Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas, my dearest friends!

Merry Christmas to you, all! My warmest whiches to you, familiy, and friends. Hope your Christmas is as merry as mine! 

This is my last post for 2018. Thank you for visiting this blog, reading my posts, and saying hello or discussing books with me throughout this year. It has been a happy year for me, and now I am excited to start the new year with more promising things! So... Happy New Year too! ~ Fanda & family

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 - Wrap Up

I've done it! I am so happy, proud, but also relieved to have completed this one of my favorite challenges ever. Here's my entries for twelve categories of Back to the Classics Challenge 2018:

A 19th century classicDombey and Son by Charles Dickens
A 20th century classicEast of Eden by John Steinbeck
A classic by a woman authorThe Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte
A classic in translationThe Sin of Abbe Mouret by Émile Zola
A children's classicFive Go Off on a Caravan (The Famous Five)  by Enid Blyton
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fictionTowards Zero by Agatha Christie
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fictionJourney to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
A classic with a single-word titleResurrection by Leo Tolstoy
A classic with a color in the titleThe Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
A classic by an author that's new to youHowards End by E.M. Forster
A classic that scares youThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Re-read a favorite classicThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Thank you, Karen, for hosting this challenge. I won't do it in 2019, but hopefully I will return the next year more ready and fresh (if you would host it again - which is my sincere hope). [Twitter: @Fanda_A) ]

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Mr. Dombey is a proud gentleman. And being proud in Victorian-England terms also meant calculating, stiff, unyielding; without passion, love, or affection. For Mr. Dombey, money and honour are his gods, and he lives solely to achieve them. Mr. Dombey has founded a counting house, and if this company should have had a vision-mission, it would have been: "Dombey and Son"—a company ruled by father and son. To that end, he has married a lady, not because he loved her, but to have a son, why, you'd need a wife! Mrs. Dombey was soon pregnant, and when the time came, she gave birth to.... a girl!

What? Mr. Dombey was dismayed; a girl is not what he has ordered! 'Just ignore her, and now make another baby; this time it's better be a boy!' is what Mr. Dombey has probably said to his wife. And as Mrs. Chicks (Mr. Dombey's sister) used to say, Mrs. Dombey 'made an effort', and with her last breath, she finally gave Mr. Dombey the son he has ordered.

Being a good businessman, Mr. Dombey took no time to plan, shape, and mould baby Dombey into the perfect-partner he has been envisioning; forgetting all along that his son is not a robot, but just a child who needs love and care. And as you can probably guess, his plan was eventually failed.

That was just the beginning; nevertheless from that short little summary you can see that pride would be the main theme of this book. And to emphasize that, Mr. Dombey is not the only example. There is another proud character, a lady, who was Mr. Dombey’s equal: Edith Dombey nee Granger. Can you imagine what would happen when two proud persons are tied in one institution: marriage? Disaster! And as usual, Dickens contrasted the proud couple with several humble characters: Florence Dombey—the unwanted daughter, and another main character in this story, as well some other secondary characters. Their faiths are intertwined in the numerous consequences of the major crime in this story: pride.

Unlike his usual style, in this book, Dickens mercilessly judged and punished the proud unloving father for neglecting and rejecting his daughter's love. He even 'slaughtered' the villain antagonist quite brutally (at least for Dickens' style). Sometimes it even felt almost Zola-ish. It’s not only the brutality, but the way Dickens described Mr. Dombey's psychological struggles with repetitive rhythmic sentences, is also very similar to Zola's. However, Dickens' unique comical characters, his witty satirical prose, and abundant of love—which were his trademark—help making the story more cheerful and warm; the quality which always makes his novels a perfect choice for holiday season’s reading.

4,5 / 5

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2019 Reading Plan: No Plans!

December is usually time for planning next year’s reading list and challenges. I have done some thinking about 2019 for some time, and finally decided that my plan for 2019 would be….. NO PLANS. While I am certain I would complete all 2018 challenges in time, I doubt if I will be able to make another next year. There has been too much on my plate lately. Next year, I expect, will be no different. And for once I want to do my readings as a relaxation, instead of a goal. I enjoyed this year’s challenge (TBR Pile and Back to the Classics), and I know I will miss, for example, the excitement of finding that some books I’ve been meaning to read actually fit some of the 2019 challenge’s category! But, again, I long too, to be free to pick any book I want to read, and read it as fast as or as slowly as I need to, or the luxury of having a reading slump without worrying that I might have to catch up later… In short, I will NOT take any challenges in 2019 except Goodreads and The Classics Club—which I never take as challenge anyway... :)

