Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Could Re-read For the First Time

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 24: Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I wish I could read this again and not know what was coming. At the same time I’m really glad I read this for the first time when I did, because my high school English class was reading Crime and Punishment at the time. There are a lot of parallels and I appreciated the enriched experience in that way. I think it would hold up well to a reread though. I just wish I could recreate that experience of finding those parallels and getting excited.

2. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– Last year I reread this with a book club and I found myself really jealous of the members who were reading it for the first time and didn’t know what twists and turns lay ahead.

3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie- The first time I read this I tried to read it as a detective and figure out whodunnit as I read. I wasn’t right, but I tried! I think I’d like the experience of reading it as more of a reader and going along with the story without trying to be two steps ahead.

4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– I remember staying up late into the night with this one, and feeling the thrill of surprise as the story unfolded. Those reading experiences are wonderful and rare.

5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This one had a slowly building sense of dread as I realized what was happening. At the same time I kept hoping that I’d be proven wrong. That sense of building tension without a “reveal” (rather a gradual unfolding) is not something I encounter often.

6. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -I read this book for the first time while I was on a train. At one point I got to a plot twist and I literally shouted, “Holy crap!” Out loud. It’s a rare book that makes me embarrass myself on public transportation.

7. The Other by Thomas Tryon- There was one twist in this book that I felt was really obvious. Once it was revealed, I felt like I was very smart, I’d figured the book out, and it was going to be disappointing. Little did I know there were other turns ahead! I think the initial twist as a sort of misdirection, so the reader wasn’t on the lookout anymore.

8. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- This one didn’t have any huge surprises in it, but I became so invested in these characters, for better or for worse (and often it was for worse.) I was legitimately worried about them it was a wonderful and stressful experience. I think it would hold up to rereads, though, because I know what’s coming for the characters and I can focus on other things without worrying about them so much. Just a note: I’m always hesitant to recommend this one without including a content warning, because some of the content is very difficult.

9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck -I honestly think I was too young for this the first time I read it. It’s on my to be reread list, and I think I’ll get a lot more out of it a second time, but I wish I was coming to it fresh.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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February 18: The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover (submitted by Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse)

For me book hangovers are rare. Even with a great book I’m aware that the next great book is on the horizon! The ones that give me hangovers aren’t always my favorites or even the best ones. But something about them sticks with me and makes it harder than usual to move on.  So I decided to just do ten books that left me with lingering effects instead of the last ten. So yes, I might miss one or two, but you’ll get an idea. I also wan’t 100% literal with the term “book hangover”: anything that linger afterward in a strong was qualified for the list.

81nembjjg8l._ac_uy218_ml3_1.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling– This shouldn’t be a surprise. By the time I finished this one I felt like I’d been on a long journey, and left several old friends behind.

91tal5fv30l._ac_uy218_ml3_2. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon– It’s rare when one of my favorite entries in a series comes eight books in, but this one pulled it off, leaving me in a place where I felt emotionally exhausted but satisfied and then ending things with a beautiful reunion.

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_3. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons- I think my response to this book was based largely on who I was and where I was (in terms of my life) at the time that I read it. I sobbed for like two hours when I finished this! But then I found out that there were two sequels, and while I enjoyed them to differing degrees I didn’t have the same emotional response. That makes me think that it was less about the book itself and more about something it touched off at the time.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_4.A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This left me with kind of a numbness. I felt like I’d be through so much with these characters, so how was I supposed to just pick up and move on with my own life?

418rxncl2rl-_ac_us218_5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– In a way a book about an endless house that you many never leave seems tailor made to give you a book hangover. But in this case it wasn’t an immediate hangover but rather elements of the book randomly coming back to me at different points.

911-t2bi6l._ac_uy218_ml3_6.The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– This book created a world that seemed so vivid with such twists and turns that I was surprised to finish it and realize that it was only a book.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_17. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– Forget Gone Girl, this book had some twists that really threw me in terms of upending everything I thought I knew about the plot and characters. After I read it, I had several “what do you mean, that character is exactly who he claimed to be?!” experiences with books. I kept looking for the trick that wasn’t there!

