7126I’ve given it a solid 4 stars, right there between the 5-star adventure fun and the 3-star characterization (especially female) and depth.

So on the plus side we have the Count, the perfect embodiment of the avenging angel with unlimited resources. We also have the plot, that messy, over-the-top fest, masterfully convoluted and deliciously dramatic. It’s full of clichés but I was enthralled for most of the book, especially during the jail scenes.

Despite its length the story flew, except for the bandit and shepherdess chapters, which I skipped after reading the summary on Wikipedia. Mostly, I just sat back and enjoyed every mad idea that popped into Dumas’ head come to life: buried newborns are saved! Beautiful Greek Princesses become a slave! A murderess aristocrat! A paraplegic grandfather saves the day using his eyes! The least romantic proposal in literary history!

On the more meh side, character development was sacrificed in making sure the twisty plot came together, and Dumas broke no ground in the way he portrayed his women. They were flat-out flat. The only one that stood out was Eugénie, who wasn’t given enough page time to become someone real. Lovely Haydée was nerve grating. Beautiful Haydée of the “transparent hands” and the Stockholm Syndrome. Did I mentioned she was beautiful? And a Princess? I’m not surprised most adaptations don’t include her…

il_570xN.191707470Wants it!

In general the characters’ emotions and actions existed for dramatic effect and to support the over-the-top plot. This created a distance between me and them, which was only slightly broken by Abbé Faria, Eugénie and Mr. Nortier.

Almost at the end of the long book the Count starts to realize that his obsession with revenge went too far. Instead of exploring these feelings, Dumas quickly exonerates the Count through religion and leaves the reader (at least this one) hanging there waiting for a little more development on a topic that’s central to a 1000+ page novel. Maybe Dumas wanted to do it, but hey, writing about morals and ethics is less fun. It had been a long book, maybe Dumas just wanted to get it over with.

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Other thoughts: Becky’s Book Reviews, Shelf Love, The Englishist, Wuthering Expectations, Fleur in her World, In Spring it is the dawn, Avid Reader’s MusingsCapricious Reader, Reading Thru The Night, Tif Talks Books (yours?)

Anything I should pay special attention to? Anything I should put on the back-burner?

(1/10)

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(Fear not, spoilers are duly marked, although this post is mostly for people who’ve read the book)

93575Oh book – How did I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Gaudy Night is a mystery novel that’s unapologetically intellectual and I love it when authors let their more brainy side show. It can be read in different ways, but I think it’s mostly about the struggle between the heart and mind, about academia vs the ‘real world’, the risks of being an intelligent woman, about mistakes, growth, self-knowledge and love. It’s that rarest of books that makes you think hard and yet still feel light.

It may sound like the story is all about these Important Topics (which it may be), but they definitely fit naturally within the overall mystery. Also, there’s a good dose of smart humor, dynamic writing and it all goes nicely with the Oxford background.

It was especially interesting to see the characters’ different positions on the central topic of women balancing their personal and professional/intellectual lives. Sayers doesn’t pretend that all women are in favour of equal rights, haughty ice-queens, or repressed virgin spinsters. She gives us a great (and refreshing) variety of female characters don’t come out as caricatures: the single middle-aged don fully committed to her career, the working mom who loves her career and is trying to balance it all, the working mom that thinks it shouldn’t be a woman’s role to provide for her family, the student whose biggest ambition is a happy marriage.

(Women getting stuck between professional achievement and relationships: 80 years after Gaudy Night is written, it still resonates… sigh)

On another note, don’t think me sadistic, but it was a pleasure to see Harriet struggling with her past and her growing affection for Peter Wimsey. I mean, it’s always a pleasure to see a well written character arc, but this one goes to my top list. Because of the events in Strong Poison, Harriet feels she tried to live following her heart and lost part of her identity (and almost her life) because of it. Five years later, she’s learning to trust her emotions again, but in a way that does not completely eclipses her rational and analytic mind.