These are what my 2019 reading will look like:

Zola is a must!
Despite of all, good news is, I WILL host the 6th Zoladdiction next year, yay! And I have pile of books ready for that. In fact, I am thinking of doing a little Zola project, if not during Zoladdiction, then within the year. What is it? Let it be a secret for the time being…. ;)
My list for Zoladdiction (I might just read all, or just few of them, through 2019)

Books by Zola
The Bright Side of Life
His Excellency Eugene Rougon
For A Night of Love (stories collection)
The Attack on the Mill & other stories
The Dream (don’t have the copy yet)
Doctor Pascal (if OWC publish it next year – let’s hope!)

Books about Zola or Zola themed books
Zola Photographer – Zola’s photography collection
The Pen and the Brush by Anka Muhlstein
The Dawn of Belle Epoque by Mary McAuliffe
Emile Zola: A Biography by Alan Schom

Herman Melville’s Bicentennial
Do you know that 2019 marks Melville’s 200th anniversary? It would be perfect to celebrate it by rereading Moby Dick. Brona has mentioned that she might host a readalong or something… *fingercross*. But, readalong or not, I think I might do it anyway.

My 3rd  year of The Classics Club part II
Like I said before, this one will continue. I will read about 12 books along the year, but will not decide the titles. 2019 is my third year for the second round of The Classics Club, and I have about 35 titles to choose from. And of course, I am looking forward to next year’s #CCSpin, which will help me picking the titles I shall read.

My TBR Pile
Finally, there are a lot of non-classics in my TBR pile still. I might pick one or two, or more, whenever I feel like it, during 2019. Besides, I might want to read fresh-bought books, instead of the existing TBR! :P

Well, doesn’t my 2019 look quite fun? I’m excited to start it!

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross

I have been meaning to read this book for some times, but I have always dreaded I won’t have enough time to plough the depth of the canticle. So, I have decided to read the forty stanzas in forty weeks—one stanza a week. I read the Indonesian translation, along with comments that St. John added later, which I found very helpful to understand (a little more) the canticle.

Let me give you a peek of some earlier stanzas:

Stanza #1
Where have You hidden Yourself,
And abandoned me in my groaning, O my Beloved?
You have fled like the hart,
Having wounded me.
I ran after You, crying; but You were gone.

It’s about a soul’s search for unity with God—pictured as a bride who is seeking her bridegroom. It loves God so much that it hurts—longing for the perfect happiness, which is unity with God in Heaven. But when it is still on earth, it must be satisfied by just getting a glimpse of Him. Right when it feels Him, He would flash out of its reach; and this bleeds the soul so much more.

Stanza #2
O shepherds, you who go
Through the sheepcots up the hill,
If you shall see Him
Whom I love the most,
Tell Him I languish, suffer, and die.

The soul needs an intermediary (pictured as shepherds) to express its love lamentation to God (pictured as hill—or the highest peak). Here the commentator suggests that the intermediary could be its own longing and affection; or it could also means the angels—I am more inclined of the latter. So the soul begs the angels to speak about its sorrowful love to Him (whom the angels could reach easier than the soul) when the time is right for Him (or if God is willing) to listen to it (“if you shall see Him”). Here the soul does not demand anything; it just gives hints about its anguish and let the Lover do what He desires. By humbling itself, God would take more pity to the soul.

Stanza #3
In search of my Love
I will go over mountains and strands;
I will gather no flowers,
I will fear no wild beasts;
And pass by the mighty and the frontiers.

Laments and intermediary does not suffice the souls to reach its Beloved; it must move and take active action [‘searching’], i.e. by exercising contemplative life towards wisdom (mountains—higher place) and self-denials (strands—lower place). The soul decides to purify itself from vain pleasures which would block it from God (gather no flowers). Besides that, there are three other enemies that put the soul away from God: 1) The world (wild beasts)—which threatens the soul of losing its friends and belongings; 2) Satan (the mighty)—who will strive the soul from unity with God; 3) The natural rebellion of the flesh against the spirit (the frontiers)—the flesh is the frontier that hinder the soul on its spiritual journey. The soul determines to pass through all these obstacles to find its Lover.

Stanza #4
O groves and thickets
Planted by the hand of the Beloved;
O verdant meads
Enameled with flowers,
Tell me, has He passed by you?

