Sunday, July 4, 2021

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

Mr. Shaitana is an exotic, wealthy, and mysterious man, who likes to collect rare objects. In an exhibition, he met Hercule Poirot, and told him about his latest collection: murderers. Yes, murderers. That is, people whom he knows or suspects had committed murders, but were untouched by the justice. Ignoring Poirot's warning about the danger of this kind of amusement, he invited Poirot to a dinner party where he would exhibit his collection.

The dinner party turns out to be very interesting. Of the eight guests invited, four of them are the murderers, while four others are the "sleuths": Poirot, Inspector Battle, Colonel Race, and Ariadne Oliver - the crime writer. All four have appeared in some of Christie's novels, and this is a rare occasion where we meet the four of them in one novel (usually there are max. two of them). After dinner, there's a bridge game. The sleuths are playing in the next room, while the murderers are playing in the same room where Mr. Shaitana is relaxing by the fire.

You must have guessed what happens next. At the end of the game, Mr. Shaitana was found dead, stabbed with a stiletto from his own collection. All of the four have, at one time or other, at least once or twice, left the table for a moment to get drinks, and none of them paid much attention of the others because their focuses were, of course, on the game. Or at least, for the three of them, because one thing is sure - one of them is the murderer, and the motive is to prevent Mr. Shaitana from disclosing their crime. But which one? Are they all have committed murder in past?

I must say this is one of the most interesting stories from Agatha Christie. The suspect has been narrowed down to four persons, with no alibi. Motive is clear. Method is straightforward. The only way to solve it is by digging into the past murders and analyzing the psychology of each murderer, including their method of playing bridge. Each member of the sleuths takes part in the investigation, but of course, in the end, it's Poirot's grey cells which will get to the final answer. Interesting case, with a bit thriller and some twists!

Rating: 4 / 5

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Paris in July

There's one reading event that I've been looking forward to this year: Paris in July, hosted by Tamara @ Thyme and Tea. I've been fascinated in Paris since my visit there 21 years ago (boy... was it that long??) I've taken a French course for some years before that, and since then, my love for everything French and Parisian grows each year.

You've probably known of my intention to read 300 classics in 20 years. I'm thinking about squeezing at least one book about Paris every year, just for my love for France. And reading it in July seems most appropriate, when France is celebrating le quatorze juillet (July 14th - the Bastille day)!

This year I'll be doing:

Reading: Time was Soft There: A Paris Soujourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

Paris and bookstore; that's probably a heaven-on-earth for me! One day... probably after my retirement, I'd be happy to visit the most famous bookstore in Paris, but before that, why not reading a book about it?


Reading: The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo


I'm also participating in Nick's chapter-a-day Read Along (began in 24th June). During July I'll be reading quite a lot of chapters of it, but I won't be finish it before August. Well... just the biggest part of it will be superb enough, I guess!

Watching:
Some TV series in Netflix, probably The Parisian Agency: Exclusive Properties and a movie called The French Toast, in Netflix, or some other French movies/series that I might find interesting. Or I should probably rewatch  Midnight in Paris, Julie and Julia, or Call My Agent!

What are your plan for next month? Are you joining Paris in July? Whatever your plan is, I hope it'll be as fun as I think mine will be!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Hello June!

(picture from Pixabay)

I love June! Here in Indonesia, June and July are the freshest months of the year - cooler temperature, drier air (less humidity). It's always lovely to open the bedroom window in the morning, to let the cool breeze and the crisp morning fragrant in. I love to stand by the window and taking deep breaths while listening to birds chirping and tweeting, after months of suffocating air during the monsoons. Today is that day!! And I love 1st June most because it's a public holiday, meaning I don't have to rush to the office, and a whole day of fun things to do!

This morning my Mom and I made our favorite dessert (we both are sweet-tooth persons😁). It's Snickerdoodle Mug Cake day, baby! It's easy to make (no baking, we use microwave), fast, and very yummy!! We always serve it in four mugs, which we will eat once (one mug each) in the morning, and once in the afternoon. That will make our day! I've found the recipe from Pinterest. The best part is the layers of cinnamon-sugar in between spoonful of batter, which add a crunchiness in the moist sweet soft cake.



As usual, my June is for Jazz Age! I'm reading Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned right now (actually has started it a bit earlier). It's not really my favorite, but still readable. After failed in reading Tender is the Night years ago, and now this one, I'm quite certain that Fitzgerald's best writing is short stories and/or novella - he shouldn't have written more than 250 pages novels!

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite novels - poignant but beautiful prose with perfect composition, and with layers of depth in it. This Side of Paradise is quite another beauty. It's light, naive, and full of gaiety - it's hard to not like it. But both The Beautiful and Damned and Tender is the Night... well, I'm not really sure I could stand reading about the shallow and egotistical characters for too long - that's not fun at all! But Fitzgerald's short stories.. now that's a treasure. I don't usually love short stories, but I always love Fitzgerald's.

Nick's The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Chapter-a-Day-Read-Along will also be happening this month. It begins on the last week of June, and stretches to August (53 chapters in 53 days). I will put the timeframe here to make it easier for me to catch up, since I most probably won't follow the one chapter a day rule strictly, but will try to make 7 chapters on the weekends.

24 Jun - 27 Jun : Book I Ch. 01 - 04 ✅
28 Jun - 04 Jul : Book I Ch. 05 - Book II Ch. 06 ✅
05 Jul - 11 Jul : Book II Ch. 07 - Book IV Ch. 04 ✅
12 Jul - 18 Jul : Book IV Ch. 05 - Book VI Ch. 03 ✅
19 Jul - 25 Jul : Book VI Ch. 04 - Book VII Ch. 05
26 Jul - 01 Aug : Book VII Ch. 06 - Book VIII Ch. 04
02 Aug - 08 Aug : Book VIII Ch. 04 - Book IX Ch. 05
09 Aug - 15 Aug : Book IX Ch. 06 - Book X Ch. 06
16 Aug - 21 Aug : Book X Ch. 07 - Ch. 04


I will probably finish The Beautiful and Damned in mid June, so I am thinking of reading Agatha Christie's Cards on the Table next, before the Hunchback readalong.

That's all for today, folks! I've been writing this while letting my Snickerdoodle cooling down. And now I will be savouring it!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

One of Ours by Willa Cather


 
Claude Wheeler is a proud, restless, insecure young man who grew up in Lovely Creek, Nebraska - the son of a successful farmer. He acutely feels unfulfilled and purposeless in a passionless life dictated by his parents: the hardworking insensitive father Nat Wheeler and the pious mother Evangeline Wheeler. His mother has made Claude study at the Temple University against his will. But he then enrolled at the State University, and befriended the Elrichs, which are warm and charming - the opposite of his own family. That is the first time he felt at home, belonged to a family.

I was so devastated when Claude was forced to drop out school to manage the family farm. He had been a great student, and he seems to be happy doing it. Hate it when parents keep deciding their children's future without even listening to what they'd actually like to do.

Marrying the loveless and prudish, fanatic Enid Royce was a big mistake for Claude; he didn't even love her, I guess. It might be something that he felt he should do as a farmer... or he thought marriage will give him happier life, I don't know. His hope for happiness was smashed when Enid left him to China as a missionary. I always hate people like Enid, whose idea of doing a good deed is abandoning their own family to look after strangers in another continent. That is pure nonsense!

When we think Claude isn't about to be happy, the World War I erupted, and Claude enlisted in the US Army. For other young people, it might be the ideology of serving one's country, that encouraged them to enlist. But I think Claude saw it as a gate to freedom and purposeful life he had been dreaming of. It's nothing heroic; for the first time he felt he was needed, belonged to, and doing things that really mattered - a truly fulfilling life. And I'm happy for it. There's nothing more important for human being, than leading a fulfilled life. It's no matter what kind of life one's leading - as long as one has freedom and is at peace with one's self.

One of Ours has quite a different style from Cather's previous novels. It's not as quiet as Death Comes for the Archbishop or O Pioneers, though it still talks about life in the Prairie. However, it's also not as gruesome as usual war stories. Actually, it feels more like the war is just a background to write about Claude's feelings, maturing views about the world, and his journey to reach happiness.