Just a small note on Peter: in Gaudy Night he’s particularly flawless – but in a way I find impossible to fault! I’m convinced Sayers ruined Mary Sues for me because I’ll never be able to turn my nose up at them again.

Two final comments – SPOILERS AHEAD!

I wish it was Harriet who identified the criminal. That being said I don’t think that the way the solution came about is either demeaning to Harriet or out of character for either her or Peter.

I also wish the criminal had been one of the dons. The occasional classism (or intellectual snobbery?) made me a bit uncomfortable. And I’m still horrified that they locked the “scouts” at night, I don’t care how much it’s for their own safety!

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Other thoughts: things mean a lot, Vulpes Libris, Notes from the North, The Indextrious ReaderStella MatutinaSteph & Tony Investigate!Jenny’s Books (yours?)

There was an Austen round at pub quiz last night. I was heart-broken because I missed number 8. Bu.

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(select blank space to see answer)

  1. Give a year in her life. Answer: [1775 – 1817]
  2. How many novels were published posthumously? Answer: [2]
  3. What disease nearly took her life at age 8: cholera, typhus or smallpox? Answer: [Typhus]
  4. Jane had how many siblings: 3, 5 or 7? Answer: [7]
  5. Does Jane Austen give any of her characters the name “Jane”? Answer: [Yes]
  6. Who are the Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility? Answer: [Elinor, Marianne and Margaret]
  7. What name did Jane Austen publish under? Answer: [“A Lady”]
  8. Tom Musgrove makes an appearance in which of Austen’s works? Answer: [The Watsons]
  9. Anne Hathaway played the role of Jane Austen in which 2007 drama? Answer: [Becoming Jane]
  10. What was Jane Austen’s nationality: English, Welsh or Scottish? Answer: [English]

adventwithalcott

On Twitter: 

It’s that time of the year again: after the great fun of Advent with Austen and Advent with Atwood, we* were lucky enough to find another author with a name starting with A that we all wanted to read!

If you want to join us, just pick up anything by or about Luisa May Alcott you’ve been saving for a cold day (books, movies, TV series and documentaries), and post about it during Advent (30 Nov – 24 Dec). If there’s interest, we might even organize a Twitter watch-long of the 1994 Little Women.

Hope you can join us!

This one just arrived in the post – great timing :)

Advent with Alcott

* I’m once again co-hosting “Advent with” with AnaIris and Yvann.

We interrupt this broadcast for a first at The Sleepless Reader: a review in Portuguese! It’ll do me good to exercise writing in my native language.

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Adorei. Gargalhei. Às vezes esqueço-me como me posso divertir com literatura Portuguesa, especialmente com clássicos. Porque é que não se lê este nas escolas? Teria gostado muito mais do que d’O Amor de Perdicão (um par de tabefes bem dado aqui e ali…) ou do Aparição (simbolismo óbvio dá sempre cabo de mim).

As quatro grandes razões porque gostei tanto da Morgadinha: o humor, o retracto da vida (rural) portuguesa em meados do século XIX, a crítica social, e a heroína.

Nas primeiras páginas a linguagem é tão rebuscada que me preparei para outro A Casa Grande de Romarigães, que li com o dicionário à mão. Mas depois arranca o primeiro diálogo (neste caso um interno) e pareceu estar a ler um livro diferente.

Fiquei rendida, nem mesmo o uso aqui e ali de personagens-tipo e o sexismo rampante me estragou a festa. Claro que existe algum melodrama (é possivel evitá-lo em literatura desta altura?) mas a crítica social e política tornam tudo muito mais realista. Uma das minhas cenas favoritas foi a chegada do menino de cidade hipocondríaco a casa das suas primas na aldeia:

- Tu dizias-me na tua carta que estavas doente; pois olha que na cara não o parece.
– Não—concordou a criada—tem boas cores, e, vamos, a magreza ainda não é lá essas coisas.
Era este o ponto fraco de Henrique; respondeu logo ao reclamo.
– Não me digam isso ! Então não vêem como estou? Pois isto é lá cor de saúde? de febre, será. Gordo? pois acham-me gordo?!
– Gordo, não digo, mas assim, assim…