 

41duzypmsll._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – I loved Marillier’s world building in this series. I’d even go so far as to say that it (very indirectly!) inspired my own,  in Beautiful. But after I finished it was hard to get back to other books and worlds without holding them up to the same standard.

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_9. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafasi– This book made me aware of how reading a novel can be a politically subversive act. That of course made me wonder about every book I read after it; “what deeply held ideas and institutions am I undermining by reading this book?”

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_10. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– After I read this I kept looking for read alikes. But after being burned by many books claiming to be a similar experience, I gave up on that quest.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Tropes

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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August 20: Favorite Tropes (a trope is a commonly used theme or plot device) (submitted by Andrea @ Books for Muse)

1. Mysterious school

2. Slow burn romance

3. Small towns

4. Missing/Absent parents

5. Family secrets

6. Gothic

7. Neo-Victorian

8. Time Travel / Time Slips

9. Dual Timelines

10. Fairy Tale retellings

Gothic Book Tag

In honor of Halloween I decided to do the Classic Club’s Gothic Book Tag

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Warning: Spoilers Abound

Below we have thirteen questions to creep you out and send shivers up your spine!

The rules are easy.

  1. Answer the 13 questions with classic books in mind.
  2. How you define ‘classic’ is up to you.
  3. How you define ‘scary’ is up to you (it could be content, size of book, genre etc).
  4. Add your link back here when you’re done.
  5. If you’re feeling social, visit other blogs and leave a comment or share your thoughts on twitter, fb, instagram or goodreads using #CCgothicbooktag
  6. Join in if you dare.

Which classic book has scared you the most? I think that The Shining by Stephen King was a pleasant surprise to me. I’d seen the film prior to reading the book, so I thought that I had an idea of what to expect, but it was an entirely different ballgame. The film basically takes on a similar premise (a couple and their young child act as caretakers of an isolated, haunted hotel in winter) and the same character names but little else. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film by any means, but it’s a separate thing. Stephen King agrees. In the film, the bulk of the horror is internal stemming from the character Jack Torrance. I’ve actually see arguments that it all took place in the character’s head. In the book, you can’t make that argument. Once I realized that this was going to be a different experience I was along for the ride. The internal and external horror in the book is difficult to separate. Jack Torrance, is an alcoholic with a history of anger issues, who is trying to stay sober for the sake of his wife, Wendy and son, Danny. The evil in the hotel draws the evil inside Jack to the surface, and it comes to possess him, using his internal weaknesses as weapons. At the same time, Jack’s son, Danny has psychic abilities that cause the supernatural activity to become more powerful. Echoes from the hotel’s violent past, make for a dangerous threat in the present when he is around. His ability make him stronger because the hotel can’t posses him, but it also makes him a target for harm.  I liked that the film made all of the horror internal. That was an interesting story as well. But the book is how the internal weaknesses and in Danny’s case, gifts, are weaponized by external forces, and how the lines between internal and external blur. It’s a different story.

Scariest moment in a book? In The Haunting of Hill House when Eleanor and Theodora are in the bedroom and someone (or something…) is trying to open the door. They’re holding hands, and then Eleanor comes to realize that it’s not Theodora whose hand she’s holding… Something about the idea of being in a frightening situation, reaching out for support and realizing that the person you reached out to, thinking it meant safety, may be the very thing you feared gets to me!

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Classic villain that you love to hate? I think Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca is great. You wouldn’t expect a middle aged housekeeper to be a threatening villain, but her idealization of and obsession with Rebecca; combined with the unnamed narrator’s insecurity and inferiority complex, makes her powerful enough to almost drive the narrator to suicide.

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Creepiest setting in a book? I think the marshes in The Woman in Black are pretty creepy. It’s a lonely, isolated place and Eel Marsh House is at the mercy of the constantly changing weather. Because the landscape is flat and wet, and there aren’t any distinguishing characteristics like trees to break things up, it feels endless and becomes hard to tell where the sky ends and the begins. This atmosphere makes it a perfect place for the supernatural because boundaries between land and water and earth and sky are already blurred. It’s easy to imagine the boundary between life and death being similarly distorted.

