The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

In three words:

Drama, excitement, intruige

What I thought:

When I began this book I have to admit that I didn’t think the three words I’d be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it’s the worst book she’s ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the “don’t bother” part of my brain. So then, just before Christmas I saw or heard something about this book (I forget where and what) and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did – The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!

Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make enquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.

The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modelled on Dorchester in Dorset). It’s difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don’t want to give it away – this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around – Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.

Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy’s understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.

What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far – they’re like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all – love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentence. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians – and those before them – used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.

I just had to share this quote with you too as it made me laugh:

“The present room was much humbler, but what struck him about it was the abundance of books lying everywhere. The number and quality made the meagre furniture that supported them seem absurdly disproportionate.”

Sound familiar? 😉

 

I loved the fact that there were pictures too

 

Verdict: I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your pre-conceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature – this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point.

 

 

  Have you read this book?

  Which Hardy novel should I read next?

This is the first book I have read for the Victorians Challenge 2012

Victorians Challenge 2012

Men judge us by the success of our efforts. God looks at the efforts themselves*

*by Charlotte Bronte

 

I didn’t do any challenges last year and I promised myself I wouldn’t this year either as when I have done them in the past I have found that they can sometimes feel like homework and that I “have” to read something. However, being a massive fan of Victorian literature, I have been eyeing up this one, hosted by Laura’s Reviews for some time and I have decided to give it a go.

 

Here are the rules:

1. The Victorian Challenge 2012 will run from January 1st to December 31st, 2012. You can post a review before this date if you wish.

2. You can read a book, watch a movie, or listen to an audiobook, anything Victorian related that you would like. Reading, watching, or listening to a favorite Victorian related item again for the second, third, or more time is also allowed. You can also share items with other challenges.

3. The goal will be to read, watch, listen, to 2 to 6 (or beyond) anything Victorian items.

So, knowing how rubbish I am at sticking to plans and lists, I have decided not to give myself a huge goal but to say that I will read six this year and then just keep going if I fancy more. Seeing as I have almost finished two so far this year, it’s looking pretty possible.

Here are some of the books / authors I would like to read this year. Obviously, I won’t get to them all but a girl gotta have options :):

 

1) The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (already read)

2) The Complete Short Fiction by Oscar Wilde (almost finished)

3) Armadale by Wilkie Collins

4) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

5) Something by Dickens (I’m thinking either David Copperfield, Oliver Twist or Little Dorritt at the moment)

6) Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

7) More books by Thomas Hardy (whom I have fallen in love with) like Jude the Obscure, Far From the Madding Crowd or The Woodlanders

8) Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

9) Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackaray

 

I wasn’t sure if non-Brits would be included at first but Laura (in her post) has included authors such as Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott so I’m hoping it’s OK to include some other nationalities like the French and Russian for example. If so then I really want to read:

1) Cousin Bette by Honor Belzac

2) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

3) Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant

4) Germinal by Emile Zola (already started)

5) Hunger by Knut Hamsun (Norwegian)

 

And if I have time after that little lot I would also like to read some non-fiction like finish Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens and also London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew.

 

  Are there any out of this little lot that I should be reading before the others?

 

 

Blogging plans for 2012

I have noticed something…

…I am rubbish at making plans. OK, not strictly true – I am great a making plans, just rubbish at sticking to them.

After a very murderous 2011, I have an urge for something a little gentler right now and I plan to raid my own shelves in 2012 and read some of what I actually own. This year I have had the absolute best fun reading about serial killers and detectives and crime fiction was all I craved for a long time: I will still be reading crime fic in 2012 as it is one of my favourite genres but at the moment I am craving books that have been sat on my shelves and whispering my name for years.

So, knowing full well that these best-laid plans will fall by the way-side by around mid January, let’s have a little fun pretending for now:

 

  Plan #1 – The Victorians

I am dying to get back to the Victorian classics and have read Little Women and Oscar Wilde’s Complete Short Fiction over Christmas. These are also some authors that I would like to read more of in the new year.

Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre and Villette are two of my favourite books of all time and so this year I’d like to read Shirley.

Thomas Hardy

I have only read Tess of the D’Urbervilles and think it’s about time I read some more. I am thinking The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure first.

Charles Dickens

This Master of the Tome has always been slightly daunting to me (despite me loving Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol) but this year I am determined to read at least one more of his and on my hit list are David Copperfield, Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

I absolutely loved Lady Audley’s Secret and have heard great things about Aurora Floyd so that will be next. I just love Victorian sensational novels.

Elizabeth Gaskell

I loved North and South and my cousin bought me a copy of Wives and Daughters for Christmas which I have heard great things about.