Scattered bits that I've found interesting:

* The historical passage about Edith Cavell, the British nurse who saved soldiers' lives and helped some of Allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied Belgium, of which she was later arrested and shot by German firing squad. I have never heard about this until I read this book.



* I suspect, Claude represented Cather's love for her land. It's not the farmer life that he disliked. It's rather that modernity and prosperity (that comes with modernity) killed the old sentiment about the land as part of nature and human's life. Modern people tend to regard land as a mean of prosperity, not a harmonious companion or partner in creating better lives (for both parties). This quote reflects that sentiment:

"With prosperity came a kind of callousness; everybody wanted to destroy the old things they used to take pride in. The orchards, which had been nursed and tended so carefully twenty years ago, were now left to die if neglect. It was less trouble to run into town in an automobile and buy fruit that it was to raise it."


* Beautiful quote about LOVE, came apparently from the man who had just been broken-hearted:

"Human love was a wonderful thing, and it was most wonderful where it had least to gain."



* Another oh-so-true quote when Claude closed his house for the last time - the house that he's built and furnished with love. After the broken heart, it became mere building without any value:

"How inherently mournful and ugly such objects were, when the feeling that had made them precious no longer existed."



One of Ours is a deeply moving novel. Though it was written a bit romantically, it's full of philosophy that brought you to ponder more about your own purpose in life. For me, it's a gentle, down to earth story that gives one a little side view about the war impact of World War I. For some, it's evil and unnecessary, but for few others, it's like the freshness of a new spring - all depends on where do you see it from.

I must say... very inspiring, Ms. Cather! The Pulitzer Prize in 1923 is very well earned.

Rating: 5 / 5 (a new prospect for most favorite read of 2021!)

Saturday, May 22, 2021

My Ántonia by Willa Cather

This third book of the Prairie Trilogy of Willa Cather is set around the turn of the century (19th to 20th). Narrated by the adult Jimmy Burden, it tells his memories and feelings about the pioneers life in Black Hawk, Virginia.

Jim arrived in Black Hawk as a ten year old orphan who would stay with his grandparents. He got acquainted with their new neighbor: the Shimerda family, immigrants from Bohemia, who were poor and unskilled in farming, but believed that their lives would get better in America. Little Jim soon befriended Ántonia Shimerda, the older daughter, who was a few years older than him. It's so pleasant to follow their adventures - Jim killed a huge rattlesnake! And through their innocent eyes, we see the real lives of these pioneers, as if we  live and struggle with them, feel the loneliness of immigrants who were uprooted from their friends, family, and everything dear to them in their old country, and must build a new life in a new and strange place. I was so sad for the death of Mr. Shimerda. I could imagine his blissful moment when celebrating Christmas with the Burdens, and how it must hit him so hard when realizing his own sad predicament. The contrast could have made anyone wants to die of broken heart. I felt your pain, Mr. Shimerda!

After Mr. Shimerda's death, Ántonia worked hard in the field, doing man's works to help her brother Ambrosch. Meanwhile, Jim's grandparents moved to the town. He went to school, and continued on to the state university in Lincoln. Mrs. Burden, who took pity to Ántonia, got her a job as housekeeper to the Burdens' new neighbor: the Harlings. She had a good time and good wages there, even learned much about fine housekeeping.

Fast forward to twenty years later, when Jim has become a lawyer after studying at Harvard. During those years, Jim hasn't visited Ántonia, who had returned to hard life in the field, dumped by a young man whom she loved, and then marry a Bohemian called Cuzak. Jim finally went to Black Hawk and visited the Cuzaks. Ántonia has become a stout woman, after the hard life and having ten children, but Jim was amazed to see the vigor of life is still in her. She had become for him, the true spirit and soul of the prairie. She, who loved and was proud of their land, and was happy with her life as a farmer's wife, with all the hard working.

My Ántonia is like a plate of nice comfort food. It's delicious, not too rich, but also not too light, where every ingredient compliments each other, creating a perfect combination. The blissful moment is when you're savouring it in your mouth; you don't want it to end, enjoying every chew. A moment before you're about to swallow it, you realize how amazing the taste is. Then after swallowing, you let out a satisfactory sigh. That's My Ántonia for me. It might not be a masterpiece, but it's so satisfying. And I know I'd want to reread it (often) in the future.

I realized that there are more in My Ántonia than a "delicious" story. The discrimination and prejudices against Bohemians or foreign people, for example. But for now, I would just enjoy the novel as it is; I might read more critically in the next reread.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

I don't think I've said this enough: crime stories are the toughest books to write a review of. Why, you can't reveal too much of the story, lest you throw a spoiler. And when you want to analyze the case, you must do it cautiously, or with elusive sentences to avoid revealing just a tiny fact that will lead your readers to spot a spoiler! Hence, the biggest irony of my reading life - Agatha Christie is the writer whose works I read the most, but her books are the ones I'm most reluctant to write the reviews. Everytime I read Christie's, I'm always: "Do I really need to write a review? Can't I just read on?" But you know me... in the end I'll just do it. Just like this one: The A.B.C. Murders. Since I found it almost impossible to say anything about this book without revealing clues to the murderer, I must warn you to stop reading right here right now, if you can't stand any spoiler.

Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, and Chief Inspector with-dry-humour Japp are reunited to solve a new case. It all begins when Poirot received an anonymous letter signed by A.B.C., challenging him to prevent a murder which he/she is about to commit in Andover at certain date. The murder did take place in the exact time and place. The victim was an old woman who keeps a tobacco shop. Near her body was found an opened ABC Rail Guide. This would be the first of a serial murder which will take place in random cities which names are in alphabetical order, and so are the victims'.

Unlike the usual Poirot-Hastings duets, which are always narrated by Hastings, this one came with first and third POV alternately (the first being Hastings, of course). And this is where it gets very interesting. Everytime the pen was picked by the invisible narrator, it's always to tell about a nervous war veteran who became a travelling salesman. The man is epileptic, and often had a memory blackout. He's the kind of man whom people never care for - a nobody - but had been named after two of the greatest generals: Alexander Bonaparte Cust - ABC!

At first I thought this is where Christie took a variation from her usual most-unpredicted-murderer, or the most-predicted-but-with-double-plot-twist ~ you know what I mean?... I thought she'd let us acquainted with the murderer from the first, you know... to learn how it is working with a murderer psychology? Then she'd probably bring us to connect him with the real scenes. However, through the story I had a sense of going alternately between two realms, the real one (narrated by Hastings), and another so far away from the real scenes. This ABC guy, whoever he is, though he seems to do the crimes, doesn't seem fit with the personalities of the murderer. I didn't buy it, "Christie must have prepared a surprise here", thought I. And then near the end, I even had even a suspect, who at the end is proved to be the real murder.

So to me, while The A.B.C. Murders is an interesting piece in psychology, it isn't a masterpiece in terms of crime story. I liked the story of ABC as the war veteran and all, and I loved the two narrations thing, but when you can guess the real murderer when you're quite far from the end... well, it's not that great!

Final rating: 3,5 / 5

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Reading Update [January - April]

You might think it's funny, but I always feel that the first four months of my reading year is the most important one. If I screw up, the entire year would be a failure. But, if I somehow manage to strive, I'd be relieved, because I know it's going to be okay. That's why, I usually post my first (if not only!) reading updates in early May (or sometimes I call it 'post Zoladdiction'.) Now let's see how I've managed so far...

JANUARY

Original plan:
1. Eugene Onegin ~ Pushkin - for #CCSpin25 (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔
2. The Conquest of Plassans [reread] ~ Zola (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) ✔

==DONE==

Addition:
3. Death in the Clouds ~ Christie (⭐⭐⭐⭐) ➕

FEBRUARY

Original Plan:
4. Nicholas Nickleby ~ Dickens - for #NicholasNicklebyReadalong2021 (⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔

==DONE==

MARCH

Original Plan:
5. Things Fall Apart ~ Achebe (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔
6. The Tale of Genji ~ Shikibu ❌ - My copy is curiously missing from the bookcase!!?
- replaced by ➡️ Murder in Mesopotamia ~ Christie (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) ✔

Addition:
7. The ABC Murders ~ Christie (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ➕

APRIL

Original Plan:
8. The Sin of Abbé Mouret [reread] ~ Zola - for #Zoladdiction2021 (⭐⭐⭐1/2) ✔
9. A Biography of Émile Zola ~ Zola ~ Alan Schom - for #Zoladdiction2021 (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) ✔

==DONE==

SUMMARY

Books read = 9 of 8
Challenge/readalong accomplished = 2
Most favorite = A Biography of Émile Zola

WHAT'S NEXT?

