Thursday, 30 May 2013


the Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)

 "Most women did with themselves nothing at all; they waited, in attitudes more or less gracefully passive, for a man to come that way and furnish them with a destiny. Isabel's originality was that she gave one an impression of having intentions of her own. "Whenever she executes them," said Ralph, "may I be there to see!"

Isabel Archer is a young American who has been lucky to be picked by her wealthy English aunt to be her new project. Her aunt's plan is to bring her into society and find her an English man. When her uncle dies, he leaves her most of his fortune, so Isabel suddenly becomes a rich lady who is in charge of her own destiny. She quickly turns down two marriage proposals, but the third one, to an American artist living in Italy, she says yes to. The marriage surprises both her family, friends and her former suitors because they do not like her husband, Mr Osmond.

The characters surrounding Isabel is the strength of this book. You have Ralph, Isabel's cousin, who has a very ill health, but is enormously fond of Isabel. Henrietta Stackpole is Isabel's American friend, who comes over to Europe to be a journalist and is very modern. Madam Merle is a woman of the world who doesn't live anywhere, but spends her time visiting friends in all countries. Her two suitors, Caspar Goodwood and Lord Warburton are very decent men.

Although the book is good, it is way too long and it seemed to never end. In the first part, you get to know the characters who observe Isabel, but you never get to know Isabel herself. In the second, Isabel is finally letting us now some of her feelings and thoughts. And here you start to understand that when Isabel sets her mind to something, she follows it through, even if it's bad for her and all her friends advise her to escape.

One thing which hit me is that all women, except Isabel, are living in very open marriages or are single. Her aunt spends only a couple of months in England with her husband, the rest is spent in Italy or travelling around. Henrietta is never going to get married, but have male companions. Countess Gemini is married, but dislikes her husband so much that she spends most of the time away from him.

Should you read it or not? Yes, if you like the good old classics and have no problems with a very slow plot and love characters. If not, I would steer clear. Unless you plan to cross of all the 1001 books you should read before you die. Then it's not a choice.

Monday, 27 May 2013

all the books i never finished in may

For some unknown reason I have only finished one book this month. I know I still have four days to go, but I doubt I will finish another one.

The main reason is that I have had a difficult time picking the right book. All required a lot of philosophical thinking or guessing and my brain couldn't cope.  the Book of Disquiet which is supposed to be one of the best books ever, went back to the shelf after a couple of weeks where I really tried. Same with the Flood. I didn't even make it halfway through the prologue. And then there was Loving, which I had high hopes for, but thanks to the entire book is written in bloody dialogue, I couldn't.

Then there are the books I started, but haven't given up on yet. Portrait of a Lady has been my nemesis this month. It never ends! According to Kindle, both part I and II is over 600 pages long. Only 200 more pages to go. And because I'm a stubborn bitch, I rather struggle with that one, instead of giving the Twins a good, long, deserved reading. I have high hopes for that one. Why do I even bother to attempt to read the Second World War? I know I started because that's what I'm currently teaching the kids, but soon school's out. Will I continue? Only time will tell. I finished the Red Room on Friday, so naturally I had to find a new book to read. I landed on Tender is the Night because the world is again crazy about Fitzgerald. After reading about the Sisterhood, it went straight to the top of the books to read next list, mainly because I need something light as my head is full of Victorian ladies, war and about 200 papers to grade in the next weeks. Hopefully my reading mind is in a better mood before I turn to To the Lighthouse when the summer holiday begins.

But at least May was a good month for buying more books. About 20 books found a new safe home, and I also downloaded a lot of free books to my Kindle for the next time I decide on something crazy as reading classics.

And then the big question is, as always, what to read next? (Yes, all these books are unread. Also: find 5 things which aren't made of paper)

Sunday, 26 May 2013


the Red Room by August Strindberg (1879)

Arvid Falk is a struggling young writer in Stockholm. He has quit his job within the civil service, which isn't approved by Arvid's much older brother, Carl Nicolaus, who is very unlike Arvid. Becoming a writer is hard, but it pays off with new friendships with the radical struggling artists and they invite him along to the Red Room.

The Red Room paints some excellent portraits of characters and it is very witty. I was surprised how easy it was to read the book, and the language was really enjoyable. I suspect it must be the work of the excellent Norwegian translator, Per Qvale. I wonder if the English translation is as full of excellent sentences and choice of words.

But sadly it isn't a story that sticks. Already two days after I finished it, I have problems recalling it. I do remember how I felt while reading it, but only very vaguely the plot and I have trouble remembering the names of the characters. Yet I know that it was a good read.

This was May's read in Line's 1001 books reading challenge.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013


Captain of the Steppe by Oleg Pavlov (1994)

"They used to deliver newspaper like potatoes to the company stationed out in the steppe: a month's worth at a time, or two, or even enough to see them through to spring, so as not to waste fuel and not to pamper the unit."

Khabarov is the captain of the 6th regiment far out on the Kazakh steppes. Surrounding their camp there's nothing as far as the watch towers can see. Food is always scarce, so when the captain gets the brilliant idea of planting the potatoes instead of eating them, he reckons he has solved their food shortage. But this is Soviet where no one does anything without a permission from someone above them in the system, so Khabarov soon finds himself in serious trouble.

My first reaction after reading it was: all that trouble because of potatoes? Second: what the hell did I just read? Definitely too much confusion and those Russian names I never can tell apart, made this a hard one. Yet there are definitely good parts and some parts had me snickering. And I do have a feeling that this will get better with a second read. It is the first book in a trilogy, and I do hope that And Other Stories is going to publish the other ones as well, as it has received grand reviews and prizes, not only in Russia, but also abroad.

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