After preparing the long journey to reach God (on stanza #3), the soul starts its spiritual journey by getting to know Him through His creations. It’s as if the soul begs the nature: show me how beautiful He has created you! It reflects the soul’s longing to grasp His traces/His touch on the creation. While it is still far away from the Lover, at least it can touch and adore His works. Just as a lover loves to touch or kiss a shirt belongs to the absent beloved one.

Stanza #5
A thousand graces diffusing
He passed through the groves in haste,
And merely regarding them
As He passed,
Clothed them with His beauty.

Nature answers the soul’s entreaty by revealing that God has created the creatures in a very fast [‘He passed…in haste’] and simple action, yet abundant in graces [‘a thousand’]. He created the creatures ‘in haste’ reflects that the universe is just a small act compared to the Incarnation of the Word and the mysteries of the Christian faith. ‘Regarding them’ means that God regards us through His Son. He bestows us graces and gifts to make us perfect (as is in the book of Genesis). [Clothed them with His beauty] means that when Jesus incarnated to man, God exalted mankind, and bestows them with beauty and dignity.


And the journey continues on till the fortieth stanza, where the soul finally united with God.

This is probably one of the most difficult books I have encountered. I could relate with only the early eight or ten stanzas. While I could imagine the soul’s longing for “marriage” with God (like in the Book of Song of Songs), I still can’t get how it possibly happen to ordinary people like us, whose focuses are much occupied by worldly matters. However, it is gratifying to learn that it is possible for man to achieve that holy unity with his Creator. And it certainly encouraged me to be a better person day by day.

3 / 5

Monday, November 26, 2018

All I Want for Christmas is…Reading!

It’s near that time of the year again…. Christmas—the jolliest and merriest of all time of the year! It’s also the only time I regret of being born in Indonesia. Here, Christmas is not celebrated much in public (except in malls—with huge discount, or in Hotels). I can do decorating at home, of course; however, living in an apartment has its limitation. To compensate, I always try to fill my Decembers with Christmas-themed readings. Maybe I can’t see much of Christmas trees or lights around me, but I can certainly experience it through books! :) So, this is my Christmas reading plan through the coming December:

Dombey and Son
I am now in one third of the book (p. 277) and plan to finish it through December. This will also be my last entry for my 2018 reading challenges.

A Christmas Carol
What is Christmas without A Christmas Carol? We are indebted too much to it to not reading it every year (or two)! A bookstagrammer @dickens.and.docks is hosting an interesting event: #DickensDecember with readalongs and photo challenge. I am interested mostly in A Christmas Carol readalong, which begins at December 3rd, one chapter a day, and ends with Discussion Day at December 8th. It looks really fun; but I have not decided my participation yet. Should I??

Dickens at Christmas
This beautiful book has been my Christmas “bible” (along with A Christmas Carol, of course) since last year. I have enjoyed reading slowly The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth, and planned to read some (or all – but maybe I better leave some for next years) of the rest after finishing A Christmas Carol:

The Battle of Life
The Haunted Man & The Ghost’s Bargain

From Household Words:
A Christmas Tree
A Christmas Dinner
What Christmas is, as We Grow Older – hey, this must be interesting!
The Seven Poor Travelers

From A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire:
The Poor Relation’s Story
The Child Story

Form Another Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire:
The Schoolboy’s Story
Nobody’s Story

Anthony Trollope
I have yet to get acquainted with Trollope. His Christmas stories should be the best way to begin. Plus the edition is so lovely!

It consists of:

Christmas at Thompson Hall
Christmas Day at Kirkby Cottage
The Mistletoe Bough
The Two Generals
Not If I Know It

Have you read any of them? And how will YOUR Christmas reading be?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Classics Club Spin – My Comeback!


My spin book is number 1: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!


I have just realized that my last Classics Club Spin was: Five. Years. Ago! I almost didn’t believe it. How could I take so long a break from one of the coolest events of The Classics Club? I can only blame it on my everlasting tight schedules and the too-many-things-on-my-plate. But it will change now. For the first time after five years, I will be taking The Classics Club Spin, YAY!

Rule of the game:
At your blog, before next Tuesday 27th November 2018, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. On Tuesday 27th November, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st January, 2019.