Best scary cover ever? I actually haven’t even read this book yet, but this cover of Shirley Jackson’s The Bird’s Nest creeps me out. How did the girl’s head get in the nest? Was it cut off and put in there? Or did it grow put of there? Why is there an egg on her eye, and what is coming out of the egg?

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Book you’re too scared to read? I’m pretty brave! I haven’t encountered a book as an adult that was too scary to read/finish. As a child on the other hand? It’s a long and fairly embarrassing list!

Spookiest creature in a book? I’ll go with Mr. Hyde from The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s good and bad in everyone. I think in many ways the scariest thing is the evil that we’re all capable of. In this book that happens to be synthesized into a separate being. But the creepiest thing is that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. Jekyll is presented to the reader as imperfect but a fundamentally decent human being. But everything that Hyde does, including murder, is something that Jekyll has the capability of doing. If he didn’t, Hyde wouldn’t be able to do it either. I think that’s a scary thought!

Classic book that haunts you to this day? I think that in some ways We Have Always Lived in the Castle haunts me more than The Haunting of Hill House. We have these sisters who have been isolated by their town after Constance, the older sister, was acquitted for the murder of their whole family. Merricat, the younger sister, likes this state of affairs, which is threatened when an estranged cousin, Charles, turns up. I suppose that I like that the threats in this book come from so many different sources: there’s the hostile townspeople who think that Constance got away with murder; Charles, who forms a close relationship with the naive Constance, and may be trying to take advantage of her; and Merricat herself, who will lash out dangerously when she thinks her life with her sister is threatened. It’s disturbing because ultimately it has “happy”  ending, at least from Merricat’s point of view. She sets fire to the house, which dives Charles away, and she and Constance live out their days happily (at least according to Merricat, who is an unreliable narrator) in the burned out carcass of their family home.  They become fairy tale witches in a “castle” overlooking a town that fears them.

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Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?  I’m not sure I’d call it “scary” per se though there are certainly some very creepy/atmospheric moments, but I read Fingersmith on a crowded train and when I came to the end of the first portion of the book, I literally yelled out “Holy crap!” It was a bit embarrassing but this twist totally reset my perception of the characters and the plot.

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Classic book you really, really disliked? I’m not sure you’d call it a “classic,” but I’m not a fan of Anne Rice. Interview With A Vampire did nothing for me. But then I’m not a huge fan of vampires in general.

Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?  I’ll go with Miles in The Turn of the Screw. The narrative is ambiguous so what happens to him could be one of several (disturbing) possibilities. Either he has somehow been manipulated and attacked by the ghost of an employee at his uncle’s estate; or his governess is insane and the ghosts are her delusions, and she kills him in some way and blames it on the supernatural in her mind. In either scenario, he’s a child who is at the mercy of an adult he trusts.

List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.  

Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Shining by Stephen King

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

But really most of the books in this post are good!

Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

I think this quote disturbs me because what it expresses is so true. Most people who cause harm and destruction, do so because they have been hurt deeply themselves. Frankenstein’s monster is a character who does a lot of damage but does it because he’s never been nurtured or loved. The idea that all of that violence could have been turned in a positive direction and potentially made the world a better place, is both heartbreaking and frightening. Once we start to see villains as people who have suffered, our sympathies are engaged, and depending on the villainous actions, this can be disturbing too. We don’t want to feel sympathy for monsters because we want them to feel “other” in a fundamental way. Once we feel bad for them, we start to understand their actions, which makes us feel really uncomfortable.

The Netflix Book Tag

I saw this at Dwell in Possibility and couldn’t resist the combination of Netflix and books!

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RECENTLY WATCHED: The last book you finished reading.