Wilkie Collins

I have only read The Woman in White so it is high time I picked up more of Collins’ work and next up are Moonstone and Armadale.

 

 

  Plan #2 – The French

I love reading books set in France or by French authors. At the end of February I am going to Paris for 4 days so I plan to read some Paris-based books before I go to get me in the mood:

Emile Zola

I have only read Thérèse Raquin and I am about ¼ of the way through Germinal but I would also like to read The Belly of Paris or The Ladies Paradise this year.

Victor Hugo

I am thinking about joining in the year-long read-a-long of this book, hosted by Kate at Kate’s Library as I have wanted to read it for years and it does seem like a good way to do this, but like I said, I am crap at sticking to plans so let’s see…

Two other authors I would like to read are Ernest Hemingways’ A Moveable Feast and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and some shorter stories by Guy de Maupassant.

 

 

  Plan #3 – Authors I want to read more of

I have a habit that goes like this: I read a book by an author, I love it, I buy a tonne of other books by that same author, they sit on my shelves waiting to be picked up.

So, with that in mind, plan #3 entails taking said books down from said shelves, dusting them off and actually reading them. Authors include:

Edith Wharton

Daphne du Maurier

Margaret Atwood

Sarah Waters

John Steinbeck

Cormack McCarthy

Agatha Christie

Jose Saramago

 

 

  Plan #4 – Authors I want to read for the very first time

I also have a habit of buying books by authors I think I should be reading but never get round to. Yes, I’m looking at you

Doris Lessing

Ernest Hemingway

China Melville

Amoz Oz

 

 

  Plan #5 – Books I have waited to read for far too long

There are certain books that have been on my wishlist for reading for so long that I almost cringe out of guilt when I hear them mentioned. Fortunately, two of them are being read this year in my on-line book club: Gone with the Wind and The Grapes of Wrath. Others that look at me longingly from my shelves are: Shantaram, Shogun and My Antonia.

 

 

  Plan #6 – Review Copies

I successfully managed to avoid the great publisher/blogger debate that was doing the rounds last month, and I still intend to. What I will say is that when an unexpected (or expected) package lands on my doormat I still get that feeling like it’s my birthday and Christmas rolled into one. There is not much more exciting than ripping the packaging off something book-shaped. Having said that, I do regularly get overwhelmed with the number of books that drop through my letterbox and my guilt at not reading them all still hounds me, but this year I have decided that I want to concentrate more on the books I already have rather than spending the majority of my reading time on proof copies. It’s a tough one really as despite the fact that  a) I don’t get the time to read them all and b) abandom some pretty quickly, two of the unsolicited copies that arrived at my house this year (and to be honest, I may not have picked up myself in a shop) ended up on my top 10 of 2011 list.

So, there are my current plans for 2012. This may change. In fact, this probably will change. Afterall, when something new and shiny lands on the doormat, what’s a girl to do? 😉

 

 

  Do you have blogging plans for 2012?

 

 

The Resurrectionists by Kim Wilkins

In three words:

Spooky, gothic, graveyard

 

What I thought:

I first heard about this book last year when I was doing my Dare You Read It? series over the Halloween period. It was recommended by Helen at She Reads Novels as a spooky / scary book and as I tend to enjoy the a lot of the same books as Helen I decided to hunt down a copy. I managed to find a second hand copy as the book had actually gone out of print, but it is now available on Kindle via Amazon for anyone who wants to give this a read.

This gothic horror starts with Maisie, an Australian musician with a successful career and loving boyfriend, who is disillusioned with life and decides to go to England to see her maternal Grandmother, Sybil, whom she has never met, who lives in a remote cottage in Yorkshire by the coast. Maisie’s mother is dead set against her going and then confesses that her Grandmother actually died 3 months ago which makes Maisie even more determined to go, to find out about where Sybil lived and what she was like.

When she arrives in Solgreve, Yorkshire in the winter, Maisie soon discovers that not only was her Grandmother not at all liked but that, apparently, neither is she. A wall of silence and unfriendlyness greets Maisie in the little village (including a very cold introduction from the village Vicar) so Maisie sets about trying to clear Sybils cottage and discover what she can about her past. The only person that is remotely nice to her is a young man called Sasha (who is part gypsy and used to help Sybil in her garden) whom she meets when he brings Sybils old cat back round.

It’s not long before things begin to go bump in the night in this remote little cottage. Maisie is unnerved by the cat who takes up the same post on top of the washing machine every night to stare out, unblinking into the night, but not so much as when she sees a shadowy figure by the trees at the back of the cottage that is staring straight back at her.