Foi um prazer ler sobre a vida da época, especialmente porque hoje em dia sei mais sobre história Inglesa e Americana que Portuguesa. Achei fascinante as cenas sobre o Natal, a comida, o beatismo, as eleições, as cunhas, etc. Quantas coisas mudam e quantas outras estão na mesma! Olhem esta citação:

O conselheiro partiu no dia seguinte para Lisboa, para tomar parte na pilotagem da nau do Estado. Estive tentado a dizer, para satisfação de ânimo dos meus leitores, que, sob a direção dos talentos e aptidões do novo estadista, se locupletou a Fazenda Pública, prosperou a agricultura e a indústria, refulgiram as artes e as letras; e que Portugal, como a Grécia, sob Péricles, causou o assombro das nações do Mundo.

Mas receei que, fantasiando no nosso país um governo fecundo e próspero, a inverosimilhança do facto prejudicasse no espírito dos leitores a dos outros episódios narrados, e lhes entrasse com isto a desconfiança no cronista. Resolvi, pois, ser franco, declarando que, sob a direção do conselheiro e dos seus colegas, Portugal regeu-se, como se tem regido sob as dúzias de ministérios, que nós todos havemos já conhecido.

Touché Sr. Dinis!

Sobre a personagem da Morgadinha: tem de ser uma das mulheres mais fortes da nossa literatura clássica, não? Uma heroína que se declarar-se ao herói é algo raro (não existente na literatura da epoca?)! Madalena é alguém que faz coisas aconteceram e não se limita a responder a acontecimentos. É forte (mental e fisicamente), decidida, inteligente, confiante, com sentido de humor, mas não deixa a impressão de ser irritantemente perfeita. Adoraria ler mais livros sobre nela.

Para o ano: As Pupilas do Senhor Reitor ou Os Fidalgos da Casa Mourisca?

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Outras opiniões: biblioteca intrasmíssivel, Tempo de Ler, Dos Nossos Livros, Viajante no Tempo (a tua?)

While I was away from blogging I almost didn’t buy any books. A couple of years ago my TBR shelves occupied 15 cubes in the iconic IKEA bookcase everyone and their dog seems to own, now I’m down to 10.

I’ll post a picture of a different cube once in a while because I’d like your feedback. Some books have been around for a long time and now I’m not sure if I still want to read them. Also, should I prioritize any of them? Thanks :)

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tumblr_m8o3y6cSEy1qzcqsfo1_500I need your help understanding The Left Hand of Darkness. I was almost indifferent to it, but it has a huge GoodReads average: 4.02 from 42,943 ratings. As Shannon from Giraffe Days put it on her own review:

When you dislike a popular book, a canonised book – a “masterpiece” and an “instant classic”, according to other reviewers – naturally part of you wonders whether you’re just not getting it, whether you’re not bright enough or clued-in enough, or whether you’re placing unnecessary or unfair demands and expectations on it.

(I wish I could just copy/paste her entire review because that’s also pretty much how I felt about the book.)

One of my biggest issues was not caring about any of the characters. Have the feeling characterization wasn’t a priority for Le Guin (who was Genly Ai, our main character? What really motivated him? What was his life before arriving in Winter?), preferring instead to focus on world-building. Fair enough, but apart from describing the planet and their mostly asexual people, Le Guin is never though-provoking about the implications of that asexuality in their civilization or how someone like Genly, an audience-surrogate, faces it.

The whole topic of gender politics, for which the book is so acclaimed, ends up reduced to a few isolated comments by Genly (“I don’t know. They [women] don’t often seem to turn up mathematicians, or composers of music, or inventors, or abstract thinkers. But it isn’t that they’re stupid.”) and one relevant conversation between him and the native Estraven. This lasts for a couple of pages and ends up not solving the obvious sexual tension between them. Was there something more I missed?