The last book I finished was The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. It was interesting. Apparently, it was a big deal when it was released in the late 1950’s. It’s about five women who work for a Manhattan publishing company. They’re all in their early 20’s. The story follows their lives over the course of about five years, through hook-ups, break-ups, promotions, let-downs, and breakdowns. They ultimately end up in very different places from where they started.  It was interesting (though horrifying) the way these women took harassment and assault from lecherous bosses as par for the course. It’s also interesting to see the various ways that the life of a single, career focused woman has changed and stayed the same over the last 60 years.

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TOP PICKS: A book that has been recommended to you based on books you have previously read.

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By Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente comes up on Goodreads based on my “read” shelf. This is the description: “From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty and heartbreak of the world we live in. Across thirteen stories, this collection explores the thin border between magic and grief.”

RECENTLY ADDED: The last book you bought.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters- I haven’t started it yet, but I love Sarah Waters and it got great reviews, so I’m hopeful.

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POPULAR ON NETFLIX: Books that everyone knows about. (2 you’ve read and 2 you haven’t read or have no interest in reading.)

Read

 

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness- I was disappointed in this. I’m not usually a fan of vampires, but it was recommended based on several books I’ve liked, it has some great reviews, and it’s the subject of a TV adaptation… But I didn’t like the characters. I didn’t care about them. I actually found both main characters to be drama queens/kings, but I didn’t want to use the same book for two posts.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie– I thought that this was an insightful, intelligent, and occasionally beautiful look at race and identity in the western world. Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love, in military-ruled Nigeria. Ifemelu has an opportunity to study in America. Obinze initially plans to join her but instead ends up and undocumented worker in London. They undergo very different experiences before reuniting in a newly democratic Nigeria.

Haven’t Read

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante– I was really excited to read this because I’d heard wonderful things about it. I stopped about halfway through because it just felt like words on a page. Nothing was having any impact on my thoughts or feelings. It’s rare for me to stop reading something in the middle, and I was surprised that I had that reaction to such a popular book.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan– I’ve enjoyed Egan’s past work (The Keep, A Visit From the Goon Squad) and this has gotten a lot of acclaims, so I’ll probably get to it at some point. But for some reason, the description of this novel set on the WWII Brooklyn docks doesn’t grab me.

COMEDIES: A funny book.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion– I thought the sequel was derivative and occasionally crossed the line into bad taste, but this misfit love story managed to strike the right comic tone IMO.

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DRAMAS: A character who is a drama queen/king.

The Wise Woman by Phillippa Gregory– Alys is an orphan who joins a convent mostly to escape her foster mother. When Henry VIII’s men burn the convent, Alys escapes but is haunted by the dying screams of the other nuns. She ends up working in a castle as a scribe, and she falls obsessively in love with the lord’s son. But he’s already married, so she plots to take over as the lady of the manor in any way she can.  Granted her life is pretty dramatic from the start, but Alys embraces the drama and delights in it. I don’t really recommend this book, but it certainly features a drama queen!

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ANIMATED: A book with cartoons on the cover.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

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Since this book is a parody of the Gothic Romance genre, it sort of makes sense that the cover illustration would be cartoons. Several characters are rather cartoons send-ups of a “type”.

WATCH IT AGAIN: A book or series that you want to re-read.

The Quincunx by Charles Palliser- I loved this neo-Victorian mystery/romance/saga. It had a very complex plot though and I only recall the broad outlines of what happened. I’d like to reread it and refresh my memory.

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DOCUMENTARIES: A non-fiction book you’d recommend to everyone.

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I’m always hesitant to recommend a book to “everyone” because for me at least, book recommendations are personal. That said, I did recently recommend Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi on this blog, so I’ll repeat that.

ACTION AND ADVENTURE: An action packed book.

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters- This book can fall into several different genres, but the sheer amount and nature of the twists and turns that it took certainly made it feel action packed! The second half of the novel had one “WTF!” revelation after another.

NEW RELEASES: A book that just came out or will be coming out soon that you can’t wait to read.

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As always, there are a number of books that I’m excited to read ASAP, but The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock comes to mind first. I’m trying to moderate my expectations because I’ve been disappointed before, but this combination of historical fiction and magical realism seems to be just my kind of weird.