Maisie soon discovers a diary dating back to 1793 that, upon reading it, starts to give her clues to what is going on and what makes the inhabitants of the village of Solgreve behave the way they do.

This book is choc full of chills, thrills and surprises. There was one particular point when Maisie and a friend are alone in the cottage one night when things take a horrifying turn, that literally had me on the edge of my seat. Yes, there were parts of the book where I really had to suspend my disbelief (but then this is horror fiction) but overall it was a great October read and perfect for the RIP challenge.

Verdict: Fans of gothic, horror and suspense are sure to like this book. Don’t expect a literary masterpiece but if it’s thrills and chills you’re after then look no further.

 

I read this book as part of the RIP Challenge

Day 40 – Win one of my favourite books!

♫ ♪Happy Birthday to Me, Happy Birthday to Meeeeeeeee ♪ ♫…..

Well, this is it! I am now officially old! The BIG FOUR-OH has come knocking at my door and I have shuffled over to let it in. Only kidding! (not about being 40, but about the shuffling bit). Age is a state of mind and I still feel 17 (and still act it sometimes too ;))

My orginal challenge for today was to pick a favourite book about a celebration but I have changed my mind and I’m feeling very generous today so instead I am going to give away one of the books that I have mentioned in this series of post.

 

The Rules

All you have to do is leave a comment below saying which book you would like to receive and why and I will enter you into the draw. I will pick the winner using random.org on Wednesday 12th October at 6pm GMT so you have 3 days to enter. Here is a link to all my 40 posts so happy deciding.

 

Good luck!

 

Day 39 – A book I expected to hate but loved

Love me, love me not, love me…

When I was younger I read and loved Agatha Christie books but that was probably as near as I got to crime fiction until James Patterson which I used to read in a single sitting on holiday. Then back in about 2004, our chosen book club book was layed out on the table and I remember picking it up tentitively and wrinkling my nose at the title. That book was The Torment of Others by Val McDermid.

I remember being almost so sure that I wouldn’t enjoy it (it sounded gory and hardcore and the cover wasn’t as nice as the new one shown below) that I nearly didn’t even buy it that night. Once home, however, curiosity got the better of me and I ended up flying through the chapters, completely enthralled by the twisted tale before me. It was brilliant!

The Torment of Others wasn’t the first book in McDermid’s Tony Hill & Carol Jordan (it’s the fourth I think) but it didn’t matter. Once I had read that book, I went right back to the beginning and read them all in order, pretty much back to back (just like I did when I discovered Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles series). McDermid is one very clever author – I love the twists and turns, not just of the stories themselves but of the killers minds; I loved being alongside Tony Hill as he tries to fathom out their motives and what they’ll do next.

 

  Have you ever expected to dislike a book and had a pleasant surprise?

 

Day 38 – An author crush

Reader, I heart them…

Is it cheating to bundle these into one (especially as only a week or so ago I did a post about not being able to read Wuthering Heights)? If I had to pick only one sister then it would be Charlotte but how can I leave out poor neglected Anne and yes, even Emily? Yep, I have a crush on them all – thoses feisty, weather-worn Yorkshire lasses who like to roam around on moors and pen stories by candlelight.

I am lucky enough to only live about a 45 minute drive from Haworth where the Bronte sisters grew up with the Vicar father, brother Branwell and their Aunt once their mother and other sisters had all passed away in their childhoods. The Parsonage is still there today and is now a museum and I have wandered though their home on several occasions, looking at the chair Charlotte sat on to write or the sofa that Emily died on (determined to the last hour that she was OK and wanted to get up).

 

Wonder why their books had that gothic feel?

 

Bleak, bleak, bleak! Love it!

 

Haworth Village - cute little town with lovely book shops 🙂

 
Charlotte is my main crush, having penned my favourite book of all-time – Jane Eyre – and also the wonderful Villette (which I know some people find a challenging read); both books had me in awe and I didn’t want either of them to end. I still have Shirley and The Proffesor to read (and I also have a lovely copy of The Tales of Angria which she wrote as a child). I have also read Charlotte Bronte’s Letters in which she writtes to her friend, nurse, sisters and even William Thackaray and Elizabeth Gaskell!
 
I have read and loved both of Anne’s books too, and although I did enjoy Agnes Grey it didn’t have the magnitude of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall which was way before its time and I would love to know what sort of a reception it got back then (a woman not towing the line? Pffft!) .
 
I have made my feelings of Wuthering Heights clear before but despite having had 3 attempts at it, I still don’t feel ready to stop trying. Is it because she’s a Bronte? Probably.
 
So, there you have my author crush(es).
 

  Who is yours?