We often see the story from Estraven’s point of view, which would be a great opportunity to see the world (and Genly) from a non-gendered mind, but apart from a couple of cultural misunderstandings you could also find on Earth, nothing more stands out. Also, although Genly has been on that planet for two years, we never get any real insight into his own sexual desires, which could have been really interesting and though-provoking.

It’s almost as if Le Guin, having shocked everyone in 1969 by having penned a sci-fi novel set on a non-gendered world, felt it was enough to stir things up and decided not to risk going deeper. I felt the book dated, but the 4.02 rating is definitely not from the 60s and 70s, so I can’t shake the feeling I’m missing something!

Another thing that I’d like your input on is the alliance that Genly represents. Chris called it a “perfectly anti-imperialist empire without any will to power at all”. This also nagged at me. I swear that up to the last pages I was expecting a big twist, but nope, Genly did come in peace, cynical me!

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Other thoughts: A Striped Armchair, Opinions of a Wolf, The Wertzone, Shelf Love, Neth Space, Books Under the Skin, Gasping for the Wind, James Reads Books, The Book Smugglers, conceptual fiction (yours?)

jerusalem-chronicles-guy-delisle-header

One of the best of the year so far. I pat myself on the back for having decided to read more non-fiction graphic novels and choosing Guy Delisle because of our trip to Canada (he’s Quebecois).

Delisle’s partner works for Doctors without Borders so he’s been a temporary “trailing spouse” and stay-at-home-dad in some of the world most challenging regions. Apart from Jerusalem he also recorded his experiences in Pyongyang, Burma and Shenzhen.

This is a personal travelogue of his year in the Holy City and it includes everything from the mundane to the geopolitical, from going to the supermarket to his attempts to enter Gaza, from visiting the zoo to experiencing the 2008-2009 Gaza War.

It’s a brilliant book because Delisle is inquisitive, sharp-eyed and funny. He is also highly aware of being a non-believing outsider in a country full of religious complexities and paradoxes, just like I felt when I was there myself.

The self-mocking humor of this stranger in a strange land is the book’s heart and soul, and because of it the though-provoking moments are that much stronger. Delisle’s clever light touch can have as much impact as, for instance, Joe Sacco’s more intense perspective.

His style is monochromatic, his language (I read it in French) simple and conversationalist. Both feel very appropriate somehow, probably because the subject is already complex enough.

Chroniques de Burma is already waiting in the TBR shelf! Have you read anything by him?

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washingtonsquareI’ve been reading too many “it was ok” books this year. I partially blame my absence from the blogging world that hasn’t expertly guided my choices, but I also need to convince myself once and for all that 2009 was a once-in-a-lifetime year. After all, you can only discover Dorothy Dunnett, Gone with the Wind, The Hunger Games and The Queen’s Thief for the first time once. And listening for the first time to Stephen Fry reading the Harry Potter series… 2009 was my perfect literary storm.

Still, 2014 has had some unexpected good surprises, with Washington Square standing out. When I picked it up I was bracing myself for the tragedies and thick language of The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove and The Turn of the Screw but ended up with something closer in style to Jane Austen.

Henry’s characters in Washington Square are not new: the naïve and plain heiress, the handsome opportunistic cad, the neglecting and cynical father, the dramatic and silly aunt.

I loved none of them, but could eat popcorn reading their stories, I was so entertained! It was wicked of me really, because some of the characters really suffer, but James has such a sharp sense of humor, such a clever sense of inequalities in society and between man and woman that I couldn’t help it. I laughed several times as James sarcastically pokes fun at his own characters.

The language is clear and witty, very unlike the other of his books I’ve read. He probably regretted this step away from a dignified intricacy, because he tried to remove Washington Square from a collection of his works.

Washington Square was a book where I’ve fallen for the style more than the story. There’s lots of room for deeper analysis of the plot, characters, society, gender, marriage, etc, etc, but my lasting impression of it will be: I had fun!

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Other thoughts: 17th Street, Nishita’s Rants and Raves, Eclectic Indulgence, The Allure of Books (yours?)

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