Top 10 Tuesday: Books That Surprised Me

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

March 13: Books That Surprised Me (in a good or bad way)

For this one, I initially interpreted it as being for books that I liked but didn’t think I would, or books that I thought I would love and didn’t. But then I thought it might be fun to look at books whose plots surprised me in some way.

61g8cli07xl-_ac_us218_1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone– I remember being terrified of this book as a kid. Grover tells the reader that there’s a monster at the end of the book, and to stop reading before you get there. So I would always slam the book shut before the end (hey, if Grover’s giving advice, I’m going to listen!). One day my mom sort of insisted that we keep reading. I was absolutely petrified, wondering why she refused to listen to Grover’s warnings. I still remember the utter surprise when the monster was revealed.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– This actually has several twists and turns that I wasn’t anticipating. But the one I’m thinking of here comes about midway through the book. It made me rethink pretty much everything that I’d read until that point.  I mean, I was reading it on a train and I literally shouted “Holy Crap!” when this happened. But even if you somehow manage to see that one coming, the plot twists yet again…

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield- This twist was a triumph of misdirection. I was focused on the happenings in the English country house and the crazy antics of the family. But all the time there was something else happening in the background, that I didn’t notice until it was pointed out. It gave me that feeling like the hairs in on the back of my neck were standing up. I think it’s sort of what Freud called “uncanny.” He used the term to refer to the sense of something familiar and intimate that has been distorted or changed somehow to become threatening, or tempting, or unknown.

51hytcoi7l-_ac_us218_4. Atonement by Ian McEwan– I’m really glad that I read this book before I saw the movie. While the twist in the movie is an additional scene added on, in the book, it’s revealed through the narration at the closing. It seemed more surprising that way, but less like a “trick.” One thing I liked about this ending was that the story can stand on its own, without it. It’s not one of those things where the entire narrative hinges on a twist. But it does add an additional layer to things.

51s4merpcjl-_ac_us218_5. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie– I’m a big fan of this title actually because there’s a clue in it, regarding the whodunnit. It’s about people who come to an island party and are murdered one by one. It’s only when there are none left that the twist is revealed and we learn who the killer is. We get to know each of the characters before they’re murdered. We learn that they all have secrets and that there might be someone out there who wants any one of them dead. Learning that backstory is entertaining in itself. But once the bodies start piling up, we see these characters in a stressful situation, and that reveals even more about them.

41ufepph-wl-_ac_us218_6. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– This twist was one I sort of saw coming because I knew that there was something off with the Max/Rebecca marriage. But I liked the ambiguity regarding the execution. It complicates things for the reader because we’re not 100% sure what we want to see happen next. The Hitchcock film (which I’m a big fan of) left fewer moral gray areas for the protagonists. That was most likely intended to make audiences sympathize with them, but I like being a little unsure of what I wanted to see happen, and what would feel like justice.

61ugxeeqibl-_ac_us218_7. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This is another one that I’m very glad that I read before seeing the film. On film, the important information is revealed in the title cards at the very beginning, and a character explains it explicitly in the first 10-15 minutes. But in the book, it’s a slow, gradual realization. There’s no big “reveal.” Rather it starts off as a suspicion that leaves the reader hoping that s/he is wrong about what’s going on. There’s a sense of dread that builds as s/he realizes that s/he’s not.

41tynpkim4l-_ac_us218_8. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton– The action of this book takes place as a sort of extended flashback. The unnamed narrator is spending the winter in Starkfield where he sees a figure limping around town, and inquires about this “ruin of a man.” We learn that the man is the title character, that he had a bitter, suspicious, hypochondriac of a wife and that he fell in love with her cousin, Mattie. This dilemma is eventually resolved in a way that gives all three characters what they wanted but in such a way that they no longer want it.