MAY

My Ántonia ~ Cather
One of Ours ~ Cather - for #CCSpin26
❌ Originally: Return of the Native ~ Hardy

JUNE

The Beautiful and Damned ~ Fitzgerald - originally for #JazzAgeJune2021, but unfortunately Laurie and I are not able to host, so I'm going to do this 'quietly'.
The Hunchback of Notredame ~ Hugo - for #hunchbackreadalong (Nick's Chapter-a-Day-Read-Along)

JULY

✳ (continuing) The Hunchback of Notredame ~ Hugo - for #hunchbackreadalong
❌ Originally: His Excellency Eugene Rougon [reread] ~ Zola - my least favorite of Rougon Macquart, can't stand it, so.. SKIP!
✳ (non classic/non fiction) Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. ~ Jeremy Mercer

AUGUST

✳ (continuing) The Hunchback of Notredame ~ Hugo - for #hunchbackreadalong
Pilgrim's Progress ~ Bunyan
Return of the Native ~ Hardy

Wish me luck for the next four months! I had a feeling it would be awesome.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Zoladdiction 2021 Wrap Up

April has gone, and Zoladdiction 2021 has quietly ended last week. I was a little bummed out of not making this event more lively, or giving it more effort. I didn't even remember Zola's birthday in April 2nd! But life's like that, often unpredictable, and things happen when you least expect it.

You might have noticed that I've been less and less blogging lately. My posts are mostly reviews, and I didn't either reply to most of your comments (which I'm truly sorry!), nor comment to your posts. It's because lately daily work and family matter have been consuming more of my time, that when weekends come, I feel a bit numbed, and need more time to get relaxed. And how can one think of a book and produce a good post, unless one's relaxed and in a good mood?

Back to Zoladdiction, I had barely time to read and post my reviews, but nothing else. I thank all of you who have participated on this event, but I'm also sorry not to manage it more properly. I did read your posts, but didn't have time to leave comments. Here are some of our posts for Zoladdiction 2021:

📕 The Sin of Abbé Mouret | Émile Zola #FRAclassic (Brona)
📕 The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola [Second Read] (Fanda)
📕 Zoladdiction 2021: La Debacle by Emile Zola (Karen)
📕 A Biography of Émile Zola by Alan Schom (Fanda)

For you who have read for Zoladdiction, but haven't had time to post your thoughts before it ended, or I haven't add your posts - don't worry... you can come back here and leave the link in the comment section anytime - I will add it here.

Again, I thank you all for celebrating (albeit quietly) Zoladdiction 2021 with me. I only hope I can make it more fun next year!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A Biography of Émile Zola by Alan Schom

This is the second Zola's biography I've ever read - the first being F.W.J. Hemmings's The Life and Times of Émile Zola - and I'm glad I had picked it. I found it more comprehensive, that, after finishing the book, I felt like I knew Zola more intimately than I've ever had. While quite familiar with his history (his genius civil engineer father's death when Zola was 7 y.o., the family's poverty and struggle in Paris, Zola's failure in Baccalaureate test, etc) from Hemmings', and his involvement (and even exile) in the Dreyfus Affair from Michael Rosen's The Disappeaance of Émile Zola, I've never been intimately "acquainted" with him, in terms of his personal character, his views, or love life, which this book amply provides. Here are some interesting bits I've gathered along the reading:

✔ François Zola (Zola's father) has been involved in "temporary disappearance of 1500 francs of regimental funds" while serving with the Foreign Legion in Algeria. The incident was later brought by Zola's enemies in Dreyfus Affair, in order to defame him. However, Schom argued that it is more likely that the money fraud was caused by François Zola's careless bookkeeping, instead of intentionally. Nonetheless, it's one of the many causes of Zola's depressions during the Affair.

✔ The 19 year Zola dreamed of finding a true love with a "good angel" - tender, kind, loving woman - and worried that he'd never find one. However, his first and only marriage with Alexandrine (neé Gabrielle) was loveless, and only out of convenience. Zola needed a practical woman to support him as writer, while Alexandrine needed security and honorable position. Only in his later life, did Zola meet his true love and his dream woman in Jeanne Rozerot, who gave him two children and the comfort of family life to the middle agwd and lonesome Zola.

✔ Zola was a hardworking man. Though he was forced to take a clerical job for a living in his early 20s, he still managed to write. Then, a small inheritance from a deceased grandfather helped him to choose journalism as his main job, paving his way to financial freedom to pursue his dream of writing fiction. And after he became a successful writer, Zola still worked hard, often working on more than one task at a time, that he sometimes must engage his friends to do researches for him, so that Zola later could use their notes as his writing material.

✔ Do you know that Zola was quite a successful librettist? His earlier career as playwright might be quite disastrous, but later on his L'Assommoir has been staged as a successful play. But his best achievement in theater was perhaps his collaboration with Alfret Bruneau, the French composer. Zola provided some of his works for Bruneau's operas, and he even acted as librettist for at least two operas: Messidor (1897) and L'Ouragan (1901).

✔ I'm familiar with the fact that L'Assommoir was Zola's first successful book, that launched his career as a respected writer in France. But La Debacle was in fact his most successful and best selling book. Even Nana has surpassed L'Assommoir in sales number!

✔ As a human being, Zola is actually a sensitif, patient, loyal, persistent, and generous man. He strongly held on his principles (truth and justice), never hesitate to sacrifice his comfort to fight injustice. But he could also be indecisive, especially when it comes to his marriage. Schom criticized Zola for never divorcing Alexandrine and marrying Jeanne, as the triangle love later proved to bring sorrow for all parties. But I think Zola was too kind and loyal to leave Alexandrine, who has supported him through their ups and downs, though he could hardly stand Alexandrine's emotional temper and headstrong. He also proved to be loyal to his whiny and parasitic friend: Henry Céard. But only in Alfred Bruneau, I guess, that Zola found a true friend with mutual affection and respect.

✔ From Zola's portrayal of the Jews in L'Argent (Money), Schom concluded that Zola was anti-semitic, though later he would change his views while defending Alfred Dreyfus (why, though? This isn't in accordance with his consistency). I personally didn't see Zola as particularly anti-semitic. His portrayal is only describing characteristic of Jews as he might have seen or known, just like in his portrayal of priests in The Sin of Abbé Mouret. Did he hate priests or Jews in particular? Not necessarily, he's just presenting the facts - whether he liked it or not.

There are still a lot of small bits about Zola which I could not write all here. You simply must read the book to understand more about Zola as a person. Had I lived in 19th century France, I would have honoured to be one of his friends, or better still, his protegés (for he's so generous towards them, always encourage them to be successful). All in all, Émile Zola is an amiable human being, when he's not depressed or indecisive. And I'm so grateful to Alan Schom to have written this biography in so intimate and personal way.

As a bonus, here's from Denise's memory (Zola's daughter) - the last time Jeanne and the children were to see Zola alive - and it's so heartbreaking!

"On 27 September, he [Zola] came to Verneuil to kiss us goodbye, and we were all to return [separately] to Paris the following day. I no longer remember why, but we did not accompany him, as we usually did, to within a few hundred feet of his house, going via the village streets where, so often during the [Dreyfus] Affair, women would throw their dirty dish water over us as we were passing. Now, instead, we stood at the front door, watching him walk away, turning to look at us once more, and then continuing, finally disappearing round the corner."

Rating: 5 / 5

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola [Second Read]

I read The Sin of Abbé Mouret for the first time three years ago, in Zoladdiction 2018. If you want to know what the story's about, you can click the link above, which will bring you to my first posts of the book. On this second post, therefore, I will talk less about the story, but dig deeper onto the nature-vs-church theme, and Zola's own aim on writing this book.