The idea this time is daring us to tackle huge (chunkster) books which we have been neglecting so far. My list of the second round is quite random, as it consists of many out-of-my-comfort-zone books. Thus, for this spin, I opt to list these books, along with some books I've been waiting or curious to read for some times. Here they are:

1. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kessey
2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
3. This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya A. Toer (the only Indonesian lit on my list)
4. The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
5. The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper
6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
7. Persuasion by Jane Austen
8. North and South by Elizabeh Gaskell
9. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
10. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
11. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
12. The Warden by Anthony Trollope
13. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
14. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
15. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
16. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
17. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
18. O Pioneers! By Willa Cather
19. Othello by William Shakespeare
20. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

Based on my list, which number do you wish I get? :) I hope it would be number 3—as I am most excited to read the book (yeah… I haven’t read the number one classic from my own country—shame on me!) before the movie adaptation is released on 2019.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Confession: I have always thought that A.S. Byatt is a man. Silly me! When started reading Possession, I still had no idea what I would face. As the story unfolding, I have felt it a bit odd that a man should write so femininely a prose. Then I googled about the book; and only then I realized that A.S. is actually Antonia Susan. Byatt is a woman!

When I said Byatt wrote 'femininely', it is partly due to the amount of poems scattered throughout the book, and partly because both poems and prose were thick with feminism. 

Possession is a kind of literary detective. Two modern young scholars investigate an unknown love affair of two fictional Victorian poets: the famous Randolph Henry Ash and the unknown—albeit as talented as her lover—Christabel LaMotte. Roland Mitchell—a scholar who is obsessed with R.H. Ash—has accidentally found draft of letters slipped inside an ancient book. They were written by Ash (a married man) to a mysterious woman, indicating a love interest. Roland’s investigation leads him to LaMotte's distant relative who is also an established scholar on the poetess: Maud Bailey. The pair studies tons of letters, poems, and diary entries of and about Ash and LaMotte, to unveil the mystery. But it turns out they are not alone, their colleagues seem to be attracted to the mystery also, and compete with them to find what was believed as the key evidence of the love affair: a letter buried in Ash's wife's coffin. Parallel with the investigation, the readers follow also the lives and struggles of Roland and Maud (and their blooming love).

I can't say I enjoyed Possession very much. The combination of metaphysic, poetry, and feminism is not my cup of tea. I skipped most of the poems (it's long and blubbering - for me at least, because I had no idea what those are about).  What I could enjoy was only the fast-paced literary investigation and a bit spark of attraction in Roland's and Maud's relationship. Added with a little twist in the epilogue, this book would have been promising, but, like I said, I just couldn't chew overdoses of feminism. Maybe Byatt is just too sophisticated for me.

3 / 5

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

RIP XIII: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Like any child on Halloween night, eight boys in this fantasy-horror story put their costumes and were ready to go for trick-or-treating. But when the little mummy, the ghost, the gargoyle, the skeleton, and the others had gathered at the appointed place: the Haunted House, they did not find Pipkin. Pipkin is sort of the chief of the gang; and without him Halloween would not be fun. Instead of their friend, they found, near the house, a huge tree with branches, laden with Jack-o-lanterns: The Halloween Tree! Inside the house they met a cadaverous looking man wrapped in black, who introduced himself as Mr. Moundshroud.

Pipkin finally showed up, but he was immediately snatched from the boys, and vanished into the air. To find and save Pipkin, Mr. Moundshroud led the eight boys to search through the past, to teach them the history and real meaning of Halloween they celebrate every year.

So, by magic they travelled across time and space to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Celtic, Medieval Paris, and Mexico. They went inside the Pyramid to find mummies, flew on brooms and met witches, walked inside the catacomb, and adored the Gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral. At each place they visited, they always saw glimpses of Pipkin, before he eluded right before they got chance to save him. Through these eerie adventures, the boys learned about the origins of Halloween; why death is scary, the fact about mummy, the origin of trick-or-treat, and whether witches have really existed.

At the end of their journey, the boys realized that the only way to save dear Pipkin was by agreeing to sacrifice one year each of their lives.

The Halloween Tree for Halloween, is what A Christmas Carol do for Christmas. You celebrate the holiday each year, get yourself surround by the atmosphere, the ornaments, foods, costumes, and rituals. You gather with friends and families to celebrate... what? What is that that you are celebrating—the day itself? As with A Christmas Carol, The Halloween Tree also reminds you of the real values behind ornaments and the celebration itself.

This was my first Ray Bradbury. I still had not the courage to read Fahrenheit, and so wanted to take a taste through this tale. It was a fun read; fast moving with beautiful prose, and a perfect read for Halloween mood. Bradbury wanted us to remember our dead relatives (the real purpose of Halloween), but also to realize the value of life. I loved how Bradbury made the eight boys giving up one year of their lives to save a friend. There is always love behind every holiday!

4 / 5

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?