51nzvigpebl-_ac_us218_9. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve- This book ties into Shreve’s other novel The Weight of Water in an interesting way, that the casual reader of either book may not guess. But it’s easy to read one and fully appreciate it without reading the other. This book is about two lovers who meet at a literary festival. Then the novel moves backward in time, showing us a time that they met previously, and then it moves backward again, showing us their initial meeting. From there we see how they became sort of cursed to meet at different points in life (rather than spend it together) and to primarily discuss the last time they met each time they see one another.

518ktztx7ol-_ac_us218_10. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty– This book is about a woman who finds a letter for her husband, that instructs her to open it only upon his death. It reveals something that has the potential to destroy their family and their lives. Except she finds it and opens it while her husband is very much alive. The first surprise is the nature of her husband’s revelation. I think that I was expecting him to tell her about an affair or something. But what he confesses in the letter doesn’t just affect their lives, but the lives of several other people too. It left me asking myself what I would do in that situation and unsure of the answer. Then, once everything is resolved at the end, the author gives some information that reframes everything that’s happened.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Neo-Victorian Novels

This is for That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday. The topic this week is

January 16: Bookish Resolutions/Goals

However, I feel like I covered a lot of that in some of my recent posts, so if anyone wants to know what my 2018 reading might look like check out these posts.

Since I love Victorian novels, I decided that this week I’d do top ten neo-Victorian novels, written in a Victorian style.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_11. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– I remember reading this on a train. I got to a point mid-book where I had to stop reading and look around and see if there was anyone around me who I could tell about what I’d just read. I won’t say much about the plot because it would be a crime to spoil some of the twists and turns in this book.  It features thieves and con artists, an heiress, orphans, and pornographers. There is murder, deception, betrayal, and long-buried secrets (all some of my favorite elements of Victorian fiction) You can look at it as a critique of Victorian moral hypocrisy, a mystery, a love story, or a gothic melodrama. I personally think it’s all of the above.

51yolftykzl-_ac_us218_2. The Quincunx by Charles Palliser– This book is a tale of a family inheritance (as is a lot of Victorian fiction) and the reader is led through a very twisted family tree and numerous plotlines. It’s a big book (about 800 pages) but it doesn’t seem like work. Rather, the reader suspends disbelief as the hero is flung from rags to riches to rags again. Pay attention to the number five as you read this. The title refers to a heraldic symbol in five parts, that appears at important points in the text. The novel itself is in five parts, each dedicated to a different family with which our narrator becomes involved. It’s a neat trick, that for the most part, the author manages to pull off.

51t906lssol-_ac_us218_3. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox– This book opens with our narrator, Edward Glyver, committing a murder. He later tells us that this murder was practice, just to make sure he could do the deed. His true target is Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. The narrative takes us back in time, and we eventually learn who these characters are and why Glyver wants to kill Daunt. But as we follow Glyver’s twisted logic, we come to realize that he’s an unreliable narrator. Is Daunt really the monster that Glyver makes him out to be? This book is followed up by a sequel (which could be read as a standalone) The Glass of Time, which some say is even better than the first. I think it read more easily, but I was glad that I’d read the first novel because I was able to appreciate certain elements more.

51sdee-q1sl-_ac_us218_4. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles- This book explores the relationship between amateur naturalist Charles Smithson, and Sarah Woodruff, an independent woman with whom he falls in love. It follows a lot of the conventions of the Victorian novel (and is set in Victorian England) but it simultaneously critiques those conventions and explodes them. The author inserts himself into the story as an omniscient narrator as well as (briefly) a character. He tells us about what is happening in the character’s world, what will happen to it, and what the character’s future will be. He also offers the reader three possible endings to the story, from which the reader can choose. Because of the innovative form, I don’t know if I’d call this Neo-Victorian. Maybe Post-Modern Victorian or Meta Victorian would be more accurate.

