Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Classics Club’s Gothic Book Tag (#CCdare)

Being an Indonesian, I have never celebrated Halloween. Here, the All Saints Day is not public holiday; the Christians only celebrated it in Mass. We are not familiar with costume parties, trick-or-treat, or jack-o-lanterns; not when we were kids, at least. October is for me just another month—busy month towards end of the year. Thus, this Gothic Book Tag by The Classics Club (thanks, moderators!) really spiced up my October a bit this year.

Which classic book has scared you the most?
Dante’s The Divine Comedy – I have read Inferno… and that’s all. Have tried to delve into Purgatory, but did not understand about 80% of it. Tried to jump to Paradiso, and… it’s like reading a book in foreign language—total failure. I have even tried an online course on youtube, but I guess I’m too lazy to begin.

Scariest moment in a book?
The torture in Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum.

Classic villain that you love to hate?
Got to be Erik (the phantom) in The Phantom of the Opera. He is sweet, kind, honorable; but for the society’s distrust, he would have been a great man.

Creepiest setting in a book?
I’m not sure. Maybe each place in Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, except the Halloween tree itself; I found it rather cheerful than grotesque (review still to come).

Best scary cover ever?

Maybe my copy of Morrison’s Beloved falls in this category. At first you’d think it’s a black woman wearing hat, but on close inspection you’d see that the red background goes through her face; and you realized that she has no face. Creepy, no?

Book you’re too scared to read?
Dracula! Laugh at me if you want, but I felt coldness in my soul while reading it. Like every cheerfulness and light was sucked out of me by it (like Dementor? Ugh!). Finally I must hide the book under my Bible to be able to get a peaceful sleep. Call me superstitious or crazy, but that actually worked well.

Spookiest creature in a book?
Count Fosco in The Woman in White. Nothing is spookier than a man without conscience.

Classic book that haunts you to this day?
L’Assommoir by Émile Zola. Seems that I can’t resist to put Zola in every list/tag, LOL. But really, L’Assommoir shocked the hell of me six years ago (and I haven’t got the guts to reread it to this day).

Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?

Classic book you really, really disliked?

Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?
Lily Bart from The House of Mirth

List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.
Seriously, only 5? :D
- The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)
- And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Charles Dickens)
- The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins)

Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.
The nursery rhymes from And Then There Were None, originally written by an Irish songwriter Septimus Winner in 19th century. Some calls it Ten Little Injuns; but Christie used Ten Little Indians; or like in this picture: Ten Little Soldier Boys. Which one be it may, it’s still creepy (at least the fact that it was a nursery rhyme is really scary!)


Monday, October 15, 2018

RIP XIII: The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

Father Brown is a petit priest with innocent look and black umbrella, whose long experience with men provided him a better understanding of human's passions and characters. That, and his special gift of analysis and observation, has molded Father Brown to a sharp detective. Yes, Father Brown is a pastor and a detective, and this is a detective stories collection.

I am certain that Father Brown detective stories were Agatha Christie's main inspiration for her Poirot’s. First of all, his method of combining human psychology with sharp analysis and deductive. Secondly, his sidekick's name, M. Hercule Flambeu, which was very similar to Christie's legendary Hercule Poirot.

The Innocence of Father Brown composed of twelve detective stories. In four earliest cases, Flambeau was the notorious and elusive criminal who has puzzled the police. It was Father Brown who solved those cases, and at the same time converted Flambeau. He retired from his criminal career, and eventually became private investigator, who sometimes assisted Father Brown as his sidekick.

I took notes of the twelve cases, each is unique and interesting.

The Blue Cross, the introduction story, is a jewel theft. Father Brown was the victim, Flambeau the thief. Chief Valentin of Paris police force was trailing Flambeau, though at the end became only a spectator when Father Brown unfolded the mystery.

The Secret Garden is the best plot twist of the twelve stories. It reminded me of Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd—you know...when the villain turned out to be the _____ [I must stop myself here before spoiling anything!]

The Queer Feet is a simple theft story which also criticized snob rich men who consider themselves center of universe, and at the same time treat their servants as their inferior. It also served as the turning point of Flambeau's criminal career.

The Flying Stars is Flambeau's last crime. It's a classic theft case which involved English dramatic pantomime, where people dressed as Harlequin, Columbine, and the Clown. Then, while the audience was having fun, three diamonds changed hands.

