilling, and remains a highlight of the novel with its eerieness. Reading Brave New World Revisited was also informative in understanding many of the ideas Huxley had included in the story and contrasting it with the time in which he wrote it (and however much echoes very much into this present day).
Having said that, story-wise the book falls on the meh side. Like the first time, I did find it strange how Bernard sort of drops off to the wayside and that John “the Savage” comes across as the true protagonist/outsider driving the contrast between the values of the World State and humanity as we, the reader, knows it. Bernard was disappointing in that I expected 1984‘s Winson levels of resistance but in the end he too was distracted from his previous misery when he was accepted into Society. Other characters were there to serve the purpose of the story and represent one part of Society or another but omg was Lenina irritating O_o
Also, the writing was pretty =S Perhaps this was the purpose of the book but I had to stop a few times because the repetitions were getting annoying and sometimes there are just these chunks of monologuing that it was easy to sort of veer one’s attention away from the story.
Overall I’m glad to have revisited Brave New World. A bit of out there story-wise but the dystopian elements remains very chilling. I’d probably still recommend reading George Orwell’s books first (which I’ve been meaning to re-read as well) as an introduction into classic dystopian literature but nonetheless Brave New World is an important text to check out.
By: Boris Pasternak
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
First published in Italy in 1957 amid international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago’s love for the tender and beautiful Lara, the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times.
I first read this book in 2008 when I was still in my undergraduate programme. I remember blitzing it a bit just to finish the novel for the sake of finishing it; I wasn’t as blown away as I thought I would be but told myself I would revisit it again. Well, eight years later and I find the book still fails to grip me but also I’m having a harder time getting through it; the incentive just isn’t there, and there are a ton other books on my TBR pile that are vying for my attention. Part of me still hopes that I’ll be in the mood one of these days to read it, but honestly I think it’s time to accept that there are a few Russian authors out there that are just not for me (Fyodor Dostoevsky is another–as much as I appreciate his work and what he’s conveying, he doesn’t grip me as much as Ivan Turgenev or Anton Chekhov or Yevgeny Onegin).
And those are the mini book reviews! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future?