Only on this second read did I see how this book plays an important role on Zola's Naturalism. If you are curious about Naturalism as literary movement, this book will throw you some lights. Naturalists hold on the power of Nature as supreme, and distrust any institution that (they think) restrain it - Church (and religion) is one of these, though I don't see why they thought so, while the Bible (Book of Genesis) says that men are created by God to manage the earth and everything in it. Of course I realize that the 19th century Catholic Church held different views from our modern Church (maybe after the Second Vatican Council in 1962? - I'm not sure - but I know that the Council did bring huge change on the Church). Nature and Church should not have been separated.

Zola's hatred of clerics
I think Zola's hatred of Church might have been, first, triggered by its clerics. There are two kinds of clerics in this book: The pious, calm Abbé Serge Mouret who denounces physical pleasure which he believes hindering him to the utmost communion with God; and the coarse, hypocrite, cruel Brother Archangias with his love of worldly pleasure, and hatred of women. Did Zola make Abbé Mouret "triumphed" over temptation and sin at the end as a warning to the Church of France? That it should be concerning its "own business", i.e. religion and morality, rather than interfering in politics and state business?

Zola's second reason of hating priests is perhaps related to his believes in procreation and fertility. He hated celibacy and might regard it as unnatural. But I think he's overreacting here. How many priests were there compared to the whole population? So what if few of them chose celibacy? It won't make any significant change...

What I still didn't get is, if Zola disliked the Church that much, why did he make it triumphed in the end? Abbé Mouret finally conquered his weaknesses, Albine was chocked to death by the nature, and the church, though in dilapidated condition, was still intact. Again, this book might have served as a warning to France, because Zola believed that the Church was opposed to procreation and science (and therefore against nature), so naturally it should or will one day crumble. It shows how Zola, despite his meticulous researches on the Church (the Sacrament, rituals, devotion, etc.), and his vivid portrayal of Abbé Mouret's spiritual struggles (you'd think he experienced it himself); he understood nothing about religion, or particularly, Catholicism. It's a shame that one so genius in writing, could not or refused to see beyond his own principles. I mean, one can disagree with some views other than one's belief, but at least one should tolerate others who believe in it.

Ironically, Zola's vivid portrayal of Serge's spiritual journey has been a sort of inspiration for me. It reminds me to never be proud of my spiritual "achievement" (whatever it is), since we will never be free of temptation. The more we think we are holy/pious, the bigger be the risk of temptation. And that's what made me love Zola. His principles might be far different from mine, but he's so dedicated to his writing, that he could inspire others to hold on a principle that is the very opposite of what he might originally want to aim. If I hadn't known Zola, and this is my first book of his, I might have thought he's a devout Catholic!

So how do I think about The Sin of Abbé Mouret after the second read? Let me see...
- The neverending description of the Mass is boring! It feels like after compiling tons of information about it, Zola'd thought: 'I might as well use it all - not gonna wasting my efforts!' - I am a devout Catholic, but reading it all like encyclopedia is really tedious.
- Abbé Mouret's spiritual journey to true repentance is inspiring.
- This is the best story that explains Naturalism as a movement.

After weighing all aspects, here is my final rating (and thus changed my previous) : 3,5 / 5


Monday, April 19, 2021

Classics Club Spin #26 Lucky Number Is....

 


The Classics Club has picked the lucky number of 11, and it means I get to read...



One of Ours by Willa Cather



I'm so excited because next month I'll be reading two Willa Cather's in a row... for the whole month! In case you have not read my earlier post, I have planned to read My Antonia for May, then one more book for the #CCSpin. And how lucky I am that it picked another Cather's which I have also listed for the Spin!

One of Ours is the novel which won Willa Cather a Pulitzer Prize in 1923, so it must be a wonderful one. And hey.... isn't the cover of my copy also wonderful?! <3

So, what do you get for the Spin? Are you excited too? Anyway... have fun!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

Chronologically, Murder in Mesopotamia is considered the prequel of The Murder on the Orient Express, and indirect sequel to The Mystery of the Blue Train. Hercule Poirot is on a trip to Iraq, when he is summoned to investigate a murder at an archeological site at Tell Yamimjah in Iraq.

The story is told from the point of view of Amy Letheran, a professional nurse who was hired by Dr. Erich Leidner - head of the excavation work - to attend to his beautiful wife Louise, who is lately jumpy and nervous. Now, Louise Leidner is something of a character. Nurse Amy found that the ladies dislike her, but the men adore her. However they mostly agree that Louise Leidner is a self-centered woman; seeking attention by hallucinating that she is in some danger.

Efficient and kind, Nurse Amy immediately gains trust from her 'patient'. Mrs. Leidner confides in her, her secret past. Louise was actually a widow before marrying Dr. Leidner. Her first husband was a possessive man called Frederick Bosner, who was a spy during the Great War. He was sentenced to death, managed to escaped, but later died in a train crash. After his death, Louise often got anonymous threat letters every time she's attracted to a man. Is it her husband, who somehow survived from the train crash, or is it his younger brother who also had a crush on her? She isn't sure, but she is in constant fear.

After Leidner married her, the threats stopped, but for a moment. Louise began to receive the letters again a few months ago, along with 'other horrors' (apparitions which nobody else saw). Is she hallucinating, or whether whoever has been threatening her, has come to take avenge? Is that why the atmosphere in the site grew tensed lately - as if there's a forced politeness around these people (Leidner's collegeaus and crews) who, normally, are like a little family? Then one day Dr. Leidner found his wife alone in her room, struck dead by a heavy unknown object.

Hercule Poirot finds the case as an interesting one; he finds neither alibi nor motif related to the victim. Therefore, he focused his investigation on the psychological side - the strong character of Louise Leidner, and particularly, her past.

Murder in Mesopotamia is one of Poirot's case, in which, the key to the murder-case is in the psychological side. While in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd or The Curtain, the key is in the murderer's, in this case, it's the victim's. And for me, these are the most interesting cases. Clues, alibi, motif - we can find these in most of detective-crime stories, but not many crime writers put the emphasize on the psychological side. From the few, Agatha Christie is one of the best. This one, now, becomes one of my most favorites.

Rating : 5/5

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Classics Club's CC Spin #26


Classics Club Spin is back! And about time too! After the usual hectic of the first four months of the year (not mentioning the two reading events that I'm hosting this year), I really need a refreshing kick to calm my nerve and to be back to my usual reading vigour.


What is CC Spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 18th April, 2021, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List.

You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period.

On Sunday 18th, April, 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 the 31st May, 2021.



And here's my list:

1. My Antonia - Willa Cather
2. Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy
3. The Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan
4. Watership Down - Richard Adams
5. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
6. Elizabeth and Her German Garden - Elizabeth von Arnim
7. The Custom of the Country - Edith Wharton
8. Barchester Towers - Anthony Trollope
9. Eugenie Grandet - Honore de Balzac
10. I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
11. One of Ours - Willa Cather
12. My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier
13. The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
14. Casino Royale - Ian Fleming
15. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
16. The Crucible - Arthur Miller
17. The Imitation of Christ - Thomas A Kempis
18. The Scarlett Pimpernel - Baroness Orczy
19. Red Pony - John Steinbeck
20. Under the Net - Iris Murdoch


Some of the list are from my 2021 Reading Schedule. I will definitely read no. 1 in May anyway, so any number I'd get, I will read it alongside My Antonia. But if no. 1 gets picked, then I'm lucky! :)

Do you join CC Spin too? Is there any title you expect me to get, or is in your list too?


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Okonkwo is a young man of Igbo ethnicity who lives in Umuofia village in Nigeria in the late 19th century. He grew up witnessing his lazy and cowardly father brought disgrace to the family, so it's no wonder that he becomes a fierce and strong warrior with toxic masculinity. Okonkwo resents weaknesses and femininity, beats his wives and children, to show off his manliness (and I think to convince himself that he is the very opposite of his father.)

One day the Umuofia clan took a boy, Ikemefuna, as a "settlement" (the boy's father has killed an Umuofia's woman), and selected Okonkwo as the guardian. He gets to like the boy, while worrying for his son's (Nwoye) lack of manliness. Unfortunately, the clan then decided to kill Ikemefuna due to an Oracle. An elder chief warned Okonkwo not to participate in the murder, as it would be like murdering his own son. But Okonkwo ignored it, so as not to be regarded weak by his people.