The Invisible Man is a murder without a corpse. It's my favorite. Not only that it's a perfect crime, but also because it involved an interesting social study of how we treat people.

The Honor of Israel Gow is the perfect Halloween reading in this stories collection. It's queer and gothic, taking place in old castle in Scotland, and involving grave digging and skull.

The Wrong Shape can be said the predecessor of Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The similarity is uncanny, especially the twist. And the way Father Brown solved the mystery by identifying the wrong shape of a sheet of paper was really Poirot-ish.

The Sins of Prince Saradine is cold blooded revenge-murder story. Another plot twist, and a double crime—the “killing two birds with one stone” stuff.

The Hammer of God served as warning for us to be humble, and not to act God. For common eyes, there was a touch of supernatural power in this death case. But Father Brown proved the opposite.

The Act of Apollo is another seemingly-supernatural case. This time involved a fanatic sect and its 'blind' worshipper. It's the most simple but ruthless-cold-blooded murder I have ever read.

The Sign of the Broken Sword is the most unique case. Actually it's not even a case, because Brown and Flambeau only analyzed the history of a legendary general who died in war, and was always identified with a broken sword. Why a broken sword? This question then led to a surprising conclusion.

The Three Tools of Death is murder case with too many weapons. And as usual, something out of place is what interest Father Brown, a starting point to solve the case.

This is my first Chesterton, and I would read more from him. The Man Who Was Thursday has been in my radar for some time. Father Brown might not be my favorite detective stories—at times the story is too queer for my taste—but it is quite entertaining if you feel like reading some fast-paced stories.

3,5 / 5

Monday, October 8, 2018

RIP XIII: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Someone has mentioned to me that The Turn of the Screw is 'interesting'. Normally a gothic-horror-ghost story is labeled as scary or dark, rarely interesting. But after finishing the book for R.I.P XIII challenge, I agree that this book is, indeed, interesting!

The Turn of the Screw is a novella (my copy contains 96 pages—excluding introduction and preface). And if you are familiar with Henry James' flowery writing style, believe me, other writers would have written it much shorter! However, the discussion that might follow the reading would be very long...

In short, the story is narrated by a man who was telling a story to his friends 'round the fire' on a Christmas Eve. It was a queer story he got from his friend, a young woman who was hired by a gentleman to be a governess. The gentleman is a bachelor who had been left guardian for his orphan niece and nephew in a country home called Bly in Essex. He specifically instructed the governess to never bother him for any trouble whatsoever. Arriving at Bly, our governess found a nice housekeeper, a sweet little girl called Flora, and a letter from the boy's school, announcing that Miles (the boy) was expelled from school; although Mrs. Grose the housekeeper said he is a sweet child who won't trouble anyone. Then series of queer things unrolled one after another that distressed the governess: supernatural apparitions of a man (not a gentleman) and a woman, who Mrs. Grose pointed as the late servant (Peter Quint) and governess (Miss Jessel). Then there were also the two sweet children, whom the governess knew have seen and communicated with the ghosts, but never told her anything.

Things got complicated when Mrs. Grose revealed that Peter Quint and Miss Jessel have made a scandalous love affair. Our heroine also realised that Mrs. Grose could not see the apparitions! The sweet children then started to behave cunningly, and our heroine suspected that it was the dead lovers who brought evil influence to them when they made contact with the poor children. Bad things turned to worse, and the story ended abruptly by a sudden death of someone in the house.

Many believe that the ghosts only existed in the governess' mind (because Mrs. Grose never saw it), and that the whole story was only the product of her hallucination. Is it so? Mrs. Grose did not see the apparition, and has never confirmed the governess' suspicion. One tangible proof is the letter from school. It could have proven that Miles had turned evil and done wicked things to his friends. However, Mrs. Grose could not read, so she could not confirm either.

The only subject she positively agreed with the governess is the bad character of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. But what would it prove? So, all in all, I think James purposely created an intricate condition, of which we could not find single evidence that: a) there were ghosts, and b) the children turned evil from the ghosts’ evil influences. James just wanted this story to be ambiguous, and to make the readers debating forever, perhaps? He succeeded if that’s what he wanted.

Anyway, it is a nice gothic ghost story, and certainly very interesting. However, James' writing style sometimes washed away the spookiness of the story, and left only the interesting bit.