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_5. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber– The heroine of this novel is Sugar, a Victorian prostitute with a love of books and hopes for a better life. She becomes involved with William Rackham, a wealthy perfumer. His patronage of Sugar brings her into his world, where she meets his “hysterical” wife Agnes and his daughter Sophie who is left mostly in the care of others. Faber explores the notion of morality a lot, emphasizing that the line between “good” citizens and those who they look down upon is subjective.  There is sex in this book (unsurprising given Sugar’s occupation) but the description of sex, and really almost anything physical, has a clinical tone to it, and our peaks into Victorian bedrooms don’t leave out the chamber pots. So while there is an emphasis on physical acts and processes that most Victorian writers wouldn’t touch directly, it seems like a warning against thinking that Victorians were too prim and proper to get dirty.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_6. Possession by AS Byatt– This novel features a dual timeline. Two academics in the late 20th century uncover a secret love affair between two Victorian poets. We read a great deal of the work of these two fictional poets. The male poet’s work is reminiscent of Robert Browning, while the female poet’s work recalls Emily Dickenson. The two scholars engage in a sort of competitive romance that contrasts their era’s expectations of romance and sex with that of their subjects. I wouldn’t recommend this book to the casual reader because it’s demanding. You have like Victorian style poetry,  and read excerpts of fictional biographies and scholarly journals.  All of this is important to the overall story and characters, but it does make it a rather dense read. Though I suppose the same could be said of many Victorian novels.

41likqxjkrl-_ac_us218_7. The Prestige by Christopher Priest– Many readers may be familiar with the 2006 film adaptation of this novel. While the adaptation was good, I think that the novel will still hold several surprises for readers. It brings us to the music halls of Victorian London, where two magicians each have a seemingly impossible illusion. They compete to learn the other’s secrets. But what begins as professional rivalry turns into an obsession with consequences that their descendants will feel for generations.  The novel plays with a lot of conventions of the Victorian sensation novel; family curses, multiple narrators, doppelgangers, and seances. But, while for the most part, it’s a Wilkie Collins style thriller, it occasionally ventures into HG Wells territory.

61n06chw1ol-_ac_us218_8. The American Boy by Andrew Taylor– Thomas Shield, a London teacher, becomes tutor to a young American boy named Edgar Allen Poe and his friend, Charles Frant. While the book tries to present the young Poe as the catalyst for the novel’s events, really the focus of the novel is on Shield and his love for Frant’s mother, which causes him to become involved with the mystery of her late husband’s death.  Actually, the novel recalls more of Wilkie Collins’ work stylistically than anything that Poe ever wrote. But while I felt like it was somewhat mistitled (the original title was apparently An Unpardonable Crime, which fits better), it’s a historical mystery that’s entertaining enough so that it didn’t bother me too much.

51h-9e-csql-_ac_us218_9. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood– In 1843, Grace Marks was convicted of the murders of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. Some believe that she’s innocent. Others don’t. But was the 16-year-old Grace old enough to be held responsible for her actions? Did she understand what she was doing? Was she sane? Grace herself claims to have no memory of the murders. A group that believes that Grace is innocent hire Dr. Simon Jordan to try to find out the truth about what happened. Dr. Jordan works in the new field of psychology and is very much in the same position as the reader, as Grace tells him her story. But is Grace telling him the truth? Is she an innocent victim or a femme fatale? And are those two archetypes really the only options for Grace? This is based on a real murder case. Atwood maintains ambiguity throughout. Recently a well done Netflix miniseries, based on the novel was released.

51c-asvgcil-_ac_us218_10. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– Vida Winter is a famous author who is most famous for her collection of twelve short stories. Over the past sixty years, she has created several life stories that she claims have been hers. Now, near the end of her life, she hires biographer Margaret Lea to tell her true story. It’s a story of gothic strangeness, of a governess, a ghost, an abandoned baby,  a house fire and a truly bizarre family. As Margaret tries to verify its truth, she doesn’t realize that Vida’s final story is ongoing and that she’s got an important role to play. This book has two timelines; one is the story that Vida is telling, and one is a contemporary timeline in which Vida tells her story to Margaret. However, stylistically the book is very Victorian. As a heroine, Margaret recalls Jane Eyre in that she seems sensible and repressed, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. The Yorkshire setting recalls the Brontes, and thematically there’s a bit of The Turn of the Screw in there as well.  It also featured a twist that made me put the book down and go “wow”.