After the murder, Okonkwo's life turns from bad to worse. Things begin to go wrong, and Okonkwo and the whole family are eventually exiled by his people. At the time of the Okonkwos' return to Umuofia, their land has changed. White missionaries had been coming to introduce Christianity, and slowly but surely changed the whole society. One of the first converts is Nwoye, Okonkwo's own son, who had never forgiven his father for killing his best friend Ikemefuna, and who is more inclined to Christian's teaching than his people's violent way of life. Okonkwo bitterly sees how his people do not hold on to their tradition as tight as he, and begin to embrace a new one; he sees that his world is changing, and things fall apart.

Things Fall Apart is not an entertaining read. I do love reading about foreign cultures - and Achebe's writing is flowing beautifully in telling the story - so I really enjoyed the earlier part of this book. I disliked Okonkwo's toxic masculinity, but I sympathized with his disappointment on his father, and how he worked hard to dispel the bad "legacy". I understood that Okonkwo is shaped by his society. However, my sympathy's gone when he committed the murder. To let his people do it without fight from his side is cruel enough (but still understandable considering their views), but committed the crime with his own hand... I just can't! I lost my respect for the main protagonist of the book I'm reading, so what remains?

Besides the women, Obierika (Okonkwo's friend and neighbor) is the only one character I can stand. He's the neutral voice of the book, the common sense. He considers, reasons, questions their tradition, he sees beyond their little world, and does not think something is right just because the "oracle" said so.

Moral of the story:
✔Changes aren't always bad, as we never know what might happen in the future.
✔Better use our common sense and consider everything proportionately.
✔When change is inevitable, embrace it wisely, or we'll get "extinct".

Considering all aspect, here is my rating:

3,5 / 5

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Zoladdiction 2021: Master Post



It's April! And it means Zoladdiction 2021 begins this very day! 

This is the 8th Zoladdiction I have hosted in this blog. For you who are not familiar with, Zoladdiction is an annual reading event during the month of April, to celebrate the birthday of Emile Zola. It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works.

As usual, we will read Zola's works, or works about Zola during the month, and of course, to share our thoughts (or anything related to Zola) to the world.

A formal sign up does not really required for participating, just let me know that you're in. And please tag or mention me on Twitter, or just leave a comment here, whenever you post anything for Zoladdiction. That way I can share/tweet/retweet it.

Now, let the fun begins.... 


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens | #NicholasNickleby2021 Wrap Up


Two weeks ago is supposed to be the last weekly part of our Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021. However, for some reasons (strained right arm was one of these), I have failed to write any post at all until this weekend. Thus, this post will serve as my final review of the book, as well as a wrap up of our #NicholasNickleby2021 Readalong.

Nicholas Nickleby is by far the most comical novel by Dickens I have ever read. The Pickwick Papers is another comic piece that guarantees to make you laugh, but I categorized it more as a series of picturesque journal of a club which were compiled to make a novel - it lacks a significant plot to make it a whole one. Nicholas Nickleby, on the other hand, is a wholesome novel with satisfying plot, memorable characters (even the minor characters are interesting and colorful), and, even though presenting a grim subject such as the cruelty of faulty schools in Yorkshire, it is highly entertaining with all the extremely hilarious scenes!

Summary of the previous chapters:
Chapter I - XI
Chapter XII - XXI
Chapter XXII - XXXI
Chapter XXXII - XLI
Chapter XLII - LI

The last sixteen chapters tells Nicholas' strategy to save Madeline Bray from her doomed marriage with Arthur Gride - a scheme by Ralph Nickleby to gain money, which Madeline's father owed him, as well as to snatch Nicholas' lover, and thus avenging him. It is nice to read how the rescue operation involves all the good people - Nicholas' friends. It seems to represent the battle of the bad v the good, of which, the good always wins. As usual, Dickens rounded up the ending of each characters "beautifully" for the good ones, and most especially for the wicked ones - though I think Sir Mulberry Hawk needs more sufferings before his death: some excruciating painful illness perhaps?... 😎 And then... there's the epic breaking up of the Dotheboys Hall - thanks to John Browdie! Apart from the wretched condition the boys must have been in after the breaking up, that was perhaps one of the most satisfying fictional "closures" ever!


Love is in the air, indeed, as three of the female characters finally meet their future husbands. Yes, I love how Dickens found a match for Miss La Creevy - not that she won't be happy without, because when you have love and gratitude, you'll have peace and happiness. I just hope that she'll keep her miniature painting business just to keep her busy while Tim Linkinwater is working at the counting house. That will give her the utmost happiness and satisfaction, which she fully deserves.

I've been discussing several topics covered by Dickens in the weekly update posts. The main topic is corrupted educational system in Yorkshire for unwanted children, which Dickens had write it so convincingly, that public investigations were held upon the real schools, and many of them were closed for good. Bravo Dickens! I'm more interested, however, in one minor topic which Dickens, unintentionally perhaps, has hinted in this book, that is: social treatment towards women in 19th century (and how the women perceived it).

Interestingly, five women are subjected to special interests from men throughout the book, though with different intensity: Kate Nickleby (from Sir Mulberry Hawk), Henrietta Lilyvick - neé Petowker (from old Mr. Snevellici), Mrs. Nickleby (from the gentleman with the small clothes 🤭), Miss La Creevy (from Tim Linkinwater), and in a way - Madeline Bray (talked of by a registry office clerk). When Kate Nickleby became the topic of free gossips by Sir MH in a drinking house, Nicholas Nickleby thought it abominable (and attacked the assailant). The same happened when Frank Cheeryble heard the clerk was talking (admiringly but perhaps jokingly?) of Madeline Bray in public. These gentlemen were indignant that the ladies are talked of publicly without respect. The clerk protested that he only praised Madeline's beauty, which was strongly supported by the bar maid. Two different classes view the case differently.

Then there is the indignant Mr. Lillyvick, who was angry with Mr. Snevellicci's openly flirt with his (Mr. Lillyvick) wife, while Mrs. Lillyvick accepted it as normal, and was even angry with her husband for being insensible, for it's only a joke (the same woman who later eloped with a man - poor Mr. Lillyvick!) Mr. Lillyvick, though comes from working class, is quite gentlmemanly-minded. The same subtlety is showed by the clerk Tim Linkinwater when wooing Miss La Creevy; he never forced himself on her, only using his affectionate tone (poetic and funny!) WHEN he's assured that the lady reciprocated his feeling. The very different manner is showed by the gentleman with the small clothes, who, ignoring Mrs. Nickleby's polite implore to leave her alone, kept forcing himself on her, though romantically hilarious. Mad as he was, I don't believe he'd be any better when he's sane. These instances only proof that honor doesn't always come with wealth nor class - it's something you can never earn by yourself.

Over all, Nicholas Nickleby is a very entertaining novel with satisfying plot, hilarious scenes, and most memorable characters. It instantly becomes one of my favorites.

I thank all of you who has participated in this Readalong, for your accompany, posts, and comments. It has been a memorable and also inspiring reading event. For you who didn't or haven't finished, don't be disappointed - it's just not your time yet, but I'm sure you'd pick it up again some other time, as it's really a fun reading. I wish I could wish we meet again in next readalong, but for now, I'm not sure at all there will be another. Let's just see!

Final rating: 4,5 / 5

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Zoladdiction 2021: Announcement - #Zoladdiction2021



Zoladdiction will be back next month! This would be the 8th Zoladdiction I've hosted in this blog. For you who are not familiar with it, Zoladdiction is a reading event on April, to celebrate the birthday of Émile Zola. It is mainly because we love Zola's writings, and also to get more and more people to appreciate his works. For the whole month we will read, post, and talk about Zola - his life, his works, and his influence.


What's in Zoladdiction 2021?