3,5 / 5

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

6 Degree of Separation: From The Origin to….

I have just finished a wonderful book, of which I still need time to digest: Irving Stone's The Origin—a historical account on Charles Darwin. As always with great books, it'd take me much time and efforts to review. On the other hand, my head is full of it and I was eager to write something. Several weeks ago I saw a meme called 6 Degree of Separation (hosted by Kathy), and thought: why not working on one with The Origin? This book has reminded me of many books as I read it, so I think I would work on two different routes of separations, starting both with The Origin. Let's see where it gets! And to make it more interesting, can you guess the relation of each separation only by the title (without reading my explanation)?

From The Origin to The Lord of the Rings

The Origin

Irving Stone has done a tremendous research on the life and work of Charles Darwin, including the reason why he, in the first place, had courageously written and published On The Origin of Species despite his fears of strong rejection and public accusation of blasphemy: it's because he longed to tell the truth!

The truth was also Émile Zola's reason when he heroically published an open letter to the president of France:

The Dreyfus Affair: J'Accuse!

It was Zola's fight against the injustice imposed upon Alfred Dreyfus—a Jewish officer accused of committing treason.

Robert Harris has written a thorough account of the Dreyfus Case in his historical novel:

The book made it clearly understood that the biggest crime behind Dreyfus Case was racism.

The real event of racism in a higher level could also be found in this history book:

The book retells the history of injustice, genocide, and, at the end, massacre of the native Indian in American West. 

The native Indian was also picked by a German writer who has never been to America but could tell the story so vividly: Karl May with his masterpiece: 

Winnetou (series)

One thing I admired from the series is the true friendship between Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, which overcame their differences—in culture, race, beliefs.

The same true friendship over differences I have also encountered in a fellowship from the other "world" in:

One of my favorite things from this least favorite book of mine is the friendship of Legolas, the elf, and Gimly, the dwarf. Theirs is nothing compared to Winnetou-Old Shatterhand's, but still... how they could be brothers in spite of their differences, is what we all must keep in world present world full of hatred; is it not?

And there, the first route of separations must end. What do you think? Which part is your favorite? Or do you need a more encouraging piece? Keep reading, then...

From The Origin to La Bête Humaine

The Origin

The easiest path is, of course, that which lead to Charles Darwin's magnum opus:

On the Origin of Species

Darwin's "evolution" was an unprecedented theory amidst the conventional Christian views (that God created living creatures as a whole and unchanged), thus it triggered more disputes between the Church and Naturalists (scientists).

The similar conflict (albeit only in the person of Abbe Mouret) also appears in a book of a naturalist in literary world: Émile Zola:

The priest was torn between the rigidness of the Church and the fertility of the Nature. These conflicts eventually led him to committing the sin.

Speaking of sin, reminded me of The Sin which is discussed in:

This is also a magnum opus; of a fiction writer. Besides sin, it also talks about good vs evil--our freedom of choice (or Timshel). This led me to think about...

Remember a bunch of teenagers who was stranded on an uninhabited island? Isn't there one boy who was 'forced' to choose the path of good vs evil, finally chose to keep his common sense, while the others succumbed to their "beast" within or....

Zola highlighted the importance of controlling our beast within in this beautiful yet provoking novel.

And so, that's the end of the second route of the separations.

Tell me, which route do you like most?

Monday, September 10, 2018

R.I.P. XIII (Readers.Imbibing.Perils) Reading Challenge

I have never participated in this challenge before. But this year is the thirteenth year of R.I.P. (Readers.Imbibing.Peril), and it does make it appealing… Coincidently, I have several gothic/mystery books on my TBR, so…why not?

This challenge challenges us to read mystery, suspense, horror, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic during September and October. I am starting rather late, as I have just finished Irving Stone’s The Origin—which is great!—today, but I think I’d be able to manage four books until end of October.

My choices:
- The Turn of the Screw and the Aspern Papers by Henry James
- The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Interesting choices, eh? Are you joining too?

Monday, August 27, 2018

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne

This was my third encounter of Jules Verne. My favorite remains 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, followed by Around the World in Eighty Days. I felt that Journey to the Center of the Earth is too short; it ended too abruptly. There should have been more room for Verne to expand the story; at least to dig deeper the emotional side of the characters.