  • This year I encourage you to go beyond reading.
  • Yes, we will still read Zola, but during April we can also share/post/tweet/talk about just any thing that is related to Zola. A book you're reading reminds you of Zola? Share it! Found Zola's quote/picture on Pinterest? Share it! Watched movie about Zola? Share it! Anything at all.
  • If you chose to read quietly, it's OK. You can pick one of Zola's works, or Zola's biography, or any books about Zola by other writers.
  • To participate, simply leave comment, or mention me on Twitter, using hashtag #Zoladdiction2021, and tell me your plan for Zoladdiction (it might inspire others).
  • If you blog about your participation, leave the link in comment box.

This time I will not be reading alone. Brona will be my reading buddy; we will read The Sin of Abbe Mouret (it's a reread for me). I plan to read one more book, but haven't made up my mind of the title. Either a biography or short stories collection, it will depend on how much time I'd got left before end of April.

So, are you in? What's your plan?

 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 Week #5 Update

This is the fifth weekly update of Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021, and we are approaching more and more near the end. How do you progress so far? What chapter are you in?

The story's getting better and better, that I actually read through some chapters of the next week portion! But here are some of the most important scenes/events from Chapter XLII to LI:

- Enter the scene: Mr. Frank Cheeryble, nephew of the Cheeryble Brothers. Nicholas accidentally witnesses him striking a man who is insolently talking of a young lady of Frank's acquaintance - exactly what Nicholas himself had done to Sir MH! And as if Dickens approved of our discussion on week #3, he included these conversations:
The man struck by Frank (by the way, he's Tom, the clerk at the register office): "A pretty state of things, if a man isn't to admire a handsome girl without being beat to pieces for it!" A girl, waiter, agrees with him, while Nicholas, John and Tilda Browdie, agree with Frank - whose reply is: "But beauty should be spoken of respectfully - respectfully and in proper terms, and with a becoming sense of its worth and excellence." The girl concerned is actually Madeline Bray, the beautiful young lady Nicholas is fallen in love with.

- When Charles and Frank Cheeryble visited the Nicklebys, Smike is, again, distressed. I have suspected from last week that he is secretly falling in love with Kate, and now notices painfully that he wouldn't be able to compete with Frank Cheeryble. Poor Smike!

- Ralph Nickleby is blackmailed by his former clerk, Brooker, but Ralph coolly dismissed him. Unabashed, Brooker approaches Newman and seems to tell him some interesting secrets.

- Ralph and Squeers attempt to reclaim Smike by forging a letter indicating that Mr. Snawley (the man who submitted his wife's son to Dotheboys Hall in earlier chapter) is Smike's biological father. Fortunately Nicholas and John Browdie throw them away.

Good quote about parental affection:

"Parents who never showed their love, complain of want of natural affection on their children - children who never showed their duty, complain of want of natural feeling in their parents - law makers who find both so miserable that their affections have never had enough of life's sun to develop them, are loud in their moralisings over parents and children too, and cry that the very ties of nature are disregarded. Natural affections and instincts, my dear sir, are the most beautiful of the Almighty's works, but like other beautiful works of His, they must be reared and fostered, or it is as natural that they should be wholly obscured, and that new feelings should usurp their place, as it is that the sweetest productions of the earth left untended, should be choked with weeds and briers."

- Nicholas becomes the Cheeryble Brothers' agent to help poor Madeline Bray-who has lost her mother and must support her deeply-in-debt father-by (pretending) procuring her artworks to provide her money.


- Another episode of the old gentleman with the small clothes. It happens when Frank Cheeryble and Tim Linkinwater are visiting Mrs. Nickleby and Kate (Miss La Creevy is there, and she is flirting with Tim.. ahem!) The mad man makes an entrance by the chimney and throws all of them in panic, but at least this episode puts Mrs. Nickleby back to reality (not without jealousy when the mad man switches his attention to Miss La Creevy!)

- Vincent Crummles & co. is leaving England and moving to America to start a new chapter, but of course they don't go without a proper party with Nicholas.

- Sir Mulberry Hawk still insists on taking revenge against Nicholas. Lord Frederick Verisoft doesn't agree, and their quarrel ends in a duel. It's a pity that it's Verisoft who's killed; I was hoping very much it'd be Sir MH. He flees to France, instead. For good? Let's see..

- Enter a new vilain: old moneylender Arthur Gride, who offers to pay Walter Bray's (Madeline Bray's father) debt to Ralph, in exchange of Ralph's help to get him marrying Madeline. Gride possesses (illegally) a will of her grandfather, that she will inherit the money upon her marriage. Newman Noggs heard Arthur and Ralph's discussion, but doesn't realize at that time that Madeline Bray is one and the same lady Nicholas is falling in love with. The catastrophe is known to Nicholas only one day before the wedding day - what will he do to prevent it?

TOPIC OF DISCUSSION

Of the numerous villains in this story, who do you think is the most corrupted and heartless, who you hate the most?

I think Sir Mulberry Hawk is the most heartless of all. I hate him from the beginning, and I don't see any chance redemption from him. He's been living a dissipated life for too long; adding that to his high egotism, fuelled by idolatry from his pupils, Sir Mulberry Hawk has become what he is. 

Ralph Nickleby is the main antagonist here, I know, but I'm still hoping for his redemption, a deep regret in the end, at least. He is quite moved by Kate's miserable situation in earlier chapter, anyway. The problem is he is too attached to money. He had two choices, but he picked his business first. While Sir MH... I don't believe he ever thinks about anything else beyond getting what he wants. Regret? Maybe never...

Now let us hear your opinion! You can leave comments below, or you can post on your blog if you feel like it, but don't forget to leave the link here so we can visit and comment.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 Week #4 Update

This is the fourth weekly update of Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021, and the story gets more and more spiceful, doesn't it? How do you progress so far? What chapter are you in?

There's a lot going on for me this weekend which, in the end triggered my depression. So this time I will only breakdown here some of the most important scenes/events from Chapter XXXII to XLI just to refresh our memories.

- Nicholas accidentally hears Sir Mulberry Hawk talking rudely about Kate. He confronted him, and it ended in a carriage crash, badly injuring Sir MH.

- Nicholas renounces his uncle's financial support for the family for good (yes, Nick!)

- Nicholas impresses a cheerful, kind gentleman, while looking for job. And here we are acquainted with yet some new characters: the Cheeryble Brothers (who owned a counting house and offered Nicholas a job) and Tim Linkinwater (the clerk). They also provide a cottage for the family. The Nicklebys' honor are finally restored!

- The Kenwigses' reaction on the marriage of Mr. Lillyvicks is pretty hilarious!

- Then there is the eccentric neighbor of the Nicklebys, an old gentleman who likes to throw vegetables over the wall to express his love to Mrs. Nickleby, which reminded me of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot who throws a marrow over his garden wall in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Both scenes are hilarious, by the way, especially when it turns out that the gentleman is actually mad! LOL!!

- Miss La Creevy notices that Smike becomes dejected lately.

- Ralph Nickleby enlists Sir MH and Mr. Squeers' assistant in a scheme of punishing Nicholas. Surprisingly, Lord Frederick Verisopht hates the way Sir MH has treated Kate. Good for you, my lord!

- Smike is caught by Mr. Squeers, but fortunately John Browdie is visiting, so he helps Smike to run away.

- Nicholas recognizes the pretty girl he encountered earlier at the agency office, who is visiting Mr. Cheeryble. Everyone keeps her identity secretly, that Nicholas employs Newman Noggs' help to investigate her name and address. He did, but it's the wrong lady!

TOPIC OF DISCUSSION

Nicholas Nickleby is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic masterpieces of 19th century lit. Do you agree? What is your favorite/most hilarious/most memorable comic scene so far?


For me, the most hilarious one is the "old gentleman in the small clothes" scene in the last chapter. Then there is also the scene of Mr. Kenwigs when he heard from Nicholas that Mr. Lillyvick is married:

Mr. Kenwigs started from his seat with a petrified stare, caught his second daughter by her flaxen tail, and covered his face with his pocket-handkerchief. Morleena fell, all stiff and rigid, into the baby's chair, as she had seen her mother fall when she fainted away, and the two remaining little Kenwigses shrieked in affright.
"My children, my defrauded, swindled infants!" cried Mr. Kenwigs, pulling so hard, in his vehemence, at the flaxen tail of his second daughter, that he lifted her up on tiptoe, and kept her, for some seconds, in that attitude. 'Villain, ass, traitor!'


LOL! Oh Dickens...!!

Newman Noggs is very funny too. I love several of his scenes everytime he gets excited!

Now let us hear your opinion! You can leave comments below, or you can post on your blog if you feel like it, but don't forget to leave the link here so we can visit and read your post! But If you have read ahead, please make sure to restrain from any spoiler.

Hopefully the next chapters are as funny as these. I, for one, am looking forward to read more about the old gentleman in the small clothes. What does it mean by small clothes, anyway?...

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 Week #3 Update

This is the third weekly update of Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021, and we are halfway through! How do you progress so far? What chapter are you in? 

Chapter XXII to XXXI follows the most interesting adventures of Nicholas and Smike, but also the most pitiable state of Kate.

On their journey to Portsmouth to seek a new situation, Nicholas and Smike stumbled upon a group of theatrical people, with a Mr. Vincent Crummles as the manager. Dickens has dedicated not less than four chapters to entertain us with 19th century theatrical world which had attracted himself. This is my favorite part of this book so far - the stage, the eccentric people, the excitement behind the curtain, and the marketing aspect. Nicholas is first engaged as a scriptwriter, but he then appears on the stage as well, with, surprisingly, huge success. Smike also impresses the audience by his appearance as the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. However, the merry adventure didn't last long. A letter from Newman Noggs indicating vaguely on the implorable state of Kate, impelled Nicholas to resign from stage and to take a journey homeward.

Sir Mulberry Hawk & co. change course in their campaigns to "avenge" Kate's rejection by charming the vain Mrs. Nickleby. They made her over the moon with pleasant dreams. In reality, Sir MH forces himself on Kate when she is accompanying Mr. Wititterly to the theater. Mrs. W becomes jealous of Kate and accuses her of flirting with the gentlemen. The indignant Kate pleads her uncle to help her. At first Ralph seems to be a bit touched by her despair, but in the end his business prevails. It's this situation which had forced Newman Noggs to take action by writing to Nicholas.

Approaching the arrival of Nicholas to London, Newman Noggs hires Miss La Creevy's help to soften the blow on the strong-headed Nicholas when he receives the full account of Kate's misfortune. And here we left them with their plot and strategy in chapter XXXI.

TOPIC OF DISCUSSION

Mr. Lillyvick is indignant by old Mr. Snevellicci's free familiarity toward his wife (winking, blowing a kiss, kissing), but Mrs. Lillyvick doesn't mind at all (even Nicholas is astonished by Mr. Lillyvick's reaction).

Why do you think flirting with single woman is an offence, while with married woman is mere flattering? Do you find same treatment in present society? What will you feel if you're in Mrs. Lillyvick's position?

I'm not married, but I think I would be as offended as I were a married woman; or maybe even more? I understand that Mr. Snevellicci's conduct is more playful than that of Sir MH, but still, I think Kate would have been uncomfortable too by this treatment had she were the target. Does different classes/society view the same treatment differently? Or is it related with one's virtue? I think it's between culture and education.

Now let us hear your opinion! You can leave comments below, or you can post on your blog if you feel like it, but don't forget to leave the link here so we can visit and read your post! But If you have read ahead, please make sure to restrain from any spoiler.

Now I'm really curious about how Nicholas would respond towards Sir MH, and how the Kenwigses will react on Mr. Lillivyck's marriage news - that one will be hilarious!! 

See you next week!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 Week #2 Update

This is the second weekly update of Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021. How do you progress so far? What chapter are you in?

Chapter XI to XXI brought us to Nicholas' and Kate's further persecutions in their respective situations. At the Dotheboys Hall, Nicholas has had enough of Squeers' cruel treatment to the children, especially poor Smike, of whom he is most affectionate. Smike was about to be beaten, probably to his death, had not Nicholas intervened; and in his rage and indignation, he struck Mr. Squeers (who really deserves it!). Fanny Squeers turned out to be a true manipulator, and to avenge her "humiliating" rejection by Nicholas, she accused him of theft, besides, of course, of beating her father.

The penniless Nicholas ran away, helped by a new character Mr. John Browdie (fiancee to Tilda Price, Fanny Squeers' friend), who I hope will reappear in further chapters. Fulfilling Newman Noggs' premonition, Nicholas seeks his help, and thither he goes with Smike (I'm so relieved at his deliverance!!) Here we were introduced to some fresh interesting charcters from Newman Noggs' circle - The Kenwigses, Mr. Lilyvick the collector of water-rates (I didn't know such profession existed in Victorian era), and Miss Petowker of the Theater Royal in Drury Lane are some of them. Nicholas is hired by Mrs. Kenwig as private tutor for her children, after he rejected a seemed-to-be-promising job as a parliament secretary, which he got from the General Agency Office. However, another promising future character made an appearance here: a pretty young woman seeking job as governess, whom Nicholas saw in the office - would she be his future love interest? Let's hope so. However, after Fanny Squeers' letter of accusation met Ralph Nickleby - who, of course, believes her more than his own nephew - Nicholas is forced to leave home to avoid bringing disgrace to his family, so that they can still hope of Ralph Nickleby's support for Kate and her mother.

Kate, on the other hand, is facing another kind of persecution at Madam Mantalini's. Her colleague envied her for having a better opportunity. Mr. Mantalini, who I predict will give Kate inappropriate attention, turns out to be much less worrying than these new antagonists we are introduced in chapter XIX. They are guests to Ralph Nickleby's dinner party, of which he required Kate to attend. And this is a further proof of Ralph's selfishness and love of money. He "offers" his own niece as business proposition to his two big customers: Sir Mulberry Hawk (a hawk indeed!) and Lord Verisopht (very soft?). After this disgraceful evening, Kate is discharged from Madam Mantalini's due to its bankruptcy. But soon she finds another situation as a lady companion to yet another new character: Mrs. Wititterly.

What awaits Nicholas and Smike ahead? What kind of situation they will stumble upon? And can Kate get deliverance from her two pursuers after entering her new job? Let's see... but for now, I have another topic that we can discuss:

TOPIC OF DISCUSSION

The ill-treated pupils in some cheap boarding schools in Yorkshire during Victorian era - how do you think can it happen in the first place? And for quite so long time before Dickens brought it up?

I think the main reason is because the pupils are unwanted children. In the earlier chapter, there's a man who was interested in Dotheboys Hall because he wants to "get rid" of his wife's children from previous husband. It makes sense, for after you get rid of them, you won't be interested to know more about their welfare; you'd only make sure that they stay where they are, pay the little sum only to soothe your conscience that it's all for the children's sake. The children could not tell their stories, and even if the could, no one would believe it, because they don't want them anyway. It's terribly sad and tragic, and we must thank Dickens for bringing this up in this book.

Now let us hear your opinion! You can leave comments below, or you can post on your blog if you feel like it, but don't forget to leave the link here so we can visit and read your post! But If you have read ahead, please make sure to refrain from any spoilers.

See you next week!

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 1st Week Update

This is the first weekly update of Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021, and Charles Dickens birthday! Have you started the book? How do you progress? What chapter are you in?

I have started on chapter 12 while typing this post, and so far... I love it! I have read from the back of my copy that NN "is widely regarded as one of the greatest comic masterpieces of nineteenth-century literature." And indeed, I could see from the first few chapters the sign of it being comical and witty.

The first eleven chapters are an introduction to the Nicklebys. Godfrey Nickleby had two sons: Ralph and Nicholas (senior) - each with unique character which is complete opposite of the other. Ralph is selfish, with passion in money, while Nicholas is gentle, kind, and dreamy. Ralph grows to be a successful businessman, and an unmarried miser. Nicholas? Well, he finally married, but one imprudent investment washed away all his money (has he never learnt about never putting all your eggs in one basket?!) Anyway, too heartbroken by his ruin, he died, leaving his widow and children without money. How convenient it is to just "die" after terrible thing happens, that you don't have to face the consequences, and let your family solve their problems by themselves, since God will take care of them. Well, I have no patience for these kind of people! It is a selfishness of another kind.