The story is told from Axel's point of view. He is the nephew of Prof. Otto Lidenbrock, a German savant (a distinguished scientist) specializing in mineralogy. Axel himself is also a scientist--geology is his specialty, and has a great interest in his uncle's field. One day Prof. Lidenbrock bought an old runic manuscript, inside which Axel found a cryptic runic script written by a 16th century savant called Arne Saknussem. He claimed that he has travelled to, and found, the center of the Earth; and encouraged others to go and follow his steps through a volcanic tube inside crater of Snäfell in Iceland. The exact entrance would be pointed by the shadow of Scartaris mountain peak, at noon, by the end of June. So, off went Lidenbrock and Axel to Iceland; hired a Danish eiderdown hunter called Hans; and soon the three began what must have been the most dangerous journey men have ever taken to the center of the earth.

Of the three, Lidenbrock was the most enthusiastic traveler; while Axel the most reluctant (quite understandable as he was a young man who just fell in love with a lovely girl). Hans was indifferent, silent, but practical, as was usual for hunter.

The journey proved to be full of suspense and wonder. Down the Snäfell crater they descended a kind of steep-sided well (jökull--or volcano tube), about 2000 feet to the bowel of the Earth. Amazingly there they found a subterranean river flowed on the underground cavern with granite walls and roof. But the journey was not all wonder and comfort; at one point Axel was separated from the others and got lost in the labyrinth of the cavern. When all hope was lost, another wonder happened. A strange acoustic effect has enabled Axel and Lidenbrock to communicate from far distance, without which Axel would have been dead.

Resuming the journey, they then met another wonder: a huge subterranean Sea, off which they embarked by a raft made by Hans. During the sail they also met and escaped giant prehistoric sea monsters; found a large geyser in the middle of the Sea; then hit by a terrible storm that lasted for days and which finally wrecked their raft.

Stranded on an island, they continue the journey by foot along the coastline, where they found a prehistoric forest full of mastodons, giant birds, and even giant men—underworld civilization totally hidden, unknown, and untouched by the upperworld! This passage really felt like watching Jurassic Park! But the last stage of their journey was the most deathly, and, for us readers, the most thrilling!

Through all the excitement of scientific discoveries and the fearful or painful perils, Verne also slipped every now and then the emotional touch of humanity, like how Lidenbrock turned compassionate and tender to his dear nephew when Axel was weak after his lost. However, as I said before, I felt that Verne could have dug this field still deeper. Anyway, Journey to the Center of the Earth was written in the form of a scientific journal; so maybe it is was the perfect way anyway to weave the story.

4 / 5 is my final verdict.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Reading Challenges Update: August

I have skipped three challenge update posts from May to July, but here I am again!
Book(s) read = 18
Review(s) posted = 17

  1. Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier for #TBR2018RBR
  2. The Phantom of the Opera by GastonLeroux for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (Re-read a favorite classic)
  3. Towards Zero by Agatha Christie for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic crime story)
  4. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene for #TBR2018RBR and The Classics Club
  5. March by Geraldine Brooks for #TBR2018RBR
  6. East of Eden by John Steinbeck for The Classics Club and Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a 20th century classic)
  7. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy for #TBR2018RBR, The Classics Club, and Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic with single-word title)
  8. The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder for The Classics Club
  9. A Love Story by Émile Zola for Victorian Reading Challenge
  10. The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic in translation)
  11. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff for #TBR2018RBR
  12. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte for The Classics Club, Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (classic by a woman author) and Victorian Reading Challenge 
  13. Famous Five: Five Go Off in a Caravan by Enid Blyton for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (children’s classic)
  14. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco for #TBR2018RBR
  15. The Siege by Helen Dunmore for #TBR2018RBR
  16. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien for The Classics Club and Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (classic that scares you)
  17. Howards End by E.M. Forster for The Classic Club and #TBR2018RBR
  18. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris for #TBR2018RBR (review will be up early next week)

Question of the month from #TBR2018RBR:

Have you challenged yourself with a genre outside of your “comfort zone” this year?
Yes, I have. I’m no fan of fantasy; yet I have forced braved myself to finally read The Lord of the Rings (yay me!) Did I enjoy it? Not really… ha! Only because it’s an epic tale and beautifully written that I can get through the three books.

It is four and a half months to the end of 2018, and I have some exciting books to read. Also, I will be participating in the 13th Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) challenge, which will start next month. I have three or four books on my TBR pile that I’m going to read through September and October:
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
- The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
- The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
- The Whistler by John Grisham

If there is still time, I might also squeeze in Agatha Christie’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? 

How is your reading pace right now? Will you join in #RIPXIII too?