The Nicklebys are then forced to beg Ralph Nickleby for his support. He procured Nicholas (the son was named after the father, but oh boy, how his character turns out to be far from his father - thank Heaven!) a position of assistant teacher in Dotheboys boarding school in Yorkshire. For Kate, the daughter, Uncle Ralph secured a situation of milliner in Madam Mantalini's the dressmakers.

The boarding school appears to be a minimum budgeted institution for unwanted children, where they are treated inhumanely. Everyday Nicholas must witness the schoolmaster Mr. Squeers' cruelty towards his servants and pupils; and if that's not enough, Mr. Squeers' daughter had a crush on him. Considering Nicholas' rather blunt honesty - remember his first comment on Ralph Nickleby about his fathers' death: "Some people, I believe, have no hearts to break." (brava Nick!), I predict this romantic predicament will put more misfortunes in Nicholas' position when he must break Miss Sneers' heart! Kate too, I think, will have her own work trouble, considering the pervert of Mr. Mantalini who couldn't take his eyes off the beautiful Kate since she steps into his house!

Now I was eager to read through next week to chapter XXI. But before that, I have one topic that we can discuss:

TOPIC OF DISCUSSION
From chapter I - XI, who do you think is the most interesting secondary character(s) that you want to get to know more? Why?

My favorite is Newman Noggs. I loved him the moment he secretly gave the letter on Nicholas' departure. I knew that at least there is one person who will care for Nicholas - and this from a stranger. Later that I know he used to be a gentleman, I loved him even more, and interested to know his history.

Miss La Creevy is another interesting character, though at first I wasn't certain whether she is selfless enough to befriend Kate Nickleby. But an eccentric female painter adds more colour to the story indeed!

But, I'm also interesting to learn why or how Mr and Mrs. Squeers (and others such schoolmasters) became so inhuman towards the children. Is it pure business greediness? Or something else? What do you think?

Now let us hear your opinion! You can leave comments below, or you can post on your blog if you feel like it, but don't forget to leave the link here so we can visit and read your post! But If you have read ahead, please make sure to refrain from any spoilers.

See you next week!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 Master Post

Welcome to the Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021! For the next six weeks we will read the 70 chapters of Charles Dickens' third novel which was originally published as serial (monthly installments) in March 1838 - October 1839, titled: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby.

TIME FRAME:

NICHOLAS NICKLEBY READALONG 2021
in six weeks

1st week (February 1~February 6): Ch. 1-11
2nd week (February 7~February 13): Ch. 12-21
3rd week (February 14~February 20): Ch. 22-31
4th week (February 21~February27): Ch. 32-41
5th week (February 28~March 6): Ch. 42-51
6th week (March 7~March 13): Ch. 52-70

March 14~March 20: REVIEW/WRAP UP

RULES:

⭐ I plan to publish an update post every weekend, along with one or two questions/topics for discussion from the chapters we have read for the week. You are welcomed to join the discussions in the comment box, but if you are already chapter(s) ahead, please refrain from any spoilers!
⭐ You are welcomed to post quotations or updates, etc. in either blog or Twitter during the readalong. I may pick several to be featured in my update posts. Just remember to put the hashtag: #NicholasNickleby2021 or mention me @fanda_a.
⭐ I don't use linky for this event, so just drop link to your posts on the comment box of any of my master/update posts or mention me on Twitter, and I will link back to your posts from my update posts.

FUN FACTS:

✔ Dickens started writing Nickleby while still working with Oliver Twist.
✔ A Mr. William Shaw of Shaw's Academy was long been believed to be the inspiration of Mr. Wackford Squeers, the brutal schoolmaster of Dotheboys Hall in this book.
✔ Within two years after Nickleby's publication, almost all the cheap and inhumane schools had been closed down, thanks to Dickens.
✔ in 1838 Dickens and Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), Dickens' illustrator, visited schools in Yorkshire in secret to investigate. During this visit, they found a cemetery with gravestones of the dead schoolboys who were victims of the inhumane treatments of the schools. This visit later inspired Dickens' character: Smike.
✔ Nicholas Nickleby is the book that set Dickens' place in the high society of Victorian society, and brought him fame.

Now... are you ready to have this six weeks journey with Nickolas Nickleby? Let's do it!

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola (second read)

Since this is my second read, I won't write much on what the story is about - this you can read in my first review of The Conquest of Plassans from 2017. To be honest, I forgot how powerful this books is; I only vaguely remember the petty little town politics. So now I will discuss more about the political background and how it awakened the hereditary madness of the characters, which would otherwise have been tamed in its slumbers.

Abbe Faujas came from Bésançon with mysterious background. The mystery is never clearly revealed throughout the book, and that just emphasizes the faux of the priest (see how Zola named him Faujas on purpose?) He was sent specifically to Plassans by "Paris" to conquer the little town. Why Plassans? Who is this "Paris" actually meant? And why did he stay particularly ar the Mourets?

We know from The Fortune of the Rougons that Pierre and Felicité Rougons have conquered Plassans with the aid of their son Eugène, who was an important person in the Louis Phillipe's government of the Second Empire of France. Though the resurrection has been successfully uprooted from the town, the Emperor wants to have a clean sheet, especially from the Legitimists. It's nearly the election time, and it's crucial that whoever elected would be a Bonapartist supporter. By appointing Abbè Faujas as the conqueror, Zola wanted also to criticize clerical hypocrisy and involvement in the French politics at that time.

Who is Faujas' "master" from Paris? It's not clear at first; Faujas' arrival seems very innocent as a priest in a religious little town like Plassans. But it's soon clear that Felicité Rougon has been appointed by "Paris" to aid the abbé to perform his task. So, we can safely conclude that "a friend from Paris" which Felicitè alluded is most probably his son Eugène!

Plassans here served as a miniature of the Second Empire's political life in France. The petit bourgeois, the retired businessmen like François Mouret, have the most vague loyalty in their political views. They use politics rather to serve their own personal interest than to support any leader or ideology. They can easily switch from one party to another if it's more profitable for them.

But why an Abbé, in the first place? Here, Eugène (or Felicité? Or both?) has clearly done their homework. They know how difficult it would be to sway the bourgeois political views, so why not send a charismatic priest to impress the religious wives first? They would, in turn, influence their husbands to trust the abbé much more easily. First woman to be conquered? Marthe Mouret! - a not very religious woman, and wife of a retired oil businessman with neutral political view: François Mouret - whose house is situated in the middle of two important figure of Plassans with opposite views. Excellent!

Speaking about hereditary illness, Marthe is Pierre Rougons' daughter who was married by François Mouret - the son of Ursule Macquart and Mouret the hatter. François was Pierre's clerk - a quiet, sensible, diligent chap - who helped him in the oil and wine business, but then married the boss's daughter and built his own business. Born from the Rougon side, and having an intelligent and strong woman like Felicité as a mother, you would think Marthe will hardly catch the hereditary illness. François is more likely to catch it as he's half Macquart - though he's more of a Mouret with his love of works. But, here, Zola showed that you can't really avoid it. It's there inside you, even if you don't really realize it. Marthe would have been alright had she continues living harmoniously, peacefully, surrounded by her family, like in the opening chapter:

"There was an absorbed silence, warm with an unspoken tenderness in the pleasant golden glow of the sun that, little by little, was fading from the terrace. Marthe cast a loving look over all her three children n the calm of the evening, and plied her needle with long, regular strokes."

There's the air of satisfying existence - enjoying the deserved retirement after long hardworking. Had the Mourets maintain this stability in the house, they would very likely have retired happily. However, one bad decision of renting their second floor to a priest, had plunged them to "the fall of the house of Mouret"!

I was disgusted when I realized that it's Felicité who has brought ruin to her own daughter by placing Abbé Faujas at her house. It might be unintentional at first, but when she saw Marthe's passionate, feverish religious devotion, how could she not see something wrong? Or maybe she thought it's actually directed to Faujas, and it's better than her son-in-law? Whichever it may be, it only proves that Marthe did inherit the family illness - the insatiable desire, and it gets from bad to worse once it is provoked. While in François' case... well, that's an unimaginable crime to put... oh I can't even say it - it's too horrible. I'm half glad that Macquart did what he did in the end.

Should we even talk about the ending?? What was Zola implying by it? Devil clothed in cassock? What an ending, indeed!

Rating: 5/5